Heather of Sew Happy Jane has teamed up with designer Makenzie Alvarez of Hanks and Needles on the River’s Edge pattern collection, which is a beautiful compromise between full-fledged sweater and easy accessory. The collection is inspired by the quiet banks of a winding river, with a simple cabled design that showcases a tonal hand-dyed yarn. The seamless cardigan features a flowing cable panel down the back and has a unique construction that allows you to work the collar and the body at the same time. If you’re not in a sweater frame of mind, the one-skein River’s Edge Hat is a small taste of a similar cable pattern.
Both patterns are 25% off through this Monday, and Heather has dyed-to-order listings with suggested colorways at a discounted price on a choice of three DK base yarns.
Deb of Spruce Lane Designs’ latest sweater design, Variation on a Twist, is a top down, short- (yes!) or long-sleeved DK-weight pullover with a simple garter and twisted stitch pattern that adorns the yoke.
Stefania and Giulia of Lanivendole are offering their very first Advent Calendar. They include 24 mini skeins plus one full skein of A Chic Blend, a fingering-weight blend of Italian wool, mohair and alpaca, and a set of hand-molded stitch markers from Carla of Laboratorio Indie.
Heather of Pumpkins and Wool has released 10 new multicolored tweed colorways and 10 new neutral tweed colorways, plus five new colorways of mohair/silk.
From left to right, Giulia and Stefania of Lanivendole.
This is the second in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled Everywhere, taking place from October 15-17, 2020.
I first learned of Lanivendole at Barcelona Knits last November. While the Italian company was already on my list to check out, I was seriously enabled by May Khaw, a talented Singapore-based designer who I met and befriended during that wonderful trip. She had done some damage in their booth at Woollinn in Dublin earlier in the year and was planning some upcoming designs in their yarn (May’s latest design for Spanish knitting magazine Bellota is in Lanivendole’s A Chic Blend).
After taking in all the yarn, I was fascinated to learn about the company, run by Stefania Benzi and Giulia Pighi Guerra, who create and hand dye yarn custom milled in Italy, comprised of wool and alpaca fibers from local breeders. I was surprised to learn that small-batch, breed-specific yarns weren’t all that common in a country with a long history of textile production.
I had been planning to host their yarn in my booth at the in-person Indie Untangled show in October, but instead I’m excited to introduce you to them virtually.
Tell us the story of how Lanivendole came to be.
The idea took shape after a few years of conducting a textile arts association in Genova; by that time we managed to get a good knowledge of different fibre types and especially their behavior in both dyeing, blending and spinning by hand. We met during a hand-spinning workshop and soon after we started to figure out how to build our own yarn production. It was a slow process, that began with a long search to find the right mills to work with small batches, that are not so common in Italy; then, we started to test yarns’ compositions and structures, to start dyeing and test all the shades we had in mind.
How have you found the sheep breeders you work with?
In Italy there are not so many farms that raise herds for fibre purposes, and when we started the whole thing 10 years ago, there were nearly no small local yarn producers as well, so when we started searching for local fibres to use in our workshops, we easily got to all know each other! It was basically done through word of mouth from one trusted breeder to another, and that was how we met also the first mill we worked with.
How do both of you work together to decide on your color palette?
The very first palettes of our hand-dyed bases were studied and decided at the table, making tests and choosing together which colors better represented our ideas. Now we do like to create more freely shades and collections, so it happens that some inspiration comes to life from one of us and is presented to the other, or we plan a theme/mood board to follow, get to the pots and share the results… and modify the samples until we agree on the best result.
What are each of your responsibilities when it comes to the business? What are the unique things that each of you bring to your company?
Stefania: I deal with all the paperwork and administrative jobs, purchases and commercial promotion with shops and designers, and write our newsletter.
Giulia: I take care of all the photography for both our website and social media, our Instagram profile and keep in contact with breeders and the mills.
We share all other activities and decisions, from order fulfillment to dyeing, from planning to email replying — the best thing about this collaboration is that we balance each other.
Tell me about how each of you learned how to hand spin and knit.
Stefania: I learned knitting from my grandma as a child, paused and took up the needles again many times during high school and university, and then it became a vital habit in my life since my first pregnancy. By that time I self studied hand-spinning, reading books and watching online courses… that was one of the most satisfying goals I reached!
Giulia: I started knitting a few years ago, mostly self-taught and keen to take needles only in chilly seasons, also because my farm duties give me a little more spare time. I learned hand-spinning attending a workshop that Stefania held, with the aim to spin my own cashmere goats hair… I soon realized that the opportunities could be far wider if I got the heavenly fibre spun.
Anyhow, we both would love to hand spin a special edition yarn someday!
Can you share some of your plans for Indie Untangled Everywhere?
The main news we’re thrilled about is that we’ll have two bases with brand new palettes debuting at the event!
One is our Stormy Blend DK weight — made of 70% wool and 30% black alpaca — that we’re now hand dyeing in an earthy palette on the darkest grey base Ombra.
The second one is our beloved 100% wool base, A Pure and Simple Wool, from selected flocks of Abruzzo uplands that we’ve been expecting from the breeders for two years, and now we’ll finally have a rich new array of shades to show off.
Last but not least, our custom color on A Chic Blend – made of 60% wool, 20% alpaca and 20% mohair – which we hand dyed exclusively for Indie Untangled Everywhere! We can’t describe the color without spoiling, but we adore it!
Rustic Sample Box subscribers will find the custom color, along with shade cards of both the new bases mentioned above.
Do you enjoy other crafts in addition to knitting?
Stefania: Being the only niece of a skilled seamstress, I always carry the dream to sew my own clothes… but never actually started, but I must admit that my crafty side is well satisfied with knitting, dyeing and spinning, anyway.
Giulia: I recently discovered photography to curate our IG profile, and found out a new world I love!
Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.
Stefania: I’m onto the sleeves of an awesome Jupiter Crop by Boyland Knitworks, and towards the end of Hikari Tee by Yamagara.
Giulia: I’m in the middle of a dreamy Pink Velvet by Andrea Mowry, and just started my very first pair of socks, Garia from Laine 52 Weeks of Socks.
The new La Cave à Laine Aquarelle Collection consists of organic cotton that Sara sources from eco-conscious European suppliers and dyes with fiber reactive dyes in her atelier in Alsace, France.
The fall collection from Constance of Les laines Coco has a base of rich browns, soft yellows and deep reds, which are complemented by bright pink mohairs, as well as pops of orange moss green.
Emily of Kitty With A Cupcake is also celebrating fall today with the debut of her Autumnal Equinox Hat and Autumnal Equinox Mitts. Both designs are dotted by acorns formed by slipped stitch cables with seed stitch. Both patterns are being featured at Knits & Knots Tahoe for the Sierra Nevada Yarn Crawl.
Join designer Paula Pereira at Virtual Knitting Live, where she’s teaching a class on knitting her trademark Petite Boxy-style sweater, which features a fitted yoke, fitted sleeves, some ease on the body and a “kinda” cropped shape that is flattering on all bodies.
It’s time for tweed! the latest Eden Cottage Yarns update features new batches of her tweedy Keswick Fingering and Keswick DK. Use it for a revamped version of the Chromium scarf, designed by Mr. ECY, David O’Kelly.
Marny Kindness designed her Rhody Love Hat as a love letter to her home state of Rhode Island, ideal for exploring Providence or walking on the beach. The yarn is from fellow RIer Jill of Jilly and Kiddles.
Misfit Yarns’ fall colors — which include Lake Michigan Sunset, Fiery Foliage, Rustic Harvest, Monarch and PSL — are now available on two new bases: MCN and Merino Camel.
This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled Everywhere, taking place from October 15-17, 2020.
Four years ago this month, Jessica Giordani and Karen Zook launched Scratch Supply Co., a craft store and inclusive home for makers in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Since then, they along with their partner Travis, have transformed the shop into a showcase for indie, women, POC/BIPOC, queer and otherwise underrepresented dyers and makers.
Scratch’s monthly Cast-On Club — I’ll be curating the October box! — celebrates the diversity of the fiber community with an exclusive colorway, and the shop features many indie brands that are familiar to Indie Untangled readers — Cat Sandwich Fibers, Fuzz Family, Julie Asselin — and some that may not be.
Since Petrina, Indie Untangled’s event producer, introduced me to the Scratch folks at Vogue Knitting Live NYC in January, I’ve enjoyed getting to know them and share in their enthusiasm for our amazing indie community (they’ll also be sponsoring the Bingo night that Petrina is hosting the Friday of Indie Untangled Everywhere, which means some great indie prizes!).
Tell me about the decision to open Scratch Supply Co. Did you ever think you’d own a yarn shop?
Not really! We didn’t even decide to open a yarn shop at first — we started as a multipurpose craft store with a handwork makerspace in the basement.
When we first opened the doors, we barely had any yarn at all. We had like two shelves with 40 skeins of yarn total and some hopeful shade card boxes — and we were SO proud of those two shelves. The best thing you could say about us was that we were scrappy. If you wanted to knit a sweater you could make something with stripes or wait for us to order a sweater’s quantity of one color. We were trying! Fortunately for us, our enthusiasm resonated with the knitting community, and they stuck with us through this awkward period while we found our footing, fine-tuned our offerings, and started stocking a full range of colorways in quantities large enough to make something bigger than a hat.
Over the last four years we’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to create a welcoming and inspiring space, and grow — with our amazing community of makers — into the LYS we were meant to be.
What you each of you do before you became yarn shop owners and how do you think it informs what you bring to the business?
The three of us met after Travis and Jessica moved to Connecticut after Travis left the Marine Corps. Jessica opened a small bakery and Travis and Karen met while they were enrolled in a PhD program in Comparative Literature.
We all have experience with research and working independently, and we’ve all been teachers in some capacity at some point. Jessica has previous experiencing running a retail shop, Karen has a background as a freelance writer, and Travis has government training in getting shit done.
We bring a lot of flexibility and a can-do, make-it-work spirit to Scratch. Since we all live together this is truly a family business. We’ve put our hearts into creating a space and a community that reflects who we are, and we like to make the members of our community part of that in any way we can. Our path from idea to execution is lightning-fast — our real area of expertise is in Doing The Thing. (Sometimes the thing is fixing your knitting, sometimes the thing is installing light fixtures, sometimes the thing is finding a way to keep our community connected during a pandemic.)
Why did you choose the dyers and brands that you carry?
First and foremost, we fill our shop with the yarns that we want to knit with! We have a carefully-curated selection that is constantly evolving. We are committed to supporting small makers and small mills, and providing our community access to with quality materials that they won’t find in just any LYS. We are enthusiastic about working with talented people in our industry whether they are established or just starting out. The fiber industry is diverse, and we believe that the dyers and makers that we work with should reflect that.
For us, there’s no value in filling our shop with yarn that you can get everywhere else. Our favorite thing is when people walk into the shop and announce “You have all the yarns that I follow on Instagram!”
Who are some of your favorite designers?
We love designers who are doing interesting things! It’s cold in New Hampshire so we’re sweater knitters at heart. We love Jessie Mae, Fatimah Hinds, Shay Johnson, Lavanya Patricella, Isabelle Kraemer, Maxim Cyr and Jacqueline Cieslak.
Crochet designers we’re following are Toni Lipsey, Vincent Williams, Twinkie Chan and Stephanie Erin.
Can you talk about any new products the shop is going to carry or special events in the works?
In September we just celebrated our fourth birthday, which is our biggest event of the year and kicks off a wildly-busy fall season!
We’ve been expanding our yarn selection since March to get ready for the long winter. We’ve recently brought in three bases by Julie Asselin, DK and bulky weight yarn from The Farmer’s Daughter Fibers, fresh Spincycle, lace mohair, worsted and fingering-weight yarn from SweetGeorgia Yarns, the Nightshades from Harrisville Designs and two new fingering-weight bases from Junkyarn.
One of the best things about Cast-on Club (our monthly subscription box) is that we always have something amazing on its way to us — every month a different dyer sends us something new and exclusive! Indie Untangled is curating our October box, and in November our featured dyer is Doug Lopez of Knittinbro.
The Scratch family, including Violet and Scarlet.
When and how did you learn to knit?
Karen learned as a child from her mom, and knit/unknit/reknit a rectangle from the same skein of red Red Heart until she left for college. She couldn’t tell the difference between the right side and the wrong side of her fabric, so she had a strip of masking tape wrapped around the bottom of one of the horrendous plastic straight needles to help her keep it straight. After college she started a post-bacc program with an endless workload. She was living in Philadelphia and there was an amazing LYS right around the corner, so she started obsessively knitting just to hold a finished object in her hands once in a while. (Fortunately by then YouTube had been invented, which gave her the opportunity to increase her skills!)
Jessica learned to knit when she moved to Minnesota for grad school. There was a woman in her program who would knit through seminars, and since she didn’t know anyone and it was very cold, this seemed like a great hobby to take up. She didn’t know that LYSs existed, so she picked up a Susan Bates pamphlet and some bouclé yarn and taught herself how to knit while watching Pulp Fiction on repeat. She had been knitting for three years before she could read a pattern and learned a lot of problem-fixing techniques through trial and error.
Travis doesn’t knit (we’re wearing him down!), but has a lot of opinions about color, fiber content and design.
Tell me about each of your most memorable FOs.
The first sweater Karen ever knit for herself was bottom-up with seamed sleeves. She was very excited about knitting it and bought crazy-expensive alpaca yarn that wasn’t really suited to the pattern… it turned into such a fiasco that it’s currently stuffing a dog bed.
In 2011, Jessica promised her mom a sweater. She knit all but one sleeve, and that sweater lived in project bags until it was finally consigned to the bin in 2020. It just wasn’t meant to be… but don’t worry, mom will finally get her sweater this year.
Tell me the projects that are currently on your needles.
Jessica is knitting the Ghost Ranch hat using Dyed in the Wool in Payback and Street Light in Nightshades. It’s the squishy, Halloween-y hat of her dreams!
Karen is working on a gift knit that she’s going to try to keep a surprise so won’t spill the beans on that just yet. She just cast on a Pressed Flowers shawl by designer Amy Christoffers in Juicy DK from The Farmer’s Daughter Fibers.
Amy of Canon Hand Dyes creates colors inspired by literature, so I was thrilled to learn she was also a fan of The Baby-Sitters Club, a series of books released throughout the ’80s and ’90s that was recently turned into a wonderful Netflix series.
Amy captured the spirit of each character — including entrepreneurial Kristy, shy but mature Mary Anne, artsy Claudia, sophisticated Stacey, hippie Dawn, bookish Mallory and graceful Jessi — in a colorful six-skein mini set and a coordinating neutral.
The yarn is available exclusively through Indie Untangled on Amy’s new Edith Sock, a luxuriously soft 17-micron Superwash Merino that would make the loveliest shawls, including Melanie Berg’s On the Spice Market or Ambah O’Brien’s Lamina Wrap. Preorders are open until October 4 and the yarn will ship at the end of November.
In anticipation of fall projects, Stephanie of Rock Solid Designs has restocked her super roomy Grace Bags, which can hold up to six skeins of worsted weight yarn. And, yes, it has pockets — four of them, as well as a clear vinyl pouch on the outside. The Grace comes in more than a dozen fun fabrics, including the adorable wildlife pattern pictured here. Take them on your fall travels, whether on a road trip or staying close to home.
Preorders are open for WeeOnes’ Halloween mystery stitch marker sets! You’ll receive 13 individually-wrapped, hand-sculpted, Halloween-themed stitch markers (including some costumed animals!).
Mary Annarella’s’s latest design, Hope and Feathers, is named for an Emily Dickinson poem and includes some mindless knitting interspersed with simple slip-stitch colorwork. The pattern is 25% off on both Ravelry and Payhip with the code hope2020 through Sunday, or you can get the pattern for free when you sign up for the Lyrical Knits newsletter.
Bonnie of Yank Your Yarn has debuted four stitch marker gift sets, which include a variety of sizes, for sock knitters or those who love quick, chunky projects. Each set contains 25 markers: two sets of 10 markers in different sizes and five movable markers, in a handy storage box.
Geraldine of The Wandering Flock, fresh off the release of her wildly successful tie dye-inspired yarn, has launched her new Tie Dye Your Knits kits! The kits come with two skeins of Organic Pima Cotton Yarn in DK weight, all the dye in two different color choices and accompanying materials, plus the pattern for knitting the Tilly Crop Top, the quick and easy knit pictured above. If you don’t think you could tie dye your FO, or are impatient to start playing with color, the beauty of the kit is that you can tie dye the yarn instead! The kits are available for preorder until August 31 only and will be shipped the following week.
Michelle of Crafty Flutterby Creations has debuted some special edition end minder sets, capturing the beauty of fall in brilliant red, bold orange, and crisp yellow rabbits and sheep.
Emily’s new one-skein shawl design pays homage to the all time best drink — bubble tea! Get 10% now through September 4, with no coupon code needed on Ravelry and with the code BUBBLETEAISYUMMY on Payhip.
Jill of Jilly and Kiddles is putting a bunch of colorways on special sale to make room for new products. She’s also offering free shipping in the U.S. on orders of $100 or more with the code ThankYou at checkout.
Join the Fiber Coven gothic-inspired MKAL, which runs during the month of September so you should have the perfect accessory ready with plenty of time for October festivities.
Time has flown for Barbara of Spencer Hill Naturally Dyed Yarn, whose unique yarns are inspired by the authors or literary characters who inspire us. She’s about to celebrate 10 years in business. To mark the festivals and events where she’s gotten to meet many of her customers, she was planning to have an anniversary sale at her fall shows. Instead, she’s taking the sale online. Starting today and running through August 28, you’ll get 10% off every purchase in her shop and free shipping on purchases of $100 or more.
I’m extending preorders of Birch Hollow Fibers’ ethereal Stardust In Basin colorway through this Sunday. The yarn, available on Sylvia Sock and Phillis DK, is inspired by a photo taken by Eric Ritchie at Great Basin National Park in Nevada. 20% of sales will be donated equally to the National Park Foundation and the NDN COVID-19 Response Project (the NDN is an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power).
The other day, I was reminded of Mina Philipp of Knitting Expat Designs’ Roadwipping Cowl, designed for the 2019 Where We Knit Yarn Club with Rebecca of Fuse Fiber Studio. Sadly, Rebecca is no longer dyeing, but the May 2020 colorway from Shani of Bleu Poussière, created with natural dyes, would be perfect for this one-skein design. The yarn is available to preorder on Indie Untangled only through this Sunday.
Mary Annarella’s latest design pays homage to the cute cardigans worn by the character of Bernadette in The Big Bang Theory. You can get the fingering-weight pattern at 30% off on Ravelry or Payhip with the code “feelthebern” now through Sunday.
Sample Dana’s yarn with the Un Besito Snack Pack. The packs come with a dozen 10g yarn balls of Smooches Fingering Weight Merino/nylon yarn peeking through the window of a fun bakery box. Many of these sets are limited editions, so grab them while you can!
Robynn’s Concrete Jungle is a simple lace knit that will help keep away the upcoming small chill. It’s available for 20% off until Sunday on Ravelry and Payhip.
Monica of Gothfarm Yarn is all about the gray, from a blend of Jacob Sheep wool and black mohair to Nebelung, a matte-steel blend of carbonized bamboo and Coopworth sheep locks.
Kismet of LoLo Body Care is doing her part with the LoLo Body Care Eco-Bag, a 100% organic cotton Fair-Trade Certified bag that, among other advantages, uses growing systems that replenish and maintain soil fertility and build biologically diverse agriculture. Even better, with every bag that’s purchased, one tree gets planted with LoLo’s partners, One Tree Planted.
To mark the release of Paula Pereira’s Talyse shawl, designed for the 2020 Where We Knit Yarn Club, I’m doing a limited preorder of Shani’s delicately speckled colorway, created with natural dyes! While reminiscent of cherry blossoms, she dubbed it Crazy 88 because she had never dyed that many skeins of one colorway before. It’s available on her Helios 50/50 Merino/Mulberry silk base, which would look gorgeous in Paula’s new shawl, or in sweaters that call for some drape. You can find some pattern suggestions, and preorder the yarn, through August 23.
Janis and Christen of Queen City Yarn are donating $10 for every skein of their red, white and blue colorway sold to Fair Fight, which works to “promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights.”
Katherine of K. MacColl Bags makes sophisticated tote bags using wool fabrics. They come in five different looks and two large sizes, and in a number of colorways and patterns.
Melissa is celebrating the launch of her new Canada-based shop, Alley Cat Yarns, with free shipping within North America and 20% off purchases of $150CAD or more, through the end of August.
Maelstrom Fiber Arts’ Gothic Mermaid Collection is inspired by the legends and lore of sirens or mermaids. Jennifer’s colorways are available on the majority of her bases, including a new non-Superwash fingering-weight yarn.
It’s Shark Week, so celebrate with WeeOnes miniature shark stitch markers at a 10% discount through this Sunday! You get a hammerhead, great white, black-tipped reef shark, and a longtail carpet shark made by Jillian with your choice of soldered rings or lobster claw clasps.
The chunky Coriedale wool and Superwash Merino fingering wool from Quiltwoman.com is dyed with a variety of needlework projects, including rug hooking/punching and punch needle embroidery, in mind. Aside from yarn, the Quiltwoman.com shop has a variety of patterns and kits.
Vanessa of Cape May Fiber Company has a new shawl design called Froth that uses either three full-sized fingering-weight skeins or 12 minis, and she has kits in her very own naturally-dyed colors.
Barbara’s Spencer Hill Naturally Dyed Yarn turns 10 years old this month, so celebrate with one of her colorful five base yarns and custom-spun yarns from small farms in NY and PA.
Natalie of Fiberdog Fibers is a new indie who offers hand-dyed fibers, as well as hand-dyed and handspun yarn, using almost exclusively raw fleeces that she washes, cards, dyes and spins herself.
Through my text thread with Nina Mayer Ritchie — her husband, Eric, was the photographer for the Great Basin National Park photo that Robin picked, but they both take the stunning photos in her feed — I learned that there was a deeper connection to the fiber arts — and a fascinating story that the reporter in me had to tell.
Nina has been taking Navajo weaving lessons from Emily Malone of the Spider Rock Girls, a family that has been weaving rugs for four generations. Emily’s mother, Rose Yazzie, owns a Hogan, a traditional dwelling of the Navajo people, and has a flock of sheep that provides the wool for their pieces, which they sell (I’m planning to post an interview with Emily as well). Above is an in-progress rug that Nina is weaving inspired by a photo she took of sunset through the “Window” at Big Bend National Park in Texas.
Nina and Eric also have an impressive track record in the national parks, having visited 48 out of 62, some with their two young children. Both Nina and Eric are MedsPeds physicians (dual board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics), and they have been working over the last several months in Chinle, Arizona, the geographic center of the Navajo Nation, which for a period of time had the highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita in the country. Eric is the chief medical officer of the Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital there and Nina works with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health as a public health doctor.
I spoke with Nina about learning Navajo weaving, her family’s parks visits and about the public health response to the coronavirus in the Navajo Nation. In addition to supporting the parks, 10% from the sales of Robin’s colorway will be donated to the NDN Collective COVID-19 Response Project.
Emily Malone of the Spinder Rock Girls uses raw fleece for a weaving project.
Tell me about your weaving lessons. Have you done any other fiber crafts (knitting, crochet or spinning)?
I started taking weaving lessons from a local weaver in March 2018. She is part of a family of weavers called the Spider Rock Girls. Her mother weaves and taught her, and then she taught her daughters. They live near Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly. According to Navajo teachings, Spider Woman lives atop Spider Rock and bestowed the gift of weaving to the Navajo. The Spider Rock Girls keep their own herd of sheep and sheer them to spin the wool into yarn for weaving.
This weaver has been offering weaving lessons to a small group of us over the last few years. She made looms for all of us, and we would typically meet one to two times per month to weave and learn together. Now with COVID, that has been put on hold, but we each have our own loom at home and weave individually. I learned how to crochet with my Yiayia (grandmother) when I was a little girl, but weaving in the traditional Navajo way with a loom is completely different!
Emily spinning yarn from her sheep before weaving.
It sounds like you and Eric are longtime hikers! When did you start visiting national parks?
We actually didn’t start “seriously” hiking until our honeymoon to Kauai in June 2008. After that, we immediately moved to Boston to start our residency training and found that during our off-time – without having access to a car – we would walk/hike the entire Boston area pretty regularly… roughly 11-12 miles on an average weekend day.
The first national park we visited together was the Grand Canyon, where we hiked North Rim to South Rim with my father during the last week of June 2009. It was the first time we had ever visited the Southwest, during record high temps, and we were smitten. It was one of the most formative experiences of our lives and we truly became enchanted with this part of the country. After that, we kept seeking ways to return to the Southwest to visit more national parks and to complete clinical rotations with the Indian Health Service.
We had always felt strongly about providing medical care to underserved populations and the Indian Health Service seemed like the best fit for us. As we visited more and more national parks, both out West and back East, we realized that our time spent in the parks was incredibly restorative and balancing especially while juxtaposed to our hectic schedules as medical doctors. We have visited 48 out of 62 national parks so far and it is our bucket list to visit them all together. As we started having children, our little boys visited the Grand Canyon as their first national park when they were each 2 weeks old. They have visited over 25 national parks each.
The Ritchies at Arches National Park in Utah.
Do you have a favorite national park?
This is the toughest question for us, and we get asked this all the time! I think we love different national parks for different reasons, and each could be considered a favorite in their own way. We are also very lucky to live close to so many of them, and we get to revisit these ones (roughly 15 of them) over and over again. Before spikes in visitation over recent years, I think we would easily say that Zion, Yosemite and Glacier were our top three, as these parks truly fill you with awe and wonder when you are immersed in them. However, as those parks have become more and more crowded, even during the “off season,” we have a new appreciation for the parks that are either off the beaten path or have enough space to really spread out. These include Death Valley and Big Bend.
James, the couple’s youngest son, in front of a Bristlecone Pine in Great Basin National Park.
What’s the story behind your photo of the tree at Great Basin?
This photo is from an incredible camping trip we took a few years ago to celebrate our youngest son’s first birthday… with the oldest living things on the planet: Bristlecone Pines in Great Basin National Park! This was his 17th national park visited during his first 12 months of life.
We had the coolest campsite up on Wheeler Peak, and spent an entire afternoon hiking around the impressive Bristlecone Pines, scouting out a favorable one to photograph later that night… My husband then hiked back out over a mile in the dark (while I stayed back, cozy with the kiddos in our camper) to reach this awesome tree and photograph it with the night sky. Such a fun memory!
How did you and Eric begin working for Native American healthcare organizations?
During our first year of residency, we attended a Grand Rounds held by two other married physicians that had completed our same residency program a few years prior. They had been working with the Indian Health Service in the middle of the Navajo Nation and everything they shared with us about their experiences truly spoke to us. We arranged to have two clinical rotations with the IHS, one in 2009 and the other in 2010, and fell in love with the communities we served. We decided to join the IHS in Chinle, AZ (the geographic center of the Navajo Nation) after completing our residencies in 2012 and have been here ever since. I transitioned into public health in 2014 with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health and Eric is still with the IHS.
Can you talk about how the COVID-19 crisis has hit the Navajo Nation and Native Americans particularly hard and what kind of work have you and your colleagues been doing to address this?
As many have probably seen in the news, the Navajo Nation had the highest rate of cases per capita in the country for a period of time. Contributing factors include remote and impoverished living conditions (difficulty accessing resources, such as medical care, grocery stores, etc.), lack of running water and electricity, multigenerational/overcrowded households where the virus can easily spread throughout the family, higher incidences of underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and lung disease, limited access to broadband/internet, as well as difficulties with “staying home” when folks have to travel long distances to obtain supplies. With strict and comprehensive public health measures, such as universal masking, social distancing, limiting capacity in essential businesses, and curfews, the Navajo Nation decreased their case counts and have been flattening the curve. The mortality rate among Navajo is still the highest of any ethnic/racial group. Through our work, and collaborations with other philanthropic groups, we have been integrally involved in the public health responses here: increasing testing, increasing hospital capacity, increasing resources and securing PPE, developing and distributing educational materials, expanding contact tracing, supporting communities through delivery of goods and water to households, etc.
Oxbow Bend at Grant Teton National Park in Wyoming.
How has the pandemic impacted your travels? As physicians, do you have any advice for people looking to safely explore the country?
The biggest way the pandemic impacted our travels is that it prevented us from taking previously scheduled time off. With Navajo Nation weekend curfews and the increased workload, we needed to stay put and work. No more weekend camping trips for around three months straight, which is very atypical for us (we usually camp almost every weekend). As things have slowly improved on the Navajo Nation, we have been able to venture out a little more, but we are sticking to dispersed/boondock camping in more remote areas to remain physically distanced from others. We are now discovering some hidden gems.
I think the advice we would offer folks looking to safely travel during pandemic times is to think about their own risk tolerance and how that (and their actions) may affect others. Getting through this is going to take a “team” effort and we all need to do our part.
Outdoor spaces are generally the safest option for recreating, and getting there by personal vehicle is preferred. Identifying places that are not crowded is ideal.
I know we all love to visit our iconic national parks but these spaces are at risk of being “loved to death,” especially during these challenging times when everyone is looking to get outdoors and away from others. It’s getting harder to achieve this as our national parks get more and more congested. I would encourage travelers to look for hidden gems closer to home in other public lands that don’t normally get as much attention as our national parks.
Robin of Birch Hollow Fibers fittingly took inspiration from this photo, taken by by Eric Ritchie, of one of those twisty trees under a blanket of stars for her Knitting Our National Parks installment. Her complex speckled colorway, Stardust in Basin, will be available to preorder through Indie Untangled on a Superwash Merino sock and DK base until Friday, August 21.
Debbie of Murky Depths Dyeworks has released LaMer, a super-soft blend of 40% llama, 40% Superwash Merino and 20% nylon. The combination of Debbie’s subdued colors and the fiber blend produces a slightly heathered yarn that’s perfect for cozy sweaters and accessories.
What’s cuter than sloths? Sloths wearing backpacks! Jillian is celebrating back-to-school season — whatever that may look like this year — with this adorable free gift. With a qualifying purchase at WeeOnes during the month of August, you’ll receive one free individual Back-to-School Sloth stitch marker.
This brand new yarn-dyeing duo from the Pacific Northwest just released their first colorway collection, the first of a two-part series based on Greek Gods and Goddesses. There are also coordinating stitch marker sets.
Victoria of Eden Cottage Yarns is getting ready to take a much-needed summer break, so she’s having two updates before she takes off: one today at 4 p.m. UK time with fingering and the other on August 11 at 8 a.m. UK time featuring lace and DK.
Trekkies, this is for you! Michele of Misfit Yarns has yarn from her Star Trek: The Next Generation collection ready to ship! Characters include Captain Picard, Deanna Troi, Data, Worf, Geordi, Dr. Crusher, Guinan and Q.
Tami of Eternity Ranch Knits is sadly closing her doors, and is selling off her inventory in grab bags.