Knit & Crochet Blog Week – Photography Challenge Day!

Well, I missed Day 1 of the Knitting & Crochet Blog Week, but here I am to participate fully in DAY 2!

I used to publish a lot more photographs of my work in progress, but limits on energy and fears about releasing some editorially-secure information have made me less photo-happy.

This is a shame as I ADORE photography almost as much as I love yarn and fiber crafts. This is probably why I was an early adherer to Pinterest (check out my boards under modeknit) and LOVE to see what other folks put in their flickr accounts (I’m also there under modeknit)

I use my photography as part of my job, to tell the story of my work, and to ‘sell’ a design.  I usually take a LOT of in-process photographs (which usually never see the light of day and are hidden away in my iphoto album) so I can recreate a technique or use it to create a line-drawing illustration.

To be honest, by the time a design is published I’m generally so involved in current projects that I have a hard time getting excited about digging up those old process photos and publishing them – but that’s exactly when I should be making them public!

A current sleeve stitch pattern, Hazel Knits Lively DK

I’ll often photograph or scan a swatch so I can isolate a repeating stitch pattern, shrink it, then ‘wallpaper’ it into one of my electronic sketches to present an eerily realistic vision of how I see the final garment.

But generally I’m relegated to tight little closeups of a garment (no revealing full body shots) or beauty shots of yarn.

For instance, I don’t think I’d be giving TOO much away to show how I’m using an all-0ver cable/trellis pattern to create a framework upon which I build a rose-garden of decorative chain embroidery & french knot roses.

Original Trellis Fabric

Here’s the fabric, with the trellis being worked over the center front and center back of the garment (the sides, where the shaping is taking place, are worked in stockinette stitch to prevent a murder-suicide in the knitting community)

Vines in Hazel Knits Woodland

Once the trellis pattern is established, it’s relatively simple (remember, simple does NOT mean easy) to work a decorative chain using a crochet hook along the trellis grid.  I’ve tried to wiggle the line, making an irregular vine pattern here.

Rosebuds worked as French Knots

Then I add French knots along the green vines to create tiny rosebuds.  Some of the knots are formed using 5-wraps, some are as small as 3-wraps (not all roses are the same size!)

The result is a lot of bang for the buck, and a chance for knitters to expand their horizons in a non-threatening way.

You don’t have to be a mistress-embroiderer to make this look good, and if you’d decide to just forego the embroidery you’d still have a lovely cardigan with a nice cable/trellis pattern strategically placed to be very flattering.

A New Project, A New Sidepath

Barbie's Scale set permanently at 110 lbs (image by CarrieBee)

A few years ago there was a Barbie doll who famously cried, “Math class is TOUGH!” as one of her pre-recorded soundbites.

Mattel heard the well-deserved cries of protest and yanked Teen Talk Barbie and chalked the whole thing up to a PR nightmare.

Girls don’t need encouragement to believe that mad math skills are beyond them.

My own math journey wasn’t smooth.  I was in advanced math in Jr. High, but upon transferring to a new school which didn’t believe in ‘advanced’ classes I was given a choice to return to a lower class with my 8th grade peers, or move into the 9th grade (elective) class.

I chose the latter, and the teacher (who wasn’t thrilled with a new girl in class, bringing the total female population in advanced algebra to TWO) dogged every equation I wrote on the board.

“Yes, Annette got the right answer,
but she got it the WRONG way…”

It was my last math class – I ended the year with a “D” after a solid A/B average for the previous 2 years in my old school, and I shied away from math stuff for years.

Then I began designing, and I re-discovered the joy of numbers.  It’s almost poetic when I can get the gauge and stitch repeats to work well together, creating a simplified, universal pattern that can be easily altered.  Here’s an example of a recent trip through math hell.

But for the past year – probably more (I’ve been trying HARD to ignore this) my brain is not dealing with sums as well as it has.  At first I thought it was my imagination, then I thought it was pure laziness

Now I’m forced to admit that when I’m return to a pattern in one of my math worksheets I have no memory of my previous encounters with the same formulas.

The good news is that it’s forced me to label all of my columns (which note body measurements and changes in the pattern) INCREDIBLY clearly so I can jog my memory when I return to the pattern.  Clarity is good.

The bad news is that patterns take longer to write.  Recently I wrote up a pattern for a simple shrug.  I’ll admit that the lace pattern was a bit of a bear (I reworked it 3 times to simplify it without losing the beauty) but still, writing the pattern took me approximately 20 hours when a similar pattern might have taken me 4-5 hours a few years ago.

This is so frustrating.  I know it has a lot to do with the fibromyalgia, and I wonder if – in a warmer, sunnier month my brain might be clicking away in a more efficient manner.  But right now it is what it is.

So, while I’m NOT giving up designing hand knit and crochet patterns, I’m branching out a bit to add a bit more joy in my life – and hopefully diversify my income.

Annie Modesitt Fine Millinery

Bytham Cabbage Rose Hat

I’m making Millinery. Hats. Caps. Dome-pieces. Do-rags. Lids.

And I’m selling them on Etsy!

These pieces won’t be available as knitting patterns, that’s part of the joy for me.  I just need to be able to MAKE stuff without worrying about how to tell others how to make the same thing.

Wisbech Cloche

I sometimes find myself stymied by the difficulty in explaining a complex technique, and I avoid some beautiful details in my work for just this reason.

So the hats will be an escape for me, a bit of joy in a few cold, dark months when math doesn’t come as easily as it might.  I’ll make hay – and patterns – when the sun shines.

Edmondthorpe Cloche

If you know anyone who is looking for a beautiful, unusual, interesting hat for a special occasion, direct them over to my website or etsy store.

I’m happy to do commission work, and with the wealth of yarns out there I can match or complement just about any fabric or trim.

It would be lovely to see more brides wearing fine millinery, and the lacework brims on my hats create a ‘shadow veil’ which is flattering to any face!

Designers Block?

I’m certain it’s been apparent to folks who read my blog or twitter/facebook feeds with any regularity that I’ve been struggling through a dry patch in my design work.

The root of the problem, I think, is something yet undefined to do with the fibromyalgia.  I just don’t seem to be able to have the concentration OR the drive I used to have, so ideas aren’t as fluid as they used to be, and once I do snag one it’s harder to put it into practice.

Part of my also wonders if my odd confused and subdued state might be some hormonal thing.  I have no ovaries, and my hormone prescription (which worked well for so many years!) has been changed over and over in the past year for no reason other than the insurance decides from month to month that one medicine is “in” and another is “out”.


This morning I cleaned up my basement office, tossing out literally dozens of nascent swatches which came to nothing – this is not uncommon.  I think through ideas by swatching them, often I’ll rip out the swatch and reuse the yarn.

However, if I feel it would be useful to hang onto the swatch, I’ll do so and toss it into my “swatches in process” box to return to later.  Sometimes these returns glean a new understanding, sometimes they’re just a trip down memory lane.

Today I decided to toss out the swatches that are of no use to me or anyone, and it felt good. But each swatch that was tossed also felt like a little design that wasn’t being realized.  I have to trust myself, my notes, and my ability to revisit a good idea later when it really resonates with a current design problem.

I also packed up a good amount of yarn I can’t design with (either the yarn’s been discontinued, the company has closed or the colorway is no longer produced) for the charity knitting program at my local temple.  That, too, felt very good.

I’m hoping this cleaning will be a metaphorical as well as a physical boon, helping my mind to move toward new spaces (and allowing me to return to unfinished challenges with a clearer path!)

Of course, History on Two Needles is top on my priority list.  I only have one more sweater to knit up for that, and there are several sweaters I’d like to REKNIT to double check my pattern configurations (odd, period shaping can be a scary thing!)

I may have found someone to help me wade through my pattern worksheets and double check them for clarity, a job which has already proved daunting to some great knitting minds, and has reduced me to tears at times.

I ask myself, “Why are my patterns so odd?  Why so complex?” And this morning listening to On Being on MPR I think I had a bit of a revelation.  Krista Tippet’s guest, John Paul Lederach (who works in what he calls “conflict transformation”), was discussing what Oliver Wendell Holmes called “the simplicity on the other side of complexity”

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

– Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

In design and in pattern writing, my goal is simplicity.

Complex-ness, complexity, is a necessary phase I must pass through to achieve a universal simplicity.  In my better patterns (Twisted Float Shrug, Universal Mitered Bag) I’ve been able – through a GREAT DEAL of swatching and math – to create a rather simple pattern which can be easily altered to work well with a variety of yarn weights and for a variety of sizes.

But it’s a winding path from the well-groomed “front yard” of simple, rough pattern through the complex “wilderness” of  confusing, math-ridden pattern and out into a “natural meadow” of final, deceptively simple pattern.  It can be a long slog.

The reworking of a pattern, and then the reknitting of it several times, is necessary to get to that sunny, bright and peaceful meadow (this is why I like to first knit my own samples, the enlightenment that comes from the knitting is hard won and possible in no other way.)

I made a decision to not attend VK Live or TNNA this January.  I’m teaching in Orlando at the end of the month, and I’ve limited myself to 1 trip per month because I know what more travel takes out of me.  I know that my physical stamina wouldn’t allow me to do all that traveling.

But it’s hard to read the excited tweets & blog posts about how great VK is, the wonderful classes, the cameraderie, and not feel a bit left out.  It was my own choice, I think it was a good one, but it would be nice to connect with my knitting design friends.

Along the same lines, I’ve decided to only submit to a very few magazines until I get History on Two Needles, finished.  I can’t continue to allow myself to put other work in front of what is a strong passion simply because I’ve reached a rather rough part in the HoTN process.

So as deadlines zoom by this month for magazines that I admire, I find myself sitting on my hands instead of sending in sketches and swatches.  Once again, it’s my choice, but it makes me feel a bit superfluous.  Not a helpful feeling, and I’m the only one who can break through those feelings.

Into The Woods - by Bicycle!

So I supposed what I have isn’t Designer’s Block as much as it’s a realization that I need to stop walking, look up and see where the sun is, get out my compass and thoughtfully find a better path to that darned meadow.

To that end, today I’m spending the entire afternoon knitting things I love, with no thought to where it might end up (book, magazine) and only trying to find some of the joy I’ve been missing as I doggedly march through a dark wood.

I think I’ll knit a fine hat, my soul could use a little millinery.

Update of the Thankful

It’s been a rough few weeks, the kind of month where so much bad stuff happens that it becomes a bit of a joke after a few days.

Right now the joke is, “If it can break, it will.  But we won’t.”

I haven’t blogged for a bit because I’ve been immersed in bailing out the boat, plugging up the holes and trying to keep the sails on straight.  I don’t sail, so this is probably a really bad analogy, but maybe I will sail someday (it’s on my list, as well as learning to fly fish and visiting the Tarim basin.)

Things that broke

  1. Our sewer line heading out to the main line has been pronounced ‘in bad shape’ by the Roto Rooter guy, who quoted us $14K to fix it (including all of the road work, etc.)  This price will increase at the end of the week as the ‘hot patch’ asphalt work will end for the Winter and apparently the cold patch is much pricier.  Oh, the things we learn.
  2. Our car is making very sad sounds.  I’m betting that it’s the transmission and my best guess is $900.  Gerry says it’s the axle and he’s guessing $1000.It’s this kind of exciting guessing game that keeps the spice in our marriage
    We’ll find out the real damage when the week begins.  Thankfully, the garage (and the liquor store) are just a short walk from our house.
  3. Atticus the wonder dog has arthritis. Or his crucitas ligament is damaged. We spent $200 for the first vet visit, the estimate is $350 for the Xrays, and if there needs to be surgery we may just be coddling our dear 10-year old doggie along with drugs for a bit.
  4. The washer was making scary noises, too.  However, Gerry the brave (Gerry the strong, Gerry the true) has taken apart something, pulled something out (and discovered a few darning needles – oops…) and the noises have ceased.
    Huzzah, Gerry, you are my hero!
  5. My computer is making sounds like a washing machine (see #4).  My work is totally backed up, and the computer is on warranty (yay Apple Care) so the outlook is not terrifying, but it’s just kind of a secondary punch line to the whole thing.
  6. For some unknown reason our female cat sprayed on Hannah in her bed while she was reading.  Whether it was the choice of the book (Manga) or anger at our other cat for relentless harassment, we’re keeping an eye on her.
  7. My elbow is very painful.  V E R Y.  The kind of painful that when I move it or bump it into anything I swear like a sailor with a sore elbow.  This has been a stellar vocabulary lesson in for the children.I think it may be residual injury from when I landed on it during a bike crash earlier this year, but I’ll be off to the docs on Monday to check it out.

So why is this an update of the Thankful?

  1. We’re ALL here.  This is no small feat.
  2. Thankfully (OH HOW THANKFULLY) I now have health insurance again.  It’s like a carousel, this MN care thing, it seems to vary from month to month, but while I have it, I’ll use it.
  3. The kids are well, smart and very good looking.  They’re funny, industrious and they still like to be around Gerry and me.  We know how lucky we are.
  4. The city of St. Paul offers a program whereby we can finance the sewer (at 4.75% interest)and pay it back through our taxes over the next 20 years.

    We’ll be getting a second opinion, but Gerry and I are discussing options other than a total rip-up.(After all, our yard was totally ripped up by the city 2 years ago for a gas problem, and part of me wonders if that may be part of the problem…)

  5. The cats are great, and Atticus-the-good is not complaining (as a matter of fact, he seems to sense what’s up and seems VERY grateful.  He’s a magnificent dog.
  6. My bike works and the weather’s been nice enough that I can get around on that for most shopping, errands, etc.
  7. I’ve been invited to teach at both Interweave Knitting Lab events next year, which is both flattering and very good.  I also have teaching gigs lined up for December, January & February (btw, if you know of a shop, guild or group in the San Fran bay area that might like to have me speak or teach in late Feb / early March, I’m ALL EARS!)
  8. I have several projects due in the next few weeks and work is progressing nicely.The deadlines are hard and coming up fast, but the work is good and I’d rather be busy than the opposite!
  9. I’ve had several nice projects published in the past few weeks–some of my best work to date.

    Jane Austen Knits
    Kensington Mitts
    Linen Work Apron
    Lydia Spencer
    Interweave Crochet Accessories
    Jazz Bag

    Multi Directional Kimono

    This is a mercy as I continuously feel terrified that my best stuff is behind me  (I think most designers feel this way sometimes.)

  10. We have hot water, heat, an oven and stove and refrigerator, all the food we need, a dishwasher and cable, computers, phone, interesting books and a great library to visit.
    We live better than most monarchs have for much of the history of mankind.  We had an exceptional Thanksgiving meal (and leftovers!)
    We know how lucky we are.
  11. We have a hugely love-filled house.
  12. Gerry danced with the cat this week.

Judgey Part II – Who Am I? Why Am I Here?

My first interaction with my husband was a letter he sent to me which opened, “Who am I? Why am I here?”

He was referencing James Stockdale who quoted that line in the Vice Presidential debates of 1992, but it’s not a bad question to ask ourselves every now and then.

We have different categories that we fit ourselves into, we switch it up every now and then, we settle into some identities and reject others.

When I was around 15 I had a revelation that we show different sides of our personalities to different people.  Therefore, when someone is considered to have “changed,” perhaps they’ve just shown a different side to their personality.  I was a deep thinker.

No one person is the same to everyone all the time.  We do different little dances with different friends and family members, we strive for consistency, but we don’t always achieve it.

I feel the best we can hope for is keeping a strand of “true” personality running through most of our relationships so that folks can count on us, retaining enough elasticity so we can be flexible when we need to.  Not unlike a nice strand of springy merino…

Some of the Family

My own identity is tied up with my work (designing, teaching and writing), my family, my convictions about being part of a community and – as I addressed in my last blog post – my body identity.

Each of us has a different recipe, a different mix of what makes us the person that the world sees, and that recipe changes as we grow (or shrink) through our lives.

The past few years I’ve been having a minor crisis of identityConfidence?  I’m not quite sure what, but there are days when my neurotic Junior High school self would have been a welcome relief to my own middle-age angst.

The reasons are so obvious that it hardly bears mentioning – and I’m certain that by mentioning them I’ll garner some snarky comments on some chat board somewhere – but they are twofold: Gerry’s illness and my own Fibromyalgia.

Tin Fish, I "work" here sometimes...

Working – designing – as fast as I can, it’s still pretty hard to earn a decent living.  Smarter designers than I augment their incomes with yarn lines, connections to major yarn and knitting tool companies and television hosting gigs.  I admire them for this, and I would by lying if I didn’t admit that I envy them, but I haven’t felt the right kind of energy to pursue this angle yet.  I’d love to, it just hasn’t been in the cards/stars/roll of the dice so far.

But I’m troubled by my envy, by my current lack of visibility, and I’d been trying to find a way to mentally work through this.  I think I stumbled onto it this weekend.

The Analogy Part

As I was riding my bike in the Minneapolis Bike Tour this past weekend I paced myself behind a pair of women who were going just about my speed.  I stayed a good half block behind them for a few miles, feeling like I was almost part of a group, but happy in my solitude.

The First Flat Fixed

Then I began flagging.  I couldn’t keep up, it was getting very hard.  I changed gears, pedaled harder, but off they went, disappearing ahead of me as I found myself grounding to a snail’s pace.  Bye, bye.  Write if you get work…

I was so intent on keeping up, on staying at the same speed, that I hadn’t noticed that at some point in a gravel-and-glass section of a side street I’d picked up something that had punctured my tube.  I had a flat tire.

This was especially frustrating as I’d had a flat at mile 7 of the ride, but that one happened just a few blocks from a pit stop and was fixed so quickly it almost felt as though it hadn’t happened.  I was told by several riders that it was flat-heavy ride this year.

It was raining pretty hard, I was cold and sore, I felt miserable and I ached all over.  I pulled out my cell phone to call Gerry and ask him to come and pick me up, but then I put it away.

I was about 20 miles into the ride and I just didn’t want to give up so easily.

So I walked, pushing my bike along the path and feeling the “Ride, Fat Girl, Ride” logo printed on the back of my shirt burning like a brand of shame and humiliation.

Thin, fast, fully-air-filled-tire riders shot past me, I stumbled on.  Oh, the humanity.  Oh, the humility!

As I hiked to the next pit stop where I hoped I’d be able to get a tire change, I realized that this section of the ride was like a metaphor of my current situation in life.

The Metaphor Part

I’d been shooting along pretty well, designing and writing (3 books in 2 years) and making appearances.  Then I got a flat – our family got a flat; Gerry got sick.

We put all of our efforts as a family into getting through it, and now we’ve found a different dynamic.  After his stem cell transplant in 2007 Gerry’s Multiple Myeloma has become something we try to think of as a chronic illness rather than terminal cancer.

Gratuitous Peek at a New Hat

Gerry has a lot of pain, he has to rest a lot and his activities are severely limited, but he’s here for all the important reasons (love, laughter, support)  He’s here for all the reasons I married him, and in all the ways that make him a great dad and wonderful person.

Continuing on, just as our family was finding a new groove, I got sick.  Not sick like Gerry, not life threatening, but definitely income and identity threatening.

Fibromyalgia certainly isn’t going to kill me, and I’m learning new strategies every day to deal with it, but it’s something I can’t ignore.  The energy it takes to keep track of my energy is wearying.  I find myself beating myself up constantly for not being able to get as much done as I used to 5 years ago (not helpful) and there are times I become rather depressed and allow myself to feel useless.

Which is not true.

But sometimes we let our minds go to dark places, I’m not alone in that.  Comparing myself to folks who are able to ride past me right now (with their fancy air-filled tires) isn’t helpful, but it’s human, and it’s understandable.

I’ve been guilty lately of judging myself very harshly based on things that are a bit out of my control.  I feel guilty that I do something I love so much (knit design) but which brings in precious little money and no insurance.

I’ve been applying – and interviewing – for several jobs locally but each long process has ended – as it has for so many folks these days – with a “Thanks, but no thanks – you were our #2 candidate, but we’re going in a different direction…”

And then I begin to feel worthless.

Which is also not true.

The slight relief I feel when I get turned down for a job is in direct proportion to how many fibro flare ups I’ve had that month.  There is a nagging fear that if I did snag a job, I’d be unable to do as well as I need to while trying to adhere to a schedule that may not take into account my body’s current oddnesses.  That’s one of the big benefits of designing/writing/teaching – I can generally do it at my own schedule, or gear up for a teaching weekend by getting a LOT of rest before and after.

The Wisdom Part

I want to take away some kind of gift, some wisdom, from this metaphor.  So I ride my bike like a maniac.  The energy it takes is a small investment for the energy + joy + pain relief I get back in return.

There have been online
mentions that I must be faking
the fibro if I’m able to bike so far,
I assure everyone that’s not true.
Spend a few days with me and you’ll
see how movement is rather difficult.

I try not to judge myself too harshly, I try to be smart and hard working and organized (organization is one way to circumvent energy loss) and I try to remind myself on a daily basis that self-love isn’t indulgent.

In the same way that as I walked my bike this past weekend, concentrating on keeping my body warm and stretched so I didn’t freeze up, I continue designing and writing and teaching.  Maybe not at the speed and level I did when I had a full tire, but I can’t let myself get cold.

If I let myself listen to the harsh, judgey voices I’ll definitely freeze up, slow down, maybe even sit in a sad heap on the curb in the rain and begin to melt away.  So I try to either ignore the judgey voices, reason with them or sing really loudly.

Rainy Pit Stop, With Extra Oranges!

I’m still working out a good strategy to get me to the next pit stop where I can, hopefully, get my flat fixed, have a gluten free snack and a drink of water and get back on the road.  That’s why it sometimes takes me a long time to blog, to get my newsletter out, or to get some designs worked up and written down.

But if you look for me, I’m there.  I’m strolling along the side of the road in the rain balancing my handlebars in one hand, a slice of orange in the other, singing.

End of Summer, Teaching Season Opens (& Stitches?!)

We were able to get away for a 2-day escape up to Voyageur National Park over my birthday.  And, may I just say, I was OVERWHELMED with the lovely birthday wishes on my facebook page.  Thank you, everyone!

We took advantage of one of those Groupons earlier this year, and thus we had a pretty amazing mini-vacation for a bargain.

We stayed at the Northern Lights Resort, which was lovely.  My only complaint is that they begin mowing, clipping and blowing at SEVEN A.M. on Saturday with a vengeance, so don’t expect to sleep in or anything…

Below is a gallery of some of the highlights of our few days away, plus rubber ducks at the MN State fair and a brief outdoor shot of our indoor cat (he escaped, then sat on the fence and posed for a few minutes before capture…)

For me the absolute BEST part of the adventure were the ‘hydro-bikes’ (made in Minneapolis!) that were available at the resort!  I was able to get my bike ride in AND get out on the lake (although it took a lot more pedaling to go 10 feet than it takes to go 100 yds on a street bike)  It was a BLAST and it made me so happy!

We took one family water trip with Atticus in the canoe.  He jumped out.  He’s a swimming doggie, but Hannah was fearless in how quickly she jumped in and directed him over to my hydrobike where he rested until we got back to the dock.

We all switched places, we realized that what Atticus wanted was to be with me, so I rode in the canoe and paddled while Hannah took over the bike and we were all fine on the trip over to a mini-island for some fishing, and the trip back.

Fish – we caught none.  I’m sad about it, but not bereft.  I really wanted to get a walleye, or at least a bass, but no such luck.

Fall Work Start

I’m immersed in some designing, and I’m writing my first grant proposal.  More on that if / when I hear anything, but it’s certainly an experience to try to put my thoughts into “grant speak”  (B.S.-ing 101 was a class I’m afraid I did miserably in during grad school…)

I have some submission deadlines coming up quickly and a full slate of teaching engagements over the next few weeks

I have all of these dates up at my “upcoming engagements” page,  but perhaps the most unexpected news is that I’ve agreed to teach at Stitches West in February.

I’ve never taught at Stitches – the timing never worked out, and when I did apply I didn’t get accepted.  Once I read the rules involved in teaching at one of these events I got a little skittish and didn’t apply again.

But I’ve been asked by so many folks, “When will you teach at Stitches?” so when I was approached by Benjamin Levisay from XRX (I love making Facebook friends & meeting them in real life!) I realized that it would be unfair to judge without participating from a teaching point of view.

So for those of you Stitches attendees who’ve wanted to take a class with me, I’ll be teaching 3 in Santa Clara in late February!

Yay for warm weather teaching in the midst of MN Winter!

TKGA, Right In My Own Backyard!

I know a huge percentage of the knitting world is at Sock Summit this weekend, and I sort of wish I were there, too!  I think what Steph and Tina have created is absolutely amazing, and the more established knitting conventions would do well to study the success of this new event!

I definitely want to throw my hat in the hopper to teach some classes next time – I’d hesitated to apply because I’m not really known for socks (hillbilly that I am, I rarely even wear them…)

MTM statue in Minneapolis & my bike

But I’m not in Portland – I’m here in Minnesota, working on some new projects, and drowning some of my missing-sock-summit-sorrows by attending TKGA market and participating in Steven B’s Fiber Fest

I’m teaching 2 new lace classes this week –

  • Lace for Absolute Beginners on Thursday at 4pm
  • Lace Principles/Chart Your Own Lace on Tuesday at 4pm

at Steven’s Minneapolis location.  I wonder if Rhoda & Mary knitted?

So although I’m missing seeing some good friends out in Portland, dinner with full-out belly laughs with Lily Chin, a lovely short visit and good hug from Vicky Howell, reconnecting with so many friends from local yarn shops and a nice sit down visit with Shannon from Shibaguyz made everything better.

Most exciting was having a chance to show off the new dvd I’d worked up for Claudia of YarnSisters, the US distributor for Zealana yarn.

I’ve been working on some videos for this company, combining “how-to” segments with shots of the yarn in action, tidbits about the feel and usage of the yarn, etc.

I’m releasing the first video today, because Claudia said I could (she loved it!)

That is, she said I could releasre it right after
I corrected the company name in the video.  D’oh! 

I hope you like it!

Lovely Left Decreases by Annie Modesitt
Are you tired of left decreases that don’t quite live up to the expectations of their right leaning siblings? Here’s a great way to create balanced, good-looking left decreases!

Ride, Hot Girl, Ride

The Mississippi - our own muddy 'Seine'

Best of all was my ride to the convention center this morning.  I love to do the West River Parkway route, along the Mississippi.  There’s a wonderful downhill coast, but of course I have to pay for it by riding (walking) my bike back up the hill on the other side of the university.

Tough on a hot, humid day – but not so bad this morning because I went early!

I got home in time to rest up a bit before two friends stopped by for yet ANOTHER bike ride (this time a short one down to St. Thomas University) 

These two friends are folks I met in Rome last year – the happened to sit next to a few of us at an outdoor table at a cafe and it turned out they were from St. Paul and love to bike!   But it’s taken us almost a year to actually GET OUT AND BIKE TOGETHER!

I feel awkward biking with other folks because my asthma can be so bad on a hot, humid day.  I know I’m trying hard, I know my own limitations, but going at someone else’s pace can leave me red-faced (for lack of oxygen and embarrassment) When I ride alone I can coast when I need to – which may not be when someone else needs to.

But this was a short ride, a lovely ride, and it’s always good to see friends!


Is There A Knitting Superhero(ine)?

Sunday, June 26, 2011 By Rick Levine

Virgo (Aug 23 – Sep 22)

You may feel as if you’re under a lot of stress today, but your desire to do the right thing can turn a difficult day into a memorable one. Don’t worry about how to get others to support your agenda. Instead, simply do the very best job you can, even if you must do it alone.

Ultimately, your performance will exceed everyone else’s expectations of what you should do.

Well, all I can say is I hope so.

I’ve been wrestling with a project I’m not in love with.  I really liked my original concept and my sketch, but was asked to work it up in a different yarn and after looking at the colors online, I agreed.

But I was very foolish.  The new yarn is a fingering weight, I’d swatched in a worsted/aran weight, and the difference in knitting up this size 40 (with MUCH ease) man’s sweater works out to be about 3-4 times as much.  This project is a bear.

Because the yarn is so much thinner, I had to reconfigure the design (thinner yarn calls for a more delicate, compact repeat) and I’ve never been entirely happy with my new compromise.

And because I had to design this on the fly (working off of charts and my number grid) I couldn’t really pass this on to a knitter.  I just didn’t know how it was going to turn out because I didn’t know how the yarn was going to look.

Add to that the fact the yarn arrived 3 weeks late and I’m in hot water.  The magazine, which I LOVE, was kind enough to give me an extension.  Unfortunately the extension coincided with my marathon teaching trip so my knitting time each day was so sadly curtailed that I might as well not have had the extra time.

I figured I’d get home, barrel down, and fight through the sweater to the end.  I only had the sleeve tops and yoke to do, that couldn’t take THAT much time, right?

My hubris always surprises me.  It shouldn’t, but then again, isn’t that hubris’ long suit?  To pop up just when a bit of modesty would work better?

The deadline to put this baby in the international mail came and went on Friday, and I was as low as I could get.  Knitting all day yesterday got me halfway through the yoke, I hope to finish today and send it off tomorrow.

The shame of it is that the yarn I’m using is quite nice, rather exciting, (it’s a long-space dyed yarn – beautifully done) but the colors chosen for two of the balls are SO similar that as the changes occur in each ball sometimes I end up with the incredibly similar colors in the colorwork.

THAT just doesn’t look right.  SO I have to pull yards and yards of one of the balls until I come to a contrasting section.  This is the kind of thing designers HATE because writing this up in a pattern (“if you find you’re yarns are too similar in color, pull ____ yds from ball A until a contrasting section arrives”) makes the knitters absolutely CRAZY.

And it should.  It would make ME crazy if I were knitting this from the magazine.

So the knitter may say, with all logic, “Geeze that Annie Modesitt’s an idiot to have me use these two balls of yarn that have colors SO similar in a COLORWORK sweater!  Sheesh!”

Coming at the end of my Month O’ Projects (9, count ’em, NINE finished in May) and my two-plus weeks of driving and teaching, this is especially rough.

I knit through most of the Green Lantern (the family went to a drive-in last night to see GL and Super-8) and made progress, good progress if I were look at this thing with unclouded eyes.

But every stitch feels like failure because I’ve missed the deadline.

Today I will go hide on the porch at St. Kates and knit until I finish this thing.  My fingers are covered in band aids from my size 4 pointy needles, I just want to cry. 

But super hero(ines) don’t cry, because when the fat ones do they just look ridiculous.

Finding the Joy

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 By Rick Levine

(Aug 23 – Sep 22)

This can be a day of solid progress as long as you don’t bite off more than you can handle.

Obviously, rushing through any job just to get it done invites sloppiness. Working faster encourages you to make mistakes that can haunt you later on.

Take your time and do it right, even if everyone else seems to be in a hurry. It’s more important to lay a lasting foundation now than to meet someone else’s arbitrary deadline.

Message received.

This is pretty much what I always preach in my classes – if you don’t love what you’re doing, YOU have the power to make a change so that love is possible.

This past Saturday Max was to meet a friend at temple to attend a Bat Mitzvah.  Unfortunately, his friend was ill at the last minute so I dropped by to tell him (and to sit with him during the service)

Max was disappointed and very sad.  And he was especially frustrated that I insisted he remain for the Bat Mitzvah.  “But I don’t even KNOW this girl…”

I told him, “You’re here, you’re dressed up, it would be disrespectful to leave.”

After a few more minutes of pouting I hissed at him, “Listen, you’re not going anywhere.  You can either find a way to enjoy the next 2 hours, or you can stew and pout and only hurt yourself.  I, myself, fully intend to enjoy it.”

After another 20 minutes or so, Max began putting more than a cursory effort into the prayers and blessings, and slowly he seemed to begin to enjoy himself.

I like to think this was yet another step in learning to readjust his attitude and expectations so that he can find joy where he may not have expected it.

That’s been my own job for this month; finding the joy inside of all the work.

I love work, I love what I do, but the stress involved in getting so MUCH work done can be daunting.  Aside from cutting back on the amount of work (hard to do and still pay the mortgage) I need to find a way to readjust my OWN attitude and enjoy the ride.

After all, every bike ride can’t be all downhill.  But a nice cider every now and then helps…

I’ve been in a heightened state of work the past month, so much so that there are times when I dread picking up the knitting needles.  Almost.

No matter how much work I have, there is always a small corner of joy when I’m knitting.  The rhythm, the fiber, the repetition calm me, and if I’m able to divorce my nervous mind from the looming deadline, I can enjoy it thoroughly.

Today I sent in 3 projects, and I just got a bit of an extension on another (hallelujah!) because it’s a fair isle-esque/stranded Man’s sweater on size 4 needles.  That will be my tomorrow knitting.


Today is devoted to working up swatches of some of my favorite techniques.

I want to put together a series of the little knitting things that I teach in class as pithy asides, but seldom teach all in one sitting. I’m planning on videotaping these and putting them together in a tutorial for Zealana, (which is providing all of my yarn for this little adventure.)

I have to say that this yarn is some of the most luscious I’ve worked with.  It’s soft, yes, but a lot of yarns are soft. This yarn has a certain firmness about it that allows the stitches to shine through, and creates a lovely directional sheen which really shows off bias movement in knit patterns.  THIS is the kind of yarn that makes knitting make sense!

I love just about all yarns I work with – I’m a lucky, lucky woman– but for this project I’ve been putting balls of Zealana yarn aside to enjoy as my end-of-the-day sitting in bed knitting.  Working up a swatch in Rimu or Willow pretty much guarantees a lovely night of sleep and good dreams!


I’ll be blogging, tweeting and emailing about this over the next few weeks a LOT, but after months of back and forth discussion and planning I can announce my first teaching trip to Iceland in August!

August is a perfect time in Iceland (I’ve been told…) and it’s just about when so many of us are getting NUTTY with the heat.  This could be the escape you’ll be needing!  For more information check the Knitting Iceland webpage!

I hope you can join me – together we can explore the joy that is Iceland!

I Like To Ride My Bicycle

Saturday, May 28, 2011 By Rick Levine

(Aug 23 – Sep 22)

You have a certain idea about how your day should go and you want to put things back on track when it begins to deviate from your plan.

You would like to show a more easygoing side of yourself today, but it’s challenging to let go of control when you believe that you are holding it all together. Unfortunately, your priorities may be bent out of shape. Consider this situation as an opportunity to develop trust.

Sure, you could engineer more perfection into your world now, but the cost may be higher than you realize.

Okay, I’ll trust!

I’m closing in on the last few projects of my “Month of 1,000 Projects” and it can’t come too soon.

The month thing is misleading as I’ll definitely extend beyond May 31.  Yarn arrived late for one project, and another project isn’t really due until I get to TNNA (although I’m aiming for the week before to present it to the yarn company that’s commissioned it)

This last project isn’t a knitting project per se, it’s a video I’m doing featuring different techniques to use with a lovely line of yarn, different stitches, and maybe some fun animation.  Still working it out, but it’s going to be enjoyable and I’m trying to keep a light touch.  I do love the video editing, I have to be honest!

Today, though, there’s an unexpected bonus in that the day promises to be sunny when it was predicted to be rainy.  I will take this day and [ride like the wind, then stop and knit], repeat to end of day.

To finish to day is a long fingerless mitt and then I need to dive into a fair isle that’s due in England on June 14th.  Anyone like to start a pool on when I finish it?

But the best part of the day will be Torah study in 30 minutes.  I love this, and I had been missing it (Gerry and I used to be very active in our congregation of Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn 17 years ago when we first married.)

KC is still going strong, and anyone who has the honor and joy of visiting and getting to know the folks involved and Rabbi Ellen Lippmann is a lucky person indeed!

Our own study on Saturday mornings here is refreshing for me, a chance to connect with some very thoughtful, funny and wise folks, a chance to feel part of a community.  I wish I could get Gerry to join me, he would enjoy it immensely!

If you see me riding around St. Paul, wave!  I’ll be the one grinning on my bike!



Home from my ride – 24.5 miles! – that makes almost 170 for the month of May.

And I got a lot of knitting done, too!  And I saved a turtle’s life.

This was a really great day – unexpectedly lovely weather.  It is very effective in wiping out a week of fibro pain and blue-ness, I’m so glad I could take advantage of it.