Missing Mojo

13 Jul

So I’m skulking around the house in a bad temper and I don’t know why. I can’t settle to anything and I’m not cheerful. And then I realise what’s going on:  my knitting isn’t inspiring me – I’ve lost my mojo. This happens to me every now and then so I know what to do about it. I need to put aside the projects that are boring me, or do enough on them to make them exciting again. And then I need to start some new ones.

It’s a little too early to start my Xmas knitting – I usually do that around August time, and I only have the yarn and pattern for one of them at the moment. That’s a pattern for socks for my eldest, called Renesmee. I bought the yarn for it in Bristol at Get Knitted.  I really love that shop. I need to go back and get some Aran for Rows o Ruffles dress for my youngest. Not sure what the middle one wants yet.

I’m not really in the mood for socks – I knitted 12 pairs last year and seem to have had enough of them. I’m quite enjoying freeform crochet, though, so might have another go at that.

So I have the whole evening to myself – hubby is away, the girls will happily occupy themselves, and I can hibernate in my room and start some new things.


Strange Projects

6 Jul

It’s been a while since I have updated this blog so I though I would share some of the strangest project I’ve been working on recently.

I was asked to knit a couple of sensory bands for mums of friends of mine. If you haven’t come across these before, they’re like little hand cosies for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The idea is that they feel nice, they’re familiar and they have little things on them to fiddle with. Apparently, this is very calming for people with mental health issues.

So I set to work digging out all the softest and strangest yarns from my stash – while the cat watched 🙂

Yarn stash for sensory bands

Yarn stash for sensory bands

I plyed several strands together a lot of the time, to make it nice and chunky. I used those eyelash yarns that look lovely on the ball, but can be pretty tricky to knit and impossible to crochet.

Hairy yarn

Hairy yarn

When they were finished, I attached bits and pieces to one of them for fiddling with. Some of them appeared on the inside, some on the outside. The finished objects were pretty strange looking.



Even stranger was my next project – nipple cosies! These were to form a bikini for a facebook photo.

Nipple cosies

Nipple cosies

I haven’t seen them in situ yet but I bet they will look great.

Well, if you’ve made anything stranger this year, please get in touch. I’d love to hear about it 🙂

a quick word on labour saving

30 Apr
Opus 800

Opus 800

It’s been so long since I posted and I don’t have a lot to say today, but something amusing occurred to me just now.

So far this morning, I have had my bread maker on, making dough for rolls, my washing machine on and my dishwasher. I was enjoying the thought of all the work that has been done in my house today with minimum input from me. Then I realised what I do with the spare time I have because of these labour-saving devices: I sit and knit something that I could easily buy ready-made. Some jobs are too good to give to machines!

Happy knitting 🙂

Self-limiting thoughts

21 Mar
Opus 601

Opus 601

What’s a self-limiting thought?

Why do some people tell themselves that they can’t do something, even when they haven’t tried? Lack of self-confidence? Habit picked up in childhood? Self-preservation technique to stop them failing at anything?

A friend on Facebook said this morning that she couldn’t knit because she was unteachable. Lots of people who see me knitting tell me that they couldn’t do it. They give various reasons: “I haven’t the patience”, “I haven’t got time”, “I’m not creative enough”. But no-one has said to me “I tried that and didn’t enjoy it so I stopped”, which is probably closer to the truth. Knitting, like home birth and washable nappies, isn’t for everyone so why do people feel they have to give an excuse why they don’t do it?

While we’re on the subject of society’s view of knitting, I need to mention my MIL and GMIL. The former doesn’t knit or crochet. I taught her to crochet once but she didn’t enjoy it so we both called it a day and moved on. I mentioned her in a recent post because she doesn’t understand why I have several projects on the go at once rather than just getting on and finishing one. She is a gardener so I would have expected her to understand the concept of a work in progress.

And then there’s GMIL who is amazed when I turn up after a long car journey and get my knitting out. She expects me to “sit and relax” but she doesn’t understand that this is how I relax. Sitting doing nothing would not be relaxing. I would just be thinking of all the things I’m not doing at the moment. She knits for charity projects and seems to do it as a good work rather than for fun.

We all do it

So, getting back to self-limiting beliefs, this is a national problem, I think. Children say “I’m no good at this” and that slowly becomes the truth because they don’t do it any more. I think that allowing this attitude to go unchallenged allows a cycle to continue. It starts with a child not answering the questions of a strange adult and the mum says “She’s a bit shy”. The next time it happens and mum says the same thing, the child starts to understand the word and links it with that uncomfortable feeling. Then, she slowly starts to say it herself: “I’m a bit shy” and when she has explained that, people make allowances for her and don’t expect her to talk in front of others. Then, when she grows up she is one of the thousands of people in this country who are more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying. Her life is lived in fear of meeting people, she hates social situations, so has few friends, and nothing anyone says can change her now.

And then there’s physical confidence. When children play at the park or walk along walls and mum says: “Careful, you’re going to fall”, the child believes her. He is going to fall. So, his body goes through the motions and he waits to fall. Instead of believing in his body’s ability to beat this obstacle, he waits to fail. And then when he does, this proves his mum right so next time she says it, it will have an even more powerful effect. Soon she doesn’t need to say it, because he says it in his head: “I’m going to fall”. When he sees the big slide, he stays off it because he doesn’t want to fall off something so high. And when his grows up he will also have a life half-lived, with no confidence in himself to tackle obstacles, but a solid belief that he will fail.

So what can we do about it?

I’m no expert but it seems to be that looking at our own self-limiting beliefs is a good place to start.

Happy knitting 🙂


16 Mar
Mel's freeform crochet

Mel's freeform crochet

Once I had a first love . . .

When I knat as a teenager, I had one project on the go at a time. It was usually a jumper (sweater) and I worked on it until it was finished. This seemed the natural thing to do and I never realised that there was another way.

When I came back to knitting after a 20-year gap, things were very different. I simply couldn’t entertain the idea of project monogamy now. Looking at my Ravelry project will show that I have 5 wips (works in progress) at the moment. (On Ravelry, I am funkyforty – find me and make me a friend :))

. . . then a shawl . . .

The longest running is a lace shawl that I started in July last year. It escaped the end-of-year cull because I did a few rows on it and decided to continue, but haven’t touched it since. It’s easy enough to do, but I’m not sure I will have enough yarn to make it long enough, which is denting my enthusiasm. So, I always find something I’d rather do. My heart says that I will go back to this and finish it, but it won’t escape another cull so if it isn’t finished this year, it will be frogged and stashed.

. . . and hexipuffs . . .

Next oldest is the hexipuff project. It’s a collection of cute little stuffed heaxagons that you make into a quilt or something similar. I have that in my handbag and it’s what I do when I’m sitting in the doctor’s waiting room or turned up early for something. That will go on until I have enough to make a quilt, which will not be this year.

. . . and freeform crochet . . .

Then there’s my freeform crochet project. I bought a skein of wierd and wonderful yarn at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate in November and then picked out some of the colours in other yarns. And when I feel like it, I crochet what I fancy in any shape and size. When I have enough, I will put them together, fill in the gaps with crochet then crochet them together into cushion covers for the front room.

. . . and two jumpers . . .

Then this year’s new projects are two jumpers for me – going back to my teenage passions. I loved making aran jumpers – cream sweaters with complicated cable patterns, favoured by fishermen! I even designed my own pattern once, but can’t remember if I finished knitting it. So, I have one of those and one lacy jumper in a drapey blue yarn and I am making good progress on them both.

. . . and here’s why

So, why do I have so many projects at once? Well, I have to be in the right mood to do the freeform crochet: I need to feel creative and imaginative and ideally come to it with a new idea. I have to concentrate a bit on the aran as the pattern is on several different sheets and I have to refer to it all the time. The blue is easy because I know the pattern now so I can do that when I’m teaching. And the lace will have its day eventually. Sometimes I want a challenge – something to get my mental teeth into. Sometimes I want something I can do while people-watching and not make a mistake. Sometimes I want something that will occupy enough of my mind to free me to think clearly. And sometimes I just want to start something new because that’s the mood I’m in.

And because it’s my hobby, I do what I want to and won’t allow myself to make it into a job. No ‘if I make  myself do 4 rows a day then the lace will be finished by ….’ because that’s the way I do my work and this is not my work. My MIL doesn’t understand – she says “how do you ever get anything finished?” Well, I do, and even if I didn’t, it doesn’t matter because I am happy 🙂

So, how many projects do you have going? Knitting, crochet, sewing, embroidery, papercraft, spinning, whatever your craft is, tell us about your monogamy, or lack of.

Happy knitting 🙂

Interruption #5, by Linda

4 Mar
Portrait of Fanny Gail by Heinrich Maria von Hess (1820-21)

Portrait of Fanny Gail by Heinrich Maria von Hess (1820-21)

Knitting . . .

Yup another painting; OK, two paintings. Sorry but some people have asked for more of the same, so as that’s the only feedback I’ve had, you’re stuck with it my dear friends until you ask for something different.  

. . . from start to . . .

This, as you see, is a painting by the Bavarian Heinrich Maria von Hess of Fanny Gail nearly 200 years ago; she’s aged around 13 years and probably at puberty. By holding her knitting correctly she’s showing us that she has a domestic skill.  The spring flowers, fresh sky and little else in the background demonstrate her brief and innocent history.  It could be an advertisement for a marriageable daughter, couldn’t it.  

But every mother looking at this picture knows what she’s seeing in those big, follow-you-round-the-room sad and serious eyes.  There’s an intelligence and a sad knowingness there; Fanny would be wasted on childbearing and household management alone.  And what future can you predict from that concentrated gaze, those competent hands, that stillness?  And what of now, with the unpredictability of that teenage expression: the awkward nose, the mouth about to speak?  

If she speaks to us she will be abrupt, serious, perceptive; but if she is with her friends she will smile and her face will light up. I think that’s where the beauty of this image lies: in the dichotomy between the sweet grace of the composition and the piquant emotions of the sitter. Right now, knitting is no priority for her.

. . . finish

As you can see, the second painting below shows the other end of it: knitting in old age; this time in Russia nearly two decades later. Just look at that bone structure: she was clearly a beauty once, and the artist lights up her best features in a loving glow that could almost be emanating from her knitting.  Here is that spiritual redemption from concentration on skilled work again (see Interruption #3).  This old woman manipulates her knitting, whereas the young woman manipulated us . . . or is the old woman teasing us mischievously by being painted knitting a top-down stocking-top?  

So who is happier?  Who’s got the best deal?  You decide.

Old Woman Knitting (Russian, 1838)

Old Woman Knitting (Russian, 1838)

Depression and knitting

27 Feb
Opus 301 beaded cuff bracelet

Opus 301

I suffered from postnatal depression (PND) after the birth of my first child. Then I had antenatal depression (AND) with my second and PND again. The third was easier and I stopped there. Now you know the background, what has it to do with knitting?


I was just trying to show Linda that I can do fancy headings as well!

Depression is so misunderstood. People ask “what are you depressed about?”, but it’s just not like that. When you’re angry or unhappy or excited, there’s some reason for it, but with depression, there isn’t a reason. I have blogged about depression lots on my other blog – so I won’t go on too much about it. What I wanted to say was that I don’t think I would have suffered as badly if I had been knitting at the time.

I started knitting as a teenager and was very keen. I stopped knitting regularly when I went to University at age 18 and only knitted a couple more things before giving up entirely. For 20 years!! Just before my 40th birthday, I picked up the sticks again and very quickly became an avid knitter. I met Linda, helped her design the toe-up version of some socks and the rest is still being written.

a day in the life of a knitter..

A day as a knitter (or sewer or painter or any other person who has a creative hobby) is so different to a day without knitting for me. When I was looking after my wonderful first daughter, I spent hours doing stuff with and for her: I played with her, I fed her, I took her to baby groups, I read her books, I washed her clothes, I changed her nappy…. and on and on. I spent most of the day this way and with the time I had left, I slept. But there was no part of my day that was for me. Not even 5 minutes, because I didn’t have anything I could do for 5 minutes. Although I loved my time with her, there was nothing that was driven by me.

Opus 600 sock with ruffle

Opus 600

And now? When I go to bed at night, I think about all the projects I have in progress – what the next steps are, when I might do them. And I think about all the projects that are still in the planning stage – what pattern I might use, what fabric or yarn. The I think about all the materials I have that I can use – fabric, yarn, threads, beads, ribbon. And then I can think about all the materials I haven’t bought but could in the future – the projects I can do at some other time. And when I get up in the morning, I spend some part of each day doing some of that. Sometimes it’s 2 hours in the afternoon sitting down and knitting, sometimes it’s 10 minutes sitting with the girls as they watch TV before making their dinner. But it’s always there and it’s just for me.

so what’s the link?

If I had had something I could look forward to that was just for me, would I have been so depressed? It’s a difficult one to answer but I feel that I wouldn’t have. I think part of my PND and AND was a feeling of being lost in this new role which left no room for me. And there was no ‘me’ left anyway – my study and work had stopped, so what was left?

Anyway, I went to a workshop last week on ‘surface stitching‘ and came away with 2 exciting new freeform embroidery projects. I spent some time over the weekend knitting, but also plenty embroidering and I loved it. My youngest was inspired to start a little sampler herself, although I doubt it will get finished. It doesn’t matter – it will give us something to do together while she is enjoying it.

and on to patterns

Why not have a look at our sock patterns? They are what started Opus and Linda has some wonderful designs to show you. How about Opus 100, our first pattern. It’s a simple lace pattern that you can do with some boring coloured yarn, because you get to do a bright toe, heel and top edge. They’re really pretty and ideal for those who need to be seen to be wearing smart socks but can then know hidden under your shoe is a bit of decadence. A bit like wearing lacy underwear under a plain suit 🙂

Opus 100

Opus 100

OK, that’s enough from me.  Happy knitting all.

Interruption #4, by Linda

23 Feb
2101 close-up

Untitled 2101 close-up

 What question . . . ?

Oh no, not that question again. You can’t cover it with an elegant lie, as with, “Mummy, how did that baby get into your tummy?” or “How much have you bloody spent/drunk/shot your mouth off this time?”. This is because you’re a Nartist and they’ve asked you what is art, and of course there is no answer.

Oh, that question . . .

Unless of course you look it up in Wikipedia, hoping for some nice, comfy, sweeping statements, such as (I paraphrase:) art used to be merely skill and craftsmanship in the West until the 19th century, and now it’s supposed to make you think and feel. Oh, and there’s no mention of knitting and crochet on that page; is that because if you can’t get a baby or elephant or chimpanzee to do it so you can flog it as abstract art, then it’s a craft, therefore it’s not art by 21st century definition?

. . . so who gets to be the artist then?

Talking of craft, this question of “are we artists?” is often discussed by knitters. One of the suggested answers is that if you knit or crochet to a pattern, you’re doing craft; if you have designed the pattern then you get to be The Artist. And the problem with that is the naming game again, because names of trades carry implications of hierarchy: a company director is better than an executive because he earns more; an artist is nobler than his studio craftsmen because he or she is the one who puts the soul into the art – or so the Romantics might have you believe. So take a bow, then, Jeff Koons, Rolf Harris and that chimp who did the spatter paintings.

So why don’t we just say it’s all art, and that the epiphany – or the lucky break that makes you realise stuff – is the best bit. So if you’ve just bought some new blue yarn and you’re mucking about and experimenting with it, and your toddler grabs it and chucks it on the stash pile, right next to a green that should never match it, and the two colours make beautiful love, then that’s art – well it would be if you got off your backside and made a scarf with those two yarns together.

Opus 800

Mel's beautiful Opus 800

Happy crafting, my artist friend.

The honeymoon is over

20 Feb

All wound up

The borrowed ball winder and I fell in love over aran weight wool and had our first fight over 4 ply silk. Who knew the two experiences could be so different? 85g of Tall Yarns’ beautiful pure silk, one skein that wanted to be a ball when it grew up. It kept getting knotted, slipping off the winder and generally being a not-much-fun experience. I had to give myself a timeout and have a coffee. Then I came back and made it into two 40-something gram balls and peace was restored. We made up by going back to where we fell in love – 100% wool. This time kettle dyed Manos del Uruguay in lovely blues and greens. I returned the ball winder to its owner and we were both sad to part.

then . . .

Hours of happy yarn winding wasn’t the only thing I didn’t rate when I started knitting again. For those of you that don’t know, I knat as a teenager but gave it up in my early 20’s, coming back to it just as I turned 40. When I bought yarn before, I went into the ‘Wool Shop’ where my mum worked, chose a colour and she sent me home with a couple of balls, stashing the others in the back room for later. The pattern was usually bought at the same time, on glossy paper, produced by the yarn manufacturer so we bought the recommended yarn. My choice of patterns was limited to what the Wool Shop stocked and it never occured to me to look anywhere else.

Manos yarn before winding

Manos yarn before winding

. . . and now

So now, 20 years later, the process couldn’t be more different. For a start, I now live more than 200 miles from my mum, she doesn’t work in a wool shop, and my choice is huge. The result is that I spend lots of time that I would previously have spent knitting, looking for patterns, looking at what other people made with the patterns, looking at what yarns other people used with the patterns and what they thought of the patterns. I don’t buy the pattern and the yarn together now, in fact a lot of the patterns I use are free. I don’t have them printed on glossy paper – I sometimes print them at home or just work from the computer for simple patterns. Now I buy yarn with no idea of what I will do with it. So there’s hours of reading about yarn, looking at other people’s yarn, feeling other people’s yarn, hearing what other people think of their yarn, touching yarn in shops/exhibitions, thinking about it, looking what people have knat with it, looking at what they thought of what they knat with it. Then there’s swatching and changing needle size and washing the swatch.

Tall yarns silk

Tall yarns silk

At first all this ‘not knitting’ was very frustrating but now I realise that I enjoy that part as much as I do the knitting. If I had a shed, then this would be time spent out there, sharpening my tools, arranging my resources, and just being around my hobby.

To mis-quote a terrible song: “Are we human, or are we knitter?”

Tags: ball winder winding buying patterns

Interruption #3, by Linda

19 Feb
Rural Household Chores Germany 1900

"Rural Household Chores", German oil painting ca.1900. Artist unknown.

I just found another one of these old wool-craft paintings. This one appears to be an oil with an illegible signature; it is dated about 1900, and I think it’s German.

Just two women alone . . .

It’s piquant: sweet and sad at the same time, and with the usual symbolism that you find in these things. Mother and daughter sit at home and hatless in the usual bare room, working in the light of the closed and curtained window. Mother is elderly; she spins a fine thread, while her strapping daughter knits something shapeless and in the round – too big for socks, and it’s not a sleeve . . .

. . . not sadness . . .

. . . It could be a shroud for a baby. Daughter’s water jar sits upright and firmly stoppered by her feet; she wears no ring; she’s unmarried and has no baby. Her mother’s water jar is empty; finished and put away on the shelf – the sign of a widow, perhaps. Or was mother ever married? No ring is visible. Daughter depends on her mother’s spinning for her yarn, but her thread is running out: it perhaps references her genetic line running out? And her shoe buckle is undone – some linguistic German reference there, maybe.

. . .  but serenity . . .

It’s not sad, though, because they’re living in the moment. Mother is hunched over her spinning, taking great care in her fine work. Daughter wears a gorgeously-coloured shawl – woven and dyed by these two, maybe? Or an exotic and imported gift from a past admirer? She too is raptly concentrating on her work; it’s her pleasure and maybe even redemption.

The redemption of both is signified in their hands: beautiful, powerful yet elegant workwomen’s hands which create fine artefacts. A light shines on their peaceful faces, and it doesn’t come from the window. Even if they have no descendants, the world will have the results of their work. So can we appreciate that? Our respect is maybe all they have.