So the last time we were here together was the day before Christmas eve, and now it’s New Years Eve. And a wonderful week it has been. On Christmas Eve I did something I very rarely get to do. I left at closing time, waving to my beloved Minions as we all made our way across the parking lot to our respective cars and headed into our holiday plans away from each other. I went to the grocery store to get a couple of last minute things for breakfast on Christmas morning. Then I remembered I had left something important at the shop. I came back and saw our shop as I never get to see it. It was dark and quiet. I was all alone and everything was…peaceful.
Now, around here, we are many things, but peaceful is not really part of our repertoire. We bustle and we dance. We sing and we rearrange. We knit and crochet and chat. And there are a lot of us. Ten people share our small office space. There is always someone coming or going through all of our doors. And then there are the customers and friends who come in to shop or just hang around. It is a humming hive of activity in here. But not on Christmas Eve. This is how it was on Christmas Eve.
I got the thing I came for, then I just sat in one of the chairs up front. And I drank in the quiet. At this time of year, I tend toward the retrospective, and I did a bit of that. In my retrospection it seemed strange to me that last year at this time, I didn’t know any of these people who now fill my store, my office, my days and my life. A year ago. It seems like forever. Really, haven’t I known these people for, like, ever? Last year at this time, I had an entirely different vision of what our shop would look like. Now it looks and feels so just right it seems impossible that I could ever have had a different notion. Strange how things come to pass.
But retrospection was only part of my reverie, the jumping off place. What really hit home was the future stretching before me. Looking toward future Christmases, I realized how very like a family we have already become and how we knit ourselves closer together all the time. And we are already creating the memories we will carry with us. We have our rhythms and we have our inside jokes. We know each other’s preferences and make room for each others’s moods. Each hand made ornament on this year’s tree has a story.
Jennifer’s Needle Felted Thumb Warming Kitty of Affirmation
The traditional Christmas Squid
Ruffle scarf garland…finally the perfect application for that stuff! And Kristin’s beautiful bell that she got done just under the wire.
Justine’s radioactively genetically modified Mothra Dove of Peace. Man, that thing is huge!
Corwin’s statement against consumerism and the corporate agenda and…something…umm…about…yeah. But it’s hand made, so it counts.
Allison’s cute little mitten. For such a humbug, she sure went traditional.
As I sit here on the edge of the new year and dangle my feet into the flow of time that hasn’t happened yet, I want to archive these moments. These will be the things I remember next year. And before I make the dive into the future, I want to pack up a few things to take with me. A backpack full of future memories to anchor me to this pivoting, swinging, revolving moment between times. These will all hang on our future trees, and we’ll remember. For now, looking forward and looking back, taking stock and making plans, I wish you all the happiest, fullest, most prosperous new year. I wish you peace.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and, though we’ll be closed on Christmas day, we want to give you something fun and special. It has been six months since we opened and you have all made this first half year a wonderful ride. So… all day tomorrow, we’ll be offering a Mystery Discount. When you’re all done shopping and bring you yarn to the register, you can pick a chocolate. On the chocolate there will be a sticker. Under the sticker there will be a number. That number will be your Mystery Discount. Maybe it will be 10%. Maybe you’ll get 20% or 30%. Some lucky few will get 40% off their last minute purchases.
Come in for a cup of hot mulled cider and a cookie. Sing a carol with us if the inspiration strikes you. We’ll be here, and we’ll be filled with good cheer and gratitude for a holiday season that has you all it it. The Mystery Discount is our way of saying, “Thank you” for your support. You have no idea how you inspire us, or what we have in store for you next year. Stick with us, kids, and together we’ll make the new year happy and bright.
I’m knee deep in sweater design muddle at the moment. I fell in love with a delicate lace pattern from Barbara Walker’s Treasury of Knitting Patterns and I’m determined that it will adorn the neckline of the sweater I’m cooking up. Of course, the lace pattern that I’ve chosen isn’t as easily worked into raglan sleeves as I would like, so in an attempt to make my life “easier,” I thought I could outsmart Barbara Walker. The whole debacle began when I decided to chart the pattern (I detest written instruction, bring on the charts!). My chart lulled me into a false sense of security and I thought I could omit Barbara’s clear instruction that the lace is a 6 stitch repeat plus 5 sts. I decided that I was too cool for the extra 5 stitches, since they complicated my plan. I spent hours cursing my swatch because the pattern just wouldn’t work out as lovely as it appears in my mind and in my chart. I became so baffled with why the math wasn’t coming out right that I had to bring Mim into the action. We busted out our calculators and went back through my swatch for mistakes, unable to find any. We were truly mystified until the epic moment when we realized that Barbara Walker rocks and knows what she’s talking about. I’ve learned a valuable lesson and feel happily humbled. It’s nice to find such simple answers to life’s major problems sometimes.
Someday this swatch will grow into a beautiful sweater for our manikin, who in company with her two pals is referred to as “the girls”…. Do you find yourself wondering why our girl has such a sweet old-timey tattoo in such a racy location? I think she just likes to keep it fresh.
This week, Newtown, Connecticut lost 20 of the most precious things on earth. While the violent death of an adult is shocking and tragic, there is something so much more bewildering, so much more poignant in the deaths of those children. I almost can’t even think about it, let alone write about it.
In every culture in the northern hemisphere, mid-winter, the winter solstice, Yule, Christmas, Hannukah, all of them, it’s all about hope. From pagan times to the present, we hit that longest night, that dark night of the soul when despair and fear in the darkness threaten to overwhelm us. We long for the return of the light and reach for anything we can hang onto to remind ourselves that dawn is coming, spring is coming, there is reason to hope.
And it is no accident that, in most of these traditions, that hope comes in the form of a child. The baby new year, the holy infant. See, the light is fragile when it begins to return. At the winter solstice we have to take it on faith that the days are getting longer. We won’t be able to see it for ourselves until well into January, maybe even the beginning of February. And that faith makes all the difference. It is what gets us through that longest night. Faith that no matter how long it seems it will never be longer than that, and no matter how afraid we are there will always be a dawn, a spring. Faith is the only thing we have to hang onto when hope is newborn and fragile.
Picture it with me. The longest darkest night and there is a turmoil of pain and transition. At the moment when it seems that it will never end, a final push of faith brings something new into the world. And it is tiny. Tiny like a flame that lingers when it should have died away. Tiny like a baby being swaddled for the first time. Tiny like the first stirring of hope. And it is fragile. It must be fiercely defended, wildly cherished, held in a gentle hand until it can be on its own. We don’t even know its name or what it might portend. We only know that it is the most precious, most holy thing we can imagine and it has been entrusted to us to guard.
At this time of year we surround ourselves with as many of the symbols of hope as we can. We light lights, and bake goodies, and give gifts of love to those who are most precious to us. And, if we are very lucky indeed, we have children near us. Children who are filled with wonder at the magic of lights in the darkness. Children who are the most potent symbol of our love, our faith. Children, the walking embodiment of our hope. We take these dark days and fill them with light for the children.
How then should we even begin to encompass the loss of those 20 embodiments of hope? It is too much. Every time it even crosses my mind, I shy away, distract myself with one of the thousand things I have to do in this bustling season. When I can bring myself to look out of the corner of my eye at the edges of what happened in Newtown, I am shattered. Even at this moment, I am sitting at my desk with my fingers typing, and I am weeping. How much more are they weeping in Newtown? And what, oh, what on Earth will those mothers and fathers hang onto to give them hope in this most awful of long dark nights? If I could knit up those broken hearts, I would work my fingers bloody to make something of light and faith for those people, or even for myself.
I have faith that there will be a dawn. I have hope that there will be a spring. I believe with all my heart that the universe is a place filled with light and love. But there is little of ease in me this day, and I know this long dark night will be longer and darker than most. Still, I will hug my own child and fiercely guard the hope that was entrusted to me. I’ll pray for peace for those in turmoil. I’ll pray for comfort for those in pain. I’ll sing a song of thanks for all my blessings and share them as best I can. And I will sing a song of mourning along with those who loved those children in Newtown, Connecticut. And that will be the sound of a heart breaking.
I’ve taken a small hiatus from blogging over the last few weeks and thankfully have some knitting news to report on. I’ve actually created finished objects! Hooray. ‘Tis the season for epic cast-on-itis and I’m fighting it hard. With lots of encouragement from our lovely Over the Rainbow Yarnies, I can happily announce that I’ve finished my November sweater, Mason’s winter hat, a pair of socks, and a mitten (its buddy is in the works). My new and delightful friend, Jacinda, has been a particularly good influence on me. Jacinda has NO STASH, she’s like a real life knitting unicorn…. unicorns sound amazing and it seems like they should exist but they’re just too magical. How a person can exercise such yarn hoarding restraint has always baffled me. Over tea last Monday, Jacinda showed me her knitting basket. It’s actually just one basket and that’s all. If she came to my house for tea, we could make an adult sized fort out of the bins of yarn that are currently stacked in a corner of my new pad and drink our tea inside of it. Jacinda told me that she wasn’t going to start a new project until she finished a pair of socks for her brother. Tahhh Dah!
I followed her lead and have finished my first pair of socks ever created in one go. I’ve knit bunches of socks in my day, I just usually skip making the second one. It’s good thing that non-matching socks are suddenly “in” with the tweens and hipsters. I can finally be cool. My new pair actually fit well and match and I loooove them. There’s a rockin’ party in my boots today.
And last but not least, Mason’s hat! It’s very difficult to make my favorite one year old (tomorrow! Happy Birthday to Mason!) be still long enough for a non-blurry photo-op.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep up my responsible knitting streak long enough to bust into the dreaded box of UFOs. I like to just be hopeful, with no strict rules. I try not to set myself up for failure with unachievable goals when I spend everyday surrounded by new yarn and exciting possibilities.
A week ago my desk was clean. I can’t take credit for it. On a day when I didn’t come in until afternoon, one of The Minions (Thank you, Corwin) couldn’t stand it anymore and cleaned it for me. See, I am one of those creative types that enjoys the process of taking things out and getting started, but the process of putting things away…not so much. Plus, when The Minions can’t find any other place to put something, they put it on my desk, usually with my collusion. So my own creative whirlwind and the collective confusion of the whole store come together in a fantastic explosion on my desk. So, Corwin cleaned my desk. A week ago.
Today my desk looks like this…
Now, maybe I seem just a little bit obsessed with desks this week, but they seem so illustrative of my philosophy of organization. See, I also believe in the beauty and satisfaction of accidental inspiration. I know they say that art is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. But I would argue that that is true for people with clean desks and organized minds. If you set yourself in a direction, sure, you’ll find what you are looking for along the way. But haven’t you ever had a moment when you weren’t looking for it and inspiration just whaps you in the head and you become enchanted with a new idea you didn’t even have on your radar? Those are the sublime moments that come when you haul all your old knitting magazines out to look for that zip up the back baby sweater pattern and find instead an exquisite shawl that you don’t remember ever seeing before…though you must have since it’s your magazine and you always read them cover to cover. Still, there it is and it reminds you of that beautiful lace weight silk blend you have in stash. And before you can even explain what happened, you’re casting on with a song in your heart, grateful that inspiration has taken you in again. You’re in love and everything is rosey.
Oh, I know about spreadsheets and plans and schedules and knitting hats in March and putting them away in the Christmas box and production outweighing whimsy. And I do that, too. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about inspiration, and surrendering to the moment when the moment reaches out for you.
Today, another of The Minions asked if she could reorganize the books. See, they had been organized alphabetically by authors last name and Zofia was having trouble finding what she was looking for when she didn’t know who wrote a book. She wanted to put hat books with hat books, and sock books with sock books, etc. Now, I have no objection to organizing books. Once upon a time I thought I might grow up to be a librarian. I have always loved libraries and book stores, those temples to inspiration. But my favorite part was the card catalog…remember the card catalog? I can’t tell you how many time I went flipping through the card catalog at random and found something surprising and wonderful. I also loved just wandering through the stacks, offering myself up for inspiration to jump off the shelf at me. I don’t mind organizing books by title, or by author’s last name, or by theme, or by color of the binding. And in the collaborative environment here at OTR, anyone can pretty much do anything they want in the way of organization and be pretty sure half the folks will like it okay, and the other half of the folks will find it a little annoying. Until someone else decides to re-organize according to some new principle. And our book section, while being a decent size and growing, is no match for an actual library or book store. It’s not hard or time consuming to re-organize, change it up a bit.
But I have one small, niggling, little difficulty. Some books have hats and socks…not to mention baby sweaters and tea cozies…in them so it would be hard to figure out how to classify them, but that doesn’t bother me. Some books are predominantly pattern books and some are predominantly technique or design reference books and it would be hard to figure out how to place books that have both, but that doesn’t bother me either. My difficulty is, if someone comes in looking for a worsted weight hat pattern and goes to the worsted weight hat pattern book section…then goes to get the suggested worsted weight yarn and needles…how in the world will they be inspired by the lace weight vintage bed jacket that would be the perfect holiday gift for someone?
I encourage everyone to “misfile” things occasionally. You know, instead of putting all the lace weight yarn in one place, put a beautiful bunch of Artyarns hand beaded silk lace weight in with the DK yarns. You never know where the next inspiration could come from. No one has card catalogs anymore, and there are libraries where they don’t even let you browse the stacks. I love my messy desk for what it reveals every time I turn something over and my only partially organized stuff that gives me enough structure that I always know where things are but not so much that I always know where things are. I know. That doesn’t make much sense. But striking a balance between eclectic mess and organization, that’s what leaves me open to serendipity and discovery.
One of the things I like best about my job is being surrounded by bright, creative, friendly, enthusiastic, smart, warm, funny, talented people who all have a well developed sense of whimsy and a flare for the dramatic. My Minions, I love them one and all. And the thing I love the most about them is, though their skills and interests are wildly divergent, they are all passionate about learning more and more and more.
Allison, whom you are all getting to know almost always has a party in her shoes, has just made the local roller derby team, and is taking her first steps into formal designing. She has been a modify-it-on-the-needles or make it up as you go along kind of girl for a long time. She has not only the imagination and the vision to make design changes, she has the skills to make her visions come true. But writing it down? Thinking it through? Doing the math to scale for sizing? These are brand new skills for her and she’s going after them with her characteristic full steam ahead, no hold barred style. She has 24 projects on the needles, identifies as a cardigan addict, has samples and swatches and design books everywhere. She is a whirlwind and a law unto herself.
Jennifer is so much more meticulous. She allows herself to work on no more than two projects at a time. And each one evolves from hours of careful thought before she ever makes a stitch. But she also started with her very first project doing it on her own. Never a pattern dependent kind of girl, her very first project was a simple hat she designed herself. And she keeps making her own designs and using each new piece as an opportunity to learn a new technique. She asks lots of questions and tries everything until she finds the precisely right technique.
This is the desk Allison and Jennifer share in our office. Jennifer’s neat, organized pile of papers vies with Allison’s computer, yarn, coffee cup, roller derby helmet, design books, sample projects, box of tea, notebooks, etc.
They are so different. Jennifer is a soft drum beat. Allison is fireworks. And they both make every day an occasion to rise to. They both inspire and challenge me. Jennifer’s precise questions make me clarify my thinking and get down to the minutiae. She reminds me that every stitch counts. Allison’s bold imagination gives fuel to my own flights of fancy. She reminds me that there are an infinite number of ideas. Each in her own way reminds me of the better parts of my own process. I’m a better knitter, designer, teacher and manager because of them. And I wake up each morning wondering what they’ll do next.