Saying Yes: Acceptance, Limitations, Creativity, and the Power of What If. . . ?

Every year in mid-October I travel to the fair grounds nestled in the heart of Rhinebeck, New York for the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival. Noni has a big booth there.  There are women who come every year to purchase a project. The next year they come back with the finished bag on their shoulder or wearing a beautiful coat and buy the next next project. I love this. Watching those beautiful bags and coats come back, I feel some measure of pride in being a small part of that project, that growth.

This year (meaning, actually, this past Rhinebeck of 2013), a pair of women I remember from the previous year walked into the booth together and found me. They live, I think, in the City and are dear friends. They had both purchased kits for the Ridge Bag.

Ridge-Bags They had done the knitting together, felted together in the same washer, the in same load even, as I think they told me. I will name these woman Clotilde and Veronique.

Clotilde’s bag was nearly done —it had lovely crisp shaping at the bottom, shiny nickel bag feet, the zipper sewn in, the handles in place with 6 evenly- spaced rivets. All that was left to be done was the turnlock, about which Clotilde asked advice (and about which I am currently working on a Noni Q&A blog, so stay tuned and check back on Friday). The bag looked, to my eye, maybe better than the original I made myself which hung, at that very moment, on a wreath hook above us.

Veronique’s bag was not finished and had been bunched up in a tote, brought to show me its imperfections. At first, I thought the subtle creases were simply due to being folded while still damp into that same tote. And, truly, this may be partly the case. Even in its rumpled state, the bag was lovely to me, and not with the rose-colored glass eyes of someone who sees only perfection where it does not lie. I saw all of its faults but also what it would, or could, become. I’ve seen a lot of lovely and not so lovely bags. This one was pretty darn terrific.

One of the things I like about the Ridge is how the rib pattern, when felted, gives the bag defined vertical stripes.

Ridge-Detail-1Veronique held the bag toward me for me to see. I took it all in, and, without a bit of dissembling said, “It looks great!” I was thinking of the work she would do, how she would thoroughly soak the bag in a sink full of hot water, how she would press out the water so that it was simply damp and pliable, how she would cut the stiffener for the bottom and sew it in, tacking directly into the overly-felted places, if there were any, and also into any less-felted place so as to even the surface and make it almost impossible to see such inconsistencies and also almost impossible to feel them. She would put in the six bag feet, matching up the prongs of the bag feet with both the holes she had punched on the stiffener inside as well as the lines of purled stitches now striping the bottom. She would lay down the second layer of stiffener carefully covered with a bright fabric surprise or a subtle grey lining to match the bag itself. She would rivet on the handle, sew in the black zipper, stitch the metal label on the back. She would rivet on the turnlock flap with the six or eight shiny nickel rivets to match the six or eight rivets holding each handle ring.

Ridge-detailWith every step, the bag would look better and better due to the dampness and her work, the attention of her fingers pressing the fabric smoother and smoother.

But Veronique has not finished as many bags as I have, I think, and she has not seen the imperfections that have come out of the washing machine in my kitchen, imperfections I have had no luxury to nurse: Photo shoot in two days, no time to knit and felt again. Had to go with this bag, as it was, had to fix it. Had to say yes.

“No, look at it,” I think she said, and held it out to me again, insistent. She pointed to all the places she felt were problems. She compared her bag to Clotilde’s. Hers was not as good.

“Why did this happen?,” she wanted to know, despair and disbelief in her voice. “We wanted to show you our beautiful bags. We had it all planned.” I could see the image of what was supposed to have happened in contrast to the little triangle we now formed. Her question was so big and there are so many possible answers. Maybe there was an inconsistency in the knitted stitches that etched themselves into the felting. But maybe not. Maybe the bag got creased up in the washer and couldn’t undo itself. Maybe the lingerie bag was too small or too large and tied itself in a knot, maybe the color of Veronique’s bag made it felt differently than Clotilde’s bag. But knowing why something happens doesn’t fix it and these answers seemed only to make Veronique feel worse. I had no magic. I only had solutions that involved working with what was.

I told her that the imperfections she was seeing in the depth and the texture of the purled stripes mattered more to her than to me. I should have thought to get down the Ridge bag I made myself, the one that hung not 2 feet above our heads, and scour it for such disparities. I am sure we would have found it. But in many ways, this is not the point . . . and it would not have consoled her.

Felt is not perfect. And if it appears to be, it is fooling you. Even leather is not perfect, decorated as it almost always is with notices about it being a natural product and therefore full of inconsistencies. A leather bag wears the imperfections that the creature who before bore that skin sustained during its life: the surface bears evidence of a cow’s movements next to a barbed wire fence, the calluses of sleep and use, a wound, the bite of a horse fly, the habits of the body in the world.

So, too, the felt in a bag bears witness to our own moods sometimes: one day my knitting might be tighter than the next, it has lain forgotten in a bag for months, nay a year. The very fiber itself is made from the fleeces of many animals, and some of those fleeces are incredible, soft and strong and supple, while others are not. There is great diversity in a single strand of yarn. And the felt bears witness to all that has brought it into being; the grain a Merino sheep eats, the tenderness with which it is raised, the age of the animal, the weather it endures, the soil under its feet, the skill of the shearer, the the twist in the milling, the way the steam sets the twist, the hands of the knitter, the swish of the washer, the heat of the wash, the alkalinity of water, the particular tumble it receives, the attention it is paid during all of that, the violence of the spin that dries it to dampness.

Even my bags come out of the washer looking like lumps. Sometimes I pull them into a shape and smoothness that seems impossible given all the variables. And sometimes they come out with problems I did not expect and I must find a way to fix, or at least disguise. Veronique wanted me to tell her what to do, how to fix it. And I tried.

I held Veronique’s bag in my hands as though it was, as I felt it was, half mine, in all its trouble, and I said, “If these places bother you so much—and they bother you more than they bother me—then you can distract the eye. Picture this—this is a lovely dark grey bag. What if you make even just one, though I think 2 would be better, but just one big Oriental Poppy out of shades of grey. Long grey stems. Let the stems circle around here,” as I gestured across the face of the bag and drew the stems over the places that bothered Veronique the most. “The face of one flower is here, the other flower here, their stems twining together, a scattering of pewter seed beads here to catch the light, pull the eye.”

I tell you, I could see it myself and it was beautiful.

But if Veronique could see what I saw, her own picture of her hopeless bag pushed the one I had just painted away. She protested that working too much over a bag, like a piece or jewelry, just makes it a “hot mess.” That’s a term I despise for its ugliness, but she’s right, of course: sometimes, in our efforts to fix something, we end up piling things on top to the point that it is overdone, overly freighted with good intentions and desperation. That is, I agree, not usually beautiful. But careful, restrained, thoughtful attention, a good plan, and some hard work are different.

Veronique was so unhappy, so disgusted. I could feel it and it felt terrible and I have been her before but I have also been her and gotten myself out of that rut of thinking. All that money in the yarn. All that time. Photo shoot tomorrow. No choice. Say Yes. Make it work. Get to work.

Her sadness made me so sad because it seemed, really, so much bigger than the bag. Of course it was, wasn’t it? We make the bag or something else into a bigger true statement about ourselves. But the statements we make to ourselves are not always true, even if we believe them and think they are. I wanted to spend the day with her. If she had been in one of my workshops, I like to think, she would have trusted me, and then, in trusting me she would have started to trust herself. We would have tried at least three different ways of dressing her bag and they would have been so different, but each one wonderful. In fact, (and I told her this) I am confident that once we were done, her bag would have been much more beautiful than it would otherwise have been. Better than Clotilde’s, or my, “perfect bag.”

But I didn’t have a day or two days. I had minutes. And I am afraid, in the end, it may not have been enough. I asked her to stop saying such ugly things about her bag. I held her shoulders in my hands and looked into her eyes and asked her to stop, breath deep, feel my heart. Open her heart to what I felt in my heart about her bag, with all the problems she saw there.

“Feel my heart,” I said again.

And I think she did. She tried to reset her thinking.

Maybe she closed her eyes, took a breath, stopped the ugly talk for a moment.

She said quietly, “Ok, I see what you are saying.” She squared her shoulders, I think. She turned toward the bags on display and gestured to one, said she liked the quilted look of the cabochon rivets on the front of my Dinner Party Backstage bag.

I liked her choice and said, “Those bright cabochons arranged the same way on the Ridge would look great. Use the vertical stripes to make the pattern nice and even. Decorate just the front or the whole thing.”

She could start with the front and then order more rivets later if she wanted to. They would go well with the brightness of the turnlock as a focal at the center of the bag. I could see it. It would look smart and it would be a faster than knitting two Poppies, hand-beading. Very different finished bags, but both terrific.

We picked out the rivets. I gave her a big hug. She looked like she felt better. I said, “Send me a picture.” She smiled and she and Clotilde left.

Hours later, Clotilde came back without Veronique, the rivets and the receipt in her hand. “She is not convinced,” is what Clotilde said if I remember right. We refunded the money and put the rivets back on the wall. I felt sad all over again.

I still feel sad, because I can still see that amazing bag Veronique could have made (may still!, I hold out hope), and I am convinced to my very core that it would have been better than the bag I originally designed and that hangs even now from the wreath stand in my studio. If Veronique came to the studio and spent the day with me, I still think she can do it . . . I mean, she knows how to do this. Her hands know. Her brain knows. And I know she can do it without me, too. I hope she might read this and be convinced, at least enough to say yes and get to work.

Because, you see, it is at just this moment of despair, when things don’t turn out the way we wanted or predicted, that most challenges us and requires a creative approach. I agree with Phil Hansen, an artist who had to overcome the way nerve damage in his hands made it impossible for him (a pointillist in the beginning) to make a simple dot or draw a straight line anymore. His Ted talk called Embrace The Shake holds such stark truths and can inspire us all. But we can’t always move without help, without someone else asking a question or making just the smallest (and biggest) suggestion: What if you embrace the shake? What if you put a ruffle here? What if you tuck in the sides? What if you cover that up? What if dots become squiggles? What if. . . What. . . if  . . . ?

I taught a workshop where a knitter I will name Clara only realized after her bag had felted that the handle across her tiny market bag was not centered in the middle as it was supposed to be but went from one corner of the bag to the other across the top at an angle. Her face was a cavern of misery at the beginning of the class. And if she had believed that it could not be saved, then she would likely have left the class early. Where she saw failure I saw possibilities. . . mainly, believe me, because I have made so many mistakes. I took her bag in my hands and said, “But what if you just say yes to the handle and do this?” I nipped in the sides so the bag had more structure and allowed the handle to fold in the middle. I held up a pretty snap that shows on the outside and put it in the middle of the front. There was a pleased and unanimous “Ahh!” from the class. She tilted her head to one side and smiled a little. Maybe she said, “That looks nice.”

Someone from the class donated bright red Hydrangea flowers to her little sage-green bag. Clara found 4 shiny crimson bag feet and put them on the bottom. She tried the Amazing Magnetic snap, liked it, and covered up the ugly back on the outside with one of those sweet little red flowers. She lined the stiffener piece at the bottom with bright red fabric. She blocked the handle into a lovely arc across the top of the bag and tacked it there with invisible stitches.

What she did was a collaboration of ideas that I and other members of the class offered and she generated herself, a beautiful synergy. That is what creativity is: it is work, hard work, in a community of other people engaged in a creative process.

And creativity is, as Phil Hansen suggests, working with a limited scope of materials and exploring an idea within those limitations. It is saying yes to adversity and absence and restriction and making something out of it. Clara could have whispered, in the light of all of our suggestions, “No, it’s ruined.” Other students in other workshops have done so, turned away, left early. Instead, Clara said yes. And, I tell you, her bag was so pretty. We all loved it. I secretly wished it was my own bag and maybe everyone else did, too. And she, rightly, loved it most of all, saying, as she left, that she had it in mind to go shopping and get a new red dress to match. She was going to the opera soon, or a special wedding anniversary dinner—something wonderful, I remember—and she was going to carry her new bag and wear her new red dress. She was radiant and beautiful with her accomplishment.

When we follow a pattern, it is not always easy, but there is, nevertheless, a certain amount of safety in doing so. So when the pattern fails us there is greater risk, but also opportunity. Phil Hansen found in himself a creativity that would not have been spurred into being had he not damaged his own body in the execution of that same art.

So, what if next time something goes awry, instead of saying “It’s over, it’s ruined,” (or go ahead, say it and get it over with. I mean, even Phil said to himself that his life as an artist was over . . . for three or so years he said it!) say instead, “What if . . . ?”

What if . . . ?

And then get to work.

Noni Q&A: Inserting a Zipper in a Bag Opening or Pillow

Zippers are often a source of trepidation for some bag knitters or even sweater knitters. They are avoided. . . but they should not be.

I have even seen knitters simply leave the zipper out, replacing it with a single magnetic snap. . . this is not a great solution. The inadequacy of this solution is clear when we imagine a knitted pillow on the couch with the pillow casing closed with a single magnetic snap. Immediately you can imagine the gaping that is created on both sides of the pillow. This creates a bad fit . . . and other readily visualized problems.

Setting in a zipper takes a bit of persistence, but it is not difficult and does not require particularly specialized tools. I, for example, have a wonderful sewing machine but do not use it to set in zippers. I sew zippers in by hand . . . with, as I always say during my workshops, “big, ugly stitches.” I can show you those stitches to prove it.

I have only twice had those big, ugly stitches come out. Once because the bag was stressed in a very odd way (not likely), and once because I used it so much and in such a rough way that I had to do over a short stretch of zipper and bag opening with new big ugly stitches.

Truly, anyone can set a zipper into a bag opening or pillow.

I have several bags that will benefit from following the instructions below: the Adventure Bag, Medallion Travel Bag, the Perfect Fit Laptop Sleeve, and Everything Tote to name just a selection.

We begin with our materials list: work horse scissors that can cut through plastic, straight pins, thread, a sewing needle, and, of course, a zipper.

Next, make sure your zipper fits the opening of your bag or pillow. Measure carefully and cut to fit.

For a tutorial on how to do this, see my earlier Noni Q&A Post on the subject.

Once your zipper is the proper size, then make sure the bag/pillow opening is square–that is, aligned properly. Then place pins on both sides so that the two sides can be kept in alignment as you insert the zipper and sew it in place.

Sew in the first side of the zipper: use a running stitch on the inside but an invisible stitch on the outside. My recommendation: after bringing the needle out on the right side, then place the needle back in the fabric almost where you came out. All that will be seen on the outside is a small prick mark (if any mark at all). You can even use a thread color that is wildly different than your bag and it won’t show.

Once the first side of the zipper is in place, then zip closed and use pins to mark the zipper itself in direct alignment with the bag sides. This way, when you unzip the zipper, you can align the pins and pin the second side of the zipper in place in perfect alignment.  Before sewing, zip the zipper closed to make sure the opening is, in fact, aligned. Make any adjustments before setting in place with your stitches.

Once everything is complete, zip closed. If aligned well, remove the pins.  You’re done!

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!
Nora

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.

Amanda

 

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. . .

Nora

 

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

Amanda

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.

Amanda

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!.

Nora