Knitting Old and Knitting New

Knit word bag

Most of us knitters have several projects in baskets, velvet bags, drawstring pouches, little baskets.

As I finish up my Moody Ella Coat, I’m excited about getting to work on several projects, some new, some languishing.

I’ve had a creamy-white, bulky-weight coat in the works for a while (3 years!). She is so close. So close. Sleeves and some decisions about the hem and cuffs. And the considerable but exciting finishing that includes a Mohair goat (beautiful) or Blue Faced Leicester fur collar, cuffs, and trim down the front. She needs a name. Constantia? Constance? She’s been patient. Harlow? (meaning a pile of rocks or a hill . . . I’m thinking ever there, waiting). She’s been very very patient. Hope? You get the idea.

Ella Coat Bulky White

And then there is the blue-black Ella-inspired duster I am going to make for my sister. Ella goes out West?  Ella learns to ride a Palomino? This color is stunning:

blue black yarn

And then the Pumpkin duster I am going to make for myself. The yarn is a DK weight, so I’ll be re-writing the stitch counts for the lighter weight. Of course it will take a while but the drape and swing will be lovely. The pumpkin is show-stopping with blue jeans or a black ensemble.

Pumpkin Yarn

I’m going to work a lovely little easy pattern into the work:  2 rows of St st and one row of K1, P1. Repeat the 3 rows. So pretty and so easy.

Pumpkin stitch pattern

I’m learning to crochet. My friend Roxy is teaching me. She’s tough. I keep telling her how fast I’m picking it up and then she laughs and rips it out and tells me to start over. I like it. This was last night’s practice session on my own. It’s a bit rough but I’ve got some things I want to make so I’m going to stick with it. A little each day.

Little crochet swatch

There is a lot to keep you up-to-date on as I progress through multiple projects!

Next update will be my Moody Ella . . . then we will see what’s next.


Recovering and Knitting

Ella Coat Palette.jpgWhen my son doesn’t write to me when he is at camp I know he must be having a great time. It is when the food is terrible or one of his tent-mates wakes up crying in the middle of the night, every night, that I hear about it.

I think I am the same way. You have not heard from me because I feel so great and I have so much energy.  I have not taken a single pain-killer in two weeks time, only 2 weeks out from surgery. I wake up at 6-ish am without an alarm (that never happened pre-surgery). Sleep is so restful. Walking feels amazing. So smooth. So easy. I am taking my little dog for hour-long walks, even in this cold (you should see how I bundle her up). Noni original girl dog coat coming soon!

I have taken everyone’s facebook advice about how to hold on to gratitude in everyday life. I strive to take stock each morning of the abundance around me. It is truly a time of renewal for me, of yet another reinvention. I am working on projects new and languishing. Friends are visiting since I am house-bound until January 10th when I see my surgeon again.

I have a lot to share with you. Today, my latest new project . . . another Ella coat is in the works. Are you surprised? The picture above is my original palette. I picked a number of tone on tone hand-dyes from several different dyers in a worsted weight – I’m pretty sure they are all the same base. You can tell I had stripes in mind. As I started knitting, though, I started to think that I really had two different palettes.

One with the greens and bright turquoise. I’ve since added more colors and some yellow.

ella coat palette partial greens and turquoise

And another colorway with the darker, moodier tones: royal purple, dark purple-magenta, blue-black, royal blue, black-purple with black-magenta elements. There were two skeins of a colorway that seemed so different I had to get both. One has turned out to have too much white, so I’ve gotten an array of sharpies to tone those little bits down. It’s fun! Hand painting stitch by stitch. Meditative. The finished results are really great. More about this below.

This was my first go at the new moody stripes colorway.

ella-coat-palette 1

And here is the palette I ended up with, but including the bright purple-magenta in the center above. I loved it so much I ran out! I searched everywhere in my considerable collection but could only find a brighter, more pink version that just didn’t want to be moody like the rest of the palette.

2017-12-29 16.17.01

And here is how it looks worked in stripes . . . this is my Ella sleeve.

2017-12-29 16.17.36

Back, briefly, to those 2 skeins that seemed so different. One had more color contrast, the different colors in the skein set off in blocks. In the skein it was dramatic and drew my attention. It’s colorway mate from a different dye-lot was muted. All of the same colors were there but they didn’t block up. To me, a different dyer’s hands were in evidence. I loved them both. What I didn’t love is how the color-block skein ended up with too much white. Some parts of the hank didn’t seem to have been dyed nearly at all. These near white stitches drew so much attention to themselves that they were distracting. Unfortunately, in my coat they were right across the bum and the bust. Looks almost like I planned it. Not what I wanted. When the body of the coat was nearly done, and thought about ripping it all out. Several times I thought about it but I kept going, reasoning I”d think of something.

And that something . . . was Sharpies.  I did a little test in a tiny corner with their most enduring original: the black Sharpie. I really liked it. Toned that white right down to nothing but moody wonderfulness, worked with the rest of the coat without being maudlin. The original teal or blue or raspberry was still there but without the distraction.

You probably know that Sharpies come in all different colors now. House-bound as I am until 1/10/18 and alone for the moment because my guys are in Utah skiing (I miss them but it has been lovely to work on my pile of projects). In any case, I had to put off shopping at Staples and the immediate gratification that would have brought me and ordered a 12-pack on-line. They came yesterday!

I love the results and the work is a meditation. I’m painting stitch by stitch. This process has alerted me to other moments in the work where there was not enough dye saturation and a little bit of too-much-whiteness shows through. Dab of the Sharpie in the right color and it’s gone. Beautiful.

Here is a before the Sharpie picture.

Before Sharpie.jpg

And after the Sharpie magic.

After Sharpie.jpg

Side By Side Comparison

Sharpie vs Non Sharpie.jpg

I might go over these sections with a little bit of black, or just paint in some darker bits with the same colors I originally used, or layer different colors sans black. Still a work in progress. I will assess after it is put together and then adorned with finishing touches such as hand-dyed silk around the neckline and cuffs. I’m toying with the idea of a wide hand-dyed/painted velvet collar but that’s going go take a while. Maybe I’ll go with the ruched silk around the neck as my immediate gratification so I can wear it tomorrow as I draft the collar, make the final version, and then hand-dye/paint it at my friend Gwen’s farm. However long it takes is however long it takes . . .  My coats are nothing if not patient.

What are you working on? I’d love to hear what you are doing in the comments. Post pictures, too!


What I’ve Been Doing and Where I’ve Been

2017-08-15 16.05.18

You might remember that I shuttered my studio in February nearly two years ago. I went to teach at a small private high school, with fond memories of my teaching at the University of Maryland as a strong motivator for that move in my life. I taught college composition, creative writing, and English literature to undergraduates for twelve years and loved it. Most of my students were thoughtful, motivated (or they became so), and I watched them change and grow over the course of a semester. I am still in contact with some of my students who have now become friends, gotten married, started families, and have interesting lives. It was rewarding, satisfying, intellectually challenging work. But my students of nearly 15 years ago are not the students of today. . . smart phones, and laptops, and the wifi in the classroom transform it and I’m not jazzed about how. It is not my cup of tea anymore.

I decided not to pursue that path though I am now glad I had the short experience I did in spite of the significant pain it caused me at the time. Even negative experiences are so valuable for helping us make choices about how we want to live our lives. For a long time I focused on my garden, on settling into my life in a different way. I read books. I cooked really pretty dinners. I was recovering in a way. Contemplating. Quiet.

Since late this past summer I have been spending time working in a brand new (and thriving!) yarn store called Knits and Pieces of Annapolis Maryland. I love it. I has re-awakened the designer in me and I am working on some new things I will introduce you to in short order, so more on that later.

I have also been in pain. It turns out I have really bad osteoarthritis in my hips. My grandmother on my Dad’s side had both of her hips replaced in a time when the technology was not so great. So I knew I was in for it: I have always had troubles with my hips. But now it’s official and since last winter for sure, it has been debilitating. It takes up a lot of brain space to be in pain. It is a series of constant calculations. How far can I walk. Can I do this. . . or this, or this.

On Monday the 4th of December, I had a double hip replacement. I am healing. I am excited. I am thinking about the mountains I will climb next summer with my son. We have the goal to hike all the 4,000 footers in the Adirondacks, all 46 of them. We will be called 46ers when we are done. We will get special patches that we will proudly wear on our backpacks. We have 44 to go! I’ve told Soma that he better be ready to hike every day for a week next summer.

Some of you may want to know how I am doing as I continue to recover. I will keep in touch with you through my blog and through my facebook page. I will let you know how I am doing and what I am up to, both in my recovery and in my creative life. This parentheses of recovery will be a time of renewal for me: there are some creative projects I want to tackle and I’ll bring you along with me as I do that work. And then there are the designs I will introduce to you.

The picture here is a walkway on a hike that Soma and I made this past summer. It was more or less level ground on my account. The walkway crosses a wetland and is all crookedy because bad spirits can’t turn corners. I love this. And I love the iconography of journey that is embedded in walkways that lead into the unknown. Our lives are full of twists and turns, jaggedy journeys to places we never expected. I invite you on this journey with me.

Thank you for following me. Nora

If You Love Noni, You Must Read This

100_Books_home_imgA page is turning in my life and I have decided to close Noni Designs (for the most part-I will still design and add new pdfs to my website) to follow a strong pull toward new and exciting opportunities. I plan to return to school for another advanced degree, spend more time writing, possibly on the knitting project people have asked for for a long time: new bags and flowers all in one book – I am working on the book proposal right now! I have other books in me, too.

New-Chapter-in-my-lifeI plan to spend more time having adventures with my son, Soma.

My son enjoying the ice cream left on the dasher after making ice cream the old way with my father.

My son enjoying the ice cream left on the dasher after making ice cream the old way with my father.

I am excited about these new paths and where they will take me.

My-path-to-somewhereNevertheless, I will miss Noni and all of the wonderful and talented people I have had the pleasure and honor of meeting, teaching, working with: you, your stories, feed-back, projects, enthusiasm and support have made for an unforgettable 10 year chapter in my life.

I do have some great news for all of you: news I’d like you to share with as many knitters and bag-makers and bag-loves as you know: help me get the word ot that I will be selling many of my one-of-a-kind bags. This process may extend beyond the studio close date of January 31st. More on these small releases as we get closer to the first one and those following: it will be soon.

Delicious little bags . . . one could be yours

Delicious little bags . . . one could be yours

The other exciting news is that I will be designing a small fare-well collection that will include updates to some of my classics: look for my these exciting designs.

Possible_new_designs_2Possible-New-Bag-DesignsLOOK FOR MANY TASTY PROMOTIONS ON VARIOUS PRODUCTS EVERY WEEK STARTING THIS TUESDAY until the studio closes. Keep up-to-date on my latest activities, discounts, and special promotions via e-mail (make sure you sign up at the bottom left of my home page), Noni Designs Facebook page, blog postings, and Ravelry announcements in the groups associated with Noni. As inventory is sold, except for yarn and some essential products, it will not be replaced: In other words, shop early and often for patterns and kits containing everything you need to make those projects that have been on your mind for a time. Add them to your Noni queue.

Thank you for bringing me and my work into your creative life, and for making Noni such a wild, fun, beautiful, and rewarding journey for me.

It has been a great run. Help me make the last months of Noni just as wild and fun.

Thank you all. I've had so much fun!

Thank you all. I’ve had so much fun!

My Knitting to Please Myself Project

follow-your-passion2When a passion becomes a job it often changes the passion or even empties it out. There have even been studies about this. The landscaper who once had a beautiful garden gets so caught up with other people’s hard-scapes and gardens that his own are neglected. The knitter who began designing for herself with a sense of intrepid adventure lapses into design silence. There are no projects on the needles.

There are, of course, landscapers who constantly invest their creativity in their own garden, and so it becomes an oasis, an inspiration for others. If you reclaim knitting for yourself, perhaps the designs that result will be more sought after than the ones you thought would sell.

Lately I have been contemplating what I want to knit. Perhaps it is because Noni is 10 and I am looking back at where I started, the things I have done, and where I want to go.

But before I launch into ideas for myself (and I will in upcoming posts), I bet there are a lot of you who also don’t always knit to please yourself . . .

I’d love to hear in the comments what you would really like to make for yourself, or just for the pleasure of it . . . and for some reason you haven’t, yet.

When you seek inspiration, look into the world

Bluebells-Gauntlets-with-Forget-me-notsI look forward to and enjoy Spring flowers more than I ever did before I wrote my book on knitted flowers, Noni Flowers. It has always been my favorite time of year, but the process of working on knitted flowers for my book taught to me notice things about plants that I had previously been a bit blind to: the structure of a flower, the coloring of its petals, the way it unfurls, the shapes of buds, the procession of leaves, bud, flower. . . there are details I had not previously noticed. I notice the color of stems now, the shapes of sepal leaves, the colors and form of stamens all with an eye not just to enjoy but to knit.

The Forget-me-not flower details we can't usually see.

The Forget-me-not flower details we can’t usually see.

When an interviewer asked me, on the heels of the book’s publication in 2012 what inspired me to make these flowers, “lifelike flowers,” my answer to her question is, in many ways, the same answer or, rather, advice that I gave to writing students so many years ago and to my knitting students now: When you seek any inspiration, the basis for a story, a description of place, events in the past or future, a design theme, a color scheme, a fair isle design, the colors to pick for the tulip you might be inclined to knit out of my book, you don’t have to come up with that material whole cloth out of your own brain.

tulip-color-possibilitiesIf I resorted only to what resided in my mind already, the flowers I might knit would look little different from those in the drawings of daisy-like or tulip-ish flowers I drew as a child. They were approximations of what I was then capable of drawing, the flowers most familiar to me.

I suggest to all of my students to become better observers of the world, but also to trust their own creative impulses. So often we talk ourselves out of our ideas. The first idea might be so grand we don’t think we can possibly make it real . . . but maybe we can. Maybe you can. When I started working on my book, I didn’t know if I could pull it off. But I said I could and I told Random House I could. And then I did. There were flowers I chose not to try, telling myself they were too hard: orchids, for example. but I am quite certain now that if I set my mind to sit down and work on an orchid until I could hold the finished one in my hand, I could do it. I could make an orchid out of yarn.

It’s not easy to sit down and do what you don’t think you can do. . . but what if you do and you create something amazing. There are examples of this everywhere. Take a look at this inspiring Ted Talk “Embrace The Shake” by artist Phil Hansen. And his inspiring and unconventional work:

Phil Hansen's beautiful portrait on Starbucks cupsHis recipe for exploring the limits of your creativity?

phil-hansen-quoteDon’t talk yourself out of your creativity.

Expect to fail. Expect the creative process to lead you to a place you might not have thought you’d go.


Summer Pleasures: Making Simple Syrup with My Son

Simple-SyrupRoses are in bloom here in the East. My own New Dawn climbing rose, trained on an east-facing wall of my house, is spectacular. Beneath it, on the brick path, is a bed of pale pink fallen petals.

Now is the time to make simple syrup, a rose-petal colored syrup that I like to use in many different ways:

Drizzled over vanilla ice cream, a lovely sweetness to delicate ice teas, a refreshing addition to an icy cold glass of water . . . you can think of other ways to use it, I’m sure.

Making the syrup couldn’t be easier. I make it with my son (it’s a simple, fun project for adult-kid collaboration. All the collecting is fun, too) and we have a great time thinking up new syrups to make: lavender syrup, for example.

The syrup itself is easy to make:

All you need is a sauce pan, 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. Increase the 1 to 1 ratio to make bigger batches.

To make rose syrup, collect a cup of rose petals right off the plant. The fresher the better. We just pull them from the flowers still on the stems.

Add the water and petals to a saucepan, boil until the water is the color of the petals, but softer. Scoop the petals from the water with a slotted spoon. Next, add the cup of water and bring to a boil. Boil until all of the sugar is dissolved.

Rose-PetalsWe like to pore the syrup into pretty class bottles. Cool, then put tops on. Refrigerate.  To save syrup, you will want to sterilize jars in hot water bath or dish washer (from which you remove them when they are still very hot), pour in syrup, and then put on sterile lids. Make sure they seal. Give as gifts or store as you would jams and jellies. We like to use our syrup right away, however, so we just refrigerate.

If you use it right away in a tall glass of icy water, you might even put in a rose petal or two – so beautiful. I’ve served this to dinner guests and it has always been a dinner favorite.

Simple-Syrup-in-Cold-BottlesTo make Lavender syrup, you collect the fresh purple blossoms, taking them carefully off of their stems. A tablespoon or two will do the trick. Boil as you would rose petals and follow the same procedure as above.

My grandmother used to do the same with violets. To this day, I can’t see violets without thinking of her. I have let them take over one side of the house and we call it violet valley. In Spring, it is magical.

Both Lavender and violet syrup have a pale purple color but Lavender syrup takes on the distinct flavor of lavender. It is very exotic and fantastic over ice cream.