We talk a lot about the weather here in the Berkshires, because, I believe, it's somewhat unique. There's a saying about how predictable the weather is here in it's unpredictability and whatever you have at the moment, it will be different in 10 minutes. So far this has proven to be true. Big picture, the seasons change, and dramatically and fast, but in a single day you can have any range of combos.. Whatever the weather, or the season I'm still in awe of the never ending beauty of the Berkshires, and surprise myself that I don't miss the West Coast in the slightest. My extended family descended upon my house for the Thanksgiving holiday which was truly a joy. My stepbrother kept a fire going in the fireplace the entire length of his stay. It was nice to be able to share a sliver of my new life with those I'm closest to. It seems it went well as everyone swore that Thanksgiving in the Berkshires was to be the tradition going forward.
Since my move I've been plagued with a series of never ending minor injuries, but I think I've worked mostly through the pinched nerve in my elbow that prevented me from knitting more than a few stitches at a time for near on 8 months. The broken toe is healed, trigger thumb is dormant, and the list goes on. So since I"m the picture of (almost) health, and snow is on the ground it's time to go skiing! I have a lifetime of downhill skiing in my background but I packed it in when I first adopted Freia as the cost of putting her into daycare, the lift ticket and the time away from my rapidly growing business put a damper on the whole thing. To add to that we don't have the best luck when it comes to skiing injuries in my family (from broken bones, back and knee injuries to TBI) it seemed maybe best to play it safe for a while. So now I"m in the land of cross country skiing and that's way more my speed I think at this point. First time in perhaps 40 years on cross country skis yesterday and it was good. I'm a bit bruised (what did I say about ski injuries?) but hooked. That changeable weather just needs to do it's thing and dump more snow.
Now that I'm finally able to knit again I've been able to finish up and publish a pattern that holds great personal meaning for me. I've called it Forever Together as it truly is an homage to Freia and Cody. I never understood how people could find knitting to be healing or cathartic. When my father died last year I put my needles down entirely for months. After a bit I dabbled here and there, making a sample or two. Then Freia got sick, and Cody got sick and everything went pear shaped, and this time the design poured out of me. When she died, after the initial shock, it was all I could do, just narrow my focus and make one stitch at a time, one step at a time, finding a way through the heartbreak and loss. The world could have crumbled around me and I never would have noticed as my own world had been shattered to its very core. It was only when I was well into the design that I saw that it was an allegory of Freia and Cody's lives. Freia was complex, challenging, dominant and beautiful, Cody was perhaps simple, suffering deep anxiety, though completely normal with me, entirely dysfunctional with anyone else. Freia accepted him unconditionally and took care of him, kept him safe until he learned to feel safe. She protected him, taught him all her good and bad habits, and he tormented her with his pranks. They were inseparable. So this shawl tells their story; over time Freia grew older, less forceful and Cody filled in that space, keeping the two of them as a complete whole and in balance. Now it's almost a year since Freia died and as I write this my eyes well with tears. After she passed Cody had 3 months of being the bravest scared dog the world has known, until the time the cancer took him too. Rosie came to me a few days later, also from Chessie Rescue and promptly rescued me as I rescued her. A portion of the sale of each copy of the Forever Together pattern will be donated to American Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club so they can continue rescuing these great crazy, stubborn, difficult and smart American dogs.
As I sit here on the 4th of July in the sweltering stillness of a summer heatwave, I'm embarrassed to realize that I've not written a peep on the blog since landing in Massachusetts. Moving one's house has a special set of challenges. Moving one's house and business, solo, some 3000 miles is a whole other ballgame.
What would seem like minor inconveniences individually pile up to become a giant jigsaw puzzle, a physical and emotional challenge and a memory game all wrapped into one. Sleep is either entirely elusive or all encompassing. Exhaustion is constant. Yet the need to put on a smile, a pleasant air and carefree spirit is the only way to keep moving forward and somehow helps to reach each small milestone. There are the general logistics of starting a business (or re-starting in my case); permits, approvals, design and layout of work areas, unpacking, arranging, re-arranging, interviewing, hiring, training, all while keeping customers, employees and contractors happy as if it was simply business as usual. There are other more personal logistics like driver's license, health insurance, banking, notifying every personal and business connection of the move. Things like, finding the closest gas station, the post office, where to buy milk, drop off UPS boxes or pick up a prescription; where to get a good cup of coffee, a bagel, or a light bulb, garden tools (which garden tools do I really need? what are these plants growing in my yard anyway?), where do I find trash cans and the bags that go in them (do I really need THAT many trash cans? and which size for which room?), dishwasher soap (what kind of soap?). It's endless. I'm still unpacking, I counted today 16 boxes in my office, 15 boxes of clothes, 12 boxes of books that I've yet to touch. I wore the same clothes for the first two months, facing and overcoming my fear of the slightly scary basement that houses my clothes washer and dryer, because it involved less thought to just do laundry every couple of days than have to make a decision about what to wear let alone unpack a box to find something new to wear.
But now I've been three months in the Berkshires. I've watched the weather go from winter through spring and it's the height of summer. The first few weeks I'd wake up with wonder at the new coating of freshly fallen powdery light snow, that soon gave way to warmer weather and endless mud getting tracked into my kitchen by a happy Rosie. The maple tree outside my window grew leaves larger than the palm of my hand in what seemed like minutes, from buds that I barely saw before they morphed into a canopy of gently undulating waves of green. You can feel the seasons change almost overnight, it was cold and barren (but still beautiful) and then it was bright green. A week later the flowers all started taking their turns, lilacs, peonies, violets, tulips, roses and rhododendrons and a thousand other varieties. Now the leaves have turned a deeper, almost more serious shade of green, an added weight to the color and spring had shifted to summer, foreshadowing the coming fall.
Work at the studio has started to hum along, with only a few mishaps on the way. A broken leg (not mine), a torn ankle ligament (also not mine) and a broken toe (that one's mine) all injuries sustained outside of work that make us look like an odd limping bunch. The new employees are on the fast track experience-wise and seem to be enjoying the ride so far. Shipments are going out the door, which is what helps keep those doors open, so all is good. In a mad sprint before the summer TNNA trade show a few weeks ago, I developed four new colorways which I'm excited to share with you in the coming months. I was questioned more than once if I felt my color development would shift with the move, and I can now say with certainty that it has. There is a clear influence of a Berkshire palette in these new colors.
It takes work to move somewhere new and find your place. In the time I've been here, I've been exploring and learning, devouring the local paper for events and local news. Learning the streets, stretching my boundaries. I've been to antique fairs, tag sales, talking to people, finding local foods, local music, theatre, cafes and restaurants. I've had my photos published more than once in the local county paper, and had a story written about me in another paper. I've had strangers say to me "hey! aren't you the yarn lady?". I've met so many of my neighbors, and have had engaging conversations with all of them. I've fallen in love with the towns I visit and have developed a deep curiosity for the Appalachian Trail that runs through this region.
Yesterday morning, I started my drive to work, I opened all the windows to let in the morning air and kept the AC running to offset the heatwave. I put on a favorite CD (Steel Pulse's Handsworth Revolution), turned the volume up high and, with apologies to Rosie, sung along for the length of the album (and my commute). Two thirds of the way along my drive I found myself thinking: "yes, this is home."
My next step was to drive from California to Massachusetts, to get there in under a week and hopefully in one piece. But first, a detour...
Two weeks before Cody died I got a call from the western rescue coordinator for American Chesapeake Rescue to say that she had in 5 more dogs and was I ready for another? I had spoken with her about my move to the East coast, but also knew that Cody and I were ready to add in another pup to the family. This would add a little bit of crazy to the move but nothing is impossible. Now, with Cody gone, after a great deal of thought and some trepidation, I realized that I still wanted to at least meet the pups and see if there was a good fit. I decided to schedule a side trip to the norther Sierra foothills to the rescue and find what it would bring. And thus entered Rosie. On one level it felt very soon to get another dog, and yet I knew I didn't want to do the trip alone, and I knew the house I was moving to was perfect for a dog (or two or three... ).
Rosie comes from a breeder in Nebraska known for his champion hunting dogs. Rosie was called Major back then, and her crime was she refused to hunt. So rather than force her to do something she had no interest in, he gave her up to rescue. At 55 lbs she is petite, 30 lbs less than Freia and wants nothing more than to play and snuggle. She acts way younger than her four years. She is not housetrained, nor leash trained and really no understanding of voice commands. And she's a doll. I'm of course a bit on eggshells and the slightest sign of malady in her makes me a nervous wreck but hopefully that will pass soon, it's to be expected given that I've spent last 6 months of nursing both Freia and Cody.
The drive was long, 3300 miles long. It encompassed a series of delays but I was in no particular hurry - or so I thought - I just had to get to Massachusetts before the moving truck. Started out with snow related road closures in the Sierras , delaying my departure by 2 days, then an extended day-long delay on 80 - only an hour out of Sacramento - as the freeway became a parking lot (snow again). Utah was beautiful and uneventful and I was glad to get some miles behind me. The next day though was a frightening icy drive in Wyoming, which landed Rosie and me tucked in overnight in a parking lot in the back of the car (the only motel in town - and for 20 miles - was full), but that was a whole lot better than potentially sliding off the road into a ditch somewhere.. After that, the flatlands of Nebraska and Iowa; leading to a stay with friends in Michigan and a nice break. The following day I got a call from the trucker saying he'd meet me in Mass the next day - 2 days ahead of what he'd told me earlier. So it became a bit of a race to the finish, sort of.. the temperatures were low, and after Wyoming I wasn't going to risk the ice, the truck would have to wait. I got to Massachusetts at noon and the truckers arrived ah hour later, giving me time to stretch my legs and get my bearings. (if you want the full picture - with more pictures - of the cross-country drive you can see more, and read more about it on my IG feed here)
And so began Massachusetts...
Well, here I am in Massachusetts.
The challenges of the last few months continued, with the most difficult part being the unexpected passing of my other dog, Cody. To lose a father and two dogs in under a year is emotionally numbing and frankly, soul crushing. To then have running through the background a planned business shutdown and move across country adds a further layer of immeasurable pressure - and yet, the show must go on.
Cody died during the night, a few days after we started to pack up the studio. He had lymphoma, though that was not what directly killed him, he died of oesophagitis, a severe throat inflammation which can be lethal in dogs, his system too weak to fight off what would have been otherwise negligible. I missed his passing only by minutes as I heard his breathing calm, I mistakenly thought he was settling down, only to find a few minutes later that he had gone. I lay with him till daylight and then said a final goodbye when his oncology team kindly came to gently take him away.
With the moving trucks coming in two days I had no choice but to go to work and finish up the clearing of the studio. My team of employees were incredibly supportive and understanding as I was little more than a zombie most of the day.
I was doubly fortunate that weekend when my friends and family descended upon my house to finish up that packing and cleaning, something I couldn't have done without such amazing help.
On Monday the big truck rolled up to the studio and the loading began. Within a few short hours my worklife was packed and whisked away. The following morning was the same - this time at my house, though it took the better portion of a full day. If I had any remaining doubts about my move, this took care of them. My studio was empty, the keys returned to my landlord, my house was empty, with a faint smell of paint from where I'd touched up walls and floors for my future tenant. And so closed a 23 year chapter of my life in the San Francisco area.
You may have by now heard or read about big changes ahead for Freia Yarns (and for me personally). A month from today I will be getting in my car and setting off on a cross-country trip to relocate from the San Francisco Bay area to Western Massachusetts. I think to call this a change is a bit of an understatement, perhaps a seismic shift is more accurate!
It's hard to pinpoint one single thing that has prompted this. One event that comes to mind was last spring, walking Freia through the local cemetery, along the same route we'd taken a thousand times, she decided it was time to lie down. She stopped on a hill and lay next to a grave marker. The name on it was my own!! To say that was a wake up call would be an understatement. My heart just about jumped out of my chest. At the time my father was at the end stage of Alzheimer's so I had become keenly aware of how fragile life is. My next reaction was "Wow, is that all there is? Do I really want to end up as just a grave marker on a hill in California?". Not the worst thing of course, but after an earlier life of travel and regularly visiting new places it struck me that I'd not pushed myself, really pushed, in a long time.
A friend had recently begun relocating to Western Mass, buying a most incredible old farmhouse for a song (compared to California prices). Out of curiosity I began window shopping on real estate websites, seeing remarkable properties that called out to my English roots. Then, looking at the financial aspects of running a business in California vs Massachusetts it started to piece together. I traveled on a few short trips to see if I liked the area, the people I met, to see if it felt "right". As I'd introduce myself to people one thing that struck me was that when I said I owned a yarn company I was not once met with the blank stare that I get here in California (what? a business that's not tech?). New England has a long history of textiles, woolen products and mills. A yarn company was a completely normal business.
A couple more visits and I'd pinned down where I wanted to work and live and the decision was made.
Move forward another 6 months and here we are winding down the California studio. My staff have taken the news like champs, a couple may come out to Mass for a bit to help get set up. The next few weeks will be challenging, but also a long time coming. I will be arriving on the East Coast towards the end of winter and have the good fortune to watch spring bloom for the second time in as many months. When I get there it will take another month or so to get the new studio space into operation, but I've done it twice before and can do it again.
I'm excited to explore the Berkshires. With a history of theater, arts, dance, a booming foodie culture, beautiful landscapes, big open skies, clean air, great hiking in summer, skiing in winter and only 2 1/2 hours from NY for those times I want that big city fix, I think it will be a good fit. I'm excited to get the new studio up and running in the NORAD mill and to set up a small retail corner that will be open a few times a year for the general public. I'm looking forward to creating a new home for myself in a house with a backyard with maple trees, bunnies (bunnies!) and squirrels, and big enough for a couple more dogs to keep Cody company.
I think this change will be good.
Now that it's public news that we're moving, be sure to follow along on Instagram as I post pictures of the studio as it gets built out, next month's road trip and ensuing chaos!
I lost a piece of my soul this week, and there is a gaping hole in my heart. My constant companion, my guardian and protector, my funny, smart, loud, engaged, entertaining, opinionated and beautiful Freia is gone. I have cried more tears than I knew I could possess. She was a unique dog and we had a bond like no other. My house is deafeningly quiet. She changed my world when she entered it and has changed it again as she passed. I held her close telling her over and over how sorry I was to let her go and how much I loved her as if telling her so many more times could make it any more true or any less sad.
Cody was nearby as she went, so understands that she's gone. He's learning to be an only dog and working on being brave. He came to me as a fairly damaged rescue, skittish at the wind blowing in the trees or any loud crack of sound, and I've seen some regression the last few days. And yet, I can also see he's trying so hard to find his feet and his own strength now that Freia's no longer by his side. I'm fairly sure I'll be getting another dog sooner perhaps than I thought, but I'm going to let him grow into being an only pup for a little while and watch him learn to face, and embrace, the world with all the courage of the cowardly and brave little Lion he is.
I took some time off work this week as my mind and body would have it no other way. I spent the first day pretty much in shock, feeling as though my heart had been ripped from my chest. I lay on the sofa, Cody curled up tight nearby. I tried going in to work the next day without much success. Grief plays tricks on the mind and scatters the thoughts, so I was hardly present. The third day was maybe as hard as the first as I succumbed to sadness all over again, plus I was now fully in the throes of the flu, so back to the couch. This time I picked up some yarn and started to knit. I slowly re-assembled my jumbled brain and wrote down instructions and kept on knitting. I ignored the pain in my stupid thumb, took some painkillers and kept right on knitting. I knit all that day and late into the night. The next day I looked at what I'd started and realized that I'd been creating a design for a knitted wrap that is an allegory for the relationship between Cody and Freia,- how she was always there for him, teaching him about the world, his support, his protector, his rock, and now it was her time to go and he would have to stand on his own and fill her shoes and be strong.
I have never used knitting to help me through grief or other deep emotion, and have never understood how it has worked for others - until now. I'm slowly coming back together, now I wear Freia's tag around my neck and sometimes it jangles and reminds me of her and it's OK.
So I knit the final rounds of my PomPom and Tuft Hat this morning and just needed the finishing touch of a big puffy pompom.
Key words - "big" and "puffy". Big is easy enough, there was about a 1/4 of the ball of Super Bulky yarn left after the knitting was done, but how do you turn this floppy pom in to a fluffy one?
Steam is the key!
1. Find a small-ish saucepan - ideally about the same diameter as your pompom. This is because - yeah, steam.. it gets hot. So if the pan is small then your hand will be out of the way of the steam. (note this is NOT a project for kids - not kidding on the steam... ) Fill the pan with a couple of inches of water and heat to boiling.
2. Hold the pompom in the steam coming off the boiling water. You will want to rotate the pompom around to get it evenly heated and fluffed. Your strands may curl up a bit so you will probably need to separate them from each other and then they can be more evenly steamed.
As I sit here working on end of year inventory data entry (the exciting life of a small business owner!) I find myself creatively avoiding the task at hand by contemplating the past year on this last day of 2017.
It's fair to say, without even touching on politics, that it's been a challenging year for most people, myself included. Ironically I remember a year ago when those around me all thought 2016 was such a difficult year, turned out it had nothing on 2017.
My father passed away in the spring and for the last few months I've been caring for my two dogs, Freia and Cody, both diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Freia has end stage kidney disease (and basically is on a week to week life expectancy) and Cody has Lymphoma and statistically should live until September. I've also been plagued with a bout of trigger thumb which has prevented me from knitting also for the last few months, much to my endless frustration.
Yet, Freia defies the odds and continues to eat and enjoy life, Cody has responded well to chemo and I'm trying my hand at knitting again. I'm able to tolerate working with super bulky yarn and large needles which suits me just fine. I've been slowly making a Pompom and Tuft Hat in Chinook that I hope to wear soon on these chilly days and nights when I walk the pups.
I think it's time to pack away this "Annus Horribilis" and look towards 2018 with hope and optimism. There are changes ahead which I'm looking forward to sharing with you over the next few months. With change comes challenge, but that is life and what is life without continued growth? We adapt and keep going. I am lucky to live where I live, where I have food on my plate, a roof over my head and a shared love of yarn, color and knitting with a lovely community of like-minded people.
Best wishes to you all on this coming year, may it be better than the last!
One thing in life is certain. Nothing is constant and everything changes. And so, out with the old and in with the new. I loved the not-so-old website I had built before this one, but times change, technology advances and some needs and wants and wouldn't it be nice if's that didn't seem important before become more so. The site had become too big for itself within the structure that it was built and even minor edits would take too long, trying my patience and taking up time that could be better spent doing something like .. I dunno.. knitting perhaps.
I looked for a long time for a template site that I like and that could bring the changes that I wanted and still be easy to edit and also not too cookie cutter. So this site was born. It may be a bit cookie cutter, but this is a cookie I can enjoy and I think I've been able to make enough changes to make it mine. With the new site I've been able to include a search function, a separate wholesale section to the trade (coming soon...!), faster updates and fewer typos (I hope). We also now have more payment options, we will be handling pattern downloads directly (no more third party missteps and now lightning fast delivery!), With an incorporated blog I can poke my head in and say a few deep and meaningful words at times as well. I"m looking forward to sharing with you more of the inner workings of what we do, as well as design projects and some tips and tutorials along the way.
Let me know what you think of the new site in the comments below - I'd love to hear from you!
ABout Tina Whitmore
Yarn Dyer, Designer, Dog Lover, in no particular order.. Founded Knitwhits in 2003, and Freia Fine Handpaints in 2010, introducing gradient yarn to knitting stores worldwide. Creating a life of Hygge: warmth, comfort, color, texture, design, nature.