My Brilliant Marketing Research Team!

YOU are an amazing resource – thank you all, each and every one of you!

I loved reading the comments & emails you wrote on my last post.

What? YOU can’t read the comments?  Well, that’s because I didn’t publish them.

They are filled with EXCELLENT comments and information (and opinions) about the proposed cover-in-process for History on Two Needles, but some of the comments are a bit personal about the physicality of the model and I prefer not to share what might be construed as inadvertently hurtful remarks.

I know most of them weren’t meant in a personally negative way, but I’ve learned that once a negative comment is made about someone’s appearance, it’s easy for other folks to ‘pile on’ and it can turn into something ugly.  I won’t allow that to begin in my comments.

The girl on the cover – Ellis – is a lovely, wonderful, beautiful, kind, intelligent girl who is also a very good friend.  As far as I know she doesn’t read my blog, but the last thing I want is for her to wander onto a casually negative comment about her personal appearance.

Ellis will be whatever she wants to be, she’s THAT smart. Part of her wants to be a model, and if that’s what she wants, she WILL make it work!

I chose her for the Egyptian piece in our test photo shoot because she was close, she was free, and I love her mixed heritage look.  She is also very thin– it’s just how she is – some folks are thin, some are heavy.

Your comments were [mostly] non intentionally hurtful.  Please know that I AM considering other cover options for the book (which I’ll reveal for your feedback in future blog posts.)

You guys are invaluable in helping me keep track of general feelings about the book.  Thank you!

EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL

Hannah often will get upset at the media when a very thin person is presented as an “ideal” of beauty, and I hear her!  Idealizing one body type isn’t helpful in the goal of allowing every woman to feel as healthy and lovely as she can be.

But I stress to Hannah that the idea that anyone is beautiful also must, by definition, include everyone.

Ellis happens to be thin, I happen to be heavy (no, that bowl of chocolate chips had NOTHING to do with it, look away…) and most folks fall somewhere in this spectrum.

The ridiculous idea that one can’t be ‘too rich or too thin’ is prevalent in our society.  Girls and women (and, less often, men) diet and purge themselves to the point of death to achieve some bizarre ideal of skinny beauty.

There’s a LOT of judgement out there against folks who aren’t thin, we’re easy targets [insert large bullseye joke here]

But that doesn’t give anyone permission to even the scales by saying hurtful things about someone who’s just naturally thin, or calling folks names because they’re different (some – not all – of the comments did call names and make intentionally mean remarks.)

Try this experiment today; look for SOMETHING beautiful in the physicality of every person you see today.  Hair, eyes, grace of movement, smile, finger length – look for the beauty and you’ll see it!

Thus endeth my sermon for Sunday – thanks for reading!

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”.

Swatchapalooza

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.

I Should Get A Tattoo Of This One

Saturday, July 2, 2011 By Rick Levine


Virgo
(Aug 23 – Sep 22)

You are determined to maintain your integrity now by doing exactly what you promise, but distractions and obstructions continue to alter your course.

You may be excited to head in an unknown direction, but you are on a mission and every setback brings more frustration. You can gain a lot of strength by staying on your spiritual path, rather than wandering around aimlessly.

Remember, you cannot reach your destination if you stop to explore every alternative along the way.

Except it’s just waaaaay too long to tattoo anywhere.

Boy, truer words were never spoken – or at least not spoken to ME in quite a while.

Remember, you cannot reach your destination if you stop to explore every alternative along the way.

And THIS is why I have this nagging feeling that I need to just buckle down and get finished what I’ve started.  This weekend I’ll be working up patterns for the remaining History On Two Needles designs that require them, getting schematics finished and charts done.

AND figuring out where the holes in the entire collection are, so I can fill them with a few new designs.  One step at a time, that’s what I need to remember.

And I can’t stop to dance every few minutes or I’ll never make it to my destination.

Queen Midas

I’ve been pondering an essay for quite a while, years even, and I’m finally going to write it.  FINALLY.

The rough outline is how accepting money for something you love changes things.  Sometimes for the better (yay, I paid the mortgage!) and sometimes for the worse (oh noes, I have to knit again, dang!)

I have many loves in my life – I have a rich life and I love easily – but high up on the list is my love of knitting.

I don’t say a love of fiber (although I DO love fiber) because there are parts of the fiber world that I’ve held myself separate from.

Spinning, for instance, has escaped me.  Not because I don’t think I’d love it, but because I know that my lungs react very badly to floating fibers (I’m no longer able to knit with mohair or angora – at least, not without a respirator!)

But knitting – that’s a pure love.  Crochet is a love, too, but a separate love.

Crochet is like an aunt I love to visit, and sometimes I feel I love her more than knitting (my own mom) but when push comes to shove, I just feel more comfortable with knitting.  But I like to spend my summer vacations with Crochet and hear stories about Knitting when she was a kid, and sometimes I like to complain about Knitting to Crochet because I know it won’t go any farther…

I’m lucky that I’ve been able to pay the mortgage with my knitting chops for many years, although I’ll admit it’s been a thin ride the past few years.  This is for many reasons, but mostly because I just haven’t put the focused energy and effort into my knitting / design career recently that I did for the first 8 years of this century.

And THAT is due to many things.  At the risk of proving my 5th grade teacher right and falling into my natural ‘excuse maker*’ role, I’ll list some of these reasons…

1. Exhaustion.
It just gets – well – tiring to push, push, push the designs.  I feel as though I’ve taken a year+ off from the pushing, and it’s time to get back to the rock and the uphill path.

2. Health (my own and family heath).
I have allowed things to stand in my way, and I’ve enjoyed it sometimes, too.  But I enjoy creating, designing, more than almost anything.  So it’s time to get back on that horse.

3. Laziness.
This is different than exhaustion, this is just me being not as hard working as I should be.  Sometimes laziness shows itself by a lot of busywork – ironic, but true.

4. Inspiration (or rather, lack of…)
I’ve found it difficult to be as inspired as I used to be.  There may be many reasons for this, but the upshot is that I’ve tried to use my down time to re-ignite the spark that keeps me designing.

This last reason – Inspiration – is the most fragile card that holds up my little design house.

When inspiration hits, it’s a beautiful thing.  Taking that inspiration, converting it into a do-able project and keeping the excitement going until the last word of the pattern is written and the last line of the schematic has been drawn, well – that’s the hard part.

That’s the Queen Midas part.

That’s the point where you go from taking lovely photos on your vacation to trying to SELL those photos to a magazine.  Or making amazing cakes to trying to SELL those cakes to the public.  Or dreaming up great designs and trying to RECREATE those designs so other folks can work them up, too!

And that’s the hardest part.

Sometimes, just for fun, I’ll just knit.  I’ll cast on and just GO.  And even though I’m just making a quick hat, a mitten, a scarf – something for ME only – I still find my mind counting, figuring, resizing.  My brain goes on auto-pilot, determining-without-really-trying what number is most easily divisible and will therefore be the BEST number to use in a pattern (after all, resizing a pattern begins from the moment I begin thinking about the cast on!)

I try to turn this skill off – to cast on a devilishly hard number to multiply so my brain will just give up – but my mind continues to force it.  My brain will snicker to me “Okay, so you insist on casting on a multiple 10 instead of 12 (the magic number)  Well then I’ll just force your hands to work up an 8 stitch pattern with 2 ‘gutter’ stitches that will repeat easily!   Mwa ha ha ha!”

So I’m never entirely able to escape this, “Let’s recreate what I’m doing in 6 sizes!” skill that I’ve developed in my brain.  It’s a gift, but it gets old, too.

Currently I have several pieces I’m working through.  Most are easy enough pieces, but I’ve reached the point in all of them when the pattern must be written down, and that means resized, calculated, edited – all that stuff.

I could tell myself that I’m not good at this part, that it’s getting harder and I can’t do it anymore, but that would be a lie.  The truth is, I am tired of this part, so I’m being lazy about it, but that won’t get the work done.  Bus drivers get tired of getting up at 4:30am to drive that bus to get everyone else to work on time, but they still have to do it.

Recently a gifted tech editor I’d hired to look at some of my HoTN pieces threw her hands up at my insane and bizarre way I write my patterns.  I’m an odd one.  And she was entirely right.  But when I look at her notes on my patterns, I just can’t get my mind to work in that way.

I’m stubbornly intuitive.  Or intuitively stubborn.  A bad combination.

I’ve been through this before with several patterns, most notably with my circular shrug.  The editors at Vogue just couldn’t get what I was going for – and I don’t know if I was as clear as I should have been.  So the pattern was written in 3 sizes and no one was really happy with it.  What I wanted to do was create a universal pattern which could be worked up in ANY size, and eventually I did that, but it took me quite a long time buried under the numbers and worksheets before I could emerge with the pattern.

This is the point I’m at with many of my HoTN patterns, and I need to either steele myself and just dive into the math, or accept that it’s beyond me.

If we’re very lucky we will be able to have a part of what we really love in our daily work-for-bread lives.  But the trade off is that we’ll hit phases when we begin to almost convince ourselves that we don’t love what we DO love.

The knitting I love.  The explaining what and how I’m doing in such a way that other folks can recreate what I’ve done, that’s so hard that my head hurts and sometimes I hate it.

So my task right now is to find a way to LOVE the hard parts, the parts that don’t come naturally, the parts that take a little time.

Loving the effort, the hard effort, that’s my job for today.

Silence is Golden!

I’ve been very quiet, but it’s because I’ve been working on a few various projects and have been nursing the tail end of a cold.  So here’s what I’ve been doing, for you lovely, patient folks!

MN Knitters Guild

Last night I gave a short talk at the Minnesota Knitters Guild about Standardization And Fashion History – or “Why I want to dress you like an Minoan” It went really well, it was very enjoyable (well, for me at least!) and folks laughed!

I had a chance to see friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and folks who had fallen off of my radar.  THANK YOU MN KNITTING GUILD for hosting me!

As part of my talk I discussed where I am with History on Two Needles and played a short movie that I’d made to show some of my research and back-work.  Here it is, for your eddification:

My projects thus far, some of the pitfalls, and some of the triumphs. No words, just images and music.

Plaid & Cables

NaKniSweMo

I wanted to participate in Shannon Okey’s NaKniSweMo, so this year the planets were finally in alignment and I had a nice-sized project to jump in with.

I’ve just finished this lovely poncho for Imperial Ranch Yarns, I was inspired by their very colorful yarns and wanted to make a BIG piece of fabric.  Two, actually.

So I put them together in the time honored 2 Rectangle Poncho and added a bit of fringe.  I hope you like the colors – they’re pretty out there.  I like to think of this as my “Mondo Period”

Cables

The cable rectangle references the vertical strips in the plaid, with the yellow carried up into the cable.  I think this creates a through-line that makes the disparate sections make sense.  Between the cables are tiny eyelets creating a vine lace pattern that mirrors the cable movement.

Plaid Detail & Fringe!

The plaid is one of my favorites, a slip-stitch technique that I teach in my colorwork classes.   It’s not difficult, but it is complex.

Complex and difficult are two different things.  Complex can be broken down into a set of simple actions, and that’s exactly what this technique is.

I won’t say it’s easy, but I will say that even a very new knitter can get it by following the simple steps.

New Classes

I’m currently working this plaid technique up as part of an online colorwork class, and if all goes well I hope to have it ready to go live by December, or January at the latest.  I also hope to have a millinery (hat making) workshop ready to go at that point, too!

The Universal Mitered Bag

Until that time, my current Big 4 Class Roundup [Combination Knitting, Lace Bootcamp, Twisted Float Shrug, Universal Mitered Handbag] are up and running in my NEW classroom space – www.knittingheretic.com – and it’s going beautifully! 

Remember, you can easily access any of my online class information by visiting onlineknittingclasses.com Tell your friends!

By the way, since the classes are ongoing with no specified start date, you can begin at ANY TIME!

That Universal Mitered Bag would sure make a terrific holiday gift for someone. Just sayin’
Hey, you know what else would make a good gift?  A class. Just sayin’

In Math We Trust

The Universal Mitered Bag

When making a felted bag or even a felted hat, often you just jump in, knit it up (real big!), toss it in the washer and take your chances.

However,  fulling – felting – a larger garment that is suppose to FIT A HUMAN BODY after everything is said and done, involves a leap of faith.  And Math.

Why, here’s a video I made on how I felt my Universal Mitered Handbag (part of my UMH online class) that explains the process quite nicely – and amusingly…

Gauge

My take on gauge is a bit unorthodox (you were expecting something different?) because I feel that gauge is – for most knitters – a variable rather than a constant.

We’ve all experienced the situation where we do a quick gauge swatch (usually in the yarn shop) buy the yarn and go home only to discover that the gauge on the actual garment is markedly different.  Or the gauge is different from section to section on the garment.

This is hand knitting, folks, this is going to happen.  Unless we’re machines or dieties (and we’re neither) our gauge is affected by many things – not least of which is our mental state as we’re knitting.

Gauge happens.

This is one reason that LARGE gauge swatches are very important (I don’t make gauge swatches smaller than 9″ square, usually more like 15″ square).

It’s also a reason that it’s vital to swatch using the same needles you’ll be using on the project, and knitting in the same method you’ll be using (if the garment is to be knit in the round, SWATCH it in the round!)

Gauge & Felting

When felting gauge is a changeable thing.

We all know that our stitch and row gauge is usually different, and I tell folks that unless they’re knitting a sweater from cuff to cuff the stitch gauge is more important than the row gauge.  But when you felt something the stitch and row gauge changes even MORE.

It’s necessary to take this into account when figuring the final size of the garment – the rows and stitches will shrink in different proportions, the % of the shrinkage will be different.

Section of Woman In Red Jacket, Tissot

And this means that the actual non-felted garment may look rather bizarre when knit up, before felting.

Circular Logic

I’ve just finished working up a felted circular garment (I did the felting live in real time via Twitter, it was very exciting…) based on a painting by Tissot.

I worked it up using Imperial Ranch Pencil Roving, which – until you get used to it –  is kind of a bear to knit with (you have to treat it GENTLY –  it becomes easier!)

This yarn felts better than just about anything I’ve knit with, though, so it’s well worth the learning curve!

Since the garment was to be knit in the round, I worked my swatch in the round.  This gave me a better understanding of what the pre vs. post felted measurements would be, and how to figure my shrinkage percentages.

Because the row and stitch gauge changes during felting, the whole pi thing (diameter x pi = circumference) can get a little surreal – but it actually DOES work!

This garment had the extra, bonus wrinkle of a cabled edging which was not worked in the round, but worked along the edge of the circle.  THAT was bit of a headache, and I’m not entirely sure I have it perfect, but I’m happy with it.  I’ve tweaked it in the test pattern so I’ll see if my tweak garners the correct results.

This garment required TWO feltings, I’ve found that’s the case with a lot of items.  The first pass shrunk it up nicely, but it didn’t have the compactness that I was looking for.

Tissot At Night

So I felted it a second time, then I attacked it with my steamer (a steam iron would work well, too) and manipulated the hot, wet wool into the shape I needed.

Most of the steam block shaping took place at the armhole opening (forcing the top of the sleeve a bit wider) and at the cuffs and edges (making the cables look nicer, the edge smoother and the bobbles a bit rounder)

I can’t deny this was a fun knit.  Now that I’ve worked it up AND I see that my math works, I definitely want to make one in my size for me.

It’s a long knit, and you have to pay attention (there are two different short row passes to create the oval garment with the bust shaping) but with stitch markers all things are possible…

I didn’t need to do this…

Mistakes

My mind has NOT been as clear as I would have liked – which actually may have been a good thing as it forced me to take copious notes of every step of the process as I worked.  The sleeve cuff openings are placed along the center back line of the sleeve, and I placed my first one correctly.

Then I rode my bike to have coffee with a friend and convinced myself that I’d put the opening in the wrong place, so I cut the sleeve apart and kitchner stitched it back together.  And I worked the other sleeve to match.

THEN I finished the garment and placed it on the mannequin and saw that – yes – I was right in the first place.  Dang.

So I cut the sleeves off AGAIN and kitchner stitched them back on.  After the felting it’s not terribly apparent, but it IS noticeable.

I would NOT suggest that this is the route anyone else takes in the working up of this garment.  And don’t make decisions about a garment after biking 8 miles on a cold day.

I also wasn’t happy with the bobble placement – that’s why they disappeared in the photo above.  I cut them off when re-stitching the sleeve, tossed them in the washer so they’d felt, too, and have yet to sew them back on.  I’ve tweaked this in the pattern so the bobbles fall higher up the sleeve, so I think this will resolve this issue.

Hope From Mr. Levine

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 By Rick Levine

Yesterday | Today | Tomorrow


Virgo
(Aug 23 – Sep 22)

It hasn’t been easy accepting the limitations that have been placed on you.

Now, as you finally acknowledge your role in a relationship or on the job, something happens that opens the door of possibilities to what you once wanted but have since let go.

Naturally, this can be exciting, confusing and upsetting all at once. Take a few deep breaths while you consider your choices.

Keep in mind that you have more time than you think to make up your mind.

To say the past few weeks have been – ahem – rather rich and full would be an understatement.

I’ve traveled a LOT – both engagements scheduled last year, long before my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia.

I hadn’t considered canceling either Scotland or Italy, I wanted (selfishly, perhaps) to do both of them, Gerry encouraged me, and I hated the idea of setting a precedent of bowing out of something due to my health.

FREEDOM!

So I dedicated myself to staying as healthy as I could while in both locations.  For me, that meant lots of rest, and lots of exercise.  The bike is my favorite exercise method – it allows me to get around, and it’s like taking a big pain pill – it’s quite good at making my aches go away.

The blood flows all over, reaching places that hurt, and they hurt less (or at least that’s how I understood what my chiropractor told me…)

By renting and riding bikes in Scotland and Italy, the trips – and my life – have been the richer.

But even with all the bike riding in the world, the past few months were full of the usual travel tsuris, plus a few added crisis tossed in for extra chuckles.  It became – at times – quite overwhelming.

And, as is often the case when I feel overwhelmed, I begin to question everything about my life.  What are my plans?  Am I reaching my goals?  How pure are my actions? Why am I doing what I’m doing?  How long can I continue to work if I have to take a nap every day?  When did I turn into my grandmother?

I'm sorry, the answer must be in the form of a question.

Recently it feels like everything in my life is a question on the huge Jeopardy! board in my head (“I’ll take ‘Dealing With Fibromyalgia’ for $50, Alex”)

But the horoscope today gives me hope – it makes me feel like I don’t need to rush. 

I always feel like I need to rush.

WORK

I wish I were further along with History on Two Needles.

My brain is not processing the math & patterns as it should, and that’s stymied me.  I’ve found a wonderful local tech editor who I think will be able to put up with my oddnesses, I have a good friend who will help me sort out how to deal with the art direction, and I have yarn for the last few projects that need to be knit up.

All I really have to do is get the danged patterns written!  And that’s something that takes time.  The older I get, the more it seems that I require an easing in phase before settling in to write a pattern.

Whereas 5 years ago I could just grab an hour, plop down at the computer and work up the math for a project, now I need to settle in with the worksheet and reacquaint myself with the project for a few hours before my brain will go to the ‘math place’ and I can make sense of the structure.

...and the point would be...?

The fact that most of my patterns have an unusual construction doesn’t help, it often gives me the uncomfortable sense that I’m reinventing the wheel when I start to write a pattern.

On the other hand, I can look at my designs as pieces of origami.  No matter HOW good one is at the creating cranes or salt boxes or paper elephants, each new project begins with a few simple folds.

One can’t just skip over the first folds, these basic steps must be performed to allow you to move on to more complex folds.

It’s not that one is reinventing the fold, it’s that the first steps cannot be skipped.

So right now I’m gearing myself up to settle into a pattern writing phase, (brilliantly coordinated to kick in when I return from my next teaching engagement in Pennsylvania.)  October will mark an extended period of HOME TIME, and October will be pattern writing month.

My current mental preparation before the onset of “Worksheet Wonderland” are like those initial folds in an origami project.  (And it allows me to rationalize the time I’ve spent playing sudoku.)

It's my mental workout. Yeah, that's it...

HEALTH

I’ve hesitated in recent weeks to write about my health – it’s hard to read that you’re “moaning” about yourself – and I hate to go down that road.

Obviously I don’t think I’m moaning, but then no one ever does, do they?  I try to be pretty positive, pretty pro-active and intelligent about what I write and what I do related to Fibromyalgia.  But it’s a huge part of my life, I can’t deny that, and therefore it has a large impact on my design, writing and teaching.

So far, 9 months into this diagnosed adventure, I’m learning that every day is a new lesson.  I’m realizing that any boundary I discover is a moving target (why can I do X on Monday but not on Tuesday?  And why can I do it again on Wednesday?)

Here are a few truisms that I’ve discovered:

  • Wheat and gluten make me hurt, they make my joints and muscles ache, my throat becomes sore and my ears ring like a carillon.  I can be laid up in bed for days with these flu-like symptoms after eating a bit of wheat, even a tiny bit.
  • Wheat and gluten are in a LOT of products, but it’s easier to avoid them than I might have thought, and there are some very good alternatives.
  • Vitamin D3 is like a miracle for me.  When I err and take some wheat, I can flush it out of my system more quickly with a lot of water and some Vit D3.  I take a good amount each day, and when I skip it, I feel it.
  • I get more tired physically than I used to.  When I get tired, it’s like a light turning off.  There’s not a lot of warning, and suddenly I’m almost paralyzed with exhaustion.
  • Perhaps counter-intuitively, a good amount of exercise each day will keep the pain to a minimum and raise my energy levels.  When I go for two or more days without a good bike ride or yoga, I hurt like heck the next day. Which makes movement even harder.
  • Very hot weather is hard for me.  Very cold weather is hard for me.  Wet weather is hard for me.  I am feeling rather fearful of this Winter, hoping that I’m able to use activity, vitamin D and rest to stay relatively pain free.

One of the hardest things is dealing with folks who either can not, or will not, understand that I can be paralyzed with pain – to the point of tears – on Monday, but able to ride my bike 6 miles on Tuesday.

I hate being seen as a victim, but at the same time I refuse to be ashamed of being ill, to not talk about it at all. It’s not in my nature to suck it up and be silent, I’m too much of an extrovert (and, to be honest, a ‘me-show’) for that.

My Salts!

I want folks to understand that this is a manageable condition.  It’s not fun, but it has forced me to be more intelligent about the way I live my life, and that’s not a bad thing!

I haven’t had to take medication specifically for Fibro yet – I am currently not insured so I couldn’t afford them anyway. I’ve been doing well so far with diet, exercise, Vit D3, rest, chiropractor, massage every now and then AND acupuncture when I can.

Having said that, though, I do have days when I’m just out of commission.  More days than I like to admit.

And the days when I am functional are less full and busy than they’ve been in the past, and they’re fewer and farther between.  Less work gets done than I’d hoped, less money is earned, and I feel – like many folks these days – a little worried.  But what would life be without some worry to keep us honest?

Excuse me while I gracefully collapse onto the fainting couch…

FUN

Sunday was the Stitch & Pitch Twins game, and I’d planned on attending with Steven B’s group.  At the last minute Steven told me another ticket had become available, so I grabbed it for Max (he hadn’t been to a game at the new Target Field yet.) It was a beautiful day, so we made the decision to bike over to Steven’s and then to the game (12 miles total) knowing that if we got tired we could hop on a Metro bus (each bus in the twin cities is equipped with a bike rack) so we’d be in good shape.

Yes Ladies, He KNITS!

The ride was wonderful!  It was easy going, the uphill parts didn’t seem bad and the downhill parts were a blast!  Sunday morning the streets were pretty empty, traffic was at a minimum, and Max and I stuck to bike paths and back streets as much as possible.

It was – as always – a delight to see Steven, to see his great space, and after picking up our tickets Max and I headed over to Target Field.  Now THAT is a beautiful ball park!  We sat in the bleachers, just behind the 1st base foul pole, and enjoyed as much of the game as we saw.

Around the 7th inning I could feel a pretty strong Fibro-flare up coming on.  I can tell one’s on the way when my muscles begin to ache, my throat gets sore and my ears ring.  It’s almost like clockwork, now that I know what the signs are.  I think in this case it was sitting for an extended period on metal benches in a shady, cold area (yes, it’s Minnesota…) but for whatever reason, I knew that I had a doozy of a mini-flare-up coming.

So Max and I made our goodbyes (and THANK YOU to the kind woman who tossed some kettle corn at Max!  We all enjoyed it thoroughly!) and headed off to the bus, conveniently located just below the stadium.

We caught the express, got our bikes all settled on the rack (I was pretty shaky by this time, when I called Gerry I dropped my iphone and cracked the glass – phone still works.  Gerry’s confident that he can fix it) and in 20 minutes were were a mile from our home, so we hopped off the bus and rode the rest of the way.  Wonderful!

Max at Target Field

Despite the expense of the day (perhaps guilt at being away from the kids for so long had a bit to do with that. The tix were $20 and there were food items purchased at the park…) it was SO great.

Sunday was a good example of how I can deal with the Fibro while getting as much as possible out of life.

I rode when I could, I  I interacted with other folks as much as I could, I stayed as long as I could, then when it became too much for me physically I made my exit and got home with minimal stress.

I’ll remember Sunday as a really golden day – a very hopeful day.

Back on Track, Baby!

Geeze, I cannot tell you how out of body it is to have your computer cease to function when you depend on it so much!  The only thing I can relate it to is – and I’m just guessing here – having a lobotomy.

Actually, someone recently told me that (it may even be in my blog comments) but I have forgotten.

So much for my OWN CPU in my brain

So I’m on Gerry’s computer.  My hard drive is showing all kinds of errors so it’s back to the manufacturer for a refund.  In March it became clear that I was outgrowing my hard drive very quickly. So Gerry bought and installed a new 500 gb drive for me, and it worked like a charm – until it didn’t.

Apparently the drive itself is wonky.  It hadn’t been acting weird, although iMovie was running weirder and weirder (I just figured it was iMovie, a rather buggy incarnation – I don’t like iMovie 09 at all…)

I lost some stuff, but not much – not really.  Not a lot when I think of what I MIGHT have lost.  The worst thing I lost was 2 weeks, and a feeling of comfort that will take a bit to get back.

And, as I like to say, the only true mistake (or misstep, or minor computer tragedy) is one from which you learn nothing.  So here’s what I’ve learned;

1. Backup.

They tell you this – the magic “they” – and they are right.  I used to use Mozy, but found I was having a hard time backing up completely and when I’d contact customer service they’d insist there was NO problem, but suddenly, magically, my files began backing up on their server again.  Coincidence?  Who knows.  But I was getting tired of the game playing so JUST LAST MONTH I began using Carbonite.

Carbonite could be better, but it’s pretty darned good.  I think it’s a good price for that peace of mind I had in the midst of my traumatic two weeks.  If you are interested and you click on this link, you get a month free.  Just sayin’

I also backup regularly on a separate hard drive.  I do this so I can keep yearly ‘snapshots’ of where my work is.  I do it at least once a year, usually every 3-4 months.  It’s been very helpful at times to return to something from 3 years ago to see EXACTLY how I worked out a pattern, or where I might have gone wrong with something.

Not everyone has extra hard drives lying around, but my husband is a bit if a geeky guy, so we do.

2. Don’t Get Flustered – just walk away

When I realized my computer world was heading south (in the middle of editing a video for one of my classes) I kind of freaked out.  I went through the 5 stages of grief and added a 6th stage; a full pint of Hagen Daas.

Taking Time to Enjoy The View

The next morning I got up early, fuddled and bemused.  In denial.  But Gerry had hooked up my old hard drive (yes, we kept that around, too, in it’s own little easy to hook up case!) and somehow one of the first things I did was – don’t ask me how – installed the newest operating system on my new/used jailbroken iphone.

And, of course, THIS is the operating system for which there is no jailbreak.  So I was without computer OR iphone/ipod, and it was stunning how that hit me.  All because I overreacted and began downloading things with wild abandon.  The next time this happens I will SIT ON MY HANDS for 24 hours.

3. Create Distance

Similar to ‘walk away,’ this is more active.  I worked hard to put myself in a zen place where I moved my brain away from the computer, as much as possible.  I am unlike most of the world, I work on my own schedule, so I can choose to have a few weeks where I am less productive.

Basement Hidey Hole, er, Office

But by compelling myself to actually GO do yoga, ride my bike a bit each day, go for walks, work up swatches of

new yarns, all totally NON computer stuff, I allowed myself to see how much my worth is NOT tied up in my wonderful little MacBook.  It was a step back that’s been very healthy for me, I think I’ll make sure I take a computer break more often, and I’ve committed to attending yoga at least 3 times each week.

I’m also gifting two friends with making their wedding dresses (of fabric, NOT knitting them…)  It’s something I can do well, and these are two friends who mean a lot to me.  So I made myself get some work done on the patterning, and in the process I’ve gone miles toward creating a workable space for myself in the basement.

See how much I can get done when I’m not sitting at my computer all day?

4. Clouds

I’ve slowly been moving much of my work onto off site areas, keeping my calendars at Google (syncing them with my ical every day), keeping my videos, handouts, and some of my databases on my server (yet another type of backup), stuff like that.

But I’m going to get even more serious about keeping my working files on some kind of cloud system so I won’t be completely stymied if I lose the use of my hard drive (or lose my computer, heaven forbid!) I’ll be using google docs more for the kind of work it’s good for, box.net for sharing files.

Max & The Liffey

I honestly don’t know what I’d do without Flickr.  My premium membership has always been a good investment, NOW more than ever!  Because the hard drive replacement happened before our trip to Ireland, many of those images went missing in the whole experience.  HOWEVER, I had uploaded all of the ones that mattered to me to my Flickr account.  I am happy.

Gerry’s felt pretty awful about this.  I don’t blame him AT ALL, but he was the one who put the new hard drive in, and he tends to take blame on himself like burrs on a wool hiking sock.

He acquired a wonderful new computer through a program to get disabled folks re-educated so they can get back to work (he wants to do computer conferencing stuff since he can’t really do TV production any more.)

So after he finished with his final exams last week he kindly lent me his computer to use while we wait for my NEW big ol’ hard drive to return.  At least the hard drive was under warranty.

It is pretty ironic, he has this honking big hard drive of which he uses maybe 5%.  I had a teeny tiny hard drive (before the switch) and I was constantly ripping things out and moving them to new places just to keep enough space so I could operate my business.  So now I’m on HIS computer for a few days (weeks?) and I’m enjoying every minute of it.  It’s like someone letting me borrow their Saab.

Today is the first day back 100% on my game, back with all of my working files installed into Gerry’s computer, back using the software I’m used to.  I feel like it’s the first day of the rest of my – Summer? I’ve started creating a working timeline for History on Two Needles, I’m actively pursuing a tech editor to see if we might be able to work well together (harder than a marriage!), I feel like I’m getting back on my game!

Imagine how cool it was to read THIS horoscope today:

Thursday, July 29, 2010 By Rick Levine

Yesterday | Today | Tomorrow


Virgo
(Aug 23 – Sep 22)

You may feel as if a new race is officially beginning, yet you are barely stepping up to the starting gate. Balancing your need for perfection with your desire to reach the finish line can be tricky business, especially if there are others involved. Eagerly pushing ahead won’t work any better than lagging far behind. Seek a sustainable pace that works for you and don’t measure your progress by anyone around you.

Collar Love

Ben's Suit, PRW Season 7

I’m a big fan of flat patterning.  Not that I don’t like draping, there’s a place for that, but when you see a REALLY well fit garment you just know the pattern maker has a bit of flat patterning under their belt.

When I watch Project Runway one of the things that makes me cringe are the folks who’ve never made a pair of pants, or a jacket, and who feel a major competition would be a good time to try it.

That happened this week and I felt Ben’s pain.  But it was absurd to think that a jacket or pair of pants are so easy to create out of thin air with no sloper or tailoring experience.

It seemed that Ben tried to make his garments entirely by draping, which is the quicker and – at first glance – less frightening route. But without a good bit of pattern drafting, his tailored pieces were a bit of a train wreck. 

The "Tighty Whitey" Pants

Michael Kors said it best when he compared the pants to wearing one’s underwear outside of the pants.

In knit design, draping is a bit more difficult.  Sometimes I have been known to use a yard or two of machine knit ribbing from the fabric store to see if an idea I have for shaping will work out.

But mostly I rely on my flat patterning chops to chart out the increases and decreases to create the shape I’m looking for.

If you’re creating a shaped garment and you don’t have a sense that taking “a bit out here” will affect how “this bit lays over there”, you could end up in hot water very quickly.  And you could have a LOT of ripping out.

But – here’s another secret – designing IS more ripping out than knitting.  It just is.  And a butt-load of swatching (that’s the technical term.)

Collars from Sewingtechnology.net

One of the more fun things to pattern are collars.  They’re usually pretty small, they have interesting curves and shaping, and their influence on a finished design can be dramatic.

Here is a menu of collars by www.sewingtechnology.net.

Although I don’t use this software, I do like to use these images for inspiration. I’m sure it’s a fine application, I just don’t personally use it.

I learned much of what I know about pattern making back in college, working in the costume shop and using the book Pattern Making by the Flat Pattern Method by Norma Hollen.  My copy cost $20 back then – now it’s $116.  Ouch.

Gripsholm Collar Shape

Right now I’m working on a piece for History on Two Needles (HoTN) called the Gripsholm Jacket.  It’s worn by a woman, but the piece has a definite masculine feel, especially the collar shaping.

Theoretically I knew what I needed to do.  I needed to make a rectangle with a curved top above it.

Here's the collar, flat (collapsed curve)

The lapel tops nest in the corners, and the curve at the top creates the rise at the back of the collar.

But mentally it was a challenge.  It took several tries before I just accepted that I KNEW what had to be done – and I did it!

The shape was not intuitive, it’s an odd alchemy that makes this bizzarre mushroom fold into a lovely collar, but there it is!

Here’s how the collar ended up looking, and the bonus is that the shaping (for the knitter) is relatively uncomplicated.

Well, I hope it is!  It’s easy to lose perspective!

The Collar From The Back