Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From "mine" to "ours"

See a difference in the description of this blog? Yes, I'm opening it up to become a Circles community blog. The first new blogger to join is Jackie (formerly of The Knitting Room.) We'll be inviting those who teach, participate in the Design Collaborative or the Inventory Building Project to post their experiences here, as well. As other people join, we'll edit the descriptor even further.

I won't be the only one sending out our emails now, either. You'll begin to read different voices in our outreach to let you know what's happening here. (Hey, I said in the last post that this was not going to be "mine" anymore!) So, please welcome Jackie and those that follow as write about our experiences of being in a community-based fiber arts organization.

Cheers, Allison

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Out of the Scrap Basket

I woke up from a dream this morning thinking, "That was my biggest failure." It took me a bit of contemplation to see how this was related to the dream, so I won't go into the dream here. I will simply explain the thought.

In the 15 months since transforming Circles into more of a studio than a full-sized retail operation, I've had to grieve what was, work through a lot of emotions, assess the successes and failures, assess my new limitations and determine what, if anything, Circles is going to be in the future. I can be a harsh self-judge, which can mean being too focused on my shortcomings. At the same time, it can mean being slower to see some things. As though I'm protecting myself from some sort of disproportionate punishment I might mete out.

In 2002 when I conceived of Circles as a store that hosted a community, I had every reason to believe this was something I could manage. In the past, I had managed multi-million-dollar projects, leading teams comprised of people in different companies. In my 20s I was a commanding presence in the midst of the established white male order of the newspaper world. I had managed the finances of a complex non-profit organization immaculately. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Business School. I had built a start-up urban composting company with verve, again succeeding in a traditionally man's world. I had been a very competitive athlete, running, teaching aerobics, and competing with the men in tennis. In short, I was a high-energy, highly functional force with a nearly obsessive focus and drive. Compared to all of that, what I wanted to do with Circles seemed almost quaint in comparison.

Yet, things kept going wrong. Of course, I was a mother of a young one now. That impacts a lot in terms of "obsessive focus". Early on, months after Circles opened, my daughter developed a serious health problem that was draining. She was having seizures in her sleep and, therefore, I wasn't getting any. So, it makes sense that when I wasn't managing things perfectly at Circles, I thought I was simply sleep-deprived and stressed.

At this point, my major flaw begins to come into play: I had always been self-sufficient. Had always relied on myself to be the driver. I didn't know how to ask for help. I didn't demand it from my partner, who didn't step forward on his own to say, "You've got something overwhelming on your plate, let's figure out how to shift some Circles responsibility for you while you deal with this." It simply wasn't in my makeup to think that someone else could take stuff on and cover for me. I was always The Responsible One. Had always known that I was resourceful enough to manage anything.

As the situation with my daughter improved and I was finally getting what would be considered normal rest, though, I wasn't feeling rested and I was still finding it difficult to manage anything. While it took a while to realize that I was not simply stressed, that I had a very serious health situation myself, this character flaw become more pronounced.

It's easy enough to note that Neuropsychiatric Lyme Disease has some profound cognitive impacts. If you read the symptoms list, it's more than frightening. One of the symptoms is loss of judgment. So, yes, there is a part of my failure at Circles that can certainly be attributed to that. A big part even. At the same time, disease attacks you where you're weak. With neurological diseases, any pre-dispositions will be exasperated. If it was foreign to me to ask for help before, it was even harder now. It became obvious that I wasn't able to manage. The person who had been compulsively organized and highly focused in the past, became a ship lost at sea with no tools for navigation. In knitting terms, this was akin to being the knitter who worked on one highly-detailed project at a time and drove through it to the end before starting another project and then becomes the knitter that has 75 projects in various stages of progress strewn about her life with no sense that any of them would ever be completed. The only difference was that with knitting, one might simply enjoy the process and not be concerned about completion, there is really no such thing as failure if you choose to change your perspective. Not so with business. Yet, even as I could recognize that something needed to change, I had no experience with the mechanisms of making the change that needed to happen, which was handing over leadership in a deliberate way.

I struggled with the notion that Circles was vulnerable to my availability and encouraged the development of the co-operative to transform it into a community-owned business. Though I urged the need to have others step up, I didn't actually know how to make that happen. I wasn't used to requiring that people be equally responsible to me. Nor was I emotionally prepared for letting go of the reins, handing off my vision. So, I hovered in this in-between place. I tried to hand off responsibilites, but not with the stringent demands of accountability. I was no longer vigilant about anything. In the past I had been known as "The Sargeant" because of my adherence to exacting demands. No matter the size of the project or business, accounts were reconciled to the penny at all times. Details were in order.  Now I was unable to impose discipline, even on myself.  The lines of ownership, responsibility and accountability got woven into a tangled mess. I was sliding into a cognitive oblivion, unaware half the time of what I was doing. Unable to remember my conversations and actions, days even. Periods of vision loss. Massively impaired hearing. Yet, I wasn't letting go.

By the time the doctors finally diagnosed me and told me that I needed to stop everything, Circles was nowhere ready to fly solo without me. As I crashed medically, the only way for Circles to survive was for it to contract and become minimalist. The community ownership, the yarn co-op, the education programs, the travel circles, the inventory, the social circles were all like partial skeins put into the scrap basket. In my leadership position, I had failed to provide for succession. My fate was Circles' fate. My physical, mental, emotional, spiritual health were partial skeins sitting right in that scrap basket, too.

Leaderless, the Circles community diminished. How long can people organize around a disabled person who has to focus what little energy she has on her health and her family? To be sure, there has been a stable core of people who continue to participate and build bonds. New people have discovered Circles and become attached. Still, it's a different entity now. Quieter. When I decided that the full-retail operation had to close and move to my house, I described it as a cocoon period of perhaps 9 months to a year. It's been longer than that and will be longer, still. But it has definitely been a transformation, not a death.

In general people don't do well with change. Moving and re-shaping Circles was a big change for many of the members. In retrospect, I'm not surprised that it's been such a journey or that it would take this long to get to a point where the remaining community would be ready to look at new growth possibilities. I've been wallowing in my sense of failure so deeply, that I was slow to notice the interest. Yet, here we are, with new models for growth being proposed.

Growing an organization out of a community, rather than growing a community out of an organization is different. On my own, I could simply write a business plan, put the money together, establish a brand and open the doors. Coinvincing people to embrace a brand is different than developing an identity out of shared experience. It will be a slower path. More organic. Less stressful and demanding for me, but a richer, more rooted entity is established. Right now, it feels like all those partial skeins are being considered for one of those knitting projects where you use a different yarn in every row. At Circles we call them Stripe Lights projects. A creative way to randomly use up leftovers and obtain a result more stunning than anything you might have planned. So, perhaps out of my failure at leadership will be born something more stunning than anything I could have planned. One thing I know for sure: it won't be a project that is mine. It will be a project that is ours. I'm more than ready to learn how to share the lead.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Circles Update

I've been doing a lot of writing lately, but not about knitting. Or even about Circles. I'm emotionally disheartened by my health and my hands have been hurting too much to knit for more than five or ten minutes at a time. So, what's been going on with Circles?

The Design Collaborative, for one thing. I'm testing a pattern by Rebecca, Rebecca is testing a pattern by Francesca, Lyssa is testing a pattern by ├ůsa.... Skirts, scarves, sweaters, hats. It feels like, at some point in the near future, we're just going to burst out with a gaggle of patterns and the fun will begin. For now, it's all behind the scenes to everyone but us. Eternal patience and faith is required on the one hand, but the process feels quite good.

We had a moment that quintessentially defined what the collaborative is about. Rebecca had designed an interesting scarf with short-row sections to highlight a hand-painted yarn. (That's her husband sporting the proto-type.) She wrote out the instructions for me to test knit, When I did, the numbers just didn't work out. Numbers, especially repeats and half-repeats can be a challenge with short rows. So, I charted out what I thought was supposed to happen. When next we met, I went over what I had figured out and she clarified a couple of things for me. After that, I could do some math and correct the pattern. At which point, she said, "I'm not a numbers person!" Exactly why we do this. She has wonderfully creative ideas and is a productive knitter. For her, the process would likely stop there because she's not comfortable with making sure the math is right when she writes out the pattern. With the Collaborative, her work can go further. As a matter of fact, I was inspired to design a coordinating hat. I can even picture mittens. Hopefully, other people will enjoy what she has designed and she'll end up making a little bit of money. If nothing else, it could reduce the cost of her knitting habit. Something we could all use in these tough economic times. But what I find is the compelling aspect is the way we augment each others' creativity and generate more as a group than we would as a set of individuals. It's a fabulous feeling to put your energies together and see the results. Everyone in the room feels good when it happens.

On other Circles fronts, Lyssa and Jen and Jackie are teaching classes and that is going well. I'm not able to extend the shop hours just yet, which is a bit disappointing, but I have to go with what I can. The Sunday Circle is bustling in it's new noon time slot. We still manage to have conversations that might go from where to get the best bagels in town to politics to deeply personal sharing of struggles and the welcome receipt of emotional support. The Sunday Circle continues to be the highlight of my week (other than my daughter, of course) and keeps me inspired to hang in there and do what I can to keep the Circles spirit alive.

My participation in Nanney Kennedy's work has been put on hold for a while. A big disappointment for me. It became clear within the first week that the other person already involved was not comfortable with an addition to the team. He and Nanney had had an agreement that they would work together on it for a year, and though we had discussed it with him and thought he saw the value of bringing me on board, he admitted later to feeling that he was a little blindsided. So, they are going to honor their original agreement and we will all talk about the potential for my participation when that agreement expires.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Classes, Collaboration, Contemplation

it's all about connection

Circles really began before the shop opened in 2003. I was already co-hosting a Sunday circle and offering knitting therapy to private clients. For me, Circles has always been about recognizing knitting as a tool for different ways to bring creativity and generative thought into our lives.

We know inherently that there is something relaxing about knitting. Clearly, we appreciate that this activity can be social - hence the explosion of knitting gatherings around the country. Knitting sparks something within us that we don't necessarily find elsewhere. What's that about?

I see the key to knitting in two parts - it's slowness and it's tactile representation of transformation. What both of these qualities support is our ability to make connections. To knit is to persist through thousands of stitches to reach completion. To have faith that even though each stitch doesn't seem like much, it will eventually accumulate into a fully realized end product. The action of a knit stitch, though it requires some attention, is not all-consuming. While we slowly compile stitches, our mind can also focus on other things such as conversation or introspection. Yet, with some amount of our attention, that which is about immediate action, being required to stay with the knitting, the way we participate in conversation and contemplation shifts down to a lower gear than otherwise. This shift allows us to let things sink into our minds for a bit more consideration before responding. When we let things sink in more, we consider them more deeply, allowing those considerations to include other data stored in our body more readily. As our thoughts encompass more than the just the immediate, we are more likely to integrate things and see things with a slightly broader perspective.  We make more connections.

Those connections can range from connecting to the sense of how much time a person must commit when they make things to how one's own thought processes work. Some connections just happen inherently, but when we recognize this intrinsic quality to knitting we can proactively use it as a tool to spark any kinds of connections we choose to work on. This is the thread that binds our workshops, design collaboration and contemplative knitting practices at Circles.

Workshops allow you to gain a deeper connection and appreciation of the craft itself. But, also, by gaining more mastery of the craft it releases your attention from that level of concentration and allows other thoughts, connections and creativity to emerge. Knitting together and designing together encourages connections to one another, but also to one's own creativity and how you activate that creativity. Contemplative knitting lets you zone in on more of your internal processes, connecting your experiences, thoughts and emotional landscape with the external expression of yourself, the way you relate to others and your perspective on life. Simply by taking the time to look and make connections in a gentle environment whilst transforming string into sweaters or socks, you activate some level of transformation within in your inner landscape. Slowly, because that's the way with knitting. As we allow one stitch at a time to gradually create a sweater, we allow one realization at a time to graduate create a new inner landscape.

Slowing down, it turns out, is key. Our physical health is improved by slowing down our activity level, reducing stress through patience and having less anxiety about everything needing to happen now.  Our mental health is improved by slowing our mind and giving it time to put together the seemingly endless stream of stimulus and data entering our brains throughout our lives. Spiritual guides and even doctors have been telling us this for ever, but we find it hard to put into practice. Some people find prayer, other find meditation or yoga. Others find art forms such as painting or pottery. For me, it was knitting. As I went through 3 years of training to be a therapist, I couldn't picture myself in a practice sitting across a room talking with people, until I put knitting in the picture. Then it all made sense. Everything seemed connected.

It was my vision when I expanded Circles into a full retail environment to continue the work I had started. While I held that vision internally, it wasn't externally expressed. This created a conflicting environment. Was Circles meant to be a "cool yarn store" or a "community center for healing"? Could it be both? Forces outside of myself were pushing for the "cool yarn store" vision. But I've never aspired to be "cool" and that mission didn't suit me. As I became ill and had to limit what I could do with Circles, I could no longer try to have both and it gradually became clear which was more meaningful to me. It also became clear that there were people for whom this purpose was profound and it would be a much larger loss to them for me to walk away from that work than it would be for someone to find another yarn store to buy cool yarns. We'll always carry artisan yarns. Doing so is part of our mission to connect to the sources of our materials and appreciate the work of the artisan. We will, likely, expand back out a fuller, though different, retail environment as we rebuild a Circles that is more in line with my original vision of a community space for fiber arts creativity and healing. Appropriately, though, this will happen slowly. Organically. With each workshop, each pattern published, each gathering and each private session acting mortar that holds the building blocks together.

So whether you're simply knitting for pleasure, taking a class so you feel more comfortable with the craft, designing because you can't help yourself or using knitting as a contemplative practice you're making connections. You are are a part of the vision. You're taking in a bit of the slow life and allowing your mind to sit back and get a little perspective. You've likely come to appreciate where yarn comes from, the ingenuity of knitting designers and the joys of making something by hand. Those are connections. Connections that enrich your life. At Circles, the mission is to keep building on those connections and to be a part of enriching the lives of all the knitters whom we encounter.

You can join us in that pursuit. We have a weekly social circle on Sundays from noon until 3pm, our Design Collaborative meets every other Saturday, I hope to start another Greek Goddess knitting circle next month (construction may complete by then, making space more manageable!) and you can schedule private appointments by emailing me any time.

Next week, I'll write more about the Pattern Collaborative, what it is and how you can support us.

Knit along now, Allison

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sea Colors - my mission reactivated

When I started Circles one piece of the mission was to help connect knitters to the sources of their materials. In case you haven't noticed, connection is a big theme with me. Healing, generative activity, creativity, and compassion are all rooted in connection. In the case of knitters and yarn, I have seen how profoundly people are affected when they meet the person who dyed their yarn. Even more so when they meet the farmer who raised the animal that gave them the fiber.

For many, when we start out as knitters we're simply thinking about things we can make, or we're looking for a hobby, or we're trying to finally have a sweater with sleeves that actually cover our wrists. Perhaps we just need to keep our hands busy while we stop smoking or stick to a diet. So, at first, we don't really consider the yarn except as a cost of pursuing the craft.

It doesn't take long before we notice that some yarns are softer than others. Some result in sweaters we'll wear a lifetime and even hand down as an heirloom. Others leave us with garments that pill or stretch out of shape irretrievably or shred readily leaving big holes in our work. Still, we might be looking for yarns that serve us best, at the best price, without really thinking much more about it. Until we meet a farmer.

Upon spending time with a farmer, particularly if you get to experience the farm, you gain a deeper sense of what it takes to get that yarn from the animal to your sweater. The birthing, the herding, the shearing, the feeding, the health management, the land management, the spinning, the dyeing, the fairs, the festivals, the shipping. Training dogs, moving fences, hauling water, keeping out predators. Worrying about it all. All year long. 365 days. No breaks. The dedication of the farmer is unmatchable. Once you are near someone who is living that, an appreciation of it rubs off onto you like osmosis. At some point, what you're looking for in your yarn changes. Price isn't necessarily the driving factor. You want to support the work that has gone into that precious skein. Work that is priceless, really.

Most often, you also learn a lot more about how the land, plants and non-farm animals impact the livestock and how that interaction effects the resulting fiber that goes into your yarn. A brittle life means brittle fiber. Lush land means luscious fiber. Once you realize this, the need to support sustainable eco-systems is tangible. You can feel the state of the planet slipping through your fingers as you knit. It's harder to support chemically processed yarn producers and eco-damaging, uncompassionate farmers. Knitting is part of the slow life and you spend a lot of time with that yarn, that tether between you and the earth from whence it came, rubbing along your skin.

If you're at all like me, a little personal mission sets in. One small thing that you can do to help the planet is use your knitting dollars to support producers who are doing what they can to keep the planet healthy - ecologically and socially. Hence the yarn buying criteria at Circles and the not-so-secret agenda behind the Travel Circles. (Hey, if my health keeps up, we'll back to those by Spring!)

Things have changed at Circles, as we all know by now. One thing that hasn't changed is my sense of mission. As I focus on the Pattern Collaborative for it's co-creative energy and the classes and workshops for the nurturing of craft, I'm still looking for ways to support the artisan producers out there and to continue building the connections between producers and knitters.

I just spent some time in Washingon, ME on Nanney Kennedy's Meadowcroft Farm. We all know her as the "Sea Colors" yarn lady. It definitely soothes my soul to soak up a bit of the farm life. (It was fabulous for my daughter, too!) Watching all the activities that Nanney has to juggle to get through a day, one realizes that it's a bit magical that she manages to create such finely crafted products out of all that "chaos". (It's not really chaos, it's the unpredictable alchemy of working with living things.) Her commitment to eco-sustainability, compassion and artistry are evident in everything she does. She's inspiring. (The hot tub on the deck is, too!)

As I pay closer attention, I realize she's doing all of this scrambling just to make ends meet. She's raised two boys as a single mother on this farm. The youngest just graduated high school. For the first time in over 20 years, she has a little breathing room to take stock and figure out how to make all of this more securely self-sustaining. When she does, she realizes she can't do it alone. She's up at 5 each day, out to feed the animals, move the sheep to pasture, check for eggs, make sure coyotes haven't breeched the pasture fences and other critters haven't gotten into the vegetable garden. Is it a sunny enough day to get some dyeing done? Do the dogs need to be wormed? How are the hooves on the sheep? Why is that one limping? And the day is off.

But this is just the on-farm work. The production of raw materials. She oversees the spinning of the fibers for the yarn and the blankets at a mill in Canada. She supervises the blanket weaving. She specs the details for the custom knitting. Coordinates a lesson for some crochet finishing. Sells at a farmer's market every week and travels around to craft fairs and sheep festivals. She's a one woman tour de force. And it isn't really enough. It's a hard, though exquisitely beautiful life.

So, here I am, the woman who is all about making connections, looking for ways to keep my mission alive. And here's Nanney looking for ways to create outreach to more customers. (She isn't moving nearly all the product she's creating. Or maximizing the production quantity for, say, the blankets.) Nanney has an internet partner developing a new web site for her and they need to drive people to that site, learn about her work and be inspired to buy her products.

I can do that. Can't I? What's a girl on a mission to do? I offered to help.

I'll add to my writings here the topic of how I'm doing on my mission of connecting people to Nanney's work and her products. For everyone's sake - mine, Nanney's, the consumers and the planet - let's hope these entries are mini-chapters in a minor success story.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Trust (Kn)issues

I remember knittng my first sock. I had purchased yarn at the Ross Farm in Nova Scotia. I found a Briggs and Little pattern. I was on vacation with my Aunt and I was a fairly new knitter.

I struggled a bit with casting on to 4 double-pointed needles so I cheated and knit back and forth a few rows before connecting to knit in the round. I'm not sure I had even knit in the round before.

I happily knit down the leg and then got the heel instructions. When I read through them I was completely blank. I could not at all envision what was going to happen. I had never slipped a stitch and had never done a short row. So, what's a knitter to do? I decided I would take it one instruction at a time and trust that it would all work out. Twenty years later, I still remember that feeling of awe when I finally had a heel. It seemed like magic! I had no idea how it worked, but there it was. It cemented by faith in "just do what the instructions say."

Of course, later I would find that not all patterns were so reliable. No matter how well you followed those instructions you weren't going to achieve the pictured outcome. After a frustrating time with a lace pattern that shall remain unnamed, I had to revise my pattern mantra to "just do what the instructions say and if it doesn't work out, check for errors."

This has served me fairly well in my knitting life. As a knitting teacher I have taught many of new knitter to follow this rule, particularly while they are learning and every pattern instruction seems like jibberish.

Now I'm writing my own patterns. Do I have the same faith? Apparently not! I started knitting the right sock for my Swirling Dervish and immediately started questioning the pattern I wrote. And I took very meticulous notes as I was designing/knitting the left sock. I was 12 rounds into the toe when it began. Suddenly I'm saying to myself, "This doesn't seem right. So few rounds and i'm almost done with the main toe shaping. Surely this toe is too tiny. I must have written something wrong." Next thing you know, I'm calculating the depth of the toe based on row gauge and trying to count the rows on the finished sock by hand. I considered spreading out the increases thinking I just hadn't noted that. I put down the sock for the evening and decided to come back to it the next day after thinking about it.

The next time I picked up the sock, I stared at it and thought about all my calculations. I was sure that something was wrong. Just as I was about to pull out the whole thing and start over I had an idea. Something so radical. I held up the toe I was knitting against the one on the finished sock. Imagine that! And, gee, guess what? They were a match. All those machinations for nothing.

Sheesh, I guess I have a trust issue. Only it's apparently not just about the knitting. It's about me.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wanna Meet a Dervish?

I know. It's just a sock. It is called the Swirling Dervish, though. I finished this one yesterday. It uses a lot of traditional Turkish techniques. Turkey being the home of the original Whirling Dervish himself, Rumi.

I've enjoyed designing this sock. I'm not a very experienced sock knitter. I've knit some, but I've always been more enthusiastic about sweaters. Yet, I've had fun coming up with designs for Circles Sock Hop. Even though the project came to a grinding halt along with my health, it stays with me and I'm motivated to keep it going. Each sock focuses on different techniques. It's an opportunity to try out different heels and toes, etc, to see what you like best.

This one particularly grabbed me, because the techniques of Eastern Europe and the Middle East are sometimes wholly different from what we're familiar with. For instance, when they say to twist a stitch, they mean to twist it in the opposite direction than we do. Once I learned this, it prompted me to think about how to combine them for twisted stitch motifs. Which is how I created the little swirl patterns.

Other techniques used here: swirl toe begun with an Eastern cast on, extra shaping for the little toe (I can't tell you how comfy it feels. One of those things you don't think about until you've experienced it), a purls and yarn overs transition at the toe, twisted stitch patterning on the body,

a thumb
joint heel (I have finally found the solution to my deep heel needs. With a modification for how it is closed off in the end, this may become my preferred heel for all socks.),

with twisted rib and Bosnian Crochet (I'm a reluctant fan of crochet, but this may have convinced me to use more of it in my knitting. It creates a fabric density more compatible with knitted fabric.)

There's a lot to keep a curious knitter's attention.

I've liked the sock since casting on. I did lose momentum during the relatively mundane sections of the foot and the leg, but when the edging was done, I really fell in love with it. I've cast on the for the right foot and will use the process of knitting that to refine the instructions before publishing. Intrepid knitters who would like to dive in before I complete the second sock are welcome to, with the understanding that I will provide technical support for any pattern confusion.

On a blog-tech note: I use Blogger and I have a lot of trouble getting the actual post to look the way it does when I'm composing it. Anyone else have this problem? Solutions? I'd appreciate any tips!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Anything happening?

Well, yes. Not much to show for it at the moment. (Though may finish knitting the Swirling Dervish tomorrow. All the design work is done, the toe, foot heel are knitted and there are about 5 more rounds of the leg to knit before finishing the cuff.)

Other progress: the Design Circle is going strong. We have 7 of us (soon to be 8, and welcoming anyone who's interested.) It's a real working circle and we've got our first round of 7 patterns being worked on. Each of us picked one of our finished pieces to start working up the instructions for in the first meeting. The second meeting we were deconstructing, doing math, looking at the Garment Designer software and writing out first drafts of a couple of the patterns. It feels quite good and I'm very thankful for all the positive energy everyone is bringing.

My first pattern in the circle? Well, I wasn't given much of a choice. I'm writing up the Siberian Collared Cardi.

I haven't even had to list classes on the web site or send out emails, as they've filled up right away. First sweaters. First Socks. Custom Tank. Lots of challenges met with good spirits and happy knitters.

Met with Jackie (formerly of The Knitting Room) this week and we're going to get together with Lyssa (once she's settled in with her new work gig) to work out a schedule for 6 months worth of workshops - including some for sewing. (Have requests? Send them in....)

But really, things have been quiet on my communications output because I'm tending to my dog with cancer. It's heartbreaking. She has a form that is only rarely manageable, so it is likely that I'm doing hospice care. She's such a sweet, dear thing. I can't stand to see her sick. The one consolation is that I'm told she's not in pain. Indeed, she doesn't seem to be suffering. Today, however, there was a development with her eyes that is not a good sign. It looks like Horner's Syndrome, which means that something likely is pressing on a nerve connected to the eye. That may the cancer has metastasized. Or it could have something to do with a weakened immune system. No way to know for sure. Her eyes are drooping. One doesn't open much. It looks like she's squinting it at you. It happened very quickly and I broke down into tears for quite awhile. I hate this process of just watching her degenerate. Again, this symptom does not include pain. And she still can see. But it's not a good sign.

Also, my daughter is on summer break. It's great to have her home so much. We opted to go very light on summer camps. How many more years is she going to want to spend her time with me? So, that keeps me pretty occupied during the day, as well.

Additionally, with the dog's care and the child care, I missed a bit my own medical care and two weeks ago I plummeted symptomatically. Lots and lots of seizures. Got back on track, though, and I'm doing a lot better now. Won't let that happen again. It was pretty dramatic.

So, no pictures right now. Hopefully in a couple of days I'll be able to show off the sock and send off the pattern to the Sock Hop members who are probably cursing me every day that goes by.

That's it for now......

Friday, May 23, 2008

Why Knit?

Rebecca recently introduced me to a lovely blog called Superhero Journal. I find this woman's work and writing very inspiring. It feeds into my growing sense that I must get back to my inner mission - using knitting as a healing tool. It's simply not enough for me to knit for the sake of selling yarns or patterns. Or even just to have finished products.

Wonderful Wool Fabric
a swatch I knit years ago, just because... There's a sweater in there somewhere...

Now, clearly I love knitting. I love yarns. I love seeing the infinite design outcomes of all the creative knitters out there. I love giving knitted items to my friends and loved ones. I love wearing hand knitted items. I have an appreciation for the craft simply as craft. And for many, maybe even most, that's plenty of reason to knit.

For me, however, there is still a yearning for something more. I "see" more in the knitting than the individual pieces of the craft. It soothes my soul to make the connections. Mindless knitting projects bring a time of mindfulness. Design projects evoke the alchemical nature of life - the mystery behind transformation. Intentional knitting can lead to unintended treasures.

So, in the spirit of Superhero Journal and my own journey of fostering something "more" out of knitting, I will, from time to time, pose questions for us all to consider.

Today's: why knit?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Designs:knitting and otherwise

I've been working on the Swirling Dervish sock. All the detailing is in the beginning, so I think I'm through most of the work. I've also written out most of the pattern, including the charting. This thing has charts within charts, so I've been concerned about how to present that clearly. After showing what I was working on to a couple of people I think I've worked out how to do that best. I'll have one sample done by the end of the week so that I can get photos and - if I have no major upsets on the dad's health, dog's health, my health front - the pattern will be ready to go next week. Yippee!!

Can you see the pinky toe shaping at the top. This sock is for a left foot. You won't be able to tell for about 20 more rounds, but the swirls form one big swirl going up the foot and then around the ankle and calf. When I first imagined this sock, I wanted to tell the knitter to just use the graphs for the swirls and put them where you liked. That would be much more like a true dervish. Feedback I received suggested that this would turn a lot of skiddish knitters off. So, I've charted out a pattern, but I'll still suggest that the knitter let go and knit the swirls as the spirit moves them.

The yarn is Cestari's Wool Sock. I love it. Very easy to work with. Very nice on the hands. Great stitch definition. And one warm pair of socks that will likely last forever. The rustic nature of it is perfect for reference to traditional Turkish styling. Overall, I'm pretty pleased with it.

The process, though, seems slow to me. Okay, it's glacial if you think about when I really started to design this. I'm talking about this last bit of time where I picked it back up again. But that's just the pace of my life now. I'm like the tortoises on those digital internet advertisements. Still, it's progress. And progress on a piece of Circles that as I see as the future: the Pattern Collaborative.

To get the Pattern Collaborative truly activated, I've done a little outreach and we're starting a regular circle. We'll use the time to share ideas, problem-solving and resources for publishing. It won't be a public circle. That is, it's only for people who are working on designs for the Collaborative. People can inquire and be invited to join. This is new. Having a closed circle. But we need to keep the focus and I don't want it diluted by general socializing. My hope is that as we start to publish there will be even more active interest and this circle will grow or others will develop. We'll see.

On another front, I've decided to focus on knitting therapy again. I already re-launched the Greek Goddess Knitting group and that's underway. I'm considering morphing the way that circle works. In the past, it's been a 12-week "course". What I'm imagining now, is a 6-week introductory course where newcomers can get grounded in the basics, but then an ongoing group to continue the work. Often when I've run this, people feel that they want more. In the 12 weeks you can only focus on one project and work on one emotional/spiritual topic. Being able to use the model and continue doing self-exploration would really deepen the experience and make it more a life tool for people. It also allows participants an opportunity to interact with others who have gone through process and can "speak" their new "language." I have to think about how to schedule it, but I'm pretty sure this is where I'm heading.

There are other groups like this I'd like to get going. Thinking of it in this different way might make that viable. I've been hankering for years to do one that centers on the qualities of elements and their associated archetypes. I'll try to line that up for the Fall. I've been hesitant to get back into private therapy sessions. But I think it's time to start. Time to stop being afraid that I'm not good enough or worth enough or the opposite fear: that I'm too powerful and will have too much responsibility. I've been writing about my internal processes on a

With the designing and the healing work I'll feel like I've finally built the Circles I always wanted. I'm looking forward to that.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Patterns, where to begin?

The deep pattern dive has been delayed. As if there weren't enough travails with my health, one of my dogs (the yellow one, Morgaine) has been diagnosed with cancer. She's need a lot of care if she's to actuate her slim chance of survival. Morgaine and her sister (Pachamama) have been with our family since they were 8 weeks old. They're 10 years old now. They've been together since the womb. I can't imagine what it will be like for Pacha if she loses her sister. My daughter has already lost a cat and a very dear great Uncle. This is lot for her. It's always something, this life business. Sheez.

It hasn't stopped me completely. I have begun. I've been gathering notes and making a list of projects to convert:
  1. Circles Ring Round
  2. Siberian Collared Cardi
  3. Lyssa's Double Knit Chevron Scarf
  4. Leanne's wrist warmers
  5. Asa's skirt
  6. Francesca's skirt
  7. Margaret's headband
  8. Marv Mohair Cable Front Sweater
  9. Girly Girl
  10. Striped Ballet Sweater
  11. Happy Halter
  12. Twinkle re-design
  13. new Babette's Hooded scarf
  14. Fair Isle corded hat/wrist warmers - Turkish motifs
  15. socks: swirling dervish
  16. socks: simple twist for Kaleidoscope
  17. proto-sleeve shawl
  18. flirty skirt
  19. Myrna's coat
  20. German cardigan
  21. short-row gloves
  22. while alpaca two-piece set
So, that's a few things. And there are more in sketches and notes. Where do I even begin? There's the excitement of the most recently completed proto-type - the Siberian Collared Cardi - and then there are the simpler patterns to publish, such as the Flirty Skirt or a hat pattern. Of course, I want to work on patterns by others, too, so I'll have to get going on a couple of those...

And then, there are the patterns I owe to the Sock Hop club. They may think I've forgotten since that club fell apart last year. I had hoped to rely on a staff member who had a lot of sock designing experience to produce the patterns, but that didn't work out. With me getting more and more ill, I wasn't able to meet this obligation. That doesn't mean I've forgotten it, though. Things owed weigh on me and part of getting my life more functional is getting these weights off my shoulders.

So, I'll begin with the Swirling Dervish sock. It's a fun one. Done with a lot of Turkish techniques: a swirl toe with shaping for the littlest piggy; a border pattern at the top of the foot before the instep; Eastern and Western twisted traveling stitches for the main swirl patterning; an inserted heel; and a cuff finished with a Bosnian single crochet. (The Sock Hop club members will get a discount on the yarn.)

I had begun this pattern last year. Shelley was test knitting it for me. I had knit my proto-type on a skein of Blackberry Ridge Kaleidoscope. This is lovely yarn and feels great for a warm, cushy sock. In the colorway I worked, you could see the patterning. I wasn't sure, though, if it got a little too lost. So, Shelley worked it up in a much busier colorway. Then it was completely lost. A lot of work for no visual effect. So, we put it on hold for a more solid colored yarn.

Easy enough, right? Write something else for the Kaleidoscope - which had already been purchased for the sock club - and then use this pattern once you find a yarn that suits it. Well, easy enough until your hard drive crashes when you haven't done a back up in a while. (Bang head on computer to see if latent memory can be transferred from brain back into computer via violent osmosis. What? No luck?) Yes, that's what happened. I lost all the work. Or so I thought.

Recently, I was going through the hundreds of "stickies" I have in my Mac Stickies program. I have so much random information there and it had no organization. So, in a moment of needing to do something rather mindless but cathartic, I decided to try arranging them in some useful order. And, what do I find? Notes for the Swirling Dervish! All is not lost. The very specific toe shaping and the traveling stitch charts are there. These were the most detailed piece. I can easily recreate the rest. So, we're off.

I thought I had a bit of this sock on the needles so you could get a taste of the look of it. That photo at the top is what I found. Hmmm, that's not a toe. And those aren't traveling stitches. That is definitely the yarn I was making the proto-type from. I must have pulled it out to begin working on another pattern. We'll see where that goes. The new and improved Swirling Dervish will be done in the Cestari Sock yarn. The rustic simplicity of that yarn will suit the traditional Turkish styling well. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Needles: off and on

It may not look like much, but that, my friends, is a bound off edge. That's right. I completed the knitting on the Siberian Collared Cardi. What started as a little off-the-cuff dyeing of a random skein of wool with Easter Egg dye last spring, has finally resulted in a finished sweater. Well, once the finishing's done that is.

I'll block it tonight, weave in ends and put on buttons tomorrow and be wearing this little number by the end of the week.

That's one big project off the needles. Now, I'm ready to move into pattern-writing mode. My next Circles goal is to get a good set of new patterns published. I have a list of at least 17 in mind. That's right: 17. There are more, but these are the ones that are far enough along to start publishing and getting test knitters on board. They're not all mine. (That wouldn't be very Circles-like, now would it?) Not quite half have been designed by other people. Some of whom have already submitted instructions. Others who are a little daunted by that prospect. Now is the time when I'll be nudging them along.

So, in my Circles life I'm moving off the needles for a while. In my health life I'm moving on them. There is more of an update here, but the quick version is that I'm being taken off of oral meds - because they were making me so sick that I lost energy, sleep and 23 pounds. Instead, I've begun injected antibiotics. A very literal pain in the nether region, but definitely better than feeling like I live in the nether region.

I had thought I would begin the pattern writing extravaganza last week, but beyond my own medical appointments, I now am in the throes of caring for a dog with aggressive cancer. She was diagnosed last weekend and we've had to make some tough decisions. Last week was full of consultations and research and crying. Our dogs have been with us for 10 years and they are siblings to my daughter. The decision-making process is complex. Considerations of quality of life for the dog, emotional toll on the humans, impact on the sibling dog, whether any treatments actually offer hope and, of course, cost. We've learned a lot rather quickly about dogs and cancer. This isn't the place for me to go into the whole experience. This is the place to say that one part of helping myself through this is knitting. After giving her all her supplements and scheduling our appointments, I find that I just want to pick up the needles and pour myself into a project with Morgan right next to me.

And while I'm knitting, I'm begging any entity that might be out there with some kind of vision or compassion in the universe to GIVE ME A BREAK ALREADY!! Back to the needles....

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Knit Police

A few years ago now, I met a creative knitter who displayed a great bit of knitting wisdom. From the moment I recognized what she was doing and she explained why, I appreciated this wisdom. It is such a simple way to avoid some major time consuming headaches that I feel that everyone could benefit from employing this little tactic. I've told many a knitter since then about it. So, you'd think I would learn. That I would grab onto this wisdom I am proselytizing and never let it go. But that would be a demonstration of my own wisdom, which is clearly lacking!

What is this golden tidbit? When I met Suzanne she was always knitting fabulous things which she herself had designed. Often she was knitting the main body of the piece and leaving the edges to be determined later. To enable herself to go back and knit an edge at the beginning of the piece without creating a bulky seam, she used a provisional cast on. Well, of course. This made sense. But then I realized than even when she had decided what the edging would be and had knit it up front, she still used a provisional cast on. Because, well, you never now when you might need to go back and change something. Basically, she used a provisional cast on for just about every project she knit. It's a brilliant idea. How many times have I have wanted to go back and make that sweater a little shorter, or a little longer, or change that ribbing? I'm telling you, this is wisdom in action. If you run out of yarn, you can always use a new color on all the edges if you haven't knit any of them yet, or you've used a provisional cast on where you can go pull it out readily.

Being sporadically wise, I have intermittently employed this technique. I'm always gleeful when I do. I often lament when I don't. My most recent project was a case in point.

It was supposed to be a rather simple idea and it was such a small project that I boldly cast on and dove into my creative little ruffled edge before knitting the lacy smoke ring. I had one skein of yarn and was just going to knit until it ran out. A quick little project to whip out demonstrating a beautiful piece you can get out of approximately 225 yards of yarn.

I worked my way through it, calculating increases in a shifting lace pattern. I was moving along at a steady pace and felt pretty good about the work. Finally, I'm binding off. Every one is "ooh"-ing and "ah"-ing over it and I'm proudly putting it on my head to see how it looks. And, it's beautiful! Well, except for that odd ruffle at the top. You can't really tell that it's meant to be a ruffle, and, well, it just looks kind of messy. It needs to come off!

Off?! But I was so sure! And this yarn is so fine and so expensive, I can't just cut it. Had I only channeled Suzanne and done that provisional cast-on, I'd be golden. But, of course, I hadn't and I would have to painstakingly pull the yarn through every stitch for 4 rows of a ruffle to salvage the yarn and re-knit the front edge. Oh, and that ruffle ends right at the beginning of the lace pattern, so I have to watch out when I'm putting those stitches back on the needle that I don't lose any yarn-overs and start a nightmare where I just have to knit the entire thing over again.

It took me longer to pull those stitches out and re-mount them on a needle than it did to knit the whole darn thing. I swear! Ok, maybe not. But if felt like it. I should have taken photos, but I couldn't bear it. I just wanted to get it over with.

It's done now. You can see the finished item in the post before this one. But what I really hope is finished is my stupidity. Really, this is such a simple thing. Provisional cast-on. Provisional cast-on. Provisional cast-on.

Perhaps I need a new project mantra. Perhaps I need Knit Police. "Ma'am, Knit Police here. Have you used the provisional cast-on? What's that? You haven't? Come with us, please...." That'll learn me.

Of course there are probably a billion other things I could use Knit Police for, as well. It would be far more useful than Fashion Police. You can't really change how someone sees color or visualizes pattern combinations, but you can teach someone methodologies and help them use discipline to enhance their knitting experience.

I wonder what the Knit Police would wear? And what tools they would carry for prevention and enforcement? What would their emergency number be?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Circles Ring Round

Is it a whimple? A smoke ring? A snood?

This was the result of trying to figure out what to do with 225 yards of an exotic, handspun skein of yarn. It's clearly a nod to the Rosemary Hill's Ice Queen pattern seen in Knitty recently. I simply didn't want to knit feather and fan, yet again. It's a lovely and simply lace pattern, but I wanted something more uncommon. When I saw a stitch pattern for "wheels" in the Barbara Walker collection I, of course, saw them as circles and just had to incorporate them.

Beyond not knowing when I would run out of yarn and having to pull out the cast on edge to make adjustments- I'll write another post about an obviously wise thing I might have done to help myself out - the biggest challenge was creating smaller wheels. It wasn't as simple as I thought it would be to extract the inner rings and leave out the outer. After quite a bit of work sorting it out, I discovered that those patterns were in the book, too - albeit a bit differently than how I accomplished it. Ah well, it was worth the learning process.

I think it came out lovely, don't you? (I'll get photos of it on a person soon.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

15 Rows to Go!

and a few buttons and weaving in of ends. But, really, almost done!

Believe me, there have been a lot of obstacles, both within the project and from without. So, it is especially sweet to see this baby heading into FO-land. Who ever knew I'd be so happy to get rid of a "U"?!

So, here she is. Esther doesn't really do her justice. Without arms you can't see how the bodice really fits.

Plus, she has this odd back end that is flat and wide. I mean flat as a counter top. I don't know any human being with this kind of anatomy. I really wouldn't mind, but what you don't get here is how flattering those lines down the back are. They highlight the feminine curve whilst also minimizing the sense of width. Also, this hasn't been blocked yet. I think the lines will be even more stunning after that.

So, 15 rows and some finishing. Once this piece is finished, I'm headed into some serious pattern writing time. I have at least a dozen patterns to publish. (Yes, I've managed to work on other things in the year that this has taken!) I'll show you one of the tomorrow....

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My First Meme?

Through Ravelry, I started reading Kent's blog entry for today. It begins: "I think I'm trying to escape my knitting. projects..."

I think I'm trying to escape my blogging a bit longer. So here goes what I think is my first meme. (I didn't go back and look, but I have a vague recollection that I might have done one before?....)

Before the meme, I will say that I have been knitting. Am about to finish a whimple/smoke ring design in a handspun fiber from Earthtones. And I've finally completed both sleeves and the plackets on the Siberian Collared Cardi. I'm set to reknit the peplum and that baby is ready for pattern writing. More soon....

What Allison Means

You are usually the best at everything ... you strive for perfection.
You are confident, authoritative, and aggressive.
You have the classic "Type A" personality.

You are relaxed, chill, and very likely to go with the flow.
You are light hearted and accepting. You don't get worked up easily.
Well adjusted and incredibly happy, many people wonder what your secret to life is.

You tend to be pretty tightly wound. It's easy to get you excited... which can be a good or bad thing.
You have a lot of enthusiasm, but it fades rather quickly. You don't stick with any one thing for very long.
You have the drive to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. Your biggest problem is making sure you finish the projects you start.

You are the total package - suave, sexy, smart, and strong.
You have the whole world under your spell, and you can influence almost everyone you know.
You don't always resist your urges to crush the weak. Just remember, they don't have as much going for them as you do.

You are well rounded, with a complete perspective on life.
You are solid and dependable. You are loyal, and people can count on you.
At times, you can be a bit too serious. You tend to put too much pressure on yourself.

You are very intuitive and wise. You understand the world better than most people.
You also have a very active imagination. You often get carried away with your thoughts.
You are prone to a little paranoia and jealousy. You sometimes go overboard in interpreting signals.

Two things to note: 1) this person sounds like a split personality ("You are relaxed, chill/You tend to be tightly wound"). So, are all the personalities this pathological? Or is that just me being prone to paranoia again? And, 2) Many of these same paragraphs came up for the names Nicole, Kent, Rhianna, Mary... Actually, there only seem to be about 8 or 10 paragraphs that get applied to any name. Kind of takes the fun out of it. Oh, well. I'm probably just being too serious now.....