The making umbrella

I have an old journal entry saying something to the effect of “I learned to knit. I don’t think it will really stick. Oh well.”

How wrong was I!

My first sewing machine although I have no memory of using it.

Throughout most of my life I’ve been surrounded by some sort of making. My Grandma Lou was an incredible seamstress. She made all my dad and uncle’s clothes, often matching, when he was a young. She sewed all of my Christmas and Easter dresses when I was small and my one and only flower girl dress. She made dolls and had a sewing room where you had to wear shoes because there were always straight pins on the floor. That room was piled high to the ceiling with fabric and all kinds of crafting notions. She sold her creations at craft fairs and was able to get her hands on coveted Cabbage Patch Dolls that were so popular when I was a little girl.

MyGrandpa Mike and Grandma Lou

My Grandma Annie taught me how to crochet. I made rag rugs at first and then a few blankets. She made hot pads: yarn covered bottle caps linked together which I still use today.

My Grandpa Eddie and Grandma Annie

My mother always made our Halloween costumes growing up, provided ample supplies to make Christmas ornaments and always had some sort of kit she was going to finish embroidering. (Full disclosure, I have a few of those types of kits too…waiting to be made.)

There aren’t many pictures of the things that were made but the images are still vibrant in my mind. Most of this making happened when I was a small child and I usually watched it all happen but never doing it myself (save from the crochet that I learned when I was a teenager) but always the proud recipient. All of the dresses below were handmade, I believe, by my Grandma Lou.

When I reached the age where I really wanted to learn how to sew, embroider and knit, my grandmothers had already passed and my mother had long forgotten how to use the sewing machine. I don’t recall that any of them actually knew how to knit.

A lot of that knowledge has been lost; most of the threads are broken. Just one small string has been woven through time and carries the essence from my grandmothers to my hands. I wish I could go back in time and learn from them. What felt like an infinite amount of time available as a child was cut short. If only I had spent more time learning from them when I could. But it’s hard to know that at 8, 19 or 24 years old. So while I have to go to classes and teach myself, I do feel their presence in my work. The drive to work with my hands is in my blood. That thin thread has become stronger as I kept circling back to making throughout my life.I believe all of these dresses were handmade by my Grandma Lou.

Now that I have a few steady years of making clothes and knitting garments, and a lifetime of its presence, I crave for the next step. How do I expand this umbrella of making? How do I grow deeper, more grounding roots in my craft practice so knowledge grows and carries on instead of being lost? Can I develop my ideas and lift them from hobby to profession? Where does my making go from here?

I’ve realized that I really enjoy teaching people to knit. It’s such a useful skill to know on so many levels: stress relief, ability to make your own clothes and accessories, an activity that doesn’t require a screen or battery power. It can be the foundation on which community and friendships are formed.

Creating community is something to be valued. Bringing people together for a shared experience which makes space for people to talk who otherwise may not is really important. While in Taipei, Taiwan this past summer I summoned the courage to connect with Taiwanese knitters, inquiring if there was an English speaking knitting group I could join once or twice. I ended up being warmly welcomed into a thriving group of extremely skilled knitters. It was wonderful that the craft connected a group of women who in turned welcomed a stranger from another country and all because of the shared love of fiber.

There is a desire to share the joy of making outside of the four walls of my guest room/sewing space. There is a call within me to continue the making traditions I witnessed growing up. I want to strengthen that thread from my past to my present and into the future, deepening my skills and making practice while encouraging others to connect and create.

So…what’s the next step?

Knitting the long road

After 1 year and 2 months of on and off again knitting, I’ve finally finished my Churhmouse Poncho. The intention to knit this poncho was set 4.5 years ago when I first began to knit. I purchased yarn, Rowan Tweed and was ready to go but I didn’t cast on immediately.

The Easy Folded Poncho is a perfect example of what has become a trend in my knitting practice. The poncho is fabulous project for a new beginner. That’s why I chose it. But it also is just a giant rectangle of stockinette stitch. Knit on the right side and purl on the wrong side, for 50 inches. That’s over 4 feet! So while I had the yarn, I never cast it on because other more shiny, challenging and exciting designs stepped in front of the line. And that Rowan Tweed eventually became a Junegrass Pullover. Many other yarns auditioned but I still didn’t cast on.

I tend to find a pattern that I just have to knit, purchase the yarn and then….I don’t cast on. Maybe the yarn is better for a different project? Maybe the sweater won’t suit my body shape after all. Or I already have 3 or 4 projects on my needles, discover that tempting sweater, purchase yarn and pattern to cast on once I finish a project or two. When that time arrives, the inspiration to cast on that yarn and pattern pairing may be gone. And the stash grows. Yarn once destined for a the perfect pattern is put on hold.

As time went on, I found I couldn’t let go of the idea that a poncho would be a perfect addition to my wardrobe. I looked at other poncho patterns but none had the same appeal as the Churchmouse one. After spending a good amount of time on Ravelry, I decided on Yoth’s Best Friend yarn in Cracked Pepper, held double was the match and it was cast on a short time later.

As I traveled deeper in my knitting journey, the poncho revealed itself to be the ideal social knitting project with its’ miles of stockinette stitch. It was also great to pick up when break was needed from more complicated work. And since it was just stockinette stitch, forever, it was easy to put it to the side. During the time the poncho was on the needles, I knit 4 whole sweaters start to finish, completed one WIP sweater and cast on 2 others (still WIPs) plus 5 hats and one shawl. I almost ripped out the Poncho to use the yarn for a different project so. many. times. Each time I was ready to do it, I’d remember that I really did want the poncho and kept knitting one row at a time.

So how do we keep engaged in long term project? How do we remember the intention of why we decided on a certain pattern and yarn. How do we keep the inspiration fresh, the motivation present on our current project when it’s so easy to be distracted or imagine the grass is greener elsewhere?

Sometimes ripping out the project is the answer when inspiration has taken flight and doesn’t circle back. Other times, focussing on the process instead of the outcome is helpful in the road to completion. Not actively buying yarn for projects that can’t be cast on immediately is another strategy. (Yarn store to storage bin isn’t always the best path.) Finding ways to remind yourself why this pattern and this yarn was the best choice at one point in time. Stick with it! Making an effort to filter out the constant messages that you should want/have the new, better and different.

Most of the time you just have to do the work in front of you, especially when it comes to long term, staple wardrobe items. It’s a mix of process and product knitting. It’s about rediscovering the inspiration that was present at the beginning each time you pick it back up while enduring the slog of the knitting at hand because the result at the end is worth it. What better reward than finally wearing something you’ve had on the needles for so long?

Knitting my poncho has taught me a few things: I benefit from having an easy project and a more complicated one on my needles at the same time. Following through with the yarn and patterns I already have builds confidence in my knitting practice. Knitting serves as a concrete reminder that with patience and determination, small bits of time add up to a finished piece you in which you can be proud. And most of all: casting off a long term project can feel just as good as casting on something new.

Traveling in kindness

We made it to Taiwan. I’ve have never traveled on a plane before with a broken bone. I’ve traveled many times sick (apologies to those former plane cabin mates) but never with the need for a wheelchair escort. And to be honest, there has never been much cause to pay attention to all the wheelchairs that do wheel around the airport… or anywhere. Once when I was 9 and broke my leg, I was in a wheelchair. I don’t remember for how long, maybe a month? The memory that stuck was when there was a need to use the bathroom and I was stuck on the couch while friends played with my wheelchair. Only when you can’t move as before do you realize how able-body centered our whole world is set up. And when you’re back to moving about (if you’re so lucky) it’s easy to forget. This time, my awareness had grown.

We arrived at the airport in the middle of the night. Crutches, with thick gel pads recommended by the guru cast fitting technician under my arms, kids and as minimal of a packing job as possible, we checked in for our flight. The scooter left behind and the unknown ahead.

We then experienced and witnessed such kindness as I became, for a moment, part of a club of which I never wanted to be a member. Our attendant expertly wheeled me through the airport, always at the perfect speed for my family to keep up, always knowing where to go and what line to move to the front. He, with a gentle assertiveness, asked others to move aside and got us through security in mere moments. While I got the extensive pat down, he helped my family with all the carry-on baggage, aiding in putting the Tetris-style packed bags back together and moving us along through the airport maze to the gate. Appearing again when it was time to board, pushing me to the plane door and stepping away to help the woman ahead of me by gingerly placing her on a wheelchair for the plane aisles. I was struck particularly by this scene as these strangers helped this elderly woman with such care and dignity. Never rushing, never impatient. A task they repeat countless times during their work day.

And once I passed into the care of the airline stewards, the kindness and gentle attentiveness continued throughout the flight.

We had the thankful privilege to upgrade just a bit so I could elevate my leg on the flight. The agent I spoke to was eventually able to get us in the same row, just not next to each other. When on the plane, the gentleman on the aisle agreed to switch and we were all together. The stewardess came countless times to bring me my crutches that were stowed in the closet, even bringing them un-asked just before landing. And the same calm, kind help met us on the other end. Going through customs and immigration was so pleasant and stress free.

When I fly, I generally have a good side helping of anxiety. Never the main course but always there. This flight, my circumstances demanded I let go and ask for help. I literally had to sit down and let others, complete strangers, lead me from one place to the other.

These were the unanticipated gifts of this entire travel experience: kindness, a sense calm and little stress. And of course, the extra, elevated leg room was key. Not much knitting happened and we all slept.

Me Made May and me

This was the first year that I participated in Me Made May, an event on Instagram that was created 10 years ago by Zoe Edwards to celebrate handmade clothing. Often clothes are made but not worn and this was an effort to encourage the making community to wear them proudly.

Typically with these online, month long, play along prompts if I join, I post for the first day or two and then I fall off. Me Made May was a bit different as I have to get dressed anyway each day and the longer I participated, the momentum to stay with it grew. I’ve never posted so many pictures of myself online before. Lots of me. I found a quick and dirty way to take my picture in my backyard and didn’t fuss too much over it. I figured it was more true to the prompt if I didn’t stage what I was wearing. But sometimes someone would snap a picture for me which was a nice break from the backyard selfie. Along the way I learned a few things:

There’s enough handmade clothing in my closet now that it isn’t hard to wear at least one piece each day, even as the seasons change.

The goal to have a completely handmade wardrobe isn’t as strong of a need anymore. It’s fun to mix and match ready to wear pieces with the handmade clothing. Which means I wear more of what’s in the closet already instead of always making something new.

Dresses and skirts are some of my favorite things to sew but don’t wear them as much as I’d like. So I need to invest in leggings or slip shorts to make it easier to grab a dress out of my closet.

I love to wear my linden sweatshirts, a lot, and want to make more! And maybe try some new sweatshirt style patterns?

The biggest lesson I came away with while documenting what I wore each day was unexpected. I liked the way I looked in my clothes. I don’t tend to really care for how I’m reflected in pictures. And yes, while I only selected the most flattering of pictures to share, I was fond of what I had to choose. It definitely boosted my confidence and it wasn’t because of the feedback (or lack thereof) I received, but because I felt joy in wearing my clothes and that translated into the photos.

Now for reference on my phone there are 31 outfits (many repeats) to select from in my closet and that makes packing for trips and getting dressed in the morning a little bit easier.

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?


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.