Patience in the Studio

Patience in the Studio

If you popped by my place during the Melrose Open Studio Tour, perhaps you noticed that it was not a sparse space. A large design surface held tidbits of several projects in hibernation. Fabric sprung from the wire drawers, disguised by a fabric curtain. Wool roving fluffed out of boxes, with screen and bubble wrap rolled under the work table and bottles of soapy water stood at the ready. Pencils, ink tense and HB2, mending, ephemera and of course my sewing and felting machines covered my other table. The space was… busy?

While keeping my tools at my fingertips makes sense, the idea to sort, clean and paint hibernated the winter. After vacation in February, I decided it was time to shake up my fiber den.

Easily said. Done without difficulty, but it did require infinitely more time and patience than expected. Touching everything in drawers, bins, shelves took time. Nostalgic, restless, ebullient, anxious moments rolled into hours. Patience, Alanna, patience.

Fortunately, friends offered to help with the painting, so there was a deadline to get through it all. As they arrived, the remaining items were stuffed, pushed away, and boxed up. Let the wall prep and painting begin – both ceiling and floors. Thank you Sandra and Laurena!

Eventually, the chaos relented, but there were days like this!

With everything boxed up, I took the time to think about the components of my practice. Felting, sewing, knitting, stitched together with writing and marketing shape my creative life. It felt good to recognize all of these components, and give space for each in my studio.

It also feels good to keep only necessary materials at hand. I’ve decided to keep it that way. There are so many possibilities and yet so little time! Patience, Alanna, patience.

The studio “shake up” coincided with COVID-19 social distancing kick up. On the day that Sandra and Laurena came over, a WhatsApp message from a friend who lives in Hong Kong warned, “I worry about the US not taking this virus seriously. Do what you can to stay safe.” March 11 was my last regular day. Patience, Alanna, patience.

Meanwhile, I’m participating in a weekly seminar organized by Creative Capital, “Building Community for a Sustainable Creative Life,” led by Sharon Louden. There’s plenty of material to soak up, ideas to consider and connections to make in the next few weeks.

Clearly this year teaches me to reexamine my creative space – both physical and mental. Balancing enthusiasm and patience is a good exercise for me. This spring, I’m patiently feeding the future of my studio. Let it be a fertile place!

Knitting 2019

Knitting 2019

Alanna’s Knitting Year in Review

January 2019: Open the closet door, gaze at my yarn stash and the knitting priority was obvious: Finish those WIPs (works in progress)! Thus began a humbling yet joyous year.

There are still several projects yet to complete, but I let myself off the hook. Remember, this is a hobby! Then again, there are two sweaters that just need piecing. Not teaching in yarn stores during most of 2019 helped keep temptation at bay. However, I didn’t completely abstain from yarn purchases.

For that late winter stir crazy moment, Cardizen was cozy, easy knit and there was no super bulky yarn in my closet….

Late spring sent me to Marblehead for the Women’s Sailing Conference gave me the perfect chance to detour to Circle of Stitches to indulge in a bit of Mericash fingering from Skeinny Dipping Yarns to knit Sibella.

In August, Mom sent me the yarn to make the Myrtle cardigan for her. This lace, fingering weight cardigan is knit in one piece. Casting on at the beginning of our sailing vacation wasn’t my best life choice. Poor lighting at night, full concentration and flying pattern pages gave me a rough head start. I could really only knit on it at night below deck. Progress was slow for several months. In mid-November, I ripped back 5″, starting the lace pattern again. Note to others: start complex sweater patterns with the sleeve – it gives you the chance to learn the pattern with smaller repeats! The Myrtle cardigan is making progress and will probably be on the needles for the first quarter of 2020!

Also during the autumn, a gorgeous teal gradient pack of Dirty Water Dyeworks Lillian emerged from my stash with the plans to become a scarf using Sequence Knitting techniques. Fingering weight yarn just doesn’t do the patterning justice. I do recall Cecelia mentioning that. BTW: Cecelia will speak at the Greater Boston Knitting Guild in March 2020!

Ripped back and cast on Canady by Bristol Ivy. The pattern requires much more yarn than what I have, but I will deal with that then. Stephanie’s teals are always a popular seller, so I imagine it will work out.

Knitting hopes for 2020!

What I need to knit? Mittens and hats. What I’ll probably knit (after I piece together those two sweaters)? Well, there’s a pattern I designed with concepts from Knitting on the Diagonal to finish then knit. Plus, I have a couple sweaters worth of yarn for lighter season cardis. One will be Flaum.

Reviewing my 2019 knits was a worthwhile exercise. It’s easy to get carried away with the possibilities for 2020, but it’s time to enjoy my stash and not accumulate more. My last stash free moment was 2005. Running tours for knitters in Italy and New England, plus living in a fiber lovers’ heaven made accumulation a joy. Five years of working in two yarn shops meant I bought and knit much of their yarn, but none of yarn I’d discover on my travels. Now it’s time to pull out those joyous moments and create!

Do you have any knitting goals for 2020?

A New England December Yarn Bombing

A New England December Yarn Bombing

With apologies to Thomas Oliphant and John Thomas…

"Deck the street with knit & crochet
Fa la la la la la la la la
They do mark "Clues from the Quilt "
Fa la la la la la la la la
Yarn and banners at seven places
Fa la la la la la la la la
Tis the yarn storm now in Melrose
Fa la la la la la la la la"

Oh, yes, a December yarn bombing it was.

Vine Street Melrose History Quilt Yarn storm 2018
The Vine Street Yarn Storm honors the many citizens whose names are on the Melrose History Quilt.

Seven locations in Melrose, MA were hit by a “yarn storm” during December 2018, as part of a the Melrose History Quilt homecoming celebration.

What is a yarn storm?

Also known as a yarn bomb or graffiti knitting, it’s an installation of knit and crochet items with a goal of expressing a public statement or to just personalize a sterile public space.

I’ve participated in a few yarn bombing and public art projects, but this was the first time leading one. From these experiences, here are five things I learned:

  • Define a goal to the yarn bombing (maybe your goal is just to brighten a place!)
  • Involve community ideas about the yarn installation.
  • Organize public knit and crochet sessions for contributors to mix.
  • Identify allies: craft guilds, knitting groups and yarn stores.
  • Ask for permission to install the yarn storm on private property. It doesn’t hurt to mention it to the public works department when installing on public property.

For “Clues from a Quilt,” the yarn storm (I chose a less violent term, although storms can be quite terrifying) kicked off in June, with World Wide Knit in Public Day). Thanks to support from Lucky Cat Yarns, there were monthly meet up sessions evenings and day time sessions at the Melrose Public Library. Winter yarn bombings could benefit from these tips…

  1. Use large base components. Of course, you could have everyone make two inch squares or tiny sea shells and put your yarn bombing together, but similar sizing and larger sizes facilitate joining pieces and making an impact. We asked people to make squares and rectangles using multiples of six inches (i.e. 6″ x 6,” 6″ x 12,” 6″ x 18″), which was perhaps on the small side considering we targeted seven locations in town. Either fewer locations or larger base pieces would create more impact.
  2. Use support structures that can be installed indoors, then set up quickly outdoors. At two locations, the yarn blocks and banners were installed on fences, which went up quickly. At other locations, old campaign yard signs, wooden shipping supports and wire tomato cages were decorated indoors, then set up outside. By joining pieces as they were contributed, it made installation at the end less daunting.
  3. Stitch together contributions as they arrive. We installed the yarn storm during the week after Thanksgiving. Having snowed shortly before Thanksgiving, the soil was pretty hard. Cold temperatures and stiff winds reduced the amount of time mitten-less fingers could properly function.
  4. Plan time for yarn bombing maintenance. Depending on the goal of your yarn installation, keep in mind that winter weather can be difficult on yarn bombings. If you can assign group members to check on the installation, many hands will make light work. For “Clues from a Quilt,” a 42″ tomato cage tipped over in high wind. There wasn’t enough top soil to truly support the taller structure (the 36″ tomato cage did just fine).

“Clues from a Quilt” also included banners to direct people to the web site. If I ever organize another winter yarn storm, those banners will be printed on fabric or mesh to better withstand the wind. Whew! This is one place where you don’t want to skimp on your expenses.

After the homecoming was over, we took down the yarn storm pieces, washing them and storing for the next opportunity to….

"Deck the streets with knit and crochet, 
Fa la la la la la la la la..."

Melrose Snowflake Block Pattern

Melrose Snowflake Block Pattern

You’ve heard about the Melrose History Quilt project

What? Didn’t I talk about this on the blog yet? I guess that was a few months ago. So, let’s catch up!

In May, the Melrose Historic Commission were very supportive of the project! Catch me at their booth at the Victorian Fair on September 9. In June, at the Melrose World Wide Knit in Public Day, knitters gave me good ideas for the Yarnstorm. Such great energy! Many signed up for the newsletter and will decorate Melrose with yarn creations while the quilt is in town. For more info, head over to the Melrose History Quilt Yarnstorm to learn about how you can be part of the action.

Inspired by the Snowflake block, I created a knit version for the Yarnstorm. Many thanks to Paula Velluto for test knitting the bulky version of this pattern. At this time, the pattern calls for bulky weight yarn, but there’s no reason you couldn’t take the basic instructions and work them in any gauge. Download the pattern on Ravelry to add it to your pattern library, or find this knit pattern on my web site.

As written, the pattern calls for a 10.5 US/6.5mm knitting needles and a total of about 190 yards of bulky weight yarn (110 yards Color A, 30 yards Color B and 50 yards Color C). The Victorian inscribed quilt is red and white, so you’d need 110 yards of red and 80 yards of white.

Worked in garter stitch with a stockinette border, the pattern begins at one corner, increases and works diagonally to the other corner. Stitches are picked up on both sides of the center block and out to the corners. Triangle stitches are picked up from the center and along the edges. Working in the round, the final border completes the square, which measures 20″.

Once the Yarnstorm passes, this block could be used to create cushions or a car seat/stroller blanket.

Go ahead and download the Melrose Snowflake Block now!


Do you laugh when you hear “Knit-In”? Let me call you in.

Do you laugh when you hear “Knit-In”? Let me call you in.

Loretta Ross at 2018 Local Environmental Action ConferenceIt was my lucky day. I attended Local Environmental Action 2018, where keynote speaker Loretta Ross emphatically (in her folksy way) made her case for all aspects of human rights.  Loretta would like to see a culture where we can “call in” and build connections rather than “call out” and isolate people.

In group sessions, I marveled at the different paths life leads us and heard motivations for attending the Conference. International approaches to reducing our carbon footprint and adapting to the change inspired me to keep moving forward. Strategies learned at a session inspired by research from NNOOCI give me a framework to communicate in ways that can build consensus. I even won something in the silent auction!

At the closing keynote, Mariama White-Hammond encouraged everyone to protect our progress, build connections in our community and envision a future that will result in a more equitable and sustainable future.

It was an inspiring and tool building day.

There was a moment when my face wrinkled:  When Carol Oldham praised the efforts of Jane Palmer leading a knit in to protest a proposed pipeline in VT, she had to pause while many in the audience giggled. Oh, dear, not again.

Does “knit in” make you laugh? Let me call you in (a chance practice what I learned).

I cannot deny the stereotype of knitting as an activity of the elderly women, which is somehow not perceived as cool as… Beyoncé or Juan Manuel Santos. Not that many years ago, knitting was a necessary activity done by all ages. In the US, knitting and protest trace back to the Revolutionary War. While the decline in handwork was dramatic in the 1950s and 60s, activity rebounded beginning in the 1970’s.  In this millennium, motivation and passion for not just knitting, but all kinds of creation are growing in a new way.

Even Stephen Colbert half heartedly recognizes this, making a short attempt to learn to knit on air.

Mariama encourages gestation of a new vision that will include everyone. Perhaps the 2001 Manifesto of the Revolutionary Knitting Circle provides a framework for local environmental action.

We hold that all communities should have the means necessary to meet every essential need of their own people.

To that end, the Revolutionary Knitting Circle calls upon people everywhere to take up the struggle through the tools of local production. We shall bring forth not only our voices raised for global justice, but we shall rise together, with the tools to liberate local communities from the shackles of global corporatism.

By sharing in the skills and resources of our communities, we shall become free to cast off dependencies on global trade for our subsistence. In so doing, we shall all be able to enter fairly into meaningful and equitable trade of not only goods, but also those cultural intangibles that are necessary if we are to bring about understanding, justice and peace to truly enrich our individual lives and our communities.

I do not know exactly why Jane Palmer chose to knit at Vermont Gas. Perhaps, like me, she enjoys making each moment productive and doesn’t leave the house without her knitting. Perhaps the rhythmic, repetitive movement of their hands calmed everyone’s minds. Perhaps they were creating an installation to raise awareness of the proposed pipelines’ pathway. Whatever their motivation, knitting is part of their activism tool box.

You, too, can learn to knit. I’d be happy to teach you, and lead classes at Lucky Cat Yarns. If you’re not nearby, find your local yarn shop, pick up a book at your library or look online for videos to begin your journey.

Thank you for your consideration.