If you’ve been to Seed Stitch at all over the past several years, you probably know Michele. She holds down the shop every Tuesday and Wednesday, offering advice to knitters new and experienced on everything from casting on to complex cables. She is a serious knitter, without taking knitting too seriously. She’s known to shrug over the stitch you knit instead of purled twenty rows back and say with a smile, “It’s not worth it.”

Years ago when, half way through my second scarf, I finally figured out how to keep tension, I brought my lopsided project to Michele and told her I’d have to rip it out, she gave me an emphatic, “No!”

“But it’s not perfect!” I protested.

“It’s not supposed to be perfect!” She told me that if I wanted a perfect scarf, I should buy one knit by a machine. Every knitter knows that knitting by hand is not a means of making something faster or cheaper than you could buy. It’s about craft. It’s skill and hard work and sometimes even swearing. But always, it is emotion. It is the pride of making something with your own two hands and the love of the craft, the fiber, and perhaps even the person for whom you are knitting. And though many will argue the fine line between art and craft is the idea of functionality, I would argue that though both can be made with emotion, the thing that we make when we make art is meaning.

Michele overlooks the imperfections in knitting, but she makes meaning, she makes art, from the imperfections in the world around around us. Where some people see a heap of discarded clothes, Michele sees the raw material for making a message. For her piece Hide, which you can see at her joint show with husband and fellow artist John Bonner, opening this Sunday at the Marblehead Arts Association, Michele hand stitched hundreds of designer labels culled from unwanted clothes. “Hide speaks to the world’s obsession with both people and objects,” she told me. By reassembling the labels into a new kind of trophy to be hung on the wall like a moose head or bear pelt, Michele did not simply deconstruct a status symbol: she skinned it.

The labels hold personal meaning for Michele as well. The heaps of clothes she combs for labels are from Lifebridge, a local homeless shelter here in Salem, where she has led a knitting and crochet group for the past four years. Michele says that much of her work acts a “link to a backstory, a feeling, or an event.” The Short Window of Cherries, for example, found it’s beginnings in a memory of growing up in Switzerland, climbing cherry trees in the back yard to pick for dessert. The piece is a sphere of tiny jars that no longer preserve jam, but instead moments spent with family. One can look through the small, round glass windows to see memories of fleetingly sweet cherry seasons gone past, punctuated by cherry stones spit out through puckered lips, not unlike hundreds of kisses goodbye.

Michele’s family and friends also play a part in her work by helping her collect. She has enlisted their help in finding lost gloves for a piece she is currently working on about gun violence in response, in part, to the Sandy Hook massacre. “I need so many, it would take too long to get them [by myself].” Sometimes, though, Michele will collect objects before she has an idea of what to do with them. In addition to gloves, she is currently collecting hair, tea bag tags, and window weights.

Take 2 is the aptly named second joint show between Michele and her husband John, who Michele says is her biggest supporter. When the two began dating, Michele took photos that John would later use to paint from. It wasn’t until recently that Michele considered herself an artist as well. Even if Michele is still modest about calling herself an artist, others have begun to take note. She is a graduate of Monseratt College of Art’s Artist Professional Toolbox program, was selected for a two week artist residency last summer at Haystack Mountain School of Craft, and, last month, was invited to give an artist’s talk and workshop at East Carolina University.

Take 2 opens with a reception from 2 – 4 at the Marblehead Arts Association this Sunday, April 27th. 25% of all proceeds from work sold will be donated to benefit Lifebridge. For more information on Michele Fandel Bonner and John Bonner, check out the hyperlinks.

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Tonight, from 6-8, we will be joined at the shop by Tara Gitt, Courtney’s  talented and knowledgeable sister, who will be sharing her expertise in essential oils. Tara took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for us here on the blog.

Tara was introduced to Young Living Essential Oils last year after using the Stress Away blend for herself and a blend of oils called Peace and Calming to help her 10 year old son fall asleep. ”It really worked!” she told me.

“I began to research the products and the science behind them… I began sharing with my friends, and they love the products as well.  So, what started as personal use…has turned into a mission to inform people everywhere of the truly life changing uses of these oils.”

So, what are some of the ways we can put essential oils to use? When applied to the body or diffused in a bath or humidifier, essential oils have effective anti-inflamatory, anti-bacteria, anti-depressant, anti-fingal properties. Knitters and crocheters familiar with essential oils have used scents like lavender to help repel moths from their yarn and their finished knits. You may have noticed that we keep satchels of lavender on our shelves in the shop to do just that. Though dried herbs can lose their scent over time, they can be refreshed by adding just a few drops of essential lavender oil.

If you ask Courtney about her favorite oil, she’ll tell you all about Thieves. This essential oil blend was created by combining rosemary and clove oil, among others, as these were the scents that four French thieves cloaked themselves in while robbing dead and dying plague victims! Not only did it mask the stench of the robbed, but it also helped to protect the thieves themselves against disease. The Thieves blend of essential oils is particularly useful in cleansing both self and surroundings while supporting the immune system.

Tara has lots of stories of different people she has met who have benefitted from essential oils. “From the burly roofer who carries a bottle of lavender with him during work day and applies it on his nose and hands to alleviate allergy symptoms, to the mother whose kids line up at night for some Mommy time and a foot massage of lavender and peace and calming, for the owner of a cat who spent hours meowing and wailing over the loss of it’s companion cat who diffuses lavender to relax the cat, to folks who have found resolution to their arthritis pain, the lady who uses the oils to make her laundry smell fresh, there are so many uses for heath, mood, hormonal balance, insect repellent, home cleaning, first aid, fever reduction, ease stomach pain, reduce stress….it goes on and on.I love the oils and the products! They have changed my life and impacted the lives of people I care about! I love to share the oils and their possibilities with folks!”

Hope you can join us this evening, 6-8 for drinks, refreshments, and all things essential oil!

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I know what you’re thinking. Ahhhhhhh! 

And then, upon closer inspection, Is she knitting in the car?

Well, my answer to you, my knitting friends, is, Fear not, and Yes. Yes I’m knitting in the car*, and yes, I dropped a whole lot of stitches. Three stitches, one down 34 rows. Thirty four. And I did it on purpose.

I am knitting this adorable hoodie for Celia. It is a very pleasant knit. But when extending the zig zag cables up the side of the hood, I made a few knits that looked much better as purls, and I didn’t decide until 34 rows later that I really couldn’t live with the result.

I don’t have much time to knit these days (see *) and I wanted this sweater done before we travelled to visit family down the Jersey shore (yes, I know it’s damn hot out, but I like the idea of a little cotton hoodie on a little snuggly lady on the cool summer evenings by the beach, if even just the idea), so there was no way I was ripping back. That’s when it hit me: fix one mistake with another. Drop the stitches.

I stuck a few markers into my work just below where I wanted to drop down so that I didn’t go too far. And then I let her rip. I should say here, all three stitches were in a row, so that helped. One of them (the left most stitch of the three) only needed to be dropped about 10 rows, so I did that one first. Then I tackled the other two. Dropped them and picked them back up again, this time reversing the stitches from knits to purls by simply picking up the yarn of the dropped stitch by pulling it through the front of the stitch below. This turns the top loop of the stitch below into the bump characteristic of a purl on the stitch above.

If I had had the foresight to video the process for you, I would have (again, see *, as in, I blame everything on my child and her/our lack of sleep). If you’re having trouble wrapping your brain around the process, just drop a stitch down a couple rows in your current project (as long as it doesn’t involve lace, color work, or mohair) and pick it back up again, first as a knit, then as a purl.

Play with your mistakes. Make them on purpose and then make them work for you. I promise, you will feel like a superhero when you’re done.

If, by the way, you’re wondering about this fabulous yarn, it’s Rowan Creative Linen. A 50/50 cotton/linen blend, 219 yards, it’s perfect for summer sweaters or other warm weather projects. I love this stuff. It gets softer and softer with blocking and wear. We’ve got it in stock in a variety of summery colors.

-

*I have a baby that doesn’t sleep. (Perhaps this is why I make mistakes in my knitting.) The only guaranteed way to get her to nap is to drive her around in the car. This means that the only guaranteed time that I get to knit is when I am parked and the kid is sleeping. I call it the mobile knitting studio.

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Decomposition: Colony II

Leigh Martin knits fungi.

You may know her better by her handle on Ravelry, Flickr and throughout the blogosphere - Bromeleighad. Her two ongoing and sometimes overlapping series, Decomposition and 52 Forms of Fungi, in which Martin creates or recreates lifelike fungi in small gauge and fine detail knitting, have gained the Oklahoma-based fiber artist a following of creatives, knitters and nature enthusiasts alike. Martin is all three.

Decomposition: Colony II

She had been knitting for several years and working in urban forestry before she began experimenting with sculptural knitting. “…I had a strong desire to create something more conceptual,” Martin says in our email interview. “I still work on knitwear projects and have dabbled some in designing my own, but free form knitting and installations have filled a void that I never knew I had. I’ve always been more of a left-brained, analytical person, and this transition has been a great mental exercise for me – it’s been quite liberating.”

Martin is “mesmerized by various details in the environment” and has “always been very intrigued by fungi.” She is attracted to to the various shapes, colors, and intricacies of the many different species, which she refers to as “otherworldly.” Given her background in urban forestry, “reading up on various types of wood decay fungi is something that goes along with the territory (and becomes a personal interest by default).”  Sometimes, Martin’s research “leads [her] to discover other species that are fascinating” and beyond what she had intended to find. “I also have a field guide that I use, and sometimes a friend will send one to me that they were intrigued by.” Martin is used to educating others about the environment, but 52 Forms of Fungi has given her the chance to become a student again. “This project been a great deal of fun, because I’ve learned so much about mycology and various species of fungi from around the world,” she says.

52 Forms of Fungi #13

Though she identifies as a fiber artist, Martin unintentionally pushes the boundaries of the medium from within it. The term fiber artist is usually applied to women making fine art while working within traditional craft forms like knitting, sewing, felting, and embroidery. Often, there is a sense of feminist reclamation of the materials and processes that subtly, and at times quite overtly, permeates fiber art. Perhaps it is the realism of the fungi or the subject matter itself, but the viewer is not distracted by the implications of fiber when looking at Martin’s work.

“I mostly identify with fiber because it’s a medium that I have worked with for a long time, although mostly in the traditional sense through knitwear…but more than anything I just identify as someone who utilizes their particular medium to create a thought provoking experience (not to mention for personal enjoyment).” When asked how she views the difference between fiber art and installation art, as it applies to her own work, Martin supposes, “Perhaps the fiber element does not stand out as much because my focus is not weighted on the fiber materials alone, but instead, creating a realistic setting for them is equally as important.  I set out to create something believable, because I feel that it results in a much greater impact amongst my viewers.  Even installations in a gallery setting incorporate real elements such as wood, plants, moss, and other natural materials.”

52 Forms of Fungi #5

It is in large part this element of Martin’s work, the site-specificness, the interaction between knit life form and natural environment, that separates it from most fiber art and puts it somewhere in the cross hairs of installation, sculpture, and conceptual art. It says something different than an art quilt or an embroidery because the fiber itself is not the message, or even the messenger, but rather a bridge between man and nature. It is a cluster of mushrooms knit directly into a tree. At least, it starts out that way.

When asked about her decision to leave her Decompositions to to be discovered and, eventually, to actually decompose at the site of installation, Martin says, “Leaving each Decomposition installation in place has been an item of conflict, because as much as I would love to leave them where an unsuspecting person could stumble upon them, they ARE placed in natural, relatively undisturbed areas. I have not felt right leaving my artificial pieces in these unspoiled areas where they could more permanently alter an ecosystem or negatively impact another person’s experience with it (what looks like art to some might be trash to others as it degrades).” A twinge of disappointment, if not a punch in the gut, is felt by those longing to glimpse a cluster of knit fungi on a hike.

But there is still hope for those eager to seek out some of Martin’s sculpture, if you don’t mind meeting her parents. “The more urban installations are a little different since there is so much more evidence of the human population, and I did actually leave Stacks in place where it was created – on a tree in my parents’ back yard. It’s still there to this day. I’m interested in working on some more permanent installations in urban areas, or possibly in natural areas using natural materials.” This means that yet another layer is added to the fiber/installation/conceptual art sandwich, that of photography, and maybe even set design. “For now, the photographs are the final product in the Decomposition series. With the 52 Forms project, I have been placing the forms and then I hang on to them after photographing so I have some context of size and construction in case I want to revisit a particular form.” Martin’s documentation of her Decompositions and Forms is much more than proof or record keeping. The sets of long shots and close ups carry us through the trees or down the street until we see, see closer, a secret that grows in the creases.

Decomposition: Stacks

Martin’s goal of offering viewers “a greater awareness of their natural surroundings, a sense of how complex every ecosystem is and greater vision for noticing and enjoying these details in their every day life” through her fungi runs concurrent to the heart of her work in urban forestry, which “involves connecting people to the trees in their community.” One can pull meaning from both the visual impact of her work and the social, political, ecological fodder from which it grows. Her fungi call forth the natural poetics of Andy Goldsworthy, the glittering science of Carl Sagan, the Thoreauian marriage of political and artistic expression. More than anything, Martin says her mission is personal.

“Urban Forestry is very much related to education, not only about how to plant, grow and care for trees, but also about what trees can do for people.” Aside from the obvious environmental impact, Martin says that trees, plants and other vegetation provide “many social, mental and health benefits as well. In urban areas it’s so easy to lose sight of these benefits and go around without noticing the nature around us at all,” she adds. “I do not consider myself an activist by any means – I just hope that contemplating my creations can help another person to experience that well-being from nature, even if it’s just one person.”

Decomposition: Riot

Leigh Martin blogs at bromeleighad.com. Her artwork can be found both there and here.

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Remember this post?

It was all about this blanket:

This very same blanket, designed and knitted by our very own Michele Fandel Bonner and photographed at our very own shop now graces the pages of Cascade’s newest book, 60 Quick Baby Blankets. That’s it! The same blanket!

The book is full of great patterns, (60 to be exact!), all knit in the baby-friendly superwash varieties of Cascade 220 and 128. Michele’s blanket is knit in 128, a chunky weight yarn, so it truly is a quick knit.

As the mother of a 10 moth old, I can tell you, blankets always make great gifts. In addition to the usual uses like warmth and comfort, a summer baby, as mine is, will still need a blanket to lie on at the park, or to sit and play on at the house. Plus, babies never outgrow blankets! So come on down to Seed Stitch and get your copy of 60 Quick Baby Blankets today.

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If you’ve seen the latest issue of Vogue Knitting, you may have read about local fiber artist Adrienne Sloane. The Lexington-based sculptor began her career in yarn as a milliner, crafting machine-knit hats throughout the eighties and nineties. When a fire destroyed her studio, Sloane took a break from fiber. When she returned to the knitting machine in 2004, a new kind of work began to emerge. Sloane tells us about her creative shift and her recent body of work.
Your present work seems markedly different from your pre-fire work, mostly in that it reads more as art than craft (in thinking of craft as a usable art, as in the case of your hats) and is intensely political. What spurred this change of creative pace?
While I loved playing with color and design in the sculptural hats I knit until losing my studio to a fire in 1999, the fire provided a clean break and an obvious time to reexamine the focus and intent of my work.  During the five year hiatus which followed, I became chair of the Watertown Cultural Council as well as help found our local arts center, Arsenal Center for the Arts (arsenalarts.org).  As long dried yarns worked their way up from the cellar to my dining room, it became clear that it was time to look for a studio.   As I fully reengaged with fiber, it also was clear to me that I wanted my work to be more meaningful.
When you sit down to work, do you begin with the medium, the form, or the message? Are you working toward an image/form and creating a pattern to get there, as in more traditional garment/knitwear design or is there more tactile exploration happening along the way?
Generally, one piece informs the next, with a lot of tactile exploration along the way. Currently, I am playing with linear elements in a variety of ways with particular focus on non-traditional ways to use I-cord as a drawing medium.  Though I have dry periods, what I enjoy so much in the creative process is just when I think that I have exhausted the possibilities, a new way of working seems to evolve leading down yet a new path of exploration.
Similarly, how do the construction techniques used effect the final object and the meaning inherent in it as a made object? For example, are there differences between those pieces that are machine knit as opposed to those that are done by hand? Do you use both techniques in a single piece?
I have occasionally mixed machine and hand knitting.  However, there is a subtle interplay between material and message and I try to choose the most appropriate medium for the piece I have in mind.   At the moment, I am doing much less machine knitting than I have done in the past.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve made? That someone else has? What artists do you look to and admire?
My favorite pieces are the ones that are the most evocative, where the material, subject matter and overall execution sync well.  These pieces sing to me; Truth to Power and Sea Change, (which is up at Above the Din exhibit at Artworks in New Bedford until April 3), to name two.
There are so many artists whom I admire; four of whom I invited to the Artworks show.  They include Beatrice Coron, Nancy Crasco, Nathalie Miebach and Ruth Marshall.

 

You have said, “I knit to rejoin the frayed and unraveled places around me.” That is so lovely. But does this driving force of making art to make sense of things around you ever make things more difficult? Do you ever become consumed or bogged down by the stream of (often bad) news you keep playing in the studio or are you able to shut it off during other parts of your day? Do you create work from narratives more directly involving your personal life and do these pieces also get shown or do they remain personal?
The fiber world is not infrequently inwardly focused, however, my interest is on conveying my visceral responses to the world around me.  I do not have a body of work that is for my eyes only.   I am always very pleased then when my work resonates with others.
On a much lighter note, you are a fiber artist, but do you also consider yourself a knitter in the more traditional sense? Do you frequent your local yarn shop, spend time on Ravelry, and make yourself knits to wear, or is your knitting mostly sculptural?
Thanks so much for asking.  At this point in my career, I am really more of a sculptor and do not frequent yarn shops, spend much time on ravelry or knit wearables.  I am more likely to look for new and interesting linear elements at the hardware store or take material inspiration other media.
Sloane’s work is currently on view at the Attleboro Museum as part of the show, Down to the Wire. Her studio will also be featured and open to the public on April 27 and 28 through the Fifth Annual Lexington Open Studios. If you are interested in learning more about sculptural knitting, you might consider taking Sloane’s summer intensive at Monserrat College in Beverly this June. Knitting a Life runs from June 10 – 14 and registration is now open.
You can see more of Sloane’s work online at her website or her blog.
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What’s in a name?

I had the privilege of being at the shop the day the Funnies yarn from Dibadu arrived. The trans-Atlantic journey from Germany did nothing to dampen the almost technicolor hues of the yarn that Michele and I eagerly unpacked from their dull cardboard box. This surprise of brilliant color and content inside an unassuming, everyday package reminded me of our own funnies – the Sunday comics section, bright and enticing and tucked inside the black and white of the rest of the news.

 

The name Funnies, however, came from the dyer’s desire to appeal to the majority English-speaking knitters and hookers on Ravelry while speaking to her goal behind such bright dye lots in the first place – to bring joy to the knitter and crocheter through color. Color is the way Barbara Wolff sees the world. Literally. Wolff is a synesthete. She sees color in words and sounds, she says she even tastes it. Her whole life is color. “Every day of the week has a colour, every tone I played on the flute every tune I [sing], every feeling, and so on.”

It made me wonder what color Wolff sees when she utters the name of her yarn company, Dibadu. Many fans of her yarns have guessed at the origin of the name. Some thought it was a combination of the owners’ names (Dirk and Barbara) plus du, the German word for you. Although Wolff likes the idea of a communal trinity between yarn makers and knitter, she confessed that the story was not as exciting. When she and her husband started selling her handpainted yarn, they didn’t know where their journey would lead them. “So we looked for a name without any associations which could be pronounced in nearly all languages without twisting the tongue.” And of course, as a modern international business, they needed a domain name that was still available.

 

I’d like to think, however, that the musical sound of the name transcends both meaning and language and was, if unintentional, perhaps an unavoidable unconscious decision. Wolff is, after all, a musician by training: she plays the flute and recorder. The German phrases which appear on each skein of Stitchpainters (the DK weight yarn) and Sockpainters (the sock weight yarn) are actually lyrics pulled from traditional children’s and folk songs. Though she wanted to appeal to a wide range of international knitters with her company and yarn names, Wolff also wanted to pay homage to the German music that has inspired her throughout her life. And if Dibadu is at once an unconscious lyric, a piece of music, as well as a word, what colors are composed in this name? According to Wolff, “Dibadu is midnight blue. A warm deep blue…”

If you are looking for a project to knit with your skein of Funnies, I would suggest creating a fabric with which to highlight the colorscapes created by it. Something with a simple stitch repeat like a baktus or a honey cowl would knit up beautifully with just one skein. Once you’ve finished, please share your projects with us by wearing them down to the shop or posting pictures here on the blog in the comments section of this post or on our facebook page.

 

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Dec27 2012

Knitting Meets Fraggle Rock

Remember the Fraggles? As a kid, I loved these critters. And although I’m sure it was more her manner than her wardrobe, Mokey, in her long green sweater, was my favorite muppet. I had a Mokey doll that I played with every day, toting her around the house, she in her long green sweater and me wrapped in my closest approximation to the garment, a yellow and green fringed afghan crocheted by my mom. It only recently occurred to me that my over-sized, moth-eaten, green house sweater (which, despite it’s frumpy appearance, gets worn out of the house more often than not) may be a security blanket of sorts not just because it is warm and comfy, but because it gives a subconscious nod to something, or someone, of my childhood: Mokey.

 

But this post was not supposed to be about Mokey. It was supposed to be about the Doozers, those tiny neighbors to the Fraggles who built their subterranean structures out of what always reminded me of glue sticks. However, as you’ll learn from the following video, sometimes Doozers made more than buildings. Sometimes, Doozers knit!

Check out the video:

And if anyone ever finds a pattern for Mokey’s sweater, please pass it on to me!

 

 

 

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Even though spider silk is not the fiber spun to create the silk yarns with which we knit, I couldn’t help but share this image of the tiny silk yarn-bombing I discovered in my backyard.

Nature’s real knitters (or are they crocheters? or weavers? or spinners?), such as spiders and silk worms, are constantly creating their own fibrous masterpieces and they don’t even need the help of needles, hooks or notions. Though, if I were to suddenly have the power to spin my own yarn from my own person, I believe I’d prefer to do it like a worm, who excretes her silk from glands located near her mouth, rather than like the spider, who, unlike the palm-squirting Spiderman, excretes her silk from spinnerets located just below her anus.

If cocoons are the insect equivalent of sweaters, or perhaps afghans, then what of the web? Is it more fisherman’s net, or crockpot, or equal parts of both? And more importantly, is there a pattern for it?

Whether your want to hook your own cocoon-inspired blanket or knit some web-influenced reusable grocery bags, we’ve got plenty of silk yarns for you to choose from.

There’s Silk Gima from Habu. The same company that makes yarn from stainless steel, paper, and copper brings us this soft, matte silk. “Gima” is actually Japanese for “fake linen,” which makes sense when you see this yarn up close.

If you prefer your silk with a more traditional sheen, we have the lovely DK weight Mulberry by Louisa Harding.

Shibui’s Heichi is a gorgeous raw silk tweed. The fiber and color combinations make for a rustic worsted weight yarn perfect for fall.

We also have a variety of Araucania silk yarns, artisanally dyed in stunning shades influenced by the Chilean landscape and wildlife.

We have even more silk and silk blends in the shop including yarns from Cascade and Rowan. Forget the spooky polyester cobwebs strung about for Halloween. Instead, chain a few stitches and channel the spider through silk.

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Looking for an interesting baby blanket pattern?

A blanket that’s perfect for both boys and girls…

…and timeless enough to carry from crib to college?

Coming soon in Cascade’s next 60 Quick Knits series, just the pattern you’ve been looking for, designed by our very own Michele Bonner! We’ll keep you posted on the publish date, but in the meantime, be sure to congratulate Michele when you see her.

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