The gift of Squam

Freshly returned from a glorious weekend on Squam Lake in New Hampshire for the Spring Squam Art Workshop, my heart and mind are so content. Being on the lake, surrounded by all kinds of creative people and spaces, in nature, without the daily demands of home can allow for a deeper connection to values that can be forgotten day to day. Squam created space for me to remember:

The value of my fiber crafts.

The value in taking the time to be completely immersed in nature and creativity.

The value in myself and what I need to fill my cup.

The value in new and old friendships.

The value in taking a break from the everyday.

Then after being home for 48 hours, I fell at my son’s school. And as I was falling I felt a small, faint yet distinct pop.

I fractured my ankle. Same ankle that I fractured a little over two years ago.

And all that lightness, clarity and contentment from my time at Squam vanished. Reality came crashing down.

When I broke my ankle last time, it really took a toll on me physically and mentally. It’s so hard to not be able to do the things you need and want to do. It highlights all the ways our community, and my home especially, are not set up for non able body movement. Crutches hurt and balancing on one leg to cook dinner (or brush teeth or go to the bathroom) is difficult.

By choosing to go to Squam, I made the conscience decision to make time to invest in myself. This experience created space for me to further define who I am and how I want to show up in the world. Carving out this time has the added benefit of deepening my belief in myself and that what I have to offer has value, purpose and a place in this world.

In the grand scheme of things, a broken ankle is not the worst thing. And while I can’t rewind and take back the miss step that sent me tumbling to the ground, I can choose how I respond to it. Will I succumb and stumble to a darker place or will I take it slow and then slower, letting go of control and find comfort in my family, friends and especially my craft practice? Once again, life is asking me to adjust my expectations, let go of plans and be present.

Taking the time to go to an art retreat is such a privilege. And while it takes courage to go spend a week with strangers, to be vulnerable and allow oneself to be open it also is by my own choice, something I paid money to do. Now, with a fractured ankle, my values, these lessons and insights gained from my time at Squam are being tested. I’m confronted with the task to see if these revelations apply when things aren’t easy, smooth or a choice. Can I find these values in my current situation?

The value of my fiber crafts especially when I need to be resting, healing. Knowing how they bring me calm and purpose while waiting for x-rays and doctor appointments. How they give me a sense of progress in a day when nothing else gets done.

The value in taking the time to be completely immersed in nature and creativity. How going outside for a brief breath of fresh air, letting the warm air and sun hit my face. Maybe do a few knitting rows on the bench with my foot propped up instead of always lying in bed or on the couch.

The value in myself and what I need to fill my cup. Reminding myself it’s not my fault that I fractured my ankle. I’m strong and capable and I will heal and being even stronger still. Maybe I do need to order out dinner, call a friend or watch a movie midday. I must be kind to myself.

The value in new and old friendships. I can say yes to help. I can lean on those around me. To say yes doesn’t make we weak. I don’t have to hide from my friends and pretend I can do it all until I’m fully healed.

The value in taking a break from the everyday. Right now it’s almost impossible to do the everyday tasks. I have to be ok with that. If I injure myself further because I insist on putting the laundry away, doing the dishes, or sweeping the floor, is it worth it? Will the house and my family fall apart?

No.

But it will be hard because there will be moments in every day that will test me.

Employing what I learned and reconnected with by going to Squam and applying them to the present, right now, it not only essential, it’s what has the most value.

That is the true gift.

Knitting for others

Gentle People Shawl by Silvia McFadden

When you knit for others, it’s a labor of love. It takes time, skill and attention. It’s a selfless act. Most of my days are spent tending to the needs of others, namely my small children. And so knitting is often how I give back to myself. My selfish act. As a result there is often a conflict between knitting for myself (self-care) and knitting for others. To be honest, I’d much rather teach someone to knit so they can reap all the benefits of a knitting practice for themselves.

But then there’s family and that’s where the line becomes harder to hold.

I have made three Weathered Mountain Hats for my dad. A fourth was meant to be one, but I changed it to plain stockinette so I could get his gift to him on time and I thought the yarn shined better in that stitch. I’ve also knit many hats for my boys, husband, siblings and friends. And I have knit cowls, shawls, leg warmers and two kid sweaters that turned out to be too “itchy”.

Knitting the same pattern at different times for my dad over the past 3 years or so provides a snapshot of how I’ve grown as a knitter. (The pattern has gotten easier but the crown decreases in the established pattern still get me. (I think I have it almost figured out.) It also supplies a glimpse into the ebb and flow of a relationship. Knitting for someone else, especially family, usually involves love and a desire to share that love in the form of a handmade item. Sometimes you can be at odds with the person but you still want to follow through with your commitment. Sometimes you feel so much love that you want to knit all the things for them. The knitting is much smoother when your relationship is good and so laborious when it’s not.

I try to be mindful in my knitting for others and only commit to making something when I know I really can do it. I do my best not have obligation knitting on my needles. And if for some reason I find myself in that thick spot, I have to give myself permission to put it down for a bit. Then when I pick it back up, hopefully the rows come with more ease. For me, the stitches of a knitted gift hold the feelings in which you knit it with….and I only want the piece to hold the love, joy and gratitude I feel for the person.

And once something is knitted and gifted, I let it go. No matter how long it took me or what transpired while knitting it or whether it’s worn or not, it doesn’t matter. There’s love in each stitch, fulfilling my intention. (Of course, if the recipient wears it, I’m much more inclined to offer again.)

Now my husband would like a dk weight (on the lighter end of yarn) cardigan, the McQueen. I’m ready to make it, even if it takes a few months (or years).

Sewing the Alice Top

I finished the Alice Top by Tesutti Fabrics late the other night. I made so many wrong turns, I essentially sewed the top twice. (It’s in these detours that you learn the most about sewing.) Sewing a garment, inherently, is much faster than knitting a garment. It’s 1-2 weeks from start to finish versus 1-3 months (and that’s if it’s basically a straight line from start to finish). So why does sewing feel like it takes longer than knitting a sweater? 

Maybe because for the very fact that sewing is a faster process? Expectations always shift one’s perception. I expect knitting to take time; one stitch here, a row there and over a course of a long while you have a completed project. I’m not a speed knitter so when I pick a pattern, I don’t have the expectation that I can wear it the next day.

When sewing, the expectation is that if I work quickly enough I could wear it tomorrow. But I’m not a fast sewer either. And the actual sewing is only part of the process. Selecting and washing the fabric, choosing a size and tracing the pattern; cutting out the fabric, changing the needle and thread on the machine (which used to take me so long! I’d have to pull out the manual to do the bobbin for years) and then the sewing begins. 

Sewing my own clothes should be a reminder that speed is not the goal but the learning , building skills and my handmade wardrobe in the process is the purpose. It’s a relief not having to pull out the manual every time I need to change the bobbin now. It makes sewing smoother and less frustrating. Sewing the yoke of the Alice top backwards the first time then picking it out with the seam ripper enables me to really understand how it’s constructed and when I encounter that again- I’ll know how to do it. Same with sewing the armholes on upside down. Twice. I always tell my son that working quickly doesn’t always mean it gets done faster. Often the quick work has to be redone many times because you went too fast. If I slow down with my sewing, I bet it would be faster. But then, that’s not the point. Right? 

If I want a piece of clothing immediately, I can just go to a store and buy something. Fast isn’t why I make my own clothes. And sometimes, I need the reminder. 

Time passing

Hello there. It’s been a long while. The vision when I started this blog was to write regularly and document my creative process. Somewhere that idea and intention got lost in the business of life. The projects continued: knitting, sewing, baking, family time, and theater. And somehow, now, time has opened up a bit (or maybe it’s space in my mind) and I find myself back here, ready to share once again what I’m making.

Right now, I have a hat on my needles, the Weathered Mountain Hat by Andrea Rangel and sewing an Alice Top by Tessuti Fabrics with some old fabric I purchased at Nancy’s Sewing Basket before they closed. Their ribbon room is still missed.

There are grand plans to sew a few more garments before summer begins…we’ll see how that goes. But you can be sure I’ll be back here before too long.

Process/Product

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A bit of radio silence here. Happy Spring!

I finally finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Actually, I thought I had finished it a long time ago; it being started it right after her appearance at Seattle Arts and Lectures. The bookmark was peeking out of it as it was being put back onto the shelf and it revealed there were a few chapters left. Sometimes you read things right at the right time. She talked about following your curiosity in times of creative drought. In this season of child rearing, theater, my chosen creative profession, seems far out of my reach. Inspiration calling on others who are able to answer it. Handcrafts, knitting and sewing specifically, have sparked my interest but it it hasn’t fulfilled me in the way that I expected. And maybe that’s because I’ve been too caught up in product. Somewhere along the line completing a project has become the only measurement of success. The number of creative things completed equates to my ability/productivity/talent. To a certain extent that’s true. I’m both a beginner sewer and knitter and the time to work on projects is so fragmented that most of it is used re-learning what I was doing in the first place. The sweater is being knit one slow row after one slow row. Instead reveling in the fact that I finally learned how to pick up a dropped stitch, the focus is on the fact that it’s been 7 months since it was cast on. It’s hard when your mind works much faster than your hands; when your days are filled with countless worthy (and not so worthy) tasks. I’ve been toppled by a wave where product means everything and process nothing. This is the place where the craft ceases to be easy or rewarding; where it’s harder to push forward and easier to veer away from it- sometimes to pick it up again, sometimes not.

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Maybe two Alice tops?

My son was gifted a book called Stardines, Swim Across the Sky and other poems by Jack Prelutsky. We love it for it’s word play. One poem stood out:

  PLANDAS sit around all day,planning what to do. Their plans amount to nothing for they never see them through. They plan to run a marathon or take a railroad trip. They plan to cross the ocean on a wooden sailing ship. They plan to learn to roller-skate, to juggle, and to fence.  They plan to go to clown school and cavort in circus tents. They plan to play the saxophone and form their own brass bands…But PLANDAS never do these things- they just keep making plans.

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I finished the hat; still working on the cowl.

Plandas are my spirit animal, in a way. Planning lands squarely in my comfort zone: imagination, creativity, grand ideas, courage with basically no risk (aside from a closet full of supplies). And while one might see failure in a plan never being put into place, in this case, failure doesn’t even have a chance. If you never begin the plan it still has worlds of potential. (The trigger can be pulled at at a moments notice.) And thus, you never get to the place where you’re stuck in process without product because you’ve never started in the first place.

Ah, but just being a planda isn’t really living. And just quitting when things get tough, when the real work begins, you never grow, learn, discover or improve. To finish the sweater, attempt colorwork, to take another sewing class to complete the dress; to continue to follow this curiosity of handcrafts is where life happens. Yes, it’s easier to plan or start and complete projects that have definite deadlines but much harder to sit in a sea of process.

Whether I guide the handcraft projects into the harbor of completion shouldn’t be the only measurement of success. Reading Big Magic served a reminder and encouragement that curiosity is valuable, just in itself. A meditation on the journey. A prompt to think how success is defined. A result, a finished object, is not required every single time a project begins. It’s a balance between planning (dream) process (journey) and result (destination). We can’t be in one spot for too long. A few dreams, a couple of journeys and a handful of destinations, all cycling at different intervals. It’s tempting to cut one or the other short, to camp out in one place for too long or forget to be present in whatever stage we’re in at the moment.

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The Staple Dress two years in the making.

So I guess I’ve been in the process part of my current handcrafts for a little too long and tangled up in what constitutes success. Maybe I’ll start a new project, pick up an old one again (I did just start a sewing lab class) or follow my handcraft curiosity to somewhere deeper. I doubt I’ll ever become an expert knitter, sewer or even theater director. And to be honest, that would be putting a a predetermined measurement of success on my curiosity. But if I don’t allow myself to continue to work, learn and create, no matter what pace or outcome, how will I ever know? There may be a day that I can say: I’ve been knitting, sewing and directing plays for 30 years now!

 

New/Old Wool Vest

There was a period of time in high school where I raided my dad’s closet. I was into the baggy/skater/slightly hippy look. I cut off old 501’s for shorts and took this rag wool REI sweater from who knows when. I always kept this sweater, long after I realized fitted clothes were much more flattering. This past fall I decided to transform this over sized sweater into a vest I could wear.

On the first try I just sewed a few inches in on the sides, following the existing line of the sweater. That didn’t give the fit I wanted so I ripped it out and then pinned a sweater from my closet on to the wool sweater. Then I sewed the outline of the black sweater. For the sleeve holes, I pinned back the sweater material, sewed and then cut the excess fabric to get the best fit possible. This is my first time altering a garment and it was a relatively quick project once I figured out the shape.

I can be pretty nostalgic about things but they do me no good when they sit in a box or drawer. It’s fun to wear this old/new vest, especially with the added meaning that it used to be my dad’s. Plus, it fits into my goal of a mostly handmade, hardworking wardrobe. Triple win!

Un(realistic)Expextations

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Sunset on New Year’s Day

Last year I was gifted a small book, One Thought a Day. It’s a little book where you write a line or two each day for five years. Thoughts were written until March and then it was put down. I picked it up again this new year, to give it another go. It was a surprise that I started writing the same “realizations”, struggles and challenges almost to the day the year before. If my thoughts from last year weren’t written down in the little box, I would be patting myself on the back for the new insights I had, plowing ahead with expectations that the coming year would be completely different.

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Knitting in the car

It’s funny, the narrative we play over in our minds and what we forget. This year I set out to knit all my family members a gift. In my planning, I thought what I set out to do was doable: a few hats and cowls. Intellectually, it all was possible- just like all the change I planned with my “new” revelations but in practice it was a whole different story. I knit a lot faster in my mind. There are few interruptions and my fingers move at lightening speed. In truth, I was rushing through the knitting, frustrated that I didn’t have more dedicated knitting time, just in order to finish and get on to the next gift. It wasn’t the relaxing or enjoyable experience I expected. It prevented me from being present with my knitting or benefiting from all the reasons I love it; it became another “to do” on the list.

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My brother’s finished hat

Through my first season of gift knitting and re-reading my thoughts from last year, it’s clear that my expectations have been a bit unrealistic, especially during the holiday season. I want to do all the things: knitting, baking, shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, parties and the list goes on. To have all the family gatherings to be relaxing and smooth without conflict or frustration; to participate in every activity with enthusiasm and grace. In what world does this happen?  Yet every year, I set myself up for the impossible and then have the hardest time enjoying what is right in front of me.

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Sparklers on New Year’s Day

New Year’s resolutions are not something I make every year, and if I do, they’re usually big sweeping statements that are great sounding but nearly impossible to carry out and inevitably fade away by March. This year, however, I will focus on sleep. I figure, lots can come from being more rested…or not (adjusting those expectations!). Some weeks will be better than others. Often it’ll be out of my control (right now it’s 5am wake ups in my house). But I can start small and forgiving and not get caught up in all the things I’d like to change/do (exercise, yoga, de-clutter, less phone time, creative pursuits, reading, travel…).

One thing knitting has taught me is if I rush it, it saps the joy from the act of creating. When knitting to finish in order to cast on the next project, I’m not present with what’s in front of me but instead wishing for what I don’t have; always wanting more. Knitting endlessly is not possible. My hands ache and other tasks and people call my attention. Balance is required. It helps remind myself that taking it slow is part of the process; it encourages me to accept where I am at this point in my life.

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One of the many beautiful Christmas trees we celebrated around

The gifts are still being made and the joy that I have in giving a homemade present is just as wonderful. They can always wear it next winter! And little thoughts are being recorded right before an earlier bedtime- I just hope I make it past Spring.