Letter to Amanda About Rhinebeck

Dear Amanda,
My days (and dreams) have been filled with thoughts of Rhinebeck, what most affectionately call the New York Sheep & Wool Festival. It is always mid-October and is a wonderful festival. This will be my third year as a vendor there and I hope it is my best yet.

I don’t have a picture of past Noni booths there, but will make sure to get pictures this year.  We are in a building, building C, booths 7 – 8. It is lucky to be in a building if the weather is bad. . .

Festivals take such a great lot of work!

I have designed 3 new bags that will debut at the show. So, I hope Noni fans will flock to the booth to get first pick!

The bag that has stolen my heart (and the hearts of everyone who see it!) is a tiny bag. . .

Passersby have been lured into the studio for a second look. I have made three different heights. . . Even the smallest size is perfect for the essentials. . . It is a lovely evening bag, big enough for credit card, keys, cash, compact, lipstick, change. I’m kitting it up with a tiny chain so you can wear it on your wrist. . .

1 long chain makes it a shoulder bag, 2 Long chains can, of course, be added for an across the body bag. The largest size will accommodate even the latest (largest) cell phones.

I say, hang that big bag in the closet, make Lipstick and Change in an afternoon, and then go for a jaunt!

I’m also introducing 2 new casual, “slouchy” every day bags. I’ll divulge more in the coming days, but for now I’ll just say that one has fringe and one has ridges. I’ve been knitting like mad and the large fringe is almost done . . . Everything has to be finished by Monday morning as I’ve got a last minute photo shoot!

I’m also bringing 2 new accessories . . . So delicious I hope we sell out on the first day! I’ve got two styles:  collar and infinity cowl. Both can be without a closure or can sport 1 of two closure packages.  .  . If you love fake fur that fools the eye and hand and you love knitting, you’re going to LOVE these two accessories. A weekend project for most any knitter.

The collar above is shown with the locket closure package (these little lockets also look lovely locked onto a bag) and my mushroom Ella in the background . . .

And, of course, at the show I’ll be wearing various Ellas . . . And I’ve got 4 fabulous ladies to help me in the booth, all be’deckt in Noni, little bags dangling from every wrist.

Wish you could come!

Hope you and yours are well!

Noni Q&A: Sewing Purses to Their Frames Using Beads as Anchors for BEAUTIFUL Results

It is interesting to me how we can go along doing something a particular way for a long long time and then try something new that is a great improvement. So great an improvement that we wonder why we never had the thought before. . . such it is with beads and sew-on purse frames.

I have been teaching quite a bit lately and sometimes I make suggestions for the participants to try things that I have been meaning to try myself but have not yet had the opportunity.

In a recent workshop at Auburn Needleworks in Auburn, California I suggested that the ladies who were finishing bags that required frames use beads to attach the frames (much as is done with the W Bag and 6-8-10) . . . but use beads on both inside and outside. Here’s what I mean: instead of the not so attractive running stitch on the inside of a purse frame . . .

It’s much lovelier to use beads as the anchors for stitching a bag to its frame. In this case, the inside of the same design as above (Ella’s Going Out Bag), but this time with size 8 seed beads used to anchor stitches on the inside instead of a running stitch.

The resulting look is so lovey and dazzling, I think I will adopt this in most cases and suggest as a default methodology. Take a look at how fantastic the inside of “6” is when beads are used as anchors on both inside and outside of the frame:

No need to cover up stitches or stitch pricks with a lining.

If you intend to line your bag, this same method can be used when sewing in the lining. I recommend that the sewing into the frame and sewing in of the lining are done as a single step. In other words, complete the lining before you sew the bag to the frame, baste the lining to bag body for a perfect fit, then sew bag and lining to the frame in one step.

Coooooo-eeeeee! . . . Amanda nudges Nora out of Silence

On 9/26/12 6:31 AM  Cooooooo-eeeeeeeee…. any one home?
Hiya Nora,

Haven’t heard from you in ages. Hope all is well and you’re busy doing fun things.



On 9/26/12 12:15 PM
Dear Amanda,
I have been, I confess, turtling. Nothing bad. . . Actually doing fun things on the weekends at times—Misha, Soma, and I have been taking trecks into West Virginia. I find the landscape there fascinating. It’s an area that is currently being mined for natural gas. Here they call it fracking as they fracture the rock by forcing water into the earth. Fissures are created and they can capture the natural gas that is released. It’s pretty controversial, but a big boom there. We go to the State Parks, which are BEAUTIFUL! We went to one park called Babcock Park way West. 7 hours driving to get there.  Worth every hour. Rhododendrons way over your head. Great tumbles of rocks. West Virginia is known for caves because the tumbles of rocks create caverns underground.

We love staying in log cabins such as this one.

Hiking through the forests . . .

Very refreshing.

In Lost River Park, we hiked 15 out of the 25 miles of trails in 2 days–Soma was quite the little hiker!

I have a busy day here at the studio as I begin to prepare for the New York Sheep & Wool Festival, commonly known around here as Rhinebeck . . . more about this shortly, but I must get back to that at the moment.

I think perhaps the antidote to my silences is to write a bit more about the things that occupy my thoughts: I have lovely quiet things that happen, seeing the hummingbirds, building cairns with Soma . . .

. . . teaching Soma to knit (that truly has been a highlight in the last few weeks!

. . .teaching a great workshop, but then challenges and frustrations. I tend not to write about the challenges and frustrations and then I fall into silence because those are the things I chew on and think about long after the hummingbirds have gone.

Much much more to say. . .



On 9/27/12

Dear Nora,

Its great to hear from you! Busy doing fun things is always good. We’ve been doing a lot of that too.

We went to Andyfest, had a great time, spent far far too much, spent a bit more and then decided that since we’d been a bit reckless we might as well be really reckless so we left with an array of silk based yarns, some undyed yarn to dye ourselves… eventually…. quite a lot of laceweight in some incredibly soft colours, more than a bit of sock yarn and a 1kg cone of black coloured BlueFaced Leicester which was reduced in the sale from £110 to £10, well it would have been silly not to. Its more than perfect for the Noni Ribbed jumper 🙂

Whilst we were there a few of the spinners were kind enough to allow DD2 to try out their wheels. She was hooked.

A fortnight later we got a call to say our wheel was in Wales along with a niddynoddy, nostepinne, pair of carders, a drop spindle and a whole lot of roving with which to spin. A friend with far more confidence in me than I have sent me a bag of fluff to play with . . .

the end result was gobsmacking.

I’ve been dealing with my frustrations in a boringly practical way. The small child with her head permanently buried in my Kindle now has one of her own which means I no longer turn it on to find it half way through “The mouse who farted, look what he started”. Darryl is attempting to quit smoking, fortunately hes spending much of his time in the shed building a hovercraft so we’re saved the worst of it. The most frustrating thing at the mo, as always here, is the weather. We’ve had tempestuous deluges for days on end. The rivers have burst their banks, the roads and fields flooded but so far its not affected any of the houses which is v. good as they’re still drying out from Augusts flash floods which left us paddling knee deep at the bottom of the garden.

As always I’m on the verge of being late for work. Which isn’t good as I’m attempting to cram an extra 15 hours into my working week to cover absences and am failing miserably.

Hope to hear from you soon


Studio Transformation (still in process) Update in Talking Across the Pond . .

Hi Nora,

Don’t worry about being quiet. Sometimes life gets in the way of things and takes on a path of its own making. New bags and an expansion to your workshop are both huge undertakings. We’re merely building a shed at the bottom of the garden and thats taking far far more time and energy than I’d anticipated. Just as I think we’re almost done something else crops up and the finish line moves that little bit further away. I can see progress every day whether its the re-appearance of another bit of floor or a bootload more junk to the tip.

I’ve listed loads of the unwanted and outgrown stuff on E-bay so I won’t feel quite as bad about splurging at AndyFest which has the potential to be an awesome knittery day out as well as raising money for a a local hospital which specialises in the treatment of brain tumours. Rather looking forward to this and am hoping to get a chance to try a few spinning wheels out whilst I’m there. The girls are more excited about the hog roast and giant picnic and D is glad hes working because there are only so many hen wragedd a ffyn (old women with pointy sticks) in once place that he can cope with without the constant clickity clack driving him round the bend.

We’ve finally collected the last of D’s toys from the store and bunged it in the shed. It sounds simple enough but had the added complication of  weighing almost 200kg. This meant borrowing a trailer, loading it on a fork lift, craning it out when we got home and then the arduous task of loading it onto a trolley and winching it slowly down the steps to the shed before finally craning it into position. Means the rest of the stuff can now be positioned round it and work surfaces can go in along with all the storage units. Hoping to move the last of the boxes from the dining room and the family room and the breakfast room (my soon to be craft room) in the very near future.

Like Soma (glad he liked his hat), the girls stayed up incredibly late to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony and have stayed up late to watch the games most nights since. The events so far have been spectacular. Just watched Michael Phelps win his 19th Olympic medal. What a guy! So modest and good humoured too.

The school holidays seem to be whooshing by in a whirlwind of activities. The girls spent a day at the local sports centre trying out waterpolo and a few other team sports. B. is currently camping at her riding school and will be there for another few days. In the rain. Rather glad she over-packed. I suspect she’ll need rather more dry changes of clothes than were on her packing list.

F. is spending the week at football school which she was quite excited about but after two days its dawned on her that they do nothing but play football and talk about football and footballers. It’s not something she’ll be in a hurry to repeat next year. She likes a little more variety in her day. Still her football has improved quite noticeably, as has her ability to boss her team mates around.

Other highlights of the week included the retrieval of a fledgling sparrow from the cat, much to his disgust, and a manic week at work where I had a visit from the bouncy castle inspector who might have the worlds greatest ever job title but doesn’t actually get paid to bounce up and down on bouncy castles all day long. I have school to myself the rest of the time which means I get loads done but tend to loose track of time in the process. Some days its because I get a bit too engrossed in whatever I’m painting and forget about lunch until my tummy growls, other days its because I realize I’ve managed to read 130 pages of a novel in what should have been a 30 minute lunch break.

Looking forward to seeing the new bags and reading whatever you choose to blog about as and when you choose to blog. Its always interesting to read about other peoples lives, especially when they’re very different to my own. I doubt you ever find yourself having to retrieve a banana from a toilet U-bend for the third day in a row thanks to some delightful child deciding to flush his break-time fruit rather than eat it.



Dear Amanda,

No, indeed, I have not had the banana adventures you describe! But I have to say they made me laugh out loud when I read those lines! There is always something you don’t expect, isn’t there?

I’ve been spending my time working on the studio. If I’m not filling an order for the new bags, I’m arranging something, adding to the recycle pile, working on labeling and organization, thinking about how I want the final retail/gallery space to look. It is still going to take some time to get things where I want them, but the whole plan is coming together.

Last Saturday, my husband, Soma, and I spent the day at the studio. Soma did a few jobs for me (he’s a great purse chain inspector) and was quite lovely (most of the time) about finding activities with which to occupy himself. He had fun playing with a pile of magnets and purse chains with lobster claws that were not attached correctly.

Here is a picture of the new shipping space in its “before” state:

The new shipping space has a bit of an L shape, so I am taking this photograph from the hallway door . . . I had a doorway cut from my office space into the shipping room, so each room (retail/gallery, office/creative, and shipping/receiving) now have their own spaces.

Here is a picture of my office in a very chaotic state. Since I have had this studio, the office has always had to share space with something else. In the beginning, it shared space with shipping, but as my hardware offerings have increased, the shipping area has needed more space. I moved office and shipping into the gallery and the gallery into the red room. . . but that didn’t work for long because I didn’t like being out of the red room for creative work.

I moved my office back into the red room, but was so busy that things never got organized (as you can see).

Here are before pictures of the shipping wall and the “gallery/workshop table” while I was putting W and 6-8-10 kits together. Talk about chaos!  Yikes. It always gets worse before it gets better.

So, after two weeks of almost constant work. . . you know how it is with the work on the shed! You inspired me not simply to move piles but to go through each pile and make decisions about all the things that have been hanging around. I have a few more piles to go through, but for the most part, I’ve done some sending this and that hither and thither, yarn to charities, pitching paper and useless things. My spaces are more stream-lined, clean, refined. Everything I could label is labeled.

Here is my new beautiful office space–my dream of what I’ve always wanted my office to be like. Of course I spend more time in here, can sit and have a fabulous espresso (really! If you every happen to come over here and drop by the studio, I’ll make you one so delicious and chocolatey).

And part of the new shipping space . . . after much thought and planning.

So, this is what I’ve been up to lately. This and getting Soma ready for this first day of First Grade.  I’ve been watching the last lotus bud unfurl, watching the ruby throated hummingbirds battle as they fatten up for their journey down to Central America. Soma and I had a cucumber stand with our last big harvest of cucumbers for the season. We had nine to sell and sold out in 20 minutes. The best thing was the repeat business from last year. Our once-a-year stand has a reputation!  I got to explain to Soma how important it is to develop a good reputation–worth it’s weight in gold.

This weekend I travel to California to teach a couple of workshops–one an Art of Knitting Noni Flowers at Nine Rubies. The other workshop is in Auburn California in a shop called Auburn Needleworks. There I’m teaching a bag finishing workshop followed by an introduction to flower knitting. I’m not only looking forward to the workshops themselves but also the long flights and some uninterrupted knitting time.

More soon about the studio and other adventures!

I’m keen to hear (and see) your update!



Noni Q & A: Cutting Down a Zipper to Fit

Zippers need not be feared nor loathed.

There seems to be a lot of negativity that surrounds zippers and putting them into a sweater or felted bag by hand. It is, however, not as difficult as it looks and I am of the opinion that fear and loathing should be abandoned in favor of persistence and knowledge. . .

Thus, I present to you instructions on how to cut down a zipper by hand and set it into a static opening, such as a bag opening or the opening of a pillow.


Always look for zippers that are at least slightly longer than you need

A too short zipper will never work. . . and if you try to make it work, your knitting will buck and buckle–not a great look. So, that slightly or much too long zipper is perfect. . .


Determine the best zipper for your needs

Best for bags are zippers that have 2 closed ends and 2 sliders.

Best for jackets, a separating zipper.

Best for dresses and skirts, and invisible zipper with a closed bottom end.


Materials you will need

Scissors (rough & tough ones that can cut through plastic or metal zipper teeth0)

Pins to mark the spot (and later to hold the zipper in place as you set it in)

Sewing thread

Sewing needle

Measure the opening into which you will set the zipper.

Once you have laid our your materials and are getting to the business of cutting your zipper to fit, measure your opening carefully. Then measure the zipper and mark with a straight pin where the zipper needs to be cut.

For zippers that have closed ends (for the openings of bags and pillows, for example), you will recreate 1 of the bottom stops with thread.

For a separating zipper, but to cut down from the top stops and you don’t want to interfere with the separating portion of the zipper.

For zippers that have one closed end, such as those for dresses, skirts, and pants, best to shorten the closed end bit.


Make a thread “stop”

To make a thread stop, thread your needle with a double strand of sewing thread, then ‘wrap” the zipper teach multiple times with the thread at the place you marked with the straight pin.

I recommend wrapping the teeth of the zipper as many times as you need to to feel confident that the stop will hold. I’d say 5 wraps is about the minimum with which I would feel comfortable. If you are a comfortable with a sewing machine, you can perform this step with an appropriately size zig zag stitch.


Cut the zipper down once stop is complete

One you have completed your thread “stop,” use your heavy duty workhorse scissors to cut the end of the zipper you no longer need. I recommend leaving about 1/2″ beyond the stop.

If you have any other zipper questions, please post them in the comments to this post and I will answer them in a future Noni Q&A.


Breaking Silences: Talking Across the Pond Again. . .

July 17, 2012

Morning Nora!

Power outages and fires in residential neighbourhoods sound dire. At least things here are just wet, its not like we’re not used to that, just not in the vast quantities we’re having a the mo.

It did stop raining briefly on Sunday, just long enough to get a few loads through the washing machine before breakfast at which point we abandoned all pretense of any interest in domestic drudgery and legged it to the country park.

It makes a bit of a change from walking through fields because there aren’t any sheep which means the hairball can run for miles without feeling the urge to round any up, although she still herds the children (both mine and other peoples). The other added bonus is that both parking and footpaths are solid which means no wheel spinning in mud wondering why the heck I chose that particular parking spot. It also reduces the amount of laundry I have to do on our return, or at least it would have done had the girls not run through every muddy puddle they could find.

We walked for miles and miles managing to spend half a day there, only leaving when the rumble of tummies outweighed the need for fresh air.

We finally managed to put the finishing touches to D’s shed which meant we could start moving his stash of things out of the house. It’s amazing what a difference moving a few boxes makes. It was also a heck of an incentive for a ruthless clear out of outgrown toys and the detritus of everyday life.

The rest of the week was pretty much spent dodging rainstorms or avoiding venturing outdoors unless essential. The road outside the house is a couple of inches deep in water, the lawn is waterlogged and very squelchy and the chickens are knee deep in mud.  Fortunately it will eventually dry out, in the meantime we’re making the most of indoor activities. In Fs case this means revising for her pony club theory exam, B is sitting the same exam but is rather more blasé about the whole thing.

I’ve had more time than ever to do crafty things which is always good. I dug out the drop spindle I bought last month but never seemed to find the time to try out and gave that a whirl. Several hours and one small blister later I had a teeny skein of yarn. Was most chuffed by this and rather relaxed at the end of it.

I did a little knitting, well ok rather a lot of knitting. Anouk was a dream to knit, the pattern was a doddle to follow, intuitively written and most surprisingly it felted to precisely the dimensions given in the instructions. Am itching to add the hardwear but she’s taking an eternity to dry. Wondering if that’s because the thing that makes sheepy wool water repellent also stops it drying easily or if that’s just because its so cold and damp here.

Also managed to block the shawl, neglecting to instantly tidy up after myself, went back to do that sometime later and found my blocking mats transformed into a den. The imagination of a small child never ceases to amaze me.

B ended her academic year with a deluge of awards which included the Head Teachers Award for effort and the School Governors’ Award for outstanding attitude. I can’t begin to put into words just how proud we are of her.

F and I have three more days to go before school shuts to pupils until September. Fortunately it’s three days of bouncy castles, parties and art classes rather than traditional lessons. It’s quite possibly my favourite week of the year.


July 31, 2012

Dear Amanda

Please forgive my long silence, both with you and with the blog. I have been swamped and overwhelmed and rather enjoying not talking into the dark which is the way the blog feels to me a lot of the time (not our letters!).  Plus spending a lot of time getting things ready to launch my two new bags—you’re going to LOVE them.

But without further ado, THANK YOU FOR THE PRESENT FOR SOMA!!!  O Wow!  How very cool!  He was so excited that he put on his official London 2012 Olympic T-shirt and cap to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies. When we sit down to watch the games in the evening, he puts on his cap. I’ll take a picture one of these nights to send.  So adorable.

The heat wave/lack of rain has broken here, and it looks from pictures on TV that the rain has finally stopped there, though I did see the archery competitions took place in the rain!  How are things going weather-wise now? Your on-the-ground reports are better than googling the weather . . . I like the pictures of the walk in the countryside. Beautiful and soothing. Here, it is almost impossible to find such a vast space with such great sky. We are always down in the trees, the landscape (at least where I am) hilly enough that the sky gets small. We are always enclosed.  I was recently out in Texas where the sky is very big and even in the Hill Country (I was near San Antonio teaching in a WONDERFUL SHOP called The Tinsmith’s Wife that is, truly, in an old tinsmith’s.  Across the street, rumor has it, was the forge itself. Next door was the tinsmith’s residence. More pictures posted on facebook later.

D’s shed looks amazing and makes me want my own! I know what you mean about how a bit of moving things around, ruthless decisions about what to donate, pitch, or save feels as though a weight lifts from your shoulders with each decision. How much of the time do we walk around feeling the weight of decisions not yet made? I’ve recently taken on a bit more space at the studio. I have hopes that this will help with efficiency if I set things up right at the outset. I’ll have three rooms now, each connected to the other by doorways (without doors, just walk throughs, really). The largest room will be devoted to display, retail (such as it is . . . Very little foot traffic here, which sometimes seems quite nice as I am always very busy and involved in a project of some sort of another–but don’t let that stop you if you are in the area! It’s always nice to stop and show everything), and teaching. I’ve got a great big table that comfortably seats 8 so very nice for an intimate class.  The light is fabulous as there are two great windows at one end.

The second room is my office. Painted a lovely red as I’ve always wanted a red room. It’s a long skinny room with a single great window at one end.

The new room is long and skinny as well but with a bit of an L shape toward the windows. So, I’ll have 2 great windows in that room. This new room will be devoted to all my shipping business and bins of inventory (all that right now is in the big room so makes for a bit of a mess and confusion in the place that is supposed to be tidy and welcoming).

The fellow who is moving out is a photographer who is moving into a space with other photographers upstairs. As soon as he moves his things, the door will be cut and the make-it-and-fix-it guys will start creating a doorway and put up unattractive but functional lights—the photographer is taking his fancy lights with him . . .

Perhaps I’ll post before and after pictures and blog about the move on the Monday blog. . . What do you think? I won’t feel so much as though I’m talking into a dark closet if I know you and my friend Mary E. are reading. [If you are reading this and want to see the big studio transformation captured in the Monday blog, say something in the comments . . .]

The summer is winding down here. I can feel the change in the air, the quality and temperature. I’ve watched the lilies come and go, the gladiolas. The Ligularia flower stalks get longer by the day. Every day Soma and I check for tomatoes—there are green ones and flowers, but no fruits to eat yet–we were a bit late with the planting as you might have guessed from our late harvest. We did make our first eggplant harvest and I cooked a dish I have not made for a long time: sauteed eggplant with sweet onions and ground turkey. A little garlic. A savory brown sauce. Over rice. Delicious.  Soma loved it.

So happy to hear about the accolades of your daughter!  Three cheers!

And so happy to see lovely Anouk! I’ve just read through your notes and love them love them love them. Delightful and thank you for saying such lovely and kind things about me! If you love Anouk, you’ll love the new bags I’m coming out with this week. Take a peak at them:

Introducing W in small and large size (large is the dark grey with longer body and slightly bigger).

And 6-8-10. The perfect beginner bag: 3 sizes. The hardware is spectacular! Kits are beautiful. Pester your local shop to bring them in and all your friends to knit them!  They will make the best gift ever.

And here is 6 in red:

Let me know what you think of these new beauties!.


Talking Across the Pond: Not Enough Water on This Side, Too Much on That. . .

July 7th

Dear Nora,

Happy belated 4th of July!

Soma’s fish look amazing and sound really tasty and the Lake House looks peaceful and astonishingly sunny, I’ve almost forgotten what the sun looks like. We’ve had torrential rain, followed by more torrential rain, with and without thunderstorms and for a bit of variation gale force winds and horizontal rain. It seems like every time we attempt to put the finishing touches to the shed it rains. The sheer force of the deluge just after the roof felt went on compressed the still squishy tar leaving giant runs over the top surface of the roof. Its not pretty but it is watertight.

It’s not been dry enough to connect the electrics so we can’t do much on the interior until that’s done but its still progressing albeit a lot slower than I would have liked. The pile of timber still to attach is slowly reducing. Hopefully it will be finished in another week and then the great tidy up of the house can begin.

Last weekend I sat on a giant plastic barrel in the middle of a field in glorious sunshine and knitted whilst watching the DDs riding lesson. This week, because of the weather, they went out for a hack, like an eejit I went along for the walk, I’m not entirely sure what, or even if, I was thinking at the time. I was presented with a novice rider on a lead rein and spent an hour and a half alternating between a fast walk and a slow jog. I spent the afternoon recuperating in front of the telly box with the girls. Much knitting was achieved and so the shawl is now a mere eight rows from completion which is jolly good because the rows are sooooo long I’m finding my mind wandering off mid row, rather optimistically I’m hoping to get it finished tonight so that I can finally cast on for Anouk tomorrow. Really really looking forward to that, it will be great to knit with thick yarn on chunky needles and see instant progress, especially after seeing the tutorial on fixing the bag feet which made so much sense and made it look so easy. Its like having you there to hold my hand every step of the way. Perhaps a post on the making of vodka pastry is in order.

My trip to Stash was both successful and unsuccessful. The yarn I’d decided on for the Noni ribbed sweater was a fantastic colour but rather itchy and although there were a few other things I liked nothing screamed buy me… not for that anyway although a dozen sale skeins did leap into my shopping basket. So much for being restrained. My yarn cupboard is now bursting at the seams.

The rest of the week seems to have flown by.

On Monday I got to hold a 2012 Olympic Torch.This is a picture of daughter F holding the torch.

Tuesday was spent roofing the shed.

Wednesday was spent  rummaging around in the school loft in search of 30 specific nativity play costumes. The school loft is much like a domestic loft but with attitude in bucket loads. Everything that needs keeping, but which doesn’t have a home, gets crammed up there and has done since roughly 1950, at least that’s the oldest date on anything I’ve found so far but I’ve yet to venture into its deepest darkest corners. Its full of exciting discoveries, I’ve come across everything from a handmade 5′ high rocking horse to an assortment of used toilets which I can only guess that one of my predecessors kept on the off chance spare parts were ever needed. In and amongst are well over a thousand costumes for a variety of school productions. Trying to find a grey donkey outfit to fit a tall 10 year old is much like hunting the needle in the proverbial haystack. I came across cows and sheep and camels, dogs, ducks, and chickens, but have yet to find a single donkey. Fortunately, I have another week to track one down.

On Thursday I tried a Zumba class, I haven’t laughed that much in ages, I obviously don’t have the co-ordination for fast paced choreographed dance routines, especially not when some equally unco-ordinated sweaty person is hurtling towards me oblivious as to what the instructor and the rest of the class are doing.

Friday was spent catching up on the girls’ homework and attempting to figure out a summer schedule which allows them to do all the activities they want to do whilst D and I attempt to work full time around them. Fortunately, my boss is incredibly flexible which is just as well really.

We spent today at a giant sports warehouse to get a few last minute things for pony camp. We got a little sidetracked and taught the girls to play table tennis in the demonstration area. It all got a little competitive and we were playing for a little over an hour. More than one innocent bystander was assaulted by a stray ball followed up with a rugby tackle to the ankles as a flying child followed in hot pursuit.

For once the house is relatively peaceful.  D is asleep after a 4am start, F is cooking pancakes in the kitchen and B is attempting to sew a name label into her new dressage jacket. I’m hoping once shes managed that she can be persuaded to sew labels into a dozen pairs of jodphurs too.


ps. and you’ll probably laugh….. What is a Bean Queen? Wikipedia seems to think its an effeminate gay man and the Urban Dictionary comes up with something even more bizarre. I somehow doubt that small town America hosts a Gay Pride march on the 4th of July.

pps. here is the finished shawl pre-blocking 🙂 I cast off with 0.25g to spare. I never knew knitting could be so nail-bitingly exciting. This means I can finally cast on for Anouk 🙂 which is precisely what I intend to do before work this morning.

July 11, 2012

Dear Amanda,

I do believe that the Bean Queen is a pretty girl (or a popular, somewhat pretty girl) who has been chosen to represent the bean farmers. The Sugar Queen, for example, is the pretty or popular girl who is advertising the local sugar brand made from sugar beets or what have you. I think for the 4-H program had a 4-H Queen and King.

While you have been having too much rain in your part of the world, we have been having much much too little. Whole neighborhoods in Colorado have been burned to the ground. And closer to home, there have been record high temperatures on the East Coast and through the mid-West. I think the heat is expected to break a bit this weekend but we desperately need rain.

When Soma and Misha got home on Sunday night from our short vacation (I am still in Michigan teaching a workshop and return home mid-morning Thursday), they found our plants gasping for water. The large ceramic pots that we have fish in were way low. . . I’ve decided to let a row of hydrangeas that I planted in a bad spot die (on the low side of a hill but in too much sun and the soil too sandy to hold much water) rather than keep watering them with little or no effect. Lawns everywhere look brittle and parched. Formerly soft blades of grass poke the bottoms of your feet should you go without shoes.

(Later the same day. . . after great workshop and long drive): More letter shortly after a full night’s sleep.


Knitting on Vacation: Unexpected Solutions for Common Problems

Sometimes when you are on vacation you forget some of your tools at home. . . sometimes this is a great opportunity to shop at the local yarn shop. Sometimes there is no local yarn shop!

Here are my most recent funny problems and my solutions:

Problem: No stitch markers, only fresh cherries . . .

Where there is a will there’s a way. Cherry stems twisted like pretzels make great stitch markers when your needles are a US size 8 or smaller. Who knew? Of course you can always used waste yarn but it isn’t as much fun, or as delicious.


Problem: Special Order single ply yarn seems to be overspun. . . swatch is slanting . . .

I swatched about 5 times, changed the needle size, made a large swatch, a small swatch. . .  The swatch was twisting. I wanted to make a coat from the 2,000 yards I had special ordered in a beautiful slate color. But if the yarn is overspun and causing even a small swatch to torque, then  coat could be a disaster.  What to do?

I am convinced there are at least 3 solutions to every problem:

Possible Solution NO. 1: Forget about the coat. Make something where the torque would not only not matter but might make the design more fabulous.  An infinity cowl or wrap. One of these swallowtail garments/wraps.

Possible Solution NO. 2: Forget about the coat. Make a wrap that has sleeves, even sleeves with big bells, asymmetrical, wraps around the body. . . say yes to the torque.

Possible Solution NO 3: Don’t forget about the coat! I was taking the end from the inside of the ball. . . I teased the end through the middle of the ball to the other side of the ball. Taking the end out of the other side of the ball actually changes the twist that is put on the yarn as a result simply of taking it out of the middle of the ball. [Don’t think that taking the end from the outside of the ball will change anything. If the ball is sitting on the floor and you are knitting from it, the strand will either be more twisted or less twisted depending on whether the ball is put down on one flat end or the other. . . This can make a BIG difference in the twist of the yarn.

When I teased the end through the ball to the other side, it was no longer over-twisted. I swatched again and the swatch was lovely. Perfectly straight! Whew. New coat on the needles soon!


Problem: Need Fingering Weight Yarn for Noni Flowers stamens but don’t have any . . .

Solution: Divide a 3-ply strand into a single strand and a 2-ply strand. Use either the 1-ply or 2-ply, depending on which better fits the bill.


Problem: Want to teach a child to knit on a Southwest Flight. . . No needles only yarn.

Solution: They have great coffee stirrers on Southwest, little red sticks with little hearts on the ends. The gauge is about a US size 7 and works perfectly with worsted weight yarn. I taught a little boy to knit on a flight to Texas once. He showed just about everyone his little swatch. . .

What innovative solution have you come up with for a knitting-away-from-home situation you didn’t expect?  I’d love to hear from you!

Talking Across the Pond: Graduations, Sheds, Power Outages, & the 4th of July. . .

June 20, 2012

Morning Nora!

I’m planning to sneak out of work early today to go to the knitting group at Stash. Discovered I didn’t have any 8mm needles which was most infuriating. Will be taking Anouk with me so I can finally make a start on her. I’ve been wanting to do it all week but didn’t have the right size needles. It has been an incentive to make major headway on my current works in progress. Always swore I’d never have more than one thing on the needles at any one time but then I discovered the amount of concentration required by lace work isn’t conducive to late night telly watching so I abandoned that idea and now have a few things on the go. Have to be very restrained whilst I’m there and not take advantage of their better than half price end of line sale basket without having something specific in mind.

I think I’ve figured out what yarn I’m going to use to make the Noni Ribbed Sweater but am going to head in the direction of lighter yarn rather than heavier because I can’t get hold of any Worsted weight yarn. Aran wright would be thick and rather heavy weighing in at around 2kg which will be ridiculously hot most of the year(although perfect for wearing around the stables). DK would be more practical, and there’s a lot more choice, but that requires a little adaptation due to a difference in gauge. Guess I should be used to that after Ella. Ridiculously excited about that though but can’t make up my mind whether to go for a deep dark aubergine (egg plant to you) or a dark stormy grey. I suspect I’ll know when I see the perfect yarn.

My husband’s shed is still a work in progress. It rained constantly until Sunday which meant it stayed wrapped up on the drive whilst I did lots of housework on the basis that once we started building it I wouldn’t get chance to do anything else. Sunday was glorious. Got up early and spent a couple of hours getting the floor supports down before taking the girls to their martial arts gradings. Returned home and started building up the walls plank by plank. Its like a giant interlocking jigsaw puzzle but without much in the way of guidance which is how we managed to fit the windows upside down and had to take part of a wall out to flip them over. Finally got the roof on on Monday and started the arduous task of treating all the timber before the roof felt can go on and the floor can go down. Have used about five gallons so far. The house honks of creosote and it needs at least another two coats before we can do anything more. I did vaguely consider doing some before work this morning but figured I should iron school uniform instead which lasted all of ten minutes before the lure of my daughter’s homebaked cookies took over.

Soma’s school project sounds great. Daughter B has just finished a giant project on the Zambezi river which she had great fun researching, I learnt plenty about open coal mines, hydroelectric power stations and game parks. She was rather fortunate in that its an area we’d visited before children so there were lots and lots of photos for her to look at, cue many chortles as she realized her dad hasn’t always been bald and her mother was once wrinkle free.

It sounds like you’ve been even busier than normal. Hope your trade show goes well. Really looking forward to seeing your new bags.

Got to run. It’s 7am. Daughter F is playing football with our big black dog in the field next door and Daughter B is still asleep. Need to leave for work in 40 minutes but am still slobbing round in my PJs.



Dear Nora,

I still haven’t started Anouk. She’s my reward for finishing a giant lace shawl which would be going much more smoothly if I hadn’t tried to do the most complicated bit in twilight whilst tired and refereeing an argument between my daughters. Cue the frogging back of almost a thousand stitches which wouldn’t have been too bad if they’d all be knits or purls but it was a row full of double and triple decreases in a variety of directions….. and being an intelligent kinda gal I did that whilst tired which meant much picking up of dropped stitches too. Its sorted but its taken me four days to do which is more annoying than making the mistake in the first place, whether thats enough of an incentive to use lifelines in future remains to be seen.


June 28th

Hi Nora

This week seems to have flown by.

In between chaufurin’ my daughters to hockey matches, rounders games, two lots of marital arts classes, and riding lessons I managed to spend several hours in church, not out of a sense of religious duty, but because the local craft show was based there. There was some very impressive work by some incredibly talented people but nothing came close to the work of the artisans of the past responsible for the numerous magnificent stained glass windows.

I spent almost as much time wandering round admiring the structure of the building as I did looking at the modern crafts.

D’s shed now has doors and a door frame and more importantly a floor. We still have to felt the roof to make it water tight but it’s either been too wet or too windy to do that. He’s back at work today which means I’m catching up on much domestic drudgery in anticipation of an extra day with Daughter F. as her school is closed to pupils for a staff training day. Not entirely sure what we’ll do although she’s hoping for either a trip to the zoo or the local ice cream farm, somewhere else I’ll have to take you to, which has over a hundred different flavours of ice cream ranging from Christmas Pudding to Toblerone, Tiramisu to Vodka and my current favourite Raspberry Pavlova. I’m thinking a picnic at the top of Moel Ffamau (Mothers Mountain) would be more fun, and the hairball would certainly enjoy it more, and, if she’s content to fly a kite, I can make a start on the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.



July 6th – 7th

Dear Amanda,

Please send a picture of the shed!  I am eager to see it after hearing so much about it. I have been busy. TNNA, our big knitting industry trade show, is always a whirl wind. The new designs were well received! As soon as I was home, I coached Soma on his International Space Station report, and we settled on the order of the report and the information he would talk about. My husband put together a power point presentation to help with the order and show pictures. The final presentation was a huge success! The classroom has a smart board, so the power point slide were projected on the big screen. The screen itself is sensitive and works like a computer touch screen. All Soma had to do to move to the next slide was touch the screen. It was great and I was so proud.

All in all, I was in the studio for 3 days before we left for a short vacation in Michigan. It was a mad dash of putting things in order, sending out orders . . . The evening before our departure there was a wild storm that knocked out power all up and down the East Coast. Tree limbs and whole trees down in our neighborhood. We did not have any downed trees, fortunately. Our house had no power for four days. It was difficult to leave not knowing how long we would be without power, but we have wonderful neighbors who looked after the house, garden, 2 cats . . . until power came back in the middle of the night.

Meanwhile, we have been having adventures here in the thumb of Michigan (and none of them involved being near a computer for any length of time, but I am finally finding a moment of quiet to write). I had meant to write to you on the afternoon of July 4th. I had it all planned out in my mind: we got up EXTREMELY EARLY to go fishing. There were thunderstorms over the lake, right where we were planning to go, however, so we didn’t get on the boat until about 7:30 (2 hours later than planned. . . the first part of my plan gone awry!). For the first maybe hour not a single bite. I thought the trip was going to be a repeat of last years almost fish-less trip, but then Soma said, “There’s a fish on that line!” And he was RIGHT. He brought in the first fish of the day.

And he brought in just about every other fish (save perhaps 2 or so), including a “Sheep Head” (far left) and a Catfish (far right).

The end of the fishing trip put us in town just before the July 4th town parade, so we got stuck there as all roads leading in and out were closed for the parade. What fun! We don’t have parades with Bean Queens and 4-H Queens and the local Sugar brand Queens. Just about anyone (so it seemed) with a small business and a truck was part of the parade. Soma watched it all quietly in a seat some locals offered him. The other kids were all dashing about trying to grab a piece of the candy that just about everyone was throwing out of car windows and from the top of floats. My favorite of the parade was this huge farm vehicle below that was advertising someone’s farm business.

Even the undertaker took part. . . in an antique hearse, but they were so late (probably because the car was about as slow as slow can be). Nevertheless, they took a turn through town several times. I wish I had gotten a picture of them but I was eating a tasty sandwich at the time.

As soon as most of the traffic cleared out of town we made our way back to the cottage. Fish for dinner! Misha cooked the fillets in a big cast iron skillet over the open fire–delicious. As soon as dinner was consumed Soma, Misha, and I jumped in the car and made a dash back to Port Austin to wait for the fire works to begin. We found a great parking spot and a great place to watch: right by the water.

The fireworks were set up on a long pier. As we waited, the other people waiting were launching great big floating lanterns into the air. The nights get really dark over Lake Huron, so the lanterns looked beautiful floating away into the sky. Once the sky was really dark the fireworks began. They were fabulous and we were so glad we made the drive to see them.

The next day we went to see a woman named Sharon who lives a bit out of Port Austin proper on an old farm. She used to run a tiny yarn shop . . . that’s how we met. We were up here and I was searching for some 8mm needles. She was the only yarn shop for miles and miles.

A cute little shop in a renovated out building.

We’ve visited with Sharon every year since that first visit (we stayed for hours, Soma (only 3 at the time) found delicious plums on the plum trees, Sharon gave us things from her garden). When I was up here writing Noni Flowers, she invited me to meet all her yarn-loving, fiber-working friends, sent me home with tasty food, invited me to Thanksgiving Dinner with her family when I was alone. This visit I took her a copy of the book.

She’s put the farm up for sale . . . it’s a unique property, quiet (probably like your forever home) and peaceful. A beautiful place that is getting to be too much for her so she’s thinking to move closer into town. I took a lot of pictures because I don’t know if we’ll see her there next year.

Today we close up the cottage and leave. After days of calm water, the wind is fierce today and the water rough. The rock castle we made yesterday has fallen down. Here’s what it looked like right after Soma and I built it (my new favorite past time here at the lake: rock castle building).

Misha and Soma return tomorrow to Maryland. This afternoon I drive across the state to the west side of Michigan where I will teach two workshops, one at a sweet little shop in South Haven, Michigan called Needle in a Haystack, the other a bit farther south in another great shop called Stitching Memories in a town called Portage, Michigan.

Much to do to ready the cottage for our departure . . . laundry to fold, beds to re-make. I always hate leaving the lake . . . Next year we’ll build more rock castles.

Don’t forget to send pictures of the shed!


Noni Q&A: Cutting Stiffener to Fit & Putting Bag Feet On The Bag. . .

I mentioned in a recent blog that Fridays would be Noni Q&A. Any questions you have about the Noni Flowers, or finishing a bag, or making a bag. . . bring them on. I invite questions in the comments. If you are a bit shy, you can always send questions to my regular e-mail or through nonipatterns.com.  Please do.

I recently received a question about bag feet. I first posted about this a bit ago, and then preparations for a trip, a bad storm (spectacular storm, in fact, with garden consequences, trees down all over, and massive East Coast power outage including in my neighborhood (and my house) and the neighborhoods of family and studio, the actual travel, etc., caused me to miss a week of Noni Q&A. I have since added to the original post, both in content and pictures.

Question: I purchased the stiffener you recommend and I have my bag feet, but the prongs on the feet are too big to go through the stiffener. Do I just put the prongs through the felt and then open them? What is the best way to do this?

Answer: I recently developed a new and improved way of putting the bag feet through the stiffener and it works for most bags.

You will need the following materials:

  1. Size 6 double pointed needle (only 1) If you have size 7 or 8 or 5 these will also work. In other words, use what will do the trick.
  2. Paper hole punch (handheld)
  3. Ruler (possibly but don’t go hunting for one)
  4. Noni Extra Stiff bag stiffener
  5. Scissors
  6. Noni 24mm (or, for smaller bags 12mm or 16mm) bag feet in nickel, antique brass, or gunmetal

Here’s a picture with the bag feet but without the ruler. . . I couldn’t seem to remember everything in one picture!

Here’s what you do:

The first step in putting bag feet on your bag is to cut your stiffener to fit the bottom of the bag nicely and snugly. This is easier than it looks. I always begin by holding the stiffener up to the outside of the bag.

The outside of the bag is larger than the inside, so if you cut the stiffener to fit the outside, it will necessarily be larger than the inside. Shave the stiffener a square at a time until it fits within the ‘slot’ formed when the side of the bag and the base come together.

If you feel the bag body of the bag bottom curving around the stiffener then the stiffener is too large or small respectively.

Perfectly fitting stiffener makes the intersection of bag bottom and body feel perfectly crisp, a sharp corner. Use the holes in the stiffener to guide your efforts for straight cuts.

Once the stiffener is the correct size, use the hole punch to punch holes in the stiffener.

I have found that 3 – 5 holes from side and end is optimal (that is, instead of using the ruler you didn’t hunt for, count the holes in the stiffener: count 3 – 5 holes from end and 3 – 5 holes from side and you’ve got the perfect corner). I punch the end/corner holes first on both ends. Then gently fold the piece in half to get the midpoint and punch a hole in the middle (both sides).

I now have 6 holes, 2 on each end, 2 in middle.

When all 6 holes are punched (I really think 6 bag feet is usually best, but your taste trumps mine, so pick your number according to your preferences!), then put your stiffener in the bag.

NOTE: Usually, a bag should have 2 layers of stiffener for a nice crisp shape AND allows you to line the bottom even when you have bag feet. . .SO, if you want 2 layers, use the first layer as a pattern to cut the second. Saves going through all that figuring again.

You may want to tack the stiffener down with big ugly sewing stitches/running stitches to hold it in place while you put the bag feet in. If the stitches show on outside, take them out later, or simply tack with invisible stitches from the get go.

From the inside of the bag, with stiffener in place, poke your size 6 double pointed needle through the little hole you made with the hole punch (needle as straight as possible), until the point is visible on the outside.

THEN, pull the double point to the inside of the bag and follow it with the prongs of the bag foot so bag foot prongs go through felt and then through small punched hole in stiffener. Once the bag foot is in place and you like its placement, then open the prongs on the inside.

I often “set” one bag foot first and then place the rest, see if they all look good, and then set the rest. This ensures that they all are in the correct place with no foot in some crazy off line place. Let’s imagine, however, that one foot is off, you didn’t notice until you set it.  Simply fold the prongs back up, take the foot out, and re-do.  The felt will close over the first hole you have made and no harm will be done.

Continue to set feet in the same manner as above until all are set.

Questions?  Bring them on!