Friday, 30 December 2011

Latest Northern Loops Blankets to Maternity Ward

I just had word from our local Project Linus UK coordinator --now down south with family--that she delivered our most recently knitted blankets to the maternity ward in Caithness General (In Wick for those reading this from abroad) where they were much appreciated.

One of the busiest blanket knitters will be at a funeral today. It will be a sad time, of course, and I hope that the news that her blankets are bringing joy and comfort to people celebrating new life will bring a little cheer into a difficult time.

It will help me face the day. One stitch at a time to a blanket, a baby, a lifetime of stitches.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

News from the Rest of the NESTAlings

Well, since we have all been fledged, nestlings is not exactly the way to describe the cohort of applicants to the NESTA Age Unlimited program. But Northern Loops and all their projects were hatched together, so I think I'll stick with it.

Rosie at Better Balmedie started it out with an update email to all the rest of us.

Both those who received funding from NESTA and those who didn't had success stories (if you or someone you love snores, check out this project by retired GP:

It was great to hear from Rosie and all the wonderfully creative people. It also prompted me to reflect on the progress of Northern Loops and my own growth as an organisational person. We have had a very successful year, but if we are going to grow, I am going to have to (continue) to stretch myself. This holiday break has given me some much needed battery recharging and the news from those who started the process at the same time has focused my mind on upcoming goals as well as reflecting on the process to get here.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

"Mindin' My Own Knittin'--Sock Lessons

My first pair of socks--completed with a great deal of help were successful enough that I could wear them, but not give them as a gift as intended. Turning the heel felt as momentous for me as rounding the Cape of Good Hope. So with all the zeal of an intrepid explorer, I started on another pair from the same wool (merino wool with possum fur from New Zealand) for my friend. My beginner's luck still held; I prevailed upon my friends to help me steer around the heel once again, and best of all--the socks fit and my friend liked them ---hooray all around.

OK, next socking adventure: socks from a lovely soft bamboo wool--yup the same thing our pandas eat but made into yarn rather than panda food. They knit up like a dream and fit like a charm--size wise. Bamboo is very soft and drapey--lovely for shawls and tops and --well, things unlike socks that need to be more socky. I still love them and wear them with my clogs.

So duly chastened with my exotic wool adventures, I started a pair in --sock wool (blue mostly wool self-patterning). Sometimes I am conventional, honest. I followed the ball band directions for needle size, checked my gauge and went to town. I even did a tension square and checked sizing as I went along. Turned the heel by myself and carried on into the toe, but the fabric was not satisfactory--loosely connected. I made a mid course correction and added another strand of very fine wool. Much nicer fabric--stiffish but more sock like but the sock when done was listless, at best. Having learned all I could from this little sock, I began ripping it out with none of the remorse usually associated with ripping out. The pretty blue tight knit fabric will make a lovely little purse in which I can keep, what else? sock needles.

Happy knitting.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas- Mindin' My Own Knittin'

"Therefore, as we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas assocations and of the lessons that they bring, expands! Let us welcome every one of them, and summon them to take their places by the Christmas hearth."
----Charles Dickens

While I summon my Christmas associations to my hearth, I will be tending to my own knitting--a variation on the things we said as children--"mind your own beeswax" was a particular favourite at some time for some obscure reason. At any rate, I look forward to a week or so of pulling out my own knit projects. I have a pair of socks for me and an unfinished shawl and all the wool and a pattern set aside for --a jumper, was it? I look forward to digging into those projects--if you stop by this blog, send me a note to let me know what you are working on. I'll make a note of tips and tricks.

Northern Loops picks up again in January. Thank you to all the wonderful folks who made this year possible.

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas and happy knitting!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Letter from America--triangles and squares connecting

On a day when there was far too little sun, I got this email from a friend back in the States, which cheered me considerably, so I want to share it with you all. Perhaps in time we'll have photos of the American triangles to share on the blog as well.

Hi, dear,

I gave the Knit Calendar to a good friend of mine. Here's some background so you can appreciate the significance. I met her at First Friends. She's kind of like a mother to me. She's in her eighties and has been thru some awful times. Having volunteered at hospices, she supported me with notes and conversations when Dad was dying. She often writes supportive and appreciative notes to people. She crochets and knits and makes her own gorgeous clothes and does all kinds of creative things.
She asked me over to her house on Monday. I brought out the calendar and she did indeed want it. I told her briefly about Northern Loops--young and old teaching each other what they know. Last night she called while I was at the Y. Then she called on my cell this morning and left a message. That told me she REALLY wanted to talk to me. What she wanted to tell me was that she figured out how to make the triangles. Then it occurred to her that she could make one part smaller and another part larger, or something like that, and she made a square. She'd never used that stitch in that way before. She was very proud of herself for figuring out all that.
She's going to take the calendar to a monthly craft group that she's in charge of at First Friends, called the Gathering Group. I told her you'd appreciate that, since you're a "Pass it on forward" type of person. Obviously she is too. She is glad young people are involved in the knitting and calendar. I told her I'm glad the shawls are used not only for comfort but also for celebration. And I am. She has lots to celebrate now, whereas a year or two ago she needed comfort.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Labels are Here and the Calendars are going Fast

It's that time of year when things seem to move so quickly toward Christmas and the New Year.

We have several requests for shawls so it was a great relief when the labels with our logo arrived in the post.

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First, elation: Hooray, they're here. They look OK. There are 500 of them.
and then
the realization that now comes the stitching part.
We have about 14 shawls, so it's not like we have to stitch in all 500 labels---yet.

Meanwhile, thanks to Lisa's "almost mother in law, Ann", as she was announced at Saturday's WRI dinner dance, for selling calendars in Orkney for us. Thanks also to Lisa of Inspired by Caithness for sharing some of her space at the Mey Market to display our calendars, Meg and Ali for selling them at Halkirk craft sale and Elizabeth's store in Thurso for displaying calendar on the wall next to the shelves of lovely wool upstairs.

Oh! I must not overlook Castletown village store, as well. Oh and thanks also to Alastair Gray for letting folks know about our calendar.

I have only 2 left myself.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Joy of Making

A friend who has the knack of finding the niftiest things at just the right time gave me this mug yesterday as an early birthday present.
She thought of me not only because we share an enthusiasm for knitting and such but also because I had been girning about how much I am looking forward to getting back to my own crafting.
Now you all know I love Northern Loops--it's like another child late in life, the embodiment of all the social action of the sixties, an opportunity to make a difference in my new community, and good fun on top of that. One of the ironies, however, of starting a craft-based group is that I have spent less time doing crafting, which was the genesis of all this in the first place.
You gotta love the irony of it. So I am parking up the projects swirling in my head for a month of more crafting than organising in December.
I also love this mug because my friend and I share a conviction that hands on is a good way of learning. We get smarter when we knit or crochet or make things with our hands from improvised bird scarers or basketry covers for our veg patch to new apps for our electronic toys. I can't help it: something hard wired into me gets excited about making things.
Serendipity led me to switch from the background music of Radio 3 to Radio 4 where I heard a discussion of the new Raspberry Pi computer that folks can program--not be just consumers of technology but take part in it. Following closely on the heels of Raspberry Pi was a discussion of Fab Labs idea born in MIT in the US to set up fabrication labs so that folks with ideas can make them real. My heart is still beating faster at the thought of that.
One of my favourite students when I taught technical writing years ago was a young man who wanted to start a small machine shop--not the lawnmower repair type shop which has its merits but a genuine using cutting edge technology but on a small scale to fabricate parts for equipment working shop. Even that long ago the world was not kind to small businesses and hands on manufactory. I dread to think what it is like in this current climate, but I believe in that ability to make things not only for the sake of what it does for us but also what it does for our economy, our cultural well being.
So, please go ahead and get excited and make something.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Art Imitates Life

The shawl pattern is called Flying Geese after the quilt design of that name. As I watched these swans fly over the fields at Greenland Mains I could not help but see the resemblance between the pattern and the birds in motion.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Calendars across the waters!

As I write this, our Northern Loops calendars are making their way across the broad Atlantic and the Pentland Firth.
Members of the extended Northern Loops family in Orkney and Fishers, Indiana respectively have taken a look at Caithness Kaleidoscope and decided they wanted to celebrate along with us.
Calendars are also available now in the village post office shop in Castletown and in Elizabeth's in Thurso -- upstairs where the wool (yarn in American English) is.
If you do not see them there, please ask for them. It's a long way to Fishers or even to Orkney!

Monday, 31 October 2011

A Proper Thank You

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I was so busy yesterday selling calendars and looking at the lacemaking demonstration at Castlehill that I did not say a proper thank you for the Linus blankets given to me. In fact, it was not until I was home did I remember to look in the bag. As I hope you can tell from the photo, they are beautiful--the colours invite calmness and comfort; the stitches provide something for little fingers to think over as they wait in the hospital or the ambulance. And they are so soft.

So thank you from me for taking the time and the care to share your knitting and thoughtfulness. I know you cannot join us around the table --I hope someday you will. In the meantime, first of all a proper thanks from me and all the folks who will never get a chance to know you except by the lovely stitches you passed along.

Friday, 28 October 2011

First Northern Loops Caithness Kaleidscope Calendar Sold

Some big companies like to splash out for their millionth customer or their centennial or such. Being new and small, we are instead celebrating our first customer.

Thanks, George.

This is the second time George has been featured on our blog. You may recall seeing him bringing chocolates to a Northern Loops session. Chocolate and calendars both contribute to sustainability!

I am also chuffed that today I received an email from NESTA--the folks whose funding from the Age Unlimited project launched Northern Loops here in Caithness--with a PDF of my article in the Caithness Courier. Definitely a red letter day for Caithness and Northern Loops.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Petit Pockets--More Cheer from Triangles

One of the not altogether anticipated and hence even more welcome outcomes of Northern Loops is the seeds of creativity that sprout in folks. When I saw a description of Prayer Pockets in a shawl ministry book (I'll get the title when the book comes back my way), I thought about adapting some of our leftover triangles into a proper pocket. We sat around the table and talked about it a bit.

That seed found fertile soil with one of our knitters who came up with these treasures. Just the right size for putting in a photo or a little treasure when facing hard times--or celebrating good ones. The idea for the little prayer pockets came from places where a shawl or a lap blanket would be inconvenient. These petit pockets can be tied to a zimmer or tucked in a pocket or kept on a bedside stand. They are warm to the touch and a delight to the eye. The buttons make these tactile and attractive. If doing these for households with wee ones, use an alternative to buttons such as crocheted flowers or bobbles.

The woman who knit these is kind of shy, so I will not mention her by name here, but I hope she sees this and is chuffed. In time, someone none of us knows will receive one of these pockets and all they need to know is that someone thought about them and gave them an opportunity to hold onto something precious.

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Monday, 10 October 2011

October 23rd in Dunnet Church a day for everyone

As every knitter knows, the finished project--even when cherished by the recipient--does not reflect the hours of designing, studying, crafting. Only the crafter (and her closest companions) know all the ins and outs.

I realized with a jolt that Northern Loops is a bit like that now. With two groups going--one in Thurso and one in Dunnet, but with considerable overlap, not everyone knows everyone else. So when an invitation went out to attend an event associated with Harvest Service at Dunnet Cnurch not everyone was included. And that has to be my fault I realized because I am the only one who knows everyone.

An error of the head and not of the heart as my pastor in the US used to say.

So as always, I beg your indulgence and ask your help in spreading the word that that day is a wee token of recognition for everyone's efforts.

For all those who have listened to me about Northern Loops (including those who kindly gave me their names that I have lost in the depths of my pockets) or who told their mums to come and knit blankets for us in Thurso or who dropped off wool or who brought food or who have hosted us in their church homes or invited me to speak at their groups or introduced me to folks who might be interested or dragged their children to group meetings or bored their spouses with tales of knitting, or inveigled them into helping with trays for NiteKirk or chocolates for the knitters or spare wool or extra needles or patterns or knit magazines to sell, or anyone who asked what are you going to do with all those triangles, you are all so very welcome to come to Dunnet Church Sunday October 23rd.

For the knitters whose craft will be blessed, it is an opportunity to meet the pastors who will be distributing the shawls through the central church ministry, and for them to meet you.

It will be an all age service, so I hope to have the happy sounds of kids punctuating the service. It is Harvest time, so, if you like, bring a gift of food to place on the altar, but don't worry about that--you've already made your contribution.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

We Can't Forget Blythswood Shoe Box Appeal

I have been so busy putting together a calendar of our shawl designs that I almost forgot Blythswood Shoe Box Appeal. It is a simple concept, just a shoe box full of essentials and something warm.

The hand knitted mittens, hats, scarves, and pencil boxes not only ensure that the hats will be really warm but also that they will speak of more commitment than store bought mittens.

Hats on and needles up to all the dedicated knitters who have found the time in addition to their own knitting and all the new demands of our Northern Loops effort with more than a dozen shawls and more than a baker's dozen of Linus blankets to fill shoe boxes with their knitting.

I feel warmer already, don't you?
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Friday, 23 September 2011

Creating a Culture of Caring

"Caring" usually connotes looking after others less fortunate or being considerate and both those senses of the word pertain to Northern Loops. They are at the very heart of what we do.

At the Business Gateway road show, I spoke with the Intellectual Assets representative. I am going to paraphrase wildly so I won't give his name in case he does not recognise his words in my paraphrase. Now, if like me, you expect words like intellectual assets to be like the shoes I was wearing--smart, slightly elevated, and just pinching a bit, you will also be relieved at the straightforward advice he gave me. Although there are pinchy parts to managing our know how--which ultimately is infinitely more valuable than what we actually do with it, basically it is just creating a culture of caring about our own work--not possessive or territorial or copyright and security hoops. At the time I got his advice I was relieved. As I thought about it a bit more I began to appreciate how insightful it was.

Even as crafters ourselves, we can fall victim to the tendency to trivialize craft. We do this without thinking, dismissing the value of our work and of craft in general. We do this in part because to us it seems obvious how to invent a stitch or rework a pattern or make something we think up on a whim. But it is not. It is a gift and a skill honed through years of practice and both that knowledge and the ability to transmit that knowledge are intellectual assets.

I had thought that the struggle to get folks to understand Northern Loops somewhat patronizingly as Nanas who knit was an external one, but it really starts with each of us. Fortunately this revolution is as simple as writing down what you do.

Now when authorities as different as the intellectual assets consultant and hard core knitter and author Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (Knitting Rules) say the same thing, I think we ought to listen. McPhee says a knitting notebook--a wee spiral bound thingie with graph paper and random comments is an essential part of what each of us should have in our knit bag so that we don't do silly things. But the notebook is more than that, of course, in time it will be a record of what you have done --and learned. You can leaf through it and laugh at your early work and be chuffed that all those stitches really have amounted to something to be proud of.

McPhee encourages us to take it a step beyond the spiral notebook to the dizzying heights of a project journal: ball band, snip of yarn, photo of finished project, pattern used, recipient's name, finished dimensions, any changes made to the pattern, etc.

As someone who likes having information but is not keen on writing things down unless it is backs of envelopes, I will share with you an easy way of keeping a project journal--ravelry. Ravelry ( is a popular online knit web site with lots of information that offers members a place to do just what McPhee suggests--other than the snip of yarn. So whether you use a notebook or ravelry project space, start the revolution to value craft by writing down your intellectual assets.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

With My Knitting in My Pocket and My Heart in my Throat

Northern Loops is much more than knitting and to ensure that it keeps going (Cue that popular word here--sustainability.) We need to generate funds and make connections with other organisations. While I would much rather invent a new stitch or talk to a group of pensioners or kids with knitting needles in my hands, sometimes I need to put my knitting in my pocket and go out and play with the people in suits.
So yesterday Northern Loops and I went to the Business Gateway Roadshow in the ballroom of the Pentland Hotel. I found my suit in the back of the closet and in preparation I looked over my venture development plan and previous marketing materials and dove into the language of markets and customers and benefits and outcomes. Fortunately I could see Northern Loops still amongst that language. Even more fortunately the people in suits could see it, too.
I met some great people committed to helping little organisations like us get not necessarily bigger but definitely better. It was worth putting my knitting in my pocket for a day.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Apres Triangles

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I have been so focussed on triangles and shawls for the calendar that I was surprised when Margaret handed me this non-triangular shawl. I felt the warmth of it--in her smile and the warm wool as it touched my hand and that inner warmth of a nice surprise. Once again, I was reminded that the magic works even when you know how it works. Before this shawl even gets to its intended recipient, it is warming us. Giving and receiving are parts of the same coin.

The giving started even before Margaret picked up her needles and invented a new stitch. Someone donated the wool--on cones. Someone wound the cones into balls and joined two closely related blues to give this shawl its depth of colour. Thanks all around.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Hairy Bikers, Caring Bridge, Community and Northern Loops web site

The latest program by the Hairy Bikers (for American readers these are a pair of motorcycle fans who also cook and make a living doing cooking programs with their motorcycles--Hmm. Not on their motorcycles exactly though I can imagine they would cook on them if they could, but with some good excuse for traveling and cooking.) I watched the Hairy Bikers first because it sounded so improbable and then again because it was actually good fun and I learned about cooking and places and times iun the UK that were foreign to me. The Hairy Bikers and I had drifted apart until I stumbled across their latest adventure--Meals on Wheels. OK, once again it was the inherent incongruity of it that attracted me to watch. And again I was rewarded with more than I had expected.

The Hairy Bikers--without abandoning their leather exteriors-- talked about how they first came to cooking. It was touching. Not too sappy but just helped me understand in an instant why they would care about Meals on Wheels. And so now I care, too.

That is an important facet of community--awareness and caring. One of the things you often hear when any of us start the tongue clucking associated with the Decline of Everything is something like "we used to know our neighbours". Northern Loops (you knew it was coming, didn't you, despite the title and the opening paragraph?) connects neighbours--one woman now has a good reason to call on her neighbour to show her the latest knit project. Another woman learned about a weekly lunch event where she can see her neighbours--or near neighbours. Up here we live in the country and our nearest neighbour may be a mile or so away, so these face to face get togethers take on a particular importance.

Distance--the bugbear for knowing neighbours and hence building community. Caring Bridge is a free web site hosted by Indiana University Health Centres. It makes it possible to stay in touch with folks you already know and care about but are no longer neighbours. My friends around the knit table have heard me say how and why that is important to me personally just now, so I'll just say that overcoming distance is one of the reasons why I have wanted from the outset to have an online presence for Northern Loops. Now thanks to Web Integrations and funding from NESTA, we are going to make that a reality.

You can view the Hairy Bikers program here: Thanks to the wonders of technology, you can see what makes me like these guys and take to heart their campaign for Meals on Wheels.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Very Busy Behind the Scenes

No, I have not gone doo-lally and posted rockets on our knit site by accident. As Pee Wee Herman said, I meant to do that.

The rocket photos--besides being cool--(thanks to Neil Buchan for actually catching my rocket coming off the launch pad! and me grinning wider than the Cheshire cat) are a metaphor for how much work goes on behind the scenes.

We spent two hours working on our kit model rockets--all the pieces there and the hard work done for us--and then the motors went in and it was just a matter of seconds as it swooshed into the air.

So that's kind of where Northern Loops is just now. We have all the pieces and we're heading for the launch pad.

We are scurrying around in the rarefied atmosphere of web site development and putting together photos and text of our original designs for a calendar and then perhaps note cards of our designs. So definitely keep an eye on this space as knitting nanas go airborne.

Oh, I should mention that the photos were taken in Castlehill Heritage Centre garden. If you can take your eyes off that beautiful rocket, you can see in the background the plants for the dyeing garden. Later this month, I hope to launch my rocket again and to take part in the natural dyeing workshop--I have some wool--well, OK, I have lots of wool and some silk as well. Part of what made the rocket workshop so much fun was the presence of young people. Intergenerational. I wonder if any of my rocket pals might be interested in knitting?

Meanwhile, what's on your needles? I'm working on a shawl for Northern Loops Dunnet, wee hearts for Northern Loops Thurso, and a small child's hat out of Gorgeous bamboo wool for Blythswood shoebox appeal (coming soon).
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Friday, 26 August 2011

Northern Loops featured in August Newsletter

Thanks to UK Handknitting Association ( for featuring us in their August newsletter.
You can also find us listed on their groups page--Northern Loops puts Caithness on the map in a variety of ways!
UK Hand knitting association is very active in supporting and promoting knitting (and crochet). Their web site is a wealth of information from patterns and groups to competitions, including some sponsored in partnership with WI.
Of particular interest to me for Northern Loops are these three things: national effort to establish knit clubs in every school, celebrations of Wool week (September 5-11), and volunteers to teach knitting at events such as SECC in Glasgow through their Knit 1 program.
As we often find, news and events cluster more often down south than up here, we have already shown that we have the talent and the crafters to put Caithness on the map!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Check out our logo!

Lisa Poulsen created this logo for us. Lisa is a graphic artist who recently started her own graphic arts business, Inspired By Caithness,

Let me know what you think. Once everyone has had a look-see and offered comments, we'll begin to incorporate it into labels for our shawls and all our communications.
Thanks, Lisa. Caithness is full of talented folks. I'm chuffed to have Lisa help us out and look forward to seeing her business prosper.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

If not for knitting.....

I am back from a fortnight in Norway, where the scenery is stunning and the people are very friendly.
On the way to Bergen, however, we were fogged in at Shetland. Flybe was very accommodating. They arranged transport to and from the airport to a nice hotel in Lerwick and a voucher for dinner and breakfast. We arrived in Lerwick in time for a little walk through the centre. For me, this meant a bookstore and a trip to one of knitland's treasured sites--one of the Jamieson wool shops, which specialises, not surprisingly, in Shetland wool. Fortunately I had just a short time before they closed, so I had to stay focused and came out with just one small ball of wool.
I had planned to travel light and with all the hassle about knit needles on airplanes, only at the last minute decided to tuck in a small pair of circular needles and a pattern for wee hearts from one of those freebies included in a knit magazine. It turned out to be one of the best things to go into my bag.
When we checked in the day after our fogbound night, the weather did not look very promising. I had the foresight to ask about taking my wee needles in my hand luggage and was told, they were OK.
And then began the long wait. Maybe the flight would go; maybe not, and this not knowing lingered all day. I lost myself in the heart pattern. By the time we finally heard that the flight was taking off, I had nearly a half dozen little hearts.
A woman on the flight later commented, "You were always knitting" and that led to two things: a discussion of Northern Loops and my realisation that without my knitting I don't know how well I would have endured nine hours in a very small airport. That set me wondering about other folks' stories.
Was there a time when knitting helped you cope with a difficult situation or led to a conversation with a new person? I'd like to hear your stories.

Monday, 1 August 2011


We've received another donation of wool for Northern Loops which is much appreciated. We had actually begun to run low. Thanks to the generosity of so many folks I did not think that would ever happen, but we have been knitting hard and fast.

I'm taking a little holiday but wanted to say thanks and to let folks know that I do not know why their comments are not showing up here on the blog. I was surprised to discover that lots of folks have been visiting and leaving comments. For some reason they have been put in techno- limbo. If anyone reading this can tell me how to fix that, I'd be much obliged.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Every Stitch Matters

Our first brochure had the tag line, "Building Community a Stitch at a Time." These carefully stitched triangles brought that back to mind with a smile. I put them next to the corsages left over from last year because, they, too, made a difference and will be incorporated into the stitched up triangles for a shawl.
I had begun to feel like the sorcerer's apprentice whose magic threatened to overwhelm him. Instead of buckets of water I had triangles and triangles and a few more triangles and a couple squares and somehow out of this had to come something other than stacks of triangles. All the usual crew were hard at work stitching up and I felt as if I were moving in slow motion while the triangles---much needed and much appreciated grist for the mill was working overtime.
And then serendiptity stepped in --as it so often does for me--in the form of a new friend who said with characteristic enthusiasm, "I'll stitch some up for you." I expected her to take a few, so when she took the whole box I was nonplussed and delighted. When I opened the box and the first triangles to meet my eye were these cheerful yellow and blue ones, I knew that we were on the right path with Northern Loops.
It's working. Every stitch matters and more importantly every stitcher matters. We matter to ourselves, each other, our craft, and our community. When we started Northern Loops I was focused on the people we would be helping--those on the receiving end of our blankets and shawls. I did not fully appreciate how much pleasure and growing is in it for each of us.
Thanks, L., for the lovely stitches and your wonderful enthusiasm. You can never have too many ideas or too many triangles.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Starting, Finishing, and the Bit in the Middle

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I hesitated on the title for this post: Zen and the art of finishing sounded just too pretentious, but maybe it would have been catchier. And as photos go, the cloth bags on the line are not too eye catching either, but it struck me as a metaphor. I use these cloth bags to hold projects--a knit project, a collection of information to be passed on, the notes and handouts from various projects: working with the home ec classes in the high school, corsages from Knit in Public Day, brochures for Prince Charles's Campaign for Wool--you get the idea--a motley assortment for my varied interests.

I started using cloth bags as a quasi organisational technique when I went back to grad school. I was juggling teaching, a part time job, and my life as a student. The cloth bags were part of the lore of teaching writing--they were sturdy enough to keep student's papers together and intact and light enough that you did not give yourself a hernia lugging them around. The senior teachers had posh bags from Land's End or L.L. Bean--more like cloth baskets if you will. I made do with bags from stores like Trader Joes or Wild Oats. When I moved over here, I started the habit up again.

Since my first kindergarten report, it has been noted of me that I prefer starting things to finishing them. And in the fullness of time I have come to accept this of me. Sometimes I still try to rationalize it away or joke about it, but when I did a bit of a cleanup in the loft --a nest of projects past, present, and future I was gratified to be able to work to the ends of these project bags. When I get around to it, I find finishing up things exhilarating. There is a marvellous sense of --purposefulness, satisfaction, completeness that comes with finishing something.

OK, there are still way too many half baked thingies hanging around calling for my attention and probably always will be, but I washed those project bags and hung them on the line as a reminder that finishing is fun, too.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Going to the Hospital!

It is rare that a trip to A and E (Accident and Emergency aka Emergency Room for American readers) is cause for celebration, but in this case, it is our blankets that are going to A and E.

"The first batch of knitted blankets went to A&E at Caithness General Hospital and the remainder are ready for delivery to whoever next requests them." Valerie Barker, Caithness and Sutherland Project Linus Coordinator, emailed me this message along with a photo of the blankets with their label and "adoption papers".

As often happens with me, serendipity kicked into overdrive to get this message to me just when I needed it. I had begun to look longingly at my own knitting sitting in a corner as I worked on my Northern Loops knitting--a shawl for the Dunnet group's shawl ministry; a blanket for Project Linus. And that wee grumble was sent packing by the news of our blankets going to a good home.

It was a much needed reminder that giving is good for the giver as well as the receiver!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Triangle Shawls Coming to NiteKirk

The completed triangle shawls (thanks to all of you for your wonderful efforts!) will be on display tomorrow night at Dunnet Church for the NiteKirk celebration--a kind of open house for a church.

I hope lots of people come by to see the shawls while enjoying the rest of the open house-er church. There will be music, munchies, and an opportunity to enjoy a little time and space outside our everyday humdrum world.

I wrote the above lines hastily yesterday and the computer--sensing my hurry--refused to post it, so I can update it with the news of great success. We had nine shawls spread out on the back of one of the old wooden pews. The colourful shawls were even more beautiful against the dark wood background in the candlelight of the church. Each one was so wonderfully different. Now we have labels to do so the shawls can begin their lives as part of the shawl ministry here in Caithness. The central churches will be in charge of giving them out.

And we also recruited another knitter. Since my car is a travelling cabinet of wool and needles, as soon as she expressed interest, I was able to kindle the spark into a flame of good intentions.
Now after just a little breather, I'll pick up my needles again and start another shawl and finish a blanket for Project Linus.

Tomorrow, I'll share some news about the blankets for Project Linus.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Triangles and Picking Up stitches

I really really hate sewing up, but since I had asked others to do it, I had rolled up my sleeves, gritted my teeth and gone to work. It was twice as hard to admit defeat, but it was the right thing to do to un pick the stitched on triangles and then to unpick the row of triangles.

Now I have a bed jacket size shawl with a flower closure and a mix of organic New Lanark wool* and King Cole Splash and some donated cones of wool that turned out to include some beautiful Jamieson heathered wool (the pink).

The idea for flowers in the closure came from Meg's lovely shawl and it was also her familiarity with Jamieson wool that made me take a look at the wool on the cone. I washed it a second time and it was a pleasure to knit and crochet with. I hope the recipient enjoys this shawl as much as I enjoyed making it. Oh, never mind the grumbling I did, that's all part of the fun of it when all is said and done.

* I didn't see this wool spun on my recent trip to New Lanark but I saw all the equipment and ingredients--silk noils looking as tasty as wee gum drops and the smell of clean wool and light machine oil. I loved it. A great visit. I recommend it with or without bringing home wool.
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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Knitting Together

It is in the quiet times after a flurry of activity that the most important lessons sink into the place of not forgetting. I was struggling with my shawl for the prayer ministry. I had pushed to get it done and then realized that the pushing and the approach I was taking were just wrong and the piece and my attitude toward it were going from bad to worse. I have such good friends. They looked at the shawl and said not a word, so I finally accepted what I already knew--time to rip it out and re think. And those same friends who had said not a word set about helping me rip it out.

I managed to save a bit of it and regrouped but by the time I was once again approaching the finishing line, I lost my nerve. More colours? Fewer? Crochet edging? I folded it up in the confidence that I knew how to get my way out of this confidence crunch--a design consultation with a friend both gentle and wise. A text to my friend was like the cavalry coming over the hill in the old western movies of my Saturday matinee in the balcony childhood.

With her eyes, I could see that the new approach was OK and we talked about how to proceed, but before I could fold it up and run off, she had set me down with a cuppa in her studio. I stitched while she sat next to me. When she offered to work in all the edges where I had changed wool, (When she tucks them in, they stay tucked) I was delighted. Each of us working on one side of this wee shawl.

And as we sat there watching the waves on the shore between stitches, she said quietly, "I like knitting together." And that is the heart of Northern Loops. Oh, we all enjoy our own quiet time of knitting, but knitting together is wonderfully different. Knitting alone is connecting with self; knitting together is --knitting together. Now hopefully whoever gets this shawl will be able to feel that connectedness, the things coming right after a wrong turn-ness because we have knit that into the shawl and into ourselves.

Friday, 24 June 2011

More Triumphs from Triangles

I can't resist the calmness that comes from light blue and cream in combo. I like to think that whoever gets this shawl will feel that, too. After all, that is the idea behind the shawl ministry.

Cynthia's take on the triangles is inspired by her own talents as a quilt maker. She picked a pattern from her calendar of 365 patchwork patterns for this shawl--large and comfy and bright. One of the things I am consistently and delightfully reminded is how the same idea can take such different shapes in the hands of different crafters.
With Cynthia's shawl as backdrop, here are two grafters in a familiar pose--sewing up! Much as we love the end result and the kaleidoscope of possibilities with triangles, the sad hard fact is that sewing up is hard work. Cynthia spent every evening for a fortnight sewing up her lovely triangles. A job well done but oh the hard work! Double thanks to all those who have been kind enough and patient enough to take on the sewing up. The photo below does not do justice to the truly eye-popping safety reflector yellow of the triangles, but the colour captured the fancy of the two young artists, so I love to think that we offer something for everyone!
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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

From the Precinct to the Ambulance Service

Last year we launched Northern Loops with a giveaway of little knitted flower corsages and an event in Caithness Horizons on Knit in Public Day. This year we celebrated as part of a project completion day in Castlehill Heritage Centre.

The high point of the day and the best part of the anniversary for me was handing over the blankets we have done for Project Linus. Valerie Barker, the local coordinator, did not want her photo taken, and since the blankets are the real stars, here's a photo of them all lined up and ready to go.

Val was very pleased with each of them and the number of them (Thank you all, busy knitters!). The next step for these blankets will be to get an individual photo of each and then they will go to work with the local ambulance service. If I hear about them (and I probably will up here where the connections run deep), I'll give them star billing here on the blog again. Until then, I am back at my needles and looking forward to Northern Loops Dunnet's shawl project.
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Friday, 10 June 2011

Knit in Public Day June 11

If the weather holds--always a big IF up here, we'll be celebrating Knit in Public Day tomorrow in this lovely garden at Castlehill Heritage Centre.

Wherever you find yourself tomorrow, I hope you have your needles with you and can make a stitch or two to the revolution.

What makes knitting revolutionary?

As Gandhi knew, having control of one's basic needs is a foundation for freedom. I don't remember the whole story behind the spinning wheel on the Indian flag, but I remember that he used it as a symbol of personal and cultural independence.

Knitting is about accepting a traditional craft and making it your own. If matinee jackets for bairns are your thing, then do it. If you are goth or into vampires, then check out how you can use knitting to express yourself. (

One woman who coordinates the local Blythswood shoebox appeal collects dozens of scarves and beanie hats--someone makes those and puts in with every stitch warm wishes--both the wool and the wishes are surely most welcome to those on the receiving end of the shoeboxes.

Right here in Caithness, our hand knit blankets will be going tomorrow to Project Linus where they will make a welcome addition to the local ambulance service and a child in distress.

Knitting has been used in the past and still is today as a vital source of income.

Knitting breaks down barriers of class and age.

These are some of the ways I know that knitting is revolutionary.

So wherever you are tomorrow, be a part of the revolution and celebrate Knit in Public Day!

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Thursday, 9 June 2011

Thrifty Side of Handcrafts--a Quick Note from New Lanark

We are just back from a trip to New Lanark--textile history and social history and sustainable development rolled into a beautiful site. I'll say more about it tomorrow in this and my other blog, but could not resist posting this snippet from a copy of Aunt Kate's Knit and Crochet magazine which I saw in a 1930's version of a worker's cottage.

Being thrifty is a good reason to know knitting and crocheting. At least as important as thrift, however, is personal control and choice.

Seeing New Lanark has reminded me how important a social enterprise can be not only to the people and the community in which they operate but way beyond the immediate area both in time and geography.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The First Triangle Shawl

As promised yesterday, here is the first shawl to be completed from our mountain of triangles. Unlike the many snapshots I have taken where heads were inadvertently out of the frame, this time I meant it. The shawl is intended to be the star in the forefront and Meg and I are as wee images in reflection in the mirror.

When I collected the shawl from Meg, I knew it would be lovely and also that there would be stories and laughs about the efforts and creativity to make it. "You don't know how things are going to turn out when you begin," said Meg. I agree. So for me seeing the finished product so well turned out was a sigh of relief. I never doubted that it would work, but I had no idea how it would turn out.

Meg is a skilled knitter and a trained artist, so she can make her flowers behave and knows how to put colours together so they get along well. The front of the shawl is finished with a pair of these lovely flowers on either side. The trim was knitted separately and then crocheted to the main part of the shawl. It gives the shawl not only a lovely decorative edge but also makes it hang nicely. Most importantly, Meg added her own good wishes into the shawl so whoever gets it can enjoy both the craft and the good will.

The idea for the shawls and their use here in Caithness came from the shawl ministry. One of our members discovered it in a book about knitting for peace. When we began the idea of Northern Loops, that seed of an idea was there and it is a pleasure now to begin to see it come to fruition.

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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

From Triangles to Artwork

Thanks to all those who made triangles for us we now have plenty of material for shawls for the community outreach from Dunnet Kirk. Especially thanks to one especially dedicated member of Northern Loops with very fast hands who made more than a hundred triangles, each with the care and concern we want to integrate into our shawls. Her dedication was so intense that when she recently went into hospital, I took wool and needles to her and she kept up with her triangles.

Now sadly she has lost her husband and while she does the sad hard job of picking up the pieces of her life, we gratefully pick up the work she has given us and hold her in our thoughts until she feels able to come back to us. She and her husband are very private people, so I respect their privacy and acknowledge our debt to her and our support in this time as discreetly as possible.

Tomorrow I'll collect 2 shawls made from triangles by two of our most talented knitters-artists. It seems a good tribute to the efforts of our trianglers and a tangible reminder of what the shawls are meant to be. So-called women's work has always been at the heart of transitions such as births, deaths, weddings, funerals, sickness, christenings, confirmations, or comfort from the cold. These triangle-shawls to be given anonymously to folks who may need an extra dose of comfort typify women's work and the heart of Northern Loops.

One women made a hundred or more triangles; another made fewer than a dozen but each and every triangle and each and every stitch has been indispensable. What we do--however large or small--is an essential part of something larger.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Naptown Knitters--using knitting for re-entry

A friend from Indianapolis sent me a link to a story about how knitting is being used in a prison in Indianapolis. ( They call themselves the Naptown Knitters (Indianapolis earned the nap of Naptown in the notorious ganster era when Chicago hoods went the 200 miles south to lay low from the scrutiny of police or other gangs.)
I like to think that people who have strayed can find their way back into the social network that holds us together.
I also like this story because recently I have been baffled as to how to get people to understand the power of knitting. All too often it suffers from the image of Nanas who knit matinee jackets for babies or posh hobbyists buying expensive imported wool to make playthings for themselves.
Since its inception (probably not as early as some texts claim, but knitting has been around at least 500 years), it has been practiced by the upper classes or lower classes or men or women or children and gone in and out of fashion dozens of times.
Throughout that varied history,k nitting has been a powerful force for change--both personal and social. It meant eking out a meager income for herring girls and their families or keeping troops alive at Valley Forge. It also meant learning control and achievement. The meditational and therapeutic benefits are beginning to get attention outside the knitting magazines, which is another reason why I was chuffed to see about the Naptown Knitters.
Northern Loops is about that power to take control of some small part of your life and to put your knitting needles to work on a project of your own choosing. When that is a project for the community in which you live, it has the added benefit of reminding us all that we can do something for ourselves and our community. With a little knit and a purl and a laugh or two that's what we're up to at Northern Loops.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Snail Tails, Starting and Restarting, and the Missing Link

I am in Indiana and I left so hastily I did not pack my knitting. (Don't worry I have some now--thanks to my sister).

More importantly I am missing my knit-companions and the company we share. Nothing is quite as good as the time around the table with our knitting and a cuppa, but I'll take this gap to bring in some of the stories I have collected about getting started knitting--a thread I began a couple posts earlier.

(If you have not read Ruan's story in a comment to that post, let me encourage you to take a look at it.)

My dyed in the wool knit friends said they could not remember a time when they did not know how to knit. They learned the easy way--though it may not have felt that way at the time to little fingers and short attention spans--they learned at home from mothers or grandmothers. Snail tails was how they described some of their earliest experiences--wrapping thread around the little spools with nails on top called variously French knitting or spool knitting.

Other knitters admitted that they were first shown how to knit at home but did not take to it at the time. The first lessons, however, were enough to make re starting easier when later in life they decided to take it up again.

Most of the adults of my age or older also had the opportunity to learn knitting in school. Teaching knitting in schools has declined. As a result we have a generation of complete non-knitters. In putting together Northern Loops, we called that generation the missing link. If those adults never learned it school, then their children miss out on learning either at home or at school.

Northern Loops wants to help fill that gap. Starting to knit--just learning the essentials--makes it that much easier for anyone who wants to take up knitting later on. Even if someone never takes up their knitting needles after the first few lessons, they will have gained a literacy that translates into other areas of learning and confidence building.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

So Many Triangles, So Little Time

I took this photo in the hopes that it would look artsy but also because I need all the help I can get to remember things like wool and needle size and so on. Yes, I know Ravelry has a nice project space with my name on it, but I have forgotten my password again, so please tell me this looks arty and also when I wonder, say look closely at the photo and you can see that the peedy needles say Brittany 4.0.

So while I'm doing numbers--100 gms of DK wool makes about 17 or 18 triangles of max sts 38. I have left long tails on them to use for sewing up, so maybe you could get more if you cut off their tails, but since we are making these patterns up as we go along, I'll let you know as soon as I figure it out.

I have a little less than 200 gms worth of triangles from Splash wool, which is one of those alternatively dyed wools that knits up in interesting patterns. As I lay out the triangles for steam blocking, I turned over in my mind some ideas for using the patterns in the triangles for an overall effect. That too is one of the things to be figured out.

OK, one last calculation in a unit of measure that is not a common one but I find very useful. I can do about 2 triangles per episode of Poirot. If the cats do not sit on my lap, then it will be only one and a fraction because I cannot sit through all those commercials without a break for a cuppa.

I'll tell you more about the story of these shawls--where they are going and why we are doing them in another post, but now I need to get busy on my part of the project for the Northern Loops Thurso group, which meets next Thursday (March 17--St. Patrick's Day) at United Reformed Church.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Creative Chaos with Chocolate

With chocolates delivered to us, we were assured of sweet success! Thanks, George, but next time, we'll get you knitting!

So many possibilities! If geometry in school had been this much fun, I might have paid more attention!

Margaret put us all in the shade with the number of triangles she knitted. I don't know how many exactly, but more than 100! She has several tucked into the pocket of her apron. While everyone around her talked about sizes and colours and designs, she just kept right on knitting. Go. Margaret, go!

With our characteristic enthusiasm, we talked about how we would distribute the shawls that we knew were lurking in those triangles just waiting to be liberated --and stitched up.