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Of love and friendship and visiting Linda

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One question that I get asked a lot is where the name for my Visiting Linda hat came from. I am always unsure of how to respond, because the hat is a tribute to a dear friend who died far too young, and as such the story doesn’t have a happy ending. But I simply cannot resist the chance to talk about one of the best friends I have ever had, and undoubtedly one of the most fabulous people I have ever known – the magnificent Linda K. Stine.

We first met in the mid-1970’s when, both struggling actors in NYC, we were cast together in an Off-Broadway production of the play Chamber Music by Arthur Kopit. Linda and I met at the first rehearsal in someone’s apartment on the upper west side. She looked so familiar to me, and it wasn’t until about half way through that initial rehearsal that I realized that the reason was that the week before I had seen her on the TV game show The $10,000 Pyramid, where she played brilliantly and won dramatically at the very last second. At that rehearsal I also learned that she was a very talented performer, with a true gift for comedy. She had us all laughing hysterically every time she opened her mouth, and often even when she didn’t say a word.

When that rehearsal broke up it turned out we were walking to the same subway station, and so we walked together, and during that ride on the 2 train a lifelong friendship was born when she reached into her bag, pulled out something wrapped in silver foil, and asked “Do you like chocolate?” On that train ride we learned that we not only shared a passionate love for anything chocolate, but also for reading, and theater, and that our birthdays were 1 day apart (August 14 and August 15 forever more deemed “our birthday”) and that we lived a mere couple of blocks away from each other in Brooklyn Heights. Clearly the friendship was meant to be. How had we not met each other before?

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The only thing we didn’t have in common was our stature – she was 5’9” and I am 4’11”. She immediately dubbed us Mutt and Jeff, after the old comic series, but she said that she didn’t like the negative associations she had with the word mutt, so she said would call me Mütie, and I should call her Jeff. The nicknames stuck, the only nickname in my entire life that did.

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I could write an entire book about the love, laughs, fun and friendship that filled the next 36 years, the movies we saw together, the chocolate and ice cream we ate, the road trips, endless conversations, books, music, boyfriends, bad dates (she set me up on the only blind date I have ever been on –an unmitigated disaster!!),  the performances we applauded each other in, the meals we ate together, the dramas we supported each other through, the dreams we shared, and the plans we made. And through it all we talked, talked, talked, and solved all the problems of the universe. She was such a great friend, always there when you needed company, support, a shoulder to cry on, or someone to celebrate good news with, and a great companion for any activity from antiquing at Brimfield MA to a trip to the lower east side to go clubbing. She made us real popcorn whenever we went to the movies, and always carried emergency chocolate. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding; I wore her grandmother’s cameo as my “something old”.

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She moved from NYC to Colorado in 1988, so our friendship went long distance for the next 20+ years, but it was the kind of friendship that always felt like we had just seen each other the day before. We wrote letters, sent photos, made phone calls, and as time went on switched to long emails.

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She was always thinking of other people, and though I have sadly known a number of people who got cancer I have never known anyone but Linda that told me of their diagnosis with such worry and care about my response “Honey, I have some really bad news, and I don’t want you to be too upset…”

You know where this is going, so I’ll skip over a lot of the next part of the story. She did live a miraculous 18 months after her diagnosis, and she spent it with her loved ones, even traveling to both coasts to see people and visit places she loved. My husband, daughter and I went back to NYC to meet up with her, and we spent an amazing day that I will never forget, walking miles and miles through our old neighborhood, remembering things we had done, sharing our history with my daughter. We sat on stoops and reminisced, looked at old photos she had brought with her to give me, ate ice cream (of course!), and made plans about what we would do the next time we got together, because we both needed that to get through the day. And as we sat down on the 2 train, taking us from where she was staying on the upper west side to our old neighborhood she reached in her bag, pulled out something wrapped in silver foil, and said with a smile and a wink “Do you like chocolate?”

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I needed something to knit on the three and a half hour trip down to New York to “visit Linda”. I had knit a lot of hats for her during her chemo, but I wanted to create something special for her now that her hair had grown back, so with her smiling face in my mind’s eye I cast on and this hat came off my needles. She loved it, and was excited to have a knitting pattern named after her.

I think of her often; every year on our birthday, and on so many other days too  – when I read a good book I wish I could share with her, watch a good movie, hear a good joke, eat ice cream or chocolate, or walk the streets of Brooklyn Heights. I’m grateful for all the years we got to share together, and all the joy she added to my life. I miss her like crazy, but feel her with me always, especially when I wear this hat. I hope that if you make it you too will feel her smile.

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Linda and her husband in 2010

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I love love!

Valentine Composit 2I absolutely love Valentines’s Day. Now, before you start writing in to tell me that it is a purely commercial holiday, one that was intensified if not actually created by the card and candy industry, let me explain that my family has a slightly different take on the day. For us it is less about romantic love (although we acknowledge that as well) and more about love in general; a day to celebrate everyone that we love be they friend, family, human, animal, book, character, food, or anything else that makes us fill up with love and happiness. For us it’s a day to celebrate the fact that love, in all its many forms, is at the center of our lives.

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I sometimes bemoan the fact that Valentine’s Day has become so focused on romantic love, as it leaves those without current partners feeling sad and left out or grumpy and bah humbuggy. Whereas a day to celebrate everyone and everything that we love includes everyone and everything, makes a place at the party for everyone who wants to attend. Everyone has someone or something that they love, be it a partner, a parent, a child, teacher, a pet, or even a book or a poem, or even a chocolate cake that they made last Thursday and OMG it was so good! All of these loves are worth celebrating.

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My Aunt Eva, at various times in her life. I love that center photo – taken at the Copacabana!

My favorite Aunt, my beloved Aunt Eva, loved Valentine’s Day, and made it the official family holiday. She surrounded herself with pink and red, and loved anything with hearts on it. An art gallery owner, she gave me a poster of Jim Dine’s Hearts as a housewarming present back when I got my first apartment on my own at age 20. It’s hung on the wall of every house and apartment I have had since.

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She signed every letter (and she was a great and prolific letter writer) with her mantra: “Valentine’s Day every day!” which to her meant spend each day celebrating who and what you love, and living in gratitude for all the love and wonderfulness that the world has to offer.

So I think of her a lot on Valentine’s Day. She was an amazing and brilliant person who lived an amazing life, worthy of an entire blog post of her own some day. I have thousands of wonderful memories of her that I’ll write about soon, but for today I will just stick to her main philosophy: Valentines Day every day!

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We have always taken her advice to heart, and even 5 years after she died at the delightfully old age of 97 (in March – she would never have left us before celebrating one last Valentines Day), we still celebrate with great excitement every year – we hand make cards for each other, we have a celebratory dinner for which we have been known to make not only heart shaped cakes and cookies, but on occasion a heart shaped Sicilian meatloaf as well. We not only have 3 generations of our family that attend, but we also invite extended family and friends, so that we can celebrate how much we all love each other. We decorate with banners and swags made from hearts, we sprinkle heart shaped sequins on my grandmothers white damask table cloth, a way to have her with us as well. We sing songs about love loudly and with laughter (one of our closest extended family members was a Broadway performer for years, and has a glorious and large tenor voice so singing is a must). We buy napkins with hearts, and use heart shaped serving dishes or beautiful flowered bits and pieces from generations past. We talk about those we love who can no longer celebrate with us, and remember them with poems and stories. We invite the animals and sometimes decorate their collars with hearts and flowers, and serve them special treats for dinner in special dishes.

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Love is what matters, be it between parent and child, husband and wife (or wife and wife, or husband and husband), friends, pets and their people, work colleagues, designers and those making their patterns, teachers and students – wherever and whenever love shows up it is to be appreciated, acknowledged, and most of all celebrated. To paraphrase the old song: love makes my world go round.Valentine 5So thank you to all of those I love for being in my life. I feel so lucky to have so many people to love, and I share this day with you. Thank you to those who buy my patterns or take my classes, because your doing so allows me to work at this business that I love, another type of love to acknowledge and be grateful for.

So thank you all for your presence in my life. Now let’s have a party!!

Tell me about who or what you love below in the comments, or via email (just hit reply on my newsletter. Not subscribed yet? Click here). I’ll randomly choose one response to win a free pattern of their choice in a week as a Valentine.

Happy Valentine’s Day, happy knitting, and XOXO,

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The Indie Design Gift-A-Long 2015 is almost here!!

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It’s that time of year again! The Indie Design Gift-A-Long 2015, known to its friends and participants as GAL2015, starts tonight in the Indie Design Gift-A-Long group on Ravelry! The group is already jumping with participants planning which patterns to buy, what projects to cast on first, which KAL/CALs to join, and which prizes they hope they will win!

I posted a bit about what the GAL is in my last blog post and newsletter, but for those of you who are not familiar with it, it is basically a huge party for 6 weeks, where hundreds of indie designers will be putting over 5000 of their patterns on sale for the first 8 days (Thursday November 19th 2015 at 8:00 pm US-EST through Friday November 27th 2015 at 11:59 pm US-EST), followed by 6 weeks of KAL/CALs in which all patterns designed by all participating designers are eligible and all paid patterns by those designers are eligible to win any of the thousands of prizes. We have lots of games, and lots of community and lots of fun. Basically it is a wonderful 6 week party that ends with a bang with our big New Year’s Eve party!

This is the third year that the GAL has been in existence, and it has gotten bigger and better each year! As of this writing we have over 5700 participants, and in fact have more of everything: 335 participating designers, 2300 electronic pattern prizes, almost 150 physical prizes that range from books to kits to yarn to stitch markers. We have designers from 30 countries, participants from all over the world as well, over 5000 patterns available in the sale, and almost 16,000 patterns (no, that’s not a typo!) that are eligible for the KAL/CALs and prizes!

GALstatsSmallerLook at these wonderful stats put together by the Gift-A-Long stat queen, who is also one of our participating designers, Kimberly Golynskiy. There are a lot more of her wonderful GAL2015 stats to see here at this thread in the GAL group on Ravelry. If you want to see a larger version of these fun stats click here.

So which of my patterns are eligible for GAL2015? All of them are eligible for the KAL/CALs, all the paid (not free) ones are eligible to win prizes, and if you want to know which of them are eligible for the sale you can look at the bundle called Gift-A-Long 2015 on this page or check out this graphic:

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These 20 patterns will be discounted 25% from Thursday November 19th 2015 at 8:00 pm US-EST through Friday November 27th 2015 at 11:59 pm US-EST with the special code available in the GAL group on Ravelry along side almost 5000 other patterns by these fantastic 335 designers.

So grab a few patterns, join a KAL/CAL (or several), stop by the Chat Thread and introduce yourself, and join the party. I promise you won’t regret it – we have an absolute blast prepping for the holidays as only fiber people can!

See you there!

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P.S. Another sneak peek from my upcoming vintage hat collection in this week’s newsletter so if you’re interesting in seeing sneak peeks, special sales, new releases and what I am up to in general sign up here!

Bits and Pieces…

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Full fledged fall is here in western MA! Woolen accessories have made their appearance, along with duvets and wool blankets on the beds, soup in a pot on the stove, and lots of cups of tea! If you follow me on social media you saw this beautiful photo of a local farm where we went to get our pumpkins, but I love it so much I had to put it here for those of you who hadn’t seen it. It so captures this time of year in the beautiful Pioneer Valley.

At Rhinebeck with good freiends, including my fellow designers Simon Kereit of Owlcat Designs and Jennifer Dassau of Knitting Vortex

At Rhinebeck with good friends, including my fellow designers Simon Kereit of OwlCat Designs and Jennifer Dassau of The Knitting Vortex

Since we last spoke, the once a year fabulousness that is Rhinebeck (aka The NY State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck NY) has happened, and as always a grand time was had by all! I saw good friends, and squeezed an amazing amount of gorgeous yarn, the most swoon-worthy of which jumped into my shopping bags and came home with me – Neighborhood Fiber Co., Tess Designer Yarns, Miss Babs, and Dragonfly Fibers:

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My mind is so filled with new ideas for designs inspired by the new beauties in the studio that I can hardly stand doing anything other than knit and write up new patterns, but there is much to do before I can do that, including finishing those pesky patterns already in the works. Luckily some of this new yarn is for samples of designs almost finished (hence the fact that 2 skeins are already rolled in balls ready to go) so I am in a state of yarny bliss at the moment.

But there is a lot going on these days that is keeping me busy – the most exciting thing being that the 3rd annual Indie Design Gift-A-Long 2015 (aka GAL2015) is coming!!

GAL 728x90_JoinusWhat is the Gift-A-Long? It’s a multi-designer event to help you kick your holiday gift-making into high gear! The Indie Design Gift-A-Long is a 6 week long KAL/CAL of holiday gifts made from patterns designed by a rather extensive list of independent knit and crochet designers. From Thursday, November 19th at 8:00 pm US EST – Friday, November 27, 2015 at 11:59 pm US EST tons of indie designers (last year we had 300 participating designers) will be discounting between 5 – 20 of their patterns 25% for this event. Once you’ve got your Gift-A-Long patterns, we encourage you to join one of the KAL/CALs which run from Thursday, November 19th at 8pm (US-EST) through our New Years Eve party, Thursday, December 31 at midnight (US-EST). All designs by participating designers are eligible for the KAL/CALs  (last year that was over 11,000 patterns). We have games, tons of prizes (literally thousands if you count electronic pattern prizes as well as physical prizes of yarn, kits, project bags, stitch markers, books, and so much more amazing stuff!!!), great conversation, and a LOT of fun. So pull up a chair and come join us in the Indie Design Gift-A-Long group on Ravelry!

So why does this make me busy? I am, along with my fellow designers Lindsay Lewchuck and Simone Kereit, one of the Admins who, along with the best team of mods in the world, put this event together.  So if you are looking to get some holiday knitting or crocheting done in an atmosphere of great fun and camaraderie, along with winning a few prizes come hang out with us!

Lastly, before I go, I wanted to talk a little bit about a new collection of patterns by a friend of mine that I am very excited about! It is the LINEAR Collection by the always brilliant Ruth Garcia-Alcantud, done in collaboration with Malabrigo Yarn (one of my personal favorite yarn companies to work with) as part of their Malabrigo Freelance Pattern Project.

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What a gorgeous collection Ruth has put together! The 3 garments and 2 accessories included in the collection are “based on mathematical concepts and spatial geometric ideas” which as a math nerd I love. But even if you are not a fan of math these designs are absolutely beautiful, interesting to knit, and very, very wearable.

My absolute favorite is Parallel Planes, a beautiful worsted weight swing jacket, loaded with texture and style, that would work well with so much in my wardrobe that I want it in several different colors …

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I also yearn for Lightning Ray, a lace shawl that looks like my idea of a perfect project – easy enough to knit while socializing or watching a movie, but interesting enough to never be boring.

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21704341469_80a19c3a69_zRuth’s patterns are so well written (no surprise since she is a stellar tech editor) and she has also included a number of photo tutorials and other extras in the eBook version, so it’s well worth picking up the entire collection, although the patterns are all available separately as well.

My To-Do list is crazy long, so I’m out of here until the next time! Until then, keep knitting, join us in the Gift-A-Long group on Ravelry, and most of all enjoy this gorgeous fall weather!

Happy knitting and XOXO,

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P.S. – If you want to see another sneak peek from my upcoming Vintage Hat collection (and get a coupon for 25% off one of my patterns) subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here!

 

Book obsession, or there are no stock photos here…

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Two blog posts back I started my post with a stock image of a desk and computer. I thought I was so slick, choosing a pretty minimalist desk with a computer, a tea cup, some beautiful white tulips, a notebook, and a chair with a knitted throw over the back. Pretty? Yes. Me? Well…probably not.

I heard from a number of you after I posted it with comments along the lines of this one from my pal Sally: “I was a little surprised by your desk — I was expecting something more in line with the old Victorian house you live in!!” That’ll teach me to use a stock photo, no matter how beautiful it looks!

So no, that’s not my desk. My desk certainly is more in keeping with my eclectic, colorful, cluttered Victorian house. In fact my actual desk is unusable because its surface is totally covered with books, as are all the flat surfaces in the room we call the study, which started out with tons of book shelves and 2 desks (one for my fellow book addict also known as my husband, and one for me).

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The study now has no place at which one could possibly sit and study, but it does have many things to study, namely books on every possible subject covering every possible surface. My current “desk” if it can be called that, is the end table next to my end of the couch where I sit and work most days.

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My current “desk” next to me as I type this

I have always had an addiction to books that equals my addiction to yarn and all things knitting. I have many childhood memories of curling up with books – in window seats, on couches, in bed both sick and well, in the big green chair in my childhood living room, in the backyard, on the front stoop. Some of my favorite memories are of having some money in my pocket from my birthday or Christmas, and going to one of the many book stores near and dear to my heart at different times in my life, and buying great stacks of paperback books to read (and smell, and clasp to my chest in moments of overwhelming book joy). Memories of things I learned, places I traveled to inside a book, people I met, friends I made, tears of joy or sadness I shed on the pages I turned. Memories of libraries – my neighborhood libraries growing up in NYC, the one near my grandparents house in central NY State, at my schools – especially the school I attended from 5th grade through high school, watched over lovingly by the incomparable Annie Bosworth who let me work as her assistant starting at age 10 putting those shiny slick covers over the book jackets as new acquisitions came in, and thus allowing me first dibs on checking out the new arrivals as they were cataloged in.

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Reading in my childhood living room at about 14 in 1970

I’m not very good at getting rid of books either (that may be a bit of an understatement). When DH and I moved in together back in 1987 we had an entire wall in our living room devoted to bookshelves, which were so full that we had to negotiate a thinning of the herd that was fair to us both. I remember with regret every one of the books that I decided to let go of on that wintery evening. But true love conquers all and makes sacrifices easier.

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We have passed this addiction on to our daughter. When she was in third grade she was given a homework assignment to count something in her home. When she turned in her assignment her father and I quickly heard from her teacher who was concerned that she was “telling tall tales”. Concerned, we went to the parent teacher meeting only to discover that these “tall tales ” were the homework she turned in in response to this assignment. She had chosen to count her favorite thing: the books in her room. Since she had never divested herself of any of the books she had owned in her 9 years of reading and being read to, the total she turned in was a very large number. “Clearly,” the teacher said, “this is not the truth. No one could have this many books in their entire house, not to mention  in their room.” Ummm…except that this was true. All the board book, the picture books, the early readers, the first chapter books (not to mention the longer chapter books we read together at bed time) – they totaled that enormous number. I knew because I had watched her count them. And it didn’t count the children’s books that my husband and I still had from our childhoods, and which she read regularly although they didn’t live in her room.

All of this is to say I LOVE books, and I talk about them a lot. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me well that there is a section in my newsletter where I talk about what I am reading. Since this blog is called Adventures in Knitting and Design it will probably need to be generally about non-fiction books that fall into those categories (or at least I’ll try to keep it on topic – I promise nothing!), but if you are interested in knowing about the fiction and other types of non-fiction books I am reading and thinking about do subscribe to my newsletter and see what I’m recommending there.

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OK! So to get this back on topic (not my strong suit as you probably know if you follow me at all) let’s start with the basics. It is impossible to limit my lists to such small numbers, so this is just a beginning, with lots more to come.

5 books every knitter should read:

The Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt

Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmermann

The Knowledgeable Knitter – Margaret Radcliffe

The Knitters Handbook – Montse Stanley

Mary Thomas’ Knitting Book – Mary Thomas

Bonus suggestions: Finishing School: A Master Class For Knitters by Deborah Newton, and Knitting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti

5 books every aspiring knitting designer should read (after having read the above books while becoming the experienced and fearless knitter they need to be to step into the designing arena):

Sweater Design in Plain English by Maggie Righetti

Knitting From the Top by Barbara Walker

Designing Knitwear by Deborah Newton

Knitting in the Old Way – Pricilla A. Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson

Knitting Workshop – Elizabeth Zimmermann

Bonus suggestions: I can hear some designers expressing outrage that Shirley Paden’s Knitwear Design Workshop isn’t there. You’re right it should be, along with the book she acknowledges as inspiring her system – Sweater 101 by Cheryl Brunette

Did you notice that my lists of 5 contain more than 5 books each? Want to know how totally book crazy I am; how addicted, besotted, and totally nuts? I found it nearly impossible to even create a list of books in any one category that stopped at anywhere near 5. My first draft had 25 design books and 17 basic knitting books. Sigh…clearly we will need more posts on this subject (umm…or at least I need them). Coming in future blog posts, interspersed with other thoughts and ramblings, will be more on knitting books, alongside posts on other related types of book – stitch dictionaries, grading, design, inspiration, lace knitting and design, the history of knitting, the history of fashion and costume, millinery…I could go on and on, but you get my drift, and saw the photos above. I promise none of the book photos above are stock photos; they are all too real. I loves me some books!

Lastly, I want some input – I want these ramblings to be interesting to both the knitters who are interested in my patterns, and to the designers that I work with and mentor, so let me hear from you about what interests you. I tend to write about my life a lot, but if there are specific things you would be interested in hearing about please drop me a line (you can just hit reply on my newsletter and it will get right to me) or comment below.

So until next time – go read a book! I’ll be back soon.

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P.S. – The winner of the Ambah O’Brein Songlines Collection eBook in my last blog post was Anni aka Shadow9cat on Ravelry. Congratulations Anni!

No Knitter Is An Island

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It’s a warm end of summer day here in western Massachusetts with just a hint of chill in the morning air, and I am trying to work on some hat and cowl patterns for fall release. One of the cats has been sick and in and out of the hospital (stress! stress! stress!) but at the moment she’s home and doing well, so I’ve got her in her usual spot by my side as I play with an idea for a new cowl, knitting away at some slip stitch color work in 2 gorgeous colors of Malabrigo Merino Worsted, Azul Bolito and Frank Ochre – totally swoonworthy. Check it out:

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Yummy, right?

How lucky I feel most days, that life has allowed me to spend my days with cats by my side and beautiful yarn flowing through my hands. Designing knitting patterns, or any other creative/artistic pursuit, gives us makers great freedom and room for creativity that can be lacking in more traditional work situations. We produce things that come from our hearts and our heads and our hands, and there can be an enormous satisfaction at the end of a productive day. My father was an artist – first a photographer and later a sculptor and print maker – and I have a million memories of him in his darkroom or studio, creating, working, thinking, sketching out ideas. I remember him showing me how he did what he did, and sharing techniques with me; encouraging me to find my vision, play with colors, hone my skills. So this life I am leading has a familiarity for me.

My father, Sheldon Merritt Machlin, in the swing he made for me in his studio 1966

My father, Sheldon Merritt Machlin, in the swing he made for me in his studio 1966

But there is a downside to this freedom to create, and something is definitely lost that is gained when people work in a group, on a team, or in an office. That downside is the isolation that many of us feel, working alone at our desks or in our studios. I am luckier than some in that my grown daughter works with me, so I have someone to turn to most days, and say “What do you think of this?” or “Which color combination do you like best?” But many (most?) of the people in my profession work alone, which is perhaps why we work so hard to create communities, like those on Ravelry or elsewhere, where we can get together with our peers or with our friends, fans and customers, to exchange ideas and get inspired, to share our successes or our stumbling blocks.

Interacting with others is always very inspiring to me, hearing what people knitting my patterns think, what they love and don’t love, and what kind of patterns they wish I had available. And I cannot even begin to say how valuable and inspiring I find interaction with my fellow designers. I come away from every conversation with them with new thoughts and ideas, my heart filled with camaraderie and my sketchbook full of new designs.

I belong to a group of designers from all over the world who I interact with online every day, and there are no words for how much I love them, or how much inspiration I get from them. I also spend a lot of time on Ravelry, both with my designer peers and with other people I just enjoy hanging out with. Community inspires creativity, whether you are designing knitting patterns or knitting them.

This yearning for community is, at least for me, at the core of creativity, whether your creativity takes the form of designing, of making things that others design, or both. That’s why knit nights are so popular. That’s why so many of us blog, send newsletters, and enjoy the feedback we get from those of you out there reading and knitting; it’s why we spend time on Facebook, Twitter, Instgram and other social media sites. John Donne said “No man is an island…” and it’s true: creativity and inspiration are sparked by interacting with others and it is just as important to what I do as are the yarn and needles I create with. In fact perhaps in some ways it is even more important. The interaction is inspiring, and the lack of it can be the toughest part of doing what we do in isolation.

So let me hear from you! If you are a knitter tell me what you like to knit or wish you could find a pattern for. Comment below, share this blog post with others, or subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here, and then hit reply on it and let me know what you think. Follow me on Instagram , Pinterest, or Twitter, or join my Facebook group. Let me know if a ninaknits Ravelry group would be something you would enjoy. If you’re a fellow designer come chat in the Designers group or the Budding Designers group on Ravelry, write and say hello. Tell me what you would like to read in a blog post, or newsletter article. Keep in touch, with me and with each other!

Hearing from you makes me better at what I do.

 

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Happy Birthday, Nana

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My grandmother and my mother, pregnant with me.

Today would be, were she still alive, my maternal grandmother’s 130th birthday. I think of her every time I knit, and I have long wondered whether my lifelong passion for every needle craft I ever encounter was passed down to me via my genes or by the passion modeled for me all my life by others who came before me. Either way, it can be traced back to my mother and to my grandmother before her.

Born on August 10, 1884 in the town of Giarre in the province of Catania, Sicily, Teresa Sorbello was the 4th of 8 children. 7 daughters arrived before the final long awaited son, after which my great-grandparents breathed a sigh of relief and stopped reproducing. Her father Antonio was a carrettiere (think pony express, but with donkeys and gorgeous painted and carved Sicilian donkey carts).

When she was a girl my grandmother was sent to live with a noblewoman to be apprenticed to learn all the needle arts. Whether she was sent for this training because of a natural inclination or talent that her parents saw, or because of a desire she herself had, is lost to the ages, but sent she was, and returned to her family a few years later with skills that lasted a lifetime.

Times in the southern parts of Italy were hard in those days, and millions immigrated in the latter part of the 1800’s into the early parts of the 1900’s, to countries that offered a chance for a better life. An older sister Maria went to Argentina, and was largely lost to the family. Then, in 1907 at age 22, and in charge of younger siblings Angeline and Giuseppe, Teresa set sail for America on the S.S. Virginia, knowing full well that she was unlikely to see her parents or some of her sisters again. The courage that these immigrants showed in their quest for a better life moves me deeply, but that is for another post at another time. What I am thinking about today is that the talents my Nana learned at that noblewoman’s knee came across the sea with her. She married and raised 4 daughters (3 to adulthood), and passed on these skills to them all, and through the generations down to me.

She sewed clothes without patterns, including exquisite wedding dresses for herself and her sisters (another later came to the US). She made clothes for her family, she knit, embroidered, did beautiful cut work, and quilting. But most of all she crocheted. To this day I have hundreds of pieces of beauty that she made – from chemises for my mother when she went off to college, to baby hats for me, to pillow cases, dresser scarves, table cloths, pillows, window shade pulls – the list goes on and on. She never learned to read, so she never followed patterns, but could create anything that she or anyone else envisioned or wanted.

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My grandparents at their wedding. She designed and made her wedding dress and headpiece. My grandfather designed and made his fabulous mustache.

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My Nana Teresa, upper left, at her sister’s wedding. She made her dress, her sister’s wedding dress and veil, and her daughter’s (lower left) dress.

She worked as a farmer, beside her husband, growing onions on their farm. She raised her family, kept the house, and cooked food that resonates in my memory to this day. But every minute when she wasn’t working or cooking she had a crochet hook or knitting needles in her hand, or was sitting at a sewing machine.

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She sewed their clothes, knit their sweaters and socks and scarves. She crocheted the bedspreads, tablecloths, potholders, beautiful curtains for all the windows, antimacassars and decorative pillows for all the furniture. She made all the family sheets and pillow cases and edged them all with crocheted lace. And along with these beautiful things, she passed the skills needed to make them on to her daughters, and I have always been surrounded by beautiful hand made things, made by the women in my family, for themselves and for each other.

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And so we come down to me (and to my daughter, who also loves all needle crafts, and takes to them with an ease born of some gene somewhere deep inside her), and to the hundreds and thousands of hours I have spent immersed in the needle arts in my lifetime. Like my grandmother I have a favorite – in my case knitting – but I have enjoyed every needle art I have ever done, and have a long list of new ones I am looking forward to trying when life and time permits. And every time I sit down to work I think of my Nana, and wish I could show her my designs.

I have her sewing machine, her teeny tiny crochet hooks, and a large wooden box filled with crochet cotton that was hers – the white and ivory she used primarily, but also the bright colors we all convinced her to use in the later 1960’s. And, of course, I have all the beautiful things she made around me all the time. I sleep on her lace edged pillowcases, lean on her crocheted pillows, eat holiday dinners on tablecloths she made, and wear some of her clothing (but not the camisoles she made for my mother who had an 18” waist at that time. Despite being miniature I have never had an 18” waist except maybe when I was 5).

I wear two of her rings often, and look at my hands as yarn flows through them as I work, and I think about the parts of her that are within me, in my genes and in my heart.

Teresa Sorbello Ponticello died at age 94 in the fall of 1978. She had had a stroke which left her mostly still there, but floating in time somewhere before my grandfather had died. But she still crocheted, right to the end. I can see her now with her huge beaming smile and her crochet hook in her hand, with beautiful lace pooling in her lap. And I am grateful, whether it got there by genetics or by example, for the love of needle arts that she passed on to my mother and to me, and for the connection with her, and with my history, that I connect with every time I pick up my knitting needles, and create something beautiful.

Happy birthday Nana. I love you.

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