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.

Knitted Flowers in My Garden: Magnolia Stellata

My son and I walk through the garden that surrounds our hours every morning. We call it our garden tour. We look to see what is new, what is blooming. Today I noticed for the first time that my Clematis Armandii is going to bloom. This particular Clematis is a hardy one, with long slender glossy leaves. The flowers are small and white. It is a slow grower, so I have been nursing this one for years now. This Spring it is covered with buds.

The Magnolia stellata or Star Magnolia is bursting into bloom. Every day there are more unfurled flowers. And next to it is a weeping cherry that people slow down to look at. The entire neighborhood waits for it to come into bloom. Spectacular.

This morning, I took some of my flowers from the Noni Flowers book and nestled them in the natural surroundings with their actual counterparts. I have to say I was delighted with the results. Here, I’ll talk about the Star Magnolia.

Magnolias are ancient plants. The Magnolia Grandiflora, for example, came into being before bees existed. It relies on beetles to do the pollinating. It’s stamen is, as you might expect, also ancient. It is woody and can withstand the attentions of insects more forceful than bees.

Magnolias such as the Magnolia Stellata are more delicate than their more ancient counterparts, but they are no less extraordinary and unusual.

Here is my knitted flower in the branches of the tree in my front yard.

This flower, perhaps more than some of the others, is one I can see firmly rooted in home decor. It looks stunning sitting on a magnolia branch in a Chinese Vase.

Even now, in my studio, I have a single flower gracing a sculptural Magnolia branch. It is one of the favorite things in my studio. I love it every day.

I can also see it on a cloche hat positioned right at the ear. I don’ t have this hat, so I can’t provide a picture of this. But I hope you can see this image as I can.

More flowers to come. . .