Thursday, August 27, 2009

We're Here!

We left St. Paul on Tuesday evening and arrived in London around noon. Neither Gerry nor I were able to sleep on the plane (damn!) so the long, long drive up to Scotland seemed to take forever!

We came armed with a few magnetic bumper stickers to alert folks around us that we're from that place where they drive on the other side of the road. Fore warned is fore armed.

We cancelled the bike rental and just hit the road immediately, stopped and had a lovely meal and continued on. Unfortunately because of some rain, some traffic, some construction and bad cell phone connections we had crossed wires and didn't arrive in St. Abbs until 10:00 pm!

But Louise was up and waiting for us, with a very nice cup of tea and a beautiful room with a big, soft bed! I don't think Gerry and I have slept so well since - well - since I don't know when. When we woke up, here was our view!

We visited Woolfish in the morning, a lovely shop which seemed to get a nice amount of foot traffic! I think it's because it's a holiday weekend here, but there seems to be SO many great yarns and interesting bits of things to see in such a compact space!


Louise's daughter, Trudi, helps her in the shop and they both share a very sharp wit. We had a very fun visit - I'll be back to day to speak to some of her customers and show them cabling without a cable needle! (Prince Charming makes an appearance in the UK!)

Louise showed us the cool trick of Arm Knitting (some fellow showed her the basics and she expanded on them) and she can knit up a lovely felt-able bag in just minutes. A very cool trick!

We then drove down to Eyemouth (wouldn't it be funny to be an Ear, Nose & Throat doctor in Eyemouth?) for some prawns by the docks - feeding very fat seals - and a stop at the lovely cafe Questo with WIFI!! Yippee!! (BTW, WHO is Willie Spears, and doesn't that sound more than a little like a Porn Star name?)

Gerry pointed this sign out to me. We both feel it's a bad sign that all the meat products are named, "Donner" - but perhaps this is more of an American joke...?

I'm downloading Skype so I can chat with the kids - using our cell phone is insanely expensive, and I have leftover Skype time from last year, anyway! We just had a wonderful 10 minute call for 50 - well worth the trouble (and the kids could hear us wonderfully!)

We're off now - I'll hopefully find another cafe or hotel with some wifi and blog later!
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Friday, August 21, 2009

17 Years and Counting

If you'd have asked Gerry and me 2 years ago - which I don't think anyone would have done - "What do you think you'll be doing for your 17th wedding anniversary?" We wouldn't have had an answer.

Two years ago Gerry was having his stem cells harvested, he was days away from his transplant, and I was days away from leaving for the south of France (nice wife, huh?)

This summer we celebrated the 2nd year anniversary of being told that Gerry had - most likely (although no one knew for sure) about 1-1/2 years.

And today he's going strong. Lots of pain, smoldering disease, but he's here and active!

So today we celebrated our anniversary by having a roasted chicken, asparagus, cous cous and a peach thing I baked with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Isn't 17 the asparagus anniversary?

And we luxuriated in the gift of a boring evening.

When Life Gives You Crap Apples..?
And I also made some jelly! I have never - as an adult - canned food. My mom used to can - she made canned tomatoes & ketchup every fall, and she made jelly and jam whenever she felt like it.

But we have this crab apple tree that keeps dropping fruit - this year it's bigger and rounder than I remember it being last year - so I thought I'd use it for one of my mom's favorite jellies, crabapple.

I remember that she used to toss other fruit in, too, to sweeten it up. So I threw in some nectarines and another secret ingredient that I'm not going to mention in case it ruins the whole thing and I'm shamed publicly.

Feel free to guess.

Guess What? I have a COLD!
I can't get rid of my current cold, I've had it for 10 days now. I finally broke down and visited the doc because we're flying on Tuesday and he gave me antibiotics because I tend to rush toward bronchitis like the mail train.

Day 2 and cold's still here - but I did feel well enough to ride my bike today, which tired me out but made me feel very wonderful.

...and speaking of bikes...
I'm afraid of missing my daily bike ride while in the UK for 3 weeks, so I've arranged to rent a folding bike from a place in London (I rode a folding bike in Paris and loved it!)

I looked and looked for a used bike I might buy on various UK used item lists, but could find NOTHING that was remotely affordable, or tall enough.

Also, if I did find a used bike to buy (and sell or give away before I left) I'd still have the problem of a bike rack. Not a problem with the folding bike!

So here's my plan: We arrive at Heathrow around noon, put our heavy luggage in our rental car and move it short term parking. Then we'll take the underground to the bike place and pick up the folding bike. Then we'll return to Heathrow to pick up our rental car and head North.

Anyone have any better suggestion? I'm open to hearing them! Once we have the rental car, is there a really good place to park it that's closer to the city so our trip in and out will be shorter? I could use your advice - So...
If you know of a decent used bike that would fit a 5'10" woman (me) which I could buy to use while I'm in the UK (AND if you also know of a bike rack for our car...)

If you know of a good bike rental place closer to Heathrow than the central London place I've found...

If you have a better idea of how to get our (heavy) luggage in our rental car and get us to central London to pick up the bike and then back on the road than what I've laid out above...
I would LOVE to hear your advice!

I will be a very sad woman if I can't ride my bike every now and then while I'm on the road. What will I do without my little knight AND my bike rides?


The jelly "took" - it set up just fine, and I can reveal the secret ingredient: Rosewater!

Unfortunately I have this stupid head (and chest and throat) cold so I can't really taste anything but that it's sweet.

I stared at Max tasting it last night like Captain Barbossa watching Miss Swann eat an apple.

And our first tomato is turning red! They grow up so soon! And since I discovered that one should actually FERTILIZE tomatoes every now and again we have two more growing and several blooms which may become MORE little red fruit. Hooray!

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Monday, August 17, 2009


I've received a few books recently and I wanted to mention them. I figure it's the least I could do, me getting these amazing tomes and enjoying them so much!

I LOVE me some books; I love looking at them, holding them, browsing through the pictures and designs - it's very inspirational.

As a designer I find - sadly - that I tend to AVOID books of knitting patterns, I don't want to be unduly influenced by someone else's brain storm. I thought I was alone in this but recently Sally Melville, Lily Chin and I were sitting around chatting (seriously, not sitting - we all ran into each other at TNNA and stood around admiring the fact we were each still on our feet...) and we discovered this similarity in all of us.

To paraphrase Sally, "I don't want to be influenced subconsciously, or discover that someone is doing exactly what I just did..."

And I feel the same way. It's a problem, though, because I miss out on the amazing designs that are coming out, and it's kind of rude not to be able to alert my friends, "I LOVED your new sweater/hat/skirt in IK!" as soon as I see their work.

All part of the Queen Midas Syndrome that affects anyone who turns what they love into a living. Making my knitting my gold has been the best thing I've done in my life, but every positive has some negatives - keeping my distance from current designs is one of those. This may change - it seems that everything in life involves change at some point.

So without further ado, I give you


Toe Up!
Patterns and Worksheets to Whip Your Sock Knitting Into Shape

Chrissy Gardiner

Okay - any book with whip in the title is bound to be good.

I loved this book - it just shines with enthusiasm about my favorite way of knitting socks - toe up. You see, I have rather large feet - and with a toe up sock I can get the foot out of the way and then use EVERY extra bit of yarn to make the tops as long as I'd like. It's a personal thing, but it works for me!

I'm NOT a huge sock knitter, although when I do knit a sock I enjoy it fully. But I tend to be very lazy and revert back to the way my grandmother knit her socks (incidentally the way Lucy Neatby teaches toe up socks) - start with a small swatch, add stitches, work a tube and add the heel later. Yawn.

This book has me very excited, though, to give other options a try - new (to me) toes and heels, wonderful tips and, best of all, very useful worksheets make this a book that will stay on the "Constant Reference" shelf of my library (as opposed to the, "Looks good but I never open it" shelf)

Knit It Together
Patterns & Inspiration for Knitting Circles
Suzyn Jackson

Often when I read a book I start at the back. Why? Because I'm odd. Maybe trying to learn Hebrew is also having an effect on me, but I find some of the coolest stuff is in the back of the book.

So imagine my joy when I ran across this little tidbit at the back of Suzyn Jackson's very user friendly volume, "Cheating: When Gauges Don't Match" in the seaming & finishing portion of the book.
Since several of the patterns in this book involve sewing together pieces made by different knitters in dissimilar yarns, you're going to have to deal with variations in gauge.
I loved this. I love that someone GETS that things in knitting are NOT perfect, automatic, exact - that just the nature of using our hands, individual needles and one-of-a-kind yarns almost guarantees that there will be subtle changes and shifts in gauge as we work through a project.

I think this sums up what I loved best about this book. I'll ignore the fact that Confessions of a Knitting Heretic wasn't included in the list of favorite resource books [sniff] and give this book a wholehearted thumbs up for a knitter who needs a bit of a jump start to move from, "I've made a washcloth!" to "I'd like to make a sweater next!"

Crocheted Gifts
Irristible Projects to Make & Give
Kim Werker

In full disclosure I have to say that I am included* in this lovely book.

But even if I weren't part of it, I'd want to have it. The photography and styling are everything we've come to expect from an Interweave book - photos clear enough to allow you to SEE what it is you'll be making, but arty enough to inspire you to actually START the project.

My favorites in the book are Robyn Chachula's Ravissant Socks and Julie Holetz's Sisal Spiral Rug, but just about anything in the book would be a delight to work up, and would make a treasured gift.

Some projects, like Megan Granholm's Babymoon Robe, could require a larger investment of time than the average crocheter might muster for a casual friendship. These projects would, however, be perfect for one of the most overlooked recipients - ourselves!

I'm thinking about making this robe up for me as a jacket, and I was gratified to see that the bust size goes up to 50"! YAY!

*my piece, the Trinity Lace Shrug, has 2 errors.
Please contact Interweave Press for errata -
I know that right now we're currently working
on wording to fix error #2.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thanks for the Food for Thought!

Hey Folks,

I just wanted to thank all of you for your very well-thought ideas about the whole knitting / designing / writing and earning a living at it conundrum.

I was so impressed - and very pleased - with the measured feeling of your comments. Somewhere deep inside I think I was afraid I'd get a lot of either, "You da BOMB, don't stop!" or "Just grow up, girlie!" and I was really gratified at the depth of thought that went into each comment.

I'm thinking - contemplating. Of course, if a nice well-paying, steady job presented itself to me I wouldn't turn it down, but I have been spending a lot of time remembering back when I DID have office-type 9-5 jobs, and how I'd look for ANY excuse to "play hookey" - run a package to a vendor, go out of the office for a meeting, etc.

Am I proud of this? No, not really. But I realized at the time it was a symptom of the type of person I am - very much like my father. I don't like to label myself - I don't like anyone to label themselves - because often that leads to falling into a pre-ordained personnae which may not fit for more than a week or so. But my dad and I are definitely the type of folks who need challenges presented in unusual ways.

This may be why I gravitated toward the theater - lots of short term goals! And it's the same with what I do right now. I know that I am a happier person now than I've ever been in my life - I was just thinking this morning that folks who'd known me at different times in my life may have thought that I'd had some kind of 'personality transplant' But no, it's just that - money aside - I'm happier in my work than I've ever been in my life.

And, although I CAN'T put money aside, I can use some of your excellent comments and suggestions to try to expand on my ability to earn $$ for mortgage. Suzyn had some very excellent suggestions, and although not all of them are on the money, they really got my mind thinking hard.

One thing I think I'll do is offer some of the patterns for History on Two Needles early, to raise interest in the book and to help FUND the completion of the project. If I wait until everything is finished, I'm afraid I won't be ABLE to finish. Stay tuned for more info on that, but I think I know the project I'll be offering as as stand-alone project, I'm reknitting it right now in a different yarn to check it's universality. It's a good, short project with WONDERFUL gift giving possibilities...

I'm also thinking of dedicating a portion of my time to retraining myself to return to consulting in an application in which I excel - Filemaker Pro! I'm a database designer - I couldn't do what I do without a good database of my stitch library, yarn choices, vendors, past designs - I keep just about EVERYTHING organized via databases.

So I'm going to spend some time to reacquaint myself with Filemaker, upgrade to the newest version and actively seek work designing and maintaining databases for companies. I did this for a few years while I was transitioning from full time to part time when my kids were little, and it was very satisfying work.

So, thank you. You made me think, you calmed me down, you made me realize that my 'sky is falling' feeling was due - in large part - to the extreme head cold that is finally going away. I can HEAR again! Soon I may even be able to smell again!
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Monday, August 10, 2009 flowers after rain...

Whenever I get all, "My life is just WRONG!" I can be assured that a bad, bad cold is on it's way. Evidently that's what overtook me yesterday, and the doubt is still hovering today. But at least I know it has a trigger - a virus!

I should have learned by now - and I have my blog to go back and chart this stuff - but nothing makes me feel more malaise-ridden and self-doubting than the onset of a cold.

So now I'm tucked up in bed with my knitting, computer, a nice book and some ginger snaps (and tea!) beside me. Hannah's still asleep, Gerry's left for his "training wheels" job* and I'm ready to rest and work simultaneously.

To do today:
  1. Write Monthly Newsletter
    (to get more signups for classes in Sept & Oct)
  2. Firm up classes for East Coast in Oct
  3. Try to get MORE classes AFTER Oct
  4. Finish "James Skirt"**
  5. Swatch Soft Cardigan & Gripsholm Jacket
  6. Create illustrator charts for Black Prince
**Training Wheels Job
Gerry - and his doctors - are feeling that perhaps his recovery is going well enough to contemplate returning to work (he's BORED)

To that end, Gerry's signed up with a workforce group that finds re-training funds for disabled folks. In order to prove that their clients have the stamina to be worthy of the funding, the work force group arranges minimum-wage, low-impact, temporary jobs as a sort of trial run.

Gerry's first gig at a Borders Books was fine, but perhaps a little to physical. Now he's doing phone work for a PR firm a few hours a day, and he's enjoying seeing other folks and interacting. And, as small as his paycheck is, it's a help and covers the extras for the kid (we're devoting it to back-to-school stuff)

If all goes well he'll be able to enroll this Fall for video streaming and video conferencing classes, buidling on his 20+ years in TV, and his ability with any type of computer. As with any challenge, I have mixed feelings, but I'm very proud of him!

**James I Skirt
James I of England, VI of Scotland, was the king who brought Scotland and England together. The Protestant son of a Catholic Queen and successor to a Protestant Queen, James was unique in that his mother (Mary of Scots) and son (Charles I) were both beheaded.

It's a period of British History I've been fascinated with for several years - his reign was a unique time of peace between a long-seated monarch and an incipient civil war - and he looked good in pumpkin breeches.

Okay, not exactly pumpkin breeches. But they are full at the hips, drawn in at the waist and knees.

Which made me feel they'd be perfect for a bubble-shaped dirndle type of skirt. Chenille cried out as a stand in for the Prince's velvet, but I wanted something more practical and washable. And something that would weigh less. [Falcon optional]

I stumbled upon Bombay by Trendsetter, which has a lovely hand and - to my eye - looks velvet-esque when blocked. And it's relatively lightweight, washable, and has good yardage.

So today I'll be finishing this skirt, doing some swatching, and with any luck I MAY just finish Sutton Hoo (pictures to follow...)
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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Time Well Spent

I've been blogging less and less - I think it's a combination of 3 things:
1. Summer. I'm enjoying it altogether too much!
2. Twitter. I'm tweeting and that can take the edge of my blogging hunger.
3. Uncertainty. I'm struggling with the loving what I do / am I earning enough dilemma.
This has been a good one - and it's not over! We've not done anything terribly special, just local stuff, but we've enjoyed every minute of it!

I've been working outdoors a lot, but taking time to do stuff with Gerry and the kids - mostly biking and gardening, mostly with Max

(Here's Max and his friend Charlie. Or, as I like to think of them, Huck & Finn. This was after we biked to the Mississippi, before they discovered the "Hidden Falls")

I think that although Gerry's doing amazingly well, we will never escape our newfound realization that life is SO very finite - more finite for some - and we need to enjoy as much of it as we can while we're able!

This week I plan to take Hannah and a friend to the Science Museum to FINALLY see the Titanic Exhibit. We'll go again with Max, but it's important that while he's visiting friends in NJ this week, I do something special with Hannah - just for her!

This past week Hannah and a friend took some classes at The Textile Center and LOVED them!

I think her friend may actually be moving toward a fashion career - or at least moving toward a lifelong appreciation of good clothing, fiber and color. Yay!

And we've been taking advantage of our garden bounty - which is actually pretty scarce, but we're proud of it...

Some beans, some peas, and a couple of tomatoes are growing. The crab apples are actually redening, so I will be making jelly this year.

If you're not tweeting, if you're part of the "What the heck good is THAT?" crowd, let me tell you that I was once in your ranks!

I used to think, "What a ridiculous thing to do - why would anyone want to know what I had for breakfast?" But it's much more than that.

Now I tweet. You can follow me at

I'm unique - I work alone in my home, so I don't see anyone but my family for days at a time. Twitter allows me to connect with other designers and writers who are friends (and who have become friends through Twitter & Facebook) so Twitter is the cyber water cooler where I can share jokes or a current problem with "co-workers" and get some immediate support or a reality check.

Because my twitter is linked to my facebook (who knew I'd have one of those... I'm also Modeknit at Facebook) all of my tweets show up immediately, and THAT'S allowed me to link up with a whole NEW variety of friends and fans who I hadn't realized were out there. It's been great as far as renewing old college and grad school friendships - very cool!

Perhaps it's that lull period when the work on a book seems absolutely overwhelming, perhaps it's tiredness, perhaps it's that 99% of MY professional world is at Sock Summit right now and I'm not, but once again I struggle with the big question.

Should I be doing this? Or, more specifically, is there a better paying job I should be doing that would satisfy me and help make my family more secure. Would trading some peace and happiness for some bucks make sense - and is it even possible?

It's something I struggle with constantly. The pay scale for freelance designers has to be among the lowest (right down there with actors & artists) and the amount of work is absolutely daunting. And once the work is done, it's never done.

Mistakes are discovered in patterns (sometimes my fault, sometimes part of the editing process) and even with no mistakes, a good deal of time goes into answering emails from folks who need a point clarified, or want to know of a good substitution yarn (seriously folks, when you write to me for a good yarn substitute I just google it like you would...)

And yet I LOVE what I do. I love the designing, love the writing, love the teaching, love the interaction with the knitters.

However, I don't love the fact that on average I spend about 70 hours a week on my designing, knitting and math. I can't really afford to have anyone else knit up my samples, not right now...

The rewards are great, but there's so much effort for a very tenuous return.

Turning things inside out five ways from Sunday, it's hard to see how - as long as the industry pays such low amounts for designs and teacher travel & accommodation rates are so low - anyone can do this professionally and also support a family.

This is why I diversify - teach AND design AND write - and why I self publish many of my books and patterns. But without industry backing in terms of financial support, it's a very hard and lonely road.

I know some folks who read this may be thinking, "Well, who in the world do you think you are, doing something you love and then complaining it doesn't pay well enough..." That's a voice in my head I hear constantly.

Who in the world DO I think I am?

I'm taking a risk by not pursuing designing gigs and teaching engagements which I feel offer unfair compensation, and the groundswell of knitters, crocheters and other teachers who are beginning to follow my lead is gratifying. But will it be enough - will it be SOON enough? Can I hold out long enough, or do I cave and crawl back to the larger entities that balance their budgets by unfairly compensating their contributors.

I've said it before, it's an odd world where the designer of a sweater - 3 weeks of work in knitting and pattern writing - gets paid a third of what the photographer earns for the 3 hours of shooting. (Not to mention the stylists and models)

I'm obviously thinking hard about this. Your input is welcome.
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Tuesday, August 04, 2009


And thus begins the 30-day countdown to my OWN birthday. You do realize that Barack and I were born in the same year, just 30 days apart...?
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Monday, August 03, 2009

Class Outside

Today I'm working outside on our back deck, enjoying the sort-of thriving plants, the non-growing grass seed, the lovely shade and a book on CD (Maisie Dobbs, Messenger of Truth - excellent for knitting... and yes, that's Myrna Stahman's high school pic stuck onto my namaste needle case - I loved the photo and she let me have it last weekend after she came back from her reunion.)

Boxes arrived for 4 projects last week, so I'm FINALLY opening them up and getting started on them. I'm filled with apprehension that I won't be able to slow down enough to take good notes on these projects, and I have to rein myself in to keep from jumping ahead.

I'm solving this by creating charts and spreadsheets for each project as I begin, which helps me take the notes in a place and manner where I'll find them most useful. We'll see if this really helps, or if I'm in a fools paradise.

James Skirt
This wonderful painting of James I of England (James VI of Scotland) as a boy caught my eye. I love his breeches - very skirt like - so I'm using them as a jumping off place for a gathered dirndle with a ribbed hem.

It calls out for velvet, but it's really important to me that this be WEARABLE. I wanted to use a fiber that would take the punishment of being sat on well, and would wash up well, so after a bit of swatching I settled on Bombay by Trendsetter, which knits up very nicely and creates a wonderful velvet-looking fabric.

This is how much I got done during Hannah's end-of-summer skit presentation, Celebration, at the Breakthrough Program (see, I told you I knitted ribbing in the dark!)

Sutton Hoo
Moving on to a delicious project, I was finally able to connect with Artyarns and secure some beautiful yarn for the Sutton Hoo helmet. The mask part will be in the beaded silk, the sides and crown will be in Ultramerino.

I've simplified the mask so that it's easier to knit and MUCH easier to chart. It's a project that takes FULL concentration, so I only work on it when I'm home alone and can throw myself into the charting (or late in the evening when everyone's gone upstairs)

Anne Boleyn
This is a project I've been anticipating for months! I'm using Tilli Tomas Milan and Beaded Milan in Black and several accent colors. I'm also going to toss in some Marie's Crystals, but only in strategic places.

The Milan is thinner than the Beaded Milan, not quite half as heavy. This presents problems as I don't want the fabric of the body and sleeves to be overwhelmed by the weight of the edging. I'm toying with the idea of doubling it, but I'm not sure that would be the solution - I'll have to work on this and swatch more carefully... Obviously I'm in the early stages with this one.

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Alison's Scarf
Link to pdf file of cable/trellis lace scarf

Hannah's Poncho
Link to pdf file of multi-sized poncho


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