Teach Our Children Well

All of our lives are busy. Struggling to make end meet and getting the children to various activities that they are involved in is an everyday thing for most people. But scurrying around creates a very hectic and stressful life … and we wonder why we are not happy? We are stressed, our children are stressed—even the dog is stressed.


Our children can suffer the most from this chaotic lifestyle we call the American dream. All too often the static’s are not good. We have children with extreme anxiety, drug problems and eating disorders. Our children are struggling under the pressure of this frantic lifestyle that we have created in an attempt to make them well-rounded, upwardly mobile adults.


What is to be done to stop the madness? When I was growing up, I was taught the skills for life by my parents. I was allowed to be a child, running in the fields by our home. If the weather was bad, I was taught handicrafts such as knitting and needlework or how to cook and bake. Mom did not put us in front of the television to keep us occupied. In fact the television only came on at night and we were only allowed to watch one program. I had a very creative, active, loving childhood.


I think a return to a lifestyle more like that would be extremely helpful for our families today. Why not set aside one night a week, turn off all those electronic devices and have a family craft night? You might be surprised how interacting with your children and spouse on this creative level can open the lines of communication. It can truly bring your family closer together. We may not be able to slow the pace of our lives all the time but giving it a shot once a week certainly can’t hurt, and our children will know how important they are in our lives because we are spending time with them.


Bangtail Benefit Rescue Afghan


A Benefit Afghan

I designed this afghan for several knitters of different skill levels who wanted to create a special item to raffle off for the benefit of Bangtail Dog Rescue, a dog rescue based in Stevensville, Montana, that specializes in rescuing deaf dogs. This afghan will be able to help the rescue in two ways. The completed afghan will be raffled off during the fall of 2013 and a portion of the sale of this pattern will go directly to Bangtail Dog Rescue as well.


About Bangtail Dog Rescue

After adopting a deaf Border Collie, Jackie Loeser and Dave Cowan began to realize just how many deaf dogs were in shelters looking for homes. In 2000, they founded Bangtail Dog Rescue specifically to help deaf dogs, especially the herding breeds, and other at-risk dogs. In the last 13 years, Jackie and Dave have helped more than 200 dogs find happy forever homes.

Congenital Deafness in Dogs, How Does It Happen?

There are two genes that can impact auditory function in dogs, and to a lesser extent visual function—the piebald and merle genes. Nearly 90 dog breeds have been identified with congenital deafness. In most of these, the deafness is heredity, and for nearly all it is associated with piebald or merle.

Piebald, which is present in the Dalmatian, Bull Terrier, Boston Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, Jack Russell Terrier, Chihuahua and others, is a recessive gene. The piebald gene produces areas of white by suppressing pigmentation cells (melanocytes). Merle, which is present in the Shetland Sheepdog, Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Dachshund, Great Dane and others, is a dominant gene. Merle produces a color pattern where patches of color are diluted or absent (white), again by acting on melanocytes. A homozygous (or “double”) merle is one with two copies of the merle gene, and this severely impairs its ability to make pigment, leaving large areas of the dog pigmentless (white). Pigment is necessary for certain parts of the body to function correctly, including hearing and vision, so the lack of pigment can cause health problems.

Deafness results when the pigment gene is strongly expressed, not only suppressing melanocytes in skin and hair follicles, but also in a specialized vascular bed in the cochlea known as the stria vascularis. Suppression of strial melanocytes causes degeneration of this tissue, in turn causing death of hair cells in the cochlea, the nerve cells that detect sound, which results in deafness. Dogs carrying piebald or merle can be deaf in one (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral), but in a given ear the deafness is nearly always complete. Deafness is often, but not always, accompanied by blue eyes—strong gene expression also suppresses melanocytes in the iris, eliminating the brown pigment. However, not all blue-eyed dogs are deaf.

Additionally, the double merle gene can also cause eye deformities. This is because the location of the eye cells in an embryo happens to be the same place that pigment starts to appear. If there is a problem with the pigment, this can therefore affect the development of the eyes. Problems include irregularly-shaped pupils, subluxated pupils (not positioned in the right place), microphthalmia (abnormally small eyes, usually with impaired vision), and other, less visible abnormalities causing bad vision or blindness.

Because this type of deafness is congenital, careful breeding can eliminate the chances of having deaf offspring. In simple Mendelian genetics, each dog carries two copies of each gene, one from each parent. In the case of dogs with the merle gene, breeding two merles will result in a 25% chance of deaf offspring. Good breeders are careful about their breedings to ensure they do make this mistake.

Why Have a Special Rescue?

Deaf dogs are typically not easily placed due to their disability, which many potential adopters see as a difficulty. Consequently, deaf dogs may end up in the shelter for much longer than their hearing counterparts. Like other dogs, deaf dogs sometimes find the shelter environment stressful and occasionally develop OCD-type behaviors to cope with the stress, making it even harder to find them a home. And that is where Bangtail Dog Rescue comes in.

Bangtail Dog Rescue networks with other rescues and shelters around the country to help deaf dogs needing homes. Jackie takes in dogs from shelters, rescues and high-risk situations to provide them with the level of attention they need to help them find a good home.

But Isn’t It Hard to Have a Deaf Dog?

Deaf dogs are actually no harder to train than hearing dogs. Hand signals are used in place of words and deaf dogs respond very well to positive training methods and can even be clicker trained. Many deaf dogs compete in obedience and agility, while others are very successful in therapy work. Additionally, Jackie and many other deaf dog owners have found that deaf dogs pay better attention to where their owners are, negating the need to “call” them back, so off-leash work is still possible.

And Not Only Deaf Dogs

Although Bangtail specializes in deaf dogs, Jackie also tries to help other dogs in need. When space allows and the need arises, Bangtail helps other shelters in the West that have limited space and resources with their overflow. Bangtail also works to educate the public about deaf dogs and what wonderful pets they can be.

Bangtail Dog Rescue strives to match the right dog with the right people. Jackie’s goal is to have every one of her dogs get a great home and stay there for life. Jackie is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and is available to help new adopters with training and behavior advice.

For more information on Bangtail Dog Rescue, rescuing a deaf dog or to see a list of currently available dogs, please visit www.blackdog.cc. Bangtail Dog Rescue is a registered non-profit. All donations are tax deductible and go directly to the care of the dogs including spaying, neutering, general vet care, food, blankets, toys, and transporting dogs to their forever homes.


Summer Knitting

Every June, my brother and his family make the trek to Montana to spend the summer. , My brother’s beloved dog, Maggie, is the first to arrive because they have to send her out before the weather gets too hot for her to fly. We are always glad to see her when she arrives and she is very glad to see us after such a long flight. She enjoys her with her Grandma and Grandpa, as well as her Aunt Tammy, while waiting for her family to arrive.


For me, Maggie’s arrival signals the advent of summer knitting. I love summer knitting. I usually pick a series of small projects and focus on the completion of these projects by summer’s end. Though I usually design and knit a couple summer sweaters from cotton or linen, I mainly concentrate on mittens and socks.


I enjoy working with cotton; it absorbs moisture quickly and dries rapidly, which gives it a nice cooling effect for hot summer days. Cotton is also non-allergenic. The only drawback to using cotton is that it lacks resilience and is not as elastic as wool, so it has a tendency to stretch out and show any flaws in one’s tension.


Linen is one of my favorite plant fibers. It is derived from the stem of the flax plant. The process involved in producing linen is quite extensive, but the result is a lustrous, sturdy yarn. It has many of the same traits as cotton: it absorbs moisture quickly from the body and dries rapidly, but it also lacks resilience and has a tendency to wrinkle. Many people do not want to use linen because of the stiff feeling of the skein, but once it is knitted, washed and worn, it softens very nicely.


I like to knit mittens during the summer because they are small and very portable. I always have a sock or a mitten project that remains in the car in case of “emergency” (i.e., a long line at the bank or the coffee shop drive-thru!). My mitten projects also accompany me to picnics, the lake, Glacier Park and on hikes — I never know when I’ll have a quiet moment to knit, so I try to always be prepared. It is amazing sometimes how much I can get accomplished just by doing a row here and there.


So don’t give up knitting during the summer. Get those smaller project out that have been lurking in the back of your closet and put them in the car and see how much knitting you can get done this summer.

Setting Goals

In my many years of teaching classes, a certain problem reoccurs over and over again, one that is frustrating for the teacher as well as the student. Between class lessons, the student fails to achieve the required knitting to be prepared to learn the next step. They fall behind and, more often than not, they then give up on the project all together. For me, this is a problem that can be addressed by simply setting goals and doing your very best to achieve them.


I have so much knitting that I want to achieve that the only way for me to do it all is to set goals for each day. I will share the method I use, but please do whatever works for you. When I start a project, I time myself to see how long it takes me to do a row or a round of knitting. For example, if I can get a row done in fifteen minutes, then I can get four rows done in an hour. Then I determine how many inches that four rows will make and from there I decide how many inches I want/need to achieve that day. I can then estimate how long my project will require for completion. It is much less stressful and overwhelming for me to work like this because I make steady progress and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.


A student of mine uses a variation of this. She figures out how much time she has to knit each day, typically about two hours in the evening about five days per week, and then figure how many rows, rounds or inches she can get done in that time. So, if she is working on a project that takes her ten minutes per round, she can get twelve rounds done in her allotted knitting time. If twelve rounds equal two inches, then it is fairly simple to figure out how long the project will take her.


Even if you are working on a large project, goal-setting like this can help you see regular progress on your project, which is always an encouragement to continue.


Additionally, I adhere to the “fifteen minutes a day” rule for learning a new skill: Only work on a new knitting technique for fifteen minutes each day, and before you know it, you will have it mastered.


However, I also advise my students to be gentle with themselves if they miss a goal for a certain day. It’s ok, life happens, and it is only knitting. We don’t need one more thing to feel guilty about. Just get up the next day and work toward that goal.

Hearth and Home

I was thinking the other day that many of the traditions passed down to us from our ancestors are very rich in history and meaning. For instance, just a simple garment could be a sign of protest. Sometimes whole classes of people were restricted from wearing certain types of garments as these garments were reserved for the aristocrats. It seems strange to us how a hat could unify a cause, so much so that you could be arrested for wear said hat.


In many ways we have lost our connection to our knitting tradition and what it represented to our societies at large. A woman’s worth was measured by her ability with needles and yarn. At the time, it was important to be skilled in these arts as the family would be very cold without clothing. Many people think the work load of the family was tipped unfairly for women and they were oppressed in their roles of keepers of hearth and home, but I would have to disagree on some levels―though I agree some women were undoubtedly oppressed, and in the case of my ancestral history, there was not an oppressed woman in the bunch. They contributed to the stability of their families by working with their hands. They took pride in their work and their skills, whether it was sewing, knitting or cooking. It is not to say they didn’t work outside the home—indeed they did―but for many of them, the skills they learned as children to help provide for the family in the most basic ways were the most important.


It is from women like these that I learned to knit. I was taught to knit as a young child along with many other skills like quilting, sewing and cooking. My mother and I made most of my clothes; I remember how difficult it was going into a store with ready-made clothes and trying to choose something to buy. I was so used to choosing a fabric that worked with a design that I choose, that I had envisioned in my mind, and it was very confusing and limiting to choose off the rack.


I approach knitting in much the same way—I don’t want to be limited. I want to try, experiment, see if that idea in my mind can be translated from yarn into something wonderful through my needles. It doesn’t always work out, but I love the process of trial and error. It is like working a puzzle―you can’t wait to see the picture, but it takes time and patience to put all the pieces into place.Image


I recently finished knitting a pair of cable stockings (knee-high socks) — one that someone might wear with a kilt. I was thinking that I might want to knit a pair of stockings with a Norwegian design, so I began searching my knitting library for inspiration, during which I encountered many interesting wedding traditions involving stockings in Norway and Finland.


In the Selbu region of Norway, it was customary for a bride to knit her groom a beautiful pair of stockings. It was also expected that she would knit a patterned stocking for the groom’s father, brothers and any brothers-in-law. For the women of the groom’s family, the bride was to give them cloth; knitting could be traded for cloth at a local store. In addition, every male guest that attended the wedding was expected to take home a pair of mittens. For these, the bride would receive help from the local village women. However, it was important that each man went home with mittens that were knitted by his wife, and the responsibility for making sure that this happened fell on the bride. Meanwhile, each unmarried woman hoped that the man she fancied took home her mittens. While it did not say specifically, I can only assume that the bride was responsible for this as well. Can you imagine the awkwardness and discomfort that this task must have put on the bride?


In Finland, before marrying a young woman would have to knit enough pairs of stockings to last twenty years and some women knit enough stockings to last a lifetime. A lifetime of stockings sounds almost impossible … I wonder how long it took them to knit a pair. One can’t forget that these women presumably also helped with keeping house and farm work among other duties, although I suppose long, cold, dark winters afforded a lot of time for working on one’s dowry.


Upon her confirmation, a girl was considered old enough to have an encounter with a boy from the area. In the summer, she would sleep in a shed on the farm. She would display all the items that she had made for her future household, including sheets, towels, clothing and all the stockings she had knitted. When a boy came for his “nocturnal visit” [this was the term used in the book, not mine, by the way], he would inspect all of the goods, and one would presume that a marriage would soon follow if he liked what he saw.


When I think of all the knitting that these women accomplish as well as taking care of all the daily needs of the household, it is really quite amazing. I think I would be very hard-pressed to knit a pair of stockings while also putting three meals on the table, doing laundry, keeping the house clean, and anything else required for daily survival. Simply astounding women!

Why Knit?

I was wondering the other day as I was knitting on a rather complicated project…I was frustrated because I wasn’t paying attention and was making mistakes, which means unknitting, not my favorite…why people choose to knit. In this day and age, we have everything at our fingertips. Need clothes? Go to the store and buy them. If they wear out or we decide we are tired of them, we throw them out or give them away.


In the not too distant past, all clothing was made at home…unless you had enough money to go to a store and have it specially made for you. You didn’t have to fit into a certain size. Wouldn’t that be nice? Our forefathers and mothers wore what fit and didn’t have to squeeze into a size down for vanity.


But I digress. With all these conveniences at hand, why do we still knit? I have a couple of theories. First I think we are hardwired to work with our hands; it was once necessary for our survival. Hypothermia was a real concern for our ancestors, and we needed clothing that would keep us warm and dry. Since they could not just go down to the local department store and buy it, they had to make it. Can you imagine making all the socks you have in your drawer right now? It seems daunting and make no mistake about it, they repaired their socks when they starting to get a hole. So working with our hands is theoretically in our basic makeup and so we continue to be compelled to create things with our hands.


Second, I find that for many, knitting very therapeutic. I have had my store for almost twenty years, and in that time I have taught many people to knit. I have found that people come to knitting as an escape for illness, pain and grief. It seems that if for at least a few hours out of the day they can concentrate on their knitting, then they do not focus on their other problems. I’ve seen it do wonders for people, giving them confidence and satisfaction because they were able to create something with needles and yarn.


Something that was once so necessary to our existence is now connecting us with the past, raising our spirits and still clothing us in beauty and warmth, even if we can buy it cheaper at the department store.


What do you think? What has knitting done for you?Image

New Year’s Ball



Every Saturday we gather at the shop for Open Knitting. Sometimes the groups are large, while at other times we have a smaller group. On a Saturday shortly before Christmas, there were about five us knitting and we started discussing knitted Christmas balls. One of the group members had never seen knitted Christmas balls, so it was decided that we should have a Saturday ball knitting party. Being so close to Christmas, I thought we could not get a Christmas ball knitted … and really there are plenty of patterns out there already for Christmas balls … so we thought we would have a New Year’s ball instead. I designed three New Year’s balls and we all got together last Saturday hone our double-pointed, small needle skills.


We start with very small needles and only five stitches.






ImageRobin is well on her way to mastering the New Year’s Ball.


If you would like to knit one of these balls, the pattern can be found here: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/nyb-01-new-years-balls.