Friday, January 23, 2015

The Zen of Knitting

I am learning to knit, mostly on my own, with a book and a Craftsy class and a multitude of YouTube videos and the help of my friends—so really not so much on my own, just without a conventional class and teacher.

I started with a hotpad, then I found a simple mitten pattern. My friends gave me a hard time about making mittens. "What—mittens ALREADY!" They were very simple mittens and I made many mistakes and they aren't exactly the same size, but I learned from them. Then I made a scarf, which, it seems, is an appropriate project for a beginner.

My theory of learning a new hand skill is that you make something that interests you, not something dumb and boring; make plenty of mistakes, which you learn to analyze and not make again, and just put in a lot of time. Oh, and don't use materials that are too precious. You don't want to end up guilty about messing up $100 worth of beautiful yarn. That defeats you. Not a good start on something intended to make you happy, ultimately. So, back I went to the cheap yarn store with discount coupon in hand and got stuff to make myself a hat.

It turned out not bad. See that band around the bottom? I had to pull that out and start over three times and it still has a few problems. ( Don't look too closely at the right edge...) but I learned about decreasing, and my stitches are getting more uniform and I am getting the feel for the rhythm of the whole thing. And I will actually wear the hat.

Now I may have bitten off more than I can chew. I am making a sweater.

I bought (cheap of course) a big cone of cotton yarn on EBay because I simply cannot wear a wool sweater. Allergic, I guess. They just itch unmercifully. My friend Gale told me that cotton knits tend to stretch and combining the cotton with a thin acrylic yarn would mitigate that, so I found a deep purple acrylic to knit with it. I really like the mottled effect the combination creates.

I started knitting the neckband first and it looked just awful. I started over three times and finally got the hang of the ribbing and it looked pretty great until I got to the end of the neckband and discovered I had knitted a Möbius strip, despite being careful, I thought, not to twist it. Ray got a good laugh out of that. I pulled it all out and started over, yet again.

Möbius strip

I keep reading about the benefits of knitting. One article called it a form of meditation, and I get that. When I am working in those stretches of repetition, the rhythm and mindfulness puts me into that very satisfying mind space of "flow". Another article talked about how learning a new skill, later in life, keeps one's brain healthy and agile. As it stands, my knitting takes me from "flow" to frustration and anxiety in equal measure.

I am making a lot of mistakes with this sweater. I cannot seem to keep the stitch counts consistent. The front and back should be the same. The two sleeves should be the same (duh!). I have a feeling that simply adding or subtracting a stitch isn't really the correct way to address inconsistencies, but I can't seem to identify where and when the problems are occurring. Oy. This may turn out to be a clown sweater. But now that I know what is happening I will be more alert to finding out why. Offer suggestions if you have them. Meanwhile, I am moving forward, determined to put in my 10,000 hours and become a knitter. Serenity and flow await.

 

 

 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Studio Time

It is January in western Oregon and we are deep into rain these days. The kind that people in other parts of the world think of when they think of Oregon. I get tired of wet feet, but mostly I find the rain oddly comforting. It makes me want hot tea and and a fire in the fireplace and/or a day in the studio, with the sound of rain pattering away on the skylights.

I am working on this piece that will be covered with words, and I am rather painstakingly cutting out letters. Lots of letters. I printed the letters very faintly on white fabric prepared with a fusible on the back.

This has, and will, take hours.

I woke up in the middle of the night, the other night, and was thinking about those letters. They will be fused onto the background fabric, but then they will need to be sewn as well. "Why?" you ask. Two reasons. First, I don't trust fusing alone to keep things permanently attached, especially small pieces like those letters. And second, and more importantly, I think fused work that isn't stitched looks cheesy. Sorry, it just does. But in the dark of the night I lay there wondering if the stitching of those letters would distort them, or destroy the crisp, graphic look I am going for. So I made a little sample to see how I might stitch them, then how quilting around them would affect them.

I am satisfied now that this can work— and won't send me up the wall in the process.

As I sat and cut letters the past couple of days, I drank tea and listened to Podcasts. Ray gave me a nifty little Bluetooth speaker for Christmas. I have it in the studio, synced to my phone and the sound is wonderful. I am more than halfway through "Serial," the NPR podcast, associated with "This American Life." It is addictive — so well done. Isn't technology grand? An embarrassment of riches at our fingertips. I know my grandchildren will grow up taking it all for granted, but I am regularly stupefied by the access to a world of information and entertainment and connection that is now an integral part of our lives. Wow. Just wow.

So, time for me to head on out to the studio. More letters to cut, and I wonder if I will ever know for sure if Adnan was the one who killed Hae...*

*Serial! If you know, don't tell me!

 

 

 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Reminder

Awhile back I posted information about The 100, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, that I am participating in. This is a reminder that it is coming up on February 4, and I hope a lot (well, 100) people will donate $100 to buy a piece of fiber art. All of your donation will go to ACS, and you will get a lovely piece of fiber art.

This is my extraordinary sister-in-law, Jamie. Three days after Christmas she died from metastatic breast cancer. While we all know of the many advances that have been made in treating cancer, there are still cancers that do not respond. Hers was one of those. She fought hard, received the best care and the most current treatments and nothing worked. Nothing. I don't have to tell you what we are feeling. Most of you have had your hearts broken, at some point, by cancer in your families, among your friends or those you admired. I don't have to tell you. We all know.

I am donating this small quilt called "Night Windows" for the event. It is approximately 14" x 18"— (that's a guess. I don't want to go out to the studio in the rain tonight to measure it!) I am donating it in honor of both Jamie and my sister Becky, whose cancer was the kind that all that research found effective treatments for and, thankfully, gave her a complete recovery. That's what I want for everyone with cancer!

You can find all the details at Virginia Speigal's website here.

You can see a sampling of the wonderful work being donated at a special Pinterest page here.

 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Words, words, words...

Back in my college days I was a big fan of the silkscreen artist, Sister Corita Kent. She was a Catholic nun and very much associated with the socially conscious mood of the country, addressing issues such as civil rights and the Viet Nam war. I loved her clear, bright color sense, her clean, strong compositions and her hand-cut lettering. Always the lettering, because her work was all about words.

 

 

Though her work went out of style after her death in 1986, it till speaks to me.

I wonder why I have never tried using words on a piece of my own work. Now that I think about it, it seems so right up my alley. As a graphic designer, my favorite part of it was typography. Now I have a really good opportunity. Oregon SAQA put out a call for artists for a work inspired by a piece of writing. I am rolling it around in my mind and decided to just see how tedious it might be to hand-cut the letters for a favorite Shakespeare quote. Cutting the letters is the way I want to do it. Painting or stitching or stamping would not produce the look I want.

It wasn't hard to do this much.

I wonder if I have the patience to cut the rest of the passage...

And just because we are talking about Sister Corita, I have long loved her list of "rules". Perhaps you will find something useful here:

Some Rules for teachers and Students from Sister Corita Kent

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: "We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities." (John Cage)

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.

 

Monday, January 05, 2015

Last year's word

Since I have shared my word for 2015, someone asked me if these yearly words actually are something that I think about or use after I post them each January, so I thought about my word for last year—yellow. Last year I wrote that I would use yellow to add warmth and hope and light to the world whenever I could. Did I?

My friend June and I started exploring digital drawing and I used a lot of yellow in the drawings we made and shared. I especially liked this little tribute to my favorite little yellow bowl. So much so that I reinterpreted it using fabric.

I thought I would like to wear more yellow, but my closet remains notably deficient in yellow.

I did make a large fabric piece with a big yellow moon and reflected moonlight.

But the way I most noticeably brought more yellow into my life was in painting our bedroom a soft, golden yellow. The former owners of our house had painted every room in the house pale blue. The bedroom was a particularly icy shade and the last of the blue to go. It sounds like a small thing to do—simply paint— but at night the lamplight makes the room glow and the morning sun, even the weak winter sun, wraps me in soft, warm light. I swear I sleep better and wake up happier in a yellow room than I did when it was blue.

Morning view from my bed

Yellow was an odd choice for a word to inspire me for a whole year, I know, but I seemed to delight in all the beautiful yellow I found this year, and I'd think, "there it is—my color!" Imagine how delighted I was to find this in Portugal...

 

 

 

Friday, January 02, 2015

Time—my word for 2015

“It's being here now that's important. There's no past and there's no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can't relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don't know if there is one.”

― George Harrison


I have had time on my mind, and so it has become my word for 2015. My goal is simply to appreciate and be mindful of the gift of time. 

I see a lot of articles about "using time efficiently" and reclaiming time spent online or how not to "waste time" but that is not where my head is. It's more the idea of being here now, like George said, and making now count. 

It has been a sad holiday for us. Our sister-in-law, Jamie, died last Sunday, ending a two-year long, hard-fought Cancer battle. She was one of our favorite people and very dear to us. The concept of time changed when she learned, a year in, that the Cancer had metastasized and could not be cured. She chose to view time as a gift rather than a sentence and said she would live every day, until the last one arrived. She went for chemo and anything that promised more time or better time, but she lived her life around it, traveling and continuing to enjoy friends, create and plan for a future, regardless of how much. We met them in Las Vegas last spring for a few days of sunshine, good fun and a lot of laughs. Jamie loved to laugh. As she grew weaker, she planned how she might die, hoping, at one point, to make it through Christmas, as she did. She was surely sad, but it seldom showed and making the end of her life meaningful was a project she took on with the same clarity of purpose that she had used to create a business and to bring people together throughout her life. 

We traveled to Montana in November to see Jamie for one last time. The disease had progressed alarmingly and none of the treatments were working at all. Still, she was up and cheerful and busy. She was completing a quilt for a show as we arrived, and days later insisted we all go to see the showing of her group's work. She needed a walker by then, but was not about to miss seeing her friends and checking to be sure the quilts were all properly hung. But much of the time we were with her she spent sitting in her favorite chair, knitting. She had gathered her " nest" of supplies—scissors, knitting, water bottle, medications, glasses, crossword puzzles, pencil, tissues, etc, around her and was comfortable and relaxed. I watched her knit. Her face was serene, her shoulders relaxed as her hands flew over the needles and a pair of socks, then mittens, materialized beneath her fingers. It seemed a way of capturing time, stitch by stitch, row by row. Still here, though with less energy.  Still creating something beautiful. Still living each moment. The last night I was there she was winding yarn into balls for a new project and the yarn had become a hopeless mess of knots and snarls. I offered to help and took one big mass of snarls as she held another and we worked out the knots and followed ins and outs and tamed the woolly beast! Ray and Roy arrived home from an errand to find the two of us wrapped in yarn and laughing heartily. When we drove away the next morning it seemed inconceivable that we were saying goodbye for the last time, but my heart knew it was true. We came home and I began to learn to knit. 

So I think about time. We, each of us, has only so much. My task this year will be to view it as a gift; to use it, enjoy it, fill it with meaning, share it and find peace. What I won't do, or at least try not to do, is squander it on things that don't matter—but I hope I remember that silence and thinking matter and connection matters and noticing matters and it's OK to hang out on FaceBook or watch TV, but maybe with intention rather than mindlessly, and like George said, the only part of the time thing that counts is right now. My little "sunrise/sunset" ornament joins my other words of the year on my studio wall to help me remember.


“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

― Dr. Seuss

 

 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

Just before Santa had to pack up his sleigh for tonight's journey, we were able to visit briefly with him at the North Pole. It's not so far away as you might think—if, of course, you have the right ticket. We went by train.

Santa was waiting, as we pulled into the North Pole station.

He boarded for a quick visit, and left each child wth a souvenir—a bell from his sleigh...

Have you heard his bells on your roof yet? Are you tucked in your bed? Close your eyes. Sleep well. And have a beautiful day tomorrow.