26 February 2012

Paint the sky with stars

My friend Scott Henderson does some amazing photography. In particular, he has some neat tricks for photographing the night sky and his images of the stars scattered across the canvas of the sky must have settled into my brain, because I woke up one night with a new shawl design forming … a black lace ruana with crystal beads scattered across it like stars in the night sky.

What I’m knitting isn’t anywhere near as majestic and amazing as that, but I am hopeful that when it is done, one will at least be able to recognize where the idea might have come from.

At this stage of the game, all it looks like is this:

If you’ve never knit lace, it’s important to realize that lace in progress looks awful. It just kind of munches together and looks like a ratty pile of string, but when it is washed and blocked, it undergoes an amazing transformation. For the purposes of work in progress photography, I pinned this to the tablecloth, which is enough to give you a bit of an idea, but not much more than that. Can you see the crystal beads in there? There are a few of them, but they’re not very visible in the picture. This little piece is half of the bottom border of the shawl: each repeat takes me about 45 minutes, and I have 3 more to go to finish this side. When they are done, I’ll cast off the edge then turn the work sideways and pick up stitches along the straight edge of the border and work up the back of the shawl. When it reaches the neck, it’ll be split into two halves – like a big rectangle divided in half up the front, so you can put it over your shoulders and have it hang there properly. I will write this pattern up so it can be knit as a stole (basically half the ruana) or as the full shawl since not everyone has the stamina for quite that much lace, especially with beading thrown in the mix.

This is such tiny yarn (Zephyr, merino/silk and 10 metres weighs only a gram) that I can’t knit on this for very long at a stretch without my eyes going a bit buggy, but it’ll get done a little at a time, as all knitting does.

What’s your favourite lace inspiration?

22 February 2012

Works in progress

I have (as always) a few projects on the go.

The angora hat is inn time out, as it was bugging me and I may change the way it is implemented. I frogged it part way, and I’m letting it sit while I contemplate frogging it the rest of the way and starting over with something a little different.

I woke up at 5 am again with the beginnings of a shawl design in my head, and while that percolates in my mind I am working on some simple, straightforward knitting.

Lateral Thinking is a side to side sweater, done ‘recipe style’, like most of the things I unvent (to use Elizabeth Zimmerman’s term – I can’t possibly be inventing anything … knitting’s been around too long and surely someone else has done this before). This is the prototype, and so far I’m happy with how it is turning out. The linen stitch really shows off the variegated yarn (which is just a plain old acrylic/wool blend from Patons, nothing special but it will hold up well to washing and wearing) and because of the side to side construction, the stripes go up and down the body of the sweater, rather than round and round, which is a good thing if, like me, your circumference is a bit larger than might be considered optimal.

It doesn’t look like much sitting in an unformed lump on the chair, but you can see the sleeve, at least.

I have another project underway, but it’s top secret. :) It’s in several shades of blue, and that’s all I’m gonna say about it for now.

There’s also a pair of socks, of course, for knitting when I go places and need a small project to take along, and I had started some colourwork mittens, but I see several people have had issues with the pattern I was using. My new Elizabeth Zimmerman Knitter’s Almanac (which the Reluctant Farmer got for me just because he knew I wanted it) has a pattern for some lovely colourwork mittens, so when I feel ready I’ll probably frog what I have and try her pattern instead.

I’m sure there are other things here on the needles … there’s definitely more brewing in my head, anyway. Two shawls are slowly forming, and there’s a third that keeps popping up for consideration then fading back into the distance while I contemplate how, exactly, to get the shaping I see in my mind to work with needles and yarn. It’ll come to me eventually.

In the meantime, I will just keep knitting. :)

20 February 2012

New book about supported spindle spinning

With the most creative marketing blurbage I’ve ever seen! (There are testimonials from Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Shakespeare and Einstein.)

And because it comes with videos, it’s too big to be a conventional eBook … so it ships on a USB key! Is that not cool?

Even if you aren’t interested in spindle spinning, check it out, just for the sheer entertainment value: Fleegle Spins Supported

More spinning

Apparently I was in a spinning mood.

I found some black curly long staple wool that someone gave me ... don't remember what it was, but it was lovely. Combed and carded that, blended in some red soy silk (I think it’s soy silk, might be one of the other similar things, but it’s bright red and very shiny) and spun that up into a fairly thick single (well, ‘fairly thick’ for the CPW).

Then I spun up another bobbin of black suri alpaca/cashmere that my sister and brother in law gave me for my birthday and plyed them together.

Voila, yarn.

What does it wanna be? 200 g total, fairly loosely spun and plied.

18 February 2012


For today’s productive adventure, after cleaning the kitchen counters and making a giant fire-truck shaped cookie for The Reluctant Farmer’s birthday lunch (it ended up more like cake, but nobody really complained), I sat down to spin up some alpaca.
I combed this on my Louet Mini Combs, then spun it from the poofs that resulted (I didn’t diz the fibre out into rovings). The fleece is incredibly soft and fine – this is a prize-winning alpaca fleece that I was asked to spin, it’s really very lovely. The gray is subtly variegated from white to silver to dark gray with a few flecks of brown and the resulting yarn is beautifully textured. I spun this for loft and softness, rather than fine and shiny, though the fleece could do either. I need to ply this and see how the finished yarn looks, but it certainly feels soft on the bobbin!

17 February 2012

The books are here!

Three boxes of books arrived today by Canada Post.

The preorders are packed up and ready to go in the mail!

Want one?

Order yours here and I’ll put it in the mail for you!

16 February 2012

Easy knit shawlette, perfect for Noro

Flannelberry sent me some lovely Noro Silk Garden Sock yarn. I looked at it for awhile, and it told me it wanted to be a little shawl. Just a nice, simple design that showed off all the colours and made the wearer feel a bit more cheerful than they otherwise might.
My mom heard I was working on this and asked what colour it was. Hmm, that’s not an easy question to answer with this yarn! Noro is different than most yarns. It doesn’t come in *a* colour, it’s got wild, bright, long repeats of colours that you wouldn’t always expect to see together but somehow work out anyway. It’s also more like handspun, a very loosely twisted blend of cashmere, silk, wool, and in the case of the sock yarn, some nylon to add strength. It’s got great texture and looks fabulous in simple stockinette.
So, I sat down and started graphing and knitting and tearing out and reknitting and ended up with a workable design.
Actually the original design needed a minor modification, so I did a second one using some hand dyed wool from my stash:
Yep, that works!
It’s a very easy knit: if you can cast on, knit and purl, do yarn overs and knit two together, you can do this. The pattern, called A Dash of Colour, is available for sale now on Ravelry. If you aren’t on Ravelry (if you are a knitter, you should be!), you can get the pattern directly right here.

13 February 2012


Just breathe. There is lots of air.

Quite often, it doesn’t feel like there is enough air. I take deep breath after deep breath and still don’t feel right. It’s just part of the anxiety, I know, and there really is enough air, I know that too, but knowing it doesn’t make it more comfortable or make me feel like I am getting enough oxygen.

It’s a year, now, since I woke up realizing that I couldn’t go to work because I was too much of a basket case to be productive. It’s a year, now, since I started trying to unravel the coping strategies that got me through the chaos and then continued on long afterwards as ingrained habits that generated more problems than they solved. It’s been a year of resting, knitting, writing, crying, breathing, panicking, sleeping, not sleeping, thinking, remembering, running, collapsing, and healing.

I am getting better, I can tell.

I still have a long way to go. I can tell that too.

Ah well, life is the journey, they say.

I think I’ll see if I can finish this shawl design. Maybe accomplishing something, even something so minor as writing up a very simple, almost mindless shawl pattern, maybe getting something done will bring the air back into my lungs.

04 February 2012


This past week was a busy one.

We had several trips to Barrhead for school events and final exams for The Boy, along with some of the unpleasant last minute drama that, apparently, is an essential learning experience for teenagers. After all, until things actually go to hell in a handbasket because you didn’t confirm something and just assumed it had all gone as you anticipated … until something unexpected but certainly within the realm of likely possibility actually happens to throw the schedule off … well, how is a kid supposed to know that Mom’s insistence that the devil is in the details and being proactve makes a huge difference in real life … how’s a kid supposed to know any of that applies to him?

Well, he knows it now and as life lessons go, it was a cheap one, so that’s all good. However, cheap lesson or not, it cost me a decent chunk of energy on top of an already packed schedule that was likely  a bit over-ambitious in the first place.

Add in the unexpected crash at the dentist’s office yesterday, and I’m utterly knackered.

My body is telling me loud and clear that that was way too much. I’m listening – I’m taking it very easy, and The Boy is being very helpful about picking up the slack. Today I find it tiring just to sit in a chair – so I’m reclining on the couch, alternately puttering on my laptop and working on a new shawl design.

Forward Movement is a shawl specifically designed to make use of the long colour repeats of Noro Silk Garden Sock yarn – two skeins of which I won from Flannelberry’s blog contest a while ago. The yarn is really interesting: very much like a handspun single, with thicker and thinner spots, slubs of silk every so often, and a wonderfully varied texture. I hear this yarn washes up to be much softer than it is right off the skein, so I’m interested to see how it is after blocking. It is a silk/wool/mohair blend and not as soft as I’d expect given those ingredients, so I imagine there might be some sizing agents involved in the spinning process that will wash out once it’s knit up.  

The reason for the shawl’s title is that the two halves of the shawl curve forward, over your shoulders and to the front of the body. With all the lovely colour in the yarn, the pattern can be very simple so I’m not planning to add much in the way of lace or other effects … we’ll see what it needs as it gets a little larger. So far, it’s only about 13 cm long (measured down the center back) but it appears to have the shape I was hoping for. I expect I’ll add some decorative yarn overs lower down the body of the shawl, and I’m still pondering the best way to do the bottom edge so as to accentuate the idea of forward motion and give it a bit of swing. Tassles, maybe? Still thinking.

I’ll post a picture when I have enough energy to get up and find the camera … meaning not today.

Back to my restful knitting and my cup of tea…

03 February 2012


My body betrayed me today.

I had to see the dentist, to get a filling put in. I had a tooth that had a big cavity, right on the edge of needing a root canal, and they did a bunch of work on it a few months back trying to deal with the problem and hold it all together so that we’d only need a filling. They packed the tooth with oil of cloves and some other interesting stuff to hold off infection and put a temporary filling in while that did it’s thing. I’d come back and they’d take the temporary filling out and put a real one in.

Way better than a root canal.

Last time I was there I actually had two teeth worked on in the same day – it was a lot to get through, but with lots of deep breathing, my audio relaxation tracks, and a whole lot of focused concentration I did okay. I was absolutely wiped out for a few days afterwards, but I managed the experience pretty well. I hate going to the dentist, I’m always waiting for something to hurt really bad, but I’m not scared in the usual sense. I just really don’t like it.

Today, it didn’t go so well.

Today I only needed the one tooth worked on. Not a big thing. The freezing went in (barely felt a pinch) and I started to shake a little while that soaked into my body: apparently there is a stimulant in the freezing and it can trigger a bit of a physical reaction. I calmly sat and knit while it froze up, and felt quite relaxed, really. I listened to Jack Johnson on my iPod. I did rows and rows on my sock.

The dentist came in and they got the big suction mouthpiece in place – they didn’t have the medium size I needed but this was a minor job so a small should serve. After a few minutes, though, I was choking – the suction couldn’t keep up because the mis-sized mouthpiece wouldn’t seal well enough. Okay, we take a break and they find a larger one … this won’t be comfortable, but it’ll work better. Next up was some wrangling to get this giant piece of plastic stuffed in around my teeth (I know, dentists are the only ones who tell me I have a small mouth – I always want to ask them to put that in writing). The giant mouthpiece did fit, it didn’t choke me, and although it was a bit uncomfortable, really, it wasn’t too bad. Good suction is worth a bit of discomfort when you are flat on your back with people drilling in your mouth.

A few minutes later, I couldn’t breathe. Really, could not breathe. No air. Frantic, waving my hands … they responded instantly, pulled everything out and let me sit up. My heart was racing and I was shaking and choking and gasping … but there wasn’t really anything wrong. Of course I could breathe. But, my body had decided to throw me into a full blown panic attack, my first ever in a dentist’s chair.

I will readily admit that I hate going to the dentist (this should inspire me to floss more regularly, I’m aware of the inconsistency of my behaviour). However, I’m not actually *scared* while I’m there. Oh, I tense up and I anticipate pain when there isn’t any and I have to work hard to stay calm, but I’m not scared. The dentist is nice. The assistants are kind. They are so very quick and efficient. They give me more freezing if I mumble that it hurts still. I was doing fine, I thought – breathing, squishing my toes and relaxing them, repeating prayers in my head, staying focused on calming my body and reassuring myself it would be over very soon.

And then I just couldn’t breathe.

I had to take Ativan – I still have a few left from when the PTSD started. They don’t seem to make me feel weird or woozy, but I know they interrupt the panic response in the body, so I stuck one under my tongue and waited for it to kick in. I could feel the tremors easing, but I was still pretty rattled so I asked them to get The Boy to come sit with me. He came and held my hand and sat beside me, while they finished the little bit of work that was left – and although I felt perfectly calm in my heart and mind, every time the drill went my whole body started shaking like I was having seizures and I had to squeeze The Boy’s fingers to keep still. I didn’t want to bolt out of the chair, in fact I felt a little sleepy … but there was this strange rattling going on in the rest of my body that just wouldn’t stop and made no sense at all.

It was embarrassing, though everyone was very supportive and very kind, and reassured me that these things happen and it wasn’t a problem, they just wanted to be sure I was okay. I suppose this must be how it feels to have a seizure in public – even though everyone is kind and supportive and reassures you it wasn’t your fault and couldn’t be helped and nobody’s upset with you, you’re embarrassed anyway.

The Boy drove us home and I crashed into a nap. I’m still a little rattled, my mouth is a bit sore (it will be for a few days, always is after I have work done), but I’m okay. I know there’s nothing to be ashamed of – I couldn’t really have done anything else to prevent this, I don’t think. My resources are a bit drained, as it’s been a long week … maybe a bit more rest ahead of the appointments would be good. At least I had my meds with me and someone to drive me if I needed to take them.

I’m grateful for the kindness and supportive attitudes of the dentist and staff, and for my Boy who rolled his eyes a little at my loss of control but supported me anyway, even if he couldn’t understand why I was such a wreck. I don’t understand it myself, but having his hand to hold sure made it easier to get through that last half hour in the dentist’s chair.

Why write about this, then, if I am embarrassed by it?

I guess I just want everyone to understand that having a panic attack doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is a big chicken, that they are a weak-willed scaredy-cat who lets their fear get the better of them. I wasn’t even scared. I thought I was doing fine … then blam. Sometimes, your body just takes over in spite of all your best efforts to remain calm and still.

So if you should ever run into someone who is experiencing something like this, please realize that once it starts, no amount of logic will help … the body has gone off on a tangent, well beyond reach of logic. Just soothe the body with comforting words, a hand to hold, and supportive company. That helps. 

Hot chocolate is a good thing too. I think  maybe I should go make another cup.

01 February 2012

A radio interview

I had an email the other day from a reporter in the UK who wanted to talk to me about knitting as therapy. Apparently the UK Health Board is looking at instituting formalized knitting therapy groups, which I think sounds like an interesting idea. It’s sometimes easier to talk about serious things when you have something safe acting as common ground – when you can be working on something that keeps your hands occupied and your spirit calmed, while you listen to (and maybe participate in) the conversation around you that might venture into some difficult areas.

Hannah, the reporter, was lovely to talk to (she has such an adorable British accent), very easy to speak with and very open.

We talked about the designs in the book, and how I needed to make things that purposely told my story because somehow, it helped me come full circle and think about what needed to be thought about, but at a safe pace ... at the pace of the knitting. Some things really just take quite a bit of time - and you have to give yourself the time to work through it all. I hadn't thought about it before, but maybe the really big projects I worked on were just that - to give me time to do all the thinking I needed to do.

We talked about the Hearts Ease shawl, how it's the one I made in Jessica's memory (my daughter) - to cover that spot on your chest where the heartache feels so physical after grief and loss; and about how now when I wear it and people ask me about it I can say, "yes, I made this - I designed it in memory of my baby girl, isn't it pretty?" and I'm happy to remember her this way.

We talked about the Memory Shawl - which I made in memory of my first husband - how it's easy to knit because in that awful time between a death and the funeral(s) (there was a really long wait when he died, more than a week), you are all at loose ends and can't think but you need something to work on ... and then the finished shawl is appropriate to wear to the services.

We talked about the Comfort Wrap, and how it's got big pockets so that you can keep your Kleenex in there if you're in a place in your life where you need to do a lot of crying. I've been in that place an awful lot, I know you need Kleenex pockets!

We talked about my counsellor saying that knitting is helping me undo my old thought pathways and build new ones - which I believe, though I don't know how that works, because it seems to be working for me.

We talked about using knitting as an outlet for all that anxious energy - instead of pacing or fretting or twisting hair or whatever, you can send the energy into your needles, into your work, and then it's not making you crazy *and* you get to make something! So those of us :ahem: with a bit of an overdose of Protestant Work Ethic can sit and rest when we need to, without feeling like we are 'being unproductive'. And like so many  of the knitters I’ve talked to about this have mentioned, you get to be in control of the project - you can choose the colour and what you work on and what it looks like, and if it doesn't work out you can start over!

We talked about how knitting can be so forgiving - how if you make a mistake you can just undo it and start over, how every time you pick up your needles the yarn says 'it's okay, just try it and if it doesn't work we'll try something else' ... it's like a sermon in your hands, every time you pick up your work.

We talked about how knitting is so grounding - in depression or anxiety we are often 'in the past' or 'in the future' in our heads, but the only place we can ever truly be is right here, right now, in the present. One of the skills counselling teaches for dealing with that is to try and get really 'present' in your body - to feel the floor under your feet, your butt in the chair, to be really aware of your current surroundings ... and knitting really helps you do that because it is so tactile, and so much 'right there' in your hands, needing some of your attention ... but not all of it, so that you can still think while you work.

We talked about knitting groups - apparently in the UK, the health boards are looking at setting up actual knitting therapy groups, like, official ones. Here, I said, I think we do that - but unofficially. People get together to knit, and then because we have that in common it's safe ... we can talk about knitting at first and then we become friends, and then we support one another. I do think there'd be a place for knitting groups that have professional support available ... when I said that to The Reluctant Farmer he agreed immediately that knitters need professional help! Goofball. ;)

Hannah was just lovely to talk to, and I hope that the interview material I provided will be helpful to her in making up the final piece. She'll send me the finished work when it's done - and I promise to share!

Okay everybody … keep knitting!