The Best Laid Patterns

It’s been a painful few days for me, the worst continuous pain I’ve ever had, in fact. And I have been hit by a car, had two punctured lungs (each a different occasion) given birth, been paralyzed and taught myself to walk again, and had a ton of horrendous kidney stones. Still, this nasty present experience takes the cake. I am recovering from adhesive capsulitis, or “frozen shoulder”. I thought it hurt before my surgery, but it’s far worse after, during the physical therapy stage. It’s slowed down my crochet work quite a bit. In fact, it’s probably a bad idea for me to be crocheting at all, but it’s the only thing that can keep my mind off the pain. The pain killers certainly can’t. I can’t eat. I forget to drink. I don’t sleep. But I can crochet.

I believe God uses our talents to heal us and heal the world around us. So, even as I suffer, I have this crazy idea that in my artwork, I will find God and there will be a purpose for all of this. I know that, at the end of this dark tunnel, there will be peace and I will have fresh patterns and lessons to share with others who might also need a distraction from their version of pain. So, when my pain is at it’s worst, I pick up hook and skein and get to work.

I started this recovery with this pattern, a pattern I created last year. I’ve  used in several different garments and blankets, and I thought it would work well with a beautiful cornflower silk I had in my studio stash. I will have a whole series of patterns with this stitch–hopefully–by winter.

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It is so beautiful, it uses one of those stitches and one of those yarns that make you excited to wear the end product. You can picture it warming you in all seasons. I can imagine other people wanting to download the pattern. I see myself assisting others in making this stunning project at home, just for the joy of it. I work as quickly as my body will allow, to finish this wrap and share it with you all.

And then I realized that the yarn I never measured for size (because I’m not as organized when my brain is fuzzy) has been discontinued. I know better than to try and measure it. High quality yarns have fickle, particular, dye lots. What’s done is done. So, I took it apart and tried combining it with a cheap navy yarn. If you knit or crochet, I don’t have to tell you why this is a stupid idea. The end product looked like the kind of bulky, old granny crochet that makes 8th graders everywhere swear never to pick up needle arts. So, I looked through my studio for another complimentary color, that would add just enough challenge to this dreamy blue. Ever the writer, I believe in a good conflict, even in yarn colors. I believe strongly in making something of scraps, too. Yarn is not cheap, and I don’t like to waste things. So, I came up with this, a mixture of what’s left of the cornflower and a sea green color.

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We’ll see where this goes. It’s the same patter, and it doesn’t, at this point, seem to have the same elegance as the straight blue version. But I have great plans, and I can’t wait to share them with you all. I believe consistency and faith are the main ingredients of success. Cheers to the best laid patterns. May you have a rich week of blessings, my friends.

 

 

 

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Finding Inspiration

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Katniss Shawl

(Tiffani Velez)

Winter_Woods

Misty Winter Forest

(Tiffani Velez)

I long ago discovered that yarn colors and textures are beautiful because they remind us the beauty we see in other areas of our lives. The crumbled inside of a firey red autumn leaf, the faded brown of an old barn…These colors inspire something in us and make us feel something, so they end up in yarn shops.

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Drought at the Lake

(Tiffani Velez)

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Lakeside Throw

(Tiffani Velez)

I often find that, when I’m stuck in a certain area of my writing, I pull out a crochet hook or a set of knitting needles and some sort of yarn that inspires me, and I start working away at that puzzle while the puzzle I’m trying to piece together on the keyboard is still all knotted up.

I read somewhere once that Einstein, when stuck on an equation or some sort of complex scientific question, would pick up his violin and start playing Mozart. Many times, he said, the answer he needed was found when he began to play.

I’ve been a writer for many years. I’ve written for newspapers and magazines, I’ve had a few books published. Generally, I’m not at a loss for stories or plots, but sometimes, I get stuck and there’s something about creating complex knots in knitting or crocheting that unravel the knots in writing or even in life. Sometimes, I pray better when I’m knitting a scarf of repeating patterns out on my porch swing.

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Irish Cable Crochet

(Tiffani Velez)

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Knots and Twists

(Tiffani Velez)

I’m sure there’s a brain connection to this. I hold a bachelors degree in Cognitive Studies, so I know that when the hands are busy, for many people, the brain is clear to look for objectively at difficult matters, whether they be math problems, plotting issues, or relationship conflicts.

 

Yarn colors add a whole new layer to this gift; they can actually breathe fresh life into your stale week. You can have the problem you’re working out, but then you have this fresh garden green Irish silk yarn on your lap, and you’re not just working out whatever problem you’re having, you’re reminded that nothing lasts forever, not even winter. This is why I often tell new crocheters or knitters that it’s important to think about the things they love in life–

the color of the house where they care for their children,

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Old Door On House in Bethlehem, PA

(Tiffani Velez)

the way the late afternoon sun falls  in calming swaths of green light across  the pine tree grove on their grandmother’s farm,

Grove of Pines

(Tiffani Velez)IMG_20160905_180206.jpg

Juniper Berries

(Tiffani Velez)

the smoothness of the fallen tree branch that sits at the edge of the lake where they spend summer evenings with friends and how it makes them think of reading Moby Dick,

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Fallen Log at Lake

(Tiffani Velez)

 

and use those inspirations, those reminders of the beautiful things and moments in their lives, to find colors for the projects they’re working.

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Rose Garden Shawl

(Tiffani Velez)

 

It’s the working of your hands, the freeing of your mind, and the connection to everyday beauty that makes needle arts, and of the arts, trigger joy in our lives. So, look for these things, My Dear Readers, and your next project will inspire peace in you and others for years to come.

Updates and Fat New Scarves

It’s been a long while since I posted here, but I was crocheting and knitting the whole time. Honestly. But I only finished a couple of things, because I was running here and there. I finished the Rose Garden Shawl, and I’ve promised to send it to my sweet cousin, Heather, but I haven’t done so yet.

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Rose Garden Shawl, T.B.Velez, Copyright:AniBurnettDesigns

It’s still draped around Viola-Mae (the dented dress form I named for my bootlegging great-grandmother who lived in southeastern Oklahoma hill country). But I’ll get it out to her, to Heather, not my dead great-grandmother. She won’t have need of it. Anyway…

All of my work has been stilted this year for a myriad of reasons. A death in the family, family who hates me, friends who need me, friends who’ve come to hate me, children who graduated from high school, children who started college, children who transferred to new colleges, my own graduate school classes, surgeries (again), book-writing, and freelancing. Of course, there’s always MG as well. It lurks behind my eyelids until it slams them shut–literally. Every day during the sleepy midday hours.

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19th Century Cabin in the Woods Near The Ugly Old Farmhouse (Copyright: AniBurnettDesigns, T.B.Velez)

 

But I have recently ended a lot of things, because things are not experiences. Sometimes, they’re just rat races and sleep-stealers. One afternoon, after a phone call to the cardiologist, I realized that I was probably being stupid with all this activity. It was causing those benign heart skips again. So many, in fact, that they could actually cause my heart muscles to weaken, so not benign anymore. At least, not if I kept up this frantic pace of running, when I don’t even have the kind of muscles that work that way.

I know, I know…I’ve been writing posts like this for years, but something inside me snapped a couple of weeks ago and I realized that I have no more capacity for the running. I realized that none of this “stuff” is important. Yes, children growing up is important. Losing my grandmother was important. Helping my father adjust to new life, from the great wide West to the tightly wound Northeast, is important. But graduate school? Not important in the scheme of things. Freelancing? Not important when I am working on novels as well. Helping new freelancers? Super important. Life-giving important. Porchsitting? Infinitely important.

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                                                        Visiting the Neighbors near the Ugly Old Farmhouse                                                             (Copyright: AniBurnettDesigns, T.B.Velez)

So, I gave it all up. I had my most recent jaw surgery–a big ole bone graft and implant–and I enjoyed the pudding and yogurt without the graduate worry. I started reading books for the pure pleasure of it again. Audible and Kindle both gave me badges, because I’ve been reading an average of 10 hours every other day. Good stuff. I started taking walks and laughing at the chickens again. They bring joy in their frenetic scurrying towards anyone who passes their pen.

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The Summer’s Last Stand (Copyright: AniBurnettDesigns, T.B.Velez)

I’ve been getting up every morning and working on my new novel, and I’m remembering what it was like to love writing just for the pure story of it. I’m reading Stephen King and Nicholas Evans again. I’m deep into a Kristen Hannah novel called The Nightengale. Absolutely brilliant.

Man, she has a way of building characters with so much tension and conflict that you truly get stressed out over their bravely stupid decisions. I want to write like that, so I’m reading like that. I think my characters have always tended to be a little too safe. Reading Kristen Hannah helped me to realize this. I wouldn’t have noticed any of that if I hadn’t stopped reading about writing and just started reading for reading’s sake.

Yes, I will have student loans out the wazoo, and I will maybe/maybe not ever complete my MFA, but I’ve done enough studying for a while. Time for long walks, more MG stop/start hikes, baking yogurt cakes, and blogging when I remember it.

And I’ve started to knit or crochet on a near-daily basis again, writing down my designs as I alter and measure them out. I’ve started working on this Big Orange Scarf, because it’s almost autumn, and because walking in the Pennsyltucky woods during hunting season requires this, even when the woods have “NO HUNTING” signs posted everywhere. So, yes, it’s ugly, but the Chinese say orange is lucky and people can see me for a mile.

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The Big Orange Scarf (Copyright: AniBurnettDesigns, T.B.Velez)

So, I’ve learned a few thing in this most recent, and genuine, slowdown. I’ve learned that I can only please people if I cook for them or write their copy, that people will use you constantly if you let them, and that life is not about doing all the things. It’s about experiences and the people who don’t use you. I’m done with the rat race of social media and politics. I don’t care who you’re voting for or how you worship. Do as you wish, and Godspeed to everyone.

The Winter Forest

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I think what I like most about walking in the Pennsylvania winter woods is the clean slate feeling of it. There is either a fresh layering of snow blanketing all the dirt and scrabble below it–so that all you can see is a fresh start to the day–a new world of sorts, or there is this dry, leafless look to the forest, that clears the view for miles. Things are revealed to the naked eye that you’ve never seen before. An abandoned eagle’s nest, a small stream that winds between the maple trees, a marsh. Without the dormancy all the lush growth of summer and spring, and the quick fire-colored drama of fall, we’d have no more beginnings. The cycle would just burn itself out. Nature needs winter to sleep off the work, to store up for what comes next, and to see what’s been lurking below all that busy work for months.

But not everything is beautiful that is revealed. Sometimes, you find a pile of beer cans or a half rotted animal carcass. Life is similar. I think God reveals life’s ugliness in the winter of our lives as well. Yesterday, I visited my father in the hospital for alcohol withdrawal again. I have lived with alcoholics my whole life. My stepfather is a recovering alcoholic and my childhood was the timeline of his drinking. I knew what time it was midnight, because he’d come stumbling in the door singing a Frank Sinatra song or crying about Vietnam. I remember then capturing the sober, kind moments like fireflies and holding them tight inside my memory, because there were so few. I wondered what it was like to have a father who was around–something my biological father wasn’t–or a father who was sober–something my stepfather wasn’t. I envied children who knew such luxuries.

My stepfather, eventually, got sober, and we have the best of relationships now. I lean on him for many things and he’s the father I always wanted. I  called him, in fact, yesterday, to ask for advice. “Remember,” he said, “it’s not your fault, and you can’t fix it. This thing is a lot bigger than you.” And for this reason, I don’t feel guilty for writing this piece. I know many can relate.

A few years ago, I went out to Oregon to to assist my father after his first recovery, and he refused to get treatment, believing that he could overcome his biological urge to drink on his own. Doctors and specialists tried to tell him that this was impossible, but he’s a stubborn man, who like many alcoholics, is smart and witty and capable of so many things all on his own, so he assumed that he could overcome alcohol in the same way that he plowed through everything else in life. It was a difficult two weeks that I, both, cherished and tired of at the same time. I appreciated the opportunity to care for him, to serve him in this way, but I, also, really wanted my father back. I wanted the guy who didn’t choose alcohol over living. Alcoholism is a monster, the kind that buries itself deep inside the forests of our lives and when it’s revealed during the frigid sting of winter, we realize that it’s become part of the landscape, like a hidden stream we can hear but, maybe, haven’t clearly located until it overflows into a raging river.

When I went walking in the woods behind my house the other day, I did as I always do, and I prayed silently, thanking God for the beauty of the forest that He’s allowed me to live near, thanking Him for my husband and my beautiful family, for the life that He’s privileged me to live. My heart was heavy with joy, but there was something else weighty there, too. Something I knew was coming up in the near future, but I wasn’t sure what. During those moments, I tend to do as my Celtic ancestors did, and I look toward nature. It holds so many answers. I took comfort in the forest, in how much bigger it is than I and how it lives, grows, and dies completely beyond my control. Perhaps, I am strange, but I find comfort in knowing that there are things I cannot change, that are not my business to change. Things that have existed before me and that will exist beyond me.

I made the Sign of the Cross as I passed through the forest with my eager dogs, each of them sniffing and barking and wagging their tails wildly at the smells and delights of the world outside our house. I didn’t know I’d be bringing my father back to the hospital to survive another withdrawal episode, facing another shaky attempt at sobriety, but I knew something was coming, that nothing in life was certain, but for this moment, I was thankful for the presence and sense of God in the winter forest that surrounded me. I have no idea if my father will get sober this time, but I know his drinking is not my fault, and alcoholism is not something I can fix. Only God can smooth over those craggy places in the human heart and stop the bleeding. I know not everyone accepts this idea of a creator. That’s fine for those who don’t, but I like my winter forest to have roots eternal. It makes the human messes so much smaller.

Happy New Year!

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2015 has been quite a year for me. I imagine I am not the only one who’s had good and bad moments all wrapped up within those four numbers. I have had been forced into a lot of soul-searching, and it has allowed for some clarity. I have two new manuscripts to complete this year, an MFA to finish, and lots of knitted and crocheted designs to make and sell. I’ve lost people I love and learned how to trust, if even just a little more, strangers who have become friends. I hope that you all, as well, My Dear Readers, have had joys 10 times richer than your sorrows.

Come here often, as I will be posting more regularly in 2016.

Happy New Year to us all!

 

You Need Only To Be Still

Cathedral Church of the Nativity
Cathedral Church of the Nativity

I said this blog was going to be about faith as well as needle arts, and yesterday, while sitting in Mass and listening to our talented choir sing Quoniam tu solus sanctus, For thou are most holy, Thou only art the Lord, all the stupid worries of the past week began to fade. From this vantage point, I was reminded that God has a plan for me, just as he does for all of us. I realize this sounds cliché’, but if you’re going to be a person of faith–whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, or whatever–you’re going to have to embrace this centerpiece of theological thought–God has a plan.

But this is the hardest part of any spiritual practice, the letting go of that tight-fisted squeeze around the heart. I wrote about it frequently in my first novel, Budapest. It’s the kind of anxiety that comes just on the edge of sleep, just when you’re sitting down for a quiet cup of coffee, just when you find yourself alone in the car, waiting in chaotic city traffic. Your body is still, so your mind amps up the volume. You forgot to do this! What if your arm catches on fire! What if the children run wild into the street and get hit?! What if the dog gets fleas! What if I look fat!

Cathedral Church of the Nativity window
Cathedral Church of the Nativity window

These are the things that hit us and we blame them on Satan, ourselves, the people who triggered the thought. I’m not really sure I can assign any particular blame. The mind is a powerful instrument all on its own. It doesn’t really need any help to get the neurons firing in weird directions, but when you let go (as I did during the choir’s Vivaldi piece late Sunday morning), you begin to realize that you never really had any control in the first place. That everything is already settled and to enjoy life you need only to breathe and accept whatever is going on. Here again, this sounds stupid and cliché’, but that is because it’s a simple directive, and, as humans, we like these complicated or we give up on them. We like the drama and fury that comes with all that life struggling to get ahead.

Perhaps, this is a unique American trait, this always grabbing, but there it is, and it is the thing that gets in the way of peace every time. Conflict will always abide inside our bodies. There will always be something else that needs done, someone else we should apologize to, another thing we could have said better, but understanding when to push that all away and think only Thank You is the point at which happiness grows. This is the truth that pushes me back to the hymns of my childhood. I can hear my mother singing It Is Well With My Soul whenever a long day has ended, and I have finally sat down without regret.

Lately, I have been worrying that my writing career, which is lengthy and quite successful, has not been enough compared to other people in different professions. Our family is not wealthy. We’re smack in the middle of middle class, and often we have to tell our children, “You can’t have that. We don’t have the money,” and we can’t give them a date when the money will appear. I wanted to be one of those mothers who just throws material gifts at her children and says, “Of course you can have that,” but this is not my lot in life. I have an autoimmune disease that limits my physical abilities outside the home, and so I write, and I love it, but it is work. Hard work.

I had recently been offered a wonderful teaching position, completely out of the blue. At least, it sounded wonderful, but it was not the original job offered. cathedral_signI love the students, the staff was wonderful, but the position was the one I was not originally offered on the phone. It will be the perfect place for someone else, just not me. I would be chasing and caring far more than teaching, and my swollen knees and tired bones would not allow such a thing. For me, all the writing (that I complained just didn’t yield enough material goods) has produced a spiritual bounty that I would never have otherwise experienced. My gifts are still here and I have found that we are a tightly knit marriage of words and research. God has given me a myriad of abilities, and I need only to accept them and embrace them with gratefulness for the anxiety to wash away in an instant. It sounds stupid, but it’s really that simple.

The Lord will work for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14

That’s Why I Crochet

Lakeside Throw (Ani Burnett Designs/Tiffani Burnett-Velez)
Lakeside Throw
(Ani Burnett Designs/Tiffani Burnett-Velez)

I have this theory that if your hands are idle, your heart is terrified. That your brain is left to wander and be plagued by all the inner voices that tell you stupid and sad things. This is why I crochet. I knit for another reason, but I crochet, because in crochet–as with writing–I can create something fresh and work out all the knots that build up inside my chest from the stress I stimulate before I even leave my front door.

This fruitlessness is often blamed on motherhood, marriage, debt, education, occupation, politics, religion, etc…but, really, stress comes from that nagging inner voice we allow to run amok inside our heads. It has nothing to do with being a mother or taking a particular political stand. In America, our world is not falling apart. We aren’t running for our lives or dying of rickets. We are stressed out, because we care what other people think, and we make fruitless circular movements and shove caffeine in our faces in order to stay awake, find more money, and get more done that the next guy, and all in the hope that we will finally find peace. We simply don’t believe that sitting still and creating something will grow our souls and calm our minds. We think it will mark us as lazy, or as a hippy or a that we’ll starve if we embrace an art, and that “nothing important will get done!”

In complete truth–we aren’t stressed out when we don’t care what other people think, and we generally live longer, love more, and make better choices. But when we do care, we start talking to ourselves and exchanging our sanity for a longer work day and more lists. But when our hands our busy creating something, the voices miraculously stop talking. They are immediately silenced. When we’re painting, sewing, baking, playing guitar…We no longer hear our real national anthem, which is less about stars and stripes and more about the voices:

You can’t do it!

You must do it!

You are too inexperienced!

You are too ugly

too fat

too stupid

too gay

too straight

too nerdy

too used up

too old

too young

too religious

 too atheist

too liberal

too conservative, etc…

Too much of a failure to be anything successful.

If you let them, the inner voices will tear away the fabric of your sanity until all you’re left with is a fresh to-do list every morning, one that you cannot possibly complete. Want to know the great sign of insanity? A hell fire dedication to the to-do list. This is why I crochet.

I begin in the morning on the porch swing when the weather is warm and when the immediate world is asleep. I thank God for the blessings of nature and quiet and good coffee and life in a free country with a beautiful family, smart and kind children, and a sturdy house (even if it’s in a constant state of reconstruction), and then I take out one of my latest projects and I work it. I begin with a feeling in mind, or the image of something I saw while on a walk, on a drive, heard in church. A butterfly, a homily, a whisper. And I start everything at that point in the mystery. The beginning of every artistic endeavor is a great mystery that must be unraveled to be revealed.

Henry Miller said of writing, “The object of writing is to not know where you are going.” I think that idea is very freeing. If I had to know where I was going with every essay or novel I write or interview I give, I’d be bored to tears and would have taken up horse training or body waxing a long time ago instead. The same applies to crochet.

What will this piece be? Who is going to want it? Will it be given away or sold?

Will it so deeply represent my true Self or my family that I have to hang on it on my wall to remind me that life is not made of to-do lists. It is made of flesh and bone, and the joy that comes from taking a new risk in love and sacrifice each day.

When you suffer deeply, you eventually give up. From there, comes the ability to see marvelous things in all of it.–Henry Miller

(Can you tell I have cracked open another Miller book this week?)

And faith. There is that, too, which is also why I crochet. To believe that a little wooden hook and a ball of sturdy yarn will create a blanket that will bring someone warmth and comfort for decades, that it can be something that may very well out live me. This seems strange, and these things were simply unbelievable when I first began to chain in rows and add rows to those rows.

At first, all I made were messes and twists that wouldn’t hold together, but I practiced several stitches and versions of other people’s ideas. And then, I found that inside my own creative process, there was a right way that worked for me and it pushed out beautiful work that surprised me and gave other people joy. I had no idea where this double half chain would take me 15 years later. All crocheters have their favorite stitches that bring them the same familiar comfort of a mother’s tongue. Mine is hdc, the half double crochet. I always start there and build on.

To make plans and detailed sketches is to kill a great idea.

For some people, precision and a clear future is needed for a decent night’s sleep. For me, sleep comes from the faith that tomorrow is a new day, with new creative ideas. It comes from the faith to believe that my fingers can follow the images I have stored in my memory, and that God knows who needs my work most at the moment–someone else or me. The same goes for writing.

That’s why I crochet, to calm the voices that say I can’t or I shouldn’t or I will never get it done. I just knit to make sweaters.