I wrote this article for KnitScene a little while ago. With the past year being what it was, I thought maybe it would be a nice thing to post here. Mental wellness is something that needs work. Mental illness is something that needs more attention than it gets. In this piece, I shared a small glimpse into what it was for me to be the partner of someone who struggles daily with anxiety and how knitting helped my family. It is still a journey my partner and I are traveling together, and everyone's journey is different. Whether you struggle with mental illness, have forgotten your own mental wellness, or just would like to know you are not alone, please give this a read.
It has been my personal experience that the things that change your life the most happen very suddenly and are rarely ever planned. This is not a profound observation, but it certainly applies to how anxiety turned my life a little sideways. I will state up front that I do not struggle with anxiety or depression, but my partner does. Before we were married, he was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. He was prescribed some medicine and we felt that was that. I would say we were young and naïve, but we were also complacent in understanding what something like struggling with anxiety actually meant. Then, two small kids deep in a new home and a budding career, the medicine stopped working.
I did not handle it well.
Things shifted so suddenly our heads spun as we tried to figure out what our new normal was going to look like. When I say I did not handle it well, I do not mean I shut down or did not support the suffering and struggle my partner was undergoing- I mean I tried to take on everything that had suddenly shifted. At the time, I had two children under the age of three and was a stay-at-home mother. There were a lot of us responsibilities my husband and I shared that suddenly became just me things. But I wanted so bad to be super mom, super wife, super supportive, and support self-sufficient. By taking on as much as possible and pretending it was easy was, I told myself, how I could lessen the stress on my family. After a couple of months of this it is fair to say I started to feel a little frayed around the edges. Yes, my husband had a mental health issue, but completely ignoring my own mental health was not the answer. How was I going to help my family if I fell apart myself?
As I was living this life change, I was not as aware as I am now of my struggle to stay afloat. I found it difficult to turn off the worry and stress that I carried in regards to what the future held. It was difficult to watch the daily struggle my husband went through to get to work and the mental fatigue I knew he felt when he got home where two small children and a wife waited for him. I felt guilty that he had the added pressure of being the sole financial support for our family. I will not pretend to understand what it feels like to have severe anxiety, but I know whatever worries I was feeling, my husband felt them even more keenly and was fighting them more fiercely- and that worried me, too. I felt like I was standing next to a monster called Anxiety and could do nothing as it dealt out despair and havoc on my loved ones.
Then, just as the anxiety seemed to take over our lives almost completely, there was another one of those moments, very small, that changed my life completely. My husband, who will read anything sitting near him, was flipping through one of my knitting magazines. Out of nowhere, he looked up and said;
“I like this sweater. Could you knit me this?”
I was taken completely off guard. I love knitting, I always have. My husband supports my passion for fiber, but he had never before asked me to make something for him. I was so tickled at the request; of course there was no question I would make the sweater for him. Even if it was the craziest, hardest, wildest sweater- I was going to knit it. Lucky for me, it was not an ugly sweater, but it was heavily cabled. At that point, I knew how to knit a cable, but I had never knit a sweater covered in cables. The sweater was the beautiful Belfast Cardigan designed by the talented Irina Anikeeva. I immediately bought supplies and got to work.
It was slow going. I could only knit at night after the kids went to bed. The pattern was just complicated enough that I needed to focus on almost every stitch as I made it. With charts spread in front of me, I put on my knit face and got to work. Some nights I only finished one row, maybe not even, and other nights I impressed myself with finishing almost an inch. With my little cable needle at the ready, I twisted and knit, purled and held. As I knitted, each stitch seemed to carry away a little bit of my own stress. By the time I was established in my evening knitting groove, the only thing on my mind was the stitch on my needles. I now realize these sessions with my yarn brought me back to the living moment.
Without really being aware of what I was doing, I had introduced meditation into my daily routine. While knitting, there was no regret about what happened or what we might miss out on or worry about what was going to happen next; there was only a blissful focus on the now. I found that I was sleeping better, feeling better, and recognizing my own limitations and coming to terms with them. It also helped me see not everything needed to be as it was, that changes in our family and how we did things was okay. That particular project, with the motivation of completing a sweater for my husband, acted like a pressure valve for my emotions; each night I was able to release the stress built up during the day and see the beauty grow both in my knitting and my life.
It was not always easy, even after I accidentally found a way to practice meditation through knitting. Just how sometimes you have to rip back a few rows when knitting, there were days where we had to rip back a few things in our lives and try again. But as the Belfast Cardigan came to life, the twisting cables and delightful diamonds seemed to represent the progress my husband and I made in redefining a new normal for us in a positive way. When the sweater was finally finished, I saw so much of our struggle and pain in the stitches, but also the hope and perseverance, hard work and dedication. It was like the cardigan held a secret documentation of our journey. It was such a special gift I was able to give. It also serves as a reminder, each time my husband slips his arms through the sleeves and I watch him head outdoors, that my knitting needles not only created the cardigan, they created a space for me to take care of myself.
Mental health issues are hard for people to talk about. There still seems to be a lot of social stigma around the words “mental illness” and that is a true tragedy. When 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety in any given year, it is very likely you know someone who is directly impacted. Let us reach out to one another, showing kindness and understanding, knowing that people can be struggling with things we cannot readily see. And when we need to remind ourselves to cherish the living moment, let us create space to do so and lose ourselves in some meditative knitting.
This scarf occupied my Cricket rigid heddle loom for about two years. I hate to admit that, but it is true. I finally finished it as a birthday present for my mom exactly two birthdays after the one I intended. It's wild how fast time can fly and how unforgiving weaving projects can be in reminding you of exactly how much time has swooshed past. This was the first project I have ever woven using Chenille, and I really loved the results. Chenille has a bad reputation for being a little fussy or difficult to weave, and while I did experience some tension issues, overall it was not a bad experience.
The colors were absolutely beautiful. I did not purchase this kit. In fact, my mom did but then decided against weaving the project. She suggested I take the yarn so it would not go to waste, so of course I did. The pattern, as written, was a little difficult to follow for a rigid heddle loom. I ended up winging it, choosing to warp in a 1-2-1 scheme where every other dent was double stuffed in a 10-dent reed. This may have been the intent of the original write-up, in which case...good. I think you may have good results, too, if you used an 8-dent reed and double stuffed every heddle. I did not try this, though, but it was my understanding the goal was for 16 epi.
I do not have a close up picture of the fringe, which a really regret, but you can crimp chenille for a really special finish. This is achieved by weaving a large section of waste yarn at the beginning and end of the fabric that is removed after wet finishing.
While the warp threads are multiple colors, with groupings of the variegated, solid orange and solid brown, the weft is all the solid brown chenille. I love how the colors shift vertically and the extra interest is added with the occasional splash of variegated thread. When the scarf first came off the loom, it was very stiff and felt a little bit like the interior of our family's 1992 minivan when I was a kid. However, using special finishing techniques for the fiber made a HUGE difference. I am posting those tips as a tutorial, it is well worth a peek if you plan on using chenille.
Bottom Line: The pattern itself was not amazing, but the colors and materials were a lot of fun, making the kit a nice choice. The color shifts in the warp are dynamic and make for a beautiful finished project. The project itself is easy to weave, as it has a plain weave structure and, once warped, is not fussy. Do consider reading up on the best ways to handle chenille on a loom if you have never used the material before.
This rug was an absolute joy to make. It took a little bit of time, as each loop had to be pulled up by hand to create the texture of this wooly floor covering, but it was meditative. The pattern itself was not complicated and it was easy to see the progression as the rug was crafted, so there was no need to stare at a pattern the entire time I worked. I had made a minor error with the colors of the warp, which I adjusted by adding a couple more warp threads...which threw off the motif ever so slightly which meant I shifted the pattern just a hair to accommodate my lack of attention while warping. However, all warping nonsense was completely my fault- the pattern is a good one.
The rug does shrink a little after it is finished, but not nearly as much as I thought it would. However, the loops themselves crinkled up on themselves eliminating my fears that toes might catch on the rug. The two images below show the rug prior to its bath; the loops are more upright. While the finished rug still has "loops," they curl down to the floor. I'm sure if someone really tried, they could get a toe stuck in there, but it would take some work.
Also, this was the first time I'd used Noro yarn. It was really beautiful and made for a very delightful texture in the final rug. The colors were also so pretty. As a variegated yarn, the color shifts in the rug are just the natural progression of the skein. As noted in the pattern, attention should be paid to where your color starts and stops as you move from one skein to the next- it can be beneficial to wind a skein in an opposing direction if it leads to less abrupt shifts between skeins. I noticed that the orange color shows a little more vibrantly in the photographs than in real life. The yarn is a little expensive, clocking in at about $18 for 100 yds, but luckily it is a really bulky yarn so only three skeins are needed to complete the rug.
Bottom Line: If you have a larger rigid heddle, this is such a great way to diversify your projects. The fact that you can make a beautiful and functional rug is really wonderful and you are sure to get compliments with this texture and design. Do be careful if you have smooth floors in your home- the finished rug is slippery on the underside!
Hello my lovely reader. I just wanted to make a quick announcement that I have put up a few of the projects you've seen grace this blog for sale on Etsy. Some of them are from the publications I have been contributing to over the past year or so and others are just fun little designs that have come off my loom. I have a few more that will need to go up in the store over the coming days.
The truth of the matter is that I seem to be collecting wraps, cowls and scarves at an alarming rate. There are only so many loved ones to gift them to and I personally can only wear and maintain a set number of accessories before I start to look a little crazy. I would love for these pieces to find a home and get the use they deserve. If you do take a peek, I hope you feel they are fairly priced. They are all original designs crafted with time and care using quality products.
Also, I have a few of the patterns written up, if there is any interest, I would gladly put some patterns in the store as well.
Here is the link to the shop:
YarntYouGladCo Etsy Store
I have linked the the individual photos to their purchasing pages, as well.
I think my favorite part of this particular endeavor of mine was that there are so many different parts that might inspire others. With both the article and the project, it could be avocado dye, spinning different types of fibers, resist dyeing, ikat-inspired projects, or just the finished project itself that sparks someones artistic journey. I feel like it is such a lovely way to share an idea, or family of ideas, that a person can really make their own. Some projects do not always lend themselves to this kind of creative flexibility. Goodness, this journey has inspired my own creative bug in a million different directions.
I hope you are able to access the article/project and enjoy all the pages have to offer. I am proud of this work. It pushed me as a fiber artist to really learn more of the many layers that go into a finished project and really more of myself as I deepened my relationship with fiber craft.
My son had this hat that he wore ALL THE TIME. It was his signature look...buffalo plaid with ear flaps. Hey, you know, whatever floats your boat, he rocked his hat and he rocked it hard. So, when I was browsing to make him a new snuggle blanket for his bed, this Fireside Afghan seemed the perfect match. My son is only 4-years old, though, so he is a little guy. I crocheted the full width of the blanket but only half the length, which kept the proportions correct for the blanket but made it a much more manageable snuggle size for my son. (Note: The original width becomes the length of the blanket and the length the width…if that makes sense.) The finished dimensions were 30” x 48” and it was perfect for him. And he was so patient. Even half the size took me a strangely long time. I think somewhere in my head I convinced myself the crocheting was somehow faster than knitting. That is entirely not true, especially when making such a dense, squishy cloth as this.
That leads me to the stitch. I learned a new one! This blanket is created with what is called the star stitch. It is a little more complicated than your basic stitch collection in crochet, but can be easily mastered with a few practice swatches. The stitch itself is lovely, making an almost waffle like texture over the blanket. Also, the wonderful thing about the 3D nature of a crochet stitch is that you carry all of your colors through your current stitches. This does two things: it completely hides your color floats and it really adds some nice thickness to the fabric of your blanket. I chose to crochet this blanket in acrylic because it was for a small child and will likely need to take numerous journeys through the wash. However, this would be a very warm blanket if it were made with wool. Oh, and perhaps the best thing of all is that there are no tails to weave in when you are finished! I know, right? Miracles do happen.
The color scheme of this blanket is modeled after a traditional buffalo plaid, mimicking the warp and weft relationships beautifully with the black, wine and red colors. However, this can be accomplished with many color combos, so you should not feel limited to this traditional palette. You simply need a light and dark of the same hue and black (or grey) to create this shadowed, pure color alternating plaid motif. You could also go with tints instead of shades and couple two tints of a color with white.
Summary: This is not quite a true beginner project, mostly because of the color changes and the length of time it takes to complete. However, I would label it great for an adventurous beginner and beyond. And the finished project is such a wonderful and thick blanket, it would look really at home in a cabin or lake house...or on your 4-year old's bed.
This was my largest project to date. I had to put myself on a fairly strict schedule to get it finished by the deadline, but I did and am really pleased with the results. Also, it was my first project in Handwoven since they changed ownership. Once owned by F+W Media operating under the name of Interweave, Handwoven, along with Spin Off and PieceWork faced an uncertain future when F+W Media filed for bankruptcy in 2019. Enter here the pioneer of Interweave Linda Ligon along with partners Anne Merrow and John Bolton and our beloved fiber magazines were saved! Not only were they saved, they were improved. If you have not had the chance to check out these great magazines, I highly recommend it...now they even have spines visible when sitting on the shelf and the most beautiful thick and glossy pages. The improvement in the quality of the paper in the magazine seems like a small thing, but it makes such a difference when the publication is in your hands! It continues to be an honor to contribute to their content.
This particular blanket uses a shadow weave structure. Shadow weave is a really neat technique, as you can choose a standard weaving pattern and punch it up visually by playing with dark and light colors. This means that a crucial step in the process is choosing colors with a nice contrast. For this blanket, I wanted to make sure I had dark, medium and light toned hues that had great contrast but also cohesion in hue. Choosing a cohesive color scheme was the straight forward part. Ensuring the colors I chose had the contrast I wanted was less obvious. One neat-o trick for determining contrast (this can also be used when knitting color work) is to take a picture of your fibers with the black and white filter of your phone. This eliminates hue and shows only the tones. As you can sea here, my three colors really truly were light, medium and dark toned. I think this went a long way in the visual success of the shadow weave.
When warping for shadow weave, you alternate between your light and dark (or medium) tones in an ever-other-end fashion. This means I alternated between blue and yellow across the weaving width when I warped. This particular pattern had lighter stripes along the outer edges and the darker, deeper contrast running down the center of the cloth.
Alternating light and dark is critical in the weft, as well. This is what completes the look of a shadow running through your pattern. So, for the warp, I alternated picks of the banana color and the darker blue color. To do this, you simply maintain two shuttles while weaving. You simply carry the thread up the side of the weaving for every pick a color skips. This sounds confusing in words, but you simply weave with the two shuttles, taking turns. To keep your edges consistent and tidy, you can make sure to set one color in front of the other every time you switch shuttles. For example, if I finished a pick of yellow, I'd set the shuttle down in front of my blue shuttle before picking up the blue shuttle for a pick. Then, when I finished the blue pick, I would set it down behind the yellow shuttle. This keeps the way the threads carry up the side of your cloth consistent. It's a small detail, but can really make a nice visual for edging. For this cloth, the fabric was cut and seamed to make the blanket, hiding the edges. For something like a shawl, however, these edges would be highly visible and the attention to detail along the sides would make a significant difference.
Like I mentioned earlier, this was the largest cloth I had woven...ever. I used my wonderful PVC pipe table loom, and it was really put to the test. I was worried the cloth would not fit on the front roller. It was close, but we made it. It was really fun to unroll this beast, though. We almost didn't have a stretch of floor big enough in our house to see the whole thing unfurled! To construct the blanket, it was cut in two places to create a three panel blanket, as shown in the picture. I used the yellow to graft the panels together. It is not my strongest skill, but I think I did pretty well lining things up and seaming them together. There are little bumps where it is seamed along the back of the blanket, but it not really visible at all from the front.
The blanket was soaked in a dilute vinegar bath to help keep the colors from running. The dark blue did run just a little, making the yellow just a hair darker in the end compared to how it started. I think they did a lovely job staging the blanket for the pattern pics in the magazine. I am actually a little bit proud of how this baby turned out.
This was a fun project and would be a neat way to get in to a spin-to-weave project for someone nervous to take the plunge. It does not require you to spin a ton of any one fiber, you could really play around with the colors, and the end result is a cool cover for your project notebook! I spun this on my Ladybug using Neighborhood Fiber Co wool/silk blend. The warp and weft were 2-ply and there is an accent color that I chain-plied. The cloth was woven on a Ashford rigid heddle in a honeycomb weave using two pick-up sticks. I have all of these details for you in the Ply Magazine Prep Issue, so I won't bog down this post with them.
I was really happy with the end results. As with all of my creations, though, there are things I would change. I think I would have liked a little more twist in my yarn. Also, I loved the colors as I was spinning, but I don't love them as much in the way that I wove them. If I did this project again, I might swap the warp and weft colors or even do the accent color as the main attraction. I'm not really sure, but I would change something. However, I really love the pattern. I love how it fits the book and I love having a woven cover on my notebook. I think it is a solid recipe for future projects, especially because it is quick to spin and weave.
It is always such an honor to contribute to publications such as Ply Magazine. They are publications I really respect and turn to as references in my crafting life. Being able to be part of something I value so much is a little unreal. I definitely feel a little like an imposter, like I'm not nearly as good as the other fiber artists that grace the pages of these magazine. But you know what, I love submitting and trying and creating anyway! Maybe one day I'll feel more like I belong or like I really stuck the landing; but really that's the beautiful thing about crafting, it's all about the journey. (And now I can chronicle more of my making journey in a notebook with a cool cover! Haha!)
I hope this little project inspire someone out there. That is really the best part about reaching a wider audience. I love my sources of inspiration out in the world, wouldn't it be super cool to be someone else's?
One of the great things about this pattern is that the sleeves are up first. This means you get them out of the way before you get the chance to feel too terribly stuck on sweater island. The sleeves do look a little stumpy when you knit them on their own, but remember, you will be adding length in the shoulder as you knit them into your sweater. (These sleeves have live stitches that you pick up when you get to the armpit of your sweater.)
I chose to use the recommended Shelter for this project. It's no secret I love Brooklyn Tweed. (Have I told you how much I love Brooklyn Tweed?) I did choose a different color- this sweater was knit in cast iron, which is pretty much black with little flecks of color throughout. This yarn is a woolen yarn, which is great for sweaters as it is super warm but not heavy. However, be mindful, the yarn is easy to break. You don't want to put too much tension on your thread as you knit, a truly woolen yarn can pull apart quite easily. My grabby baby's hands broke quite a number of working yarns in this project. Do note, the fabric, when knit, is strong- so don't feel like you should avoid the woolens lest your sleeves fall off your sweater or some other crazy calamity. (Woolen yarns do tend to pill, though, so make sure you treat your sweaters kindly and give them a little shave when they need.).
I was really happy with the results of this pattern and I am so glad I was able to make something so special for my dad. I think it really looks nice on him, too. Even the shawl collar is lovely yet still very masculine, especially with the addition of the toggle buttons. I would definitely recommend this sweater for anyone looking for a nice, clean men's sweater that has a few special touches but isn't fussy. It is also a great design for dressing up or down. So if your recipient is a jeans person or a slacks person, this sweater would be a nice addition to their wardrobe.