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A Yarn Story

Your Yarn Story: Helen Stewart June 21 2018 2 Comments

One of the very best things about owning a yarn shop are the amazing people that I get to meet. Sometimes there's a chance to collaborate too, as with our next guest to the blog, Helen Stewart. Helen is the prolific designer and podcaster behind Curious Handmade, a creative brand that brings together her love of knitting, travel, craft and community. Following Helen's busy time in May with the Curious Handmade Bath Retreat, I got her to give me the scoop on her own Yarn Story. 

Q. What is currently on your needles?
A. At the moment I have many swatches for new designs on the needles. I’m also working on a larger size of Little Meg Shawl- I designed a small size for the Curious Handmade Country House retreat in March: since I’ve had so many requests for a larger version I’ve decided to create one. The yarn for this shawl is Canopy Fingering by TFC and is so drape-y and lovely to knit.

Q. Who taught you how to knit? Knitting only or crochet too?
A. My Mum taught me to knit so I could get my Girl Guides (Brownies) knitting badge! My great aunt was a prolific crocheter and taught me how to crochet too.

Q. What influences and inspires you as a designer? Where do your ideas come from?
A. I’m often very inspired by the yarn I'm working with: a specific skein will send my mind off in some direction and I just follow it wherever it goes.

Other times I might get an idea for a collection, like The Secret Garden for Season 3 of The Shawl Society, and that just sets off a flow of more ideas and image. I’m also interested in what's going on in fashion and am occasionally inspired to design something that I want to wear myself.

Q. I love that your collections centre around a particular theme or idea. How do you create that story?
A. I love to get carried away by a theme. The Secret Garden was a book that I loved very much when I was a child. Back then it really sparked my imagination, so it was amazing to experience that again as an adult. I recently rewatched the movie and was grabbed by some of the scenes. That’s where the ideas came from for this particular theme.

Q. Do you have a "yarn crush"? What's your favourite yarn to work with?
A. It’s very hard to name a favourite. I adore The Fibre Co. for their luxury and incredible attention to detail and thoughtfulness. I really love using merino singles for shawls and am having lots of fun at the moment with mohair silk lace: knitting Joji Locateli’s Like a Cloud recently has reignited my love for Shibui Silk Cloud.

Q. What is your design aesthetic?
A. Romantic, modern, romantic and just a little bit boho. I play with different influences and references to create the right balance of each element. It’s a lot of fun.

Q. You're also the host of a wildly popular podcast, Curious Handmade. How did you get into podcasting and how does it connect to your knitting story?
A. I was listening to audio podcasts a lot to keep me company while I was on maternity leave and not able to get out and socialise as much. When I decided to get serious about Curious Handmade as a business I thought it would be a fabulous way to connect with my knitters and that has been the case.

Q. How has knitting affected your life? What role does it play and how does it keep you coming back?
A. It affects my life in every way! It’s gone from being a hobby and social outlet to being my business. Sometimes you hear that it’s tough to make that transition without losing any of your passion. I didn’t find that to be the case. I still love it and knit almost every day. I LOVE the feeling of yarn and fabric. That’s been true for as long as I can remember, so it is amazing that I get to spend so much time doing something that lights me up.

Q. You're often traveling to yarn shows or knitting retreats or further afield like back home to your native Australia. How do you plan your travel knitting? What are your top tips?
A. I usually take way too much, and I’m still working on it! My top tip would be to just take a simple sock project or an easy shawl - but I never actually follow that advice and instead pack about 6 different projects for a weekend. Total overkill but it is nice to have the choice. I’ve never had a problem bringing knitting needles on a plane. I always take circulars which may help. I also recommend to always bring roll up vacuum pack bags, especially if you’re going to a yarn festival. You can fit so much more in your suitcase!

Huge thanks to Helen for taking the time to answer my questions and wishing her safe travels on her summer holidays!

Your Yarn Story: Karie Westermann June 07 2018

Glasgow-based designer Karie Westermann is teaching at A Yarn Story for the first time later this month and we can't wait! Karie loves crisp, woolly yarns and bright colours. We got Karie to tell us her Yarn Story in advance of her visit to Bath.

Karie Westermann

Q. What is currently on your needles?
A. I am currently working on a shawl - I cannot get the edging quite right from an aesthetic point of view, so it's in Time Out. I'm also working on a colourwork project and a hat. I tend to about three things on the go at the same time. 

Q. You travel a lot to teach - how do you plan your travel knitting for those journeys?
A. It needs to be portable, easy to work in a small space (so no project that requires 12 different balls!) and fairly easy to remember. I like knitting hats and shawls when I'm on the road.

Karie's great grandmother with her mother

Q. Who taught you how to knit? Knitting only or crochet too?
A. I was taught to knit by my great-grandmother when I was very small. My aunt Tove taught me to crochet. I come from a very crafty family, so I don't think there's a craft out there I didn't try as a kid.

Minuscule mittens by Karie Westermann 
Q. What influences and inspires you as a designer? Where do your ideas come from?

A. My ideas come from all over the place! I'm Scandinavian, so I take my inspiration from a lot of the various Scandi traditions. I'm very much rooted in storytelling too: everything I work on has a background story (even if it's not visible in the finished design,  it is still in every stitch). Previously I've explored archaeology,  psychogeography, and book history in my work - so you never knows what is next!

Karie's Rubrication shawl in Travelknitter Tanami

Q. Do you have a "yarn crush"? What's your favourite yarn to work with?
A. This is a tough question! I like yarns that tell a story, that are unapologetic about what they are and where they come from. Jamieson's 2ply jumperweight, for instance. I also love handdyed yarn where the dyer has a sure sense of their colour identity.  I used Travelknitter Tanami in my book, This Thing of Paper, and it is a glorious yarn. I used to work for Rowan Tarns many years ago and I still love Felted Tweed.  And I have quite the impressive stash of single ply laceweight in various sheepy colours. I think I just love yarn!

Q. What is your design aesthetic?
A. Rather classic with Scandinavian influences (no fussiness!) and a strong sense of colour. 

Karie Westermann selfie
Q. What advice do you have for knitters wanting to make a leap to designing professionally?
A. Work hard. Find out who you are as a designer. Be patient. Be smart. Be nice. 

Q. How has knitting affected your life? What role does it play and how does it keep you coming back?
A. Knitting has given me a wonderful life! I get to meet so many amazing, kind knitters who all have such interesting stories to tell. I use knitting to explore storytelling and also make stuff that keeps me warm. It is truly fantastic. 

Karie will be teaching her Little Effort, Big Effect: Mock Cables & Twisted Stitches and Design Your Own Lace & Shawl classes at the shop. 

Your Yarn Story: Kate Atherley February 28 2018

You've probably heard us shouting from the rafters and our newsletter that Kate Atherley is coming back to A Yarn Story to teach some new workshops. Kate is an amazing knitter, teacher and designer and can quite possibly make anyone a sock knitter! We had a chance to ask her some questions about her own yarn story.

Kate Atherley

Q: What is currently on your needles?
A: Three things on the go: a pair of socks in WYS 4-ply, for easy knitting to help me combat jet-lag, a rework of my Souvaine design, in a lovely silk and cashmere blend, and a new lace design for Indigodragonfly.
Q: You're currently traveling and teaching around the UK. How do you plan/pack your projects for such a trip? What's your strategy?
A: See above! My strategy is always the same for long trips. I have a plain sock with me, for easy knitting for social time, when I’m tired, and when I’m at a pub. And then I like to have a couple of other small gauge projects, sometimes socks, sometimes lace. One is always a design-in-progress which is going to be challenging and time-consuming – ideal for long flights and train journeys. And then the other one is something that is engaging but not stressful for times when the design-in-progress isn’t working out! And then I always have space in my bag for a souvenir skein of sock yarn, just in case the socks get completed.

Kate and her granny Hilda 
Q: Who taught you how to knit? When did you get started? Do you crochet too?
A: My Grannie taught me. I don’t actually remember learning to knit – I must have been five or six. She spent a lot of time with us when I was very young, and she always had knitting on the go. I wonder if I didn’t just absorb it by osmosis! She did attempt to teach me to crochet, but that didn’t take.

One of Kate's partially knit socks
What's your go-to type of project/favourite thing to knit?
A: There’s always a pair of socks on my needles. I love knitting socks. It’s just so *satisfying*.
Q: You're one of the hardest working folks in the knitting industry. How did your passion for knitting evolve into being the source of your livelihood?
A: It all started because I offered to help out a friend who was opening a yarn shop, around 2002. I offered to teach a few classes. For a few years, I kept working at my day job, teaching at night and on the weekends. I started designing patterns first for the shop, and then I got a great break with an article in Knitty! In 2010 I quit the day job and went full-time. Every day I’m amazed and thrilled that I get to do this for a living!
Knit Mitts book by Kate Atherley
You're also a published author with a number of books about your favourite things: socks and pattern writing. Tell us about your new book Knit Mitts.
A: Like the sock book, it’s designed to help teach skills and solve problems – there’s a detailed discussion of yarn choices and strategies for warmth, tips for dealing with the inevitable hole at the base of the thumb, and so forth. And there’s also a master pattern template for both mittens and gloves, covering 13 sizes and 13 gauges, so you can design your own!

The Wild One - knitted motorcycle jacket
Do you have to balance between work knitting and your own knitting or is it all the same?
A: It’s funny, I would usually say that I don’t often to get to knit for myself… but I’ve learned in the past couple of years that I’m happiest with my designs and they are most successful when they are things I would knit for me. That is, my recently-published Women of Mathematics collection contains three shawls that I wanted to wear, things that I designed for my own needs and to my own tastes. And the motorcycle jacket, too! I designed that because I wanted to wear it. The challenge is that when knitting for publication, I have to keep the samples under wraps until the pattern is published, and sometimes that can be a pretty long wait. This trip is my inaugural outing for my Noether shawl, even though I had finished knitting it more than six months ago, and I’m thrilled to be able to finally wear it! For me, there are two  modes of knitting: something that I plan to publish, and something I don’t. There’s always at least one pair of plain socks on the go, and that’s entirely selfish knitting, and most often the rest is “work” knitting, whether that’s for self-publishing or for publication with a third party or in a book.
Q: Do you have a yarn crush or favourite yarn to work with?
A: I will confess to having a ridiculous weakness for self-striping sock yarns. Anything with fixed stripe patterns makes me ridiculously happy.

Kate shows off some yarn
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
A: See above! For me, my designs are inspired by what I want to wear. (I’m selfish that way!) Put another way, they’re most often inspired by clothing or wardrobe items that I want to have. For example, the Noether shawl design came about because I wanted an all-purpose travel scarf, to replace the old plain store-bought pashmina I had been using for years. Although the designs themselves may not be practical, my inspiration is. I also love to design things that teach or build skills – for example, I’m working a set of three brioche cowls that will build skills for newer brioche knitters.
Q: What's your most recent finish?
A: I have just – like, 2 days before I left -- finished a pair of plain socks, using a self-striping Regia yarn that had been lying around in my stash. I wore them on my flight! I also finished a brioche cowl that’s destined to be part of the brioche-skills-in-the-round tutorial pattern set.

Huge thanks to Kate for taking the time to answer our questions and we can't wait to welcome you back to the shop!

- Carmen

Your Yarn Story: Aleks Byrd February 14 2018

Color & Knit Mittens is the debut book from local designer Aleks Byrd and we're delighted to help her celebrate the launch. We sat down with Aleks to find out her yarn story.

Aleks Byrd

Q: What is currently on your needles?
A: I've currently have two projects on needles, both are jumpers. One is the Kiuru sweater from Issue 3 of Laine Magazine being knit out of Walcot Yarns Opus in a stunning golden yellow color called Goldenrod. I love the mix of cables and twisted stitch patterns! I just cast on a few days ago the Carbeth jumper by Kate Davies. I fell in love with it when I saw the photos she posted on Instagram. It's a nice fast, simply mindless knitting project in contrast to the complexities of the Kiuru sweater. I am knitting it out of Wollmeise DK is an adaptly named colour for a Scottish pattern; Single Malt. 

Kiuru sweater wip

Q: When did you start knitting/crocheting? Who taught you?
A: I learned how to knit from my mother when I was probably about 8-10 years old. It has been a progression to obsession and passion as I have gotten older. I became more interested when I was in middle and high school as there was a knitting club with girls my age. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about knitting? What keeps you coming back to the craft?
A: Part of what I love about knitting is that it's a community. I have had the opportunity to travel extensively and live in different places. Each time and place I've visited there are always a group of knitters that are very welcoming and make you feel a sense of belonging. Meeting so many knitters has opened my eyes to a wealth of knowledge of different techniques, styles of knitting as well as amazing places to shop for yarn and patterns. Its a welcoming and supportive community for knitters but also designers. 

Q: Do you have a favourite thing to knit?
A: I tend to knit a lot of cowls. I am a scarf lover and cowls are  easy to knit and wear, as well as a great canvas for trying out different knitting techniques. 

Q: You're also an amazing illustrator - where does your inspiration come from? 
A: A lot of my inspiration comes from my travels, experiences and cultural background of Estonia. I always have a sketchbook on me when I go somewhere new or interesting to capture ideas for a pattern or record details about the place and what's unique in my eyes about it.  I love patterns and colours particularly those used in nordic knitting and their folk costumes. Lately I've been trying to create a bridge between my love of illustration and knitting by illustrating the wonderful whimsical  experiences of knitting based on my own as well as my knitter friends' experiences-  knitting socks and jumpers on ourselves to get the fit just right! It has also been a great opportunity to bring to life potential ideas for new patterns on paper.

Aleks' design studio
Q: Tell us how you came up with the idea for Color & Knit Mittens. Do you have plans for other books?
A: I'm a knitter that doesn't like to stick to colours planned out in a given colourwork pattern. I think that might come out of being a being an illustrator & designer as well as having gone to art school! I like to modify my colours particularly with stranded colourwork knitting, which can get confusing when reading a chart printed in colours that aren't close to what I'm using. I thought it would be interesting to try to create a chart that was blank that could then be coloured in with the colours that I wanted to use and how I wanted to use them. I had designed and had published  a colouring book already (a Christmas themed Estonian colouring book published in Estonia) and had seen the adult colouring book trend continue even amongst my friends and family. I thought it time to maybe try to combine the colouring book trend with colouring work knitting- it seemed to make sense to me and it would continue to bridge my loves of knitting and illustration. I would love to create more books, maybe continuing the concept of the knitting colouring book with a different patterns possibly hats or cowls/scarves. Maybe at some point I'll take the plunge to design a jumper or cardigan!

Aleks and mittens from her book
Q: If you could only knit with one yarn for the next year, what would it be? In other words, what is your current yarn crush?
A: This is incredibly challenging to pick just one! I really enjoying working with variegated yarns particularly in stranded colourwork so I would pick Claudia Hand Painted Yarns Addiction Fingering at the moment. Her yarns have a nice painterly quality in their colours and knit into a nice squishy fabric.

Sock knit girl
Q: How has knitting affected your life? Or, what role does knitting play in your life?
A: Knitting started out as just a hobby. Another hobby that I could share with my mom and slowly and increasingly share with friends as I taught them how to knit. It has become so much more in the last few years. I never thought of myself before as  a knitwear designer or even becoming one. I remember going on a knitting workshop with my mom a few years ago. The knitters in the workshop were asked to pick out yarns to knit a fair isle cowl that would be a knit-a-long. I didn't like the pattern of the cowl and thought I could come up with something better myself- which I did and it sparked so much more. Knitting has become more than just an enjoyable and relaxing outlet but also where I can let my creativity run wild. I always loved textiles and wanted to put my illustration and pattern ideas onto something that I could wear and use. Being able to sit and figure out the puzzle of translating something from paper to wool is an enjoyable and gratifying challenge and one that I am excited to continue to build and incorporate into my expanding career interests of knitwear design and illustration. 

In celebration of Aleks' new book we're throwing a little party and book signing! No need to RSVP, join us in the shop on Saturday, March 10th from 1-3pm where you can meet Aleks, pick up a copy of the book and see the wonderful mittens she's created. 

- Carmen

Your Yarn Story: Rosee Woodland January 26 2018

We're really excited to be hosting the multi-craftual and multi-talented Rosee Woodland in the shop for a few workshops and I thought it would be great to have her share her Yarn Story with us.

Rosee is a knitting designer and writer but she also sews, crochets, makes and works as a technical editor and stylist too. Read on to learn more about Rosee's passion and inspiration.

Rosee Woodland

Q: What is currently on your needles?
A: Some rainbow socks for commuting knitting, a new cable mitten design, a design in Socks Yeah yarn that I really must finish, and, most importantly, the swatches for my new book.

Greenwich Village socks by Rosee Woodland

Q: When did you start knitting/crocheting? Who taught you?
A: My nana taught me to knit when I was about seven and my mum taught me to sew around the same time. There are textile people going back generations in my family; my great grandfather was a tailor, his wife was seamstress to Lady Winston Churchill (!) and my aunt had a small fashion label before she retired, so it’s in the blood! Having said that, although I’ve always sewed, knitting didn’t really ‘take’ until I was in my late 20s, but from then on I was addicted. I taught myself to crochet a while later from Debbie Stoller’s Happy Hooker book.

Q: What do you enjoy most about knitting? What keeps you coming back to the craft?
A: I love how versatile knitting can be. I’m a big fan of strong colour, which you don’t find much of in high street shops, so I enjoy how freeing it is to make my own clothes in whatever hue I choose. I’m tall with long arms, so I also appreciate being able to adapt patterns to fit me perfectly. I usually have to add 10cm to ‘normal’ length sleeves!

Owl Feathers cardigan by Rosee Woodland

Q: Do you have a favourite thing to knit?
A: Socks were my first knitting passion and you can get such great yarns for them these days (hello La Bien Aimee!) but yoked sweaters are my absolute favourite. I have designed a few (more coming soon...) and it’s so satisfying working out how to adjust the yoke patterning as the stitch count decreases. You can make them super colourful too and I just find them really fun to design.

Q: You're a multi-craftual person and also crochet and sew too. Do you have a favourite craft? How do you balance your time between all your interests and makes?
A: I don’t really have a favourite craft. Knitting is probably what I’m most skilled at, and I love its portability, but please don’t make me choose! I am also pretty obsessed with quilting, but I’ve decided to keep that for myself, rather than doing anything professional with it. To be honest, I’m not great at balancing my crafts as I have so many unfinished projects. If I didn’t have to work I’d quite happily just make things all day long!

Sigga sweater by Rosee Woodland

Q: You're also a knitting designer and are teaching our Design Your Own Jumper class. Where do you get inspiration from?
A: I take a lot of inspiration from the natural world - my use of colour is bold, but it usually comes from something natural to start with. I am a keen wild swimmer and freediver so I get to see beautiful marine animals up close and they really inspire me.The wildlife, plants and flowers on my allotment give me lots of ideas too. I’m also really interested in the history of textile crafts and have a lot of books about traditional knitting that help me with starting points for designs.

Q: If you could only knit with one yarn for the next year, what would it be? In other words, what is your current yarn crush?
A: I’m probably most smitten by traditional style ‘workshorse’ yarns, like Jamieson and Smith Jumper Weight or Frangipani Gansey yarn. At the other end of the scale, I also adore the speckled yarns that are so on trend and have bought quite a few hanks of La Bien Aimee from A Yarn Story - the colours are absolutely incredible. But if I have to choose, I would go with Cascade 220 - a worsted weight pure wool that comes in a zillion colours. It’s an incredibly versatile yarn - I’ve used it on 3mm and 6.5mm needles and everything in between to great effect. The shade range is the widest I’ve found and really frees me up to be completely creative and express my love of colour.

Montana hat by Rosee Woodland

Q: How has knitting affected your life? Or, what role does knitting play in your life?
A: Well, without knitting I’d probably still be a news journalist, which is how I began my career. I worked on a big local daily paper and it was a very fast-paced, high pressure environment with six editions to get out every day. After years on the paper I ended up as deputy news editor. It was a job I loved, but it was an absolute grind, so I started knitting again to bring some calm to the rare free moments I had during a long newsdesk shift. My editor was totally bemused, but knitting reawakened my love of all crafts, and I eventually side-stepped into magazines, editing The Knitter and Knit Today, before going freelance a couple of years ago. I don’t miss the newsroom at all and love my work these days, as a writer, designer, technical editor and tutor. It gives me creative freedom and I don’t have all that crazy stress any more! 

Rosee will be teaching Design Your Own Jumper over two days this April and a Learn to Knit Socks class this February. Update: The socks class is now sold out but we'll be scheduling it again so send us an email and we'll put you on the list to be notified when it's running again.

- Carmen

Your Yarn Story: Justyna Lorkowska May 24 2016

A few months ago I received a really lovely e-mail to my inbox from a designer that I had been following and admiring for a while now. That designer is Justyna Lorkowska of Lete's Knit whose elegant yet fun designs are a pleasure to knit and wear. Justyna is an incredibly versatile designer and creates equally sophisticated shawl patterns as well as chunky cabled accessories. It is this range of designs that I particularly admire.

Justyna will be coming over from her home in Poland in a few weeks and teaching a couple of her very popular classes Eastern Uncrossed Knitting and The Beauty of Knitted on Borders. She'll also be in the shop for a Trunk Show on Saturday 11 June from 11-1pm to show of her beautiful samples and sign patterns. I asked Justyna if she would answer a few questions about her knitting journey for us and she happily obliged, so here is her yarn story:

Q: What is currently on your needles?

I’m a very polygamous knitter, which means that my needles are constantly busy. At the moment I’m working on several different projects. I’m finishing a new shawl design.  I’m also knitting a simple striped sweater in my husband’s first hand-dyed yarn. I’m working on a couple of collaborations, as well as a very special project that's particularly close to my heart. As you can see, there’s no room for boredom.

Q: When did you start knitting? Who taught you?

A: Actually I began crocheting first when I was a young girl, but watched my mom with her knitting needles all the time, and my transition to knitting somehow happened on its own. I observed her and tried to copy what she was doing, and this is probably why I knit a little bit differently. She had been taught by her mother-in-law (my grandma) whose family came from the East.  Thus I've knit Eastern Uncrossed style since childhood. 

3. What do you enjoy most about knitting? What keeps you coming back to the craft?
You want to know the truth? It is largely the pride I feel when I wear something I have made with my own hands. There is just something magical in every stitch you’ve created yourself. Knitting also gives me an outlet for my creativity. Actually, it’s not only knitting. I love spinning, weaving and sewing as well. All of them give me a sense of accomplishment and joy.

Q: Do you have a favorite thing to knit?

A: Recently I’ve been knitting lots of shawls. They are so much fun to make. Probably like most knitters I often fall in love with an irresistible yarn so I buy a single skein and then nothing happens. Shawls are perfect for using those lonely skeins. I also enjoy knitting for my kids, but mostly because their knits are cute and fast to make. My most dreaded knits are endless seas of Stockinette, sleeves, and simple scarfs.

Q: What is the last project you completed?

A: That’s a dress! I started it in January just for fun and because I saw a gorgeous lace motif in one on my stitchionaries. I was knitting it on and off for a couple of months (yes, the dreaded endless Stockinette!), but now it’s done and I can’t wait to wear it.

Q: Do you have a design philosophy that guides you?

A: I’m not sure if it’s a philosophy, but I always try to make something I would gladly wear myself. If I wouldn’t, I just don’t make it. I like simple knits with a twist, and I always try to achieve a balance in colors and patterning.

Q: You are very versatile in what you design, everything from shawls, garments and hats, to children's clothing: do you have a favorite item to design? Why is it your favorite?

Not really. I like everything, and the things I make come straight from my heart. If I stop loving it, I just rip it without hesitation. As I said, if I don’t want to wear it, I won’t make it.

Q: Where do you get inspiration from?

A: Mostly from my stash and knitting books. The ideas from both mix in my head and then are transferred onto the needles. Sometimes I do draw a sketch, but that’s mostly when I’m discussing the final ideas for collaborations.

9. If you could only knit with one yarn for the next year, what would it be? In other words what is your current yarn crush?

That’s a very hard question. I have a couple of yarn crushes which won’t go away - not that I’m trying to fight them ;-)  I love everything dyed by Vikki of Eden Cottage Yarns. I’m fascinated by the colors from Triskelion. I’m closely observing Snail Yarn. And now I’m almost “swimming” in yarn as my own husband has begun dyeing.

Q: How has knitting affected your life? or What role does knitting play in your life?

A: Knitting has had a huge impact on my life, and at the moment it seems my whole family is “infected”. I knit every day, and it has become my profession (I used to teach in my previous life).  My husband plays with yarn and acid dyes. My son is trying to talk me into buying a sheep, and my daughter is begging me to teach her crochet. One crafty family, huh?

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is just starting out as a designer?

A: Work hard. Talent is just 1%; the rest is just work.  

If you'd like to join us for one of Justyna's classes you can sign-up here.