Divisions are Sexy (book giveaway – read on…)

…but they’re not helpful.

It seems that entities are always trying to divide folks – Red vs. Blue, Stay-at-home-Moms vs. Work-out-of-the-home-Moms, Mac vs PC, Pepsi vs Coke, Farmer vs. Cowman – the list is endless.

I believe the reason is division sells newspapers.  It’s sexy.

False division compels folks to fight with each other, and when people take sides, they become engaged and they’ll buy papers or watch TV shows that support their position.

I’m sick of it.

In the crafting world we’ve seen one of these divisions – the idiotic, trumped up gap between Knitting and Crochet – slowly, beautifully bridged as more and more designers are working in both.

These two ways of creating fabric with yarn work so beautifully together, it only makes sense that folks who consider themselves well rounded would learn at least the rudiments of either craft.

To my mind, knit and crochet are very similar.  I explain to my knit students that crochet is just like knitting except each stitch is bound off as it’s worked.  In knitting the stitches are left ‘live’ on the needle. 

In Tunisian Crochet, which is essentially a of blend of the two, the stitches are alternatively live for a row, then bound off in every other row.

Yes, that’s a rather simplistic way of explaining it, but it gets the idea across.  Sometimes a simple explanation is best – too many words get in the way when trying to convince someone to just jump in and use their hands!

This is my long-winded way of getting to a new collection of patterns by Kristin Omdahl that spans knit AND crochet, and they’re beautiful!

The patterns are all accessories, small and portable and ranging in difficulty levels.  It’s an exciting and beautiful collection, but the thing I love the MOST about it is that it may be instrumental in convincing a knit-only person to attempt some crochet, and vice-versa!

I’m giving a copy of this e-book/collection away!

If you’d like to receive this great collection, simply leave a comment below and I’ll select someone at random (using my highly scientific method) and email you the book!

And if you DON’T win the book, but would still like to have a copy, it’s available for $9.95 here!

Finding The Mistake

Mistakes happen.

Every now and then before one of my classes gets going, or during a break, someone will bring up the eternal question, “Why are there mistakes in patterns?”

And the answer is; Because patterns are made, figured, checked and printed by HUMAN BEINGS.  It’s our nature to be imperfect, that’s what makes us human.

Telling a knitter, “it’s not about perfection, but about dealing gracefully with imperfection…” is NOT the most helpful way to get someone past a frustrating point in their pattern, though.  So I try to hold back on the philosophizing when I’m actually in the midsts of getting someone over a pattern misunderstanding or mistake!

At this point I shouldn’t be astounded at how mistakes can creep into a pattern during the editing process, or how many mistakes I, myself, toss into the mix with stupid math errors, but every time it happens I’m a little blown away.

It’s good not to get complacent about mistakes, but it’s also necessary to treat them as what they are: Frustrations, roadblocks, not intentional slights by a designer.  I’d like them to be as few as possible, every designer would like that, but they creep in.

Sometimes mistakes aren’t mistakes at all, they’re just clumsy explanations that can be confusing for a reader/knitter.  These are the easiest to fix, and generally occur when several ‘cooks’ are involved in creating & editing a pattern, making edits and re-edits that might not always make sense.

Other mistakes are based in simple math.  This morning I was contacted by an editor who noticed that my row count on a project didn’t jive with the measurement given the stated gauge.  This was simple to fix – I’d calculated the measurement based on the wrong gauge (stitch vs row) and just had to change my multiplier.

The hardest math problems for me spring from the need to take into consideration the variables of sizing, motif repeat counts and gauge.  Because I don’t want to make your (or my) brain hurt too early in the morning, I won’t go into the deep details of my patterning, but here’s a simple overview of my process.

1. Size
I begin by creating RAW measurement numbers (based on schematics, pattern drafting skills & experience with different size patterns)  I generally like to design for at least 5 sizes (I’d feel like a traitor to the cause if I don’t size something up so that I could make it for me if I chose to)

2. Gauge
I work up a sizeable swatch so I can get a decent gauge.  I like to think of gauge as a tool, not THE tool, for determining fit.  Other tools include a measuring tape and the ability to measure the piece as we work it.

3. Motif
I figure out the best repeating pattern stitch count.  This is very tricky, as a motif count may work BEAUTIFULLY for 4 out of 6 sizes, but just will NOT fit into the other two.  Sometimes the motif counts between different sections of the sweater don’t play well together. Sometimes I just screw up the numbers.

The magic number 12 is the knit designer’s best friend.  It’s a good number, divisible by both even and odd numbers, and plugs into many motifs quite easily.  A good amount of my designing time is spent working motifs into a derivative of 12.

Once I’ve worked through these three elements once, I return to them, finessing the numbers and trying to make one motif fit for all sizes (sometimes this just doesn’t work, which is when you see patterns with 1 chart for sizes ABC and another chart for sizes DEF.)

It’s a lengthy process, taking – I’m not exaggerating – up to 100 hours for a sweater (NOT including the knitting process)

My family is very aware of the body language and facial expressions that announce, “Mom is in MATH HELL…  RUN AWAY!”

This number represents the working through the math so that the design and proportion distribution (one of the hardest parts) create an attractive garment in every size included in the pattern.

And I often fall short of what I hope to accomplish!  But every year I do this pattern writing thing, I get better.

Every time I sit down to create a pattern – even if I’m working off of a skeleton of an older design – I feel as though I’m starting a long journey all over again.

For a while this made me crazy – I kept thinking, “Why can’t I just simplify this process?”  Then I realized it’s because my mind works in a different way than many others (every mind works differently, I’m nothing special!)

I realized that I can no sooner leap over the above mentioned steps 1, 2 & 3 to the final pattern than I could teleport to TNNA in June.

I could fly to TNNA, but whether I drive or go by air I still need to make the journey every time. I can’t just wiggle my nose and arrive in Columbus!

I can use a pre-set worksheet to help with my math, but that doesn’t take the place of the necessary pattern writing process that’s as much art & poetry as it is math.

Right now I’m in a bit of math/pattern hell as I work through tech edits for History on Two Needles.  Our goal is to have something lovely to present at TNNA (a blad that folks can hold and order from) and a finished book in the stores by Fall (just in time for holiday giving!) 

In other news, I’m uploading a bunch of my patterns to Craftsy (and taking time to give them a good once-over) and finally reworking many of my patterns (for which I own rights but were previously published in other venues) by adding extra charts, tips and in some cases extra sizes before offering THEM for sale, too!

For instance, here’s the Luminarie Skirt with extra charts & in my own pattern speak – $7.00

Four Hats To Cool Heads

Warm Hats Not Hot Heads

I’m finishing up my fourth hat this week, and you might wonder why…

It’s not a charity hat per se, although I’ve knitted many of those.  It’s not exactly a gift, although I know who the intended recipient is.

I’m knitting in the hopes of facilitating a bit of civility in congress.

It’s an idea that Alison at SpinDyeKnit and my friend Ellen at Twinset had, and it’s explained in greater detail here at facebook, and on Alison’s blog.

I’ll write a letter to put with each of my hats, which will read something like this note by Ellen:

Dear Congressperson,

This hat was hand knit with care for you.  Many of your colleagues will also be receiving hats from knitters of all political stripes and from all around the nation.

Why a hat?  Knit hats meet a simple need for warmth.  They are an every day comfort.  Everyone can use a good hat.

Civil political discourse also meets a simple need – the need for our government to have the best information and insights from many viewpoints.  It would be an every day comfort to me and many other Americans if the airwaves were free of hate-filled rhetoric, and it would lead to good government.   As I’m sure you agree, everyone can use good government.

Thank you for your service, and best regards,


P.S.  More information about this effort, Warm Hats, Not Hot Heads can be found at http://twinset.us/?p=3732 or http://spindyeknit.com/2011/01/lets-change-the-world/.  If you can not personally use this hat, please donate it to a worthy charity.

I’ve chosen a few congress folk with whom I agree, and some who I don’t, because that seems in the spirit of the whole thing.

Ellen’s keeping a tally of who has agreed to knit which congress critter a hat, and whether they’re sent off individually or together is still being decided. 

I like to think of this as a knitters version of Senator Franken’s Hot Dish Cook Off a few weeks ago.

It’s a small thing, but sometimes the softest gesture can have the firmest impact.

If you’d like to be a part of this effort and knit up a hat for a congress person to express to them your hope (and expectation) that they engage in civil dialogue while working on our behalf, contact Ellen via Ravelry (she’s twinsetellen) or leave a post here and I’ll get the information over to her (don’t leave your email in the actual comment, just type it in the email box and it will be hidden from the world but visible to me!)

While I’m Otherwise Occupied

I’m working through a few rather large projects right now, two of which will be discussed further along this week.

What I CAN tell you right now is that if you’re interested in my new ONLINE KNITTING MILLINERY CLASS, and are one of the first 50 folks to sign up, I’ll send you a FREE copy of the new, revised Knitting Millinery (a $15 value)

Knitting Millinery Class
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The class will be self guided, meaning you will be on your own to work through the videos, handouts and syllabus in the class.  However, I WILL be available for online chats (privately or in a group if more than one person wants to chat at the same time) and I’m ALWAYS available via email for questions and assistance.

As a bit of a come on, here’s a video I’m putting together for the Knitting Millinery Class.

Note: There’s nothing whatsoever about CREATING hats in this video, it’s just a look at some hats through history, to set the tone and get the juices flowing for folks who sign up.  It’s only partially finished, but it will give you a taste of the exposition portion of the class.

Shameless Plug

I’m teaching in Columbus Ohio on June 10 & 11, downtown at the Marriott Courtyard
35 W. Spring St, Columbus, OH 43215, map

I’m teaching in conjunction with a group I belong to, the Stitch Coop, and the number & quality of classes is pretty impressive.  All of our classes are spread between June 10 – 13, a whole potpourri!

The sign-ups have a teensy been slower than we’d like, so today we’re launching a

Grand Memorial Day Weekend Discount

If you sign up for ANY of the Stitch Coop Classes over this Memorial Day weekend and use the code “shhh” you’ll get 10% off of all your classes. 

If you know a friend in the Columbus area (or anywhere in Ohio or related environs) please feel free to pass this along!

Combination Knitting
Thursday, June 10, 7pm – 10pm

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Have you ever taken a foreign language and discovered that – suddenly – you understand your OWN language a bit better?  That’s how it feels when you dive into a NEW way of thinking about your knitting!

Many folks have found Combination Knitting* to be an easier, faster and less painful method of creating stitches – and the ribbing will make you kvell!  This class will turn the way you think about your stitches inside out!

*Combo Knitting is a mix of Eastern & Western Knitting, it can be worked with either the Western (Right hand) or Continental (Left hand) yarn hold.

Tips & Tricks
Friday, June 11, 11am – 2pm

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This class is all about shortcuts that make SO much sense I wonder that everyone doesn’t do them!  25 years of knitting heresy have give me a nice bank of unusual ways of binding off, creating embellishments, increasing, cabling, and many more fun techniques.

This class is full of all kinds of groovy tips that can make your knitting more joyful than you’d ever expected.  For many knitters, this is just the class they need to leap forward to a new level and find the intuitive path they’ve been seeking!

Lace Scarf Boot Camp
Friday, June 11, 7pm – 10pm

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Have you felt passed over by the lace explosion?  Do you just feel you’re not “getting it?” when you see your friends creating lovely shawls & scarves?  Do charts make you cringe a little bit?  Allow me to introduce you to the BASIC concepts of lace, charts, directional increases & decreases – all in a way that will have you creating the lace of your dreams in a very short time!

I concentrate on teaching you to interpret, comprehend and MEMORIZE lace motifs (written or charted) so you can make lace the truly intuitive experience it should be!

THAT Direction

We’ve sort of been waiting for this, expecting this, for a little over 2 years.

We’d almost convinced ourselves that it wouldn’t happen, even as we would take any opportune moment to remind each other (and anyone who would listen), “We’re very lucky, but the luck can’t last forever…”

Gerry’s IgG numbers are elevating.

We’d gotten used to the numbers either going down, or staying steady.  Moving in no direction, static, flat.

Now they’re moving up from the 1,300’s in the Fall, to the 1,500’s in Feb, up almost to 1,600 now.  That’ moving out of normal range, and is probably the harbinger of a relapse.  Or not.  Or it is.

The indecision of this disease, Multiple Myeloma, compels us to become VERY zen in our outlook.

I’m having a rough time myself right now.  On our trip to Mount Rushmore Max and I developed bronchitis (he’s better, I still sound like Brenda Vaccaro) and Gerry picked it up on Tuesday.  Max is better, I’m recovering, but Gerry’s feeling bad with nausea, headache, fever, chills – the whole enchilada.

In the midsts of this, the phone call from his Oncologist asking him to come in for another blood test feels like an out-of-body experience, as if we’re watching it on a made-for-TV movie.  Maybe one starring Brenda Vaccaro?


I have a certain amount of – well, not guilt – but amazement at my hubris in taking my family to Ireland.  I’d find myself thinking, “Who do you think you are?  Taking your family to Ireland when you’re losing your health insurance on July 1.  Shouldn’t you be saving every penny?”

I just don’t know.

We’re swapping houses with a couple in Ireland who are coming to St. Paul for their son’s law school graduation.  Max & my tickets are paid for with frequent flier miles, I found a pretty good fare for Gerry and Hannah, so the total cost for the trip (figuring for extras) should be about $2,000.

For 3 weeks that seems like an amazing bargain, which quells a bit of my – ahem – guilt.

Now that Gerry’s MM numbers are moving in the direction we’d hoped they wouldn’t, I feel even more firmly that our trip to Ireland is the right thing for us to do.  Life is finite, opportunities don’t always repeat themselves.

So upon our return to St. Paul what will we be facing?  How long will it be until we’re back at the Mayo?  Will Gerry need another stem cell transplant, or can he get by with a new course of a drug like Revlimid?  How sick will he get?  Will he have more pain?

One thing we will know is that we’ll face what comes next with the knowledge that we are united, a strong family and trying hard to continue to thrive & create memories every day.

We’re VERY grateful that although I won’t be covered by insurance, Gerry’s covered with that Social[ist] Security Disability Insurance & Medicare.  Thank god that – without it I have no idea how we’d be getting through this period, between Gerry’s illness and my own reduced earnings due to my own brain-melting fibromyalgia adventure.

Folks have said really kind things to me, that I’m brave, or that I’m handing this with grace, but  I feel neither brave nor graceful right now.

I just feel scared, self-questioning, feeble & weak. Have I missed anything?  Oh, yeah, self pitying.

I woke up last night feeling terrified, too damned sick to give my family the full strength and comfort they deserve right now.  Thankfully, the feeling passed when the sun came out.

I apologize for the purely self centered stream of this post.  This is what trying to figure out how to keep a slowly sinking ship afloat looks like.

Once we’re bailed out a bit, we can decide in which direction we need to move.

Does anyone know how to sail?

In Happier News

Since neither Max nor Hannah had school today, it was the perfect chance for Max’s orientation meeting Breakthrough St. Paul (BSP).  This is the program that’s been SO great for Hannah for the past 2 years, and which Max has been accepted into!

It was a GREAT meeting, we chatted about what Max will do over the summer, what classes he might take, and how he can begin working on some projects while we’re in Ireland (he wants to visit some castles, excellent research for a budding architect!) The best part was that Hannah was so proud of Max (and so proud of herself – she made it into the Breakthrough Leadership Program and will continue to attend BSP over the Summer & into the school year.)

One of the perks for Hannah is that she’ll get to go on a week-long camping trip to hone her leader (and follower) skills, and she may qualify for her own laptop to do her homework.  It will be a new experience for her as we’re a Mac family and the laptop is a PC, but she was buzzing with excitement.

After the meeting we came home, and while Gerry slept the kids helped me change the storm windows and do some Spring cleaning.  We have to get our house in shape for non-family to reside here for a month!

In Knitting News

I’m having a wonderful time working out a pattern for some Tabi socks (split toe socks.)  It’s been one of the most fun, and one of the most challenging, patterns I’ve worked up.  I’m trying very hard to make it intuitive, to allow the increases and decreases to follow a logical route, so I’ve ripped out this darned sock at least a dozen times so far.  I’m very happy that I’m using worsted weight yarn!

Another ribbed and lace project, a cardigan, waits for me (the yarn is Louisa Harding’s Mulberry, it’s exquisite) and – of course – there is always the Gripsholm Jacket sleeves to return to.  So much wonderful work – if only I could do it in a more timely & efficient manner!

A special note – while in Ireland I’ll be teaching a short 2-hour class in Combination Knitting at This Is Knit in Dublin!  I’ll also be doing a book signing, and I’d love to see any Dublin area knitters while I’m there!  The class & signing will be on Sunday, May 2.  YAY!

A Place of Love; Moving Beyond Logic

On March 21, my Twitterscope By Rick Levine said:

You have had your share of responsibilities over the past couple of years, and today could be an instant replay of the hardest moments. But it will probably be much easier to reminisce than to have to go through all the tests again. The key to standing up to those who might give you a hard time is keeping an open mind and knowing that you are coming from a place of love.

Then today it’s this:

Your key planet Mercury is pushing you into places you might rather avoid today. You may not be able to turn off the barrage of words that are coming at you from others or from within your own head, but you can lighten your load by moving beyond logic. Analysis can be a trap now; you must shift from language into imaginative symbols to find the solution to your current dilemma.

True dat.

When I teach, I try to get both concepts across to my students: 1) Passion / Love will teach you more about knitting than anything else, and 2) Sometimes our hands (intuition) is smarter than our brains (logic)

Let me break this down.

When you fall in love with someone – REALLY fall in love – you commit yourself (formally or informally) to making it work.  That is what love is, making some kind of commitment that you will invest something of yourself, see the object of your love in the best possible light whenever possible, but also not shy away from the “warts.”

In fact, sometimes the warts – the baldness, the extra weight, the annoying habits – can, with love, become quite dear to us.  Sometimes.

Sometimes love just allows you to put them in perspective and weigh them realistically against all that is good in your object of love.

I translate this into knitting in the sense that we are often drawn to a project.  We see a certain shawl, sweater, bag or hat and we know that we MUST make it.  Even if it seems beyond our current skill set, and although we can see where there may be pitfalls ahead, our passion compels us to engage in the project.  Usually the passion pulls us through, but sometimes it, alone, isn’t enough.

Does this mean when you fail at a knitting project you didn’t love it?  No, not necessarily.  It means – to my mind – that grace is always possible with enough love.  If you have a project that you’ve set aside as impossible, but you still love it, it may be good to enlist the help of your local yarn shop.

They can act as a sort of couples therapist, help you see where you may have fallen short, and where the pattern may have let you down.  (If they’re REALLY good, they’ll be able to help you bridge these gaps so you can walk away with the project happily progressing on your needles!)

We are a society of people with strong minds.  We strive to find jobs that engage our intelligence, and if we’re fortunate enough to do well financially, we tend to hire folks to do the manual labor in our lives.  As our mental intelligence grows, our physical intelligence can weaken.

Our lives are so much easier, physically, than at any time in the past.  We have hot and cold running water (no pumping, no boiling water for a bath.) We have vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, clothes washers, refrigerators, stoves & ovens, cars and mass transit systems.  Even our bicycles are relatively modern in terms of the history of humankind, only being a common mode of transportation for a little over 100 years.

What do we miss by this?  We miss a chance to fully develop the intelligence of our bodies.  We also miss years of back-breaking labor, so I think it’s probably a good trade off.

Our brains make all the decisions, they tell our bodies what to do, and we slowly lose the ability to hear the physical brilliance we each posses.

For instance, there’s a theory that a daily walk is a good way to keep depression at bay, that perhaps a good deal of our societal sadness is a lack of rhythmic exercise.  I agree with this (although I also feel some folks also have chemical imbalances) and whenever possible I try to walk or bike a bit each day.

This desire for a rhythmic, physical activity is why I feel many folks develop a love of knitting and crochet so quickly – it allows us a chance to regain our personal rhythm, and allows us to begin listening to our hands.

Each of us can sometimes allow our brains to over-think things, we put the cart before the horse, we borrow trouble, we count our chickens – all of those pithy aphorisms we grew up with.

I see this happening in in my knitting classes.  A person will mentally work through a technique before they’ll allow their hands to investigate it – and in the process convince themselves that the technique is not possible because they can’t envision it.  In a case like this, sometimes folks become SO invested in what their brains KNOW must be right that they actively fight against what their hands try to teach them.

I try to get across to my students that nothing takes the place of practice (a neat phrase I got from Jennie The Potter.) You can think and think all day long, but until you put needle to yarn, it probably won’t entirely click.

I’ll often just sit with my knitting and fiddle around, playing, not working toward any finished product.  Non knitting folks will ask, “What are you making?” and when I answer, “Just a swatch, I’m just playing…” they look at me like I’m a little nuts.

Why on earth would anyone knit unless they’re making something?

“I am making something,” I tell them, “I’m making myself happy.”