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Crazy For Ewe Yarns
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Last month we all trekked up to College Park for my son Johnny's college graduation. Thousands of fresh young faces looking forward to their bright futures take me back to my own just-out-of-school experience. I think about what I had planned versus where my choices and experiences actually took me. I wonder sometimes whether I would go back and do it all again. Do you ever think about that? For me, and probably you too, I suppose, it depends on whether we could go back knowing what we know now, or would it just be the opportunity to stumble through the same mistakes all over again.

Mistakes are painful, but they provide important learning opportunities. As my daughter, Katie says, "Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment." Whether it's in our life or in our knitting, we've all had our share of lessons learned the hard way. Here are a few knitting lessons I've learned the hard way.

* Always work ribbing in a needle two sizes smaller than the stockinette portion
* "...at each end" does not mean in the first and last two stitches
* No amount of blocking can fix a too-tight cast on or bind off
* Just because you can get gauge with a yarn doesn't mean you should

Certainly, these have been meaningful lessons, but given the choice, I think I'd probably choose a less painful and frustrating learning method. As humans, blessed with memory, reason, and, skill, we can learn perfectly well without the painful experience. That's what classes are about.

Classes at Crazy for Ewe are not just not painful, they're fun. You get to hang out with other friendly knitters and have the difficult parts explained to you by a professional. You work through a project or a technique with the safety net of an instructor thoroughly familiar with the process. You can ask questions and get just the information you need. You'll hear answers to questions you hadn't even thought to ask too, because there's collective intelligence in a class setting.

Classes increase your confidence by building skills and providing contextual learning which is as effective as "hard-way" learning and substantially less stressful. Lots of great classes on the calendar at the shop - take a look and sign up. You'll be glad you did.
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Leonardtown High School basketball tryouts are next week, and while Colton almost never talks about it, I know it's on his mind. Unlike some kids who've been playing since they were small, Colton never really showed much interest in basketball until one day he was 6'3 and realized that this was probably the sport for him. Last year, a freshman with almost no experience, of course he didn't make the team. He and his friends signed up for parks and rec ball and went to every summer camp Coach Harney offered. Coach Harney focused on the basics - skills and drills -- and lots of time on the court. I don't know whether it's enough for him to make the team, but I do know that over the past 9 months, I have seen him really grow as a player. He has solid ball-handling skills -- he can pass, he can shoot, and he can block. Where he was once timid and unsure, he is now assertive and confident because he knows what to do and how to do it.

Whether it's basketball or knitting, the road to confidence is the same - you have to have the right skills to handle the situation. You need to really understand your fabric, and how you're shaping it in order to confidently handle the little crises that come up from time to time, like your needle falls out of your knitting, or you've done the wrong stitch several rows back, or you have no idea what happened, but it's definitely wrong. If you'd like to build your skills and be able to understand and fix your mistakes, join us Wednesday, November 8 for "Reading Your Knitting and Fixing Your Mistakes" our most popular and empowering class.
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Knitters like to knit. We like to make stuff. Actual stuff. That we can wear. That's the part we like. Knitting. Everything else is kind of a waste of time, or so it seems. Swatching, finishing, blocking. Especially blocking. We all admit that a lace shawl needs blocking to open up the yarnovers and even out the decreases, but a sweater? Why would you want to spend time blocking sweater pieces or scarves? What's blocking ever done for you anyway? I hear you. But if you'll give me five minutes, I'll give you five good reasons to block your knitting.

Blocking evens out your stitches and . Amazing, but true. Your knitted fabric is not at its best right after it's rolled off your needles. Some stitches lean this way or that, and some may be a smidge looser than their neighbors. During blocking, you saturate the fibers with water which allows the tension to relax and redistribute itself more evenly.


Blocking tames the edges. Stockinette fabric curls, and blocking makes it stop -- for a time anyway. Blocking forces the edges to dry flat in place, and they remember to stay that way for a good long while. Steam blocking provides a more long-lasting solution, if your fabric can take the heat


Blocking allows you catch mistakes. Blocking is your last look at your sweater pieces before you seam them. If you've knit two left fronts, or done one long sleeve and one 3/4 sleeve, you'll see it when you block. I know it seems impossible to have that happen, but trust me, it does. And if you find a mistake, it's infinitely easier to fix before your pieces are neatly sewn together


Blocking ensures your pieces are the size and shape you want . Blocking is an opportunity to adjust any small variances in your sweater pieces. Don't like the look of ribbing pulling in around your hips? Stretch that section out to be the same width as the rest. Wish your fronts were a bit larger? Stretch the fabric and pin it to where you want. You can block your sleeves a smidge longer, or correct a gauge that's slightly too tight.


Blocking makes finishing better. When your finished pieces are nice and flat, with edges that match up neatly, the actual seaming is going to go so much more smoothly. Not to mention reasons #3 and #4


I know I said 5 reasons, but here's a bonus. Blocking makes your fabric nicer. The warm water encourages the fibers to bloom and become softer and more lovely. But you already knew that because you blocked your swatch, right? Of course you did.
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My bookclub's selection this month is The Little Paris Bookshop, a novel about love and loss and grief and recovery, all wrapped up in the enchanting notion that books are medicine for the soul. The bookstore owner refuses to sell a particular book to a particular client because, "It's not what you need right now." When recommending a book he asks, "How do you want to feel when you go to sleep at night?" and "How should the book taste ? Of ice cream? spicy and meaty? or like a chilled rose?" Seems odd maybe, but really, probably as good a way as any to choose a book. There are books for when you need a good cry - Little Women, Anna Karenina. When you need a thrill, there are books that take you on a roller coaster ride of fear and excitement -- The Scarecrow, and Silence of the Lambs. And there are books like The Night Circus that take you away to a magical place when you really need to go there. If you ever need an intellectual challenge, choose anything Umberto Eco has written.

As we get ready for Fallfest this weekend and planning our yarn tastings, I am reminded that yarn might easily be selected in much the same way. Do you want your project to taste like ice cream? Definitely Moonshine. Do you need to be comforted and reassured? Berroco Noble. Are you looking for something indulgent because you deserve to be pampered? Shibui Drift is the yarn for you. Craving something spicy and meaty suggests Noro Silk Garden.

Likewise, a project. Do you want something simple just to fill your hands with something tasty to knit? Luxe Alpaca Stole is perfect - it's the knitting equivalent of a rich earthy stew. I remember many years ago, long before Ginni was Crazy for Ewe's Technical Genius, she came in fresh off weeks of knitting for the church bazaar. Bored out of her gourd, she threw her latest novelty yarn garter stitch scarf on the table and announced, "I want to knit something challenging!" Ok. I scanned my brain for the knitting equivalent of Foucalt's Pendulum by Umberto Eco and came up with a pattern We found it in a gorgeous vest with half a dozen different cable patterns and short rows at the facing worked in fingering weight yarn on size 1 needles.

Of course, there are plenty of things we knit or crochet because we want to own this garment or that accessory, but it's important to remember that this is our hobby. The days of women's utilitarian production knitting are over (thank heavens) and we knit because we love the process and because it feeds our soul. Like the books we choose to read, and the foods we choose to eat, there's much more to be satisfied with our craft than simple hunger.
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I recently started taking classes at Spice, and I absolutely love it - the space, the teachers, the music, the whole experience. As I was leaving the other day, I told Nicole, the owner, that over the last couple of years I hadn't been taking care of my body and how nice it was to do so again. The little aches and bits of stiffness that were creeping up on me are starting to go away and I'm beginning to feel strong.

I started thinking about how we (and when I say we, I mean women) are so quick to give up time for ourselves in exchange for time to take care of others. And when we do give ourselves time to take care of ourselves, it's usually taking care of our bodies. We walk, swim, lift weights, or do yoga - maybe all of the above. But what about taking care of our spirit, our soul -- whatever we call that part of our psyche that makes us who we are. Most of us don't give that part of ourselves too much attention. I know I don't. Why is that, I wonder? I think maybe it's because taking care of our bodies is so tangible. When we exercise it's all very clear and measurable -- miles logged, calories burned etc. By contrast, taking care of our spirit is so very fuzzy, and the symptoms of a lack of care are so much a part of modern life that we scarcely notice them: headache, stress, anxiety, depression, frustration, and more.

The good news, as I am finding at Spice, is that taking care of my body doesn't have to be hitting the bricks at 6 am with weights and a run - it can be simple, easy, and fun, like my barre and dance classes. Likewise, taking care of your spirit doesn't have to be hours of meditating in a lotus position. It can be as simple and fun as a few minutes of mindful knitting. When you engage yourself in the practice for just a few minutes each day, the anxieties and stresses begin to ease. You'll approach yourself and others with greater kindness, and you'll find reasons to be grateful everywhere you look.
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We had a lovely evening with Michele Franey last week at Mindful Knitting. Before we started with the knitting, we had a mindfulness exercise in which we took our time to appreciate a piece of fresh fruit. We experienced it slowly and with all our senses, taking a moment to look at its colors and to think about its history -- the entire process of its growing and being tended, harvested and transported to us. It was a really different and beautiful way to approach something we so often take for granted. The exercise created a grateful acknowledgement of everyone involved in bringing the fruit to the table. After the exercise, everyone commented on how very connected they felt to the wider world, and how they find that knitting does much the same.

Knitters seek other knitters. We find connectedness through our craft. We find the common thread that unites us despite differences in age, race, politics, and other factors that can so often be divisive. Through our knitting we are one, and we are part of the larger universal effort that supports our craft. We are linked together in ways that we may not even know. Connectedness is empowering, whether it's the strength and happiness of our knitting community, or the shared vulnerability to threats like breast cancer. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. To put it into perspective, on an average day, two or three of the women who come through our doors has had, or will have, breast cancer. I don't mean to be a purveyor of gloom, but I do want to make clear the frightening statistics, because there's only one way to fight: Awareness. Every woman needs to know the importance of regular screening, and every woman needs access to it. Sadly, many women in our community still don't know about the importance of a regular mammogram, and others simply cannot afford them.

This month, Crazy for Ewe, and other businesses around the town, are raising money to support MedStar St. Mary's Breast Cancer Outreach and Awareness efforts that provides free breast exams and mammograms to uninsured and underinsured women throughout Southern Maryland.

There are lots of ways you can help. Knit a heart for the Crazy for Ewe entry in Uplifting Designs. Come First Friday and vote generously on your favorite bra. Come to First Friday and purchase Awareness Cowl, our Pink Friday project and pattern. We're donating $10 from every kit to MedStar. While you're here, enjoy a glass of wine - we'll be donating $2 for every glass at First Friday and at all of our evening classes all month. You can also support the other businesses in town that are donating a portion of their First Friday proceeds to the cause.

We can't prevent breast cancer, but we can support early detection for every woman in our community.
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A few weeks ago I took this class called Cardio Dance at Spice Studio. Now, I've been doing aerobic dance/exercise classes for going on 40 years now -- Jazzercise, aerobics, step aerobics, blah blah blah. So you'd think this would be a cinch for me. Well. It wasn't. The teacher, Taryn Brown, is a professor of dance at St. Mary's College, and winner of the Maryland State Arts Council individual artist award for choreography. She's talented, hip and fun. Her moves are current. Mine are not. Taryn is very patient going over and over all the moves slowly adding on a little at a time. Only I wasn't quite getting it. Just a smidge behind, you know. The gal dancing next to me was having trouble with it too, and we laughed and said that we hated it. The truth is, though, I didn't hate it, and neither did she. What we hated was messing up. It's embarrassing to be out of step - turned the wrong way - zigging when everyone else is zagging.

As adults, its uncomfortable to feel incompetent. We learned all the hard stuff, like walking and talking and typing and playing tennis or whatever, a long time ago. If we didn't learn to play a sport or a musical instrument when we were young, chances are we're not going to pick it up now. It's just too painful to be a beginner in a world we perceive to be filled with experts. And that's a shame, because not only are we never too old to learn, it's the learning that keeps us young and vibrant.

As knitters, we often sit at the table and see women of all ages stop by and admire completed garments or projects we're doing. They'll touch the yarn and say, "I never learned to do this," or "I don't have the patience to do this." Having taught hundreds of people to knit over the last 14 years, I know this to be false, but I also understand their real meaning, which is "I'm not comfortable putting myself in a place where I'm not competent." I get it. It's a hard place to be, and no one really likes it. But here's the thing - it's not a permanent condition. We keep trying and we get better. I submit myself to Taryn's class each week, because I love it, and I know that I'll get it. I'm not uncoordinated - I just don't know the steps yet. It might take me longer than some to learn them, but I will learn them. The only way I can fail is to quit.

It's the same with everything in life, including knitting. Whether you'r stretching yourself with a complicated technique, just starting your first sweater, or trying to decide if you want to give knitting a try, remember that it takes time to become proficient at anything. The only way to fail is to quit, or worse, to not even try.
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Last night I was reading New York Times' article "What to Cook this Week," and I came across this delicious looking beef stew with whole grain mustard.  Clicking the link took me to the recipe and a reference to the recipe having been promoted in those dark days in 2001 just after September 11th.  The original recipe was part of an article by Regina Schrambling "When the Path to Serenity Wends Past the Stove" about how she had felt an inexplicable urge to cook and bake in the aftermath of 9/11.  She talks about the slowness of the process -- no aspect of this kind of cooking can be rushed. She talks about the physicality of the process and how it engages her senses and fires up her endorphins, and she talks about the psychological impact as well:

But the psychological impact is even more obvious. When you're all finished, you have something to show for the time and effort: a loaf of bread, a batch of cookies, a pot of stew. On Thursday, those three hours of putting one step after another led to a kind of serenity, the feeling that no matter what was happening outside my kitchen, I had complete control over one dish, in one copper pot, on one burner.

Knitters know this same feeling, and it's no coincidence that interest in knitting took a sharp uptick after September 11th.  People turned to knitting because, like cooking, it's an activity that engages the senses and offers a comforting, repetitive, meditative physicality   and equally importantly, a tangible end product that's completely under our control.  That dark day was 16 years ago, but we still struggle with upsetting news on many fronts - devastating storms flooding Texas and Florida, nuclear weapons in North Korea, and more.  We need our knitting now more than ever.  We need our knitting to help us focus, and be mindful, and find a calm space in the eye of whatever storm is upsetting us. 
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