Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Thoughtful people have "aha" moments. Moments of insight, of grace, of universal deliverance. The older I get the less I expect to have eye openers of this magnitude. But I do, sometimes have "haha" moments. Unexpected humor discovered in or after a minor moment of daily survival.

Recently I thought that recording a haha moment a day would contribute to my overall well being, probably because, for the last week, I saw my son infuse his Facebook page with daily #100happydays experiences. That is "hashtag 100 happy days." My son just became engaged and though happiness is an expected ingredient for such an event, daily, public acknowledgement of such happiness is rather new to me. I am thrilled that he takes the time to "show and tell." Definitely a sign of thoughtfulness.

But back to my exploration of humor. I documented my first #dailyhaha in an email to a friend.
It involves a long history of periodic back spasms, a day spent flat on my back, due to said back spasms, and my discovery upon recuperation, that I had resumed ordinary tasks without really paying attention. You see, I can't remember ever not closing the toilet lid. It's a reflex. But when my back hurt a few days ago and I couldn't bend without making groaning sounds, I left it open. The next morning, after brushing my teeth, I turned slowly, afraid of possible ypain, and to my surprise I saw that the lid was closed. Apparently my pain was gone. I smiled a silent haha.

There have been other hahas since then. I took the doll I am working on outside for a photo shoot in the neighbor's apricot tree. The doll, Heiner, still without pants, complained about his pantless existence and I showed him that I was working on a pair of blue sweat pants for him.
I felt the haha coming on when I realized that I had a "conversation" with a doll.

Yesterday morning delivered the funniest haha so far. While watering the front yard I contemplated the challenges of aging. I congratulated myself on jobs well done.
Front porch vacuumed, back patio swept, weeds pulled, ivy cut back. Earlier I had dusted, washed breakfast dishes, answered emails, paid a bill, researched some facts online for a friend, noted my impression of a Lawrence Durrell book, spent ten minutes working on a new app that is supposed to keep my brain lubricated.

"I am doing well for my age," I told myself, winding the hose back onto its hanger.
"I hope I didn't get my white shorts dirty," was my next thought, a reminder to check myself out in the mirror before I left the house to do some shopping.

I can still hear the boys - Heiner and Hector - giggle. They tried to hide their laughter by turning their backs to me. Heiner, by the way, was wearing his new pants.

What amused them?

Well, their confident maker, knitter extraordinaire, all around well adjusted housemate - I - standing in front of the hallway mirror, saw with great shock that I had forgotten to zip up my white shorts. I had spent about an hour outdoors, in various poses, nodding to a stranger in a passing car, waving hello to the neighbor across the street, halting midway down the ladder to observe a utility worker exit his parked truck.

Grudgingly I forced myself to accept the image in the mirror into my newly established #dailyhaha repertoire.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It's Just a Doll

A creative spirit is sometimes difficult to tame. Mine confronted me last night in a dream. It means that I have not taken proper care of it during the day.
In my dream I unraveled the last round of a wine glass I had knitted in burgundy red. With two strands of worsted weight yarn. The stem was a sparkly green icord, bending under the weight of the heavy rim. And across from me stood somebody who counted on me to knit three glasses for her by the next day. She was an unknown customer who made demands that I could not fulfill. I woke up irritated with myself.

Late this afternoon, after I had studied the picture of the doll I am working on, I suddenly realized my problem. It is a clashing of creative spirits.The designer who had created the pattern for the doll gives out clues each week, for six weeks, clues like the shape of the hat, the color and striping of the doll's stockings, or the look of its sweater. In the group this is known as working on a "mystery knit along." We get her vision in bits and pieces. We don't know until the final clue has been worked if our creations match her vision. It is, of course, our prerogative to substitute, to blur her ideas with our own, or to stay close to the guidelines and try to match the original as closely as possible. And, since her doll is not seen in its entirety until the end, this can be a lot of fun, but it can also be cause for a certain amount of stress.

"It's just a doll," you say.
"Yes," I answer. "But I am serious about this project. It challenges my creativity."

We post photographs of our progress. We congratulate each other for "cuteness" or "great colors" or "beautiful needle felting of the eyes." We help each other with difficult patterns, make suggestions for alterations, sometimes speculate about what will be next. And we knit. Between doing dishes and watering the garden. Till late into the night. On the commute to work. In bed after surgery. While watching the news on television.

In the beginning the boy doll I named Hector was a puzzle. Do I follow the designer or put my own stamp on him?

Hector's first hat. It made him look like a baby.

Hector's second hat. My idea. A bit loud.

My first try at a sweater. Boucle yarn. Way too thick. I pulled out the needles after three rows and gave up on it. It looks like a lei.

Hector's second sweater. I like the colors, but below you will see that I made a mistake and placed the raglan sleeves in the wrong place.

And so I embroidered a spider thread and a red spider on the jagged increase line that ended up in front. Interesting cover-up, I think, but still I wasn't happy.

Well now, this sweater is more in line with the designer's idea of color and shape. But now my bright idea of a hat really clashes with the rest. Let me see what yarn I can find in my stash.

With this doll, a boy, I have hesitated more than once. I have started the
sweater three times, finished two of them. And he now wears hat number three. Since I had promised myself that I would not buy anything for this project and would knit him with whatever I have in the house, I have pitched my own sense of color against hers and have been limited to left over yarn. This has given rise to questions:
Is it a young boy or an older one?
Variegated yarn or solid colors.
Sock yarn or bulky? Wool? Cotton?
Hair or no hair (the designer is covering the head with an oversized hat)
What color hair?

And my creative spirit ran with theses questions. Got entangled with the answers. Became confused. It suggested a red mohair hat. I tatooed the boy's arm with the African National Congress' flag colors. Named him Hector after Hector Peterson. Made his legs extra long so he could run faster. Ah, yes! I dedicated a journal to him. Wrote a poem. Posted pictures of his progress. Discussed my errors in knitting his sweater according to the pattern.

Hector has become an issue. He has crossed the line. No longer is he the designer's vision. He is my failure. Until this afternoon when I realized that two creative spirits clashed. That I should either accept the designer's choices or refrain from joining mystery knit alongs and design my own heroes. Otherwise I am forced to knit wine glasses at night and watch them topple over, because their stems are made of cotton thread. Oh what a complicated force creativity can be.

While I knitted the third hat I wondered if it would be more in line with the original design. It wasn't until I took a picture of Hector wearing his sturdy head gear and the latest sweater, that I knew intuitively that I was on the right track. I like him. He is a sturdy little boy. Nothing outlandish about him.

Perfect little Hector.

We gave the red hat to his best friend Heiner. It matches the red underwear and long red scarf I envision for him. Heiner is all me. I must knit him a black hoodie.

Hector still has some of me imprinted on him. He has hair. The colors of a flag encircle his arm. He romps happily in the wisteria. Next clue due tonight. We hope it will be a pair of pants. Top guess is a pair of brown or denim colored knickers. I don't want to mix spirits this time. Whatever color it is, I will shop for the right yarn tomorrow.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Thank you Mother Earth

Spring is filled with celebrations. I just finished Easter. And Earth Day. Coming up tomorrow are International Tai Chi Day and National Day of Puppetry. Then Cinco de Mayo and finally on May 11 - Mothersday. Mother would be 102 this year. We will celebrate with brunch, at my sister-in-law's house, to honor her. I wish I could show her my newest dolls; she always encouraged me to allow my creativity to flourish.
The knit-along is over; my three dolls are finished. Though made from the same pattern - Deena Thomson- Menard's Patty Cake pattern - each has her own personality. I embellished each a bit differently and, of course, hair always makes such a distinct difference.

Ann-Katrin is the largest of the three. Her hair session took several hours, since her wig is large and had to be filled with strands of yarn, piece by piece.

Natalie S. has a mohair wig, which needed less yarn. But she wanted a wild hairdo. No braids. Let the wind blow through her hair!

Then there is the little one - D.D. - I wasn't sure about her hair, probably didn't give it the attention I devoted to the other two. She has two pigtails now; they stick out in defiance, but for a while her hair looked like that of her bigger sister.

And here they are, finished. Ready to occupy whatever space I desire.

I repeat what I said on Facebook on Earth Day, when I talked about the things that make me happy.

Mother Earth has blessed me.
There are chestnut leaves. And pansies.
There is photography. Purple yarn.
Hot chocolate. And Madiba ..... Forever.

...... and many times there is a project that fills me with great joy. April gave me the three Patty Cake sisters. Thank you Deena Thomson-Menard

Friday, April 11, 2014

Patty Cake continued

Yesterday I learned details about two concepts that are new to me. The first is the provisional cast on which is a zipper-like cast on, done with crochet hook and knitting needle. The cast on thread can be pulled off when needed, to allow for the project to be worked on again. In my case the collar will be attached to the top of the coat after the coat is finished.

The second concept is that of the Fibonacci stripe generator, named after an Italian mathematician and his numerical sequencing that seems to generate pleasing patterns in nature and on knitting needles.

I am thrilled to learn new things, but even more so, I am thrilled to be creating three dolls instead of one. To Ann-Katrin (25") and Natalie S. (21") I have added D.D. (15"). To accomplish different sizes I am using different yarns (from bulky to superfine) and different needles (from #7 to #1) , but sticking with the same pattern.
That I am impatiently attacking my iPad for late Thursday night or early Friday morning clues, revealing the next step for this project, makes me laugh out loud. Of course, in my haste I misread a clue this morning and happily knitted almost half a coat before I realized that I had made a mistake. As luck has it, the provisional cast on will allow me to redo the beginning with ease.

As for my three Patty Cakes, they are eagerly awaiting the completion of wardrobe, facial features, and hair.

Natalie S., Ann-Katrin, and D.D. In the beginning ....

Artistic interpretation generated by an application named PhotoFunia

Step 2 - bloomers for all

Playing with PhotoFunia that allows me to place my images into preset designs

The three girls trying on dresses in various stages of completion

D.D. Testing the outside world in her newly knitted dress.

It's midnight and all three dresses are finished.

Week Five - Friday morning clue: pattern for coat. Unforeseen complication? I misinterpret the pattern and knit the collar first. But ... the cast on is a provisional cast on and by pulling on the yarn end I can unravel it and "reinterpret" the pattern. Or, I can ignore the pattern and leave the collar as is.
In our group discussion we called it "winging it" and it looks like I am not the only one who began knitting immediately, without questioning the wording of the pattern. As long as my three Patty Cakes get their coats by next Friday morning all is well with the world.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Motherbear Face Tutorial

It's been a long time since I took a few pictures while putting a face on one of my Bears. I always intended to pull all the instructions together into one post, with some luck as Youtube video. Never happened. As I started my fifth face today, I thought I should take pictures again. My steps have slightly changed, not much though, and, who knows when I will be Youtube ready.

The wind blew hard on my front porch, knocking the Bear down several times; once the background white board collapsed and flew into my face, and, when I checked the pictures I had missed twice, showing my feet instead of the Bear face. Luckily there was Bear number six, a good reason to repeat the effort.

So, I will show you how I make a Bear face. There are as many different faces as there are Bears, and if you already have a way to make your Bear smile or wink and look into a child's eyes, disregard all this. But if you are sitting in front of your first stuffed Bear and he/she has a blank face that scares you a bit, because you don't quite know how to begin, this post is for you.

And here I go, on a windy afternoon on my front porch, shivering just a bit, but in need of daylight and a plain background. I am staring at a finished, stuffed Bear, some black yarn, a tapestry needle, a pair of scissors, and my iPad. I am determined to document stabbing this Bear into life

I use about 30 inches of black Worsted weight yarn for a darker Bear, brown yarn for a lighter Bear, or, occasionally, purple or hot pink, depending on my mood.

I insert the needle in the back, in the middle, where head and torso meet and I leave five or six inches of a tail

I come out in front, about four or five rows up from the neck wherever I perceive the middle of the row to be. If the scarf I have knitted is wide, I go up a bit more.

Now I insert the needle to the left, about three stitches from the middle and one row up and exit at the same height and amount of stitches to the right.

I insert the needle once again in the middle, meeting the other half of the mouth, and then exit about four rows up to the right of the middle stitch

Now I go across the middle stitch two or three times forming a little nose. When I am really brave I attempt a little triangle by enlarging the loops slightly toward the top. (It doesn't happen very often, but I like the way it looks.)

After the last stitch for the nose I exit the needle three stitches to the right, a row or two above the nose

And insert again one or two rows above that, depending on how big an eye I want. I repeat, in and out in the same stitch four or five times, then, after the last repeat, I exit for the left eye, in mirror image fashion.

After the left eye is as big as the right eye I exit just below the nose, in the middle of the middle stitch, as close to the nose as possible, so as not to leave a space. To finish the face I reenter into the middle of the mouth, between the two halves of the mouth

... and exit in back, a stitch away from the beginning of the face journey

All that is left now is making a knot, weaving the two ends toward the sides ...

... and cutting the ends. The knot will later be hidden by tying down the scarf right over it.

And here you have it - Bear face number 306.

Bears 301 to 306 are awaiting "detailing" such as hats, scarves, purses, headbands, flowers, and the weaving in of a few loose ends. More about them in my next post.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Patty Cake

My favorite Ravelry group at this time is "We make Dolls." On March 14 we started a "Mystery KAL," a knit-along producing a doll with the help of a pattern named "Patty Cake." Each week we get a clue and we knit for a week, asking and answering questions on the project page, wondering what the doll will look like when she is done, admiring each other's progress, sometimes giving advice, sometimes just adding our votes to "love" meaning that we like what we see.

The first step was to get the yarn together. Deena Thomson-Menard is the artist, the knitter-in-chief, the person who started the group. She is the person who gives out clues. Her Ravelry name is IMakeboys and she is, by any standard, a wonderful doll designer, and it is a pleasure to await her "orders" which are, of course, suggestions. I like the assortment of yarns she put together for "Patty Cake" and tried to get as close to her choices as possible. This is what I came up with. Maybe not the final decision - I tend to stray - but certainly a good combination.

For the first week we were told to knit the head and torso and skull cap. These come from a previous, free pattern Deena had created, available in her Ravelry store as "Lottie Doll Basic Body."

A week is a long time for me to wait, though others might consider it too short to finish the assignment. Most people work outside the home, have kids, husbands, all sorts of responsibilities that keep them from knitting. I am free as a bird - a night owl actually - and as long as my right hand doesn't get overworked and begins to hurt, I am good for six hours or more at a stretch. I always have several projects going; Bears for the Mother Bear Project, socks, a scarf here and there, an occasional amigurumi mouse, a gift, or just something I have to try.

Yesterday I became a bit restless. Another "Patty Cake" torso and head flew off my needles. Will she be different? Identical in clothing? She is smaller, due to a somewhat softer yarn and close adherence to the original pattern. But I simply couldn't let the first one wait alone. Now I have the pleasure of making outfits for two when the next clue comes out.

The two of them are going to be part of my Deena Thomson-Menard inspired orphanage and I have given them names. The larger, older one is Ann-Katrin.
Her little sister is Natalie S. And here they are, testing family ties.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Luna and Soleil and all my Other Projects

Stitches West is opening today. On Saturday I will be sewing hearts to Bears at the Mother Bear Project Booth 709. Accompanying me to the Santa Clara Convention Center will be Luna and Soleil, Bears 299 and 300, and Silvester, my first Bear for 2014, who did not join the rest of his group "Singing in the Snow" in the box to Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago.

Besides knitting Luna and Soleil I have been busy knitting a spring scarf for my daughter, a Bear just for me, have finished Marley, made a soccer ball for Lorenzo and a little Bear as birthday present for a friend.

This was a two night project while I was watching the Olympics.

Here is Sochi, now a faithful companion during Olympics watching evenings.

Marley was a joy to finish. Her braids make everybody smile. And she watches her little brother Lorenzo when I am not there to protect him.

And, finally, I have finished the soccer ball for Lorenzo. The pattern was not difficult, but I ran out of light green yarn and had a hard time organizing hexagons and pentagons. Is my age catching up with me?

I call Daffodil, the little bear, a spirit guide. She is supposed to help a friend during a very difficult time.

A few days ago I made a picnic lunch and rode my tricycle through a close-by park. Joggers looked up briefly, walkers smiled, little kids giggled when they saw Lorenzo in a tree, trying to rescue his soccer ball. And when he finally rested on the lawn I realized how much fun it is to take one of my creations out into the world. Thank you Lorenzo.

As if the trees in the park weren't enough of a sign that spring is rushing to California (I am sorry for my friends who are caught in the polar vortex) I had fun with a bunch of pansies from the nursery.

See you at Stitches West 2014 in Santa Clara.

It will be a nice six years of knitting Bears anniversary for me. I saw my first Mother Bears in February of 2008 at Stitches West, bought the pattern, went home, started to knit, and on February 28 I finished my first Bear.

Here I am with my traveling companion Tyana J. LittleString at Stitches West in 2008.

And this is Gigi, Bear Number One for the Mother Bear Project.