Art and the Anti-COVID: What is Your Art?

12 wine cosy designs in a circleWhat is your Art? That is to say, what in your soul seeks expression and what form does it take?

As I write this, I am fresh off the experience of grading 50 college essays where students, reflecting on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, produced arguments for key take-aways from the film. Among other things, we see, in “2001”, a progressive muting of the female life-giving and life-nurturing essence of humanity as technology gains momentum and forges a mutated version of life, the film culminating in the “birth” of the star child—an alarming and imposing creature, conceived without female involvement, heading menacingly straight towards Mother Earth.

Every semester, I return to this film with my students but it is strikingly more poignant to grapple with this time around as we wrestle with the devastating effects of a global pandemic. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our world and wrested from our arms beloved friends and family members, not to mention the comfort of what we used to view as “the mundane” in our lives. “Normal” is not normal any more. While we have always known it is a dangerous world “out there”—this virus threatens to breach our walls! Will it enter on the surface of something brought into our home? Is it safe to go to the yarn shop, to knit with friends, even to take a walk on the foot path shared with others now working from home? Mother Earth is under assault and the smell of death is real.

And so the collision of this film and our fractured present juxtaposes in my mind, on the one hand, the million+ deaths by COVID-19 with the growing abyss of loss to the human race around this globe and, on the other hand, the question of its antithesis—the “Anti-COVID.” Is there such a thing? I’m not talking about a vaccine or a medical therapeutic in the future—I am entrusting that to the scientists—and, without question, we yearn for the day that is within reach. But I am talking about right now. Are our lives defined solely by this gaping loss or is there something equally powerful standing in the face of the death of so many lives and lifestyle? What sustains us and pushes forth life-giving breath in these moments? Because surely we press on. What is the Anti-COVID fueling our tanks? When you lean in towards yourself, do the things you find most meaningful give you strength, direction, focus, and purpose when the world seems to be on fire and lost at sea? Do you find a compass within?

A fellow Iowan, Kurt Vonnegut, in 2006 put it this way: “Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”

Just what if THIS is the Anti-COVID? In this short life, is each day…each moment…precious? And how do we protect it, if not by infusing it with our own sense of purpose…a purpose somehow nurtured and inspired by our own creative powers? Do we each have the power to feed our souls, to breathe life into each moment, to experience our own becoming in the face of what threatens to diminish?

I have to admit I was knocked off my game when the quarantines started. Knitting and designing which had always been “my crack” disappeared. The hours went by, then days, and weeks as I waited to get my bearings again after feeling the earth shift underfoot. In another discussion for another time, I’d love to talk with you about what we have learned from the art of pandemics past…how the same souls which had breath wrenched from them have been able to speak to human frailty of human empowerment. But, for now, something concrete that has “made my soul grow”: A series of Wine Cosies for All Occasions.

It started with a simple wine cosy for Valentine’s Day – something to hug that gift of a bottle of wine, which, when the wine is gone, could live on as a vase for flowers…perhaps the dried roses that were gifted with the wine. And then my amazing cadre of test knitters got on board and ideas were unleashed, how about more styles, one for Easter…and Christmas, and Halloween? And my dachshund-loving friend, as she test knit the black cats for Halloween longed for dogs and so the Beloved Pets design was born. Soon a whole year of designs were in the works and it seemed okay to postpone the project release because now we were isolating and our fingers were stitch by stitch moving through a year of symbols and themes that make life rich and make us smile.

What is your art? What makes your soul grow? I hope the Anti-COVID is strong in you and that your creative spark is alive and well. And, if you are a knitter, I hope looking at my calendar year of wine cosy designs brings a smile as you think about stitching your way forward.


No more knitting as usual. 


I’ve not been able to locate the author of this quote, but it always makes me pause:

“It isn’t the date on either end that counts, but how they used their dash—for that dash between the dates represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.” –unknown

dash gravestone


What will that dash on my gravestone, between my day of birth and my death, stand for in my life? That is the work that I need to keep in front of me from the moment I awaken until the moment I die.

In the wake of the murder of a Black man, George Floyd, and the murder and abuse of countless other Blacks, there is a judgment against me when I feel outrage and anger because, although I am feeling that fury now…

  • why has it not been my fury every morning when I have awakened these 60+ years?
  • Why have I believed my voice cannot make a difference…that my actions cannot make a difference in the face of systemic, institutionalized racism?
  • Why have I believed that it is enough for me to try to treat all people kindly and with respect?

I am seeing now the cop-out of this posture…that these placid, vapid, actionless principles are rooted in my own white privilege and fragility. Unless I wake up each morning, recognizing I am complicit and fueled by the pain caused by my lack of action, fueled by righteous outrage at injustice, and ready to act meaningfully and in ways that cost me—real actions, not simply placating words but with my feet in protest and my wallet in support—I am trying to feather my nest with the benefits of white privilege and I am not acting as if Black Lives Matter.

I want to take to heart and put to action these words from Dana Williams-Johnson on her blog “Yards of Happiness” (please read the whole blog here, scroll down to locate her June 1, 2020 post)

“…And let me say this right now, I do not need your apologies or concern. I do not need you to post a Black Lives Matter picture on your Instagram feed or tag me in a post where you’re stating Black Lives Matter. I am not asking for that and do not want any of that because those things do not do anything for me or Black people. What I need is for those with privilege (White people) to step up and do something. I need people with privilege to acknowledge and accept the fact that systemic racism is real and on display because until those with the privilege acknowledge it and actively work to change it – all of this chaos will continue to happen…If you’ve felt like everyone should get back to knitting and not talk about politics – that is a clear sign of privilege and acceptance of the white supremacy that you benefit from.”

She wrote again in her column (June 5, 2020) on the Modern Daily Knitting (fka Mason Dixon Knitting) Web site: (again, scroll down the page to see the article).

Dana Williams-Johnson writes: “I’m asking during this time of unrest in our country, when I cannot find the calm in knitting I once used to, for you to take a look at me. I want you to see ME. I am a Black woman filled with fear, sadness, and frustration right now at how white supremacy is still holding this nation back…See me. See what I’m grappling with, see what I’m struggling with, and take the time out to learn. Get a broader view of history, read about race and have those difficult conversations with family and friends. See me and acknowledge that my pain is real. See me, and not just what I knit.”

More ways to get to know Dana Williams-Johnson:


Dana Williams-Johnson inspires me to recognize the privilege I was born into comes to me with a price—BUT who will pay the price? I can use my privilege to fight against injustice and racism and it should cost me to do so or it isn’t honest. If it doesn’t cost me in my fight against injustice and racism, then the price of my privilege will be paid for by Blacks. I show my gratitude for her inspiration to wake up and live a life of justice by paying it forward. I show my anger at the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Botham Jean, Pamela Turner, Michael Brown…— and the many whose names I do not even know—not by empty words or easy actions, but by acting in a new way that requires courage and effort.

Are you with me?

Southern Poverty Law Center. “Dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.”

American Civil Liberties Union. “Exists to preserve and protect the liberties and privileges guaranteed to each individual by the Bill of Rights. These liberties include freedom of speech and expression, equal protection under the law, due process of law, and the right to personal privacy.”

Equal Justice Initiative. “Committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”

National Action Network. “NAN works within the spirit and tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, citizenship, criminal record, economic status, gender, gender expression, or sexuality.”

Contact your Congress member and Senator, as well as your governor, mayor, and city council member—they do count the number of calls, emails, and letters they receive.

  • Find your Congressional Representative here.
  • Find your Senators here.
  • Find your Governor here.

Follow BlackLivesMatter for concrete up-to-date opportunities to act meaningfully. Let’s do so as if our lives depend upon it. They do.


3 June 2020

A thoughtful writing on racism in the knitting community with some great links and resources at the end:

3 June 2020

Want to be supportive of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) knitting, crochet and craft community? Put your money where your mouth is. Follow this link to Vickie Howell’s work-in-progress **list of BIPOC designers and business owners to shop from, hire to speak at your next conference, interview for your podcasts, or commission to design for your publication.


Strikkestua – Fall 2019 Retreat

Had so much fun with the first fall “Strikkestua” retreat for Ellen Susanne Designs with members of Prairie Yarn Over Knitting Guild, followed the next day by a fall Yarn Shop Hop in central Iowa with an even larger group from the guild!

E S Designs Fall Retreat 2019

Our outings included a visit to Pacaland Alpaca Farm in Kelley, IA  and 4 yarn shops in Ankeny, West Des Moines, and Newton, Iowa. We began the weekend with a nordic-themed experience, beginning on Friday with afternoon coffee, heat-shaped waffles and mandler kake and discussion of our knitting experiences. This was followed with a presentation on historical developments of knitting in Norway and the important role knitters played in giving shape to the national identity.

2017-08-12 grace selbu troll

Then a private tour of Pacaland Alpaca Farm, a short 10-minute drive from my studio. We all fell in love with “Ariel” who is the hospitality ambassador of the Kramer alpacas.

pacaland 14 ariel

In the evening, we had a demo by licensed Massage Therapist, Allison of “Espiritu” where she pointed out ways we can take care of our bodies and the stressors knitting imposes. Day 2 began with a Nordic Breakfast which led to a discussion of all the white food in contrast to the rich use of color in the crafts…knitting, weaving, rosemaling…! Then off to join up with other members of the Prairie Yarn Over knitting guild as we visited yarn shops in central Iowa: Knitting Next Door in Ankeny; A Tangle of Yarn and Yarn Junction in West Des Moines; and Jan’s Yarn Barn in Newton in Iowa.

Pyo yarn hop fall 2019 -atoy-2

The Spring 2020 Strikkestua knitting retreat is scheduled for March with members of the Sons of Norway Knitting Group from Restoration Lodge 548.

“The Mountains are Calling”

It was the wee hours of the morning, still dark, with ice crystals framing the windshield of the car and I was watching the snow covered farms slip past my window as I tried to muster the will to move forward towards the airport which nonetheless seemed to be racing towards me. I didn’t want to leave. This remarkable land of my ancestors that, somehow, had a firm grip on my vitals seemed as reluctant to let me go as I was to leave–it was not loosening its grip on my heart. Lost in my self-centered revelry, my thoughts went to my great grandmother, Susanna, who left by the steamship, “Amerikansk Linie” from Bergen, Norway 138 years ago–hers was a final farewell, just once–that final. She was leaving behind very hard times…and thought she would be reuniting with her dearest love after landing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and making her way westward to Wisconsin. That is another story for another time, but she is a frequent visitor to my thoughts when I am knitting Norwegian-inspired designs and especially when I make my journeys back to “gamle Norge.” On this farewell–on my journey to the very modern airport that would not only send me back to America, but promised to allow me to return to this magical land in only a few months time–I was nonetheless tearful and heartsick to leave…and then my cousin turned on the radio and a lilting and ironically joyful tune broke through the silent morning, turning my tears to laughter, as LoMsk squealed and pranced through this song:

“..Som ĂĄ kome heim til norske fjell
Som ĂĄ kome heim til bre og elv
her eg ser Montanas kvite tindar stikke imot ein himmelkvelv”
(Som Ă… Kome Heim by LoMsk)
(Listen to “Som ĂĄ komme heim” on YouTube)

A rough translation…

“…It’s like coming home to Norwegian mountains
Like coming home to glaciers and rivers
here I see Montana’s white peaks piercing the vault of heaven…”

On the one hand, for me, knitting is an expression of the deep, unexplainable connection I feel to my ancestral home. Not unlike the early Norwegian immigrants to America who saw in their mind’s eye the mountains of home when they made their way across America, the power of this country of mountains and fjords moves from my heart to my hands. But on the other hand, my designs don’t have the vintage flavor–as much as I am a fan of vintage–they are rooted in NOW; they have a practical aesthetic born of today.

In 2017, I began designing a series of knitting patterns that I am more and more calling “New World Knitting.” Take it how you please: “New +World Knitting”? Perhaps: a new twist inspired by international designs? Yup. Or, “New World + Knitting”? That too. Like the Montana settlers in LoMsks’s song, and like Susanna, who embarked on her adventure to a new place, the power of the past gives color and texture to new experiences.

I launched “Jotunheimen Cowl” this  week — with a limited-time coupon code for a free download. Enjoy the pattern and see if perhaps you can hear the mountains calling.

The inspiration for this design is Jotunheimen, the impressive mountain range, extending from south-central to western Norway. This mountain range is known as the home of the jotuns (a race of giants) and plays a central role in Norse Mythology and Folklore. You will recognize it from the films featuring the Marvel character Thor, the Nordic film, The Ash Lad, as well as the classical music composed by Norway’s Edvard Grieg, “Hall of the Mountain King.”

This cowl features a textured motif which is an artistic interpretation of the five highest peaks of Jotunheimen (Galdhøpiggen, 8,100.4 ft; Glittertind, 8087.3 ft; Store Skagastølstind, 7890.4 ft; Store Styggedalstinden, 7831.4 ft; and  Skarstind, 7798.6 ft) and the innermost arm of Sognefjord which reaches towards this majestic mountain range.

One of my test knitters, from St. Louis, announced the completion of her project with “Mountains in St. Louis!” These mountains can travel.

I actually did stick to the plan and, when I reached the airport, collected my baggage from the boot of the car, checked it in and, with time to spare, made my way to the closest coffee vendor, trying to set my sights forward for the long day ahead. The barista made my brew and set it down in front of me: Yup, “The Mountains Are Calling” — right there on the cup. One last tug from the homeland. I’ll be back!

mountains coffee

Keep on the Sunnyside!

April is just around the corner, the days are longer, the bulbs have pushed their upwardly-stretched arms towards the sky as the green growth has broken through the dark heavy blanket of earth and yes…”here comes the sun!”

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

Sun, sun, sun here it comes…
(lyrics by Keith Harkin, “Here Comes the Sun”)

It’s more than alright…it lifts my spirits! I’m also excited to announce the recent release of my new pattern “Sunnyside Up Blanket.” I was thrilled to be approached by a Red Heart North America Inspiration Design Specialist when she asked me to design a baby blanket and I hope you love it. This is my first experience knitting for a yarn company and I’m so impressed with their commitment to presenting inexpensive and inspiring designs for knitters.

You can find the pattern both on the Red Heart North America web site (go to Patterns>Baby or simply type “sunnyside” in the search field) and on Ravelry (go to Patterns and type in “Ellen Susanne” to see the list of links to all my designs). It is a free PDF download and is both a single pattern and featured in the newly released Look Book entitled, “Hello Baby!” — also available for free download by Red Heart.

Sunnyside Up Blanket Pattern Download at Red Heart

Sunnyside Up Blanket Pattern page on Ravelry

Hello Baby Look Book at Red Heart

A few comments about some of the factors influencing my design:

  1. Knit tightly enough that there are no little loops for baby fingers to get caught in: use of seed stitch and linen stitch as the textured styles achieve this.
  2. Accessible to knitters with a small repertoire of stitches under their belt: while it can seem complex because of the variety of techniques and styles used, each is relatively basic and, when combined, create tons of visual interest. Stitches include: cast on, bind off, knit, purl, k2tog, p2tog, yarn forward, yarn back, slipped stitches, cable cast on. Stitches are combined to create textures like linen stitch, seed stitch, attached Stst/Rev Stst Welted Ruffle. (The linen stitch can require a lot of concentration when worked in a single color, but is simplified when it alternates colors in the repeats as this pattern does.)
  3. Can be knit (nearly) seamlessly! (only 13 stitches to seam together using mattress after binding off at the end of the ruffle). The center section using linen stitch is knit at the same time as the seed stitch inner border. Once complete, stitches are picked up around the seed stitch perimeter to work the welted ruffle.
  4. A classic yet modern look, suitable not only for baby, but which can be enjoyed timelessly as a throw/aghan.
  5. No more than a single skein needed for each of the two colorways called for. You’ll find most of the solid colorway is used up but quite a lot of the striping yarn remains — enough to make coordinating pieces for the baby layette or pillows for your sofa if you like!
  6. I was aiming for a design which was both gender and age neutral. The welted ruffle softens the look and increases the drape (which would be lacking if only linen stitch was used), but in a non-frilly way.

Red Heart gave the name to this design and I love it. It conjures up happy childhood memories of singing in the car on family trips: One of my favorite songs was “Keep on the Sunnyside.”

Well there’s a dark and a troubled side of life.
There’s a bright and a sunny side too.
But if you meet with the darkness and strife,
The sunny side we also may view.

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
Keep on the sunny side of life.
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way,
If we keep on the sunny side of life….
(lyrics by The Carter Family, Johnny Cash)

Words to live by! Enjoy the pattern! And if you are uncertain about any of the stitches, remember that, on you can follow the links in the Resources area for instructions and technical support of all techniques, and stitches used in my designs. I hope you will share your pictures! (Photo: Copyright Coats & Clark)

sunnyside cover photo


Winter Solstice 2018

a troll inside a selbu mitten at candlelight

As a knitter, I find myself drawn to the traditions and lore of the winter solstice…
…that in the longest night of the year and the cold and the dark of winter there is warmth in candle light,
…that the owl calling outside my window knows the sun will come to replace my candle’s flame,
…that, just as the wheel of seasons turn, so turns the spinning wheel,
…and each bind off compels me to cast on again.

Wrapped in my cosy knits, I am grateful for the woolen warmth gifted from the animals who wore them first, and I am reminded that in life there are new beginnings just as in knitting…
…that holey socks can be darned,
…that stained wool can be dyed,
…that a frogged blanket can become a sweater.
The broken is mended, the blemished is reborn, the discarded is  transformed.

Let us slow down
….and listen to the silence,
….breathe deeply the cold winter air that has the power to put fire in our hearts,
….and ask nature to help us to remember what we have forgotten.

Darkness. Light.
Exhale. Inhale.
Let go. Embrace.
Be still. Dance.

Ellen Susanne
21 Dec 2018 Winter Solstice


On Curiosity and Knitting

You found me!

Maybe you are a knitter.  I’ve never met a knitter without an inquiring spirit, her attention permanently stretched from her hands to the horizon–as she anticipates the discovery of a new pattern or yarn or technique, all the while click-click-clicking out the creation of a beautiful new life form on her needles. So, yes, you might be a knitter because knitters by definition are curious, captains all…of a ship permanently at sail on the quest for new discoveries that infuse color and pattern and texture into everyday life. No surprise then that a knitter might well find my blog in the sea of words and images on the Internet. But perhaps you are not tethered to needles by yarn? I hope that whether your clicking of choice is that of knitting needles or keys on your computer, you will click to follow my blog–do so either quietly or by chiming in with your own thoughts. Sure this blog will be about knitting–yarns, techniques, patterns–but it will also be about finding beauty, celebrating inquisitiveness, seeking out the extraordinary. I’ve been thinking about the role of curiosity in the life of a knitter and I think it might well be one of the core traits; I’m going to give it some more thought! In the mean time, I want to share this article with you written by Francesca Gino and printed in the Harvard Business Review (Sept-Oct 2018), just in case you, like me, are curious about curiosity: Why Curiosity Matters.

Stay tuned: My Myrhorn knitting pattern will be released later today. A unisex design that comes with instructions for both a cowl and a gaiter; knits up quickly with a special twist: it includes elements of both stranded and lace knitting. Free downloads for the first 5 days (Oct 17-21). Follow @ellensusannedesigns on Facebook for timely news releases.

Nels Allison Myrhorn Profile.PNG