Monday, February 28, 2005

Knit, and Pearl

Public Market. Budapest, 2003.
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

Above is the latest finished print. We're gettin' there.

The quality of the light in the Public Market in Budapest was the first thing I noticed. It comes in from high up, bounces off the ineffably soft color of the walls, and bathes everything in a tone that (to me) mimics the quality of the "golden hour" at the end of a fair day.

I could be wrong, but this woman probably does not think of herself as a beauty. To me, she is.

The first time I saw it, in 2003, it was wonderful - an actual market full of real people truly marketing. It was the same a year later, except that the real people were supplemented by 15,000 pushy Japanese tourists. Alas, poor Budapest. You are now officially Over.

Also on the portfolio front, a trip to Pearl Art & Craft yielded a very promising carrying case, though it didn't come from the shop's portfolio section. But once I'm done with it, I think it'll look pretty sharp.

Actually, Chris and I found the selection at Pearl to be spectacularly bad. They were out of most everything we were looking for - and our list was both long and commonplace.

They didn't have a single pre-cut matte in stock in the exotic size I was looking for (11x16), and most of the mattes they did have were in weird colors or had been banged up so much they were useless.

They were entirely out of google eyes for Chris's orange chenille stuffed octopus.

And if you're tempted by the listing in Stitch 'n' Bitch Nation to check out their knitting supplies, don't bother. Even my low expectations were too high. Nearly the entire shelf of yarn was empty. There were a few odd skeins of so-cheap-it-squeaks acrylics, and ugly novelty yarns in shades like booger green. The needle selection included one or two packs of double-points in sizes 01 and 4, and a size 8 circular on a loop too short to do anybody much good. They had no point protectors at all, no bobbins, no yarn scissors, no ring markers. There were, however, empty spaces marked for a healthy cross-section of basic notions.

So while Chris was checking out the book section, I asked a so-helpful employee about the depleted state of things and whether it was the norm, or had they just had a big sale? She said they don't make much of an effort to stock those shelves because nobody really wants knitting stuff.


Oscar Grouch

It’s not often that you’ll find me doing what Everybody is doing, but I did hunker down with Chris last night to watch the Oscars. They’re my annual dose of pop culture. I catch up on names, faces, and scandal that otherwise would not show up on my radar, and I like to see the clothes.

This year I achieved a near-perfect record of having seen only two films (A Very Long Engagement and The Incredibles) that were nominated for anything at all. I’m not a film snob–I just have shamefully narrow taste in movies and Hollywood seldom encompasses it.

Not that you asked, but here are my horribly prejudiced, wholly unnecessary and universally uninteresting comments on the 77th Academy Awards.

1. Chris says his chief problem with the evening can be summed up in one word: Beyonce. Me, I’m not really sure who the heck she is, or why she’d be chosen to sing those two songs, neither of which suited her. Questionable pitch in both songs and execrable French in the first; and when singing the Phantom of the Opera song she kept wiggling around like a lizard was creeping up her inseam. (Of course, close proximity to Andrew Lloyd Webber would make me jumpy, too.)

2. Women of Hollywood: Eat something. The parade of skeletal upper arms was ghastly. Who thinks this is attractive? Is it really what straight men want? If so, shame on you, straight men. Poor Natalie Portman looked like a tubercular Victorian heroine on page 199 of a 200 page novel. A slender waist is one thing, but arms and legs that look like size 10 knitting needles mean something’s wrong.

3. This business of giving out some of the awards from the auditorium instead of the stage is awkward. Also unfair. You work hard, you produce something wonderful, you get nominated for an Academy Award, you win, and then you have to give your acceptance speech from Row PP? Please.

4. And please stop lining up the nominees for some categories on stage, as though they were contestants on “The Dating Game” or ducks in a shooting gallery.

5. Leonardo DiCaprio bugs me. I've only seen clips of The Aviator, but as in every other film he seems to be himself with a new costume and haircut. That reedy voice has no range at all – even when he attempts to bellow he sounds like a 13-year-old who is, like, totally cheesed off because his Mom won’t let him go to the mall. Watching him play Howard Hughes reminded me of one of Susan’s grade-school plays, in which we were asked to accept a 4’7” prepubescent girl as George Washington. A certain aura of authority was missing. (In the same production, Susan carried off the role of the State of Virginia with uncommon aplomb and subtlety.)

6. I’m happy Cate Blanchett won, because she was absolutely robbed the year of Elizabeth. Nothing against Gwyneth or Shakespeare in Love (which I adored), but creating a full-length dramatic portrait of a tortured, fascinating woman is a greater achievement than flashing your plucky apricot breasts and looking winsome.

7. Did Johnny Depp buy that cravat pin from the Passion of the Christ online fan store?

8. Are Rene Zellweger and Drew Barrymore running short of cash? I noticed they had to share the same hair and dress. I hope everything’s okay. I worry, you know.

Friday, February 25, 2005

In or Out?

Flower Seller
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

Opinions, please.

Occasionally the thrill of having got a shot under challenging circumstances colors my opinion of the shot itself.

I had to pile a lot of Hungarian money into this dear lady's hands (enough, I think, to buy about 40 of those little nosegays) before she would agree to a picture. No problem, except that the moment I lifted the camera she changed her mind and started grousing at me.

Is it a good shot? Is it interesting? Is it portfolio material? Or is it just a snapshot with a highly-colored memory behind it? I'm considering swapping out one of the other portfolio images to make room for this one, and other eyes would be handy.

Opinions invited (cheap shots ignored).

Behold, the Power of Knitting

Tuesday's mildly irritated throat bloomed, by yesterday noon, into a full-on debilitating bug. In spite of a pile of stuff to do, I decided to leave work and rest, rather than continuing to sit in front of the computer listlessly pecking at the keyboard. Dreadful thing, a bug in Chicago in February. I trudged the mile from the office to the train though the biting wind, longing for death.

I did sleep for quite a while at home, but found myself ready to climb the walls after a couple of hours. So I popped volume two of the documentary about Elizabeth I into the player (thank you, Netflix) and sat down with the sweater.

About two hours later, just as Elizabeth was getting wise to the Earl of Essex, I finished the back. And I realized I was feeling remarkably better - this without medicating myself to the gills. I swear, it must be due at least in part to the knitting. Makes sense, when you think about it: It kept me still, it calmed me down, it distracted my mind from worrying about what I was not getting finished at work. And it didn't give me that horrible floaty feeling I get from NyQuil, DayQuil, AfternoonQuil, BrunchQuil, or OverQuil.

After a pause to determine whether I was hungry (I was) and whether my wrists were feeling sore (they were not) I took a little dinner break, and then pressed on. By the time I went to bed, I'd done my first three-needle bind-off and finished the collar. Get me, Gertrude.

Need to take a picture of it, or at least of the collar. There is something about seeing the collar finished that gives me a real feeling of accomplishment.

I will admit to a slight nervousness about said collar actually fitting over my fat head when the sweater is done, but my approximation of a try-on was promising.

Sleeves next. Intarsia. Scary spooky intarsia. Eek.

Need to start a hat or something, because there's no way in hell I'm going to try to work on this at Stitch 'n' Bitch.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

How I Came to Knit

I've told this story enough times in person at Stitch 'n' Bitch (where it is of course the second most natural conversation starter after "What are you making?") and for no particular reason except having a little time to kill, I'm going to write it down.

I went to a great big ivy-covered university in Cambridge, Massachusetts with which I had a love-hate relationship. The hate part has been worked through. The love part grew out of finding there people for the first time in my life who actually understood me. Not all of them, of course, but enough so that I no longer felt like The Lone Weird Kid.

Contrary to the popular stereotype, we were not all rich (some of us were - not me), nor were we all geniuses (some of us were - certainly not me). If we did differ from rank and file college students, I think it might have been our affinity for what you could call cozy anachronisms.

For example, my house insisted upon throwing two large parties every year - a waltz party in December, and a swing party in May. Both were black tie. Never mind that maybe twelve people arrived on campus as freshmen knowing how to do either type of dance. It was a tradition, it looked pretty, and so we took lessons and made it happen.

For me, Eliza's knitting fell into the same category as the Lowell House Winter Waltz. I wasn't so much interested in the thing itself as in realizing the mental picture I had of myself doing it.

Eliza herself was a living bit of history, the latest twig on a rich New England family tree old as the hills. Older, perhaps, depending upon which hill you mean. She wasn't matronly or dowdy, but with a slight change of hairstyle she'd have looked perfectly at home in a lace collar and black bombazine skirt, sitting for a portrait by John Singleton Copley. She was the first person my age whom I'd ever seen working a pair of knitting needles, an activity that seemed all of a piece with the rest of her.

It wasn't long before bunches of us were pestering Eliza for lessons. I don't know about the others, but for me knitting seemed to be one more step closer to my youthful fantasy of changing from the ethnic, blue collar boy I'd always been into something much better. Like, say, Abigail Adams. It seems incredibly stupid to me now, but my real motive for going to Harvard wasn't to enjoy access to unparalleled learning opportunities. It was to somehow achieve a racial purification that would render me a candidate for the D.A.R.

(A firm grip on reality has never been one of my strong points.)

Eliza arranged for a group outing to the yarn shop nearby. I remember very little about it, except that the salespeople were not overly friendly. I insisted that I was going to make a sweater, and with Eliza's help selected 6 or 8 hanks of pretty blue yarn. Given that the shop was in Cambridge, most likely it was hand-spun from free-range organically-fed sheep on a lesbian collective somewhere in Vermont. I don't know. I just remember that the cost emptied most of my bank account.

And so needlework evenings began, five or six of us sitting around on beds and chairs. I struggled through the beginnings of a scarf, adding to Eliza's patient "this is a knit, this is a purl" instructions with the diagrams in a cheap teach yourself book I acquired somewhere or other.

I kept at it, even after we got tired of the picture of ourselves knitting around the fireplace like the March sisters. In the first few years after college, I particularly enjoyed being able to knit scarves that met MY definition of what a scarf should be - about nine inches wide, and at least eight feet long. I moved on to mittens, and there I stopped - scarves and mittens, scarves and mittens, for about three years.

Then, gradually, I got discouraged. I have always been a timid person, and trips to the yarn shops in Boston were frightening. My favorite place to go for yarn and embroidery supplies was the Women's Educational and Industrial Union. It's one of those places you're not going to find anywhere in America but Boston. Founded by suffragettes, and run by their spiritual daughters. They were (and I believe still are) in their Victorian-era location, which hadn't changed all that much. Embroidery floss, for example, was dispensed from a gigantic, ornate cabinet with hundreds of tiny drawers in it. The air was hushed, the light deliciously cool and still. I truly loved it, and loved the idea that by shopping there, my money would go to a noble cause.

And every time I went in, I was treated like a rapist.

It didn't matter how often I shopped there, how much I tried to smile and make lighthearted chat, how much I pathetically flashed bits of current projects to show that I was not only serious, but somewhat accomplished (none of the female embroiderers made their own patterns, far as I ever saw). They were not having it. I was a freak, and treated as such.

And as for other men to knit with, or women for that matter, forget it. My friends just thought it was odd, and as any knitter reading this will know - nobody care less about your knitting than a non-knitter. And, finally, I wound up spending five years with a partner - the less said of him, the better - who managed to mess with my brain to the point that all my creative projects stopped dead.

When the whole Knitting Craze started, I felt vindicated. See! I told all you morons this was fun!

So here I am again, finally tackling a sweater. And I'm still having bad yarn shop experiences (although in Chicago, this seems to be universal and unisex) but this time, I'm sticking around.

That's my story. What's yours?

Come Bitch with Me

The fold increases. Katie, a colleague, designer, and all-around cool chick is making her maiden visit to Stitch 'n' Bitch tonight.

The sweater is coming along well, having grown another 5 inches last night, and I think I will likely reach the neckline this evening - even with stops for conversation and Uncommon Ground's incredibly comforting bowls of hot chocolate.

I want a new hat. The thing I bought at Target for 7 bucks is proving to be worth every penny. Shapeless as a potato sack, and about as becoming. I am toying with trying out QueerJoe's London beanie. The name alone endears it to me.

There's an expedition planned for the weekend to Pearl Art & Craft, which rumor has it stocks Lion Brand yarn. I hope so, since frankly the lovely yarns at Arcadia are more than I can afford to spend on trifles at present. When it comes down to either spending on photography or spending on knitting, photography wins.

Monday, February 21, 2005


Vaci utca, Budapest, Summer 2004
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

Another print finished, this time from Budapest.

I feel lucky to have been there twice in two years, though neither time did I stay nearly long enough.

Three prints finished, 11 to go.

And Also

Back of the sweater is now well-begun, with the bottom garter stich and about 6 inches of stockinette complete.

Bought Maggie Righetti's Knitting in Plain English. I think it ought to be in the hands of everyone learning to knit. It actually lives up to the title, and I like her head-on, commonsense approach to mistakes, tricky processes, and large projects.

She's a right-on woman, is Maggie.

Live and In Person

The Cell Block visit was a non-starter - too crowded and too dark to get a decent shot. (Note to self: Don't go out of your way to photograph things you don't like to look at in the first place. Diane Arbus you are not.)

Sunday was better, though. I got a message early from Leif from the Lakeview Stitch 'n' Bitch, reminding me that Debbie Stoller (aka the Mother - or maybe I ought to say Slightly Older But Still Extremely Young-Looking Sister of Us All) was doing an appearance at Arcadia Knitting and asking if I wanted to go.

Oh, mais oui.

As a rule I'm not a Personal Appearance guy. Prior to this, I once waited in a short line to meet Julia Child, God rest her soul, but that's it. I usually prefer to keep a safe distance between myself and famous people whose work I've enjoyed.

My 40 seconds with Mrs. Child (the memory of which I'm sure she treasured) were lovely. I was starstruck, she was cordial, and she spelled my name correctly in my copy of The Way to Cook.

Aside from that, my only other brush with celebrity was less happy. I once encountered Aretha Franklin during her pit-stop at New England Conservatory, where I spent seven miserable years after college. Aretha dropped by for about 10 minutes to snag an Honorary Doctorate, and my department - the Public Relations team - had to deal with her and her staff of approximately 11,000 very entitled agents, publicists, secretaries, bodyguards, sisters, cousins, and aunts.

In comparison, Queen Elizabeth II and the Pope are a pair of traveling gypsies.

Now, I have always liked Aretha's music. One of the greats of all time, no argument. Unfortunately, I have trouble listening to her now without remembering how, after months of working to meet her incredible list of demands, she was rude to the NEC staff, aloof from the other degree recipients, and sat through the ceremony looking like she was awaiting gum surgery. Queen of Soul, yes. But also a Royal Pain in the Ass.

Now, where was I. Debbie Stoller. Yes. Remember Debbie? This is an entry about Debbie.

Leif and I got to Arcadia pretty early and there was already quite a little crowd there. Nice for the shop, as they've just moved to a new, larger location and this encouraged everyone to scope it out. We got low numbers for the book signing afterwards - mine was 13, which is by coincidence (and I'm not kidding) a lucky number for me.

I was hoping she would talk some about how she came to knitting, and she did. Her story about learning from the example of her late grandmother, her mother, and her female relatives is told in her first book and could stand alone as a fine piece of memoir writing (pretty unusual for a craft book) and it was just as touching hearing it told in her own voice.

She had arrived via Amtrak (poor thing) and had every right to be haggard, aloof, exhausted, brief. However, if she was feeling less than 100%, she didn't let on. Instead, she was just what I'd hoped - as articulate as one would expect the publisher of BUST to be, and as charming as one would expect of the woman who helped to bring back the knitting circle.

Leif and I weren't the only guys there, but as usual we seemed to be the only guy knitters (the other fellows being attached to girlfriends or wives). I had a short chat with one of the owners of Arcadia - I should have remembered to ask her name - telling her how grateful I was that on my first visit the previous week, they had been so cheerful and helpful. Unlike the hateful woman at The Nasty Little Yarn Shop in downtown Evanston, who seemed to think I was going to mug her, or steal a big pile of Lamb's Pride and a pair of US10s at gunpoint. Ms. Arcadia was suitably sympathetic to my tale of woe, and so now I like her store even more.

Debbie did all the right stuff, just like Julia. I mentioned that Chris had been a BUST subscriber and she seemed happy (I may be imagining it) to have somebody comment on something other than her knitting. She spelled my name right. She was cordial, she was smart, she was funny. Well done!

(So if you're reading this, Debbie, thank you. I hope you didn't mind the lousy Chicago weather too much. And since we're such great friends now, may I call you with questions about intarsia?)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Joy of Print Making

Vienna, Summer 2004
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

I wasn't outside more than 15 minutes and the clouds rolled back in, with a concurrent drop in temperature back to the usual "Ow, my face hurts" range.

God, I just hate Chicago sometimes.

On the other hand, it did encourage me to sit down and work up another portfolio print. Here it is. The original was march darker - I had to work on opening up the shadows without losing the detail in the sky. I think it will do.

Thank you, Mr. Pigeon, wherever you are.

Photographic Evidence

The front of my first sweater, completed.
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

Here's a beauty shot of the front of the sweater.

I'm pumped to start the back, but it's too nice outside right now to be indoors. So the camera and I are going for a Walk to Nowhere.

Chris is in Indiana visiting his Mom for her birthday (he's a good boy) so I'm in charge of amusing myself.

Tonight may be a photography night. My buddy Buzz suggested I tag along to the Mr. Cell Block Leather competition tonight. I think I might do it, since there's the potential for some good shots. I'd like to get back in shooting mode before heading to Texas.

And if it's boring, it's only a five-minute walk home.

So what the heck.

Results, if any, tomorrow.

Friday, February 18, 2005


It really doesn't take a whole lot to make me happy.

After dinner, I frogged last night's mangled neckline and started again, as planned. Wonder of wonders, it only took a few minutes' devoted thought (without the distraction of Gwen Verdon on the television) to realize where I'd gone wrong. Once I jumped that initial hurdle, I flew through the rest of the neckline.

The entire front of my first sweater is now complete, and sitting on stitch holders awaiting the happy hour when it shall become one with the back.

And then there's the collar to do, and the sleeves which include intarsia. (Another first. Eek.) But those are far frontiers at the moment.

Just another Big Gay Night in Boystown. Attention, minions of President George W. Bush! Behold the after-dark depravity of my homosexual lifestyle! I knit! Without wearing a condom!

I'm all out of champagne, so I think I'm going to go toast Debbie Stoller with a bowl of ice cream. I bet she'd enjoy it. She seems like a right-on woman.

Meet Mr. Write

Chris in Chinatown
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

As photographs are supposed to be a large part of this here project, I thought I should try one out.

I don't have a cat, so Chris will do nicely. This was in Chinatown, on a recent, unseasonably warm Chicago Saturday.

For those of you who don't know Chicago, "unseasonably warm" means we were able to stand outside for up to 15 minutes without wanting to die.

Chris is admirably patient when posing for pictures, and even more patient when waiting about while I take them of other subjects.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Lesson Learned

Here is what you may not do as a novice knitter.

You may not, when approaching the first tricky part (neckline shaping) of your first sweater, attempt to make progress while also watching an absolutely engrossing documentary about the "golden age" of Broadway.

If you insist upon doing this, you will wind up with a neckline which you might politely describe as having the airy quality of lace. Or you might impolitely describe it as more full of gaps than swiss cheese, or as lopsided as the Tower of Pisa.

Live and learn. Tomorrow, the neckline gets ripped out and started over. At least I did shape the arm holes properly. I think. They look like the pattern, so I'm going to assume they're correct.

I do think it's funny how different people are when they knit. A fair number of the girls at Stitch 'n' Bitch seem content to knit one scarf after another, changing yarns and occasionally doing ribbing or seed stitch but nothing more complicated. Me, I'm surprised to find I'm not even pissed off at having to undo what I've done and do it over again. Instead, it's fascinating, and feels more rewarding than if I'd stuck with simpler projects that I could have finished without much thought or error.

I don't think that means I'm any better than the scarf knitters - it's just interesting how different minds find comfort in different aspects of the same process.

Scribble, Scribble

My sister Susan, bless her, is a model of consistency and discipline when it comes to things like journals. Perhaps part of it is vocational - she teaches high school English and (wise woman) makes her students do a lot of free-writing and notebook-keeping.

I, on the other hand, have taken up and dropped possibly two dozen diaries, journals, and notebooks since my first attempt at age 8. (I can still see it in my mind's eye. A Christmas gift. Flimsy lock, white leatherette cover with "My Diary" in curly-swirly across the cover. Like so many things I wanted desperately at that age, it was obviously intended by the makers for girls. I think I was faithful to it for a week.)

Hence, the free blog. I refuse to sink money or time into this until I find it somehow differs from what I've done before. I could install Moveable Type, I could design my own photo blog, I could hand-paint background tiles in the William Morris manner, but no. Not yet. Ask me again in six months.

I'm not even sure what I'm going to do with this space, although I'm going to start with a list of unfinished projects. Possibly, just possibly, listing them in a public space (or a space that will become public, should anyone else ever read it) will goad me into finishing them.

So, as of today, in the hopper:

- Order supplies from Light Impressions for new portfolio.
- Finish making portfolio prints (1 down, 13 to go).
- Finish online portfolio
- Contact three places that might want to see said portfolios and possibly display the prints therein.
- Finish my first knitted sweater.

Knitting is in danger of distracting me from the work I ought to be doing with photography, but at least I've evolved enough to know I'm going to sabotage myself if I'm not careful. Compulsively reading archived entries of The Knitting Curmudgeon and QueerJoe is not going to get my prints made, now is it?