Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Weekend Away

          Every once in a while it’s nice to get away. To leave your routine and your responsibilities behind and seclude yourself among the trees with some friends… and some knitting. That is exactly what a group of us Yarnologists did about a week ago. A friend and customer of ours owns a very beautiful cabin on a lake in northern Wisconsin and she invited us to come experience the peace and quiet that it offers. Though there was still snow on the ground and the water was frozen solid, we were not deterred. A cozy fireplace, comfy sofas, and our knitting was all we needed to enjoy our time away.

            In anticipation of a weekend filled with knitting, those of us going on this mini-retreat massed together multiple projects that we would take with us. They had to be fun and interesting, of course, but they also had to be simple enough that we could chat while we worked and not be concerned with counting or following a difficult pattern. I will confess that I brought along three knitting projects as well as my spinning wheel; you never know when you might need to switch things up. I may have been a little overzealous though. I did spin a little bit, but I only really worked on one project while up north.

We have this great new yarn at Yarnology called Pluscious by Cascade Yarns. It comes in both bright and pastel colors and is as soft as soft can be. They recommend it for baby blankets and projects like that, but I would love it made into something for myself. Since it came into the shop I had been eyeing those pretty colors, wanting to knit with it but not knowing what I would make. On the Friday before we left on our little retreat I gave in deciding that my little “niece” who is turning two could use a cuddly little blanket. I decided to ignore the fact that I already gave her her birthday present. I really wanted to use that yarn. On Saturday I casted on using a simple diagonal dishcloth pattern and realized that this was the perfect no-brainer project for our weekend up north. I am happy to say that I was right. The blanket turned out beautiful and it took me only a day to make; I bound off late Sunday night. I’m not going to take too much credit for being a super speed knitter (though I can hold my own), the reason it didn’t take me long to complete this project was mainly due to the fact that we really didn’t do much other than knit. Well, knit and eat. :-)

            The food that we ate on our retreat was simply amazing. Each morning we woke up to hot coffee and something tasty cooking on the stove. Our dear friend and host is an amazing cook and was so enthusiastic about creating beautiful and delicious meals for us. There is nothing quite like the feeling of sipping fresh coffee and eating farm-fresh eggs while gazing out of floor to ceiling windows at a bright new day. And knowing that the only thing expected of you on this day is making progress on your knitting. We stayed curled up by the big fireplace for hours enjoying conversation and each other’s company all the while being productive with our crafts. I highly recommend spending a weekend in this way. At night we switched from drinking coffee to wine and gathered at the long, centuries old wood dining table for an elaborate spread of food. I swear I must have gained five pounds during the two days we were there. The food was just too good I couldn’t stop eating!

            Though we were all a little bummed when the time came to leave, we packed up the cars fully appreciating the relaxing weekend we had all shared and knowing that the next time we come (I am counting on there being a “next time”), it might just be a little warmer. Which means we can move our knitting circle from the fire to the deck! :-)

Monday, March 11, 2013

"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..."

       The snowflakes are flying once again here in Winona. Although I realize that it’s technically not spring until the middle of this month, when we flipped the calendars to March I hoped it meant warm weather was coming. February, a measly twenty eight days, always seems like a long and dreary month. The newness of winter is already worn away, there are no exciting holidays, and cabin fever turns most of us into unpleasant, grumpy people who just want to see the sun. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, I’m getting impatient to enjoy some warm weather activities and be able to walk outside without wearing multiple layers. But Mother Nature has her own schedule: this morning I woke up to find almost a foot of snow on the ground. Happy March 11th!

       It’s a good thing that Yarnology is closed on Mondays because I honestly think I would not have been able to get out of the driveway today. I consider myself very lucky not to have to worry about a commute, however short it may be, or calling in to work. I’m snowed in and I really don’t mind. I have my knitting, a stack of movies, and plenty of hot coffee to help me laze the day away. Though I would still prefer to see budding trees and green grass, I suppose this isn’t a horrible alternative. And I really think that all of this cold weather and snow will just make spring and summer that much sweeter.

       Because this is my last day off until next Monday, I’m going to take advantage of my down time to make a big dent in my knitting. I wrote a while ago about some difficulties I was having with a sweater I’m making. The yarn was quickly running low and I had half a sweater to knit still! I accepted the fact that it would have to have some alterations made to it and that the sweater might not turn out like the pretty little picture I had in my head. The next pieces I had to knit were the sleeves and I dove in thinking I was ready and excited to jump this hurdle. That was probably a month ago. Those darn sleeves just wouldn’t grow fast enough! I became impatient; I became bored. And I ended up putting them down to work on smaller projects in the meantime. Procrastination will be my downfall yet. But a few days ago I picked up my almost finished sleeves, took a deep breath, and started knitting like a fiend so I could move on to something a little more interesting. Low and behold, it worked. Even now as I type my close-to-completed sweater is lying in my knitting bag, sleeves completed and attached, waiting for me to add shoulders and a collar. I am so excited for this to be finished so that I can actually wear it! That’s the neat thing about knitting (ONE of the neat things that is), you get a useful product in the end.

        So maybe this snowstorm was fate. Maybe today when I’m forced to stay put I will finish, or at least come close to finishing, my long put-off project. And don’t worry, when I do I will be sure to post some pictures. I hope all of you are staying safe and warm today as well!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Connecting To My Heritage

           Today marks a sad anniversary for my family and I. A year ago we said goodbye to my wonderful Grandfather, whom we call Opa. I was lucky enough to go through life without losing many close family members, so I was unsure of how it would feel to have him suddenly gone from my life. We knew it was coming and were able to make him comfortable at home, but it was as difficult as I imagined it would be. Watching him slip away was heartbreaking, but I thank God that I was there along with my parents, cousins, aunt, and uncle to say goodbye and support one another when the time came. I remember sitting on the couch next to the chair where he slept, knitting nervously and frantically as I listened to his unsteady breathing, and praying quietly into my work that my family who live in Illinois would arrive on time. These are moments that keep coming back to me, that I would like to forget and replace with memories of happy times in the garden, on vacation, or playing games.

            My Opa was a constant presence in my life. My sister and I grew up with him and my Oma right next door to us. We shared a five acre lot where Jill and I were introduced to the world of gardening, canning, preserving, and the joys of fresh vegetables on a hot summer day. For most of my childhood my Oma and Opa were just a short ways away, up the small hill that separated our two houses. Even when they moved to be closer to my dad, we saw them regularly. And I know that they were overjoyed when first my sister and then I decided to go to college just forty-five minutes away. When I would go to their house for dinners, my Opa would always say, whether or not it was true, that I was looking too skinny and it was a good thing I had come to eat some real food. Like any doting grandfather he was worried, but more than anything I know he was proud of not only my, but all his grandchildren’s accomplishments. I graduated from college in May, just three months after he passed, and though he’s not in the pictures with me and my family, I know he was there in spirit because he wouldn’t have wanted to miss this milestone. I still feel his presence because I know he loved me very much.

             Opa was born in Bulgaria and came to the United States when he was in his twenties. In his home country, he and his family were farmers producing many things including tobacco and silk, and raising sheep. I think this is where I get my fascination with sheep and fiber. It runs in my blood! My great-grandmother and aunts would weave beautiful rugs and mats out of the wool they gathered from their flock. As many of you know, I recently took the next step in textile production and started spinning my own yarn. The first time I put my feet on those treadles and held that wool in my fingers, something clicked and I knew I was right where I belonged. I caught on quickly and immediately fell in love with the process. When I received a spinning wheel as a Christmas present I was overjoyed at the prospect of continuing to learn this new craft. When my Oma heard about it she couldn’t wait to take pictures of my spinning to send to my Opa’s family back in Bulgaria; she was proud enough for the both of them. When I sit at my wheel, slowly and rhythmically creating yarn, I feel a strong connection to my Bulgarian heritage. The tools they used in the past were much different from my small Loute wheel sitting in my living room, but the basic process is the same. I’m proud that I can carry on this tradition and that I have something in common with the family of my wonderful Opa.

            So today, on the one year mark of his passing, I’m going to sit at my spinning wheel and let its comforting and therapeutic whirr help ease the sadness. I’m going to remember him not the way he was on those last few days, but the way he looked pushing a wheel barrow across the yard, how he would cut up a plate full of tomatoes, the sound of him laughing at his own stories, and the feel of his work-roughened hand holding mine. The pain of losing him will ebb, and these will be the things that come back in color whenever I think of him. And this connection I feel to my heritage and to him will only get stronger.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Going With the Flow

Sometimes, when you’re working on a knit or crochet project, you run into problems. The gauge isn’t right and the garment is either way too big or incredibly small; the yarn you’re using is actually self-striping instead of gently variegated and you end up with splotches or stripes in very unfortunate shapes and places. Or maybe the pattern told you that only five skeins of yarn were required to make a particular sweater, but you’re realizing now that it’s more than halfway finished that that is complete nonsense; unfortunately you got the yarn more than a year ago and trying to match the dye lot is impossible. Grrr.

That last example was quite specific because, as you might have guessed, that particular problem is mine. After deciding that I wasn’t going to procrastinate any more I started a sweater that has been sitting in my queue for over a year. The pattern and yarn was given to me as a Christmas present in 2011 and since then has been tucked away in my stash waiting. I started it two weeks ago today (Thursday) and at first it flew by. Before I knew it I was shaping pockets and separating for the sleeves and then knitting the sleeves! And then I hit the wall… Last night I realized that I only had one more skein of yarn left and I wasn’t even finished with the first sleeve. Uh oh. So after racking my brain and cussing a little I took a deep breath and shrugged my shoulders. What can I do? I can make the best of it using the materials at hand.

We still have the brand and color of yarn that I’m using in stock at Yarnology, but the dye lots are very different. The current batch is a little lighter, a little more of a tweed than mine but I figure that if I use it on the collar and the button band it will look like a design choice. Which is what “mistakes” are anyway right? Design decisions. It’s not worth stressing over the things we cannot control. That takes away the relaxation aspect of this hobby. I must confess, however, that while I was attempting to restart my sleeves tonight (yes, I ripped out the one I had almost finished so that I can knit them two-at-a-time) I had the strongest urge to throw it across the room. When it gets to that point it’s just healthier to put it away for a while.

Crafters face problems like mine all the time and handle them in different ways. Some rip out and start over, some just finish and give it away so they don’t have to look at it anymore, some start something brand new so that the pain of wasted time isn’t so great, and some, regrettably get frustrated and give up the hobby. Problems are going to occur, that’s a truth that has to be acknowledged in knitting as in anything in life. As hard as it is to accept after putting twenty hours into a project, sometimes you have to rip it all out. No one is perfect and no project is either. The ripping (or “frogging” as many call it) can even be therapeutic. Although I tend to get a little weepy seeing my stitches unravel so easily. I suppose the lesson here is to just go with the flow. Control over some things is out of our hands and the sooner we acknowledge that, the easier it gets. I love knitting. I get frustrated sometimes, but even though my sweater will be a little two-toned I’ll still have something warm to wrap up in this spring. I’ll be proud of it either way. And that’s what really counts.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


            One of my resolutions for the New Year was not to procrastinate. On anything. I’m known for putting things off whether it be making a doctor’s appointment, doing homework, or returning phone calls. And now that I have this blog, I’ve noticed that I’ve begun to put off writing new posts. I make excuses like "I have nothing to write about" (so not true), "I don’t have time", or (when I’m being really truthful) "I’m just too lazy". It’s no surprise that I’ve already broken my resolution many times in the first twenty four days of 2013.

After my very long Christmas post, I felt all blogged out and though I meant to write about my yarn-related goals for this new year we’re in, I never got around to it. Shame on me. But there’s no time like the present, right? So here we go. Over the last couple of days I’ve been going through my stash of yarn which has grown considerably over the past year and is now threatening to overtake any available space in my bedroom. The sad thing is is that I really hadn’t noticed how large it had gotten. When you work in a yarn store and see shelves upon shelves of yarn every day you’re a little desensitized. Coming home to a few bins and boxes of yarn doesn’t seem like a big deal. Until you lay it out on your living room floor to take stock of it all. I suddenly realized that I probably had over a year’s worth of projects in front of me. And that’s if I didn’t buy any more yarn, like that’s going to happen. I’m happy to say that I didn’t have a panic attack, but I did seriously reevaluate my obsession with yarn. New resolution! Use up the gosh darn stash!! Most of the yarn in it is meant for specific projects, so before I get crazy and buy the brand new yarn for the brand new pattern, I have to remember all the gorgeous stuff I have waiting back home. I have other yarn and spinning related goals for 2013, but busting my stash is probably the most important one. It’s always fun to buy more, but it can get us yarn junkies in trouble…

Besides sharing a couple of my most important resolutions, I also wanted to briefly mention that soon I will be celebrating my two year anniversary with Yarnology. I’m not sure of the exact day that I started working there in January of 2011, but it was towards the end of the month that Gaby asked me to come in on a Saturday and start training. I remember that I was nervous and deathly afraid of being asked a knitting question since I really only knew how to knit and purl at that time. I’ve been knitting since I was around nine years old, but making a scarf was as far as I had ventured. Kelly was teaching a class that day when I arrived and I remember Gaby making a big pot of coffee and serving it around to everyone. That’s when I knew for sure that I loved it there. Yarn, friendly faces, AND coffee? Sounds like heaven. Since then I’ve grown as a knitter, a salesperson, and as a person in general. I honestly can’t imagine my life without the people I’ve gotten to know and the craft that is now such an essential part of my life. I’m so grateful for the opportunities that Gaby and Kelly have given me and I look forward to seeing what the next two years will bring!

Monday, December 31, 2012

"It's in the singing of street corner choir..."

             And suddenly the pressure is gone. My shoulders are light once again and there’s no nagging thought in the back of my mind that I’m wasting precious time that could be spent making Christmas presents. Last night concluded the marathon of Christmases that involved five different family get-togethers and spanned almost six days. It was fun, it was busy, it was stressful at times, but it is always worth it. I didn’t knit presents for everyone in my very large family, but I completed almost nineteen gifts, a couple of them given away to friends long before Christmas day. The answer to your question is yes, I am crazy.
             It all started the night I arrived in my hometown of Marengo, Illinois. The house was warm and cozy, a fire burned in the fireplace, and I dragged my ridiculous amount of luggage into the house. In my defense, most of it was Christmas presents and knitting material for the few projects I hadn’t completed yet. It was December 23rd. Two of my best friends came over that night to sit by the tree and drink hot chocolate, catching each other up on the events in our lives and laughing together like the old days. We exchanged gifts with each other and two of my hand-knit pieces were given to their new owners: a scarf/shawlette for Missy and a cowl for Caitlyn. After that relaxing evening spent with friends, the days leading up to the holiday were filled with activity. Amid the hustle and bustle of getting the house ready for guests and baking batch upon batch of Christmas cookies, my hands were hardly ever still; in any free moment I had I was knitting. I’ll admit that I had thoughts of serious doubt as to whether I would finish what I needed to. And then the panic would catch up to me and I started to scold myself for taking on more than I could handle. But I calmed down quickly enough and moved my needles a little bit faster.
              On Christmas Eve, my immediate family in Marengo sat down together and opened our presents with the Christmas tree shining and the fireplace blazing in the background. When it was time for them to open my hand-knit items I became more excited than if I was opening a gift for myself. A hat for my brother-in-law (knit in Winona State colors since he is an alum as well), a cowl for my sister (something she can wear to keep warm or to accessorize), a nice warm wool cowl for my mom, and a pair of socks (my first handmade socks) for my stepdad. I was so proud of all my pieces, but I couldn’t stop smiling when Mook (strange name, I know, but it’s a childhood nickname that has stuck) opened his present and saw his socks. Since I started working at Yarnology almost two years ago, Mook has been teasing me and asking me why I haven’t knit him any socks. Well, he got his wish. Knit two-at-a-time from the toe up, they’re soft and beautiful in shades of green and brown with some red thrown in. I really enjoyed making them and showed them off as much as I could to my friends at Yarnology. But when they learned that they were not intended for me they gave me a look like I was crazy. “You mean you’re giving these AWAY?” Yes, and I couldn’t be happier about it. :-)
            Christmas morning started early and saw my family once again in the kitchen preparing for the crowd of people that would be coming to the house midday. Mook’s family, the Kundes make up about half of Marengo and it was our turn to host the annual Christmas lunch. Mook is from a family of nine kids who all have kids; he’s one of the youngest, so most of his nieces and nephews have children as well. To be brief, somewhere between forty and fifty people came over to celebrate, eat, open presents, and play games. Though it was a job to keep everything going smoothly, it was beyond worth it to have cousins, aunts, and uncles wherever you look enjoying the day and being together. The party lasted until evening and drew to a close with coffee, cookies, and a few of Mook’s siblings sitting around telling stories about their childhood in rural Marengo. We fell into bed a few hours later, exhausted but happy with the success of the day.
              Alright, so that’s two Christmases down, three to go. On the evening of the 26th, Mook and I drove the half hour to Crystal Lake where one of my uncles on my mom’s side lives. It was time for the Driver family Christmas, a large group, but not even close to the amount of people from the day before. Jill and Nathan met us there, but my mom had to stay home. She started fevering early in the day and wasn’t up for going. We later found out that she had the flu. Not really what you want to get over the Christmas holiday. We did what we could to make her feel better and took on the responsibilities of food and presents that had to be transported for the party. It was a fun time even though we were missing my mom and my cousin Sarah. My sister and I are extremely close to our cousins, having grown up with them living only ten minutes away. I have no younger siblings, but they make up for that and I love them like they were my little sisters and brothers. When we get together there’s always good food, good drinks (we tried something called a Jack Frost Margarita and it was delicious!), and plenty of noise. After the presents were opened and thank-you’s were said, most of us migrated to the basement where we had some rousing games of Catch Phrase. By the second game we usually end up shouting out answers, jumping up and down, and screaming when the buzzer goes off. Whether or not it’s traditional, we’re definitely not afraid to have fun. :-)

            I had a few days between my Illinois Christmases and the one I would have up in Sparta Wisconsin with my dad and stepmom and that side of the family. On Saturday morning, the 29th of December, I hurried north to my waiting family to celebrate a belated yet joyful Christmas. My dad and stepmom, Erynn live in a large brick house built shortly after the Civil War. As I drove up the street it greeted me with electric candles burning brightly in the windows, the sun glinting off of icicles, and cheery looking pine branches adorning the pillars on the front porch. This house radiates tradition and it dresses up quite nicely for the Christmas season. After dropping off some luggage, hugging my parents, and having a much needed cup of coffee after my drive, I headed to my Oma’s house where my aunt, uncle, and cousins were staying. Like on my mom’s side of the family, I am very close with my cousins Lisa and Erik; so close, in fact that I call Lisa’s two children my niece and nephew and they, in turn call my sister and I Tante Jill and Jenn (the German title for aunt). As I walked through my grandmother’s front door I was hit with memories of childhood and of past Christmases gathered in my Oma and Opa’s old house in Illinois. Many of the old decorations were up, the miniature Christmas village in the living room, the Santas cross-stitched and sew together by my Oma, the scenes from old Christmas cards painstakingly cut out and glued to pieces of wood by my Opa years ago. And many pairs of eyes looked up as I walked in, voices calling out hello. But my gaze fell on the empty red arm chair, my Opa’s arm chair and I took a deep breath remembering that he would not be with us to celebrate this year. This was our first Christmas without him and though the busy nature of our holiday together distracted us, I believe we all had our moments of missing him and again feeling the loss that his death brought to our family. It hit me again a few months ago when I was making my list of what Christmas presents to make and give away this year. I felt like I was missing someone and suddenly realized it was my Opa. I’ve come to terms with his passing, but that doesn’t make missing him any easier.
         When our dinner of ham, red cabbage, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole was over, we gathered around Oma’s living room to open presents. I was lucky enough to get some amazing gifts, most of them book themed, but there were also some really creative homemade gifts and a donation in my name to the Great River Shakespeare Festival, one of my absolute favorite organizations. I love all of my presents, but I was most excited to watch as one by one my family members opened their knitted gifts from me. A pair of mittens for my Oma and Tante Margie, a hat for Onkle Joe, music themed mittens and fingerless mitts for Erik and Lisa, a scarf for Lisa’s husband Adam, a hand-knit dress for my niece Lena, and some knitted animals for my nephew Carl. Though I really try to be modest, I do love when my family exclaims over their gifts; it makes everything worth it just knowing that they appreciate the hard work and the thought that went into them. Lisa right away put Lena in her dress, though it’s a little big and will fit her much better next fall, and Carl grabbed his dog and cow (part of a farm set that I will be adding to on other holidays), cuddling them and giving them names. These things are what I remember when, in the months to come I will start making next year’s gifts, and even though I swore to myself they would be less challenging, less personalized, less complicated they probably won't be. I love the feeling of giving someone something special. Something that has meaning.

            Last night I concluded my Christmas giving with two pairs of slippers for my dad and Erynn. The five of us, my sister and Nate included, gathered together in our library of a living room and exchanged presents once again. This year almost all of the gifts to each other were handmade (with the exception of a few books and a new set of flannel sheets for me that I’m way too excited about :D), and it gave the holiday a wholesome, homey feel. We sipped tea, talked and laughed until the whining of our dog Dervla convinced us to join her in the kitchen. It was a lovely way to end the holidays and to remind me that Christmas isn’t just a day, it is a frame of mind. It exists whenever we are together with family and friends, remembering those who have gone before us, and sharing our love and appreciation for the birth of Christ. To quote Muppet’s Christmas Carol, “It’s true, wherever we find love it feels like Christmas”.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Time is Here Again

          As if you all didn’t know, Christmas is only a short time away. On the one hand I am excited beyond belief, I always am during the Christmas season; but on the other, I’m more stressed than I have been since I graduated college. Optimist that I am, I thought I would have no trouble finishing the long list of Christmas presents that I have written in the back of my journal. Check marks have been drawn next to names slowly over the past few months, but there are still blank spaces and they are what haunt me. As many of you remember from an earlier blog post, I lacked motivation to start early on these gifts and now I am paying the price. Though many of them are completed, folded up, and tucked away nicely in a drawer, I still have a large amount of knitting to do in the next week and a half. Which is why I haven’t been writing, reading, eating… well, that last one isn’t necessarily true. There have been lots of holiday treats and sweets here and I, like most people, cannot resist them. Don’t get me wrong, in a way I love the mad dash that most knitters and crafters participate in at the approach of the holidays. As frantic as it can make me feel at times, I relish in it. And it doesn’t take any of the joy out of the festivities. Quite the opposite. But that’s just me. Plus, it gives me an excuse to stay home at night, cozy in my apartment with the Christmas lights on, watching movies and knitting. Not a bad deal.

            This means, however, that I don’t have much time to dedicate to this blog. I’ve wanted to write another post for some time now, but I haven’t been willing to give up those extra moments of productivity. There have been several exciting events happening at the store and in my life and I felt the need to share those with all of you. Among other things, Steven Be, local celebrity and designer (featured in countless knitting magazines this season) came to the shop and gave a wonderful talk about inspiration and yarn selection, AND I am the proud new owner of a spinning wheel! That in itself deserves its own post. But, alas, sitting down and taking a few hours to write was, and is, out of the question. When the holidays are over and the hand-knit gifts are given I promise to sit down and write a post that’s actually worth reading. I’ll post pictures of the gifts I’m making and write all about family get-togethers, food, traditions, and all that lovely Christmas-y stuff.

            But now, as I resist the urge to break down the remaining days into hours in order to budget my time, I will only wish you a very merry Christmas (or Hanukkah or any other holiday that you celebrate, I’m not picky), and a happy New Year.