Yoga and Knitting: Learning to Loosen up with Mercedes
In this week’s post, I talk to designer Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark about heryoga practice, how it blends with her knitting life, and some of her current projects. Find more of Mercedes’ work and insights at www.mercedesknits.com.
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LISA: Let’s talk about yoga. I’ve been practicing for 3 years—I started because I was dealing with stress that led to, unfortunately, some anger management problems. A studio near me was offering a 7 week intro series and, on a desperate whim, I signed up. At the same time, I started hiking in the woods, just trying to get some balance, some peace, in my mind. Three years later, the combination of yoga and the woods has changed my life and my body. Why did you start practicing and what has it meant for you?
MERCEDES: Similar to my first experiences trying to pick up knitting (which took over a decade and 5 or 6 tries before it really “stuck”), I had short stints of yoga here and there since high school, but only got into it more in the last few years. Once I found my happy place with yoga, which really involved letting go and just being in the moment, it’s become a pretty regular part of my self-care routine. Learning to be ok with my body in the moment, not getting annoyed at any inflexible spots, and understanding how to accept even tiny moments of a quieted mind (some days, that can be mere seconds, and I’ll take it) all came more easily once I looked at yoga as a complete practice, and not just pretzel twisty poses to conquer. I practice yoga to help me have time to unwind and focus my attention, and to look at my body in a positive light.
LISA: In one of your blog posts, you talk about how working on a knitting book—which is an intense kind of work, I know!—led you to set some important goals: a 30-day yoga challenge, eating right, and getting enough rest. How have things been going since you set those goals? What lessons have you learned along the way?
MERCEDES: I’ve learned so much! First, as much as I love to exercise later in the day, yoga early in my routine helped set the tone for my day. If I left it until later, I’d be much more likely to get consumed by the day’s task list and blow off my self-care time. I also learned how to approach yoga with a beginner’s mind, giving myself the ok to be a little awkward, clumsy, unsure. It’s like putting yourself in a somewhat vulnerable state, so the knowledge and confidence of the instructor becomes so much more important! I think being a student, in anything really, helps me appreciate and learn as a teacher, too. Getting clear instruction and support is so crucial to a good learning experience!
By the time the month was through, I felt like I had a good idea of what parts of my daily routine needed to change to keep up some solid habits. I kind of flaked out on some of these early the next month, because I took a two week road trip and the daily routine went out the window! Now I’ve picked the daily habits back up, and I’m making sure to get some physical activity every day, whether that’s walking, weightlifting, running, or yoga. It helps my sleep cycle so much! It also helps counter the long hours of sitting at my laptop or knitting that happen most days.
LISA: So tell us about the book. When, what, and what do you love about it?
MERCEDES: I’m so excited about it, but the subject is still under wraps! I can say that it is slated to be released around Fall of 2014, and will be full of garment and accessory designs for women, and a few stylish knits for the guys, too. The sweaters and accessories stick to my usual design aesthetic, built on classic shapes with great detailing, mixing colorwork or textures to create flattering shapes that are fun to knit. So far every project has been something I’d love to wear!
LISA: You’ve sort of fashioned yourself a warrior for brioche knitting. (For our readers, I had the pleasure of taking a brioche class with Mercedes at a knitting retreat in 2012. I’ve been knitting a long time, but this is a particular technique that requires good instruction to get a grasp of. ) You’ll be teaching three classes in brioche at Interweave’s Knitting Lab in October. Tell us what students can expect to learn there.
MERCEDES: A brioche warrior! I like the sound of that. Is there a costume?
There will be three brioche classes that I’ll be teaching Thursday and Friday of the Knitting Lab event; a brioche basics class to initiate new brioche stitchers each morning, and then two advanced brioche options during the afternoon sessions, one on brioche cablework and one on brioche colorwork. I’d love to see a small army of new brioche knitters head home with new skills from the event! For the basics class, we’ll be talking about the structure of brioche knitting, which is really unlike any other knitting stitch but is based on some simple stitch manipulation that is so much fun once you learn the tricks and tips to make it work. We’ll also go over cast ons, bind offs, and some basic shaping. Once knitters are familiar with the basics, the cables and colorworks classes build on that knowledge to add some great techniques to create even more visual interest and rich texture using the brioche stitch.
LISA: Ripping out brioche. Dropped stitches in brioche. Should it be as terrifying as it seems? You also have a DVD on brioche…does it offer help for the terrified knitter in these situations?
MERCEDES: It definitely does! Ripping and fixing mistakes in brioche is admittedly…weird. I think more than anything, having a solid grasp of the brioche structure is the biggest help, but there are some tips in the dvd to make fixing mistakes less stressful.
LISA: Brioche knitting is a complex series of strands that makes something uniquely beautiful. Kind of like yoga…a seemingly complex series of poses, moving limbs, dripping sweat, and breathing, that comes together and makes a transcendent experience for the practitioner. You remember the adage that everyone was spouting a few years back? “knitting is the new yoga.” For me, yoga was the new knitting when it came into my life. Do you see similarities between the two pursuits in your own life?
MERCEDES: Absolutely, although not always in the “zen knitting” kind of way! I’d go through these times of really wanting to be super bendy and blissed out in my yoga practice, only to get frustrated at my tight hips and knotted up calves or angry with myself for letting my mind wander off into the stressful thoughts of the rest of my life. Similarly, I’d have students in my beginner knitting classes who would ask, “Isn’t this supposed to be relaxing?” as they clutched their needles with what I dubbed “the beginner death grip”, and I could see they were having those same sorts of anxieties and worries about getting it perfect (and so had I, when I had first picked up the needles). In both pursuits, I’d end up making some great strides when I loosened up and let go a little, giving myself permission to mess up, rip out, or even just scrap a project altogether! It’s totally about the adage, “Perfection is the enemy of good.” All of a sudden, I’d realize I really was blissed out, and the movements of yoga and knitting were pretty dang relaxing. I love the feeling of just getting to know a new asana or a new stitch, experimenting to see where my body or the yarn wants to go, what the options are. There’s always so much to learn!