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:

WIP

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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Paying It Backwards

HatPile2

Lots of sample knitting for fall and winter hat releases going on in the studio these days. Many of these hats were inspired by vintage hat styles (more on this in a future blog post – I’m so excited about these hats!!), but thinking about knitting in the past got me thinking about my personal knitting past.

We’ve all heard the phrase “pay it forward” for years now, and it is a philosophy that I have long tried to incorporate into my daily life. But I have been thinking a lot lately of the philosophy of paying it backwards, of thinking about, and acknowledging with gratitude, those who have brought us to where we are; those who add or have added to our lives. I have long made it a habit to try to think about gratitude in my personal life, but recently turned that thought to my professional life.

If you have read my bio somewhere online you probably know that I first really learned to knit (after a childhood attempt) in 1977 from the mother of my then boyfriend. When he and I went our separate ways in 1986 I lost touch with his mother, something I have thought of with some regret in the years since, more and more as the skills she taught me became what I do for a living.

Eileen in 1985

Eileen, summer 1985

Last month, 38 years after those first wobbly stitches, my family and I spent 3 days with my old boyfriend when he came to the area I now live in because his son’s band was playing here. The visit was fun in a number of ways, but it was especially good for me to hear about how his mother was doing, and to share with him how grateful I was for the skills she had shared with me that had truly changed my life; for the patience she showed as she helped my awkward hands find the rhythm they needed, the humor with which she greeted my look of disbelief the first time she demonstrated the long tail cast on to me, and the encouragement she (and her mother – another excellent knitter) showed as my projects began to roll off my needles. “Look how beautiful and even your stitches are!” “Look at the beautiful colors you chose!” In truth knitting and I fell madly in love from the first stitch Eileen demonstrated, but the support and encouragement that she showed me definitely contributed to the confidence that created a fearless knitter in me from day 1 (I never knew until I began teaching knitting years later that a complex sweater wasn’t a good first project).

As our visit came to an end and my friend got ready to travel home I found myself sorting through my bins, wanting to send something back to her, to acknowledge and thank her for pointing me in a direction that has brought me so much joy. Always a stylish and elegant woman, I wanted to find something that she would enjoy having, and maybe something that she wouldn’t knit for herself. I remembered giving her a woven shawl as a gift way-back-when that she had enjoyed, and thought that a lace shawl might be a good choice. After touching many and imagining her wearing them I finally settled on a soft merino burgundy lace shawl I had knit a few years back; a shawl I had enjoyed knitting and wearing, but that would, I hoped, be appreciated by the recipient, and also in some small way say thank you for all she had given me.

Eileens Shawl

I hope she can feel my gratitude when she wraps it around her shoulders on a chilly afternoon, or uses it to keep her neck warm under a coat when New York City snow falls. I hope she will think of me when she wears it, and know that she did a good thing when she first put those needles in my hands. I think of her often, as yarn slips through my fingers, as my needles click and designs make their way from my head and my heart off of my needles and out into the world. And she, alongside the other women who shared their knitting skills with me over the years, are beside me when I teach someone new to knit, or encourage them to push themselves to be a fearless knitter.

So thank you, Eileen! I hope you are well and happy, and I am forever grateful – especially for the fact that you taught me to knit continental style right from the start!

Who have you paid it backwards to? Who taught you to knit or crochet, or changed your life in some other way? Did you let them know? Let me hear from you!

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Happy Birthday, Nana

NanaMama1956

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.

TeresaGaetanoWeddingSmaller

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

AngelineCarmenWeddingFixed

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.

TeresaPonticelloCirca1956

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.

NanaWorkSmaller1 NanaWorkSmaller2

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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Dickensian Winter

Happy 2011! We are deep into winter now, with feet of snow outside here in the frozen northeast. Temps below zero last night, which meant hot water bottles for the kitties where they sleep in their down sleeping bag nest. But we are all cozy and warm, especially because I have been knitting a lot with lovely, soft Malabrigo Yarns.

January brought the new year, and the release of my eBook, made in cooperation with Malabrigo Yarn, The Best of Times, A Dickensian Winter Collection.

This is the first in a series of eBooks that Malabrigo Yarns is making in cooperation with independent knitting designers, and I was very flattered to be asked to create the first book in the series. I created 6 new designs for the collection – 2 neckwarmers, 2 shawls with lace and beads, a beret style hat, and beaded mittens – all named after characters in the novels of Charles Dickens.

In addition the collection is full of not only full color photographs of the designs, but lots of Victorian era artwork, quotes from Dickens novels, and other goodies that strongly evoke the settings and characters of his novels, and the times they are set in, the mid to later 19th century.

OK, that one’s not in the book, but I love it so much I had to include it. What is in the book are lots of other wonderful Victorian art like this and 6 beautiful new patterns. They can be purchased as an eBook here

Or individually:

THE NINETTA NECKWARMER:

This ruffley neckwarmer can be worn in many different ways. Reminiscent of a Victorian high collar, the Ninetta makes a glamorous statement while keeping you warm and cozy. One fan of this design described it as a “wooly cravat” which I think captured the feeling of it beautifully! Made out of Malabrigo Merino Worsted.

THE MADELINE SHAWL & SCARF:

A mix of elegance and practicality, the Madeline Shawl mixes the warmth of garter stitch with the sparkle of beaded lace. Pattern contains both written and charted instructions. Made with the DK weight Malabrigo Silky Merino this shawl/scarf keep you warm while adding a bit of glamour to your winter.

THE MISS LACREEVY SHAWL:

Knit out of Malabrigo Sock yarn, the Miss LaCreevy Shawl uses a simple stockinette body to off set the beaded lace edging. Shaped to stay on your shoulders with minimal effort, this pattern contains both charted and written instructions.

THE JULIA NECKWARMER:

Reminiscent of a high-necked Victorian blouse the Julia Neckwarmer is a great showcase for special buttons. Twisted stitches create a lattice pattern, and ruffles add a feminine touch. Knit out of DK weight Malabrigo Silky Merino, it is warm and beautiful.

ESTELLA HAT:

Available in three sizes to fit children to adult large, the Estella Hat, a slouchy beret, uses twisted stitches and small cables to create an intricate design that tapes into the crown of the hat. The Estella Hat contains charted and written instructions, and uses 1 skein of Malabrigo Merino Worsted.

TILDA MITTENS:

Made in Malabrigo Merino Worsted, and available in 4 sizes to fit children up through Adult Large these mittens have a contrasting color cuff and beaded ribbing that add a touch of sparkle to your winter.

I had such a wonderful time designing this collection, and working with Malabrigo. I’m off to take some photos of designs in progress. Next up some sneak peeks at twisted stitches that I’m playing with these days…Happy knitting!

End of summer musings…

How is it possible that the end of summer if just around the corner. A tree down the road has started turning (it is always confused and explodes in gorgeous reds and golds before any other trees in the neighborhood) so the occasional red leaf drifts across the lawn and reminds me that the days of knitting on the porch are coming to an end for another year, and that I need to get on with all the fall patterns brewing in my knitting basket (and under the table, and in the corner, and piled on the bookshelves). There are large piles of things to block and photograph all over, my needles all seem all filled with bright colors, and swatches cover all available surfaces that aren’t already covered with buttons and beads.

In other words, I am feeling very happy and creative these days.

In other news, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by the charming and talented Hannah Thiessen for the Malabrigo Yarns Blog. Many of this fall’s designs will be in beautiful Malabrigo Yarns (and a few others in some of my other faves: String Theory and madelinetosh) We had a great time talking design for about 45 minutes, and generally solving all the problems of the universe. I had a great time. Thank you, Hannah!

Let me know what you think!

A Big Thank You, And A Few Introductions

First and foremost, thank you so, so much to everyone who bought one of my patterns during the fundraiser for Haitian earthquake relief. I was able to send a check to Doctors Without Borders that was considerably higher than my family would have been able to send without your help, and I am very, very grateful. It was incredibly moving to me to see how the entire knitting community came together to help, and I was very proud to be a part such a community. Thanks also, from the bottom of my heart, to The Powers That Be on Ravelry, and especially to Casey and Jess, for giving designers the tags and the opportunity to raise money with our pattern there. Knitter are amazing!!

Secondly, and continuing with the Why-I-love-Casey-and-Jess theme, Ravelry’s Code Monkey Casey have made it possible for designers selling their patterns there to have their pattern store accessible by non-Ravelry members. So now, even if you aren’t a member of Ravelry, you can check out my Ravelry pattern store, look through all the designs I have currently available for download, and purchase patterns that you want. I am resisting saying that if you knit (which I assume that you must or you wouldn’t be reading my blog) you must, must, MUST be a member of Ravelry because it is truly the best thing since sliced bread. Oops! I said it, so while I’m saying it I’ll just add that while you’re there checking out my store, sign up for a free Ravelry account, because of the sliced bread thing, mentioned above. Trust me on this one. You’ll thank me. Check out my shop by clicking here.

Next up – 2 new designs released last week. I’m very excited about them both, so without further ado, may I present Daphne and Bridewell!

First up is the Daphne Hat:

Daphne photo

I love the leaf edging on this hat. When on it looks like a cloche, with a 1920’s feel to it, with the leaves framing the face. It is named after a story from Greek mythology: The god Apollo fell madly in love with a nymph named Daphne. Unfortunately for him (and due to some interference by Cupid) she did not return his affection, and ran from him into the woods. She begged the gods and her father (a minor river god) to save her from Apollo’s advances. In response they turned Daphne into a Laurel tree the moment Apollo wrapped his arms around her. Broken hearted, Apollo swore to care for the tree she had become for the rest of all time, and to always honor her by wearing a crown of Laurel leaves around his head. Legend says it is due to his care that the Bay Laurel tree never withers in winter.

I just love this story, and couldn’t resist the idea of designing a hat that mimicked Apollo’s laurel wreath. You can check it out on Ravelry here or for those of you who are already convinced:

Next up is the Bridewell Hat:

Bridewell photo

I must admit that I am really taken with the look of this hat. The pattern contains 3 sizes, from Child up to Adult Large (which should fit a woman with a big head like mine, or most men). I designed it as a first color work project, with a few friends in mind (yes, MishaMonet – this does mean you!) who were timid to try color work. This pattern uses a technique called Slip Stitch Knitting (sometimes called Mosaic Knitting) which is a way of knitting with two colors, using only one color at a time. Really. So, except for the two color braid that is at the brim, and again where the vertical stripes of the hat body divide from the circular stiripes of the crown (which the pattern explains in complete and total detail – I promise: I’ll hold you hand the entire time!), you are actually only knitting with one strand of yarn at a time. All the details are in the pattern, and it is really a very cool technique to add to your knitting toolbox! There is more information here, or:

And speaking of knitting toolboxes leave me a comment and let me know what you would like me to talk about here. I have spent so many year teaching knitting and design, often from a position of “Tell me what you want to learn next!” Do you want knitting techniques? Do you want to hear about my design process? Do you want practical things like How To Do A Garter Stitch Tab For A Shawl or Where To Find Grading Resources, or shall we examine where inspiration comes from, and the philosophy of knitting? I promise to get to every single suggestion eventually, so let me know.

I have a couple of neck warmer patterns that are due for release, hopefully within the next couple of weeks, one of which has beads (I loooove beads!), 2 sweaters on the needles, and 3 more hats almost ready to go, so stay tuned for more soon!

See, I’m blogging more often. 🙂

Of New Year’s Resolutions and Haiti

OK, I’ll admit it. There are lots of things I do well – knit, teach, design, write. I am a good archivist, a good Mom, a good wife, and, I have been told, a good friend. Here is what I am not good at: driving (I don’t do it), being high up in the air (shudder), riding a two-wheeler (I never learned) and blogging. Probably another hundred things as well, but having gotten to the crux of the matter let’s stop the list right there and talk about it.

I am not sure why I am not proving to be good at this blogging thing. I’m generally good at written communication, and have many ideas for interesting posts to write, but somehow fingers never make it to keyboard, illustrative photos never get taken, and the most interesting blog posts only make it as far as a post on Ravelry or they get communicated verbally to my students and friends. My time is inhaled by knitting, designing, tackling the learning curve of Adobe Illustrator (and just when I got so happy with my charts in Excel!). And then there is also the business of life. So I am left with a long list of blog posts never written – explanations of techniques, how to wear shawls (see Kelly, I didn’t forget, even though you have figured it our for yourself by now!), designs in progress, where I get inspiration from….the list goes on for pages in my design notebook.

2009 was a great year for me design-wise, but you didn’t read about it here. So despite the amount of time designing is now asking from me I have made a New Years Resolution to blog about it all more regularly, and not just in my head. Since it is one of only 2 resolutions this year (the other to set up and use the Wii Fit Plus that my Mom and our friend Bill were nice enough to give us for Christmas and actually exercize this year!) it stands a decent chance of getting done.

So first up, instead of all those ideas waiting in the wings, is the fact that in the wake of the terrible earthquake in Haiti for the rest of this month 50% from all my pattern sales until January 31st will be donated to Doctors Without Borders to help with their relief efforts in Haiti. Those who know me already know that Haiti holds an important personal connection for me. My favorite aunt, Aunt Eva (96 and still going strong!), was, for many, many years until his death, married to the Haitian novelist Philippe Thoby-Marcelin, who wrote about Haiti and Haitians in all his books. The story of how a Sicilian woman from upstate NY and a Haitian novelist met in Washinton DC and lived their lives together is a romantic and interesting one, and one I will write more about in a project I am working on that combines my love of genealogy with knitting design, but in the mean time, aren’t they cute?

Eva and Phito photo

As neither my mother nor father had any brothers my Uncle “Phito” was the only uncle I had growing up, and his presence in my life brought with it much love and happiness. Although he lived his life after marrying here in the US he and Eva visited his family in Haiti often (and they visited here), and my Aunt took his ashes there after his death. My donation will be made in his memory, and in the hopes that we can help in some small way with the devastation being suffered through in Haiti in the wake of this disaster.

So if you are looking for a way to treat yourself and to give to Haitian earthquake relief please buy one of my patterns, or one of the many patterns that other designers are putting up to benefit Haitian earthquake relief. Knitters are amazing, and the response to this program has been incredible.

Some of my designs included in this program are:

Faberge Cowl
Faberge Cowl

Faberge Neck Warmer
Faberge Neck Warmer

Faberge Mittens
Faberge Mittens

Dean Street Mitts
Dean Street Mitts

Orvieto Hat
Orvieto Hat

Medici Hat
Medici Hat

Vita Cloche
Vita Cloche

Squib Hill Hat
Squib Hill Hat

Warwick Hat
Warwick Hat

Kettering Hat
Kettering Hat

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read. And thanks for all the support that you have shown for my designing throughout 2009. I am very grateful. Look for some great new stuff coming in 2010. Oh yeah, and I promise to be a better blogger, so stop back again soon – I promise it won’t be a year before the next post!

Wishing you all a new year filled with love and laughter, and lots of knitting!