Asteroflora Cures Fear of Charts


One of the things I love most about teaching a Craftsy class is the interactions I get to have from crocheters all over the world. Students are engaged and excited, and they pose interesting questions, and share beautiful examples of their work.

Today, I got a sweet note from Papitha, writing from New Zealand–a long way from Alaska. Papitha took My First Crochet Shawl, and her Asteroflora came out so beautifully that she wanted to display it in a fiber (fibre in New Zealand!) exhibition, and she asked me to sign her photo.

Here’s some of what she had to say:

Your class has helped me overcome the fear of reading and crocheting a shawl from the charts. I’m thrilled to showcase my first crochet shawl at the exhibition. Will send you the pics of the exhibition which happens from 21-25 June. Cambridge Creative fibre exhibition is considered as a big and an important event which generates money for our club. We meet up twice a  month to share our passion for fibre. Two weeks ago at the National exhibition I noticed no one exhibited crochet items. Something I’m planning to take on as a challenge.

I’m so glad Papitha now likes working from charts, and has challenged herself to exhibit at the New Zealand National Fibre Exhibition next year. I wish I could go! I’ve asked her if she would do a guest blog post after she goes to the Cambridge Creative Fibre Exhibition, and she’s agreed! So stay tuned for that later in the summer. Have fun, Papitha!

BONUS! In Celebration of overcoming fibre fears and taking on big challenges, here’s a 50% off coupon for My First Crochet Shawl. Enjoy!


Diving Deeper into Mod Waterfall

Diving Deeper into Mod Waterfall

A few weeks ago, I got to spend an afternoon with Meghan Garrison, a friend here in Juneau who works for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. I asked her to model because she seemed like a great fit for Mod Waterfall–it turned out she was a natural at modeling too. Here are some more of the photos from our shoot. (The slideshow will autoplay, but if you want to move through it, you can click the photo and it will change to the next one).

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall

Mod Waterfall was fun because it involved one of my favorite construction techniques–modular crochet–and also some very relaxing bits of crochet and knitting with a luxurious yarn. It’s not a calculator pattern–but it’s very easy to modify the fit and the length, and the pattern tells where to do that, so I’m hoping to see some fun variations eventually. I think a long–hip length–version would be really cool.

I spent the late fall crocheting and knitting Mod Waterfall, which was just released today in the spring-summer issue of Knitty in “Plays Well Together,” the column I write with Miriam Felton. Right now, I’m working on a second pair of slippers and I’m in the thinking and planning stages of my next design, looking forward to getting to needles and hook. But the days are getting much longer here, and I’m feeling the pull to be outside, so I’m guessing my mind will wander soon to real waterfalls, spring, and foraging.

Don’t worry, all your favorite things are good for you.

Don’t worry, all your favorite things are good for you.

The health benefits of knitting are in the news again. Back before Christmas, Betsan Corkhill was on To the Best of Our Knowledge talking about the mental health–and pain relieving–benefits of knitting. She worked on a large study of over 3000 knitters and she says, with scientists, “the ‘k’ word was the biggest barrier to this work.” Corkhill ended up calling the process by a more scientific name: “bi-lateral rhythmic phsycho-social intervention,” which suddenly got more scientific attention. (Before you ask, YES–crochet is also bi-lateral, rhythmic phsycho-social intervention. I feel the benefits of crochet all the time.)

Corkhill has a new book, you can get a preview here:

All that time I spent yesterday working my left brain on that slipper calculator got my right brain wondering about art and artists, and the supposed divide between logical and creative thought. I get totally engrossed and creatively excited working on the math parts of designing. For me, they’re just as much fun as the sketching, imagining, and creating. I know this is true for people in lots of different media. At the theatre where I work, there are lighting and set designers–even scenic painters–who need to use lots of quantitative thought to translate their creative ideas into reality. I suppose there are some folks who do the quantitative work just because they have to, but I think for many, it’s an interesting puzzle–a fun way to express ideas.

I would rather offer tools than rules.

Expressing ideas is kind of what I came to when I was thinking about pattern calculators. When I write patterns line-by-line as I sometimes do, it feels to me more like “instructions.” I don’t love following instructions, so I don’t love to give them, per se. What I’d rather do is find fun, creative ways of communicating an idea that allows others to express themselves. I would rather offer tools than rules.

Funny thing is, I had time to think about all this at first because I was knitting something where the instructions were laid out for me. The meditative quality of knitting that Corkhill talks about gave me time to think about the why of what I was doing and what I like to do. So it’s all a balance. What it comes down to for me is, I like the fiddly bits, and I like the relaxing bits of many kinds of work and play: music making, handwork, cooking. And like so many of my other favorite things–walking, chocolate, red wine–studies keep showing they’re good for you. (Check out Jane Brody’s recent blog post on the New York Times web site that lists several recent studies, she’s a knitter too.)

Instantly adjustable feet? A new slipper calculator.

No, not feet–but slippers. I’ve been playing with math so you don’t have to. Whenever you change something in knitting and crochet it involves a little math. But I’m excited because I found a WordPress plugin that will do the math for you. With this new toy I created a form that will do calculations, and you just need to enter your own measurements in order to have some custom sizing on a very simple pattern. Read on…

As I mentioned on Instagram, I’ve been knitting slippers.

Sometimes, when I’m knitting other people’s patterns, it’s restful–other times, it’s playful. This pattern, the Non-Felted Slippers by Yuko Nakamura is great! It’s clever, and simple, knit on two needles, so it’s easy for beginners. The pattern is written in just one size. Before you knit it, you don’t REALLY know what that size is because no finished measurements are given. So knitting it for the first time is a bit of a mystery. I didn’t mind the mystery, because I’d seen the slippers on Maggie’s feet, I knew they’d fit a foot near to mine, and I knew they were a quick knit, and really cute.

However, my sweetie, whom I just taught to knit this winter, wanted to make a pair for himself. His first actual not-a-rectangle project. So I also needed to adapt the pattern for larger feet. After I knit the first one, I realized it would also help to adapt it to MY feet.

I discovered that knitting at gauge (13sts/10cm), I got a slipper that was 26 cm long. This was the key missing piece of information. My foot is only 23.5 cm long. That’s not a big difference, in fact, it’s tiny for most kinds of garments, but these slippers are almost like socks. You basically want no EASE (or roominess inside) because they stretch to fit you. While I was doing all the calculations, I figured I could also add one in for gauge so you can make the slipper with any yarn, not just bulky yarn.

So, if you want to get started, first, go download the pattern, read it through to get a sense of how it works, make a 6″ stockinette swatch in the yarn and needles you want to use, then meet me back here! (Don’t forget you’ll also need 2 stitch markers).

Ready? Great! Enter your gauge and foot measurements and follow along the form to find out how to adjust the pattern for any size.

The remainder of the pattern–the cuff and the finishing can be worked according to the pattern instructions. You might note that I made a slight change to the increases, and I adjusted the stitches between markers to be an even number. It’s because I wasn’t quite sure why one wouldn’t add a stitch on each side of the foot in that last row (12 in the pattern), and it makes the scaling a bit easier. Let me know how it goes for you. I’d love to have a tester for this calculator.

Thanks to my programmer brother John Markos for helping me tweak the calculator so that it can round to even numbers.



Tower of Song

I awoke with the voice of Leonard Cohen today, and resisting all urges to record a new voicemail message, I’ve been laying low, working on Juneau Fine Arts Camp, and catching up on all the Internet I missed while traveling for the theatre. I’m also planning on knitting the slippers I’ve almost finished, and reading.

The book that’s been languishing on my Kindle is Fates and Furies. I enjoyed the book last fall when I started it, but just fell off the novel-reading wagon. Here’s a preview. I’ve just learned that I can put these in the blog. Let me know how you like them.

Kid One is traveling for school, and Kid Two is home because of parent teacher conferences, so it’s a relaxed day, and being sick seems like a luxury, especially on a Friday when I have a weekend to catch up on the rest of life, laundry, and lists.

Seasoning with Thriftiness – Alaska Gomashio


I love gomashio — it’s a Japanese seasoning made with sesame seeds “goma” and salt “shio.” For years, I’ve used Eden Foods Organic Seaweed Gomasio which also has a few sea vegetables in it for flavor. But commercial gomashio is expensive, and I’ve been thinking about making my own for a while. Recently, I found I could get 5 pounds of hulled organic sesame seeds for cheap on, and I have plenty of sea salt. I’ve been wanting to harvest local seaweed here around Juneau for some time, but I haven’t made forays into that particular kind of foraging yet. What I do have right now is a jar full of dried nettles that I picked this spring. Nettles have a tons of vitamins, and a nice flavor that is slightly seaweedy. So I looked at my empty bottle of Gomasio for guidance on a ratio of sesame seeds to salt. I discovered today that Wikipedia says the range is between 5:1 and 15:1. Mine is about 1:16, and it is still pleasantly salty.

Alaska Gomashio

1 cup hulled sesame seeds
1 loose handful of dried nettle leaves
3 1/2 t. sea salt

Toast the sesame seeds for 2-3 minutes in a dry pan on the stove top until they start to turn golden and smell fragrant. Allow to cool.

In food processor, mix toasted sesame seeds, nettle leaves, and sea salt.

Blend until nettle leaves are crumbled. Store in an airtight container, and freeze what you won’t use up quickly.

You can sprinkle gomashio on just about anything. I love it in stir fry, on rice, and last night, I used it on salmon.



Behind the scenes of Swink!


When the Knitty surprise came out last week with my newest pattern, Swink!, I was in the wilds of rural Alaska getting ready to go on a 4-day rafting trip with my daughter Selma. We had a little bit of Internet, enough for me to acknowledge the pattern on Facebook, but now that I’m home, I wanted to take a little time to chat some more about it and show you a few photos that didn’t end up in Knitty.


Swink! is my favorite type of pattern–it’s calculator-style, meaning instead of guessing on which size will fit you best, you use your own measurements to make the Swink! fit you perfectly. In the pattern, I walk you step-by-step through some simple calculations that make it so the sweater zooms along without much thought or worry–no keeping track of row counts or particular sizes.


We shot Swink! in Juneau with my daughter’s friend Skye as the model. Swink! looked great on Skye and we had a great time running around the city looking for places to take photos.


Crocheting Swink! was a joy because the yarn was so pleasant to work with. It’s a hand-dye from right here in Juneau by A Tree Hugger’s Wife. Best of the Worsted is a round high-twist yarn that’s got great bounce. I wanted Swink! to also have nice drape and not be a close-fitting sweater, so I crocheted it at a larger than usual gauge. The result is a sweater that’s quick to make.


Because Swink! is crocheted from the neck-down, there’s lots of room for crocheters to make adjustments and change the pattern to fit their preferences on body and sleeve length–if you make a Swink! I’d love to see it. Please put a link here in the comments!


Modular Crochet Returns…

Astute commenter “ddkayton” tracked down an old post of mine today from 2006 (!) to let me know that Judith Copeland’s wonderful 1978 book “Modular Crochet” is back in print. When I started designing, I began to accumulate a small collection of inspirational crochet books from the 70s, and Modular Crochet is one of my favorites.

Like Barbara Walker and Elizabeth Zimmerman with their knitting, Judith Copeland was interested in teaching crocheters how to invent their own things in addition to being able follow patterns. The result is a book full of beautiful photos, schematics, and very little text or line-by-line instructions. I love this. It’s easy to follow and it stirs creativity.

Pearl, looking slightly startled to be photographed so early in the morning, is wearing the Cozy Turtleneck from Crochet for Bears to Wear

Modular crochet is a method, and one that I’ve used a lot over the years in my own designs. It’s unique in that it begins at the center of the garment and works outward in both directions. It takes advantage of turning crochet stitches on their side to maximize stretchiness, and it leaves lots of room for interpretation. Here are a few of my patterns where you can try modular crochet.

Dusk, from Interweave Crochet

Dusk is a design I did for Interweave Crochet in 2008. It’s not straight-up modular technique but incorporates many of the ideas from the book.

Ribs and Mesh

Ribs and Mesh is worked in a luxurious silk and wool yarn from Tilli Tomas, but would look beautiful in any DK yarn. This sweater follows the basic modular technique, but changes up the stitch patterns adding lace and beads.

Babydoll Dress

This Babydoll Dress uses classic modular technique for the bodice, and then adds a skirt worked in the round. The pattern is available only in the book “Crochet Me: Designs to Fuel the Crochet Revolution,” edited by Kim Werker. I will be so pleased if this re-issue means we’re headed towards a resurgence in modular designs.


Oh, Stella…


I have a new crush. I haven’t been talking about her because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings (Ukuleles can be so sensitive!). Her name is Stella, and while we’ve been living together for a few months, we’re just finally getting to know each other.

New love can hurt a bit! I have sore finger tips because I’m unaccustomed to steel strings, and my head aches from learning new chord shapes, but I’m having a wonderful time.

Stella is about nine years older than me, and she’s come through her 52 years relatively unscathed.

We met a couple of years ago, when my friend John found her hanging around the thrift store, and brought her home for a song.

He gave her some attention and TLC, and even hand made her a leather jacket to go over her original case.


Then John found another 4-string, a hefty Brazilian quatro that fit his playing style better. Stella languished at home, alone. I had nearly forgotten about her when he mentioned in April that he’d be taking her to the Folk Fest music swap. I saved him the trouble and bought this sweet tenor guitar for his asking price. If I practice, maybe someday we’ll make beautiful music together!


UPDATE: Guess who else played a Stella Tenor Guitar?

The King and his H929TG (Stella Tenor Guitar)

Worm’s-Eye View


Worm’s-Eye View

“Things are changing too fast,”
says the grandmother, 73.

“She doesn’t have to use the new things,”
says the daughter, 15, digital native,
born in the third month of a new millennium.

The Thinkers say we’ve progressed
as much in last 15 years
as we did in the previous one hundred.

The great-grandmother, 98, sends an email.

The Thinkers say that by 2025, they’ll be out of a job.

The brains they are building out of zeros and ones
will be as good, and then better than theirs.

What will be the literature of the Next Intelligence?

Will they be poets, preferring the obsessive forms?

Will they possess a creativity so advanced
it’s unrecognizable?

Art, as pleasing to us, as ours is to an earthworm.


(National Poetry Month Challenge, Day 5. Thanks to Tim Urban for getting me thinking about artificial intelligence.)