And now for something completely different – experimental blogging day to try and push your creativity in blogging to the same level that you perhaps push your creativity in the items you create.
As my “experiment” I decided to step back from the intense focus on knitting and designing and take the time today to share a little family history and philosophy with everyone. The women in my family have inspired, guided, and taught me many things – mostly “not knitting” things. So here they are, with a couple of lessons each. These women have been a part of the foundation for my creative life which I now focus on building better every day.
My Mom – “Every problem can be solved” and even better, there is always an “Elegant Solution”.
She is a physics professor, and a great one at that. Growing up she couldn’t help but teach us how to deal with the world through the lenses of math, physics, and teaching. Through games, puzzles and tons of craft, cooking and science projects, she was always patient and encouraging. She taught me that nothing is impossible because nearly everything you want to do can be broken down into smaller problems, solvable groups, and then fused into integrated elegant solutions. It didn’t matter if it was my geometry homework or a fine art painting, there was always a way to identify the goal, and reach it, in a smooth logical way. Her needle art was sewing. She could make anything we wanted growing up – from tiger costumes to prom dresses. It was always clear that smart, and even geeky, did not mean you couldn’t also be artistic and creative too. If fact she made us realize that each aspect made the other better. She taught me to sew, and also how to spot quality construction when shopping in a clothing store. Patterns were just another puzzle, and every garment can be judged by the elegance of it’s execution. In my creative work, I have used the lessons of patiently breaking things apart, and re-constructing them as I see them, hundreds of times. When I see something that looks complicated, it’s her “never say never” attitude that pops into my head and sets me off to figuring it out. One’s imagination is the only limit when you are re-assured that you have the tools in your mind to make a dream come true.
My Grandma – “ You can always learn something new – even if you’re 94” and “Handmade is no excuse for imperfection”
My Grandma was a “newfie” (from Newfoundland, Canada) with a more independent attitude that half the “feminists” I meet today. She believed in self reliance and that learning new skills was the path to taking care of yourself and never playing the victim. A numbers whiz to be sure, a working woman in “accounting” starting in 1914 at age 14, she expected good grades, good manners and great needlework from her grand-daughter. I was happy to comply. (Well, ok, my manners sometimes weren’t the best, but I tried.) She could remember what a big deal it was to get a light bulb in her house growing up, and at the same time jumped in with both feet to learn computer word processing when other younger folks didn’t even know how to use a computer at all. The sheer breadth of her experience leaves me in awe to this day. If you can think of a needle art, she probably did it at least once, and showed it to me at some point. She took up new ones every year in an endless quest to try everything. For her the needle arts were part of the foundation of being “well-educated” and doing them as well as your schoolwork was only logical. She hated the term “crafty” because to her it implied that whatever was made was somehow “less” than commercially made items – in her world your handmade item ought to be better. She did, in fact, teach me to knit, but she taught me oh so much more. Today I still hold myself to her high standards when I knit and sew, and she is the reason I keep learning, and learning, and learning!
My Granny – “Measure twice, stitch once” and “Handmade is always made with love”
My Granny didn’t live near us. We were in New England, she was down in South Carolina. Yet, somehow I always felt treasured and loved by her. You see, every year when I was a little girl, she made me a “Princess Dress”. They were beautiful, feminine and twirley dresses that fit me perfectly. Somehow measurements that were taken in the summer went off to her in the mail and then magically it was translated into a wonderful confection of a dress. To this day I don’t know how she did it. So, though I didn’t get to spend much time with her, she did make me understand how the act of making things can be a statement of love and affection, even when you’re miles away. And now, whenever I can’t get something to fit, I always have her example to follow – trust the measurements and the fit will follow. I still love a great fitting “princess dress” to this day – anyone have a wedding I can attend?
My “Aunt” Betty – “History can be beautiful” and “Everything has a story to tell”
My “Aunt” Betty (who is not really an aunt, but actually my step-grandmother) was another southerner, but she left a little different wisdom with me. She worked as an Interior Designer when I knew her growing up, and also had helped restore the Thomas Elfe House in Charleston, SC, with my Grandfather. Her art was needlepoint, and she also collected needlework from around the world. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with her one summer “interning” (not really, but I got to hang out in her studio). I don’t think she’ll ever know how much I took away from that one experience. I poured through the fabric books and explored all of the historical reproduction and antique furniture in the house and studio. She taught me to think about everything in my environment as decorative and worthy of artistic treatment. She also taught me through her example how things can become heirlooms, and how beautiful and rich history can be when viewed through the needlework, furnishings and interiors left behind. It all told a story. My Grandfather, was the consummate “story teller” in the family, but Betty was right behind him imparting tales of travel in china and emperor’s silk, to buying Ferragamo shoes in the her younger days. I don’t think there was anything in their crowded house that didn’t have a story. So today, I take the long view trying to make sure that every design and item I make can stand the test of time – and I always try to find the story behind every family heirloom I come across.
My Mother-In-Law – “You can make a living at this” and “There’s no such thing as Man’s Work”
My Mother-In-Law is yet another strong and independent woman who I have come to know and cherish through meeting and marrying my husband. Opinionated and tough as nails, but somehow always dressed “to the nines”, one of the biggest things I have learned from her is that being creative does not mean being a starving artist. She attended the Fashion Institue of Technology in NYC and made a living early on as a formal wear designer. Not only is she gifted in the “feminine” arts of sewing, jewelry design and painting – but she’s also been known to wield a jack-hammer and even build furniture when the need arose. There are no labels for her, she only sees what needs to be done and gets to doing it. By her example I feel re-assured that if I work hard I really can become the designer I always dreamed about. I am amazed by both her strength and ingenuity and I feel blessed that I’ve been able to learn from her and add her to the roster of amazing women in my family.
So I say to all of these wonderful women – “Thank you for ‘not knitting’ “ and making me the knitter and designer I am today.