Local Knitter, International Designer
Many Skein Lane customers will know Merrily Parker because she lives nearby and stops by the shop frequently to knit. If you have chatted with her, you know that she shares a lot of great knitting advice, which greatly appreciated. But Merrily isn’t just an experienced knitter, she is a seasoned freelance designer for the yarn and knitting industry.
Every time Merrily comes by Skein Lane, she is wearing one of her beautiful creations; she is someone who lives in her knits. Truly inspiring, Merrily’s designs always reflect her personality with style. When she arrived one day wearing a beautiful lace wrap design, Skein Lane’s owner, Carolyn Pugh, asked to showcase the design at the Stitches 2005 Fashion Show. The wrap was made of Bamboo yarn from Southwest Trading Co and it was such a hit at the show that they asked Merrily to continue designing for them. She also has two current designs in the Designer Series for Louet.
If Merrily is in the shop knitting when you next come by, stop and chat with this inspiring knitter. She is always very generous with advice on colors, fibers and knitting technique. Skein Lane is pleased to have Merrily as a customer and we hope knitters will enjoy learning more about her.
Q: When did you start knitting? How did you learn?
I learned to knit when I was 14 years old, taught by the mother of my best friend. My first exposure to fiber was probably as a Girl Scout, where I just loved making those lanyards. I just liked using my hands and making things with fiber. Unfortunately, when I had needed help fixing mistakes in my knitting, I had no one at home to help me.
See how Merrily knits here.
Q: Do you crochet?
My Grandmother showed me how to crochet as a child, but today I mainly use it in neckbands and trims. The drape of most crochet fabric is not as appealing to me for making garments.
Q: I know you do some knitting for your family members, do you do a lot of knitting for your grandchildren?
Since becoming a grandma, I have been designing one-of-a-kind children’s sweaters – it’s a kick. My grandkids are pretty aware about yarn. So I think when they are a bit older, they will be choosing the yarns themselves for the things I knit them.
Q: Today knitters are returning to knitting after many years of not doing it for various reasons. Have you knitted continuously, throughout your life?
I’ve knit pretty much continuously, but to different degrees. I knit some in college, though there wasn’t much time for it. I also knit when I was pregnant with first my child. I was really enthusiastic about it – I knit every design in a pattern book of knitted toys! I made snow sweaters for my kids, but they weren’t so happy with the itchy fibers that were available back then. They tended not to wear them much, so I knit more for myself after that. I began by knitting things to coordinate with tennis outfits I wore on the courts.
Q: You played tennis then?
Yes, I played tournament tennis from when I was 11 years old all the way through college. I went to Cal Berkeley on a tennis scholarship; I was ranked 12th in the NCTA 18 year old singles at that time.
I started knitting and getting creative with fibers when I was teaching tennis. At that time, tennis dresses were white and I started attaching decorative trims —I just had to wear some color. Then I started making sweaters to coordinate, which was fun. My students noticed my sweaters and became interested in what I would be wearing from day to day.
I was also very into macramé around that time as well. But when I was exposed to weaving, I fell in love. I established a daily routine of teaching tennis in mornings and evenings and weaving in the afternoons. I really liked the contrast of big and small muscle activity. When I added knitting for tennis wear, design work became a part of my routine. Let’s see I stopped weaving, and eventually I stopped playing tennis. But I’ve been knitting every day for the past 25 years.
Q: What kinds of things did you weave?
I made a lot of wall hangings using eclectic mixtures of materials, like forked branches and driftwood. I also made everyone I knew a poncho – remember, this was in the ‘70s when weaving and ponchos were really in! Some of my designs were sold in shops in Berkeley and displayed at galleries. I also enjoyed making bead woven necklaces.
[There are examples of Merrily’s woven creations hanging throughout her home – very textural, natural and three-dimensional. Photo]
Q: Do you do any weaving today?
[Merrily showed me her loom room where a 10 year old warp is still in place, ready to be woven]
I’m not currently weaving, but I’m starting to get really curious about how some of the fibers in my stash would look woven. I guess one reason I put my weaving down was I did not like the drape of the woven fabric as well as knit ones. Also, I like the fact that my knitting is portable. For years I would do my design work at home in the morning and then in the afternoon I would knit at the tennis courts while waiting for my turn to play. I do not own a knitting machine because I don’t want to be attached to a machine again. But today’s fibers open up some interesting possibilities. It would be interesting to design garments that have both woven and knitted elements.
Q: Out of curiosity, what degree did you earn at Cal?
My degree was in anthropology with an emphasis on comparative law. I also had a minor in criminology. So I do a lot of knitting while watching Court TV if they are broadcasting an interesting trial.
Q: What did you do after college?
I taught tennis and was co-owner of The First String tennis shop. I became a very good racket stringer, which of course is really another form of weaving. In running the retail business, I learned marketing and sales skills that were helpful to me later on as a freelance knitwear designer.
Q: So what led you into design work for the knitting industry?
One year in the early 1980s, I went to a knitting guild conference in San Francisco. I wore a shell and matching jacket that I had designed and knitted. At that time, my brain was into weaving-inspired knits, and my designs were different from the ones in the market place.
At the show, the president of Schaffhauser yarn company noticed what I was wearing and was impressed by the originality of my design. She wrote letters of introduction to several knitting magazines and encouraged them to publish my work. What this did was give me a foot in the door, so that I didn’t have to cold call to have my designs considered and published.
At that time, most of the publishing (and design) was based on the East Coast - that’s where the magazines were based. I visited NYC regularly on my own because I had family and friends there. When I went, I combined business and pleasure. I brought swatches and sketches to show the editors and more than 20 of my designs were published.
Being a designer from California put me at a bit of a disadvantage. I realized that I probably could have sold many more designs if I had lived on the East Coast close to most of the knitting magazines and yarn manufacturers – it would have been easier to get first crack. I was one of the only West Coast freelance designers getting published then, because the publishers didn’t seek out West Coast designers when they had so many locally. So I felt that in my design work, I always needed to go the extra mile—I was in competition with the designers there in New York. I had to set myself apart that much more.
Q: What were some of the highlights of your design work during that time?
One of the highlights of my career was meeting with Eleanor Bernat of Bernat yarns. I presented swatches with a wide range of stitches, which impressed her. I believe I would have been hired as an in-house designer if I’d lived back east. I did do a design for one of Bernat’s yarns.
Back then, Woman’s World Magazine, published weekly and sold at the grocery store check-out counters and news stands would always feature a knitting design in each issue. The yarn companies liked to have designs using their yarn appear in the magazine as they would notice a big jump in yarn sales the week that their design was featured. One of my designs was so popular that the yarn company experienced its biggest sales from a single design. The magazine paid really well too!
Q: You were designing for yarn manufacturers and magazines during the last big boom in knitting – the 1980s. Was this an exciting time to be involved in knitting? Did you stop professional design when the market declined or for other reasons?
I stopped because I found myself knitting what would sell. That is, I was not really designing what I wanted to design. It didn’t feel as creative or as satisfying. The fact is, magazines want to appeal to a broad national market. To have the broad appeal, you can’t have designs that seem too complicated or unattainable. And this wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I wanted to make art-to-wear. That’s one of the best things about knitting, you are making art, and you can wear it at the end! My design work for Southwest Trading recently has felt very satisfying, because I had a lot of creative control.
Q: You wear so many of your designs, and it is very inspiring to other knitters. You wear your knitted items everywhere, not just when you plan to visit a knitting shop, right?
After so many years of knitting, I really have a lot of sweaters, so I wear them just about every day. I made them in colors and styles I really like, so I wear them!
Q: Sweaters I often see you wear are lace, especially what’s called the “faggot” stitch (simple combinations of knits, yarn-overs and decreases). What draws you to the look of lace?
I started out doing lace and textured stitches because of problems with my tension. I am a continental knitter, and my purls weren’t the same tension as my knits. So initially, I did textured and lace designs to compensate for any unevenness. Eventually, I learned to control the tension on the purls, so it isn’t an issue now. The main reason I use textured and lace stitches is because I like the way they play with color, show the fiber and create drape.
These stitches enhance the look of variegated yarns. I don’t know about you, but I really do not like the look of colors striping. So I try to find the stitch pattern that will make the colors “move” and not stripe or pool. It’s a personal preference, but I find that laces, especially the faggot stitches, show variegated yarn colors most dramatically.
But I am not just about lace. I really like all kinds of stitches - cables lace, bobbles, and ribs. I have designed with all types of different fibers in so many stitches, and can’t say I prefer one fiber or stitch above another.I also love the way mosaic stitch patterns move color around. When a solid color yarn is used with a variegated yarn the effect can be exciting.
Q: Do you have any advice for knitters who would like to try lace but are a little daunted by it?
I’d say to choose a simple lace – that is, one where the stitch count stays constant on every row of the pattern and where every other row is purl. A complex lace pattern often has a variable stitch count, and is harder to knit. Use stitch markers too, to mark every repeat on the row. It may seem tedious, but if you do this, when you make a mistake you can easily identify it within a repeat, instead of at the end of a row or beyond. Most of all, don't be intimidated, you can do it.
To find the stitch patterns I use, I consult resources that we all have, such as Barbara Walker’s Treasury of Knitting Patterns. But I like the added challenge of combining several different laces or patterns within one design. For instance, in “Mariposa” there are two different laces. For me, the challenge is finding the stitch that’s appropriate to the yarn and produces the right drape for your project.
Q: “Mariposa” is your design currently being marketed by Southwest Trading Yarn Company. What is it’s origin?
It was many years ago; I saw the shape somewhere – I can’t remember exactly, and it might not have even been a knitted piece. I just really liked the shape. I tried knitting it in many fabrics: stockinette, lace, and a lattice stitch with fringe. So I recreated this shape to my satisfaction and knit various models. I entered several versions of it in a group show of the Bay Area Knit and Crochet Guild (BACK) held at the Museum of Quilts and Textiles in San Jose.
Earlier this year, my daughter in law was looking for a wrap to wear to a wedding and asked me if I had something she could borrow - she chose the lace version of this wrap. Later, I wore it into Skein Lane. Carolyn, the owner, really loved the look and asked if the design could be entered in the Fashion Show at Stitches 2005.
We agreed that I would make the lace version in a yarn currently available yarn, and I chose to use “Bamboo”, by Southwest Trading Company. I planned to self-publish the pattern under my own label, but I decided to offer the design to South West. They purchased the design and agreed to team up with Skein Lane to introduce the pattern at Stitches West in Skein Lane’s booth. The wrap caused a little buzz at the Stitches Fashion Show. Mariposa appeared on the front page of South West Trading Co’s website for several months, and in several of their print ads. They have asked me to do designs for them in their newest yarns. So now several of my designs are sold through Southwest Trading Company.
My designs for Southwest Trading Company are more what I consider art-to-wear. I enjoy making unusual things– artful designs. It just so happens that I can wear this art form – it’s a bonus.
Q: Are you designing anything for Southwest now?
I have a new design, called “Undulations”, using Southwest’s “Fur Real” and "Soy Silk” which was introduced in June at the TNNA show in Columbus, Ohio (TNNA is the yarn industry’s trade organization, The National Needle Arts Association).
Q: Another major yarn manufacturer who is featuring one of your designs prominently in their knitting magazine ads is Louet Sales, best known for their linen yarn. Your design for Louet, “Tiziana”, in the chunky weight linen, is truly beautiful! When and how did you begin your work with Louet?
I’ve always loved linen from the first time I saw it. When I wove with linen, however, I thought of it as too crisp and even harsh. But Louet’s linen softens beautifully with every wash and dry.
My first design for Louet was “Felicia,” part of Louet’s designer pattern series in 2004. I remember it took weeks of experimentation to find the right stitch to “read” well in linen. Linen doesn’t have elasticity, so ribs and other stitches don’t behave the same in linen as in other fibers. The owner of Louet really liked the stitch I used, and the same was true with Tiziana. I was very flattered because it is unusual for Louet to acquire designs from a freelance designer.
Q: Earlier this year, I noticed that in several issues, your designs “Mariposa” and “Tiziana” were featured in the yarn manufacturer’s international magazine ads. Is it exciting thing to see your designs in ads in the international knitting magazines?
Yes, it was really exciting for me to see that Louet used Tiziana on the cover of their company brochure at TNNA in January 2005. And I was pleased to see South West had Mariposa prominently on their website for several months. Recently someone told me they saw a full-page ad in an UK and an Australian knitting magazine featuring Mariposa. I collect all these issues for my portfolio of tear sheets.
Q: Your designs are always so fashionable – what are your main inspirations?
Mostly my travels to Europe, Africa and New Zealand—I especially love Italian fashions. For many years, I was fortunate enough to visit Italy about every nine months with my husband. So I got to see the latest fashions and design trends at their source. I also read the Italian knitting magazines and became fluent in translating the patterns. I’ve got a large collection of them.
Another source of inspiration has been Native American art. I lived in Arizona as a child. The Navajo rugs, Kachina dolls, baskets, Indian jewelry and other southwestern art that I have collected provide many design ideas. I have designed a series of sweaters based on them. Someday, I may publish a book with these designs. Basically, I have always been inspired by color.
Q: Do you start with a yarn you love, swatch it and then develop a design around it? Or do you start with a stitch you like, then find the yarn for the design?
Sometimes it’s the yarn; sometimes it’s the stitch. It’s really a kind of a treasure hunt! Again, the challenge is in matching a stitch pattern with the yarn that gives the best drape and stitch visibility. And in the case of a variegated yarn, I like to make the color “move”, and that takes some experimentation to get the right balance.
Of course, the fiber properties are important to design too. It took quite a bit of experimentation to find the right stitch pattern for the linen in the design that eventually became Felicia.
Q: Where do you draw your stitch patterns from – or do you make them up yourself?
Again, the Italian knitting trends and magazines have been a major inspiration for me. Many of the interesting stitch patterns that I see in magazines today I first saw years ago in Italy. Also, many Italian sweaters are much finer gauge than those here. I really like the drape of the finer knits but they take patience to knit as they are done on small needles. Then again, I also like bulky texture. Guess I love it all.
[In her office, Merrily showed me a file cabinet of swatches she has tried. The large swatches are attached to a full page with notes attached. There is one drawer for laces, another for cables and ribs, another for knit/purl combinations. I asked her if she consults these drawers for ideas for her designs and she does. It is often more helpful to have a swatched example of a stitch than a photo in a stitch dictionary.]
Q: Do you enjoy the pattern writing process? Do you write it as you go, or at the end? Do you keep a knitting journal?
I write a pattern for every single thing I knit. I also keep detailed notes as I go. Of course, I record needle sizes and the various gauges (hung, after blocking). I guess you could call that a journal. It is important to make notes as you knit because you want the pieces to match – sleeve lengths, armhole depths, etc. I usually write out the more complete pattern at the end of the knitting. I keep a pretty casual binder, but there is enough detail that I could give the pattern to a friend to knit the design.
When you write a pattern for a design that is to be sold, there is more detail and precision. It needs to be organized, technical writing. I believe that writing patterns well is the skill that ultimately gets you repeat clients.
Q: You are a huge advocate of swatching and washing your swatches – why?
Swatches are so important. Designers tell knitters to knit a swatch to see if they have the same gauge as the pattern. But I say knitting a swatch is as also to see if the drape of the fabric is what you like. If you don’t like the feel of the swatch, you probably shouldn’t make that project with that yarn. It’s not that I am interested in challenging the designer of a pattern. But a knitter could just as much regret a project and shove it under the bed because they don’t like the drape as for it not fitting correctly!
It is never stressed in a pattern, but you really must wash your swatches the way the garment would be washed. The drape and texture of yarn will change from washing (by hand). Almost every single yarn out there is lovelier after washing because the fibers have a chance to fluff or get softer.
But for things to fit right, you have to pay attention to how the gauge changes after washing; usually the gauge grows some after washing. So even if you are “on gauge” with your swatch before you start knitting the garment, the real gauge is the one you have after it is washed. Knitting is something of a leap of faith!
Q: Do you use “hung gauge”?
Yes, the so-called hung gauge can also affect garment shape and fit. A final garment measurement is different when it is flat or lying on a table than when it is hung on a person. Gravity makes a garment stretch longer and narrower. Differences in fiber play a part too. These can be more sources of “surprise.” To get an idea of your hung gauge, put your stitches on a knitting needle, hang it from a skirt hanger and then apply some kind of light weight at the bottom to get a more accurate idea of width and length.
Sometimes a garment will lose its shape after it has been worn for awhile. The original shape will often return after washing. This is especially true of linen garments. I’ve found that some fibers benefit from a scant FEW MINUTES in the dryer. Cashmere, for example, becomes softer and mohair gets fluffier. But you have to stand there so that you do not forget to take it out or you will end up with a felted surprise. Before putting any knit garment in the dryer, you should experiment with swatches. Knit several test swatches, wash and fluff dry them. It will tell you so much about how your knitted garment will come out.
Q: How do you wash your swatches and knitted garments?
I use Eucalan and hand wash. I also recommend using a non-fragrance hair conditioner for an itchy fiber – it will soften and control it.
Q: What is your favorite type of fiber to work with and why?
Any and all. Any. – I don’t have a favorite, I love them all. Right now, I am interested in the new generation of “fur” yarns, like South West Trading’s Fur Real. But color is probably the biggest driver for me, more than fiber.
Q: Your office has beautiful coned yarns on every shelf. How do you like to organize your yarn collection?
Several ways. Most of my cones are organized by fiber and the yarns in my cupboard are mainly by color. I keep a record of my yarn inventory in a notebook because I have yarn stored in other areas of the house and can’t always remember what I have or where I put it. In the book, I arrange the yarn by both fiber type and color. When I am ready to begin a project, I can look at the book to choose a yarn. It is also helpful to take the book when purchasing yarn so I can see what I already have.
[photo in office]
Q: You are someone who is not afraid to wear color, and you do so boldly and I would say, very successfully. You obviously know what colors look best on you. How do you choose colors for the garments you knit?
I guess I have always had a natural affinity for color and fiber. When I was weaving, people commented most on my use of color. A major influence for me has been John Kitchener, of Personal Style Counselors in Oakland, a long-time color consultant. Years ago John analyzed my colors and since then, I’ve observed him do many analyses on others. I learn something every time. John focuses on textures and style lines as well as colors.
Of course, I am most comfortable designing in my own palette, and that’s probably true for most people. It’s hard to knit on colors that are someone else’s – like the pink and purples that are my granddaughter’s favorites. Very often when you design for a yarn manufacturer or knitting magazines, they will dictate the color of yarn for the model. Many of my designs were not colors I enjoyed!
I like bold, colors to make an eclectic and flashy look. Yet another part of me likes quiet, classic and elegant looking garments.
Q: Which would you say usually wins out?
For me, choosing what to wear is like choosing a costume. It depends on the situation and my mood. Sometimes I wear something quieter like a company wife outfit and sometimes I go for the drama of a fiber artist. But, I always try to be interesting.
Q: What recommendations do you have for knitters and crocheters to choose colors well?
You need to have lots of color around you if you are going to do color work. You can also get ideas about combining colors from looking at paintings. Surrounding yourself with colors will inspire you. [As I look around her home, there is color everywhere in the Native American artifacts, paintings and other art she displays from her travels]
Q: Are there any knit designers whose work particularly inspires you?
Ginger Leuters, who is a weaver as well as a knitwear designer, has written a book on modular knitting that I think is great. Lily Chin, Sally Melville and Deborah Newton are important inspirations for the technical side of design. Lee Andersen, originally from New Zealand, was a mentor to me and remains influential in my work with color.
Q: If a knitter wants to design their own sweater, what advice would you give them? How does one conquer the fear of not having a pattern?
There is a wonderful discussion about this at the beginning of the book, Stitch’n’Bitch Nation. They have what I think is a healthy irreverence about following patterns. It makes me really sad and upset when knitters get fretful and frustrated about a pattern. Designers don’t intend that knitters agonize over their patterns.My advice is to question authority in knitting patterns! Nothing is set in stone and you always have choices. There are certain things you have to follow so designs work, but if you have a better idea that you want to try, do it.
To make a sweater of your own design, start with the measurements of a garment you like. Do your gauge swatch in various yarns and stitch patterns, wash them and determine the gauge. Then, don’t be afraid to do the simple the math needed to create your garment. If you need help, your local yarn shop is there to help you.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?
After creating the idea, it is important to knit the prototype yourself to know all it’s quirks. This is the reason I do the knitting myself instead of hiring a knitter to make a model. Plus there are decisions to be made as you knit something for the first time.
More than anything, though, you must be able to write the instructions in the appropriate lexicon. You shouldn’t leave it to the yarn company or magazine. A good designer has also got to be able to make deadlines. That’s just good business practice. There are really three hats to the business: designing, writing and marketing. One can be great at designing but if you don’t do the other two well, you won’t succeed.
Q: What do you see in the future for the yarn industry and knitting? Where do we go from here?
Today, there are so many young people knitting. If they continue enjoying it and doing it, our trade will remain vigorous. I’ve noticed that the designs in the current knitting magazines are really appealing to the younger set, which is great but there is some danger of alienating the more “mature audience” of knitters by not designing for them too. My hope is that the magazines and yarn manufacturers will continue to include designs appealing to all segments of the knitting public.
Q: Earlier this year, we started knitting together at the Berkeley Stitch-N-Bitch, which you continue to attend regularly. I know you have really enjoyed meeting and chatting with the knitters there. You meet new knitters, answer quite a few knitting questions, and you knit— so the group is enjoyable on many levels for you. What do you think about the whole Stitch-N-Bitch revolution?
The great thing about it is that it is a welcoming movement; everyone is welcome. At the Berkeley group there is a changing cast of characters who come when they can. Students, people from other knitting groups, couples, all kinds of people come. The group doesn’t do that much bitching, I think because they don’t know each other well enough! But lots of interesting knitting happens there.
Q: The 1980s was the last great time of knitting popularity, but it declined and bottomed out after a while. What do you think were the contributing factors to that decline?
Several things were happening at once. Eventually, there were too many yarn companies, too many magazines, too many yarn shops and the number of knitters to support the industry just declined. The young knitters then didn’t stick with it. I guess as women entered careers they really didn’t have the time to continue knitting.
Although I stopped actively marketing my designs back then, it didn’t mean I stopped designing and knitting! I’m really glad I stuck with it. I have designs in my files that I can pull out for publication if the time is right.
Q: You have said that the environment for designers today is different today than back in the 1980s. What are the differences and how does this impact the knitting public?
The Internet has a huge impact. More designs, many more free patterns are available to knitters today. Most yarn companies also offer some free patterns too. Sites like Knitty.com and many others have a lot of free patterns. This is great for knitters today, but it is more complicated for designers. Yarn companies budget for their in-house designers, rather than for freelance designers. Ultimately, this affects the freelance designer by driving fees down. The knitting magazines have to compete more too.
The first time I saw one of my designs in print, it was a real thrill—sort of like the birth of a child! Today we have many new designers who need to get in print to have tear sheets for their portfolios. Unfortunately, they are often willing to accept very low design fees just to get in print. This seems to have lowered the fees for all designers.
Q: When you are not knitting for a deadline, do you find knitting meditative, relaxing, like yoga?
I do! I actually have to stop myself from knitting too much so that I dont I injure my hands. I find knitting to be very yoga-like. It is meditative, even trance-like. I truly find it addictive, something one can crave. I find it very hard to stop when I am in my “knitting tunnel.” Since my kids are grown, and my husband often travels for business, I have a lot of time to knit. I’m sure it lowers the blood pressure—a good thing to take with you to the doctor’s office!
Q: You knit in public?
I love knitting in public; it is so interesting that people approach you and comment on how or what you are knitting. When I knit in public, I consider myself an “ambassadress for knitting.” For many years I felt like I was only public knitter in Berkeley!
Q: You are one of the fastest knitters I know. You knit prolifically and many hours each day, especially when you have a deadline. Do you ever experience pain from your knitting?
I haven’t until recently. I’ve had some arthritic pain in my hands, especially when knitting lace. My advice is to have several projects going at the same time, using very different needle sizes and using different patterns – such as stockinette stitch versus lace. This makes the hand motions less repetitive. There are some exercises using a wrist wand that I find helpful.
Q: What else is in the works for you, Merrily?
Coming up in the summer issue of INknitters magazine, I’ll have a lace poncho using Louet’s Barcelona linen. I have seen the proof sheet and am really pleased with how it looks.
Beyond that, I don’t have anything in the pipeline. At this point in my life I am not interested in full time commercial designing. I would rather market a few designs like Mariposa that I think are special. There’s really a lot of work involved, especially in the pattern writing. After so many recent deadlines, I am enjoying being back to designing art to wear. Now that I have three grandchildren, I’d like to do more children’s designs. I am getting interested in weaving again. I am also designing with some fine rayon yarn and learning about its properties. I would like to meet more local knitters. Soon I will be traveling to Australia where I am sure to get many new ideas. I will see where these activities lead!