Pinch me!!

Pinch me so I can see that this is real!!

I took my first class with Nancy Bush in 1992 when Stitches was in Portland, and I was living in Seattle. Hopefully Stitches will happen again in Portland, so more local knitters can benefit from the experience. I already loved sock knitting, but knew there was much more to be learned. I registered for a class from Nancy on different kinds of sock heels.

As it turned out, my long time Corvallis friend Grace and I attended Stitches together and the banquet the night before my class. It was Grace who had pushed me down the slippery sock slope about 25 years before that—after I finished my undergraduate degree at Southern Illinois University. The Stitches West banquet room was dark, very dark, because they were having a fashion show. I had a bad cold and/or flu but felt that neither hell nor flu was going to keep me from this experience. And so it was that I was knitting feverishly (yes, really with fever!) to complete the assigned 5 sock tops so that I’d be ready to knit the 5 different heel types in class.

The problem was that I’d picked out black fingering weight yarn—who knows why–inexperience, of course? I was having such a difficult time knitting the sock tops. Grace stepped forward and made two or three of them for me, as she wasn’t sick—physically or mentallly—and also didn’t need to be knitting sock tops in the dark for a class the next morning! But then what are friends for but to help you knit black socks in a darkened room??

When I got to the sock class the next morning, Nancy was there but was understandably distraught. I believe she had driven her car (or was it a rental??) and parked it outside of the Portland Convention Center. Upon returning to her car, she discovered that a large trunk of her precious (and many historical and not replaceable) knitting treasures had been stolen from her car. We were all shocked and emphathized with her…and also were amazed that she soldiered on and taught the six-hour workshop anyway.

Over the years, I’ve taken Estonian edges, Estonian socks, Estonian lace and who knows what other classes from Nancy. And I’ve gotten to know her personally, as a fellow knitter and dog lover. I remember when she lost her sheltie, Kloo, and sadly/recently her next dog, Mac. We knitters are often animal lovers, right?? Her dog Kloo was the inspiration for her “Dog’s Paw Shawl” published in Spin-Off in Fall 2001. And this inspired me to have the undercoat of my daughter’s dog Sereno spun together with Shetland wool—-and that wonderful yarn blend is waiting for me to do magic with it this year!

And since getting to know Nancy and appreciating the work she does, I’ve come to love Estonian lace patterns.

Right now, I’m in a local group that is knitting Sharon Winsauer’s “Estonian Potpourri” Shawl. I’ve just barely begun but will keep you in touch with my progress. The shawl/stole is a wonderful sampler of many Estonian patterns. And I am fortunate to be able to do this under the skilled tutelage of Janeen Locavich, a skilled knitter recently relocated from Michigan to Vancouver, WA.

Anyway, 19 years later, pinch me so that I know this is real!! I am scheduled to go to Estonia for two weeks in June with Nancy (and 13 others, including my friend Grace) on a study tour that includes 9 workshops! I feel like only magic could have caused this to happen. Be careful what you wish for. You may have it fall on your doorstep!

Stay tuned, as I will share my experiences in June with all of you, and it will be here quicker than I can imagine.

Remembering Berlin


When last heard from, I was packing to go off to Germany and The Netherlands with my daughter. The trip’s purpose was a book tour, timed with the release of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” in German and Dutch. Several weeks ago I bumped into a former knitting student who said she’d been watching this space because she wondered if I ever returned…..and yes, I did make it home, and now I’m glad to be back here, too.

One thing led to another in the fall after I got back—one big one was serious over-commitment on knitting gifts for the holidays. But more about that another day. I am now a bit red-faced but happy to say that today, on the very last day of January, I’m 2/3 of the way through my last pair of promised holiday socks. Picture coming soon.

The Trip was even more fun than expected, as my daughter-in-law Renee met us in Berlin, and we three traveled together—a girl trip!!  I won’t do a travelogue here but must say that the entire experience will forever remain very dear to me.


Although Germany is in my ancestral history on my mother’s side, I probably wouldn’t have put Berlin at the top of my “Must go to places.” But I fell in love with the city—-its history so evident as was the amazing energy of the rebuilding that continues, the wonderful people, awe-inspiring buildings (new and old) and not least of all the wonderful food and pastries. And yes, we found what was touted as being the best coffee in Berlin and once we tasted it, we wouldn’t argue with the claim.  I don’t have words to describe it, but hope to make a pilgrimmage to it again someday. It’s located in a neighborhood very close to the former wall where much renovation is underway and bullet holes are still visible.  It was hard for me to imagine taking a child to preschool ballet classes here, but there’s no doubt that they must grow up with an awareness of their history:

The Berlin-inspired socks I’m sketching out must definitely be (or feel) grey, black and white with a little touch of red. The Monument to the Murdered Jews (top right) not far from our hotel touched us deeply. The Otto Bock Science Center,an intriguing building right across from our hotel window, is in the same color palette. In fact, lots of red and black jumped out at me everywhere in Berlin, including menus at a weekend craft fair and a Berlin Mini-Cooper display.

I’m trying to bring back the essential feeling of the Berlin experience right now as I am designing a sock for the “souvenir sock”  class I’ll be teaching at Madrona FiberArts Retreat (www.madronafiberarts.com) in Tacoma on Sunday, February 20. Madrona is one of my favorite places to teach— good vibes,  great classes, comradery, a big marketplace (open to the public) and just hanging out and knitting with old and new friends.  It’s not too late–there’s still room in the class.

There, I am glad to have gotten back up on the blog horse after a time away. Now (literally) back to the drawing board!

Is there water in the pool?

When I was 21 I dove into a small swimming pool, too small and too shallow, I later realized, for it to have had a diving board of any sort poised over it. That was when I learned what it meant to “see stars,” and hear an unforgettable sound–in this case the sound of my head hitting the concrete side of the diving well.  My injuries were extremely minor compared to what they could have been–a few small scars as reminders of diving in before thinking rather than having personal knowledge of what life in a wheelchair meant.

Even after that, according to my mother,  I continued to do everything as I’d always done it,  “too fast.” From the time I was helping at home with household chores, her saying this always irritated me.  How could she possibly know that I didn’t do a good job of cleaning the bath tub just because it was done very fast?  I can still hear her saying, “slow down,” when I was practicing the piano so that I could go out to play!

In my last blog, I shared plans of diving completely into this new project today—–and imagined knitting it with crazy speed as the Indy 500 was being raced. My husband is now watching that race, and I’m on my way to get help at the Apple store genius bar. Since the socks are going to have words as part of the design, both sides of both socks need to be graphed out before I go further. I changed charting software when I switched to a mac and still have a way to go before it’s as easy to use at Stitch and Motif Maker was on the PC…Also, since the yarns contrast significantly and I have no experience washing anything knit in mini mochi, I should do a little more swatching and testing of the waters before diving in! Here’s where I am on the two socks–-right down to where I need to have the next section charted out.  Taking it easy and having a little patience, slowing down,  rather than always just diving in, is good to practice, but still oh so hard for me at times.

I walked into the living room and saw Mac, our 15 year old border terrier, taking a midday nap on the couch.  He seems to benefit from taking it slow and easy.  Maybe I can

learn a trick or two from this old dog. It’s worth thinking about!

A mutant Citron

Meditational knitting is a good way to travel –either out of or back into real life.  I’ve been doing this recently and have hit upon an attractive mutation of a little shawlette pattern in the process.  In a previous post I mentioned knitting “Citron” (designed by Hilary Smith Callis and featured in Knitty.com, Winter 2009).  I started this pattern in Mountain Colors Winter Lace weight yarn some weeks ago and found it to be a very relaxing social knit. Everything is knit or purl with occasional make 1’s and K2tog thrown in.

I knit and knit on it, enjoying being with kindred souls.  It was wonderful, and I loved the yarn, Mountain Colors Winter Lace (Jr.) “Harmony Plum,”loved the feel of the needles, and enjoyed not having to think about anything.

In fact, it was so relaxing that I apparently went on auto-pilot knitting, skipped a decrease round in the ruching pattern (which essentially doubled the total number of stitches), and drove on, very happily knitting. There came a point, however, when I came back to earth, feeling that the project had gotten out of hand–had almost taken on a life of its own.  The shawlette was much bigger than a normal 360-degree circle—and Citron isn’t even a circle– and the ruffles rufflier. But who knows, I thought, this could result in something very special–or worst case it could continue growing (were I able to obtain more yarn) until it filled out entire condo. It could go either way, although I was leaning toward the former likelihood–you may know by now that I tend toward optmism! And so I kept working on it, going with the flow.

Several days ago I finished (i.e., ran out of the Mountain Colors yarn) what became the body of the shawlette and added a final additional ruffle to the outside edge.  I chose Rowan kidsilk haze laceweight yarn—in shade 579—which to me looks like “ELECTRIC FUSHIA/PURPLE!–to make the final ruffle.  It is pulls out one of the colors in the handpaint lace yarn which looks very much like Zephyr (50/50 merino/silk) to me.   I love

it!  If I went out more often, I would keep this to wear to musical events, to the theatre or to special dinners.  I can see it floating over an elegant fitted dress—maybe black–but navy and purple would work just as well. I see this in the future of one of the special younger women in my life…..there are several— and they’d all look great in it and most definitely get more use from it than I would.

When I diverged from the Citron pattern, I’d been knitting meditationally as a way of grappling with a project that means a lot to me—-creating special socks for a friend. I’ve been thinking about this for a some months now and putting a lot a pressure on myself about this having to be the the perfect socks for the intended reipient—or at least the most wonderful ones that I can execute! I’ve so often heard myself say to students that we don’t want perfectionism to get in the way of our enjoyment of knitting!!!  Right!!

One of my good friends said to me the other day that I needed to “just do it,” and I am following her sage advice. Last night I sat down, and after thinking endlessly about possibilities, decided how I’d proceed to sketch them out this morning.

I love the planning and design part of any project.  I am surrounded by baskets of yarn in all colors.  They speak to me, and my soul sings. This music began a number of years ago when I heard Sally Melville say that having  a yarn collection (i.e., stash) was OK, not something anyone should feel ashamed about.  It’s not really different than having any other sort of collection, and it’s so therapeutic to surround ourselves with what we love.

Tomorrow is going to be a good day as I dive completely into this project.  Maybe I will knit very fast as I sit with my husband who will be watching activities that lead up to the Indianapolis 500 this weekend very intently!

A proud mother’s dream

Since I moved to the Northwest in 1984, Powell’s Bookstore on Burnside in Portland has been a favorite place where I could lose myself for hours.  This Monday night life again became surreal, and I lived out a long held dream by attending a book reading there.  The difference from other book readings was that this time my daughter Rebecca Skloot was the featured writer. After ten long years of work there she was—reading from her NYT bestselling nonfiction book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”

A perfect audience packed the house and  included seemingly random people from various times and places in our lives:  Becka’s father and his wife, my husband Terry,  numerous other relatives including our wonderful DIL Renee, good friends who’d been old neighbors, good friends who were current neighbors, friends of family, family of friends, knitting and spinning buddies, Metropolitan Learning Center teachers (who apparently had to see it to believe it–and who also were very proud), Becka’s high school friends, people I’d worked with in four different places between 1976 and 1997, a high school English class from Tillamook, OR,  the local literary crowd and even an old friend (my children’s dear Aunt Jean) who adopted Becka’s first cat when she was in 4th grade (after it became apparent I was highly allergic to many cats, including Sophia, who lived to be 20). Becka so loved Sophia; to this day, I remain grateful that she chose me over the cat! You never know. I was in second row center at the Powell’s reading, trying to relax and focus on the reading by knitting special socks for Jane Pauley! And believe it or not, the reading was done against a backdrop of  handmade quilts by artist Natalie Chanin (author of Alabama Studio Style), scheduled to be at Powell’s the following night. It was all perfect!

At the beginning of the reading, Becka’s very proud father, Floyd, read words he’d written to honor and introduce her.  A Q & A session followed the reading and after that a book signing. Nicholette Hoyer, owner of Stitchcraft in Vancouver, was among those who waited in the long line.

Here is Becka after the book signing with my good friend and current neighbor Cathy and some of Portland’s famous Voodoo donuts.  The mysterious donut appearance was a nice touch–especially since Cathy is a professional pastry chef herself!

Notably absent that evening was Grandpa Bob, my father James Robert Lee, to whose loving memory her book is dedicated. She says: he “treasured books more than anyone I’ve known.” I left feeling flooded with gratitude for everyone and everything in the universe who supported Becka during these past ten years. I am proud of how she acknowledged and thanked the large community of family and friends who were there for her. Grandpa Bob would have been very proud.

I attended another reading on Tuesday at the Oregon Health Sciences University. Again she read from the book, told the story of Henrietta Lacks and the immortal cells and then signed many books:

And to connect this all back to knitters, in addition to being a writer and teacher, Becka is a knitter and animal lover. A story on the  AARP website details how she quickly she took to knitting a few years ago and how it helps center her during this stressful time. The Portland time is just a brief stopover on her months-long book tour. She’s on her way next to Seattle for several readings and then back for another brief visit this weekend before heading south to Eugene and eventually on to California and Arizona.  When I asked if there was anything special she’d like to do in the time she and I have blocked out to be together between now and her heading south, you guessed it!  She said, “let’s go to a yarn shop!!” Atta girl!! Keep things balanced!  I ‘m  doubly proud of her!

Meltdown in the electronic cottage.

Yes, there’s been a lot of that happening here in our condo after 5+ years. Things have been going belly-up with mystifying regularity.  Remembering words from a Robert Frost poem, “the best way out is always through,” I’ve been working through this, eager to finish so I can get back to my knitting and projects that are calling loudly to be completed.

First to go was the heat pump fan installed in the ceiling.  Things are often not as simple as they first appear.  When it was all over, the final bill included a new fan and the cost of cutting away and replacing a portion of the ceiling (because the pump had initially been installed incorrectly).  Could there actually be a law in nature that prevents costly items from breaking down during warranty periods?

The next to bite the dirt was my all-in-one printer which suddenly produced grinding noises when it should have been printing.  Alas, it was 2-1/2 years old, close to ancient in the world of electronics. After replacing it with a newer, simpler, cheaper model (who needs a fax, anyway?), I experienced a feeling of sweet victory after losing a big one with the heat pump. Shortly thereafter the over-the-oven microwave weighed in with symptoms suspiciously similar to the printer.  And if you’re like me, you, too, wonder if all of the recent earthquakes aren’t somehow related?  Only a few days after the printer was replaced, the microwave began producing noise instead of heat.  The magnetron (think old tv picture tube) was shot, as well as a control panel, which triggered some serious microwave consumer research.  It’s amazing how much information I sifted through trying to make the right microwave decision. A week later, I’m again able to re-heat coffee, defrost breakfast blueberries, make popcorn, enjoy fresh asparagus. and heat up leftovers. It’s not lost on me that I could be in the same situation if I’d limited my information gathering to a few hours…

To celebrate getting back to my real life, my knitting life (or maybe as a cleansing ritual?), I am dealing with my UFOs.  Thankfully, my unfinished projects are few in number.  You may have noticed that I didn’t say I’d finish them—-just deal with them.  It’s a clean slate I’m after! Or maybe this is my version of spring cleaning. Yesterday I finished my son’s late Christmas socks. He likes 4″ ribbing and long legs . These measure 10 inches from cast-on to the beginning of the heel flap.  A lacy-topped version of this pattern (“Rhythm”) appears in the new edition of my book “Knit Socks!” which will be available from Storey Press in September.

Next to be completed are two very close-to-being-finished lace projects.  The first is “Manzanita,” a triangle shawl pattern by Evelyn Clark.  I had just started applying the lace edging when I put this down in July. This is the third time I’ve made this pattern from Fleece Artist Suri Blue yarn. The pattern is easy enough for relaxing social knitting. Note: the color is more yellow-green than the yellow that shows up here on my monitor.

The second is “Wildflower Lace Scarf,” also by Evelyn Clark and knit from Gypsy Girl Creations “Transitions,” yarn in “viola bouquet” color. The hand-dyed colors move from an intense sapphire blue at one end of the skein morphing into a brassy gold and then to a buttery natural at the other end.  It’d be fun to use both ends of a 50 gram skein to makeslip stitch patterned gloves or socks.  I was on a roll knitting this side-to-side garter stitch scarf over the course of a few days in early March when I confirmed (a few inches from the end) that I needed to order more yarn to finish it.

If I keep on track, I should be able to finish both projects tonight or tomorrow.  It’s good to be back tending to my knitting!

It’s never too late for holiday gifts

I grew up in a last-minute family.  Because church didn’t start until 11 am, my mother rarely left the house before 10:50 am, even when she was the choir director, because “we live so close–it just takes a minute to get there.”  When friends and relatives were invited over for dinner or for a weekend visit, cleaning up the house began in earnest only when one of us stationed at a window saw THE CAR coming down the street toward

Betsy, Dick & Baby David

our house and sounded the alarm.  Before children, my mother had taught Home Ec and had an idea about what houses should look like when company came.  I participated in the last minute frenzy to stuff newspapers under the couch, put piles of things down on the basement steps, and gather up random things that didn’t belong where they were and hide them in drawers.

It was years later that I really understood all this.  My mother enjoyed entertaining and doing for others.  She loved to cook and bake favorite dishes, especially elaborate desserts. However, she didn’t participate much in mundane activities required to keep things organized.  She

Mom playing piano

preferred playing the piano, embroidering towels, crocheting edges for delicate linen handkerchiefs, trying out yet one more new souffle recipe, making candles, quilting a gift for a new baby and even mending socks and worn-out clothes.

It wouldn’t have been Christmas Eve at our house if Mother hadn’t been up until almost morning with the sewing machine humming.  Occasionally the doll clothes or special gifts didn’t get finished, and we unwrapped packages from “Mrs. Santa Claus” that contained partially completed projects and a note asking that we give the whole box back to our mother so that she could get it back to Mrs. Santa Claus.  She’d usually had some problem between Thanksgiving and Christmas that set her back a bit.

We were conditioned to receiving these sorts of messages and grew up understanding about how difficult it was for Mrs. Santa Claus to do everything.  After all, wasn’t she a woman, and isn’t a woman’s work never done?  I bet you think I’m going to seque into telling you about how I was, therefore, so conditioned from an early age to this sort of thing that not getting all the gifts made before the holidays is not really a character defect…..It was, rather, learned behavior.

Well, surprise, surprise.  I loved my parents but did not love being late, although for years I followed their same script.  Then somewhere between late childhood and now I realized that I could start making (that is, knitting) my gifts way ahead of time, like even in January.  And I learned that there was no law forbidding the gradual making of holiday gifts, spreading them out through the entire year, up to the holiday itself.  The last minute rush was not mandatory or necessarily desirable.  And so I had tried to live my life this way—especially when I got it back after leaving healthcare to knit seriously full time.

This isn’t to suggest that neither of my children ever opened a wrapped gift box to find either needles, yarn and a pattern or a partially completed item.  It did happen several times, but it wasn’t my regular practice and plan.

So, it is with some chagrin that I am now working to finish my son’s holiday stockings.  They were in the queue and cast on so that they could have been completed in time.  However, the whole plan went awry on Thanksgiving Day.  We had just enjoyed a wonderful turkey dinner and were all sitting around on comfortable living room furniture in an L-tryptophan-induced blissful state (or whatever comes from enjoying lots of turkey).  Imagine my horror to see, when my son put his feet up on an ottoman, gaping holes in the bottoms of both his socks—-and yes, they were (like most of his others) ones that had been made for him by his mother!

He looked very chagrinned when I said something subtle like, “OMIGOD, the bottoms of your socks are gone!”  After all, he’d only worn them about 7 years.  Smart son that he is, he quickly said, “these are my favorite socks, I’ve worn them every week since you made them for me and I didn’t want to part with them,” which is what I think he thought would have happened had he told me about this obvious problem sooner.  Well, was my heart warmed by his love of these socks that I had made with mee own lyttle hands?  It told him that I’d fix them and have them back to him before Christmas.  He was so moved at my offer that he went into his bedroom and presented me with another “favorite” pair that looked like they had been worn in the Chicago Marathon in lieu of running shoes.  I felt even more choked up about his also having so lovingly saved these socks and said that I’d fix them right up, too, before the holidays.

What was I thinking of???  He is over 6 feet and his feet are not small—plus he has a small mountain of socks that I’ve knit over the years which I’ve occasionally seen when visiting after a BIG LAUNDRY–the reason for which I’ve never inquired.  I dug through my leftover yarn and stash and found some matching yarn to make two new feet for one pair—-it took a while, but they looked fine.  An untrained eye (not any of yours, however) would not have been able to distinguish the new feet from the old heels and legs. Whew. On to pair #2 which was unfortunately made from discontinued yarn, and I had none leftover in the large sock leftovers basket that I stuff under a settee in my living room.  Ravelry to the rescue!!  I actually found two skeins of the yarn in the stash of a very wonderful Canadian woman who agreed to sell them to me and even to mail them right away to my brother’s house in Illinois where I headed for my mother’s memorial service.

I don’t mean this to be disrespectful and actually believe my mother would have been strongly approving of my doing this while visiting with the relatives, while pausing a few minutes from helping my brothers with various details afterwards and on the return trip home.  She was the embodiment of practicality and also so loved things handmade.

The holidays came about two weeks later, and I presented my son with a holiday check and two old pairs of socks with four new feet.  He seemed pleased.  All my other gifts were completed on time, including these

Mom's Mitts

fingerless mitts I made for my mother that I never got to give to her.  Still it bothered me that I hadn’t finished the new holiday socks I intended to make for my son.  So, after all the dust from the AARP tv segment chapter cleared away, I began knitting them and knitting them…a few days ago, here’s

Late holiday 2009 socks

what they looked like.  I worked each one on two circular needles, sequentially, the ribbing on one, the ribbing on the other, the leg on one, the leg on the other….They are bigger than they look:  10″ from cast on to beginning of heel flap.

Right now I’m working on the gusset decreases on the second sock and estimate that by tomorrow night, if I keep pushing, I’ll have the pair finished….and, therefore, be able to close the Holiday 2009 chapter.  Who says knitters aren’t a wee bit compulsive???  I could have just waited to give these to him for some other special event, but they are his holiday 2009 socks and he will have them before this weekend!