I spent a recent weekend at The Needle Lady in Charlottesville, Virginia with a group of lovely women for a Design-Your-Own-Bag class. But like most of my workshops, it ended up being about a lot more than knitting or bags. My knitting/teaching philosophy is about exploring possibilities, getting in touch with creative ideas and then learning how to realize them, taking risks when it feels safe to do so.
We began on a Friday evening by looking through books of antique bags, modern bags, images of sushi and apples, cakes, jewelry, plants, wall-coverings–these are the sorts of places that I get my inspiration. At first, there were notched eyebrows, pursed lips, worried remarks about not having any ideas . . . but as the evening progressed we all began to doodle and make pages of bag drawings. Each participant chose one design to talk about with the group. We transferred the small drawings to the big post-it board and talked through how to create each bag, roughing out one pattern at a time in a collaborative way, everyone encouraged to offer suggestions. Knitters can potentially leave the workshop two days later with several bag patterns plotted out and one (or more) well on the way to completion (to see where I might be teaching, look at the calendar of appearances/teaching on my website).
By the Sunday afternoon, the women that had begun with knitted brows and murmurs that maybe they could just follow the such and so Noni pattern instructions were comfortable and often brimming with more ideas for bags (well, and even other things–we had a great discussion about knitted pants!) than they may ever have time to make, as well as inspiration for how to embellish their bags with various combinations of felted flowers, branches, berries and beads. The inspiration to knit off pattern or combine pattern elements in different ways requires a sort of bravery and vision. It is achieved through a willingness to take risks. And the risks can be small ones, because even small risks can have big visual and psychological impact. Take a look at this lovely evening bag that Colleen made out of Tilli Tomas Flurries and decorated with an antique brooch:
I have to say that it was my dream when I started Noni to facilitate experimentation with the flowers and other embellishments in different combination with one another. I think of bags as canvases, basic shapes to be decorated in endless combination with flowers, vines, leaves, branches or brooches and other lovelies: Combine Cascading Fuchsias with Shirley Poppies, and Camellias. Add some Tulips. For flowers with a lower profile, try a combination of Forget-Me-Nots with Pansies and Hydrangeas. Add a sprinkle of seed beads or use beaded Flurries (my favorite). The possibilities are endless. While the picture below is not a bag, it does give an idea of what can be done with a large enough “canvas” and an assortment of flowers. I made the bra a few years ago for a breast cancer fundraiser. On the canvas of the bra you will see Forget-me-nots, Fuchsias, Camellias, Mandeville vine flowers, one Spider Chrysanthemum (on the shoulder), Tulips, Cherry blossoms, Shirley poppies and curling vines.
A great project to anticipate Spring: try using a medium to large bag as a similar canvas for a garden of felted flowers and see what happens.
About The Needle Lady & Surrounds: It is a lovely shop with heaps of delicious yarns and lots of fun accessories: knitting journals that are leather bound, project bags, great bag feet and rings from JULSilver, bag handles that are unusual, buckles, buttons, other great stuff. The staff is knowledgeable, amiable, and kind. A veritable wall of pattern books, binders, and other delicacies will tempt you. The walls are bedeck’t with beautiful, hand-painted needlepoint canvases and the proper yarns to work them if you are a lover of such things.
A visit to this shop is Worth The Trip if you are on the road and can swing by, or even as a destination shop. Go with girlfriends and then treat yourselves to a meal at one of the local establishments – most of them very urban and wonderful. I sampled Shebeen (South African) above the downtown mall, across the street, and by the McDonalds (odd juxtaposition but you forget all about the McD’s as soon as you walk in) and had the Biboti (so delicious). I dined at Bizou the previous night (on the downtown mall across from the Needle Lady) which was also absolutely fantastic–smallish and intimate with a wonderful not-too-big menu of delights.