Saturday, July 27, 2013

immortalizing children's art

Here are photos of my old knitting room.

And here's what I would wish you to see.
  • Because there was no ceiling fixture in the room . . . and I don't love standing lamps . . . and I needed yarn storage, my builder guy designed shelves to hold my baskets of yarn that also housed lighting. Very well done!
  • The loveseat is a sofa bed (which my granddaughter calls her secret bed), and on it is a much-loved and much-repaired granny squares afghan made by my grandmother. Much time was spent as a child, trying to figure out which square's colour combo I liked best. I believe that my love of fibre began with this piece.
  • On the bookcase is a previous gift--one of those double-layered bowls whose segments are filled with yarn scraps, presented to me by some Toronto knitters.
  • Over the desk is a quilt that is my window in a windowless room.
  • On the walls are pieces of needlework done by family members.
And this last is what I wish to pass along to you today--the concept of turning drawings into needlework.

Ignore the photo below for the moment, and notice what sits over the sofabed--a Four Seasons piece I did, based upon a scene in a J. R. R. Tolkein calendar. This is my least exciting piece (although it was done the same as what follows).

The other two (shown enlarged below) are based upon drawings my children did. (I'm sorry for the lack of detail and for the angle, especially on the smaller piece. I will be sure to take a head-on shot when my new knitting room photos are posted.)

One day my just-turned-five-years-old son showed me a drawing he'd done of a T-Rex. (Do you know a little boy who didn't go through a dinosaur phase???) I loved it and asked if he could do more . . . which he did. I immediately knew that these drawings (and this phase of his life) had to be preserved, so I did the following:
  • bought a large piece of needlepoint canvas,
  • laid it over the drawings,
  • traced his drawings,
  • worked them all in needlepoint in exactly the colours in which he had drawn them.
If I had know how much time it was going to take to fill in the background, I might have crowded things a little more! But I asked Jeremy to help fill some of the background spaces, and he happily did.

Oh yes, and I had also made him title and sign the piece, right onto the needlepoint canvas, and that was worked into the piece also.

My husband framed it, and there it is, probably the most precious thing I own. I can still name those dinosaurs, from right to left: Brontosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Tricerotops, Stegosaurus, Pterodactyl, Ankylosauraus, a head-on shot of Tricerotops, and Brachiosaurus.

But next I needed to do something to immortalize my daughter's drawings, especially since she drew constantly. So I found some faves I had saved--the egg-head "girl" drawn when she was four, and the second girl, drawn when she was five. She told me they were picking flowers, so I asked her to draw them too.

The process was the same as my son's, and she signed hers also. The frame came from a discarded piece of art.

You would probably recognize that this is really, really easy to do? And I have done others over the years that were just embroidered (or cross-stitched) onto fabric--without the need to fill all that background. But I don't love them as much as the needlepoint pieces, probably because I knew I was cutting corners.

However these are produced, they make great gifts. And to be true, the original idea came from a gift. A friend was attending a wedding with her son. To keep him busy during the ceremony, she gave him pencil and paper and asked him to draw the bride and groom. She then embroidered his picture, framed it, and gave it as a wedding gift.

I did the same when friends were building their home. I asked their four-year-old daughter to draw the house. I transferred the drawing to some cloth and then embroidered it--with long lazy strokes, so it looked like she had done the embroidery herself. This one took no time at all. We framed it, it was delivered as a house-warming gift, and it became a much-loved piece at the centre of their home.

I am now  living in a renovation. My new knitting room will be even smaller, but it will still have those shelves and will still feature the kids' drawings. Truly, they are the most precious pieces--moments in time from my little ones, drawing what they knew and loved.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

yin yoga

Knitters sit . . . a lot. And there are therapies we need that can help alleviate the tightness that results. So I offer the following.

Some years ago, my daughter told me about a new yoga she was doing. It felt like a role reversal as she told me the benefits and that You really need to do this, Mom. I explained how it wasn't gonna happen: I travel too much for a regular class schedule, I like to break a sweat when I work out, I don't have the discipline for yoga, yada, yada, yada. All foolishness!

So, one Christmas she was at my place, down on the floor in a pose, and I looked at her and said I need that! What is that?!? She rolled her eyes as only a clever daughter can and said I told you, Mom, YIN YOGA!

She explained a little about it: I got online to do some research. At that time, it was not easy to find a practitioner in my area, but there was a book highly recommended by everyone:  Paul Grilley’s YIN YOGA. I ordered it and began a study.

Okay, so I'm still not disciplined enough for the regular practice of it. . . . But I am informed enough to know how important it is. And when I get into trouble (stiffness) and do it (for only a few moments), I see immediate benefits.

Here's the deal. Yan Yoga (what we are most familiar with) works on the muscles—which are like elastic bands (lots of stretch and hard to break unless you pull violently). Yin Yoga (a rarer practice) works on the connective tissues—which are more like pull taffy (with not so much stretch and easily broken unless you pull gently and slowly). So Yin Yoga has the following features.

  • It's called the quiet practice because it's slow and gentle . . . and quiet.
  • You always do it sitting or lying, so muscles are not engaged (because when muscles are engaged, the connective tissue cannot be stretched).
  • You hold a pose for at least 2-and-a-half minutes—because that's how long it takes for the connective tissue to loosen and stretch. (As we sit in the simplest of poses—a forward bend—we may feel nothing for the first 2 minutes or so . . . but then the head slowly drops, and eventually it may touch the knees. I can tell you that never before—until I did this a few times—had my nose ever gotten close to my knees!)
  • As we get older, it's the connective tissue that we need to work on: no matter how much we strengthen our muscles, an over-time shortening of the connective tissue is what makes us older girls (knitters and non) stoop. (This from my chiropractor.)

So, a true Yin Yoga class may be an hour long with only a few poses—no more than 10. But even if you do only one pose—like I do when I wake in the night with stiffness—it will make us feel limber and stand taller.

There is much more to it than this, but I invite you to check it out. After introducing one student to it, she later said Thank you! I think you just saved my life. I don't know if that proved to be true, but certainly improving quality of life is a result of a yin yoga practice.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

knitting, the right brain, and making connections

If you've read much of my stuff, you know that when you are knitting (doing something physically repetitive, intellectually undemanding, and visually stimulating), you are in your right brain. And what the right brain does, among other things, is make connections.

So here are two that came to me recently.

The movie connection
 I was knitting while watching the movie TOAST. It's a pretty good British piece--based upon a real person and his memoirs--and I don't know what the reviews were like but I thought it quite good . . . good enough to recommend to a friend.

But nagging me throughout the movie was the father. Who was he? Where had I seen him before?

While watching this movie, I thought of another movie I'd recommend to my friend--one of my favourite-all-time movies, THE GIRL IN THE CAFE. No connection between the two occurred to me except that they were British.

But then I googled the father from TOAST and found that he was a major character in THE GIRL IN THE CAFE!

This is a fully characteristic right brain experience. It makes the connection--and solves your problem--even though you might not be aware that a connection has been made or a solution has been found. It's been said by many that to be creative, to solve problems, to harness intuition we need to listen very carefully to this wee, quiet voice that doesn't always explain itself logically.

The weather connection
We are having a deadly brutal heat wave here, and I don't know about yours but my entire family had a meltdown on Tuesday night. 

And then my right brain went for a wander. . . .

If we have meltdowns in the heat, what do we do in the cold? We don't get cranky, we don't vent, we don't meltdown. Rather, we do the opposite: we shut down, withdraw to our corners, find a place to cocoon.

Still wandering, I thought about knitting through the heat (pretty much all you can do when it's painful to move!) And I thought about what projects we might knit (small pieces) and what fibres we might wear (cotton).

We wear  cotton because it draws heat away from the body. If you hold a ball of cotton in your hand, your hand will feel cool because the cotton draws the heat out.

And what do we wear in winter? Wool. Why? Because it holds body heat in. If you hold a ball of wool in your hand, your hand will feel warm because the wool holds the heat in.

And then my right brain had a big WOW!  (Bear with me here!)
  • Cotton pulls the heat away from the body.
  • Wool  holds the heat in.
  • In hot weather, we vent (releasing emotion).
  • In cold weather, we withdraw (holding in emotion).
So in the winter we need to hold in our body heat and can't afford to get all passionate about stuff. But in the summer we need to release body heat, and so we get all worked up about stuff. And as silly as this all seems, it made me wonder if maybe it's not actually a stereotype that people from northern places are known for being cool (in the sense of restrained), while people from southern places are known for being hot-blooded. Maybe this makes as much sense as wearing wool or cotton? It's how we have learned to behave in order to survive.

Can this possibly make sense? I do not know. But this is what the right brain does! It makes connections. Sometimes they solve problems, sometimes they feel like pure silliness! The thing about the right brain is that is has no filter. It thinks all connections are equally interesting and worthy of consideration.

What I do know is that we are all desperate for this heat to be over!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

getting better at what we do

I was encouraged to do a 10K run 3 years ago, and I got hooked. But I have certainly learned a few things about taking on something new. And those lessons surely apply to our knitting.

What I learned from my first run 
I can do this!
A crowd (in this case, 10,000 runners) is very motivating.
Equipment matters: my running shoes weren't.
I would probably do better if I studied this!

I was proud of how I did in my first run. And I started dreaming of my second. Notice that I dreamt about it, rather than actually training for it.

What I learned from my second run
The motivation of the crowd doesn't help if you set unreasonable expectations.
I would probably do better if studied this!

So I thought about how it feels to learn something new. (I was learning how to run--something  thought I knew how to do, something everyone knows how to do, but which of course can be improved with training.) Now that I am training properly for a fourth run, I've looked at that training and realized how very much it applies to knitting.

So here's how we train to run, and here's how it translates to knitting.

Each week we do 4 kinds of runs.  
Translation We need to always have 4 kinds of knitting on-the-go.
How many of us don't do that? How many of us think we have to finish one thing before we start another? This is not, apparently, how one masters a skill.

Type number one is a short and slow run.
Translation This pattern will be easy and small--perhaps a pair of socks, something small for charity, something for a baby.
As we get better at something, we can easily forget the value of these little, carry-along pieces.
Type number two is a long and slow run.
Translation This pattern will be easy but long--a simple shawl in a lace-weight yarn, an Einstein Coat, a blanket.
This is the knitting we do while we watch a move--maybe a foreign film with subtitles--or as we read a book, or while in a meeting, or hooking up (forgive the pun) with friends. If the knitting for these events is too challenging, we could end up ripping long hours or work.
Type number three is anywhere between a half and the whole of our distance but approaching our race pace.
Translation This pattern will be more challenging and something we want to wear.
Race pace is the runner's goal, and isn't it a knitter's goal to knit what we wear, wear what we knit, have it admired far and wide?
Type number four is a short and very challenging, either sprinting or running hills.
Trranslation This might mean simply knitting complex swatches (from a stitch dictionary) or taking a class on a new technique. Or it could mean trying our hand at pattern drafting--short and simple to start, increasing challenges as we master it.
The results of the swatching or classes might be stuff we never use, but we'll be better knitters for the experience. The results of the pattern drafting makes us masters of our craft.

The other lessons I learned from my first 10K still apply:
  • join a group (a guild or a knit-and-chat circle) because they are motivating and we can learn from them;
  • equipment matters . . . because it just does.
And one final lesson . . . 
When we run, we are also encouraged to cross train: bike, roller-blade, lift weights, whatever. It doesn't make sense to do just one form of exercise, so we are encouraged to mix it up.

I translate this to knitting by believing that we should all be including other stuff in our hand-work: sewing, crochet, needlepoint, quilting, weaving, spinning, etc. We'll be better for it, and who knows what cross-over can produce. One of my greatest joys has been putting knitting and sewing together: if you have not already seen it, check out Nothing in recent years has been as exciting for me as the creativity that this cross-over has sparked.

We've all heard that it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something. But mileage without goals, without challenges, without training, without mixing-it-up doesn't make us better. What I've learned from running--and applied to knitting--is how to get the best from those hours.