It’s a New Year! Looking Back and Looking Forward

It’s been two full months since I last wrote. There are lots of reasons why, including the suspicion that blogging may be on the way out and time is best spent elsewhere. But much of it has been about a phase of my life, one that involves adult children and elderly relatives, career successes and considering what’s next, all mixed with the usual anxiety, guilt, and pleasures that come day-to-day.

Stockings for a class I taught at Home Ec, and for the public library holiday bazaar

I last wrote about my surgery, and while the result has been great—most people don’t seem to notice the scar or are at least kind enough to say they don’t—it took me out of circulation for most of November. Then I had two sets of houseguests, work at Home Ec, and work deadlines. I had to decline some work and missed some deadlines on other jobs, which is not my style at all and still grates on me. But my houseguests were important people in my life and I wanted to be with them,

Now I’m looking forward, toward the publication of Art Quilts of the Midwest, and thinking about how to do some publicity. It’s looking like marketing the book will be almost as time consuming as writing it. But I can’t wait for the day (next month!) when I get to finally see the finished book.

I’ve done a bit of sewing (the stockings above and a few other small projects), but I’ve been knitting like a fiend. Below are some cowls I finished up in time for holiday giving.

And though this poor blog has been neglected, I do keep up with Instagram. I love seeing what folks are up to, catching a brief glimpse into their lives, giving them a thumbs-up or making a brief comment, and moving along. I’m not so good at Facebook or keeping up with this blog, but if you’re interested in what I’m up to, Instagram is a good place to find out. Follow me at @seamswrite and let me know your IG name and I’ll follow you, too!

Knitting vs. Sewing

Some days I worry that my love of yarn is overtaking my love of fabric. I do believe they can co-exist, but there are only so many hours in the day and if I’m knitting, then I’m not sewing (and vice-versa). But these cooler temps seem to call out for sitting in my chair, feet up and a cup of something warm by my side, knitting away on some rich, beautiful yarn.

Finished (but not blocked) Low Brow Cowl: Pattern on Ravelry, Madeline Tosh DK yarn

I’ve also really enjoyed upping my skill level and trying techniques that are new to me. I have had the grand advantage of working at Home Ec Workshop on Wednesday afternoons, when Lisa Wilcox Case serves as the Knitting Nurse. Lisa is a certified Master Knitter (I wrote about that here) and when it’s not busy in the shop she freely gives of her advice and expertise. Suffice it to say, I am spoiled (but I’ve learned a lot, too).

Sugar Cane Hat: Pattern on Ravelry, Shibui Pebble and Silk Cloud yarn

I’m going to have a bit more time for sewing and knitting in upcoming days as there’s some surgery on my horizon that will necessitate me staying home for two or three weeks. I’ve got work lined up, of course, but I won’t be fulfilling my usual exercise classes, grocery runs, and other out-of-the-house activities, so I imagine more free time will be mine. I’m already lining up sewing and knitting projects—I’m in a real mode of wanting to finish those WIPs. We’ll see how it goes.

Imposter Shawl: Pattern on Ravelry, Madeline Tosh DK yarn

Sleepless Nights

Last night I went to bed late. I’d gotten up early and been at physical therapy (bunged my knee) at 7:40 a.m. I’d done an hour-and-a-half phone interview, written a bit, then worked at Home Ec for five hours, most of that spent on my feet. I knocked off a little early, at 7 p.m., so I could attend a knitting class to learn to knit Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket.

I’ve been knitting a lot this winter, and most of it has been pretty basic. I did do a lace knit hat, which was new to me, but otherwise nothing required a lot of attention. Which is just how I like it—I love knitting while watching TV or on a car or plane trip. But this jacket was so adorable and I decided I was up for the challenge.

Our teacher, Greg, is an incredible knitter and has knitted at least 30 of these jackets. Once the knitted piece is folded and sewn, it’s an adorable and completely recognizable sweater. But before being stitched up it looks, as a member of the class said, like some kind of weird woodland fungus. Just getting my mind around how it would work out was a challenge. And then Greg said we’d be happiest if we did a provisional cast on. It took me about half the class to figure out how to make my fingers accomplish that, and another bunch of time to count the darned wonky stitches. And then there are the knitting acronyms I wasn’t familiar with, and the fact that they could be done multiple ways for different effects (three methods for a double decrease).

White shape is the knitted shape before folding and stitching together: finished, striped sweater at the bottom

I decided to come home immediately and knit a bunch of rows so I wouldn’t forget what we were supposed to do. So I sat up until nearly 11 and lo and behold, I seemed to be doing it right. It took a lot of concentration, but I had it!

Then I went to bed and tossed and turned for nearly two hours. The only thing I can imagine that kept me up was the sheer stimulation of learning all that stuff. My brain hurt. I was so excited about what I did that I didn’t think I could do (provisional casting on—too hard!) and those double decreases via a second method. Turns out that just like they say about exercising or using your computer too close to bedtime, crafting late doesn’t make for much shut eye. Years ago I interviewed Heather Bailey and I remember her telling me that she couldn’t think about fabric designs too late at night or design ideas would flash through her head like a slide show, one after the other. No doubt about it: creating is exciting.

Tiny Bits

I’ve decided that while I’m finishing up my book (see previous post, numeral 1), the only way Pearl the Squirrel posts will exist is if they’re short and sweet. So here starts the beginning of a photo, a phrase, or a project per post. My expectations need to be low if I’m going to continue. (Yours probably already are, given the delinquency of this blog.)

So today, for your viewing pleasure, a baby blanket I knitted for my friend’s sweet baby girl. The only good thing about the very cool spring we’re having is that she’ll get to use it a little before it gets very warm, since though we had her baby shower in December, I didn’t manage to get this to her until last week. (It’s also got grey on the sides, which you can’t see in the photos. It’s knit with Classic Elite Yarns Toboggan.)

Sweet dreams!

Held Together by Knitting

Last week was horrific: bombings, explosions, the death and maiming of innocent bystanders and volunteer firefighters. On top of it, the weather was dismal—grey for days on end, nearly 5 inches of rain in 24 hours resulting in flooded homes, and north of us there as a snow storm. Nature didn’t offer the respite we needed after days of manmade horror.

I was supposed to go to my aunt’s house for her 87th birthday, but decided to put it off until the weather was more favorable. It’s not as though I didn’t have plenty of work to fill those delayed days, and not as if I didn’t know that it was unhealthy to watch the endless news coverage on television and online, but I found myself drawn in. I heard the media’s reports on the dance instructor, the recently married couple, and the two brothers who’d lost their legs. I saw the images of the Boston bombing repeated in a continual loop. I listened to stories about the volunteer firefighters who rushed into the fertilizer plant in Texas and perished. I even thought of the sorrow of the mother of the Tsarnaev brothers. So many lives damaged. So many lives ended.

And through it all, I knit. I knit back and forth on an Elfin Baby Bonnet in pale pink. I repeatedly knit rows of the 208-stitch-long Dovetail Cowl. When I finished it, I started another. It seemed to be one of the only things that made sense. Creating something in the face of so much destruction brought a modicum of comfort. When so much of life seems so far beyond control, I knit. It’s not all I do. But it’s what I did last week.

A Trifle for Saturday Morning: My Knitted Boyfriend

Yes, I am currently knitting-obsessesed. Blocking my Dovetail Cowl and knitting another Elfin baby bonnet. Stumbled across this this morning. If you need about five-and-a-half minutes of distraction from the events of this crazy week, settle back with your cup of coffee to view one woman’s solution to finding a man who will never leave you:


MY KNITTED BOYFRIEND from Noortje de Keijzer on Vimeo.

On the Road, Again

Phew! I’m a bit discombobulated right now and I haven’t finished half this month’s comings and goings. But suffice it to say that I’m a little bit here and a lot there—there being Virginia, Minnesota, and Chicago. I love to travel, but I’m also a real homebody and so there’s always a little conflict in my soul when it’s time to head out. There’s never a trip I’m sorry I made, once I’ve made it, but I always resist going away…always!

My most recent venture was to Virginia, for my niece Anna’s vocal performance senior recital. For an hour my sisters and I and our husbands and my nephew, Anna’s brother Karl, sat dumbfounded as we listened to Anna sing. I don’t see her often and was in awe at the growth in her vocal abilities and at her stage presence. Even her parents and brother were left with their mouths hanging open. I loved the way her friends pitched in and performed parts, both from operas and musicals, to add fullness to the evening.  (That’s her to the left, wearing a honey cowl. She’s so gratifying to knit and sew for: I’ve made her two Birdie slings  —here and here—and she’s used them until they fall apart. This time she opened the honey cowl and immediately put it on and wore it all afternoon.)

Photo courtesy of VA Quilt Museum

While the event was lovely and it was fun to be with family, Virginia itself was a real highlight. Daffodils, forsythia, and budding trees gave me hope that spring might eventually come. We wandered through the farmer’s market, sampling doughnuts from Mennonite bakers and locally roasted cups of coffee. We took a little hike along a rushing stream, where bloodroot and May apples pushed up, through the forest floor. And we even stepped inside the Virginia Quilt Museum for a look at Material Witnesses, an exhibition by the Manhattan Quilter’s Guild of New York City. There were also a few Civil War quilts—so graphic and so amazingly preserved.

VA Quilt Museum civil war display—hexagons have a long history!

Heading out to MN tomorrow for a weekend with my aunt, in honor of her 87th birthday. I delayed my trip by two days, as we’ve been having torrential rains and flooding and she’s getting snow. But she says it’s for the best, because there’s a quilt show there this weekend. I’ll try and take a few photos!

Crafty Classes Update

Elfin Bonnet from the front

So, my week of lots of work-related deadlines has most fortunately been punctuated by opportunities to get my hands on fabric and yarn. First up was a knitting class with Master Knitter Lisa Wilcox Case. When I saw the hat in Home Ec (and felt it—knit from the springiest, softest merino Millamia), I had to make one.

Such a cute side detail!

Lisa calls it the Elfin Baby Bonnet and she recreated the pattern from one that an elderly neighbor gave her when she was in college. She described a woman who lived alone, across the hall, and knit hats for babies. Lisa still had the pattern the woman shared with her, typed up on an index card like a recipe. The construction of the hat is so cool—you knit it flat, then fold it in half and use a three-needle bind off to “stitch” the two sides together. Lisa hopes to have the pattern available on Ravelry soon. I knit a red one, and bought a different yarn yesterday to make a pink one. With spring coming, these may not be appropriate gifts for babies for awhile, but I’ll have a nice gift stash for next fall and winter.

Then yesterday I taught my first quilting class. I was a little nervous—Would people like it, would it be enough to fill the time? It turned out that I knew all four of my students, some long-time friends and some new friends, so that helped with the nerves.

The group discusses layout possibilities for HSTs

It was so much fun to catch up with them, find out about the connections between them, and watch their very different fabric choices become half-square triangles. I can’t wait to see what they ultimately do with their squares. And I hope they enjoyed the class.

Nora and her HST blocks-a pillow for her bed?

It’s always surprising to learn that you know something other people don’t…it’s easy to just assume what you know is common knowledge. But in hindsight I am grateful to my half-square triangle sweat shop for making me adept enough at half-square triangle-making to share it with others.

Maureen and her Heather Ross-polka dot HSTs

And everyone agreed that Laundry Basket Quilts Triangle Papers are a pretty nifty tool.

Master Knitters on Etsy

Lisa Wilcox Case

It’s a little after the fact, but I thought I’d share some of the photos I shot for the master knitting certification post that went live on Etsy. Etsy’s discovered that a large number of their visitors are accessing the site through mobile media, and that’s changed the kinds of photos they need–big, bold and graphic reads much better than detailed. So a number of these just didn’t cut it.

Lisa’s intarsia sample

But I wanted to share them with you because I think the master knitting process is impressive, and Lisa Wilcox Case’s notebooks are amazing. Filled with reports and samples, they really demonstrated her abilities, as well as the requirements for being a master knitter through The Knitting Guild Association.

Lisa’s final project for master knitter certification

The other part of the master knitting story that was fun for me was that I was having a heck of a time finding a second source to talk with. I went to lunch at a local restaurant and was chatting with the owner, who I’ve known for years, about what her daughter was up to. Her daughter, Taylor, had been in my class when I taught at a Montessori school many years ago. She described how Taylor was getting ready to graduate from college, thinking about various careers and then said, “Oh, and she’s getting master knitting certification.” So funny! So I contacted Taylor (who shared a couple of photos that I’ve included, as well).

Lisa demonstrates a cable technique

One thing that struck me was how different the personalities of these two women seem, yet how they both want to be (or in Lisa’s case, are) Master Knitters. Lisa’s been a librarian and an endodontist–methodical, detail-oriented, exacting. Taylor seems to be much more of a free spirit, but she’s enjoying the challenge as well.

Hope you enjoy these!

Samples in Lisa’s certification notebooks
Lisa at work (she knit the sweater she’s wearing)
Lisa’s entrelac sample
Taylor wearing a hat she knit
Cowl knit by Taylor

Taylor’s yarn bombing on the Cornell College campus

Textiles Influence Painter Chuck Close

Phil (2011-12) by Chuck Close: work and detail

If you’ve spent any time at art museums, you’ve undoubtedly seen the work of Chuck Close. I’m always taken aback when I round a corner and see one of his early, photo-realistic faces staring down at me—they’re huge (his 1968 Big Self Portrait (below), which I first saw at the Walker Art Museum when I was in college, is nearly 9’x7′).

So yesterday I was reading Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein, when I came upon a chapter about Chuck Close and his creative process (I am loving this book, by the way—based on the Studio 360 radio show, which despite being an avid NPR listener I’ve never heard). Close talks about the way that, because he is learning disabled, he has always created his paintings with a grid. Early on, it served to break the huge portraits into manageable chunks and for many years he would erase the grid (like he did in Big Self Portrait). But eventually he incorporated it into his work. Over time, the photorealism of his images—which had been created with tiny, tiny dots and brushstrokes—gave way to a more expressive way of painting, in which the faces in his paintings are evident if you stand way back, but up close they’re hard to see. And lo and behold, he credits the textile arts as an influence.

Chuck Close, Self-Portrait II, 2001

“I know that one of the important primal experiences for me as a child was watching my grandmother knit and crochet and make quilts and afghans and things like that, which look a lot like my work today. She would crochet pieces and put them together to make even bigger pieces. A lot of what I do has a lot to do with what was called women’s work—a process that you sign on to and you keep working at it until you get something. I think it has a lot to do with construction, and I try to build a painting rather than paint it.”

Agnes, 1998

Of course, if you look at Close’s work it’s easy to see this, but it somehow hadn’t crossed my mind. I got mighty excited knowing that Close’s commanding works have their roots in his grandmother’s tiny stitches, proof that however simple or mundane your work might seem, you never know the influence it can have.