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Crazy for Ewe

The path to serenity is right on your needles

The path to serenity is right on your needles

Dijon and Cognac Stew

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. 

If you would like a little guidance getting started with knitting as a mindful practice, join us 28 September for an interactive workshop on mindfulness in your knitting.  I look forward to seeing you in the shop and around the table.  You are always welcome here. 

~Ellen

Back to 11 September 2017 Newsletter

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4 tips for fab summer knitting

4 tips for fab summer knitting

Wow - Memorial Day already - the official beginning of summer fun! This is the season when knitters who travel folks travel and knitters often relax into an altogether different mode. Here are 4 ways to make summer knitting fabulous

  • Knit socks - You always need a little knitting handy while you're watching the sunset or enjoying a casual evening with friends. Small, mindless projects like simple socks in fun variegated colors fit the bill. Knit them in simple stockinette and let the colors do all the work. If you're not yet a sock knitter, Jenny has a beginning sock class starting June 1st so you can easily get on board and be starting your second pair of socks before the 4th of July!
  • Knit light weight yarns -  If you're traveling, pick up some laceweight, like beautiful Shibui Lunar and you'll have a beautiful lace project that weighs next to nothing and takes up no space but still keeps you engaged. If you love the idea of lace shawls, but find them a little intimidating, fear not - Boo Knits has introduced a line of Boo's for Beginners, and Ginni is doing a series of classes on them, starting with Rum and Cola. If you'd rather start now with a super simple project in Lunar, try Envoy, Shibui's simple triangular one-skein wrap. 
  • Knit classically constructed summer sweaters - While there is an appeal to sweaters worked all in one piece, they quickly reach a point where they're heavy and not so transportable. Individual sweaters pieces are typically smaller even than socks and scarves, so you can carry a sleeve or even a full sweater back with you and not have a pile of knitting in your lap. Join our next Custom Fit in 6 weeks class starting July 15
  • Knit shawls in fine yarns A Curl is a perfect summer because it starts small and grows into a terrific accessory you can pull on when the air-conditioning is freezing you to death and toss off when it's not. Try the beautiful Ianthine Curl Mary is doing in the Curl Class coming up June 7

I look forward to seeing you now and throughout the summer - you are always welcome here.

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Project and jewelry and music, oh my!

Project and jewelry and music, oh my!

It's First Friday this week, and we a wonderful event planned for you.  First is the gorgeous new project, Nobadeer, a generous shawl worked in Findley DK.  A perfect marriage of silk and merino in  a palette of soft spring tones, Findley DK is exactly what you need to remind yourself that spring is right around the corner.  Nobadeer is available as a generous shawl as well as a smaller scarf.  Come see the sample and get started on your own.

Also on First Friday, I'm excited to welcome Arina MacFarland, a representative for Chloe & Isabel, a line of beautiful hypoallergenic jewelry at First Friday. 

Designed by a New York team the line includes chic statement pieces, as well as smaller, more delicate necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.  There are very fashion forward pieces as well as elegant classics that make any outfit look stylish and modern. 

In honor of Youth Art Month, the Southern Maryland Youth Orchestra and Choir will be performing at  various venues around town during the evening.  I'm thrilled to have their largest group, Ambassador Program Singers showcasing their talents in a wide range of ensemble and solo songs from your favorite musicals, including: Les MisMatildaAnnieSouth Pacific, The Sound of Music, The Wiz, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, and much more! 

This is going to be one of most fun First Fridays ever - you do not want to miss it.  This week from 5 to 8 pm.  See you there!

I look forward to seeing you at First Friday if not before.  You are always welcome here.

Back to 28 February 2017 Newsletter

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Rockstar designer #3 - Anne Hanson

This last of frosty February finishes up our theme of fabulous patterns and Rockstar designers.  I love the feedback this theme has gotten.  Lots of you have shared your favorites with me in emails and in person, and it's fun to hear about designers you love too!  For this series, I've focused on designers who do garments as well as accessories.  We all love the quick beautiful cowl, but where Rockstar quality is really important is in garments.  We invest so much in the knitting of a sweater.  When the knitting is all done, we expect the pieces to go together correctly, and we expect it to fit.   Sketching and knitting a gorgeous garment is one thing, but following through with the detailed process of pattern drafting is a completely different, additional expertise.  Pattern drafting is the careful calculation and meticulous recording of stitches, rows, and pattern repeats that turn a good-looking design into something knitters can actually use.  A good pattern designer has to be an architect creating both the inspired design and the detailed construction plans. 

This week's Rockstar designer is Anne Hanson, a talented, meticulous, and prolific designer and pattern architect with more than 380 designs on Ravelry - socks, hats, wraps, blankets, and of course, garments.  Anne loves lace and cables, and in her designs these traditional techniques take on a fresh modern look.  You would definitely buy her stuff in the store, only you would never find such an array of smart and interesting styles.  You can choose patterns for  42 different hats, 67 socks, 50 mittens and gloves, and 22 garments , all really attractive. 

Anne's patterns are accurate and well written.  I'll add my own personal bias here and tell you that I love that Anne designs here sweaters to be worked flat with side seams and set in sleeves.    She is one of those designers you learn from, just by knitting her patterns.  The photographs accurately represent the garments' shape and proportion because she uses real people as models - often modeling her garments herself.  Which brings me to sizing.  Anne herself is a slender, petite woman, but she designs for women of all heights and weights.  Her patterns run from XS to XXL and often XXXL.  That's really important.  Designing across a wide spectrum of body shapes and sizes is challenging, but I believe everyone deserves a great fitting sweater.

If you have not knit anything by Anne Hanson, I invite you to try her cabled hat and scarf set, Monkey Bread, with us Saturday at our Learn and Grow session on cables.  Or you could choose a larger project and join us for our next knitting safari which starts March 4th.  But do try an Anne Hanson project - you'll learn a lot and be very happy with the result. 

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TNNA 2013

Rowan mannequin

Rowan mannequin Kidsilk Haze wrap

Lynne and I spent Saturday and Sunday in Columbus, OH at TNNA.  TNNA is the trade show where vendors large and small come to tempt retailers with their latest products.  It's basically the yarn industry's Fashion Week, and I always come away exhilarated and inspired.  some booths are dressed thematically and give you the sense of stepping into another world.  Rowan does an outstanding job of presenting their offerings. This year they had a masquerade theme, and all the mannequins were dressed as if headed to a masked ball with taffeta evening gowns and hand-knit sweaters.

At TNNA I like to see in person those vendors I mostly talk to on the phone.  I had a chance to meet Deb McDermott of Shepherd's Wool,  Arthur Karpeteyan of Karabella Yarns, and Demien Savits of Blue Heron Yarns.  At his booth, Demian showed us several beautiful garments that will be part of our Blue Heron trunk show next month.  It's so different to see the yarns and the samples up close and in person - to be able to feel the fabric and try them on. I'm so excited to offer you the same chance to see these lovely things!  Take a peek at some here.

Sandra McGyver, Sally Melville, and me at the Knit, Swirl booth

Sandra McIver, Sally Melville, and me at the Knit, Swirl booth

TNNA is also the place where we get to catch up with designers,teachers, and yarn professionals -- to make plans for how to share their offerings with you.  Saturday we had lunch with Sally Melville and planned a weekend of wonderful classes for next June.  Then we met with Stacy Charles of Tahki Stacy Charles Yarns.  We ordered a bunch of dazzling sparkly yarns, as well as a gorgeous new cashmere tweed.  He has several sample garments he's sending us - luxurious accessories you can do with just a couple of skeins.  We spent a lot of time in Sandra McIver's booth trying on different sizes and shapes of Swirls.  That was really fun too.

Sunday we met with Chris Bylsma, tried on her new designs, and scheduled a brand new class event for this September.  We asked Claudia of Claudia's Handpaints to join us and bring a gorgeous display of silks and merinos for you to see.

It was a long couple of days, but so worth it.  I have so many things coming that I think you'll really love, and I can't wait to share them with you.  The first is the Blue Heron trunk show July 19th and 20th.  Mark your calendar, because you do not want to miss this event.

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Interview with Star Galler

Star, grand-daughter of the founder of Galler Yarns, has recently taken over the management and direction of the company.  I had the pleasure of talking with Star about the company and her yarns. 

EllenI love Galler Yarns  - they're fabulous quality, and I've always admired the integrity of the company.  Tell me what it's like to be at the helm of the company and how things have changed or stayed the same since you've taken over. 

Star:  I want to stress that it really is a TINY business. I am running most everything by myself. I have my Mom and Dad who help in the background still, and two part time packers, one of whom is 98 years old. And of course, invaluable Marie, who is my internet and social media guru. 
Many things have stayed the same, for instance, my relationships with the mills have been forged over generations, and those that I still do business with are those that have withstood the test of time and provide consistently superior products. They are mostly also all family businesses and I have a bond with these younger generation owners as we have all risen in our familial business lifestyles in the same way.

EllenIt's wonderful that your family has been working with the same mills for generations.  Tell me about the mills you use and what makes them so special. 

Star: I am proud of our mills, their ethical treatment of both the mill workers the animals, and their charity to the surrounding communities. For example, our Alpaca comes from Peruvian Alpaca that are part of a special breeding program designed to enhance the species.  The animals are treated like gold and are well cared for and prized.  They are raised at elevations of over 10,000 feet in the Andes mountains which allows them to develop the highest quality hair. Animals born that do not match the quality of hair desired (which is still superior relative to the average Alpaca) are gifted to the local farmers, thereby enhancing the genetic stock of all the area Alpacas.  This is just one example of a charitable program our mills offer to their communities.  There are many other programs too numerous to list. 

Ellen:  Knitters and crocheters just hate running in to knots in their yarn.  I have heard from most vendors that one knot per 100-yard skein is an acceptable industry standard.  However, I rarely find any knots in the 600 yard skeins of yarn from Galler.  How do you control the quality so well?
Star:  As far as quality control, both my father and I are in constant communication with the mills (several times a week at least) to ensure that our products are always exceptional. Being that all our products are organic in nature, meaning that they are all coming from living creatures and can not be mass produced, it is very tricky keeping everything in stock. Especially when we have to deal with bringing it here from overseas (which adds its own set of problems). We do our very best.
I have refused to settle for cheaper quality to bring my prices down to competitive levels with luxury items such as the Belangor Angora or Pashmina French Cashmere. I could buy Chinese Angora fiber, but it can't hold a candle to the true French rabbit hair. Same with the cashmere. Nothing out there is processed as beautifully, is anti-felt treated, or wears as long.

Ellen :  Yes, indeed, your yarns are incomparable!  Is there anything else you'd like to share with your fans at Crazy for Ewe and the wider knitting and crocheting world?


Star:
Mostly, I want to express that I sincerely care about the yarn I carry and the stores who buy from me. It's very hard to compete with the big brands and the huge budgets. I can only hope that people will recognize the absolute quality of and love that goes into everything I carry and that my yarns will stand out in the sea of choices.


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From Runway to Your Way

This was the topic from the February 20th newsletter.  Several of you have asked for it again, so I thought I'd post it here.

It’s interesting to think about what business we’re really in. Every time I have to fill out a retail business form it lists me as “craft/hobby”. Craft/Hobby? Really? I so don’t think so. The hand-knitting business lies smack in the middle of the fashion industry. The textures and colors shown on the runways of Paris, New York and Milan translate directly into the skeins you fondle on the shelves at Crazy for Ewe. How can this be? Well, it all starts in Florence, Italy at Pitti Filati where they showcase all the new yarns from the Italian mills. Pitti Filati is a research lab that tracks and interprets global lifestyle trends and translates them into new yarns that influence and direct fashion knitwear all over the world. More than 4000 buyers, designers, and executives for major fashion brands come to Florence twice each year to see what’s new, get inspired, and choose materials for their season’s collection. Pretty heady stuff, huh!


Vogue Knitting does an excellent job of helping knitters see that movement from runway to project, with garments by real life ready-to-wear designers. But there’s more to it--you can actually see how runway looks are interpreted in hand-knitting yarns on the shelves. For instance, a major theme across many of the Paris Spring 2012 fashion shows is “Underwater”.


Chanel's Spring 2012 "Underwater" show
Photo courtesy of Style.com


 The fabrics are subtly reflective and shimmery – like creatures under the sea. This theme runs through many of the shows, and we see it in several of our new spring yarns. First is Reflect, a cotton blend yarn with glistening rayon filament. Reflect is an elegant yarn with a smooth silky hand that knits up into a subtle, luminous fabric with fabulous drape. Next is Captiva, a soft cotton fiber wrapped with an iridescent strand that shimmers like a mermaid’s tail. Pertinio, is constructed much like Captiva, with the addition of an elegant metallic strand running through it. All three yarns come in a gorgeous palette of rich neutrals, well as stylish watery shades, and fun brights. I can see any of these three yarns in beautiful warm weather cardigans, flowing wraps, or dressy summer tops. Come by the shop, choose your favorite shimmery yarn and bring a little Paris runway to your wardrobe this spring.

Ginni is starting a knit-along for this lacy top in Pertino - it's an easy 4 row lace pattern that looks much harder. Begins Tuesday, Feb 28th at 2:30 in Leonardtown.

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Swatch like you mean it

There’s a really great blog called Color Me Happy. It’s written by a talented decorator with an amazing color sense and a special gift for choosing just the right neutrals. She recently wrote about these enormous color cards she brings to her appointments to allow clients to see what a color will look like on their wall. The card is painted with the actual paint and covers 12 square feet of wall while a paint chip is printed with ink and is no more than an inch and a half square. It’s crazy, but we often choose a color for our entire house without really knowing what the color will look like with our furniture, our flooring, and our lighting.

Same thing happens when you set out to knit a sweater. Unless you’ve knit a really large swatch - 8”x8” minimum—you don’t really know what the fabric looks like or what your gauge is going to be once you get going. I tell customers to knit a swatch large enough to allow them to fall into their normal, ordinary knitting style. A tiny swatch is like a first date where everyone is on his best behavior. You can knit tightly or loosely for a 4” swatch, but you need to know what your knitting will do when you’re just being yourself and not focusing on the swatch.

You’ll also want to swatch the yarn in the stitch pattern your designs uses. While the gauge may be given in stockinette, and that gauge will be the metric for determining your needle size, you’d be very remiss if you didn’t swatch the pattern you’ll be knitting. You may find that the yarn you’ve chosen is too springy for the lace pattern – or too busy to for the cables. You need to know how the yarn behaves in all the stitch patterns you’ll be using for your project.

Ideally, you’ll give your swatch a little bath and block it out to see what the fibers when they’re washed. Does the fabric grow? Does it become limp? Does the dye bleed? This essential data you’ll need before you work up a large garment in multiple colors! Often, in the little bath, you’ll discover a glorious side of the fabric that simply doesn’t show up in the skein. Some of the best yarns are not flashy on the shelf - they don’t cry out for attention, but when you knit them up and give them a little bath they’re the kind of yarn you want to use for everything!

Felted Tweed is a perfect example of such a yarn. I asked Lynne to swatch up the sample skein, and she produced a large piece of fabric with a spectacular feel. It was light and delicate without being fragile. It had a hint of bloom brought out by a little bath. Who would have thought that the unassuming Felted Tweed would produce such a rapturously beautiful fabric? To think we almost missed bringing in this lovely fiber! Silky Wool and Silky Wool XL as well as Felted Tweed’s big sister, Felted Tweed Chunky, are similarly shy on the shelf, but so delightful to knit.

Whether you choose one of these standout yarns, or other lovely fiber, be sure knit a nice big swatch and see what it does for you.


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Variety is the spice of life

The very lovely Mary, who owns Waldorf Pottery, has been helping me with my gardening lately. I love plants, especially flowers, and I am working on creating several large gardens for my yard. While I know that I should focus on one area at a time and create and implement well-thought-out garden bed, I am impatient...I need flowers NOW. It sounds kind of ADD, but while I'm planning and waiting, I am totally obsessed with gorgeous pots of colorful flowers. I know that this blast of color will help me get through the slow and steady work it takes to create a large garden bed. Mary is so sweet, and she understands where I’m coming from. She listens to my litany and calmly points me to a beautiful camellia that will grow slowly into a wonderful flowering evergreen shrub, and she eases my immediate flower craving with a spectacular overflowing planter for my deck.


My knitting style tends toward the same kind of ADD. If I’m working on a large project like a sweater (which I nearly always am) I need something small, colorful, and really interesting to work on as well. So, I usually have a scarf or a hat in Noro or some fabulously colorful hand-painted yarn. I’m totally okay with this approach because everything always gets finished, and all in all, it’s a much better experience for me. Most knitters share the slight tendency toward ADD, but only the highly enlightened ones actually embrace it. Most experienced knitters know that having two or three or even four projects going at once mean that you’re rarely bored, and each is a pleasure when you choose to work on it.

This need for variety is one of the reasons we offer so many small project get-togethers like Sandy’s Booga Bag group Friday mornings, The Thursday Afternoon Scarf Club, and the First Friday projects. It’s really satisfying to make great progress on a fun and fast little scarf or hat while you work steadily on something larger and more involved. It’s like a weekend getaway – you come back refreshed and reinvigorated, ready to work on your large project with renewed interest. So when you are attracted to something new and colorful, give in to the temptation, and don't feel guilty - know that it's a temporary diversion that feeds your soul and refreshes your knitting experience.

We're doing the Booga bag Friday mornings. Feel free to join us. We've planned a fun new project for September's First Friday, and don't forget the Dream Club coming up with a fabulous new one-skein project coming each month. There is always lots going on, new things arriving, and fun and laughter around the table. Come join us - you are always welcome here.

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Class is cool

When I was in high school my father wanted me to study engineering in college. I wanted to study English Lit or French, but he assured me that I should focus my education on really hard things that I probably couldn’t learn on my own. He reasoned that when I was well-employed as an engineer that I could devote my free time to reading great literature, and learn all about it on my own.

In theory, he was right. I could have read all kinds of great literature, pored over the web, and studied various analyses of these works, thereby forging my own education in literature. However, I don’t think I would even have known how to begin. And honestly, the truth is that most of us simply don’t hunker down to study and learn things on our own. The time constraints of daily life typically prevent us from lavishing that kind of time on intellectual pursuits. It's hard to do, we're busy, and so we don't do it. This truth holds whether you want to learn about literature, or you want to become a better knitter. If you want to really learn something, you probably need to take a class.

A class is taught by someone who’s a recognized expert in his or her field. You could certainly seek out a variety of books, search a host of sites on the internet, and talk to every knitter you know, but it would be a real challenge to craft for yourself a class on what you want to learn. It would take as much, if not more, effort than the actual learning. Bottom line is that a class is a significantly more efficient way of increasing your knowledge and skill. Certainly trial and error is a very effective way to learn about knitting, but it is not efficient in the least – just ask me how I know this!

In our project classes, at Crazy for Ewe, we strive to teach you exactly what you need to know for a specific project, as well as give you skills and insight that will help you with other projects. You’ll learn why a particular cast-on is used for one project while a very different method is required for another. When we offer a project class, the instructor has already knit the item, identified the sticky bits, and will guide you smoothly through the project so that you’re absolutely successful.. If there are mistakes to be made, or errors to be identified, we’ve done it, so you don’t have to!  Join us for a class - we think you'll learn a lot, and we know you'll have fun!

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