Writing Projects Gone Weird: or, Saturday, I Knit A Cat

KnitCat Stares at Nothing

KnitCat Stares at Nothing

The migraines and vertigo are back with a vengeance, and I’m stuck in horizontal mode (laptop propped on lap and lying down as I write this, in fact).

KnitCat Naps

KnitCat Naps

So Saturday, I dragged out some cotton string (a very nice German variegated yarn), and needles, and did one of the few things that doesn’t make me feel worse when this gets as bad as it is right now.

I knitted.

I’m doing this odd secret project on my day off—a writing project so weird when I first explained why I was knitting sweaters for balls of yarn, my husband got this look in his eyes that asked “do I commit her, or grab the kid and run for the hills?”

And this project calls for a cat.

KnitCat watches Mad Men

KnitCat watches Mad Men

A tiny, agile, clever cat.

So I got out light-gauge florist wire and narrow green florist tape and built an armature. And then I knit around the armature, ripping back when anything happened that didn’t look like a cat, filling with yarn stuffing as I went.

KnitCat looks Regal

KnitCat looks Regal

No pattern, no picture, no guidelines—I remembered my various cats over the years and worked from that. It took me about ten hours over the course of the day to finish him.

KnitCat hears food hit a bowl

KnitCat hears food hit a bowl

When I was done, I showed him to my husband and son, who had seen me knitting around green armature all day, and who hadn’t seen anything particularly catlike in the blob I was making. Both of them were a little creeped out by how much of a cat he became when I started posing him.

I was a bit, too. I hadn’t expected scrap yarn and wire to turn out quite so well—and now that I see him, I’m getting a feel for his character and the role he’s going to play in my secret project.

KnitCat fights the Mighty Husband

KnitCat fights the Mighty Husband

So what’s this project? Well, it’s fiction, but it’s about writers and writing. And KnitCat is a good representative for what I’m doing. Beyond that, I’m not ready to say anything, except this project will be available for free—it’s my playtime—and should be a nice complement to other things I’ve created to help writers.

KnitCat leaves to search for adventure

KnitCat leaves to search for adventure

As for other things, even though I’m currently bedridden (well, couch-ridden) I did manage to get work done on both TalysMana and the HTTS Walkthrough. I’m doing the plot outline for The Emerald Sun.

And I’m hoping I’ll at least be able to sit up at some point this week, so that I’ll be able to do the Hotseat interview for the Walkthrough.

Anyway… have you ever done anything as weird as knitting a cat to get to the heart of a story?

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and indie-publish my new ones.

148 comments… add one
  • Deidre Jun 19, 2011 @ 20:00

    Hey Holly…Hope you feel better soon!!! I’m not sure if stress and taking time off from writing qualify but lately my story that I left midway to move and change jobs is now screaming for attention in the back of my mind 🙂

    • Deidre Jun 20, 2011 @ 12:00

      Had an insight about the migrane issue. I had allergy problems when I was in TX and started getting migranes with dizziness, mine also worsened when working on the computer, or looking at a TV screen. Since my allergy problems have gone away for the most part now (various reasons why) I have not had any migrane problems at all. Just a thought that perhaps some sort of allergy is triggering the migranes & vertigo?

  • Michelle Jun 17, 2011 @ 23:08

    Hm, let’s see, weirdest thing I did for a story is… tandem parachute out of an aeroplane.
    Not so weird, you say? I am almost blind, and yes, it was AWESOME!!!
    Also almost got hit by a bus, but that inspired a story after the fact, not before.
    Love KnitCat, Holly, and hope you feel better soon.

  • Sharon Cousins Jun 17, 2011 @ 22:26

    Wow, I just had kind of a revelation that you could use an armature but instead of knitting you could combine yarn or other cordage (on a big yard needle) and basketry techniques to put a fabric over the armature. Have a few piece of yarn/thread/cord that attach to the bottom of the limb for (if creature were standing) verticals, and then use one or more strands on needles to weave your fabric in the round around those verticals (with one strand, you’d have a simple weave… make sure you have an odd number of verticals for one strand to work!). With two or more different strands, you can use simple twining basket technique to put in cool patterns and change the texture. But anyway, it is a way you could make similar models without having to learn to knit. The simplest of the weaving/basketry concepts, which really are very simple, would probably work for that. And the patience to work that small and stuff as you go.;) Anyway, it’s a thought, and I’m so crazy busy this time of year I thought I should catch it before it flitted off inn my race to get back up to the garden for a little longer….

    • Sharon Cousins Jun 18, 2011 @ 2:23

      Huh… I was having all sorts of net problems earlier and didn’t think this had posted, and it suffers from too-quick editing (which I thought I could fix later, because I didn’t think it had posted). You might not even need yarn needles except for finishing. I still think it could work as an alternative to knitting.

  • Kimberly Jun 17, 2011 @ 20:36

    Love the cat! I am an obsessive knitter myself and that cat is completely adorable and full of personality. I can’t wait to see what you are doing with him!

    Feel better!

  • Patricia Jun 17, 2011 @ 18:55

    I hope you are feeling better, Holly. I’m amazed at your ability to keep going any way!!! You’re an amazing person and I’m VERY thankful for your continual gifts to us – even your sweet, little kitty. Amazing! (Sorry – that’s the word that keeps popping in my head when I think of you). I’m lolly-gagging in week #3 still trying to identify my muse, but at least I’m starting to recognize her as a friend who wants to help me . . . if I’ll only listen to her and take notes!! I’ll be moving on to #4 this week, but already after reviewing it I’m Amazed (there’s that word, again!) and a tad intimidated. Please take care of yourself. We need you! Could it be something in your diet? Ugh! Once a mom, always a mom — apparently any body’s mom.



  • Yolanda W Jun 16, 2011 @ 13:09


    I’ve just recently started using several of your courses for writing and they are invaluable. Thank you.

    This particular journal entry is awesome! It never dawned on me to do something not writing-related as a diversion which could turn into a story or character idea. I will have to try it.

    As I am just learning to knit, though, I don’t believe I’ll try a cat just yet.


  • Charlotte Babb Jun 16, 2011 @ 12:26

    I crocheted an elephant for a baby toy once, but not one with movable legs. Well done!!!

  • KHAKI/Kathy Crouch Jun 16, 2011 @ 0:29

    HI Holly I hope you are felling better now. I like the cat very interesting. I play games to allow the mind to wander and figure out where I am going with the story.

  • inkgrrl Jun 15, 2011 @ 20:24

    KnitCat rocks!

  • Hanna Jun 15, 2011 @ 6:34

    You have an interesting migraine pattern. Some of mine allow me do things, as long as I am laying down, others are lights out my-party-is-over for the day. You crack me up, the kitten is cute and creepy and lifelike. The pictures really perked up my Muse.

    I liked reading how writing has inspired people to learn new things. My learnings for writing are not weird yet, but I look forward to them, as I write more.

  • David Jun 15, 2011 @ 4:03

    Loving the photo-adventures of KnitCat!
    But more, loving the determination of the knitter.

    Keep smiling and feel better.

  • April Leigh Jun 15, 2011 @ 2:53

    Hey Holly,
    So sorry to hearing that you are unwell. I am sending you lots and lots of ‘Healing Energy’.
    Let’s hope this helps!
    Knitcat is brilliant! And SO tiny! Just amazing! You should be very proud of yourself!
    On to the question at hand. Yes, I think I’ve done an ‘odd’ thing or two in my time, for the sake of a story.
    I once followed my oldest daughter (then 6), on her bike. I was writing a short for class on “Be the Child’,and chased her around for the best part of the afternoon. Her friends thought I was crazy! It WAS rather joyful!!!
    Have a Happy June!
    I just love your website! Topnotch!

  • Paula Meengs Jun 14, 2011 @ 21:28

    I hope Knitcat charms away some of your pain, and you can return to the joy of doing what you do with such elan. Could KnitCat be able to be like Sherlock Homes and disguise himself? He looks as though he could portray a mouse rather well. He would have to remember to keep his tail down though. I don’t think mice have tail raising abilities. The dimensions are cat perfect and the postures are portrayed as only a cat lover could do. You inspire me on so many levels it adds dimension to your signature: ‘write with joy’.
    Thank you,

  • EJ Jun 14, 2011 @ 20:02

    Knitting a cat isn’t that weird, for a writer. (KnitCat is quite cute and I want to read the story!) A sort of fantasy mailman in one of my stories got waylaid. Unwilling to let certain letters fall into the wrong hands, my character ate them.

    Now, I wanted to be able to describe this accurately. So… well, I ripped off part of the page I was writing on… and it tasted like chicken. Specifically, it tasted like a sick parody of the most dry, tasteless, stringy breast. Except once I’d chewed it, it got harder and fibrous. Like squid, but less chewy and more… hard. But chicken is a surprisingly good comparison.

    • Danzier Jun 14, 2011 @ 22:33

      Different papers taste different, depending on the chemicals (or lack thereof) on the paper. Printed pages are, in my experience, more bitter than unprinted. 😉

      • EJ Jun 15, 2011 @ 13:35

        You mean I need to taste even more paper to be sure I get the right description??


        Also, Holly, get well soon!

        • Danzier Jun 15, 2011 @ 15:53

          No, don’t. Try the kind your character does and leave it at that. The chemicals in many kinds of paper are soooo not good for you.

  • dlc1701 Jun 14, 2011 @ 19:55

    Wow! You are much tuffer than I am. When I get a migraine, it’s usually lights out and all quiet. As another wrote, I was amazed to see how small KnitCat is – the pix are really cool. I see my cats in those same poses. KnitCat did make me smile and that’s worth a million when you’re still waiting for hubby to come home from out of state hospital.

  • Kelly A. Harmon Jun 14, 2011 @ 19:02

    I am thoroughly in awe over your knitting skills!

  • Ivye Jun 14, 2011 @ 17:23

    In the Owl’s words: Oh KnitCat my darling, oh KnitCat my love! What a beautiful KnitCat he is – he is! 🙂
    Hi, Holly – I’m so sorry that you are unwell again. I’m more than a little in awe of the things you can do, even when you are under the weather… KnitCat is eerie in his felinity. I have my own take on “Staring At Nothing”: when she appears to do so, my obnoxious tabby Tess is usually meditating on the Destiny of the Universe and Catkind. Last night she took a break from that, and decided to earn her keeping as an active member of a writer’s household: she jumped on my laptop while I wasn’t looking, and started pawing at the keyboard. Now I have a few lines of immortal – if a wee bit ermetic – prose by Tess, The Tabby Wonder.
    As for odd creative tangents… I wish I knew how to do things as lovely as KnitCat! All I can manage are not-terribly-good clay figurines of my characters. I try to sketch people and places at times, but I suck so badly with a pencil that it usually ends up in frustration, rather than anything else.
    A few times, though, while well away from home, I talked to strangers “in character”, as in “playing my characters to see how real people would react to them.” Does it qualify?
    Get well soon, Holly!

  • Nelline Jun 14, 2011 @ 13:13

    Poseable KnitCats (Knittens!). One of the most wonderfully cute things I’ve seen. And so tiny!!! You’ve got all the things there for a internet icon. Cat. Tiny. Handmade. I know my girls would adore them.
    I hope you feel better soon. Sometimes in the delirium of pain (or the avoidance of) some of the most unique ideas occur.
    The oddest thing I’ve done for my writing was learning palm reading. Provided great depth for a character, while also teaching me a fun party trick 🙂

  • Michelle Jun 14, 2011 @ 13:07

    So sorry to hear you aren’t feeling well Holly. Knitcat is freakin adorable. His poses look so catlike it really is quite eerie, which makes him even cooler. I’m curious now about the project that he’s a part of.

  • TYRONE Jun 14, 2011 @ 12:21

    Sorry to hear your not feeling great but glad you can still find things to boost your spirit (and the spirit of others).

  • Alaina Jun 14, 2011 @ 12:07

    While I haven’t knitted a cat (which is adorable!) I have tied myself to things.

    The first time, I used my bathrobe rope and was lucky enough to be able to get out after. The second time, I invited a friend- who encourages my writing- for a sleepover. Together, we’re pretty sure we know the most efficient ways to be tied to a chair.

  • Mae Jun 14, 2011 @ 12:02

    Holly…Adorable KnitCat! Fiesty you! You are an unusual lady and I am always inspired by you. Be Well!!!

  • Dean Kutzler Jun 14, 2011 @ 11:59

    That is soooo cute. I bet your daughter could sell them on her website.. But, after 10 hours in the making, I doubt you’d want to do that! 🙂

    • Holly Lisle Jun 14, 2011 @ 12:48

      Yeah, I could probably knock the time it took me down to six or seven hours with practice—but you know how many WORDS you can get in the same amount of time?

      KnitCat is definitely destined to be a loner.

  • Chris Bailey Jun 14, 2011 @ 11:21

    KnitCat exudes personality! Excellent creative work on a down day. Hope you’re feeling better. My calico suggests Knitcat might like a basket to curl up in after a long day of modeling inquisitive behavior. BTW, it’s possible that KnitCat, rather than staring at nothing, was sampling the air for olfactory clues.

  • Prue Jun 14, 2011 @ 10:57

    😀 That is one cool cat! Awesome at anytime and especially as you’re floored (or couched?) with the migraines. How can you knit in that condition? Good for you 😀
    I’m not sure that I’ve ever done anything quite like that to get to a story. I’ve certainly done some cool creative things – like the mosaics in the garden path – but they were straight mosaics and not connected with anything else.
    I just close my eyes for stories – although that runs the risk of going into snooze mode.
    Take good care of yourself Holly and I hope you get better soon.
    And Carry on Creating! 🙂
    (sounds like a film…)

    • Holly Lisle Jun 14, 2011 @ 12:46

      Knitting lying down is easier than typing lying down. And yarn doesn’t make migraines any worse, which computer screens invariably do.

  • Sharon Hatton Jun 14, 2011 @ 10:49

    I love the cat! Knitting is such a peaceful way to zen out and let ideas come, while creating something else. I would love to have the cat pattern!

  • Jill Jun 14, 2011 @ 10:46

    LOVE KnitCat! I didn’t realize how small he was until I saw him playing with Mighty Husband. Fabulous really. And I too echo the others that you find yourself vertical soon. Wishing you many (many) prayers and thoughts of healing and inspiration.

    With regards to unique inspirations…I’m not sure I’ve done anything truly that remarkable. Certainly I’ve sketched when I needed a visual and read extra books or talked to someone on a topic. I do happen to get to work near a large team of investigators that do some pretty cool stuff. I am not sure I should use the term “stalk” when speaking of investigators, but I might just happen to insert myself in conversations just for curiousity’s sake. Only when appropriate of course, otherwise I just eavesdrop. (kidding. no really)

  • KateDid Jun 14, 2011 @ 10:34

    I read this post immediately after reading the email telling me that I was not accepted to a prestigious graduate program I applied for. Thanks Knitcat.

    • Holly Lisle Jun 14, 2011 @ 12:45

      KnitCat sends hisses to the prestigious graduate program. Sorry about your bad news; glad I had something that eased the sting a bit.

  • Bethwalk Jun 14, 2011 @ 10:31

    Sorry you are still feeling bad-it must be true that great artists have to suffer. It looks like your process for KnitCat is like creating a character- a general idea, memory, hard work, editing (unraveling), skeptical family who can’t understand what you are working on, and a finished product which can be used in multiple situations to great applause. I love it. Feel better!

  • meham Jun 14, 2011 @ 9:55

    Wow! I’m not a pet person but I knit and would love a knit cat–heck, I’d be the Knit Cat Lady of the neighborhood!– What a great way to work a recovery.
    Feel better soon

  • Lesley Lawrence Jun 14, 2011 @ 9:37

    Hi Holly,
    Hang in there and I hope you feel better soon. I know it’s hard when those headaches hit. I get migraines from time to time and they sure can take the starch out of a person. You’re a true creative spirit though and I think your knitted kitty is just the berries!
    Lesley Lawrence

  • Laura-F Jun 14, 2011 @ 9:36

    Awww, he’s gorgeous! I am feeling very down in the dumps about everything today and seeing something so quirky and unexpected on here made me smile, so thankyou 🙂 Look forward to seeing what the project is in the future! I hope you start to feel better very soon, Holly.

  • T. A. Hicks Jun 14, 2011 @ 9:01

    Holly, Knitcat’s a very nice looking cat. In the poses she looks inquisitive and playful. Maybe that’s the reason Knitcat reminds me of the Broadway music, Cats.

    I wonder, though, if young knitcats are called knittens?

  • LisaM Jun 14, 2011 @ 9:00

    Hi Holly, I’m sorry to hear you’re not feeling so well and I hope things improve very soon.
    I love KnitCat; your needles must be full of magic because that cat has a lot of personality!!

  • Eric G. Meeks Jun 14, 2011 @ 8:12

    You are a weird one and I think now that I know this, I like you more today than i did yesterday.
    Eric G. Meeks

  • J.A. Paul Jun 14, 2011 @ 7:56

    I’m wondering if your new cat likes to chase yarn? That’s be ironic.

    • Holly Lisle Jun 14, 2011 @ 12:42

      I think in the world he inhabits, that would be the start of a horror story.

  • Kit Russell Jun 14, 2011 @ 6:09

    Aww, cute kitty!

    I can’t think of anything crazy I’ve done specifically for a story, though I’ve done a lot of things (zip-lining, rock climbing) on the theory that I’ll never know what I’ll end up needing for some future story.

  • Gia Murphy Jun 14, 2011 @ 4:59

    I dress My Scene dolls in appropriate clothes to represent my characters.

    • Mea Jun 14, 2011 @ 9:53

      This is such a great idea!! I love it!!

  • John Dray Jun 14, 2011 @ 3:40

    I took up knitting at the back end of last year. I ended up knitting various berets for female members of my family. They turned out nicely. It was only when I took them to the knit shop and had it explained to me that circular knitting and cables were supposed to be advanced…

    I am now of the opinion that if you don’t know something is supposed to be difficult, then you don’t have all those psychological barriers. (And I ended up with lots of very happy female relatives :-))

  • Eileen Jun 14, 2011 @ 3:25

    Website only in its infancy! Much needed doing with it to make it any sort of use.
    Sorry to hear you’re so poorly again, holly, and wishing you a rapid recovery. Your knit cat is very clever and proves you can’t keep a creative person from creating, however bad life gets.
    Have I ever done anything similar? I knit and design a lot of my own knitwear so it has played a part in one of my stories as it played a part in killing off a character I disliked. She was stabbed to death with a knitting needle. Lol! I also took a course on how to teach adults (and actually did some teaching) but it has only been used in a story involving teaching children so far – and that story has to be lengthened to make into a book – or so fellow writers inform me.

    • Holly Lisle Jun 14, 2011 @ 12:41

      Hi, Eileen.

      What sort of problems are you having with the website?

  • Karen Prince Jun 14, 2011 @ 2:30

    I am mortified that you are having to go and lie down while I fondly imagine you to be sitting in a mansion somewhere in America, a picture of health and prosperity, writing your awesome books. Cute cat. I am living in Africa. Here, you just have to go outside to fall over a dozen stories.


    • Holly Lisle Jun 14, 2011 @ 12:40

      We definitely need to get that ‘mansion’ image out of there, too. 😀 I have a very small condo, and some very loud neighbors.

      In spite of the problems, I like my life. I get to do what matters to me, and by keeping my expenses down, I’ve been able to remain independent of regular jobs, and lately, restrictive contracts. And at least I can still work most days.

      Today isn’t too bad.

  • estuary Jun 14, 2011 @ 2:00

    Being new-ish to fiction, I’ve not done much to get to the heart of stories, but I have been known to do odd things for poetry… well, not that weird if you think of humans as omnivores, but I have taste-tested some non-food plants to see what they’d tell me…

    • estuary Jun 14, 2011 @ 2:06

      Oh, I totally forgot my manners and good intentions! Holly, I hope this ‘spell’ doesn’t last long and that you find your equilibrium soon. I’m sorry you’re not feeling well.

      Your knitting skills are impressive and I think it’s great that you could come up with that bit of kitty brilliance while couch-bound and in pain. Wow!

  • fairyhedgehog Jun 14, 2011 @ 1:29

    I do hope you feel better soon. I’ve been out of the loop because my writing is on hold and I hadn’t realised how bad things still are for you.

    I absolutely adore the cat! I mostly crochet, which is easier for doing freeform, and there’s no way I could ever hope to produce something like that! He’s wondeful!


    • richie foy Jun 14, 2011 @ 10:45

      Hi Gina. I sometimes feel crochety too.

    • Holly Lisle Jun 14, 2011 @ 12:37

      I started him in crochet a couple of times, and for the very reason you mention. The fabric was too thick for the sort of flexibility I wanted, so I got out sock needles and cast on two stitches. And worked from there.

  • AE Jun 14, 2011 @ 0:38

    You asked if ever… ya know… done anything weird to get at the heart of a story? Yeah. OH yeah. I took six months of fighting classes to get in the head of some of the fighters in my book.

  • Caroline Jun 14, 2011 @ 0:24

    He’s a very cute cat, and with very cat like poses! Reminds me of the old stop motion animation cartoons when I was a kid, like The Clangers, they were knitted, and The Pingwings, going back even further (I think they were purely British but you could probably Google them)

  • Danzier Jun 14, 2011 @ 0:21

    Sorry you’re down, Holly. I do agree that the cat is awesome–but I know the value of holding on to the awesome things you make.

    I can’t knit, and I’ve decided not to learn. I have a lot of artists in my family, and my sister-in-law does most of the textile work, including knitting. So I leave it alone out of respect for her work. But I’ve got my own areas I work in without risking stepping on toes or getting pointers. I did pottery when I had access to the equipment; I have a fond little daydream of one day having a little potter’s studio. I’ve even made a couple of dollars by selling my pottery, years ago.

    I haven’t done any pottery in … eleven years. I miss it. (That’s an admission I’ve been avoiding…) It’s hard to find a place that has the equipment (clay, pottery wheel, tools, kiln, and time) and will let me use it. I have the choice of the local university or the local high school–the high school says flat-out no and the U says I have to take art classes first. I’ll get it back some day.

  • WMDKitty Jun 14, 2011 @ 0:05

    Loving the knit-cat, and desperately wanting one of my own — it’s just so cute!

    Feel better soon.

  • Cath Jun 13, 2011 @ 23:50

    I love it!! You are inspiring Holly – finding new ways to use your creativity even through such pain. I do hope you feel better soon.
    For myself, I do find that using my ‘creative muscles’ in any form tends to feed my writing.

    p.s. Any chance of getting a pattern for the kitty??? 🙂

    • Holly Lisle Jun 14, 2011 @ 12:35

      I’d have to knit another one and take notes while I did it in order to create a pattern.

      The only part I’m sure of is that the tail, front legs, and bottom half of the back legs are three-stitch i-cord done AROUND the armature, which was an experience in perseverance and profanity. The yarn was sock-weight, the needles were US 2.

      The rest…no clue.

      • zette Jun 14, 2011 @ 15:44

        I suspect this is something like when people ask ‘how did you come up with that idea for a story?’ Sometimes you can wave to the head or even the tale . . . umm, tail, but how you came up with the story isn’t going to happen.

  • Cathryn Blair-Bennett Jun 13, 2011 @ 23:49

    I am completely impressed that you were able to knit while you experienced vertigo. I had it once when I turned 50 and I hung on to the bed the whole time while the ceiling continued to spin. That was right up there with my one and only hot flash. It felt like someone hitting me with a blow torch for an hour! The freezer never felt so good. At this point I am afraid to get a migrain. My head may actually explode. Love your newsletter…

    • Holly Jun 14, 2011 @ 10:07

      Learning to work through the vertigo has been a survival skill. The first bout I had lasted over six months. Migraines are harder.

      This time the vertigo is worse, so there are some days when I can’t do anything. But I never allow myself to take on faith that I’m too unwell to work. I always try to push through, and most times I succeed.

  • Magi Fowler Jun 13, 2011 @ 23:16

    Hi Holly – sorry you are not well – get better soon.
    I once did something like this unintentionally – I was sitting once sunny afternoon untangling a large bag of tapestry and embroidery yarns that I had got from a friend – mind blank or wandering – when the thought came to me “What a pleasant way to spend an afternoon – this could be something I could do when I’m really old in my dotage”. Thought no more about it but three days later a short story just dropped on me (best explanation of what happened) and I sat down and wrote it in about one hour – it’s called Balls of Wool and has been published in a writers magazine.
    I think sometimes we just have to take our minds a long way away from writing to allow our subconscious to do its work.

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