Archive for the ‘Knitting’ Category

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We’re home from Ireland…. and that in itself is the miracle. For those of you with access to the international news, you’ll have heard about the snowstorm that brought London to its knees yesterday. Apparently it was the worst snowstorm in 20 years, and the first time since the Blitz that London’s bus services were completely cancelled. Since the Blitz!!

We were supposed to have been laying out a labyrinth near Belfast during the day, flying back to London yesterday evening. Although the worst of the snow hadn’t yet come across the Irish sea, we quickly realized that it wasn’t a day for painting labyrinth lines onto frozen ground, so we headed to the airport immediately after breakfast, in hopes of catching any available flight out.

Twelve hours later, a single flight headed out for London, and Jeff managed to get us seats… I’ll never know how he so consistently manages to work his travel miracles, but I’ll hitch my wagon to his star anytime. The official word from the airport was to simply go away and come back again in a couple of day… but the persistent hung out for a daylong blur of chance encounters with fellow travellers, interviews with BBC reporters looking for stories about travelling woe, and endless cups of coffee. I knitted, of course, nearly completing the cabled Irish socks I had selected to accompany me on this journey.

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Our Easy Jet captain, Chris Trevelyan,  came out into the cabin before takeoff to describe the travel chaos in the London airports. Warm and safe in the nearly flight-less Belfast International Airport, we had clearly escaped the worst. The flight was uneventful and even the drive home was easy, though eerie. The roads, even the motorways were absolutely deserted, a sight rarely seen. The only other vehicles out on the snowy landscape seemed to be the busy gritters.

Was the trip worth it? Absolutely… later this week I’ll post pictures of the labyrinths, megaliths, sheila-na-gigs and wintry Irish countryside.

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In the wee hours of the Friday morning, we’ll be leaving for Ireland on a journey that is part business, part pleasure, and part spiritual pilgrimage. For three days we’ll visit labyrinths and sacred sites that have been calling out to our pilgrim hearts. In some ways, I have to laugh at the ridiculousness of our timing. At the time of year when most of the British populace is dreaming of heading to warmer climes, we are trading our grey skies for the blustery winds and leaden skies of Ireland where we’ll undoubtedly shiver despite wearing our warmest woollies. But we don’t mind braving the January darkness and wintry weather if it means we have the space to wander and experience without being crowded by hordes of camera-clinking tourists.

One of my greatest joys is choosing and preparing the knitting project that will accompany me as we travel. I’m a knitterly pilgrim, so what I carry with me matters both practically and symbolically; I would no more dream of leaving home without my knitting than without a journal. And I don’t take just any knitting… I carefully listen to the quiet voice of my intuition as it whispers guidance for the trip ahead,then choose patterns, colours, and project that will support my journey. I don’t always knit much when I’m away, but I keep my knitting close at hand, always, using it as a touchstone and a companion.  By the time I return home, the familiarity of the yarn and my needles remind me instantly of my pre-trip dreams, the planning process, and the events of the journey itself. It may take months before I actually complete the knitting, but even that delay often speaks to the time that it takes me to fully integrate my experiences.

This week I’ll be travelling with a beautiful skein of hand-dyed blue-green wool that I received as a birthday present last year. Before we leave, I’ll cast 72 stitches onto a beautiful pair of wooden circular needles to start a cabled sock. Both the colour and the pattern seem as though they’ll fit with the Irish countryside through which we’ll be travelling. I wonder if sock-making appeals to me so deeply because of the importance of one’s feet when walking labyrinths?

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Seasonal Paradox

This tug-of-war between the seasons really fascinates me. After a week of spring, we’re suddenly back to winter today, with snow falling since early this morning. I love the feeling of curling up in the house where two layers of paned glass protect me from the icy air. I was 18 years old before I saw snow actually fall from the sky. As a Califonia girl (Northern California, if you please), I had made plenty of winter pilgrimages to Lake Tahoe to play in the snow, always secretly hoping for a good blizzard that would snow us in for a few days á la Little House on the Prairie and the other books I had grown up with… but my wish never came true and we always made it home in without seeing a single snowflake.

Hyacinths in Snow

So, this is pretty exciting, and just a bit exhilarating. We are leaving Tuesday morning to attend a board meeting in Minnesota (where I would expect to see weather like this) and I know that by the time we get back, this shoulder season will be gone and this seasonal paradox will have yielded to new flowers and fresh green leaves. I’ll welcome it! But as so often happens, my knitting mirrors my world. I’ve just finished blocking my latest socks, a surprise gift for a special lady… Don’t they look like those brave hyacinths, minus the snow? Warm socks pretending to welcome a sunny spring!

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Knitters Unite!


I’ve mentioned Ravelry earlier — but let me say a bit more. Are you a knitter? If so, Ravelry is a great way to compare your knitting projects with what the rest of the world is knitting. You can post pictures of your work, keep records of your stash, plan your next projects, and download free patterns.

If you’re on Ravelry, you can find me listed as klsaward. If you’re not on yet, you’ll have to register for an invitation. Joining is free, but you’ll have to be patient as it takes a week or two for new invitations to be issued. Once you’re in, let me know and I’ll link to you as a friend.

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I didn’t think to say it, but it’s so…. well, right. I’ve known there were connections between my varied interests, a subject I’ve vowed to explore in this blog (if and when I find the time to write). Kay Gardiner wrote in here Mason-Dixon blog this morning, Knitting unfamiliar lace is like walking through a maze with directions but no map. The pattern is telling you, turn right, turn left, walk straight–WHOA–stop–turn around…..After you’ve knit a few repeats, you start to see what the landmarks are, creating a map in your head.

Yes, that’s exactly it. Knitting in general can be like that as well…. at first you follow directions rather blindly, trusting the path that is being described, following the wordy footprints of the designer. Then confidence grows, and suddenly your needles are dancing down the pathways of your rows, heading toward the creation of your knitted piece. After a while, if you pay attention you learn to read your knitting like an experienced traveller will read the landscape for clues as to where she should head to find what she is seeking, be it adventure, safety, or a defined destination.

Following the paths of the labyrinth requires similar attention to the path.
At first, all you can see is the path…

The Path

Then after a bit, the bigger picture comes into focus.
You begin to get some perspective on the journey;
it begins to make sense…

The Bigger Picture

And then, often all too soon, you’ve arrived.
You’ve reached the centre of the labyrinth, or the end of your pattern.
You’ve come to the point where you can reflect on where you’ve been,
and how you got from there to here…

Arrival

Whether you focus on the inward journey or the external path your feet are following, you have only to surrender yourself to that path in order to reach the center.

The Journey

Attention to what crosses your path ,
your thoughts, images, and stories as well as the people and things you might meet along the way, shapes both your internal and external travels
as they mark the path and give character to the journey.
Whether knitting or following the labyrinth’s meandering paths,
this is what carries us forward.

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It may still be the Lenten season on the spiritual calendar — and yes, I am still deeply involved with my Lenten spiritual practice — but on the Creative Woman’s calendar, it is Expo Season. As a bead and fibre artist and teacher, I always have a few dozen projects on the go. My mind usually whirls faster than my fingers can create, especially as I inevitably choose to work with the tiniest of beads and the finest of yarns, meaning many long hours woven into every creation. Nevertheless, like every red-blooded craftsperson, I look forward to these expos with great anticipation… I go to renew both my stash and my creative well.

Last week, I drove out through the English countryside (and yes, Essex is beautiful, so driving through the early post-storm morning was a winter delight) with two good friends, then spent several hours soaking in the creative richness of booth after booth of sumptuous beads. I behaved admirably, not pulling out my credit card even once, but I still managed to return home with treasures that make my heart sing.

I decided some time ago that henceforth and forever I will only buy things that make my heart sing, and that I will, from time to time, answer the siren call of things that sing to me loudly even when I’m not sure why I want them or what I will ultimately do with them. Consider this bead:

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Who could resist? It feels as lovely as it looks, and its song is filling my entire studio space. I would have been happy if I had returned with just this single bead…. but of course I didn’t. I bought a few other things just because they were singing my name so alluringly.

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As glorious as beads (and yarn) can be, it is once again the community that commands my attention. My classes at Bodkins, my correspondence with other artists, even my admiration of the authors of the books that inspire me, show me again and again that creativity does not emerge from a vacuum. Creativity grows from carefully tended seeds, is nurtured by the attention we give it, and thrives when we surround ourselves with a stash of materials we love and people who will fuel our passion for our work. I firmly believe that a good stash of interesting beads and fibers is a spiritual and creative resource of inestimable value — a belief I use to justify just about any acquisition and which also serves as an excuse for an impromptu handicraft party at a moment’s notice!

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Don’t you just want to know these people? They are Ian and Lorraine, founders of Oak Tree Crafts, and part of my extended beading community. Their love for both people and beads infuses their business as they introduce more and more people to the art of building a Stash. They are such fun people to deal with that I’ve learned to cherish a whole new palette of beads just so that I continue to work with them! What a boon! Lorraine (the designer in the partnership) has a style that is very different from mine, so I’ve been able to learn a lot by studying her techniques and buying her beads, which are a bit flashier than the rich but sedate matte finishes that I gravitate towards. As her influence seeps into both my stash and my community, I find my work has taken on new sparkle and my imagination new depth! Such is the magic of connection!

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Things Elemental

I woke up this morning searching for a word… my mind has predictably been a bit preoccupied with the things I’ve been writing about and it just seemed that there should be word to sum up the feelings I have about Lent. It’s come to me…. Lent is elemental, a return to things earthy and fertile, gestational. I wanted to make a pot of soup this morning and as I gathered my ingredients, it occurred to me that my soul is yearning for simple ingredients, found items, earthy foods. These vegetables were not purchased specially for today’s soup pot, but were merely lurking in the pantry, some of them a gift from a friend who had found them in amongst the markdowns at the local co-op.

Soup To Be

As I peeled and chopped, I continued to cogitate on the meaning of the word elemental and its relevance and resonance in my spiritual life. I decided that it fits with this pre-spring season, fits with the earthy smell of the spring bulbs which are already pushing their way into bloom, somewhat early this year. It fits with the empty larder, and the last of the winter root vegetables. It even fits with my husband who populates his spiritual calendar differently than I do mine. At this time of year, he makes regular pilgrimages to the mud flats in search of prehistoric fossils and the remains of civilizations past… when he comes in from the rain and the mud, he smells of something earthy and elemental, and he is satisfied with his walk in the mud, his commune with a natural world I can barely comprehend.

Elemental Soup

My soup greets him with warmth and substance, the result of my time in my kitchen; the earthiness of my ingredients balance nicely with the loftiness of my early morning meditation. I serve it with the ciabatta bread I baked yesterday, its simple flavouring of olive oil and yeasty goodness making it just right for dunking.

Simple pastimes, simple pleasures… and for those of you who fear I’ve abandoned my knitting practice, note my bright-and-cheery handknit tea towel in the picture above. As I said, simple pastimes, simple pleasures…

Elemental Soup

Heat a small glug of olive oil in a large saucepan. Peel and dice a couple onions and a few cloves of garlic and set them to simmer in the oil while you peel and chop a few carrots, a parsnip or two, a turnip, some potatoes, a handful of mushrooms, and whatever else you find lurking in your vegetable bin. Add the vegetables to the pot, along with a tin of chopped tomatoes and a handful of dried herbs (I used basil and a bouquet garni). Cover with water and add a tin of beans (I used cannellinis ) and a handful of pearl barley. Add a stock cube, if desired. Simmer until the barley is cooked and the soup is thick and flavourful.

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