Tuesday, October 21, 2014

That Damn Phone

Over the past couple of weeks I've had to go to several meetings. One was with TNNA's board of directors and the other was with a company that's super high tech.

At the TNNA meeting, people stayed plugged in. We all kept our phones nearby and checked them periodically. (There was even one person who apparently hasn't learned how to silence the ringer.) There were times when things had to be repeated because someone was distracted by their phone. Or even out of the room because they were taking a call.

At the other meeting, there wasn't a phone in sight. Keep in mind that it was a half day meeting that stretched into an off site lunch. Nobody had a phone at lunch and nobody checked in during the walk to and from the restaurant. Instead, we talked to one another.

I thought it was pretty interesting that the high tech crowd stayed unplugged. It seemed almost counterintuitive.  I can say without a doubt that we got way more done. I also felt like it created a more respectful environment. I think that's key. We all respected each other's time and opinions. We weren't listening with only half an ear because we were checking email. (Or Facebook.) Everyone gave their full attention.

I need to keep this experience in mind. I'm as bad as the next person about sneaking a peek at the phone to see if there's anything I need to attend to. But the thing is, there isn't much in my life that can't wait until the next break.



Let's be honest, those true emergencies are so very few and far between that we probably shouldn't default to the common denominator of checking our phones every few minutes. It signals to those around you that you think that the extraordinarily remote possibility of a crisis is more important than what they have to say. That's not fair.

I could go on about the same sorts of transgressions in all of our personal lives. How many of us are guilty of bringing our phones along and setting them on the table at a restaurant during dinner with friends? (I am sheepishly raising my hand.)

I know I got more done when I wasn't as plugged in. And I was a better companion. Wow, I just thought about what I just wrote. More productive and a better friend. Work and personal life can both get better just that quickly.

So I'm going to try and disconnect more. Not panic if I leave my phone on the dresser in the morning. I have both a computer and a phone on my desk. People can reach me. I am not so important that stuff can't wait an hour or eight.

With any luck, when I start showing others they deserve, they will show me the same in return.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Brioche Chic

Brioche Chic by Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark just arrived and my fingers instantly began itching to cast on a new project.


Of course I'd heard of Brioche, but I'd never used the technique myself. Frankly, I was always a little afraid of it. But once I sat down with the book and spent a little time fiddling around, I got the hang of things pretty quickly. And the fabric it produces was super squishy and yummy. Now I'm just trying to decide which project to cast on first.

We're featured in a couple of patterns in the book. First up is the Basic Brioche Scarf. Clearly, this would be a great starting point, but I often jump in with both feet rather than start at the beginning.


This is shown in 55ns Butterscotch Shepherd Worsted. Only two skeins for this warmer.

Next up is the Basic Brioche Cowl. This is your single skein go-to project. Again, Shepherd Worsted in 56ns Fjord. 

I know they say these are "basic", but I have to disagree. They look anything but basic, even though they are simple to create. Either one of these would be a great way to dip your toes into this killer technique. 


I thought it would be fun to do a little Q&A with Mercedes. I've known her for a long time and wanted to pick her brain about how she ended up becoming the Brioche Queen. 

* First things first. What's the pet situation in your household these days?

Chris (my husband) and I have three furry roommates these days: Leelu, a boxer/pit mix; Midget, our b&w 17 year old diabetic doyenne of a cat; and Barnum, a year-old long-haired tuxedo cat. Barnum drives Midget nuts, Leelu acts like she doesn't know the cats are really there.

* You've been doing lots of brioche lately. Tell me what it is about brioche that has so captured yourimagination.

I first discovered brioche knitting when Interweave Knits published an article by Nancy Marchant about two color brioche. Two-color brioche is graphic and visually stunning; it's what draws many knitters to learn the technique. Once I learned the basics, I put it aside for a long time as other responsibilities took precedent, until Nancy published an entire book about the brioche stitch several years later. I started swatching brioche again, playing with different yarns and color combinations, and was completely hooked at that point. The range of texture and color effects is just mind-boggling, and the finished fabric feels so satisfyingly squishy and lush.

* Creatively, what was the most challenging project for you in the book? Why?

Most of the projects presented a few technical challenges here and there, but the most challenging by far were the Cabled Funnelneck and its companion piece, the Men's Cabled Crewneck. Both sweaters are knit entirely in brioche, where most other garments in the book only use brioche for part of a project, paired with other simpler stitches. Working both sweaters from hem to neck in brioche stitch, along with the cabled brioche panels that decorate the sweater fronts, took a lot of patience and attention to detail, but I think the finished pieces were totally worth the extra effort.

* Do you have a favorite?

So hard to pick! They're all my babies, in a way. I am itching to cast on and knit myself both the Leaf-motif Raglan and the Reversible Infinity Scarf. The book samples are tempting, but knowing me, if I wore one I'd spill coffee on it!

*Is there such a thing as a typical day in your design life?

Ha! No, pretty much never. Some days are frantic knitting, some days are all email, some are a ton of math. Most days I fit in an assortment of tasks that suit whatever my energy level and focus are on that day. I try to avoid working weekends, but sometimes have to in order to meet deadlines.

* Where do you go for inspiration? Is there somewhere special that helps you get past the inevitable creativity blocks?

Usually if I'm really stuck, I try to walk away from the problem and focus on something else for a while, often non-knitting related. I'll goof off on Pinterest, doodle, paint, read (I'm on a poetry kick lately), clean the apartment, anything to let me brain wander off-task for a bit. Usually my better ideas come to me when I'm not looking for them, so I keep a notebook or sketchbook with me all the time, and snap photos of unlikely things with my phone that germinate into new ideas.

*You've owned a yarn shop, hand-dyed yarn and now you're a world class designer. What's up next?

More design! I have a bunch of ideas percolating for both brioche and regular knitting projects. Also, more teaching, mainly brioche knitting classes at yarn shops and events like Interweave Yarn Fest in Colorado this April. I love seeing the "a-ha moments" when my students begin to really understand brioche knitting,and their enthusiasm keeps things fresh for me when teaching familiar material.

Thanks Mercedes!

Let's make things a little more interesting. Besides being a fabulous type of knitting, brioche is also a lovely French pastry. Leave a message telling us what your go-to French nosh is by Friday at noon CDT and we'll play the random number game.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Michigan Fiber Fest

Last weekend, my friends Jeanne and I got in the car and made our way to Allegan, MI for the Michigan Fiber Festival. So. Much. Fun.

I'm going to back up a little here and start with a confession. 2013 marked my 10th anniversary in the yarn business and I'd never been to a sheep and wool festival. (Clutching pearls.) So last year, I decided to go to the two grand dames, Maryland and Rhinebeck. The two of them bookended the summer in delightful fashion. They were all I'd imagined they would be. There was yarn galore, sheep and other animals to pet, herding dog demos and many many classes to choose from. Fabulous!

Adding those two events to my normal travel schedule was a bit much so this year I decided to stay closer to home. MFF seemed like a good choice. I was right. It was perfect for me. You see, I'm one of those people who gets overwhelmed by big department stores. Give me a small boutique over Macy's any day. So, a smaller fest was right up my alley.

There was just enough of everything. Just a few barns of shopping. Just a few barns of animals. A wonderful herding demo where we watched him work both sheep and geese(!) I was able to take everything in and feel like I'd had just the right amount of fun.

We were welcomed to the fairgrounds by a giant rooster. He sits up on top of the ticket booth at the entrance.


We watched the herding demo for awhile. They guys said the dog was pretty new at it, but I don't believe him. That dog did very well. My Sam could take a lesson on listening for sure. I don't need him to herd, just come when called. Once.


We ran into a few friends. Erica Owen was showing off Bare Naked Wool. Carl and Eileen from Bijou Basin Ranch were there too. How could you not buy something from these two? Honestly.


Did you know we dye yarn for them? You should see the Outlander colors. Makes me swoon. 


Enough of the socializing and plugging. We had shopping to do! If you are hoping for yarn p0rn, I'm going to disappoint. I don't really buy yarn. Well, that's not exactly true, I buys tons of yarn, but I don't usually buy yarn out in the wild. I think that's because I I have access to so much. And, I can make it look any way I'd like.  Besides, if I had too much "other" around, I might end up inadvertently incorporating someone else's aesthetic into my work and I want to keep my artistic vision pure.

But trust me, we had plenty to look at besides yarn. And my wallet came home significantly lighter.

There was the Coopworth sheepskin I bought for my bathroom rug. It comes from the largest flock of Coopworth in the U.S., Hidden Valley Farm and Woolen Mill. The staple on this puppy is close to 7" long. I can even begin to describe how dreamy it is on my feet when I step out of the tub and wiggle my toes.


Over in the next barn, we ran into a woman making brooms. Her name is Bev Larson of The Basket Lady and I had a tough time choosing which one I wanted. I finally settled on a lovely multicolored one. It's too pretty to get put away in a closet. I think I'm going to put a couple of nails in the door and hang it on the outside. Not sure whether that'll prompt me to use it more often. Probably not.


Over at the front of one of the animal barns was a table set up with info about Bluefaced Leicester and some other bits and bobs. Jeanne picked up a beautiful white fleece that she's going to use to cushion the stool she sits at when she's weaving. I couldn't resist this little guy. I think I will call him Nigel. 


A parting shot, right before the phone breathed its last gasp for the day and we road off into the sunset. My sheep friend. 



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Seven Seven Seven

What's your lucky number? Right now, ours is seven. That's how many years we've been doing the Lorna's Limited Edition colorways with Jimmy Beans Wool. It doesn't seem possible, but it's true. Time does have a way of marching on.

As part of the anniversary celebration, they had a ballot to let you pick your favorite seven colors. You guys did a bang up job. If you missed one, now is the time to snap it up. After this, they're heading back into the vault, never to be heard from again.

Here's a rundown of the lovelies you chose.

1) Runs with Horses. Named after a backtracking trip and a wild stallion in the Nevada desert. RWH was the clear winner. I can see why.


2) Hot on its heels was He Who Must Not be Named. The ultimate villain from the Harry Patter series.



3) The Shire. Oh you Hobbit fans.

I gotta say, you guys all love those bright acid-y greens paired with blues and browns. These are all very similar and very different at the same time. Well done!!

The next four were all very close in the voting. These are listed in no particular order.

4) Royal Wedding. Kate and Wills were adorbs. I almost missed my flight that morning.


5) Sea Turtle's Dream. (This was a real fav around here.)


6) Winter is Coming. 'Nuff said. 


7) White Witch's Lure. From one of my favorites books when I was a kid.


They are available over on the Jimmy Beans Wool website for preorder and will ship on Sept. 2. We are dyeing them in Shepherd SockShepherd Worsted, and Honor. Just scroll down until you see the color(s) you want and click to your heart's content.

This project has turned into one of the nicest things we do. Because there is a new color every month, it keeps things fresh. And keeps us on our toes. Please keep loving Lorna's Limited Editions so we can keep doing them!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ode to Skye Wrap

Every once in awhile, I open an email and someone has sent me a photo of a design that takes my breath away. And by every once in awhile, I mean once every year or so. Call me jaded, but it takes quite a bit to knock my knickers off.

Monday, one of those designs arrived. It's Ode to Skye by Chris Bylsma.  Gorgeous, don't you think?


I talked to her on the phone about it and she told me that the genesis of the design was a class she's teaching on an upcoming cruise to the Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland and Norway. The class is all about cables and the idea is that her students will be able to design their own Aran sweater by the end of the cruise. Genius! 

We laughed a little about this not being the kind of cruise where you pack a bikini and knitting and you're good to go. Given the itinerary, they'll be seeing sun and rain, warm and cold. She thought having a collar on this wrap would make it a little more versatile too. Just pull it up around your chin and snuggle in. 



The shawl is named in honor of the Isle of Skye in the Scottish highlands, there's a stop there on the cruise where they'll visit a yarn shop. Show of hands, who is jealous? 

It's knit from our Haymarket in 56ns Fjord. For those of you not going on the cruise, you can find the pattern here. And to make it more interesting, I'll send yarn for a lucky winner to make one. Tell me in the comments what color you'd make yours in by Monday at 12PM CDT and we'll do a random number pick.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Knitter's Curiosity Cabinet Volume III

Do you guys know Hunter Hammersen and her series of Knitter's Curiosity Cabinet books? The third one came out just today and I think it's pretty spectacular.






I particularly like the concept behind the books. Here's what the author says about it.

Curiosity cabinets were collections of wonderful objects brought together to inspire, delight, and inform. I loved the idea of assembling a knitter’s curiosity cabinet—one full of fancy edgings and captivating stitch patterns and fabulous shapes instead of shells and fossils and seeds. These books are the result.

Pretty cool, don't you think? The most recent volume is inspired by vintage marine illustrations.

The muse for the patterns that use Lorna's Laces is the Pelagia noctiluca. It's a glow in the dark jellyfish for goodness sake. Cool, yes?


OK, if I'm really honest, jellyfish give me the creeps. I worry about getting stung by one every time I go swimming in the ocean. My husband worries about sharks. We're a pair, aren't we?

Anyway, I digress. I'm pretty sure you didn't stop by to listen to me talk about my weird phobias. Trust me, the list is long and diverse. Ask me how I feel about bridges sometime.

There are two projects that use our yarn. The first is a hat made from Honor. I totally see the jellyfish shape in the lace work.


The other project is a sock knit from Shepherd Sock. It's show here in Satsuma.


All in all, the book looks like a winner. There are 18 projects in yarns from 9 different companies, mostly small places like us. And she sizes everything. The socks come in three sizes and the hat in four. We aren't one size fits all and too often small projects like this don't take that into consideration. 




Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Universe Creates Balance

Yesterday I posted on FB about a cease and desist letter we'd received from a big manufacturer. My post was less about complaining about the letter than it was about our pride in being noticed by them. I can't say that the letter didn't cause me a certain amount of consternation, but I made a conscious decision to look at the bright side.

Today we received a very different kind of letter. One that makes me dance with joy. It's a touching story from someone who grew up not far from here but lives across the world. From someone who took the time from her day to tell me how Lorna's Laces had touched her. Where are the tissues?


Hello, I just wanted to say that I got a happy little shock as I was browsing your colours on your site.

Let me explain - I live in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. I was born here, in 1972. In 1974 my parents, little brother and I all moved to Toronto, then in 1975 we moved again, to Illinois. First we lived in Downers Grove, then we moved to The Glens in Naperville.

I had a pretty idyllic childhood in the mid-seventies. Our neighbourhood was friendly, astonishingly so by Australian standards. My parents joined all kinds of clubs and associations. I started school at Prairie Elementary then went to Scott School when it opened in 1978.

Living in Naperville was such a happy time. Us kids could run around the neighbourhood with other kids and other mothers would ring my Mum and say "I just saw Sarah and Stuart with Mike and Heather going over to Stephanie's house." We would of course have just cut through that caller's backyard, there being very few fences and none of us being inclined to stick to the footpaths.

I remember picnic dinners at Centennial Beach, trips to the Field Museum, a Worlds Fair at Navy Pier, visiting the Brookfield Zoo. I remember catching fireflies on summer nights. I remember block parties (a concept unknown in conservative Melbourne, where people hide behind high garden walls and only talk to their neighbours if there's a dispute).

In 1980 we had to return to Melbourne, and my brother and I had to learn to be Australians. It was hard, but we managed. Eventually we lost our mid-western drawls. We made new friends and discovered new things to explore in our conservative eastern suburbs Melbourne home. There were parks, the local pool, it wasn't too bad.

As an adult, I've had cause to be thankful that I got to experience life as a small American before returning to my own country. I've also decided, on balance, that Mum and Dad made the right decision to bring us home. But I've always missed Naperville, and anything that reminds me of it can be sure to give me a bittersweet pang for a life that was over decades ago.

Knitting is a relatively new hobby for me. Ravelry has been a terrible distraction as well as a great inspiration. I came across Kate Gilbert's Clapotis and fell in love. I found an Australian supplier of Lorna's Laces (although they're in Queensland, thousands of kilometres away!) and they can order Lion & Lamb Multi for me.

So I went to your site to explore the colourways. I saw these names. "DuPage". "Naperville"! So then I realised you were in Chicago. And I spent a little while reminiscing about Naperville winters, when it snowed. It's autumn here now. We have lots of imported deciduous trees in Melbourne, so we do see autumn colour, but it just isn't the same as being a small girl in the woods, being buried in massive piles of dry crackling leaves by my Dad.

I hope I haven't bored you to tears with my rambling reminiscing. I'll go back to perusing your colourways and try to decide between "Watercolor" and "Baltic Sea" for my Clapotis, then I can get my order to Yay for Yarn in Queensland :-)

Have a lovely day.