September 18th

My business is named for my children – my three children if you consider my logo. When people ask what ‘Olives and Bananas’ means I always reply that it’s a play on words using the names of my two living children, Oliver and Hannah, and when the moment seems right (which most often it is) I add that the dragonfly in the logo is for our son, Finn, who lived and died in 2013.

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In the first few years after Finn lived and died I spent a lot of time reflecting and writing about him.
I didn’t go out much, I felt exposed and fragile, while also feeling like my heartache was being worn like heavy armour. Five years later I still feel that way, though over time I’ve found ways to express my grief that make it more comfortable to wear.
In those first years there was a lot of alone time and space to think. I needed to talk about him, but silently while I worked on the right words. It was easy to purge my feelings in the Instagram community because I knew there were others out there who identified with my words, and that made it safe.
In the past year my safe place has become the wool shop. I know that one of the many reasons I don’t write as much about Finn as I once did is because I talk about him more, I have real life conversations about him now in ways couldn’t before. This past year has forced me into the confrontations and questions I feared the most, and in that I learned that I can handle it, I can cry in front of someone and recover and move on with my day, I can catch my breath. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay if I cry, and we can hug it out – or better let’s dance it out like Grey’s.
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The subject of child loss isn’t one that comes up often in casual conversation, but because the “how many kids do you have?” question is asked all too often, for some of us child loss does come up all.the.time.
I could have avoided the subject more easily by naming my shop ‘Amy’s Wool Shop’ or something equally uninspired, but there wasn’t much heart in that, and not in line with what the shop is about. More often than not people who shop & stitch here are making something for someone else; if not it’s something special for themselves. It’s more about the pride in creating and giving than anything else, and it’s been deeply inspiring to be surrounded in that kind of sharing.
I think naming the shop for my children points to who I’m creating for and why on a personal level, which opens the door to deeper conversations – which I think is lovely, and we need more of that in this world.

 

There’s a perception is that the subject of child loss is too sad or complicated to talk about openly, and I know some people worry about my response and wonder if they should bring up Finn and his story. You should, you always should. It would be much more sad to not hear his name, or feel like he’s being forgotten because he’s not physically present. When his name is said aloud he is acknowledged, as is our grief, and makes me feel less alone in remembering him.
The experiences in the months since opening the shop have been hard to put into words for many enormous and extraordinary reasons. There have some been some really profound exchanges and heartfelt moments, confessions, tears, sharing, hugs, laughter, …all the emotions that seem indescribable when I try to transcribe them.
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Finn’s photo in his rainbow knit elf hat hangs prominently in the shop. That hat, that photo, that memory… it all represents such an important step toward my business – long before I even knew the direction I was headed. By the time the path appeared I was already well on my way.
Some of you have come in wearing dragonfly clothing or jewelry as a gesture in honour of Finn. Some have brought me little dragonfly trinkets, candles, and bookmarks. You have shared heartfelt stories about what dragonflies mean to you, and the folklore that makes you believe there’s something magical about them. All of this demonstrating the best of the human heart, and I’m eternally grateful.
Finn’s dragonflies originate in a simple pencil drawing by Betsy Bowen, whose original sketch of ‘green darner dragonflies’ for the book Hawk’s Ridge was for sale as part of the 2012 Crossing Borders Art Studio Tour. I bought it a few months before I was even pregnant, but knew it was special instantly. It was he first thing I hung in Finn’s nursery in 2013.
In the shop I’ve been visited by other bereaved parents, who find the right moments to share their stories. Talking openly together somehow softens the effects of our tragic stories. Losing a child can feel isolating, it’s an incomprehensible grief unless you’re in it. You can imagine the worst – and I’ve lived the sad losses: my parents are both gone, friends, deeply missed, so many people live in my heart…, but nothing compares to the longing for Finn. My little Finn…
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It is so important to me that Finn is remembered for living as much if not more than because he died so young.
He lived.
Finn brought so much joy, relief, peace, and hope to our family when he was born. A rainbow baby himself, he was a bright light after years of miscarriages. Once he was in my arms I felt calm like I hadn’t in years. The future was wide open with potential and possibilities.
He was such a beautiful baby; his golden hair and bright, curious eyes made my heart melt. Tiny and loud, he was perfect in every way.
He had visitors, people held him, we all cooed over him. I nursed him, changed him, bathed him… unaware that all these firsts were his last. Our last. The only.
His death blindsided us.
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Five years later and for weeks now I haven’t been sleeping well. I’m waking in the very early hours and can’t fall back asleep despite all my hacks. In the months following Finn’s death I couldn’t sleep without some kind of white noise being pumped into my head, anything to drown out the wheels turning. The only times I felt I really slept was after an acupuncture treatment, and though I still see my acupuncturist weekly it’s not enough to ease this restlessness.
Every morning for weeks I’ve felt butterflies and anxiousness as if I’m heading into an important interview and it’s messing terribly with my physical well-being.
There’s nothing in particular keeping me awake or making me feel anxious; it’s simply a function of grief and the time of year bringing all the feelings to the surface. The air, the way the sun rises and sets, the changing colours of autumn, all of these earthly reminders of Finn are impossible to escape. And why would I want to? It’s always been my favourite time of year. I felt so lucky to be able to celebrate my special boy in this beautiful season.
Now he is everything autumn is to me; he is the lake breeze, the sunrise and shine, and all the warm colours – everything reminds me of him. It’s both paralyzing and full of static energy. He’s my forever baby, he will never grow up, he will never have a first day of school, ride a bike, play with friends, choose Halloween costumes, or celebrate Christmas. All these occasions still come and pass without him, and all I can do is imagine him and wonder who he would be.
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September is difficult to navigate. This year I’ve felt numb, distracted, and unable to express myself in the ways I’ve found healing in the past. I’ve learned enough from previous years to know that I can’t predict anything, the triggers will catch me off guard, some will devastate me and others will lift me (and everything in between). I try not to schedule too much or makes plans knowing that each day needs its own space.
Five years ago I thought I would never leave the house again. I definitely wouldn’t have believed I would be running a wool shop, talking to people about Finn, least of all smiling.
Thank you, to all of you who have shown such genuine thoughtfulness, compassion, and empathy for my little Finn, myself and my family. I’ve learned a lot more about humanity this year than wool. We really do need more togetherness in this world because we heal better in groups leaning on one another.
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I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.

Making of a Wool Shop: The Children’s Play Area

This area of the shop has evolved into a space of its own.

I knew the wall gets too much sun for yarn storage, so my first thought when I was planning the space was that it would be the community space. The wall did scream for a fireplace, and I loved the idea of cozy fireside seating by windows. We in the north have to source as much light and heat at possible!

It IS a cozy seating area beside a window and a fireplace, but it has become more of a children’s playroom than a yarn lovers gathering space. Stitchers do sit by the fire occasionally, but we usually squeeze around the three tables even if there’s too many of us. 😀 (which is so fun!)

The area around the fireplace grew into a wonderful play area for kids. The little table originally had a glass top and I had plans to fill it with decorative wool displays, but before I could put the glass back after painting it somehow filled with Oliver’s toys.

I’m often thanked for creating the space, but really it created itself. Kids now enjoy coming to the wool shop, and moms, dads, and grandparents appreciate the distraction while they shop. Sometimes kids have to be dragged out kicking and screaming when it’s time to go. :S

There’s a lot of weird stuff to pique the imagination: a mounted unicorn head (custom made by the beautifully talented @mommycansew), a monster garland made by @camphappyheart and me, melting snowmen, a toy alien by @sewwhimsicalbykatie, little felted creatures, crochet Oliver in a pumpkin, sheep and alpaca toys, and of course Shaun the Sheep on the smart tv.

This area isn’t what I originally planned but I couldn’t be happier with what it has become. I love that kids enjoy coming to the shop, and that their guardians feel a little less stress about taking littles out shopping. I know the juggle well.

My hope for a community creative space is constantly both affirming my intention and evolving on its own. It’s a great thing to watch.

Thank you all for making the shop what it is today!

My Hannah Bunny

img_4560This little bunny was built by eye, there are no stitch counts just rough numbers and rows. I know people really rely on patterns and stitch numbers, but I believe that in amigurumi being a stitch or two off doesn’t make that much of a difference. When shaping bodies you should feel free to make your shape as plump or thin as you want. If you understand increasing and decreasing in the round this should be easy.

I wasn’t thinking of writing this pattern while I was making it, so my notes are rough, and I didn’t take photos along the way, so please bear with this “pattern.”

My finished bunny is about 11 inches tall. This yarn is a sport/light weight and I used a D hook to help give you reference.

The head and body are made starting with a magic circle of eight.(I find starting with eight gives the shape a flat-round appearance, while when starting with six make a more true round shape.)

The body:

Magic circle 8

row1: 2sctog in each stitch 16img_4790

row2: sc, 2sctog

row2: 2 sc, 2sctog

row3: 3 sc, 2sctog

row4: 4 sc, 2sctog

row5: sc in each

row6: 5 sc, 2sctog

rows 7-18: sc in each

rows 19: 5 sc, 2st decerease

rows 20-23: sc in each

rows 23-34: slowly decrease every other row (starting every two rows, maybe three) to form the body -I didn’t count my stitches or follow the same decrease pattern – some decrease rows I only decreased every five or six stitches, and I wasn’t really following rows anymore – just stitch along to shape a body. My neck ends with about 14 stitches.

I find I work a lot faster without a stitch marker or worrying too much about rows. I concentrate more on shaping the body the way I like for each individual project rather than trying too hard to be exact.
The head:img_4794

Magic circle 8

row1: 2sctog in each stitch 16
row2: sc, 2sctog

row2: 2 sc, 2sctog

row3: 3 sc, 2sctog

rows 4-10: sc in each

row11: 3 sc, 2st decrease

Now is a good time to place your safety eyes. Position them somewhere around row 7 eight stitches apart (the placement really is entirely up to your judgement.) I stitched the nose in after the head was finished using pink yarn and a darning needle criss crossed over six stitches between the eyes. I thread the ends into the form then gently felt the yarn in place to keep it secure.

row12: 2 sc, 2st decrease

row 13: 1 sc, 2st decrease

Stuff your head.

Close the rest using either a darning needle or slip stitches.

The ears, arms, and legs all begin with a magic circle of six.

Ears:

Magic circle 6

row1: sc in each 12img_4789

row2: sc, 2sctog 18

row3: 2 sc, 2sctog

row4: 3 sc, 2sctog

rows 5-7: sc in each

row8: 3 sc, 2st decrease

rows 9-34: sc in each

(I think I decreased somewhere along the way to make them about 20 stitches around in the end.)

To finish the ears I cut a piece of pale pink felt to size and used a 42 gauge felting needle to gently felt it into place. This works beautifully with natural fibres. (Acrylic yarn might need some stitches.)

I didn’t take photos of the head before I attached the hat, so I can’t show you the attachment of the ears (but I should note that I stitched the hat on using a light thread, so the hat can be removed without damaging the bunny.

The ears are attached by using the leftover end to sew it together then in place. Pinch the ear to give it a fold, sew the fold together – then sew the ear to the head at the back side along row 2.

Arms:img_4788

Magic circle 6

row1: sc in each 12

row2: sc, 2sctog 18

row3: 2 sc, 2sctog

row4: 3 sc, 2sctog

rows 5-8: sc in each

(somewhere around now, stuff the hand using a small amount of batting.)

rows 9-13: decrease using one st decrease stitch

rows 13-20: sc in each
Legs:img_4792

Magic circle 6

row1: sc in each 12

row2: sc, 2sctog 18

row3: 2 sc, 2sctog

row4: 3 sc, 2sctog

row5: hdc in each (this gives your foot a bit of a flat appearance.)

row6: sc in each to two loops of row 5

rows 7-9 sc in each

row 10: 2 sc, 2 st decrease

rows 11-20: sc in each

Stuff the foot using a small amount of batting.

When decreasing the foot you can put all your decrease stitches one right after another then continue with sc for the rest of the row – this will define a toe and heel of the foot. OR you can distribute the decrease stitches evenly (3 sc, 2st decrease) for the row to create a round foot. Either works.. in the case of this Hannah bunny I distributed them evenly.

Tail:

I used a bright white chunkier yarn and made a small ball:img_4787

Magic circle 6

row1: sc in each 12

row2: sc, 2sctog 18

row3: 2 sc, 2sctog

row4: sc in each

row5: 2 sc, 2st decrease

row6: 1 sc, 2st decrease

row7: 2st decrease until closed, leave a long end for sewing it to the body.

TIP: when attaching, I always felt the area lightly with a super fine gauge felting needle. This secures the fibres and holds everything in place.

To make her Pussy Hat simply start with a chain big enough to fit your bunny’s head. Close it with a slip stitch careful not to twist it. Rows of HDC follow, each being closed with a slip stitch until you’ve reached your desired size. Close it with slip stitches across the top. Done. Attach it to your bunny’s head using thread and straight stitches to easily remove it if you want later on.

Dragonfly Tales

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The book pictured is A Dazzle of Dragonflies by Forrest Lee Mitchell and James L. Lasswell. It’s an enchanting view into the world of dragonflies from an imaginative perspective.

There’s a dragonfly commision coming up that means a lot to me. Each custom order has had it’s poignant effect, and I feel privileged with the confidence and whole heartedness people share their stories. The upcoming dragonfly will in part bring some healing to breast cancer patients, and I can’t help but feel my mother strongly, imagining her holding my little Finn wherever they are, as I bring this project together.

On September 30th 2012 my husband and I travelled the north western shore of Lake Superior visiting artist’s studios as part of the Crossing Borders Art Tour. While at Betsy Bowen’s studio in my favourite escape Grand Marais, I bought this little print of dragonflies which were an illustration for the book Hawk’s Ridge. At the time I didn’t know what I would do with the green darner dragonflies, but the drawing captured a piece of my heart so I knew immediately this would be special.

One year later was the first day of my life without Finn. When I started decorating his nursery earlier that year, these dragonflies were the first thing I put in the room.

The drawing has always made me smile. It’s musical, playful, and elegant just as dragonflies are. Just think about the number of people who associate dragonflies with something magical or profound in their life, to me that says these widely adored insects do possess a connection to something mysterious and lovely.

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Betsy Bowen’s green darner dragonflies

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Also coming up is another infant elf hat using Dauntless Dragonfly from Expression Fibre Arts. Not only is this yarn stunning and soft, it’s named so appropriately, and is also the shades of my favourite Oliver baby blanket from Aunty Helen, Uncle Patric, and cousins Alex and Phoebe. It will be decorated in needlefelted dragonflies in a colour and number chosen by the buyer. I believe strongly in the ways we relate to symbols.

Some time ago I edited a photo I took of a dragonfly that Hannah rescued at Little Dog Lake one day when we were swimming with the dogs. It rested on her hand long enough for me to take a number of photos of it and it was beautiful. I won’t link the quote because I’m not sure the full text is really in context, at the time (when I was reading random leads to all things dragonfly) this particular quote sunk in deeply and still resonates.

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‘Hannah’s dragonfly’ 2010

Why Pigs?

img_7476I’m not sure how to explain this without making my mother sound like a crazy person, so I hope I tell this story in a way she would approve. She was always my best editor; an art history professor by day, she was also an effective, eloquent writer, widely published, an architectural historian, and respected researcher. She was my best teacher.

I miss her. She died in May of 2013 when breast cancer became more than her body could fight.

I think she would really love what I’m doing here; not just the fibre art creations but the process and how I’m combining my skills and interests in literature, horticulture, writing, photography, and fibre to make it happen. Her influence is everywhere – art and art history, her eye for perspective, her books, her prints, her pigs…

Her pigs, you say? Yes, her pigs.

This isn’t a story about a collection of pigs or a hidden closet of pig paraphernalia, it’s really a story about just one pig and a few others. It began one Christmas when I was old enough to know that Santa was really my mom; that year my father gave my mother some money and said, “go buy yourself a sweater.” as her Christmas gift. (Which makes him sound sort of terrible, but to all of our surprise every year he came out of nowhere with some extravagant gift for her – img_3063usually a hard to get editon of some art book she really wanted. He did the same every birthday and mother’s day too.) That year she took the sweater money and came home with this pig.

I’m not sure where she got it, and it has no inscription but she was thrilled with her pig and my father was completely confused. I don’t believe he was truly mad, but he was certainly unimpressed. A sweater was a practical gift and he saw no practical use for this pig. I don’t think he ever really understood that her pleasure came not just from the pig, but his reaction to the pig. When she knew she was dying she brought my sister and I together to divide her belongings. The process went smoother than in a lot of families I know, I think because my sister and I are such completely opposite people that we were drawn to completely different things. This pig was one of the first things my mother gave me.

Also in her funny collection of folk art were some quirky flying creatures – a frog and a cow  who hung in her kitchen for many years. (I’ll come back to cows soon – with a felting project, my mother, and Joe Fafard.) A flying pig would seem like an appropriate fit, but she didn’t have one of those. I know that my felted flying pigs would make her smile.

I suppose, for me, the flying pig represents an impossibility (an adorable impossibility). Everything about my life feels like an impossibility now, but I’m still living it; I just can’t believe I breathe without my son. It’s sad living without my mother, but losing your parents is meant to be an inevitability in life; it’s supposed to happen in that order. Life without Finn is blanketed in a different kind of grief. Something feels wrong every minute of every day, something is missing – that panic feeling you feel when you wonder where your child is, a little pit in my gut that never goes away. I can wish that my parents were here to meet Oliver and to admire Hannah, and imagine it happily, but when I wish and imagine Finn here it hurts and I see ghosts in places he should be.

When I was first learning to felt a flying pig was one of the first things I thought of, though I didn’t actually create one until last year. My first self written crochet amigurumi pattern however was a flying pig (someday I’ll translate that to a readable pattern, but for now even I don’t understand what I wrote). I do believe a part of my imagination lives in an impossible place now – thankfully it comes out in the form of ridiculously cute felted sculptures and tiny crocheted creatures.

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Hi, my name is Joe. (and the teeny tiny pig)

As I write the instructions for the flying pig needle felting kits I was joined by a few more of my mother’s pigs. Well, these guys were my find and first love, which I brought home from Australia one summer to live with my mother. I sent her a text from Australia the day I found Joe with his photo and that lovey eyed emoji to which she responded the same. I can still hear her silly giggle in my memory. Joe and the teeny tiny pig were found at a garden centre in Wentworth Falls, NSW (a little west of Sydney in the mountains) and carried home with care. (Which, by the way, Australian garden centres aren’t much different than Canadian garden centres except the seasons are backward and perennials and annuals are all mixed up. It’s pretty fun actually – like being in Wonderland… or  uh, Oz..)  My late mother-in-law did not understand the attraction to the pigs, but I do recall the faintest glimmer of a smile when she looked at Joe. Pigs, who doesn’t love them?flyingpigpng

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes-and ships-and sealing-wax-
Of cabbages-and kings-
And why the sea is boiling hot-
And whether pigs have wings.”
Through the Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll