Mosaic Memories Monday: Moments with Barbara Walker

March 23rd, 2015

It was at the Interweave Knitting Lab, October 2012, in Manchester, New Hampshire. I was teaching a class about how to knit mosaic patterns and design your own. The workshop participants were enthusiastic and they were close to completing our first mosaic sample: a dotty heart pattern.

Barbara Walker

All at once, the door opened, and in walked a small white-haired lady wearing a sparkling mosaic sweater. We saw, as if in a dream, Barbara Walker, the first champion of the mosaic knitting technique, the developer of a very clever mosaic knit charting method, the designer of many, many mosaic patterns. All this and much, much more.

Barbara Walker's bag

Barbara examined the mosaic samplers and graciously allowed us to photograph her and her lovely sweater and bag. She never uses a sweater pattern. She just decides which stitch motifs to use, and then knits from the top down.

She left us star-struck, and we continued our workshop with renewed vigor.

Barbara was the keynote speaker for the conference. I wouldn’t have missed her speech for anything. She produced several treasuries of knitting stitch patterns, which to my mind are the foundation for all modern knit stitch treasuries and the inspiration for many knitting patterns we’ve seen in books and magazines for the last 30 years.

A 1952 graduate of University of Pennsylvania, Barbara wrote for the Washington Star newspaper for years. The paper closed two or three years after she left. At some point, she took two classes in medieval history, where, oddly, no mention was made of the Inquisition. This got her started researching the history of religion. Among other things, this study resulted in the publication of her thoroughly engrossing encyclopedias of feminine symbols and mythology.

Here are a few lines from Barbara Walker’s speech, which made me admire her even more:

Regarding the relative creativity of the people in the room:

“You have probably knitted as much as I have, but you didn’t keep count. You are as creative as I am, but you just haven’t put it in books.”

Regarding how she was able to produce so much:

The television broke. About six years later, she called a repairman. “I got a lot done in that time,” she said.

“I was always solitary. That’s how I got so much done.”

And finally,

“I want to surprise myself. I don’t want to be bored.”

Thank you, Barbara Walker. Your work has made a large and lasting impression on my life.

Suzann and Barbara Walker

Crochet, Science, and Daughters

March 6th, 2015

crocheted kitty sweater

My college sophomore daughter, Eva, was home for the holidays. We don’t have a TV, we live in the country, her friends were scattered across the state, and there’s only so much Twitter and such a person can do before petrification sets in.

“Mom, I want to crochet,” she said.

Was it my imagination, or did a choir of angels sing “Hallelujah” at that moment? Could be…her words were definitely music to my ears.

She chose some lovely Berroco Remix yarn (blended from 100% recycled fibers). I showed her the basic idea of a raglan sweater from the top down. She got to work.

With only one minor redesign and a minimum of ripping out and recrocheting, Eva completed a sweater for her stuffed kitty.

But one sweater was not enough. Eva crocheted a cell model. You can tell this is an animal cell model, because it has a cell membrane (blue). The nucleus has a pale green membrane and the red squiggles inside are genetic material. The green ovals are vacuoles and the red oval is a mitochondrion, powerhouse of the cell. The Golgi apparatus is yellow and the endoplasmic reticulum is squiggly and blue. Note that it has no bumps on it, therefore it is smooth endoplasmic reticulum.

crocheted kitty sweater

This episode reminded me of a long, interesting, and sometimes saddening article I read in the New York Times a while ago (“Why are There Still so Few Women in Science?”) Author Eileen Pollack, a novelist and creative writing professor at University of Michigan, spoke to astrophysicist Meg Urry of Yale University, who had this to say about crafting:

“I’m soldering things, and I’m thinking, Hey, I’m really good at this. I know the principles. It’s like an art. It took me years to realize I’m actually good with my hands. I have all these small-motor skills from all the years I spent sewing, knitting and designing things. We should tell young women, ‘That stuff actually prepares you for working in a lab.’”

Yes, let’s tell this to our crafting daughters and sons! It’s another of the many benefits of “sewing, knitting, and designing things.”

I laughed ruefully after reading Professor Urry’s assertion that “Women need more positive reinforcement, and men need more negative reinforcement. Men wildly overestimate their learning abilities, their earning abilities. Women say, ‘Oh, I’m not good, I won’t earn much, whatever you want to give me is O.K.’”

Why ruefully? Because when I was a biology major, oh so long ago, I was exactly the woman she was talking about.

The crocheted cell model opened doors for Eva. She emailed a photo of it to her last semester’s biology professor. A week later the professor invited her and a few other former students to lead review sessions for the same biology class this semester. No pay, but the professor promised glowing letters of recommendation. “I think it also helped that my friend and I went to her class last Halloween, dressed up as NAD and NADH molecules,” said Eva.

Pieces of Antelope Horns

March 3rd, 2015

The day I learned about foundation piecing was a great day in my wall hanging career. The book that taught me was Precision Pieced Quilts Using the Foundation Method by Jane Hall & Dixie Haywood. The technique solved some problems I encountered while trying to piece and quilt knitted fabric.

Antelope Horns

You place your patches onto a piece of fabric called the foundation fabric, which you won’t be able to see in the finished quilt. I try to use fabrics that have been around the house for a while, clearly attracting no one’s interest. In the case of this Halloween themed fabric, “a while” means at least eight years.

To help me orient the patches on the fabric, I ironed creases in the fabric at halfway points. The pattern poster was also folded at the same points. As I placed the first flower and leaf patches on the fabric, I lined up the folds.

The edges of the patches are snugged right up next to each other—no overlap.

Antelope Horns

This is a fun job for a jigsaw puzzle lover (me). Thank goodness for the second poster, though. Like a puzzle box lid, I had to consult the poster several times to figure out how a certain petal fit, even though the they were numbered.

Antelope Horns

The poster pattern plan worked well!

Antelope Horns

I took the paper patterns off, and pinned the knitted patches onto the foundation fabric.

Antelope Horns

I zig-zag stitched the patches together, with a zig in one patch and the zag in the patch next to it. At the same time, the zig-zag stitches sewed the pieces to the foundation.

A Flower Called Antelope Horns

March 1st, 2015

Antelope Horns poster

“They look like aliens,” said my husband, when he saw this photo, blown up to poster size. It’s a very close-up view of Antelope Horns milkweed, one of the coolest flowers I love.

We saw this particular plant on my parents’ place and I believe my daughter snapped this picture with my phone. The five-petal flowerets are about half an inch across in real life, which makes their fantastic detail hard to see very well. I cropped the photo and had it printed as two 2 x 3-foot posters.

Antelope Horns

One poster was my pattern for cutting out the leaves and petals. I numbered each flower, leaf, and background piece on the poster and on a black-and-white printout before cutting.

I cut each flower into individual petals. I left the white and purple bits in place, planning to applique those onto the surface later. At this point, the important thing was to make a solidly-covered quilt top.

Before all this numbering and cutting business, I knitted the fabric for the Antelope Horns wall hanging on the Ultimate Sweater Machine. The knitting took about three hours, even with all the color and yarn changes (they are easy on the USM). I steam blocked the fabric and then stabilized it with fusible interfacing. The interfacing stops the stitches from unraveling when I cut the fabric. Also machine-sewing the patches is a lot easier when they are stabilized.

After all the individual petals were cut out, I pinned them to my knitted, stabilized fabric. I tried to line up the petals from one flower, so that they would mostly have the same striations in the knitted fabric. Time to cut out again.

Okay, here are the pieces of the poster with knitting pinned underneath. The next step is to piece them all back together.

Throw-Back Thursday: Cherry Picking Vest

November 13th, 2014

Moths have good taste. They chose to place their offspring on my beloved cherry sweater, which I knitted by hand from Sasha Kagan’s Big and Little Sweaters. On their way to adulthood, the baby moths nibbled more holes than I wanted to repair.

So I put the cherry sweater with an oversized red sweater that never looked good on me anyway, and made this crazy-patchwork vest.

After machine embroidering the red sweater I stabilized the knitting with fusible interfacing. I cut the stabilized sweaters into patches and arranged them on a lightweight cotton foundation cut from a commercial vest pattern. I sewed them in place.

Oh no, the patchwork didn’t look good! The bright reds, blue, and white looked too busy and choppy. What could I do?

Decorative stitching along the join lines helped a little. I tried various tricks to tone down the stridently contrasting colors.

Finally I saw what was in front of my eyes the whole time. The vest had a circle theme (the red cherries and the embroidery motifs). What usually-circular item do I love and have in droves? Buttons! To tone down the white, I added red buttons as an echo of the cherries. I made the busy pattern even busier! Much better.

If red buttons on the white areas looked good, would white buttons on the red and blue areas be even more wonderful? I tried it out. Yes!

The exuberance and completely ridiculous busy-ness of this project make me smile every time I see it.

This vest was accepted into the Small Wonders exhibition at the 2005 Spring Quilt Festival in Chicago

Third Grade Art Days

November 12th, 2014

Third Grade Textile Art

I was the lucky one on October 23! My daughter Ella and I spent a busy morning with third graders at an Austin-area elementary school for Art Days. This is Ella at the beginning of the day.

Parents spent weeks organizing and preparing for Art Days, funded the purchase of most of the supplies, and organized visits by visual artists, musicians, actors, and authors. (Thank you, Carolyn, for inviting me!)

Our work room was all ready to go with a gallon of school glue and an 8 x 10″ canvas for each student. Ella and I brought buttons, beads, sequin trims, felt, and crocheted bits and pieces. After a while, the supplies got scattered around a little by those hard-working third graders.

Third Grade Textile Art

I had lots of…let’s call them crocheted beta-flowers–the prototypes for the flowers that became part of Crochet Bouquet and Crochet Garden.

They’ve been sitting on my storage shelves for years, because I couldn’t imagine throwing them away. The third graders made excellent use of them. Look!

Third Grade Textile Art

I am absolutely thrilled and amazed by every single one of these compositions. The colors, the enthusiasm, instinctive design sense–oh my.

Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art

This is “Superman with a Zipper.” See the green sequin “S” for Superman?

Third Grade Textile Art Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art

The mother of the student who decorated the canvas at the bottom left, guessed correctly that it was his, without first seeing his name on the back. “Those are the colors in our playroom!” she said.

Third Grade Textile Art Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art

Third Grade Textile Art

Can you tell that two friends decorated these canvasses?

Third Grade Textile Art

Look, right in the middle is a “Mumsy”-prototype from Crochet Bouquet, and a “Baby Cornflower” from Crochet Garden in the top right corner.

Third Grade Textile Art

This is a “Byzantine Beauty” from Crochet Garden. I crocheted several different versions of that flower before finally getting it right.

The young lady that created this design was quietly confident. She studied the canvas, rummaged around in the piles of supplies, and came back with exactly the right piece to accent the Byzantine Beauty. She repeated the process until she was satisfied.

Sixth Grade Textile Art

Ella finally got to decorate her own canvas, after helping third-graders all morning.

It was a Good Day!

November 11th, 2014

Iced Water at the Café Rouge knitted, quilted wall hanging

My mom and I went to the Threads of Texas Quilt Show on October 3 to see all the beautiful quilts made mostly by members of the Town & Country Quilt Guild of Stephenville, Texas.

We hadn’t even made our way to the quilt exhibit, before my friend Hazel saw us. “Have you looked at the quilts yet?” she said.

No, we hadn’t.

“Then I’m not going to say a word,” she said, “because I don’t want to spoil anything for you.”

How tantalizing.

Shards 2: Sometimes, a knitted, quilted wall hanging

Four and a half long rows of quilts greeted us as we walked into the exhibition hall, which doubles as a gymnasium—hours of lovely, colorful entertainment. The skill and talent in that big room, the time invested in making those quilts, the effort of putting together a show, were mind-boggling.

We turned to the right, toward the first row of quilts, to take them in one by one. We soon came upon the Mixed Media division, where my quilts were hung.

Here’s what we saw. You can imagine the happy texts to my husband and daughter, and the big smiles that lasted well into the weekend.

Shards 2: Sometimes, a knitted, quilted wall hanging

Iced Water at the Café Rouge, a knitted, quilted wall hanging

The black and yellow ribbon is from National Quilting Association Certified Judge Marilyn Hardy, who judged the show and awarded all the ribbons. Usually one NQA CJ ribbon is awarded in a show judged by a NQA certified judge. The recipient’s quilt is posted on the NQA CJ award website. I hope you’ll go look—there are lots of great quilts on the page.

A good day for a knitter and crocheter who also quilts

Firewheel Meadow Finished in Time

November 10th, 2014

Firewheel Meadow wall hanging

I wish September began with a P, so we could use it in this catchy name: Productive Peptember. Okay, I’m laughing, because it looks so funny in print. Microsoft Word doesn’t have a synonym for “productive” that begins with S, so I’m off to the true synonym master, Roget…

No joy from Roget’s Thesaurus, either. So let’s say that I got a lot done in September: two magazine articles and one magazine design, which I’ll tell you about when they appear.

AND the Firewheel Meadow wall hanging, which I have been posting about in progress. The last stitch was secured on September 30, the day before it was due at the Threads of Texas Quilt Show.

And I’m so glad it was done in time, because it won third place in the Mixed Media, Small Quilt division. Yay!

Four Flowers a Day

September 10th, 2014

Crocheted Firewheel Wall Hanging

The Firewheel Meadows quilt is due at the 2014 Threads of Texas Quilt Show on October 1. So far, I’m making steady progress toward the finish line by appliqueing four flowers a day onto the quilt. See the flowers at the left of the picture, with the petals curling up slightly? Those are the ones I sewed today.

At four a day, I’ll finish with the flowers on September 16, which gives me plenty of time to do more embellishment, sew on the label, and finish the hanging sleeve. AND finish two other projects by the end of September!

Oh, but some days it’s difficult to sit down and sew four flowers. I’d rather be doing something else, like reading stuff on the internet or sneaking a game of 2048 on my daughter’s iPad.

The process is character-building. Yes, that’s what it is.

Memories Monday–Recycled Sweater Vest

September 1st, 2014

TextileFusion vest made from recycled sweater

I placed a darkly colorful man’s sweater on the thrift-shop counter. The cashier looked at me apprehensively. “Do you realize this sweater is 100 percent wool?” she asked.

Yes, I did. That’s why I bought it! Frankly I was amazed that such a wonderful sweater was still on the shelf, but apparently the wool content wasn’t as attractive to other people. The price was right, too—about five dollars.

Wool is perfect for TextileFusion projects. It takes heat well, which is important because I stabilize the knitted fabrics with fusible interfacing. Since wool threads tend to cling to each other, wool is good for cutting into pieces.

For this vest, I cut the facings and hems off of a commercial sewing pattern, and used it to cut vest pieces from the sweater. I stabilized with fusible interfacing and machine stitching. My current favorite mother-of-pearl buttons were perfectly subtle embellishment for the vest. I added other buttons and trims, too.