In honor of a client

In honor of a client

In our house, she was known as the “Closet Lady.”

Nearly a decade ago, she found me through the grapevine. I repaired and recreated textiles. Her silk Roman shades needed mending, suffering sun damage. She insisted that the repairs happen without uninstalling shades. I could adapt, no problem.

Thus began five years of journeys to her meticulously decorated home. I would sew, repair, reweave and piece together the silk textiles carefully chosen to coordinate with the furniture, paintings and other decorative elements. 

We set appointments on the phone, from her land line only. I introduced her to the pleasures of a smartphone. She promptly purchased one, but I never saw her use it. 

How did Closet Lady acquire her moniker? In her front entry, the coat closet had a door. When you opened it, there was a large gold French passamenterie gold tassel at the end of the light pull. It looked out of place with the wooden hangarars and neatly stacked cloth covered storage boxes on the shelf above. She purchased smocked gold dupioni silk to make a curtain that created a backdrop for the tassel. When she opened the closet door and pulled the tassel light cord, the closet glimmered.”It gives me great pleasure to take my guests’ coats and jackets and keep them in a gracious location,” she mused after I installed the curtain.

Like me, silk and wool were irresistible to her. Silk curtains, silk shades, silk duvet covers, wool paisley jacquard weave upholstery adorned windows, archairs, piano stools. She had worked with a designer to decorate the home when she first purchased it, but clearly she was in charge of the project. To find the exact colors, textures and patterns was a grueling process and she had no desire to do it again.

All repairs happened at her home. Packing up my tool bag, I curated a selection of threads in a range of weights and fibers that reflected the home’s palette. Pearl cottons, silk, wool and cotton embroidery threads, buttonhole thread plus machine and hand sewing threads were neatly lined up in a box. A daylight lamp and sewing machine often traveled with me. Normally, it was a four hour stint at her place.

Of course I should stay for lunch! Dainty dishes, cloth napkins and vintage flatware elevated the deli salad as we discussed Museum exhibits, current affairs and political escapades. A stickler for grammar, she would frequently bemoan errors she heard on NPR or in the New York Times. These lapses were not just noted, but reported to the perpetrator. My conversational contributions were subject to the same scrutiny. 

While eschewing my grammatical errors, she would bring her writing to me for analysis, ever searching for the perfect word and tone. I suggested synonyms and phrasing options for her correspondence. Mind you, this was included in my $35/hr textile tech charges. She encouraged me to charge my editorial hourly rate, but I never did.

Sections of the textiles most beloved to her had more reweaving than original fabric. Did she really want to sink more hours into extending their fragile lives? My schedule was tighter, working deadlines on projects that paid better and were located closer to home. I gave her the number of a great upholstery business that could recover a few of her chairs when she found the right replacement fabric.

We exchanged holiday cards. On occasion, we would send each other newspaper clippings. 

In the summer of 2019, she sent me a letter asking me to please come, as her textiles needed me. She would gladly pay my time in transit and hoped I could fit a trip in as soon as possible. I felt split: this gig didn’t pay much, but her gracious hospitality and appreciation for our time together put this offer in a different light.

I responded that could get there in the fall. If she wanted to drive or have them delivered to me, I would work on them gradually. That summer was so busy, it didn’t occur to me until I wrote her 2020 New Year’s card that she hadn’t responded.

In February 2021, my New Year’s card to her returned to me. “Unoccupied” was scrawled across the envelope.

Discreet as she was, traces of her personal life on the internet are nondescript and few. Deep in a pdf newsletter of Boston club, there was reference to her death. While the exact date wasn’t listed, late summer 2019 is probable.

Knowing that she had no children and her nephew was the closest family member she mentioned, I wonder what happened to her carefully curated home. What about that gold silk smocked curtain? Those gorgeous tassels that she enjoyed every day?

I am grateful to have known her.

 

Story of Myrtle

Story of Myrtle

“Would you knit me another one?”

THUNK went my gut when Mom asked me that. She had just tried on the Myrle cardigan I’d knit for her and the fit was too tight. Fortunately, we were on the phone, so my body language was probably not as nonchalant as my voice.

“What bothers you about the fit,” I asked.

“Let me send it back so you can wear it.”

 

Daylight shines through the lace cardigan as it hangs in window

According to my project post, I cast on this sweater on August 1, 2019. Ah, yes, I took it with me on our 2019 sailing vacation. Too much concentration and dark yarn in the cabin at night meant I worked on other projects.

Autumn 2019 was full of local government campaigning, so there wasn’t much time to knit. Turns out, this wasn’t a great traveling project in the early months, too. In December, I pulled it all back and started over.

By February 2020, as I neared the finish line, I discovered that I placed the armholes incorrectly. Rip back, add a repeat and go for it again.

March 2020 began a time of interior updating and downsizing as we decided to move. It wasn’t until September that my evening knitting returned to the Myrtle. Mom was so patient. “I’ll be happy whenever I get it.”

Myrtle is a lace cardigan knit in fingering weight yarn in one piece from the bottom up. Its main lace panels were repeats of 19 stitches over 16 rows, with the motifs leaning left or right to mirror each other. You can read my notes on how I mapped out the pattern in my Ravelry project.

I made several modifications to the sweater that Mom did like:

  • Lengthened body by one repeat before binding off for underarms.
  • Chose a jewel neckline instead of a scoop neckline, which required three more repeats before binding off.
  • Worked stockinette for the underams instead of the mesh pattern. This created narrower upper arm circumference, which I hadn’t remembered to consider.

We couldn’t find the perfect buttons, so I made Dorset buttons using crewel embroidery wool. Mom loved the buttons, so I’ll do that again.

Dorset buttons on a lace cardigan knit by Alanna Nelson

Yes, you heard it. I’ll do just about anything for my Mom. It makes sense to profit from my muscle memory and lessons learned while it’s still fresh.

So this long-term effort was a good practice run?

Mom went to her LYS and ordered the same yarn again. She sent me the pdf.  I’ll copy and paste the pertinent sections of the pattern so I’m not flipping back and forth as I did the first time.

It’s a lot of knitting, but winter is still long. Cheers to good evenings and cups of tea.

What should we do with the lovely lace sweater she doesn’t want? Me wearing it would require gargantuan mental reframing. Let me use that effort elsewhere. I’m not quite at the point where I can just drop it off at the consignment shop…. your ideas, please!

Message me on Instagram or Ravelry.

A Season Well Spent

A Season Well Spent

Maybe you would pitch it; past its useful life and yet; A season well spent.

The pieces to my first piece of fiber art for 2021 were hanging around the studio for months. The old sailing glove should have been retired at the end of 2019. I washed it and put it back in my sailing bag. This year, it went from the bag to my studio. There were good memories in that glove.

The resist and shibori dyed wool felt seemed like a good match. I put them together in a pile, waiting for their time to come.

The Marion Art Center‘s call for member art for their winter exhibit pushed me to get the idea and make it reality.

Can I be honest? It pushed my thumb pretty hard… sewing leather through wool felt required some alternate thinking about stitching. But I finished it!

On January 29, you can take a virtual tour of the member exhibit.  Learn all about it and the instructions on how to join in the Wanderer.

rectangular embroidered geometric cushion

Status of the Studio – 2020

Status of the Studio – 2020

This is progress; a question or a statement; studio unfolds.

As 2020 draws to a close, a deep sigh follows my gaze as it scans the sun filled scandalously sloven space also known as my studio. Curtain fabric, slip cover pieces, two inch cotton squares and strips and felted projects cover the top layer of all surfaces. Boxes and baskets of felt pieces, carded wool, fabric, notions, yarn and tools aren’t settled in their new home although it’s more than five months since the move.

Light pours in Alanna Nelson's messy fiber art studio

Is this where I want to be?

How do I balance my expectations of my creative space and the reality?

I am where I am. I am what I am. Or, as Amy Porterfield advises, “you are where you need to be.”

Patience and setting reasonable goals were skills I worked on during 2020. With that mantra and perspective, I look again at my space. Of course there is progress. In mid-July, when the movers left, you could hardly navigate the room for all of the boxes (it was a great hiding place for the cat). Not all of the boxes belonged in the studio, but many did. While it’s untidy now, there are definite workspaces defined.

Despite passing on things I no longer needed or wanted, the pile unfinished projects and explorations was significant. In 2019, completing knitting UFOs (unfinished objects) was a priority. In that spirit, I decided not to put away unfinished projects. In my sight means on my mind, right?

As a result, I’ve finished not only curtains for most of the house, but several long-standing pieces. This exercise in patience, practice and persistence brings me joy and encourages me to think about priorities.

As the list of projects in the works dwindles, my mind clears and I get a stronger idea of what I want to create next. Of course, tendonitis constrained my stitching, knitting and just about anything I enjoy this fall. I used the time to read, write and use my rotary cutter.

So here comes 2021. It won’t be perfect and there’s a lot of work ahead. I want to be brave, work hard and dare to do the ideas that come into my head and heart. Let’s see how my studio changes.