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 sewed hundreds of designer labels culled from unwanted clothes. “Hide speaks to the world’s obsession with labels for 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.
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!
In celebration of summer, I thought I’d do a little series showcasing some of the fabulous non-animal fiber yarns we carry. Even though wool is an all-season fiber (I saw a runner in town the other day wearing hand-knit wool running shorts!), it’s not the first fiber many think of when casting on for summer projects. When there are so many other fibers to choose from – bamboo, viscose, linen, and more – why not give the sheep a seasonal rest? What better, more basic, breathable fiber to begin with than cotton?
We carry a lot of cotton and cotton blends, and not all cottons are created equal. If you want a yarn with a silkier feel and sheen, try Cascade Ultra Pima Cotton. Like most types of Cascade, Pima comes in a wide array of bright colors that are perfect for summer. Because it’s a DK weight yarn, it’s super versatile and can be knit alone on smaller needles for a tight, clean stitch, on larger needles for an open, lacy feel, or even held double for a super fast, squishy stitch. It’s also machine washable!
If you’re looking for a summer garment to knit up in Pima, Connie Chang Chinchio’s Tie Back Shell would be a great match for this yarn. You can always count on Cascade for giving you plenty of yarn bang for your buck, and Pima is no exception. You’d only need five skeins to make this sassy summer knit in a medium or large. Another great yarn to easily substitute for the Pima would be Tahki Stacy-Charles Cotton Classic.
If you are motivated by more than just the weather for using non-animal fibers (I’m talking to you vegans and green-living gurus), then you will love Rowan Purelife Revive. Recylced cotton, silk and rayon clothing is spun together in nearly equal parts to make this tweedy-looking DK.
If you know a little girl in need of a sweet summer cardigan, cast on Analu. French designer Muriela made this sweater specifically to be knit with Revive. Pictured below is a lovely toddler-size version of the sweater by Gingergooseberry, which she knit up using a mere three skeins. You can also try the adult-size Lady Analu to match!
Looking for a cotton that is both environmentally friendly and machine washable? Try Kertzer Down to Earth 100% organic cotton. Melissa Schaschwary designed her gorgeous, flowly Plover Summer Beach Shirt with Kertzer in mind, so you’ll be sure to get the gauge and drape intended when knitting it. Melissa’s knitwear and accessories for both children and adults can be found on Ravelry. You can support both an independent knitwear designer and a local business when you purchase Ravelry patterns like this one through Seed Stitch. Just tell us the pattern you’re looking for when you come down to pick out your yarn, we’ll look it up and it will go straight into your Ravelry library!
If you still haven’t found the perfect cotton yarn, stop by and take a look at all the other cottons and cotton blends we offer, including more options from Rowan and Louisa Harding.
Next time in the non-animal knitting series: silk!
After meeting Leslie Scanlon and getting my hands on some of her designs at the Yarn Crawl last month, I knew I had to learn more about her and her work. Leslie, who lives just up the shore in Newbury, is the talent behind the clean and sometimes funky knitwear designs of Mac & Me. In case you missed her at the shop, Leslie let me pick her brain for the blog.
Leslie started crafting at an early age. “My mom taught me to knit and sew when I was about 7. I was the queen of Mary Poppins strapless tube dresses. No Barbies in our Catholic household, Mary did have that amazing tapestry carpet bag though and she dressed in black. I messed around with knitting then switched to embroidery and sewing until graduate school. I was working on oral exams for my MFA and the stress was amazing so I started to knit. By the time I graduated, I was hooked again.”
When she became pregnant and “nesting and knitting kicked in,” Leslie was inspired to start designing. Her daughter, Mac, was behind every part of the business from the very beginning. “Once I had a few designs to sell and stores were interested in them, I started to think about how they should look in the store. Mac, my then 6 year-old daughter drew the original logo months earlier and it was hanging on the fridge. The name Mac & Me came easily.”
When asked about which comes first, the yarn or the design, Leslie told me that her process is always changing. There are some yarns that have inspired her. “The Elizabeth scarf is a great example, I found Kid Silk Haze, fell in love with it and had it on my drawing table for a year. I knew what the garment had to feel like; feminine, light, airy but graphic and bold, goodness knows how long it took me to pick out the color but I got the idea for the scarf and the photo shoot at the same time. It was done in a week. That’s the best.” She also loves and designs with Blue Sky Alpaca, Shibui Sock and Madelinetosh.
Nowadays, being a knitwear designer also means being a business person. “The most challenging part of being an ‘indie’ designer is trying to understand the ever changing direction of the business…It’s like the Wild, Wild West trying to anticipate the flow of blogging, Facebook and Ravelry while also concentrating on my real work, which is design and knitting.” Despite the stress of social media and marketing, Leslie is still rewarded by “designing, knitting, envisioning the photo shoot in my mind, turning it all into a knitting pattern and then letting it go. The thrill comes when people respond to my designs.”
When she’s not working, Leslie enjoys rug hooking and yoga. A certified yoga instructor, she practices daily at 5 a.m. with a small group of other yogis. This practice, it seems, reflects something of her aesthetic as a designer. “I see my work as clean simple shapes, with great color, texture and design. I try to live with clarity, with minimal distraction and clear direction. There are so many distractions, it is a constant struggle to stay focused on what we are each trying to do and say. I am most interested in quiet design, still waters.”
I am not a sock knitter. I cannot yet bring myself to devote my precious knitting time to making something that no one will see and compliment so that I, in false modesty with dropped eyelids can say, “Oh this? Yes, I knit it.” I do, however, love the hand painted and variegated colors in sock and fingering weight yarns. When Andrea suggested I do a post on sock yarn sweaters, I thought, “Finally! An excuse to buy sock yarn!” It is, after all, always nice to pretend I have an excuse to buy yarn.
Knitting a sweater or shawl in a lightweight yarn at a loose gauge yields the perfect spring into summer layer. One designer, whose work I always love and who is known for garments like these, is Hannah Fettig, also known as knitbot.
Why not knit one up in Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light? With a generous 420 yards per skein, you’d only need 2 (2, 3) skeins for the Whisper and 3 (4, 4) for the Featherweight.
Do you (or your favorite blogger) have a spring or summer baby on the way? The Korrigan, by French designer Solenn Couix-Loarer comes in a variety of sizes from 0-1 m to 18-24 m and would be as soft and squishy as the baby you put it on if knit up in Shibui Sock.
Two skeins this 100% merino superwash would make one of the smaller sizes. If you’re looking for something variegated, 1 skein of Araucania Huasco (call for availability and colors) would do the trick with plenty of yarn left over for a matching hat or booties.
How about a shawl? If you love lace work, you’re not a sweater knitter, or if you simply want the versatility of this knitters’ favorite accessory, cast on a Cladonia. I am a huge fan of Kirsten Kapur’s designs and this one screams summer.
Can you imagine the color possibilities knitting this up in a few skeins of Schoppel Wolle Zauberball (top) or Cascade Heritage (bottom)? Both yarns weigh in at over 400 yards a skein, so you’d only need 2 (depending on your color scheme) for a Cladonia.
Do you have a favorite sock weight sweater or shawl I didn’t mention? Post a link to the pattern (or give the pattern name and designer and I’ll link it for you) in the comments below. Maybe you really want to make that Cladonia but need a little guidance once you’re at the lace? Drop by the shop any Saturday morning from 10:30-12 for just $15 and let Andrea help you out.
Have you been wondering how you can turn your latest knitting project into a timely political statement? Got some pink yarn in your stash that you just can’t figure out what to do with? Have you been searching for the perfect uterus pattern to no avail?
Take a cue from the folks at Government Free VJJ and join the Snatchel Project! These women are urging the rest of us to start knitting our anatomy and tell the men who represent us in government to get a clue (or a uterus) and “leave ours alone.”
The site features both knitting and crochet patterns for sculptural (and wearable) wombs (above), cervices (below) and more. Government Free VJJ is urging women to take a stand for women’s reproductive rights by making and sending these knitted items of protest to their local congressmen. You can join the movement at http://www.governmentfreevjj.com and add your project and congressman to the list.
I will be answering the call and casting on this week. But I won’t be sending all my knitted lady bits to the men on the hill – I want some to keep! I have no idea how I lived without a knitted cervix for this long.
One of the first signs of the transition from winter to spring in New England is color. After mild winters like this one and a spring like last year’s, which made only a brief appearance before disguising herself in the heat of summer, it’s color that we notice first. Bulbs sprout and bloom, trees bud and blossom, and spring colors abound on the shelves at Seed Stitch.
If you’ve been in the shop, you know that we have an endless supply of luxurious yarn in colors for just about every season. There are the organic, subtle solids of Spud & Chloe, the endless spectrum of Cascade, and the swoon-worthy hues of Madelinetosh. But what if, even with all these options, you’ve found the perfect yarn for next project but the color just isn’t quite right? Or, perhaps, with the coming of spring, you find yourself stalling before choosing which summer shawl to cast on? Instead of spending hours reading Ravelry project notes and pictures in hopes of making up your mind, switch gears and play with your yarn in a new way. Try natural dyeing!
Dying yarn (or roving, or fabric, or any other fibrous material) is a lot easier than you may think. To turn even the tiniest kitchen into a color lab, all you’ll need is a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and mordants (see below), a pot, sieve and tongs dedicated to dyeing, rubber gloves and a pen and paper to keep track of the variables in your experiments. And, of course, you’ll need yarn!
Because dyeing is a chemical process in which mordants (think of these as the glue that holds the color to the fibers through washing) chemically react with your dye source, try to avoid treated materials; natural, organic fibers are best. We have a variety of yarns that come in a wide range of weights and fiber content and would make great candidates for dyeing. For an organic cotton yarn try Blue Sky Alpaca natural cotton. Both Spud & Chloe Sweater and Outer are wool/cotton blends with light color options for easy dyeing. Those looking for a chunky, 100% wool yarn should try Rowan British Sheep Breeds Boucle. The shop also carries a great undyed sock weight wool that is perfect for experimenting.
Natural dye sources to try include yellow onionskins, spinach, blueberries, strawberries, turmeric and annatto. Surprisingly, beets do not work as color-fast dyeing veggies, but if you want to dye a yarn for a project you won’t be getting wet, beets yield a bright spectrum of pinks. You’ll want dyeing-only tools if you plan on using mordants that can be toxic if ingested in large amounts, such as alum (found in the spice section) or even cream of tartar. If you’d prefer 100% non-toxic mordants, try salt and baking soda or vinegar. The colors you will get from your dyes depend on the chemical reaction from the type of mordant used, the length of time you steep your yarn, and the fiber content of the yarn itself. I always love to see the variety in color I get when dyeing cotton, wool and silk with the same color source.
Think you should stick to dyeing cotton since the warm weather is approaching? Think again. Wool has natural absorbent, antimicrobial and wicking properties, which make it a great fiber for year-round garments including socks, cardigans and diaper covers. Plus, wool is a renewable resource and can be grown organically just like the fruits and veggies you use for dyes!
Come by and pick up a skein or two to experiment with and then come back next weekend for the Yarn Crawl and get great discounts (including a free skein of yarn when you buy six!) on more of our fabulous natural yarns to dye for.
Natural Dyeing How-To
Here’s an easy recipe for 4 oz of wool yarn using spinach, blueberries and annatto to get you started:
To prep your yarn for color fastness –
Fill a12-quart stainless steel stockpot with 6-8 quarts of water. Bring water to a boil. Add 1 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp baking soda as mordant and stir to dissolve. Add yarn and simmer in mordant bath about 1 hour. Drain.
To dye the yarn –
For a lovely pale yellow, combine 2 c packed fresh spinach per 1 oz wool yarn, cover with water. Let it simmer 1 hour and let stand 1 hour or longer.
For a gray-blue, combine ½ c blueberries per 1 oz wool yarn and prepare as above.
For a vibrant orange, crush 2 tbsp annatto (per 1 oz wool) using mortar and pestle and boil in 2 c water. To create a variegated effected, dampen the yarn with lukewarm water and use it to wipe off your mortar and pestle (these parts of the yarn will have a deeper orange after dying). Add yarn to annatto water and prepare as above.
Some people prefer to separate the dye source from the yarn, especially in the case of berries. If you don’t mind picking out skins and seeds after, there is no need to separate, but feel free to use a metal strainer that can sit in the pot as you’re dyeing or to put your fruits and veggies in muslin or tea balls to keep them out of the fiber. Personally, I don’t mind picking out the pieces and like to give my dye source lots of room in the pot to steep better. Also, when using wool, don’t agitate your yarn or felting will occur.
The best way to get the color you want is to experiment! Try using different mordants, fabrics and steeping times. Not sure if a particular veggie will give you the color you want? You can easily find natural dyeing blogs and tutorials online, or instead, encourage exploration and ask your kids to pick their favorite (or least favorite) food to use and predict about what color they’ll get. Interacting with fresh fruits, veggies and spices in a fun way may even inspire them to taste some new foods! For best results in getting consistent colors, keep a notebook of all your dye recipes along with photos or samples of your freshly dyed fibers for future reference.