What Can I Say…?

I haven’t blogged as much as I had hoped to lately. Between processing the closing of Windsor Button – which happened on the 13th – and the deadline for taxes which fell on Marathon Monday (the non-profit I work for had 15 runners in the race), I had little brain space to write. I promised myself I would pick up my cyber pen again afterwards.

Then this past week happened.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll let your favorite search engine provide you with the details.  Boston. Marathon. 2013. That ought to get you plenty. But frankly if you don’t know what I’m talking about count yourself lucky and step away from the computer now. Ignorance can be bliss.

But I have two observations to make. The first – because this is a knitting blog – is that there is a level of anxiety, unease and fear that even I am not able to knit my way through successfully. Once news of the Marathon bombing reached me, my hands were only good for channel-surfing, web-browsing and speed-dialing, trying to ascertain whether my friends and associates were unharmed. (They were.) Twice during the ensuing week, once I could apply myself again, I worked most of a cable row with the cables crossing in the wrong direction. The first time it was several inches later before I noticed. The second time was during the lockdown and I noticed fairly soon, corrected it, and continued knitting – only to discover the next morning that I had to take out everything from the previous day because I had neglected to start decreasing when I should have. Still, I suppose there was some value to having my project to clutch in my hands even as it lay limp in my lap, or to have a channel for nervous fidgeting energy even though it did not let me salvage true productivity out of the wasted day. Nor did it do much to distract me from the unfolding news.

My other point, though, is that I am so proud of us! I am so proud of how prepared and responsive our public safety and medical personnel were, how effectively communication happened in emergent circumstances. I am proud of the cooperation and coordination of all the different agencies that brought the week to a resolution. I am proud of how our local and state officials conducted themselves throughout the ordeal. As tired as we all must have been of hearing and seeing the same coverage over and over during the intense days, I was even proud of the professionalism and restraint of the media. (I never thought I’d see a press conference that began with the announcement that there would be no questions actually end with …. no questions. But this happened repeatedly this week.) And finally, I was proud of my fellow urban residents – a million strong – who stayed indoors and off the street on a beautiful warm spring day because that was how we were asked to help. It was a privilege being locked down with you.

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Windsor Button Classes Extended Through April 13

It turns out that there will be one more week of classes than I previously expected. I will be teaching through the final store closing date of Saturday, April 13.  I hope to see you there on Thursday or Saturday!

The store is now in their final phase of markdown and clearance. While they have run out of some highly coveted items, they still have more yarn in stock than most other yarn stores I know of.  (I am told the back stock in the basement is still about equal to the stock they have out on the floor!)  So please come, allow lots of time for shopping, and help Susan and Stan during this difficult time by giving a home to as many of their beautiful products as you can – at an excellent price!

No Windsor Button Classes this Week – 3/28 & 3/30

I will not be teaching this week on Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday, but will return the following week for what may turn out to be our last week. Hope to see you there!

On the Joys of Blocking

While my latest project dries on the blocking board, I think I’ll repeat here an essay I wrote for the December 2011 Windsor Button Newsletter:

As I am writing this, my dining room smells like wet sheep. I’ve been pleasantly puttering on this bright, brisk day, and turned my attention to my neglected pile of knitted things. Some were sweaters and socks in need of a wash. Others were recently completed projects — Christmas gifts, mostly — that I have been turning out one after the other without stopping to block them. The treatment for each was the same — a lazy soak in a basin of tepid water with a gentle wool wash; a rinse; a squeeze; and then to be laid out on beach towels, rolled up jelly-roll fashion and gently walked on to remove excess water.

I’m sure there are many among you who wrinkled up their noses when I mentioned the smell of wet sheep (and some who do so at the mention of blocking one’s knitting). But I have learned the magic transforming effect of blocking. It evens out stitches and sets them, so that a project falls and drapes as it should and holds the correct size and shape. It makes a lumpy web of knitted lace grow and bloom to its full beauty. I urge you not to skimp on this step, not only because it’s good for your knitting, but because — if the way I’m feeling now is any indication — it might also be good for your soul.

Much has been written recently about the many ways that knitting can enhance well-being. As I took my damp mounds and methodically smoothed them out on my blocking board, stretching and pinning or patting and straightening as needed, I realized that even the blocking step of the knitting process can have this same beneficial meditative quality. Inhaling the familiar wet sheep aroma as I worked, I realized that I felt contented. I’ve never thought about it before, but I suppose I have come to associate that scent with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It makes sense. The blocking process is yet another opportunity to experience the colors and textures of fiber, to slow down and reflect, and also to show a healthy respect and appreciation for myself by fussing over the things that I put so much of myself into making.

I am always drawn to return again and again to my drying projects, smoothing and adjusting until total dryness allows no further refinement. I have often told the family members who watch me with amusement that petting is an important part of the knitting process.

Or maybe I just can’t resist the smell of wet sheep!

Windsor Button and the Yarn That Changed My Life

I stopped in at Windsor Button today, the third day of their clearance sale. The store was bustling with folks coming in not only to stock their stash for the fiber-lean times ahead, but to express their appreciation for how much a part of their lives the store has been. I was glad to see Stan and Susan getting such a show of support. I felt bad for the whole exhausted staff doing their very best to help everyone and remain cheerful, knowing that those who are losing their jobs are really the ones hit hardest by the closing.

I also noticed that the landscape of the store was already distinctly different for me.  Many of the yarns I had come to know as friends who kept me company whenever I shopped or taught were missing, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t need more yarn. I am not lamenting the fact that someone else got skeins I wish I had snarfed up. I am, in fact, relieved. But I will greatly miss the opportunity to be inspired by their drapey, cushy, lustrous, haloed, heathered, tweedy, space-dyed, hand-painted or self-striping fiber loveliness.  So I am prompted to pay tribute to Windsor Button by relating the story about how the right yarn at the right time changed my life.

I have already written about getting a job in Downtown Crossing shortly after my husband passed away, and how I would sometimes escape to Windsor Button when things got stressful.  I had already come to depend on knitting to help me cope with the changes in my life, but up to that time I had never bought any yarn I didn’t already have a specific pattern for and a reason to make it. Yarn for me fell into two kinds: Wool and Something Else.  And two price points: Discount and Are You Freaking Kidding? But as I browsed at Windsor Button without any preconceived agenda, a transformation was taking place.

In one particular instance, a new stock of Handmaiden Sea Silk yarn had been strategically placed near the registers. One colorway really caught my eye, who knows exactly why, and I was compelled to touch it. It seemed to snuggle into my hand. Then I saw the price tag and put it back on its hanger. But every time I visited the store, it called to me, until on one really stressful day I decided I deserved a treat and took it home with me.  But what to do with it? It needed a special project. Something worthy. I had no experience matching a project to a yarn, and I wanted this match to be perfect. The hunt was on!

(I also later concluded that to make something that I really thought was worthy, I would need to take the plunge and buy a second skein. But that’s it! No more! And I’d better not waste any of it.)

This is how it came to be that I found Eunny Jang’s tutorials on the structure of lace. This is how it came to be that I unearthed Lucy Neatby’s Faroese Flower Shawl pattern from my pattern stock, and scrutinized it for the details of shawl construction. This is how I learned that there is such a thing as stitch dictionaries, and checked out Barbara Walker’s Treasuries from the library so many times I finally had to buy myself a set. When a vision started to unfold in my mind, it was why I sat down at my computer to figure out how to use Excel to chart up the idea that was forming.

Feathers of the Phoenix - Close Up

And when I had miraculously completed my Feathers of the Phoenix shawl and it was everything I had hoped it would be, with only a couple of yards of yarn to spare, and I pulled the glorious creature off of the blocking board late one evening …. well, that is when I fully felt the emptiness of my house with no one to share my excitement with. So that is how I came to post a picture of my project on the yarn producer’s website. And how they came to ask me for the pattern. Which is never in a million years something I thought of myself as doing but I did it.  Then of course I needed to learn about on-line sales and PayPal and come up with a “business” name: A la Kisala Designs (fully aware that I might turn out to be a one trick pony).

And believe it or not, orders came in. How the heck did they find me? But some of them did, enough for me, anyway.  Which is how a lovely woman named Dixie came to knit my shawl and kindly point out the handful of errors in my chart, unwittingly serving as test knitter and tech editor before I ever knew there were test knitters and tech editors.  When she contacted me, she told me about Ravelry.com, so I checked it out (after first waiting patiently for my invitation to join).  That really opened up a whole new world for me!

After that, life was never the same. I read and studied everything I could about knitting and discovered I had a pretty darn good head for it.  I became a technique junkie. I became crazy for unique and quality yarn to the point that my stash is now the size of a small yarn store itself. (Even if I never knit them all, I am happy to live in their company.)

I  discovered I have a passion and some skill for helping others learn to knit and take it to whatever level they choose. Which is eventually how I came to teach at Windsor Button, and then came to write for the newsletter, and with their closing, to write this blog and whatever else happens from this point on in my life.

So yes, a skein of yarn changed my life. It might have been any yarn, really. But it was the right yarn in the right place at the right time.

Thanks, Windsor Button! You will be missed!

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