OK, so my blog plans fell a bit flat since my last post and I was beating myself up about it but then I remembered that it's 2020, and basically everything is pear-shaped with no end in sight. This whole post is in fact a bit pear-shaped which I suppose is quite apropos.
In January I got about as sick as I ever thought possible with some heinous flu, (or so I thought) which in all likelihood was covid. I'd just been in NY for a trade show with thousands of people. The thought of being around that many people right now just gives me the heebie jeebies. I didn't leave my bed for 2 days, then lay on my sofa for another 7 days, only leaving my house after 10 days, and even after that I think in the following 5 days I only left my house twice to go to work, and each time, within a few short hours, realizing that I still felt terrible and should just stay home, which I did. In the months that followed, as more was being learned I realized that all the symptoms I'd had were a match, to the extent that it's only in the last month or so that my lungs feel close to normal. I'm honestly glad that covid was not a thing yet as I would have been freaking out I'm sure. I'm also glad that I banished all well-wishers, didn't go outside, and with little exception kept my distance from everyone for close to two weeks.
With great gratitude to the universe, Freia Yarns has been ticking along, albeit at a gentler pace as we keep our distances, work staggered shifts and figure out the new normal. My staff have been doing an excellent job of keeping everything rolling under particularly challenging circumstances, I'm so grateful to them for their trust, their flexibility and their fortitude over the last few months.
Which leads me to my favorite design (of mine) of the last few years.. Passeggiata is a design that is born out of lockdown that I published in early March of this year. It calls for the Freia Minikins which become Missoni-like with the gradient color changes in the zigzag striping in the body of the shawl. It's all bordered by a stabilizing easy to work entrelac border, giving the piece a nice polished look. And it's big, very big, but it's also lightweight, so you can drape it lightly for a splash of color, or wrap it multiple times as needed for soft, toasty warmth.
As I've seen varying versions of the Passeggiata I get so awed by all the possibilities, it may well be that no two will ever be exactly the same. With 64 Minikin colors to choose from, then factor in the sequence of the 9 colors selected by each knitter and the starting end of the ball, I'm not mathematically clever enough to figure it out how many variations can be made, but my mother might be so I've put in a call to her and will let you know the number she comes up with.. or do you know? (ETA she's saying it's 63 to the power of 9x2, which is a number I'm not sure I can even pronounce: 15,633,814,156,853,823 x 2)
This fall a couple of shops will be offering their own color combos which I will share with you once they are released, the samples I've seen are just dreamy.. Check out the versions made so far on Ravelry here.
When I was telling friends and LYS owners that I would be moving from California to the Berkshires in Western Mass, without fail - after the inevitable "Why?" - everyone had mostly the same two comments: "You know the winters are terrible" and "Wow, this will give you all new colors to inspire you!". My first winter, though bitterly cold some days, was ultimately survivable if perhaps a bit long in the tooth come April. As for inspiration, it is endless. My colorful commute changes daily and never ceases to be jaw-dropping every.single.day..
Whether it's mimicry or inspiration I can't say, maybe it's a case of full immersion into my surroundings and unconsciously bringing the color with me in my mind's eye as I go about my day.
Do you find yourself following the seasons in your color choices? Where do you find your inspiration? Are you moved by the colors of fashion or social media, or do you go by the beat of your own drum?
Next on my list was the Ninilchik Swoncho, primarily to use particular gradients in the beautiful, chunky oversized motifs in the fair isle yoke. I loved the way this handful I'd picked played with each other; Canyon, Aurora, Chinook all have an earthy but modern appeal. From there, selecting the color to be the main part of the body wasn't going so easily. I didn't want a super dramatic gradient, but neither did I want a semi-solid.
Since my list of sweaters in my queue was only growing longer I realized that I wanted to take a fresh approach to gradients. Time to create something that straddles the line. Something softer, with changes that stay within a single color but not the predictable dark to light. Shades of deep blues, pale creams, saturated reds. A hint of a change, not a rainbow. Something very wearable, but with a bit of extra interest, and so the Watercolor range was born.
What I love about the Watercolors is they open up a whole new world of possibilities. They coordinate beautifully with the more dramatic gradients, allowing them to play off each other gently without competing. They also work great as stand alone colors, with a bit more dimension than a semi-solid - adding a touch more interest without being overwhelming, making them great for everyday wear and perfect for sweaters and larger garments!
Potato chip knitting... you've heard this expression, right? Like potato chips, can't eat just one - with some knitting projects you can't knit just one row, one motif, or you must knit through to the next gradient, the dishes can wait..
Here are some favorite projects that fall well within Potato Chip Knitting.. Enjoy (or be warned)!
Soldotna Crop - design by Caitlin Hunter/Boyland Knitworks
I've knit two so far.. I have hankerings for two other color combos. Knit in our Sport yarn, it's a remarkably quick project, watching first the fairisle pattern develop, following that with the gradient, this is a tough one to put down..
Fox Paws - design by Xandy Peters
This project had the dubious honor of keeping more than one of my employees and myself up until almost dawn more than a few times knitting away at this. I chose to make mine with Shawl Balls and made it twice as long and twice as wide as called for in the pattern. Perhaps crazy but so worth it!
Electric Boogaloo Cowl - designed by Tina Whitmore
This project is quick, knit up in 2 balls of the Freia Worsted and watching the gradients play off each other makes this impossible to put down. Once you've done one you'll be itching to try out other combos.
Lilnientreu Shawl by Ute Nawratil
I just started on this and I'm sensing the danger already. This is a project I've had in my "must try this" list forever. When I looked at the pattern and calculated that the yarn requirements perfectly suited using a Palette Pack and semi solid that was it. I've opted for a Neutral Zone Palette Pack and Ebony Semi-solid. I'm going on a trip later this week and it seemed like perhaps something I could travel with. TBH, I'm having a hard time putting it down and I've not even left yet..
These are just some of the ones I've made (or I'm making). In another post I'll share with you all the ones I think would be (or are) amazing in our gradients that I've yet to make.
What are some of your favorite Potato Chip Knit Designs? Share in the comments and pass the potato chips!
"A lot to love in a little package"
The beauty of having a yarn company is if I want a specific thing, I make it. I know I'm spoiled. This also means that I can play with yarns and, ultimately, share my fun ideas with you. I figure, if I needed it, other people would find they did too. It was time to re-knit a favorite design as the original yarn suggested had been discontinued, but it would need a shorter gradient than currently available, I didn't want to ask that customers buy a full ball of yarn only to have to break it into segments and discard 1/2 of it. Enter the Minikin.
We took our best-selling yarn - the mulesing-free US merino Shawl Ball - and make it small. Our minikins are 107 yards/.9 oz balls that perfectly match our Shawl Balls and Yarn Bombs, but in a miniature version. It's 1/4 size of a Shawl Ball, or 1/8 of a Yarn Bomb, but the base is identical. While dyeing these guys up new design ideas kept popping in my head. I'll share a few ways to play with minikins below.
Another favorite is the Alaska hat.The first one is done in Espresso (2 balls) and Coho for the lovely sunrise and the second in Vertigo (2 balls) and Dahlia for the sky. I'm itching to make another, I think the next will be in Aurora for the sky with Canyon for the trees..
I like the idea of grouping the Minikins in curated palettes, making a pack that is ready to go all within a single color theme. This idea birthed the Palette Packs. There are currently 7 Palette options at the time of this writing, but as we release new colors each season we'll expand even further the offerings. I took the Back to Basics pack and designed the Countdown Shawl (below), this takes the mini-gradients and breaks them into a striped pattern, so each gradient looks randomized into a stripe (I have a thing for stripes...!)
I've been seeing a lot of great designs coming from other designers out there. Check out the NeoViking Hat by DrawFour Designs, and the swoon-worthy Freia Polychroma Scarf by Amy Gunderson.
Having the same gradient in multiple different sized balls opens up a world of options. And as usual I find myself with more ideas than the time to knit them. I've yet to get around to the sweater re-knit that prompted this new yarn, but someday... someday...!
I think many knitters have a secret (or not so secret) fantasy of having their own yarn shop. I'm certainly no exception.
I've been knitting for - wow - 45 years, and have always loved perusing yarn in shops. When I was little it was mainly acrylic, in garish primary colors, in drug stores or five and dimes. In my teens in England I would seek out actual yarn shops, still selling primarily acrylic, though some might at this point be stocking beauties by Rowan with more natural fibers and large color palettes and the accompanying pattern books full of inspiration and gorgeous photography. I was hooked.
I come from a family with a rich history in the 'gentle arts'. My great-grandmother was an accomplished weaver, my grandmothers made lace, needlepointed endless chair seats, knitted, crocheted, embroidered.
My mother made much of her own and my clothing as a child, stylish no less - oh those wide collars of the 70's made for wonderfully embarrassing school photos.. My aunt took me to Liberty's, endless floors of fabrics, fashions, yarns all perfectly presented to make them impossibly appealing. My mother took me to Hédiard in Paris (these days focused on food but back then - novelty wool bouclé in bright, saturated colors made me swoon!).
My aunt, mum and I went deep into a phase of stitching up every Kaffe Fassett needlepoint design as fast as he could publish them. I even had the hutzpah to call him up and ask for a job as a stitcher - he was very impressed that I'd finished his Rose Trellis Rug (which now resides in my craft room) and I ended up doing a freelance stint for Nepenthe, his parents restaurant and gift shop, stitching up a few sample pillows for them.
Moving forward a few decades and I suppose it's no surprise that I'm in the field of slingin' yarn. I chose to be more on the back end of the yarn business as I've learned I'm a process oriented type of person. The Making is the reward for me.
I started designing, making kits, then a few years later shifted into dyeing the yarn and shortly thereafter added having the yarn custom spun to my specs. (Someone please stop me before I get my own sheep!). But all this time there was that nagging of wanting a little yarn shop.
Finally, 20 years "in the biz" and a cross-country move later, I have it. My own little atelier, a place of pretty yarn, on pretty shelves. Display elements from my various trade shows scattered about, including cones of yarn "ice cream" and our internet-famous lady of the ombré dress (she still needs a good name). I have a shop dog, of course - not always so well behaved but we're working on it. I have a large table for knitters to sit a bit, enjoy the view from our large mill windows - and the view of the working studio. Here you will find every yarn that we make, plus a few extra things, and some great secret deals. We have all our samples on display so you can get inspired and gain a deeper understanding of all the possibilities of a gradient yarn - far beyond the shawl! Plus when you visit you get to pick our brains - we know the yarn backwards, inside and out. We can help you pick the perfect yarn and project for that yarn, and we have years and years of experience to share.
On the days we are open we run brief workshops - Freia Fifteens - quick skill building lessons in a set theme for those who want to improve or even learn something entirely new. In addition to sharing the feel good factor of just visiting a pretty yarn shop, or learning something new, every studio open-day we donate 15% of gross sales to a local charitable organization. I want to give something back.
With a lot of hard work, and a good dose of good luck I've landed in a place I love doing what I love. I hope if you find yourself in our little neck of the woods you will come by and enjoy our little atelier as well.
The studio is located at 60 Roberts Drive, Suite 204, North Adams, MA. For monthly opening times please sign up on our mailing list, or keep an eye on our Instagram feed, or check back on this page for hours and days we're open.
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.
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. Getting Hygge with it - warmth, comfort, color, texture, design, nature.