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.

 

No. 5: Sewing Fuchsias To Your Wrap

Today we sew Fuchsias to the Gossamer Wrap!

If you have been working in Silk Cloud, you have noticed how delicate your Fuchsia are.  I hope you have wired the petals as I suggested you do last week. If you have done this, you will see that the blossoms seem more sturdy, they keep their shape, but they are also squashable – a good thing if you get into the car and lean back on a fuchsia that is dangling so fabulously down your back. Wouldn’t want to be jabbed in a most uncomfortable way by a petal as you speed toward the opera!

What follows is a brief, illustrated guide to the process of embellishing your wrap.

1. Lay your wrap out on a large clean surface.

2. Gather your supplies: regular “sewing” or silk pins, scissors, sharp (rather slender) darning needle).

3. You have a choice to make. You can sew your Fuchsias to the wrap with a strand of Silk Cloud (or your wrap yarn) or sew them on with sewing thread.

Either is a perfectly respectable choice. I chose Silk Cloud in the color of the wrap. I made this choice because I didn’t want the stitches that hold the flower to the wrap to be visible. It might seem logical to use the fuchsia stem color. . . but then those tiny green stitches might show. I left my yarn live from the bind off (see the first photo above) and used it to sew the first Fuchsia on the wrap corner.

3. Using the sewing pins, secure your flower stems in place, then perfect the arrangement, before setting to work on one Fuchsia.

4. With the wrap still on the table, sew the flowers on one-at-a-time until all are secured, removing pins as you go.

But how do we hide the wrap color stitches on the Fuchsia itself? I used the stems like a little subway for the needle and thread: I traveled with the needle through the stem until I reached the destination for a stitch, momentarily emerged to catch just a thread of the wrap before traveling again through the stem subway to the next stop. Securing stitches were made–that is, the finishing off knots and such–in the wrap fabric toward the bottom of the wrap so as to be least visible and then the tail was woven back into the stem of the Fuchsia.

5. Check to make sure that your stitches are invisible on the back side. . . If they are not, consider re-doing.

LA! It’s ready to wear. I can’t wait to see your pictures!

Please post pictures of your finished or in-process wrap in your Ravelry project pages and link to the Gossamer Fuchsia Wrap KAL.

If you are posting your finished/in-process wrap on your Facebook page, please tag Noni Designs.

Like the Book, Write a Review . . . and you could win . . .

For all you Noni & Noni Flowers book fans, I’ve got a special opportunity for you!

I have been working on annotating 2 copies of my book, adding notes about the different plants, the photographs, things that didn’t make it into the book, or that didn’t fit in the book, some secrets. . . confessions of a passionate gardener-knitter you might say.

Here’s an example: The fabulous curved tulip leaf in the photograph that graces the cover of the book was from my own garden. We were photographing many of the flowers in Springtime almost exactly a year ago. On photoshoot mornings, I scoured the garden for foliage I could use in the photographs–sometimes I was digging under snow!. The foliage for the Clematis was carefully wrested from an icy patch on the morning of one shoot.

The Chicory stems I collected on the side of the road–I had passed the flowers looking for good stems, each one better than the last . . .

I had to turn around and go back, pulling off onto the shoulder.

That morning was hot, I remember, even so early. The stems are very tough and I couldn’t break them with my hands. I had to use my car keys. . .

 

I am going to give these two special books away. . . here is how you make yourself eligible to win one of them!

Write a detailed, review that helps knitters and/or gardeners understand why you like the book, and why the reader will want to purchase the book. Post it on the the Amazon and/or Barnes and Noble websites.

It’s that simple.

1 book will be given to an Amazon review. 1 book will be given to a Barnes & Noble review. If, by some crazy fluke, the same name is drawn for both books, I will draw again until we have two different winners.

If you’d like your review do a bit more good for Noni Flowers, you can:

  • LIKE the book on the Amazon and/or Barnes and Noble websites
  • Post a link to the review on your Facebook page and Tag Noni Designs

The Importance of Checking for Errata and the Power of Gauge

I taught a bag finishing workshop in a little shop about two years ago. . . my students were diligently working on something so the room was quiet and I was walking around checking on what people were doing. The shop owner was looking after the shop but she had stepped out to pick up coffee or sandwiches or some such. I was the only “official” in the shop. A woman walked in with a sweater project she was working on, a lovely lacy affair out of sparkly white yarn. She stood uneasily in the doorway of the classroom. She wavered and then said quietly, “Can someone help me with this?” Her eyes pleaded. She said, “I’ve been trying this one row now for 3 hours. I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. It doesn’t look like the picture. I’ve tried everything.” So I gave it a try. It didn’t work for me either.

“Did you check the errata page?” I asked her. By this time the shop owner had returned and took over, leading the woman to the front of the shop and searching the magazine errata page for the sweater. There was a lengthy list of the errors in the pattern . . . She copied down all the corrections and they nearly filled one side of a letter-sized piece of paper.

It is very difficult to write a pattern that is free of errors, and the more complicated the pattern, the harder it becomes, multiply by 46 and it is very nearly impossible. Thus, my book, like most every book, has some typos we all missed, and some errors that got by us, as well as some things that are not so much errors as things I want you to know–such as which yarn companies discontinued a particular yarn in the year and a half between when they gave the yarn to me for a sample and the book came out. . .  more about items in this category in a minute.

I tell you these things to make my own plea that you all make it a habit to check the errata pages of any book, magazine, pattern singlet, indie design that you are working on, preferably before you begin working. Errata may not yet have been posted, but if there are any, you will see them.

I wish I could say that there is not a single mistake in the book, but alas, I cannot . . .

There is an errata page for Noni Flowers.  I have found some things myself and also rely on you knitters to alert me to things that got by me and the rest of us who worked on the book.

A knitter just wrote to me, for example, that the English Bluebell pattern, while correct, conflicts with the sample in the picture. The picture shows a stem with 1 main flower and 4 flowers along the stalk. . . the pattern has you make 5 flowers along the stalk. I was so focused on making sure the pattern was correct I never thought to count the blossoms. None of us did.

Please check the errata page. And please let us know if you find something. This allows us to list errors and inconsistencies and change future printings. To the first person who alerts me to a particular error, I will send a thank-you gift pdf pattern.

The Power of Gauge

Just after the book was released, I was poking around on the Amazon website and noticed the first review of the book by a knitter (thank you, Lynn!). It’s a lovely, laudatory review and I was thrilled. Lynn mentioned, in particular, the two-page spread about the power of gauge. She had carefully gotten out her ruler and measured the smallest flower and the largest one, offering their heights in inches to the reader of the review to give an idea of just how much of a difference gauge can make, with the smallest flower being less than an inch tall and the largest over 8 inches tall. In other words, she interpreted the picture as showing the Stephanotis at actual size on the page.

The spread in the book does not, however, show the flowers at actual size . . . And the trio of photographs that Sully and I worked on for these pages had a foot-long ruler in every photograph to help the knitter with an accurate sense of scale. These rulers were excised by the press. While I did not object to the rulers in the first two pictures being removed, the last ruler next to the largest flower was removed against my objections. As a compensatory measure,I mistakenly thought providing the needle size and yarn choices for each flower would go some distance toward replacing the ruler(s). I see that information is not sufficient in all cases to all knitters. I present to you now the three original photographs so you can see for yourselves that the smallest flower hovers around 2 inches (5cm) tall while the largest flower is nearly three feet tall.

Aside from practical considerations and its efficiency at conveying scale, one of the reasons I love this little ruler is that it belonged to my grandmother. As you can see, it was one of those little gifts that banks give out to good customers. I have lots of things like this that belonged to her: a mechanical pencil that advertise a Charlotte NC shoe shop long gone, my grandfather’s neurosurgery practice letterhead, the beginning of my grandmother’s memoir written on the backs of checks, a list of the books of poetry she read over the course of 50 years, novels that belonged to her own mother, a tiny collection of Shakespeare’s complete works (leather bound, each one scarcely 2 inches tall). . . I would have loved to work them into the book somehow . . . the books and the bell in the Forget-me-not pillow picture were hers. . .

My thinking, for including the rulers, was that all the book designer person had to do was make the rulers the same size and then we would see that all the flowers were correctly sized in relation to one another. Yes, I suppose it might be a little distracting to see the rulers and all the more so with the advertisement for Citizens bank and the 3% interest rate, etc., but perhaps you forgive me when you know it was my Granny’s ruler. And, besides, knowing the proper size of the flower is so much more important than a little visual fuss.

The yarn companies making business decisions to discontinue a certain yarn or color without consenting me is annoying but understandable. Crystal Palace Fizz no longer has Mink in its line up, so those who want to make sunflowers with dark centers my want to choose Black as a good substitute. Also consider that some sunflowers have bright yellow centers and so you should match that yellow with a yellow Fizz. Consult pictures of actual sunflowers for ideas.

I have learned from Shibui that Silk Cloud is no longer available in Blossom, the pale pink I used for the inner petals of the Fuchsia. Rowan Kid Silk Haze does offer an almost identical color, however.

As I learn more about these sorts of changes in yarn and yarn color line-ups, I will post on the Noni Flowers errata page. Again, please check before you knit. . .

Live Podcast TODAY, the next Noni KAL, and All Around Update

 

First, some exciting news that I should have been leading up to for weeks! I am appearing on Creative Mojo with Mark Lipinski TODAY at 3:30. The show airs on Wednesdays at 3:00 pm EST and runs LIVE, with listeners invited to call in for 2 hours! (3 – 5 EST). I’ll be “on” from about 3:35 – 4:00 as the schedule appears. How to listen?  Go to toginet.com and click on the button at the top of the page to “listen to the show live”. If you don’t make it to hear the show, it will be available a couple of hours afterwards HERE. Come & Listen Today!

 

The Fuchsia Gossamer Wrap Kits Are READY!

Now that your copy of Noni Flowers is nestled cozily in your knitting bag or, perhaps  it is sitting in a special place on the coffee table (I would be so happy), or it might yet be speeding toward you through the mail system, I have finished preparing kits for The Gossamer Fuchsia Wrap contained in the book so that we might do a little more knitting along with each other: This wrap (a perfect compliment to your summer wardrobe! and a most delicious thing to wear over bare shoulders on a cool summer night.

If you would like to order your kit from Noni, you can do so on Ravelry. I’ve got 2 colorways:  the pictured Peony & Blossom colorway (only 3 currently available)

And my new personal favorite, the fabulous Mulberry & Blush colorway (many in stock) that I love so much I am making it for myself.

The kit includes 3 skeins of the silk cloud wrap color, 1 skein each of the silk cloud green and lighter inner petal color, and, as my gift to you, a lovely organza project bag & free shipping.

 

What I’ve been up to . . .  and later this week . . .

Book activities are getting exciting! I spent last weekend in Sarasota Florida at A Good Yarn. Recently voted “BEST SHOP” in Sarasota, (not best yarn shop. . . but Best Shop) It is a fabulous store, one that inspires ideas just by glancing around.

I taught my first Art of Knitting Flowers class there and it was absolutely wonderful. What a great bunch of ladies!

More to come: Book signing & one-day Noni Flowers trunk show at The Yarn Spot here in Maryland on Thursday from 5 – 8. Come join us!

And Friday, another signing & flowers trunk show at The Old Town Yarnery in Fredericksburg VA. Saturday, I will be teaching a shortened version of my Art of Knitting Flowers workshop. There may still be space, so call to sign up.

 

Thank you note to those who have ordered Noni Flowers

It is less than a full day until the release of Noni Flowers.

The book has been getting some great press. We are collecting all of the reviews and other Noni Flowers news on the website News & Events page. The reviews have been more than I could have hoped for . . . in a word: raves! And I hear there are more to come, so please keep checking the page or look for updates on the Noni Designs Facebook page.

Nearly 1000 lbs of books (an entire palette with 60 cartons on it) arrived at my studio on Thursday morning early . . . so early that I was brushing my teeth at home when the call came that they were already at the studio (a full hour before the agreed to scheduled time!). You might be interested to see a video I took of the books arriving.

I was signing and shipping books until midnight on Thursday, back at it on Friday from 10 am until 7 pm.

And as I sat and signed the copies for shops and then signed and wrote personal notes in the copies for those of you who purchased copies of the books directly from me, I found myself very moved. A heartfelt thank you to all of you who have pre-ordered the book from whatever source. Your purchase will help make the book a success. Please share notices of the book with your knitting friends . . . and consider the book as a gift perfect for spring giving, a mother’s day present, a lovely and unusual gift for the avid gardener knitter, or perhaps for the avid gardener who just loves flowers enough to want to see pictures of them knitted.

My very special thank you to all of you who have ordered (and will order) from me directly through the Noni Flowers website. In this still difficult economy when every book is discounted by just about everyone even before it is published, you paid full price in order to support me directly. I hope all of you who ordered love my little thank you note Hibiscus Flower Pattern (available exclusively to those who purchase the book through the Noni Flowers site or from me at the Noni Studio, the MD Sheep & Wool Fest in May, and Rhinebeck in the Fall).

Thank you. Thank you.

How I wrote Noni Flowers and Why I Love Daffodils

My book, Noni Flowers, contains 40 knitted flowers (every one of them can be a felted flower or simply a knitted flower) and 6 projects that use knitted flowers as a focal point–that’s a lot of patterns, and not a knitted ring or 6-row bracelet among them. When I started the Noni Flowers book project, I was a bit unrealistic about how long it would take. Somehow I extrapolated how long it took to write one small (not very detailed) flower pattern (that I’ve not published in the book or in my own pattern line . . . and never will) to be how long it would take to write every flower pattern. 2 hours x 40 flowers = 80 Nora hours of design work. I’d be done in 2 hours a day for 40 days subtracting weekends . . .

Somehow those 2 hours never materialized in my day. I would take a pattern order or two or five, ship out some orders, order some inventory that was getting low, do a little packaging of bits and pieces, and pretty soon it’s late. It’s dinner time. It’s time to tuck Soma in. Another day without a flower designed.

Finally, after a long string of such days my husband said, “You’ve got to go away.” We agreed on two weeks.

I made a stack of 50 8 1/2 x 11 pictures of blossoms I had chosen for the book (50 just in case. . . 10 back ups) in full color, alternate views, color palettes. I went to stay in my in-laws lake cottage (during hunting season . . . not a stitch of bright orange in the house!) and my wonderful mother-in-law had stocked the fridge with my favorites. Enough food, just about, for 2 weeks and no serious cooking. I would be home in time for Thanksgiving.

My days were pretty much all the same: wake up and have coffee, my typical breakfast of 1 fried egg and a piece of toast. I would sit down at the dining room table piled with yarn, a suitcase full of yarn to my right, a ball winder and swift attached to a narrow bench behind me. All the lights in the house trained on my work. To my right was the lake, moody and grey, speckled with geese in the early part of the day, frosted with white caps by evening.

I began with the knitted flowers I had worked on before: tulips, pansies, forget-me-nots, but soon realized I wanted to push past what I had already done. Most of the flowers, even if I had worked on them before, were radically revised or completely rewritten, no longer the same flowers.

As I completed each knitted flower, I would take a picture of it on the concrete patio outside (the light inside too dim for good photography) and send it to my tech editor. I would lay the completed, or at times half completed, sample on its picture and put it on the living room floor. As the days waxed and waned, the rows of knitted flowers grew. Some days I could design 3 flowers in one day, sometimes it took 3 days to design one flower. Sometimes I gave up on a flower, vowing to do it justice at a later date. My table of contents changed and changed. My breaks were working on projects, knitting late into the night on easy knitting and watching the sorts of TV I never otherwise watch. Cake Boss. Say Yes to the Dress.

I was not finished in two weeks. I missed Thanksgiving with my family. My mother-in-law had to rent a car because I had her car. I went grocery shopping and made a big pot of soup. I bought a bright orange wind-breaker and acrylic knitted hat and went for walks.

It took two more weeks to be 2 flowers shy of my total. I think I designed, in the end, nearly 60 flowers, but I rejected some along the way as not being as botanical as I wanted them to be. One flower, a Tiger Lily was nearly there but needed more work on the width of the petals to be right. I ran out of time. Some flower I cut because they were too long. Just wait . . . they are spectacular and you’ll see them sometime soon.

What I learned during those weeks of solitude, without even the company of a clock ticking through the house, was that only within such intense solitude, such intentional work, could I have reached the sort of critical mass of detail, time, that allowed me to, for example, render an Oriental Lily in worsted weight merino, a lily that would fool the eye.

Writing the patterns, as Cat Bordhi once told me (and I have never forgotten), is just the beginning. You are only half done. I know this from pattern writing. But a 4 page pattern booklet, 2 or 3 pages of which are pattern and instruction, are nothing compared to 175 pages or more of narrative, knitted flower patterns, project patterns, instruction, knitting how-to for flowers, photographs [all of which my photographer Sully (RA Sullivan) and I painstakingly styled and shot together with one mind and his flawless skill for lighting and commercial photography.

And then there is the testing . . .

And more tech-editing.

And testing.

And reading and re-reading by me, Mary Elliott, Kellie Nuss, Charlotte Tribble, Monica Beard, my editor at Potter Craft, Betty Wong, the Random House tech-editor, the proof-reader, the executive editor at Potter Craft. And then by me, again, and Mary Elliott, again. And Kellie Nuss, again.

Kellie took some amazing pictures on short notice as we prayed for sunlight on a day that seemed bound to offer but a wan sunlight, flirting with bursts of brilliance only to hide again behind a fan of clouds.

Then there were days I almost forgot I had written a book . . . then the mail would come.

I read the express mailed proof, commented on it at a busy time when the time could not be spared, of course, and Soma was out of school but I somehow finished, drove to a Kinkos only minutes before closing (why are such things always so quietly dramatic?!) and prayed their machine was big enough to copy the massive spread (it was, only just, with margins and words cut off), and sent it express, back to New York for a deadline I nearly missed.

And then I proofed what they call “the dummy,” a pdf of how the book will look, layout complete. More comments. More changes.

And then the round where all is complete. A sort of signing off.

And then it is gone. It is at the printer. It is done. A day strangely quiet, strangely unmarked.

Until the box of books arrived in February and Mary Elliott was with me–remarkably and fittingly–and I opened it with her there. She, who had knit every flower twice as though they were her own botanical children. How can love be so big and so wonderful as that sort of devotion? I am blessed by her and by Kellie and by my husband who sent me away and put Soma to bed so many nights when I was at the studio until the time in the morning when you can hear coyotes if you are up to listen. Without such devotion, a book, a funny dumb thing that speaks so much in the right hands, cannot be completed.

It is now, nearly a year and a half after missing that Thanksgiving with my family (and being taken in by Sharon Rutz and her family on that day) and a year since I turned in the manuscript for the first round of edits, that I am starting to see in greater depth and detail the flowers not primarily as botanical specimens but as flowers I live with, flowers that can decorate my table centerpiece, the hair of a bride, the love letters of those separated by long distances.

Today the Daffodils are blooming in my backyard. I will forever associate them with my Soma, because they were blooming in my garden when I brought him home for the first time.

It is the Daffodils that I have yet in the vase in which they were photographed. They greet me each day in the studio. And I still wonder how it is they look so real.