Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Slow Stitching

"The hurrier I go, the behinder I get."

                                               --Lewis Carroll, from Alice in Wonderland

Sometimes in life, things fall together just the right way.

I have been doing some creativity work with Kim, and as you all know, she is the master of creativity. As part of my work with her, I stopped designing so many patterns. I'm sitting back, and playing with ideas, rather than forging ahead with new designs. I'm revisiting some of my older patterns to improve them, and I am rephotographing them with new colors and a new vision. In short, I'm finding my "visual voice."

I admit I have chided Kim from time to time for the elaborate projects she undertakes--but now I am feeling that it is time for me to do the same.

And as I said in my last blog post, I have stopped knitting to a deadline. If I feel like it, I do it. If not, I let it go. It has been liberating.

I haven't stopped designing. But rather, I've been slowing down. I want to start making my designs more complex--or at the least, even more like my visions. I've been sketching ideas, but not really producing anything, which has been lovely--and completely out of character for me. I've even been thinking about working on smaller needles.

When I have produced a new pattern, it's been for something that felt completely inspired and exciting. Like this hat, modeled by this cute little guy:

 I have worked only on these small sorts of things, so that I could continue to mull the big. 


A few weeks ago on Facebook, quilt and fabric designer Mark Lipinski asked a question: Did anyone know a person who had many knitting projects going all the time, and who possibly designed too?

I had three projects just in my purse, and


Mark asked me to call him, and when I did, he started explaining that he was going to start a slow-stitching movement based on the slow-cooking movement. He gave me an overview of why he thought it was important, and I resonated with every word. Then he asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed on a podcast.

Well, sure. Why not?

Want to listen to it? Go to, click on the Podcast box, and you'll find the interview. I also encourage you to sign up for his webinar. I'm sure it's going to be interesting. (And no, I'm not on it!)


So join the slow-stitching movement. Take your time. There's no rush. Even if you're making a little project, you can stitch slowly. Enjoy your process, whether you are making a small thing or a big thing, a simple thing or a complex thing. Be completely in the moment with your work. Stop being afraid to give it your all. Use good quality materials: Support local shops, the way you would a local farmer's market. Think of all the creativity that emanates from local!

Watch how beautiful your hands are as they glide with the needles or move fabric through the sewing machine. Relax and lower your shoulders as you work. Take a few breaths before you begin, and even more breaths as you work. Convince yourself that you're capable of anything that you want to do--because you are.

Slow stitching will give you the time to get better with practice and to learn new skills that take you to the next level.

Let your spirit guide your yarn and fabric choices. When you do that, the love you are showing for your craft will come through, and you will find that you have a coherent, beautiful process, which will lead to a coherent, beautiful project. 

As I said in the interview, the most important thing of all is that slow work gives time for the love to come through--and that is why we are doing our craft in the first place: love.

Sunday, February 09, 2014


I've been mentally resting for the past few months. I've had my nose to the grindstone for years now, and I decided that I couldn't work at that pace anymore. So I decided to slow way down, and see what would happen.

What happened was, it's been lovely, and I'm enjoying my work more than ever. I have sworn off knitting and quilting deadlines, I hope forever.

Getting my colors redone was also an influence for the regrouping. Since I'm basically redoing my entire wardrobe (if I didn't feel that I need to walk the walk because of my job, I would be a little more flexible about this!), I have been remaking many of my favorite patterns using my new colors. I'm having a ball--and I sure do have many new unfinished projects. Since I'm off of deadlines, I don't mind that. In fact, I'm enjoying the puttering as I go from one to the other. 

And we're busy at the store. January and February are our two busiest months. It's hard to do anything right now other than work there. So I'm doing just that.

 What I am being is still--

Well, at least compared to my normal self.

(This photo was from yesterday. I took at from an exotic National Geographic location: the parking lot behind Bosov's in Altoona.)

And I think that for winter, still is the perfect thing to be. Many mammals hibernate. If we didn't have electricity, cars, and non-agricultural jobs, we would be inside much more of the time right now, doing handicrafts, reading, and eating from our harvest.

I know that you're tired of winter--but as my dad says, "Don't wish your life away." The days are getting longer, your sap is flowing. Spring is here, even though it's not yet visible--and it will be visible before you know it. Enjoy this last little bit of stillness.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Color Me!

Back in the 1980s, Carol Jackson published Color Me Beautiful. You may have heard of it; at the time it was a huge sensation. It was a book about which colors might look best on you. She divided people into four basic, poetically named "seasons" of spring, summer, fall, and winter. Like almost everyone else I knew, a group of friends and I went to have our seasons analyzed. It was pretty cool--you were draped in the colors that represented the different seasons, and then diagnosed as to which one looked the best. You then received one of four little booklets of fabrics that were your seasonal colors.

My mother had been diagnosed as an autumn, and since I look a lot like her, I was sure that I was an autumn too. But the person who worked on me insisted that I was a summer. I insisted again that I was an autumn. She insisted again that I was a summer, placing the summer drapes over me once more to prove it. She was definitive. By then, I was confused and figured that she must be right.

I received my little booklet of fabric swatches, and for the next 30 years enthusiastically bought cool colors.

But things were never quite right. I could not wear the pale pink colors that were supposed to be classic summer. In fact, any pale color on me just didn't look right. I then wondered if maybe I was a borderline winter. Eventually, the booklet was lost, and I deteriorated into wearing only black, pink, and blue. This lasted for years.

I never really quite liked the way I looked in any picture. I often preferred back views of my knitting:

This past fall, I wanted some change in my life. I was bored with wearing only pink and blue and black, and I decided to see if they still made color swatches. I found the Color Me Beautiful website, and sent away for a Summer color card, thinking that maybe I could find some new colors to play with. It arrived, and I found some new colors that seemed interesting.
And then I started wondering--could I become a color consultant? I thought it would fit in nicely in our shop. (People are always asking, "Which of these yarns looks better on me?") And it turned out that no one else in PA was doing color consulting.

They were delighted to have me on board. I started my training with a wonderful woman named Jill, and the first thing she did was analyze my colors. She put my picture up on her computer, and started putting drapes under it. The system is much more complex now than it was in the 1980s, with an exact analysis of your skin, hair, and eye colors along with the seasonal drapes, but as I saw her putting the drapes under my photo, a realization began to hit me long before I got her official diagnosis. I've worked every day with color for the past 10 years and could see what she was doing. I had been blind to myself before, but I could see without a doubt as she worked that I was an autumn. The official diagnosis confirmed it.

I went to bed that night, both delighted and shocked. Part of my identity had been tied to the colors I wore, and they were all gone. I felt as if my entire wardrobe and all my jewelry had been burned in a massive fire.

I loved it.

Before I got my final color palette, I got my hair recolored into a warm shade. Jill redid my colors with my new hair (the system takes into account whatever hair color you choose), and I got my new palette. It looks like this:

Teal blue, not blue. Rust, bronze, and the previously dreaded olive green. Not a pink in sight. But interestingly enough, not brown or bright orange either--which are typical autumn colors. That's what's so cool about this system: It gives you the 40 closest colors that harmonize with you. There are 300 million possible combinations. After the computer diagnosis, each of those colors is pulled by hand from thousands of possibilities.

Here's a nice little iPhone photo of how I look in my new colors:

Lest you think that color doesn't make a difference in how you look, I give you this previously unpublished front (wince) view, from just a few months before, when I had freshly dyed my hair in a beautiful cool color:

Notice that when your colors harmonize with you, your skin can go from looking unhealthy to looking healthy!

I admit that after a few months, I still sometimes feel as if I'm wearing someone else's clothes and makeup (although this whole thing does explain why an olive-green eyeshadow from college was such a favorite at the time). But I love it.

I can be stubborn (and even, I admit, rigid), which is why I clung to the pink for so long--but I also have always embraced change. I have never had more fun knitting, and I'm even looking forward to sewing a few new shirts as well--something I haven't done for years. There was a perfect creamsicle-orange fabric just waiting for me at the shop.

I still love pink and clear blue--just not on me so much. I have kept my Hello Kitty sweatshirt. Certain things are still sacred.

It's been fun to start to wear my childhood favorite color: RED.

There is probably no one out there who is wearing so many clothes that are so wrong as I was, but you'll find that if you have your colors diagnosed, you'll enjoy the new coherence in your wardrobe. And I bet it'll explain a lot of little color incidents for you, just as it did for me.Or that feeling of a closet full of clothes, with nothing to wear.

I never would have believed this, but I have fewer clothes, and more to wear. 

If you're interested, call the shop. I have appointments on the schedule starting in March. (And by the way, if you wish, I'm doing free consultations during our retreat, since all our classes are included. You would just need to buy the palette.) Or get together with a group of up to 5 friends and make an appointment with me. (They don't need to sew or knit, and you can be sneaky and tempt them this way to join all of us.)

Let's all refresh ourselves!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Green Hat

First, I want to thank so many of you for coming out to my book signing for 60 Quick Knits from America's Yarn Shops. I wasn't expecting that many people, and we quickly ran out of books. (No worries--more are on the way!) Kim and I appreciate so many of you buying them from us instead of online--more than you can imagine. Your kind gestures keep us here!

I thought you might have fun learning about how I designed the hat that's in the book.

It started out with a call out from Cascade Yarns to yarn shops for a design. I decided to try it, and to increase my chances, I sent about six different ideas to them.

Now, as a bit of a background, I am still a little scarred from having dealt with a publisher a long, long time ago; I knew I was in for quick deadlines. And I don't work quickly--just ask Kim. So I kept all my ideas fairly small. I did a little sketch and description of each project I had in mind.

Here's the sketch for the hat. There was a lot of trust from the book publisher, who accepted my idea from this:

I heard back a few days before a trip to Florida. They told me that I would be getting yarn soon--after I was down there. The deadline was about 2 weeks after I returned, so I figured I was okay. That said, I also knew I had to start right away. So I took a skein of yarn down with me, and I spent days and days there fussing to get the ribbed earflaps just right.

I got home, thrilled with what I had come up with and excited to begin the work on the real hat. I opened the envelope of green yarn waiting for me.

Then as a quick double check, I looked at my original sketch. I realized that I had said the hat would have garter-stitch earflaps.

I decided that I'd better stick with what I had said I would do, and I began again, figuring that the perfect ribbed earflaps could be in some other hat someday.

I wasn't worried at having to re-do. I expected garter-stitch earflaps would be easy. But for some reason, I ran into all kinds of problems: They were the wrong size, they were the wrong shape, they were in the wrong place on the hatband. I spent hours and hours and hours knitting and reknitting what should have been the easiest earflaps on the face of the planet.

After I finally got the earflaps working, the cabling fell into place reasonably quickly ... after I figured out that the cables as originally envisioned were too close together and I had to rip them out.

Oh yeah, baby, I was on the home stretch and feelin' gooooood.

And then came the top of the hat. I started in on my original plan, but it looked lumpy at the transition between the cables and the ribbing. I showed it to Kevin, who agreed with me by frowning and shaking his head no. I kept thinking about it and thinking about it--and then I bravely changed it to a decreasing cable rather than keeping what I had sketched. And then, while I was at changing the design anyway at this point, I added a big, huge tassel to the top.

I was finished the day before it was due, and with great relief, I sent it over-night to the publisher.

And that is all that happened until the book came out.

You have now learned the behind-the-scenes exciting process of publishing! If you are on Ravelry, I would love it if you would go make the hat one of your favorites!

To summarize the easy steps of designing a cabled earflap hat: (1) do a primitive sketch of the hat, (2) make the earflaps, (3) make the earflaps again, (4) make the earflaps again, (5) make the earflaps again, (6) make the earflaps again, (7) work the cables, (8) work the cables again, (9) make the top, (10) make the top again, (11) make a huge tassel with whatever yarn you have left just because you want to, (12) write up, (13) mail out via over-night mail, (14) party like a knitter!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Great Show of Yarn Bombing in Pittsburgh

I love yarn bombing. I can't imagine being able to have enough time to do it, but I think it's super fun, and I'm in awe of those who cover buses, bridges, and statues. I love the idea of decorating stationary objects in colors. The one thing I wish Central PA would have is more color! (Kim and I are trying to change this.)

When I heard that Pittsburgh was doing a project called Knit the Bridge, I wanted to see it. I looked at my schedule, and it looked fairly hopeless. Until I realized that I had this past Saturday off. And that it was supposed to be sunny all day. So I called a friend who was able to go on a whim, and off we drove to Pittsburgh!

The bridge, which was the Warhol or 7th-Street Bridge, was just as wonderful as I had hoped. It was actually more crocheting than knitting, but that makes sense: Crochet is faster, and there was a lot of bridge to cover. Rather than talk about it, I'll just show you photos. I took well over 80 that I liked, so it is hard to narrow it down.

On Saturday, they were still sewing the black, knitted railing coverings on:

This is Amanda, the person who started it and put it all together. I'm assuming that she never stops hanging out at her bridge!

For more info, go to Knit the Bridge. The exhibit will be down after September 6, so get there if you can before then!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Catching Up

At the beginning of the summer, I had no energy or interest in doing anything new with knitting or quilting. I knew exactly why: I was on complete overload--or should I say, need-to-complete overload. I decided to fix this.

I made a list of all the projects in my closet. And it was long--well over 40 projects. No wonder I was feeling so burdened.

I have spent the summer tackling them. I've gotten many, many of them finished, and I'm starting to feel out of the woods about the whole thing. I don't have to be completely done to start new things in the fall, but I wanted to feel that I had accomplished enough to have some creative energy.

I divided my project list into several categories:

Super-Urgent Projects
Urgent Projects
Things that are Bugging Me
Leisurely Projects

I started with the super-urgent projects, of which there were three. I tackled those. And every time I finished one super-urgent project, another project seemed to become super urgent. It seems as if three is the magic number of projects that one can concentrate on at a time. I had determined that several years ago, and the same thing happened by happenstance this summer. I think we need to remember this lesson.

But the project I am actually here to tell you about is a sweater that was on the list. I had started it about 7 years ago. It was called Silver Belle, and it was a gorgeous thing. It had a skirt that was cabled from large cables at the bottom to small cables toward the waist.

Now as a sidebar, I have to tell you that when I finished the skirt part (years ago), I bound it off and discovered that it was way too big. Not a big deal. I steeked it (sewed it and cut it), and then continued on my way.

The top of Silver Belle was supposed to be seed stitch, but I knew that on my figure, it would be disproportional. After stewing about this for months and months, I decided to make up my own patterns for the top. I looked in a number of stitch books and combined a bunch of highly complex cables.

And so the journey on the magnificent sweater continued. Year after year, whenever I had some spare time, I inched my way up the sweater. And by this summer, I had gotten almost to the neckline.

One day, I got it out to continue on. I happened to notice that one cable was crossed wrong on the back of a sleeve. It was crossed under a raglan decrease, and while I am pretty brave about taking out most things, I knew that it wouldn't be worth the risk. I decided to leave the cable.

I kept the sweater out, and Kevin walked in the room. I told him about the cable, and as I lifted the sweater to show him, we both saw a major problem at the same time: a dyelot difference. A big dyelot difference.

"You have to rip that out," said Kevin.

"I know," I said.

And for one of the few times in my knitting life, I was depressed. It would probably take me 2 months of fairly hard knitting to get back to that spot, and the charts, which were spread out on about 8 pieces of paper, would be a horrible pain to figure out.

I kept looking at this sweater.

Then I had an idea: What if I would get rid of the top part, and turn the lower part of it into a capelet. It would be cute! And it would be easy because I had already bound it off at the waist.

The next day, I took scissors to it and cut off the top. I held the capelet over my shoulders and decided it would work.

So the day after that, I picked it up to put a buttonband and collar on it.

And that's when I noticed a hole from the steeking.The yarn was merino and a bit slippery. I thought that I could probably repair it or at least kind of hide it.

But suddenly I realized that I didn't care about this project anymore. I didn't want to knit on it at all. Nothing was working. I had the feeling that wearing the capelet would just remind me of the problems. And you know what I did next?

I threw it in the trash.

And I instantly felt a great wave of relief crashing over me.

The sweater was finished.

I not only crossed it off my list, I deleted it from my list. I deleted it from my Ravelry page. And that was that. It is a gorgeous sweater whose design I will always love, and Debbie Bliss is a genius. I still love, love, love the way the sweater looks--but this one just wasn't working for me.

Here is the moral of the story: If you have a project that is not going well, and if you love the feeling you have when you throw it in the trash, and cannot visualize ever wanting the thing for any reason, and the yarn or fabric will not rip out well, then you have my permission to throw it in the trash.

Throwing away Silver Belle has given me more motivation than you can imagine. As soon as I did it, I was free to work like crazy on other projects, and I have accomplished unbelievable amounts. I finished many things, including....

A baby blanket I designed for Made in America Yarns.

Another pair of mittens made using my top-down mitten pattern (and I finished writing the pattern!):

My new quilt pattern, Checkers, made from 2 1/2" strips of fabric: 

The design was Kirsten's, but I finally got the pattern written for Antonym, a double-knitted scarf:

I have the ribbing for one sock left on a pair of toe-up socks that had languished for a few years. I made a paper-pieced cat table runner that is adorable. I wrote up final versions of a number of beginner quilting patterns.
I also finished a couple of things that need to wait before I can show them to you. I made a hat that is going to appear in a book sometime this fall. (The publisher kept my original hat.) I thought it would be sad to have no hat to show the design in person when the books arrived in the shop. So the hat is now done ahead of time, ready for whenever the books arrive, which is a rather lovely feeling. 

I think you'll like the hat.

And finally, I'm almost finished piecing my Black and White Block of the Month. I am so excited about it! It is a little different from what I was initially planning, and I think better. But sorry--you have to wait till December to see it in the Big Reveal! 

I still have a number of projects I want to finish--you know, a couple of sweaters, some cowls, and maybe another pair of mittens--but I no longer feel overwhelmed. 

And I'm starting to get excited about some new design ideas that I will work on this fall. Who knows where this all will lead, and what I'll come up with. Wherever it goes, I look forward to the journey. 

I have my mojo back.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Happy Birthday to Us!

Ten years ago this month, Kim and I started Stitch Your Art Out.

Many of you have been with us the whole time. Others have joined us more recently. Let me tell you about a bit of our history, and please join me in either reminiscing--or learning a little more about us!

Kim and I met in a writing class that I was teaching at Penn State. (She was taking a few classes just for fun, and serendipitously happened into mine.) She always wrote about interesting things, and often about fabric or color. For obvious reasons, I enjoyed her papers.

After the class ended, we stayed in touch and became friends. We soon thereafter thought it might be a great idea to own a knitting and quilting shop.

People often ask me if I've always wanted to own a store. The answer is that it had intrigued me for much of my life. So in the late 1980s, thinking that I wanted a gift shop, I bought a book called Run Your Own Store. I started reading, and determined within a few pages that running my own store sounded like a horrible job. I threw the book away without finishing it, and continued teaching for the next 15 years.


When we started Stitch Your Art Out, I thought that maybe I should buy that old book again to learn what to do. But I decided not to; sometimes you know in your gut that ignorance is bliss, and that bliss is a great choice. 

And so we began putting together a business plan. (One detail that we never did get around to: "We will keep a basket of magazines for husbands:  Sports Illustrated, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, a current newspaper." Sorry, dudes.)

Even back then, however, we wanted Kaffe Fassett fabrics and Mountain Colors yarn. We still love them both; our vision, sans Sports Illustrated, has remained consistent.

The business plan took a back seat soon thereafter; we were quickly overwhelmed with simply getting our shop up and running! Things had happened faster than we expected, and on our opening day, we looked like this:

On that same day, we got our first sign. We didn't have time to go to a professional sign maker, so we used my Kevin. He made it by printing letters on laminated paper via a laser printer. He even found a quilty heart and some clip-art yarn--see bottom-right corner:

I knew that the store was going to look mighty bare, so I went out and bought two large vases of flowers to make things look a little more "filled in." You can see them here on each end of the table (Hi, Kim! Awesome white sneakers!): 

We had no phone line, and cell service was tricky in Pine Grove Mills. With my Sprint phone, which worked only on the back porch (about half the time, if the wind was blowing in the right direction) we made some phone calls to companies, and at last the yarn and fabric began rolling in. 


Remember this? 

This was from September 2003, when we held our first event--our grand opening! That side, which is all fabric now, was the whole store. Our office area was on the other side, where the yarn is now. There was a kitchen back in there--remember it? (Sorry, no photographic documentation.)

'Round about November, we decided that we were getting established and should write a brochure for the Visitor's Center. We had a random customer take our picture. I'm not sure that this is the one we used, but it was the best of the bunch. Kim had checked a mirror and primped her hair right before the shot. I thought that it wouldn't matter whether I did that or not.

While I am often cheerful, I had no idea that I could possibly even form such a smile. 

Awesome white collar and cuffs, Kim. 


Remember how computer monitors looked in 2005? 

We had a whole handful of buttons!

This was also the year of the scarf craze! Kim made a particular fuzzy black scarf with colorful eyelash held in it (far left in the picture below). I can't tell you just how many balls of yarn we sold for that scarf! We used to see people wearing them all over town!

We sadly don't have pictures of it, but we held an event that year called Scarf Fest. Scarf yarn was hard to get, and we desperately called all our distributors and got whatever colors they had of whatever scarf yarn we could find. We bought bag after bag of yarn. We excitedly hid all the yarn in the back closet and made a big fuss over how we were going to surprise everyone with our huge selection the night of Scarf Fest. 

Scarf Fest was to begin at 6:00. At 5:30, we locked the doors and covered all the windows to do our secret work. We took the yarn out from the back, and started unbagging it and putting it on the back table. Quickly we realized that it would never all fit nicely. So we started heaping it! 

At 6:00, we had a line at the door. We opened up, and the customers rushed in! They took one look at the heap of the yarn, became incredibly confused ... and all ran past it to buy their normal yarns that were on the shelves! 


Anyone remember the trend in hairpin lace? Lots of you took that class! Here is Kim at a trade show in 2006, wearing the hairpin-lace shawl she made:

(In the same picture, you can also see another great, but discontinued yarn, Oceania. And another--Sinsation.)

Our shop started to take shape by 2006 as well. Back then, we hung some of the yarn on grids. (They only fell over once or twice.) There are no words that could explain our display of a heap of fabric bundles on the floor.

Kim and I started out using mainly grid-cubes to hold our yarn. Did any of you buy these hand-dyed yarns from Steadfast Fibers? Sadly, they are out of business. But their yarns were beautiful!

I feel as if I must apologize for a moment. I'm showing you discontinued things as I reminisce. 

But don't be sad! I have learned over the years that there are so many beautiful yarns and fabrics that take the place of the discontinued ones. It gets better and better. Our yarns and fabrics today are the best we have ever had.

By 2007, we started getting rid of the grids. What a relief! (We have always built every shelf in our store, by the way.We know our way around Lowe's and Ikea pretty well.) Behold the new Ikea Billy shelf for yarn:

And by 2007, look at all the fabric!

I like seeing this picture. By now, we're starting to take shape. But isn't it interesting how much brighter our colors are today than back then? (Compare this to the fabric in the next picture.) At the time, however, our shop was radical! Quilters didn't know what to do with such contemporary fabrics! 

Oh, I should say here that many people have been telling me lately that they don't remember the color of the carpet before. You can see it in the above picture--kind of a brown. (If you look back through this blog entry, you'll see the many attempts I made through the years at covering the brown carpeting, none of which really worked!)

At that point, while there were certainly refinements to come, we had a store that was very much like the one we have today.

So let's fast-forward 5 years, and look at us today! If you're from out of town, this is your first glimpse of our latest incarnation! We were so happy that we were able to spiff up again just before our 10th anniversary!

And just look at all those buttons:

So that is our story. Despite all the fumbling--or actually because of it--we have had a lot of fun over the years. To me, that's the only thing that counts. I wouldn't change a thing about our little journey.

....Except maybe that time in New Jersey when we were driving a huge, yellow Penske rental truck, were starving, pulled up to a high-end restaurant, and Kim leaned over me to call to the valet, "Is this a dress-up place?"


Our anniversary celebration is the best we have ever had. It will run just a few more days, through June 15, so stop by soon! Be sure to pick up a Stitch Your Art Out tape measure!

Kim and I are grateful for all of you--for all the loyalty, love, and kindness you have shown us throughout the years. Before we owned a business, we never knew that these words were not a cliche at all--but instead, so literally true: "Without you, we wouldn't be here." Thank you so very, very much.

We look forward to many more years with you.