Monday, October 31, 2005

While You're Waiting

It's extremely pleasant to check the mail on a Monday morning and find it full of wisecracks in response to the contest. There aren't enough round tables at the Algonquin to accommodate your collective wit.

I'm closing the entries as of now, so I'll have time to review them all tonight and announce the winner tomorrow.

The prize, which was created specially over the weekend, is this little sketch.

I've put it into an 8x10 mat so it seems all arty and prize-like.

New Photo Portfolio

Over on my Web site, the "Architecture and Interiors" portfolio is almost complete. You are most cordially invited to view it while it's in progress. If my schedule works out, the beginnings of the "Children" portfolio will also show up in the next day or so.

And I've got another design for the shop about 80% of the way to complete, too. It's another knitting perversion of a cherished work of art.

The Dreadful Correspondent

I owe about 2,000 of you a response of some kind. I dearly wish that Blogger, which otherwise serves me well (and, might I add, gratis) made it easier to shoot back an e-mail to comments that indicate a response is required, but it doesn't.

My feeble excuse is that a sudden surge in readership, combined with the double whammy of sickness and overtime, has caught me quite unexpectedly. And I'm not the most organized person at the best of times (ask my parents). I'll be devoting several hours this week to catching up, so if you are expecting to hear from me and haven't, I beg your indulgence.

Especially from the darling lady from Mary Thomas's hometown who wrote me such a beautiful and informative letter about my heroine that I printed it out and saved it to read while soaking in a hot bath. It was that good.

And before I forget, reader Jen made a cute "Panopticon" button, which she has displayed on her blog. I'm not one for using graphic buttons as links, but she did a nice job and I give the design my blessing should you care to steal it from her. Just no stealing her bandwidth, okay?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Doodles from the Edge of Sanity

Such a week. We're in crunch mode. I have seen four of my coworkers cry in the past five days. (And I don't mean tear up. I mean sob.)

I am sick, I am not able to stay home and get well, and I am at the end of my patience.

None of this matters right now, though, because I have a whole half-hour for what ought to be lunch and I am going to spend it writing, instead. (Of course, the half-hour could be nullified with a single phone call from the boss, so I'd better write quickly.)

The Contest

I'm keeping the contest open through the weekend and will announce a winner on Tuesday. Entries have been coming in at a quick clip, and I've been laughing a lot when I check the mail. I need the laughs this week, so thank you all more than you can imagine.

The prize, which I hope the winner will feel is actually a prize, will be an original drawing, newly created for the contest. (What did you think I was going to give away? A poncho?)


To keep sane (and also because it suddenly seems to be a part-time job) I've been drawing every night. I should be working on photographs, but I'm not set up to deal with Photoshop while lying in bed.

Most of what goes into my sketchbook doesn't show up on a shirt or even in the blog. It's really just doodling, although doodling in this case serves two purposes:
  1. It increases the fluidity and facility with which I draw, much as daily weight workouts give a bodybuilder the ability to lift more weight with greater ease. Unfortunately, drawing does nothing for the abs, or I could give this Web design s--t up and do porn for a living.

  2. It pulls new ideas out of what I will, for lack of a less pretentious term, call my subconscious. Half the time when the pen hits the paper, I don't really know what I'm going to draw. I just start making lines. And sometimes when I'm done I'm surprised by what's there. Sometimes it's good, and may turn into a finished cartoon. Sometimes, on the other hand, I consider running the paper through the shredder. Twice.
At random, here are a few snips from the sketchbook.

I have no idea where she came from. I thought I was drawing a sheep.

Judging from the date elsewhere on the page, I'd just sat through an interminable conference call at the end of which the only decision made was to schedule another meeting. I was clearly longing for greener pastures.

Before I really got to know a lot of knitters, I would have thought this to be an absurd idea. Now, I'm not so sure. There are probably four or five women reading my blog who have actually done this.

In case you can't read my scribble (I was on the subway) the caption reads, "little [sic] Intarsia's mother loved to knit." Weird. But maybe she could become the heroine of a series of children's books. Little Intarsia Goes to Rhinebeck. Little Intarsia's Very Special Christmas Sweater. Little Intarsia Meets Nancy Bush. Little Intarsia and the Case of the Wacky Ball-Winder.

She'd have to have spunk, like Eloise. An attitude. No way I'm drawing a whiny little twit like Caillou, or that namby-pamby Linnea who keeps mucking about in Monet's garden.

Oh God, I'm so crabby today. Sorry, folks. Nothing a weekend cuddling with C won't fix.

See you Monday. Kisses.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

For Posterity's Sake

Grandpa Franklin, do you remember the night the White Sox won the World Series?

Why, yes I do, Timmy. I remember it as though it were only yesterday.

Grandpa had been sick for several days but still had to work long hours at the office, so he was feeling pretty beat that night and tried to go to sleep early. He had just managed (after tossing and turning and coughing and hacking) to doze off, when the game ended.

Everybody in Chicago was filled with great joy. Everybody except Grandpa. You see, way back in first grade Tabitha Jenkins had hit Grandpa on the side of the head with a plastic shovel and knocked his "Appreciation of Sports" lobe out his left ear and into the sandbox. They never did find it.

So Grandpa, who usually is a pretty broad-minded guy, has ever since regarded a love of spectator sports as a pernicious illness that can infect even a stalwart intellectual like that nice Doris Kearns Goodwin. Doris is one smart cookie, but mention baseball in front of the woman and her brain turns to tapioca.

Anyhow, Grandpa didn't give a fig about the World Series and just tried to ignore it, but when the Sox made the final touchdown or whatever, every person in Chicago who owned a car decided the best way to celebrate was to head for Lake Shore Drive, which ran right by Grandpa's bedroom window.

For three, maybe four hours, the car-owning citizens of Chicago drove up and down the Drive, hooting their horns and screaming at the top of their beer-soaked lungs. Grandpa, who had to report to the office at 7 a.m. the next morning, could not sleep worth a damn.

So finally he arose from his bed and went over to the window. Out on the street, people were smiling and laughing and dancing and hooting their horns. You could feel the waves of love rising all the way to the fifteenth floor.

Grandpa looked out over all this, and then, drawing on super powers that had hitherto been completely unknown even to himself, shot a pair of powerful death rays from his eyes and reduced the entire teeming throng to a smoking, ruined pile of guts and car parts.

Then he went back to bed and got a whopping full hour of sleep before the alarm went off.

And that's how Grandpa Franklin celebrated the effing White Sox winning the effing World Series.

Now get the hell off my knee before I turn the death rays on you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Guide for New Arrivals in Boystown

Specifically, the growing numbers of yuppie families who are moving into Boystown from Lincoln Park or the suburbs.

More specifically, the mother who picked up her five-year-old daughter and carried her to the other side of the street when she saw me coming.

What You Thought You Saw

What You Actually Saw

If you move to the city with your children in order to expose them to the full range of human experience, do please remember the full range of human experience encompasses a broader spectrum than that found in an episode of "Friends."

And if you can't handle the likes of me, honey, just wait until Halloween.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Conversational Non Sequiturs of Urban Life

While my personal bundle of glee was away making whoopee with his fellow Prince fanatics in Minneapolis, I was left alone in the Wicked City with a veritable Roman orgy of temptations right outside the door.

I chose mostly to knit and to draw.

I'll pause for a moment so that you can get over your shock.

On Sunday I decided to head out to a local coffee shop to work on the edging of the lace sampler stole. Don't ask me to justify this impulse towards coffee shop knitting, when I could perfectly well knit at home where the chocolate milk is cheaper and baby strollers are verboten. Must be a city boy thing. I like to people-watch. As repellent as I usually find the public en masse, individually it's often fun to spy on them over the top of whatever I'm knitting.

I decided last week that the lace sampler stole was officially long enough (translation: I'm sick of it) and that it was time to try my first knitted-on edging. After a brief flirtation with Alpine II from Heirloom Knitting, I ripped back and switched to Doris.

As all of you know who don't knit only in the living room with the shades pulled down, doing your thing in public not infrequently leads to questions. So I wasn't alarmed when the distinguished older (mid-70s, I would guess) gentleman in the tweed jacket leaned over and asked, "Is that knitting?"

I won't record the bulk of the ensuing dialogue because you can already guess most of it.

Yes it is. What are you making. Lace sampler. Hard to do. Sort of tricky but not really hard once you get used to it oh I would never have the patience believe it or not it's relaxing once you get used to it my aunt wilma used to make crochet doilies oh did she really yes but I never learned how but I always was curious. Etcetera.

Quite a lot of etceteras, in this case.

I started to suspect something odd was afoot when we'd reached the third or fourth logical point in the conversation at which I could have gracefully gone back to my knitting (which was literally about to turn a corner - most exciting) and he to his newspaper. But he didn't make a move to excuse himself. So, at last, I did. And he ignored it.

"I have many friends who quilt," he said.

"Ah," I said, pointedly consulting my chart.

"I think it must be wonderful to be able to make beautiful things," he said.

"I quite enjoy it," I said, trying to knit in such a way as to communicate the message, "You need to shut up now, please."

"Do you know what I enjoy?" he asked.

"I have a feeling you're going to tell me," I said.

He did. He leaned closer and dropped his voice to a husky, coffee-scented whisper.

"Jock straps," he said. "I was just across the street at that adult store and wow...they sure have lots of jock straps. Maybe you could knit me a jock strap."

First Panopticon Blog Contest Ever

I wish, my dears, that I could tell you a clever rejoinder (instead of the cookie I had just eaten) leapt to my lips. But it didn't.

Rather than tell you what I said, I want you to fill in the blank.

Pretend, for a moment, that you're me.*

What should I have responded?

Don't put your entry in the comments. Send your entry to: franklin at franklinhabit daht cahm.

In a couple of days I'll post the winner. Not sure what the prize is yet. It won't be a knitted jock strap.

*Just for a moment. Any longer, and you risk permanent injury.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Do It Yourself

I work in a big old house, now university property, that sits on the edge of a wealthy neighborhood full of Motivated Modern Parents. You know the sort I mean. The ones who played Mozart in utero to Little Caitlyn when it was suggested that this would increase her chances of one day becoming an investment banker with a house and four waterfront acres in one of the better Hamptons.

It was in college that I first encountered this such parents, buying the kiddies coloring books with whimsical titles like Medieval Women Composers. Inside, presumably to instill a dedication to historical accuracy, were instructions like, "Color Hildegard von Bingen's wimple gunmetal."

Instructions. In a coloring book.

Of course, it's easy for me to tease because I don't have children and it seems unlikely, though not impossible, that I ever will. If the stork dropped a squalling bundle on my lap, I'd probably buy the kid a mobile that played selections from Pagliacci, and I am quite certain that by age four it would be sitting on a cushion working an alphabet sampler.

Thing is, though, you never know what's going to stick in a child's head and what isn't. You can spend thousands on tutoring and piano lessons and Baby Einstein books and still wind up with a dolt. Or, you can spend a dollar and twenty-five cents on a paperback book and rewire your son's brain.

I started mulling this over this week after digging into the "Print o' the Wave" pattern in Heirloom Knitting.

I've been working on what you might politely call a lace sampler (if you're impolite, it's a pointless and weird-looking swatch) for about the past two months. It's nothing but a ten-inch strip knitted from what was supposed to be sock yarn, but turned out after purchase to be rather too itchy for my sensitive, princess-like feet. I wanted to try out all the stitch patterns from my Stitches Midwest classes in Orenburg and Estonian lace.

It has been fun, and great practice, but it was only this week as I worked my first Shetland pattern that I got that feeling of "Wow. This is beautiful. And I made it!" If there is a better feeling in the world that you can talk about in front of your mother, I don't know it.

This spring when I was in Belgium (oh, I get around) we sailed into Antwerp and all 70 of the old ladies I was shepherding about ran berzerk in the lace shops. The Belgians are no dummies (no matter what the Dutch say) and they know what tourists want. Every other storefront in the cathedral square sells lace (and the ones in between those sell chocolate).

I looked, and it was beautiful stuff. Frightfully complicated to make, or so it seemed from watching this woman at work.

For heaven's sake, look at all those bobbins and pins. Her fingers were flying around like Horowitz's at the climax of a molto allegro movement. Yet if she ever made a mistake or even hesitated, I never saw it.

Anyhow, while the ladies on the trip were whipping out credit cards and buying enough tablecloths, placemats, tray covers, and shawls to smother the west front of the cathedral (hey reading this?) I quickly realized the only thing I could afford would be a machine-made bookmark.

I was already knitting steadily at that time, and I think it was then that I resolved to try knitting lace.

My whole life, this has been a primal impulse for me. I see somebody making something beautiful, and I feel compelled to try doing it myself. Unlike most of my primal impulses, which remain mysterious in spite of the best efforts of well-paid therapists, I know where this one comes from. In fact, I can pinpoint the moment it was born.

One year during the Christmas season, my parents picked up a book at the supermarket that was an inexpensive holiday mish-mash for tiny tots. I don't think they make this sort of thing any more, because it wasn't tied to a breakfast cereal, a Nickelodeon show, or a Disney film. It was just stories, carols, and bits of dubious history and culture with lots and lots of color illustrations.

If I read it today, I suspect the treacle-sweet fiction would make my teeth curl. But when I was five, it was hot stuff. I loved that book so much I took it to bed with me like a teddy bear. There was one story in particular that I read over and over.

In retelling, it's like a Very Special Episode of "The Waltons" with shades of "Little House on the Prairie." The setting was a small town during the Great Depression, and the protagonist was a girl from a large family who had been asked by her parents to do without Christmas presents that year because they simply had no money for them.

The heroine was terrified that this would publicly humiliate her in front of her arch-rival, a Nellie Olsen type who (I remember this so well) had a fur-trimmed coat. (Her parents must have owned the local meth lab.)

Because you see, the entire town had a Christmas assembly at which carols would be sung and speeches made and then, as the finale, presents for the children would be distributed from the big town Christmas tree. The little girl could not face sitting there, getting nothing, while Rich Girl made a big show out of her new pony or a personal bodyguard or whatever Depression-era kids would have considered the equivalent of a custom iPod.

Now, the little girl (are you all enjoying this as much as I am?) came from a poor family but had a practical mother, and had learned how to sew. So she made herself a doll out of scraps of cloth and old buttons and chicken bones and whatnot, and she planned to sneak it onto the Christmas tree with her name on it.

But on the big night (please get out your handkerchiefs) as everybody was filing into the town hall, she saw a Desperately Poor family arriving. If I remember rightly, their tiny daughter didn't even have shoes. So the heroine, at the last minute, scratched out her own name on the doll's gift-tag and wrote in Shoeless Girl's name instead.

Excuse me, please. I need to go have a moment.

Okay, I'm back.

Before the story faded out to swelling violins there was a passage that struck me so hard that it is imprinted on my brain forever, along with the theme song from "The Facts of Life" and my social security number.

The presents had all been given out and the heroine was watching everyone leave. Shoeless Girl was clutching her new doll and smiling, and Rich Girl was leaving with her new pet ocelot on a leash or whatever and pouting, and the heroine realized - let me see if I truly have this by heart...
"She realized that Lydia would only ever have presents, while she would always be able to make things more wonderful than any that came from a store."
Yeah. I know. It makes Louisa May Alcott sound like Dorothy Parker. But it made me think. And I was five.

I come from a family of do-it-yourself people. We weren't poor, but we had the usual working-class limits on our income. My parents dealt with this by being creative and resourceful.

My father could build and wire anything we needed or wanted, from furniture to an extra room. My mother could upholster furniture, and sewed us practical things, like school clothes and curtains; and less practical (but even more wonderful) things like matching Christmas pajamas for the whole family, not to mention the best damned Halloween costumes in three counties.

I'm doubt they meant to send a message by doing all of this, but they did. You want something? See if you can make it yourself. Because if you make it, you own it. If you make it, you can make sure it's good or better than what can be bought. If you make it, you are that much less reliant on others. If you make it, you can be proud of yourself for making it.

As I said, I don't know anything about parenting. But I wonder if the parents in the mansion across the street from my office–who send their four-year-old son to tennis lessons in a limousine–would be surprised at how much you can accomplish with a $1.25 book of stories and a good example.

And How's This for Timing?

Yesterday I got a call from a coworker who was very puzzled about a box that arrived on her desk. The university's mail service had mangled it on receipt and partially removed the label, so they weren't sure to whom in the building it should go. They sat on it for what must have been two weeks before calling our receptionist to see if she could identify the recipient. They opened it, examined the contents and said it was probably for "some woman" who works with her.

They brought the box over. She looked into it and immediately phoned me. "Did you order some yarn from Canada?"

Well, not exactly. Awhile back, I got a very nice letter from a blog reader who had some non-knitting-related questions. It was a pleasure to answer them, and not at all difficult, but he said he wanted to send me a little something in thanks.

And what he sent was this.

It's merino. It's hand-painted. It's lace weight. And he spun it himself.

It's completely gorgeous. I've never had anything hand-spun to work with before. This is so even and fine I almost can't believe it was done by hand. I have no idea what it's going be yet, but I can tell you it's going to be carefully thought-out and it's going to be special.

Ted, my dear fellow, there aren't words. Well, there are two: thank you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Busy, Busy, Busy

It occurs to me that it has been a long time since this blog saw what I would consider to be a nice, solid, sustained piece of writing. I hate that.

But you're going to have to wait a little longer before you see another one, because there's so much going on I fear today's entry is going to be a potpourri of odd twigs and bits of moss I've collected from all over and feel I must display.

(That's a very inept metaphor. Maybe I should take a few minutes and make it better. No, no time. No time. Must keep moving.)

Rhinebeck Concluded

The sun that came out during the second hour or so at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds hung around. I got up early on Sunday morning to take advantage of the morning light and shot a bunch of stuff that I'll post in another entry.

One of my favorite shots from the whole trip, though, is this one. Joe and Thaddeus had me over to their place for lunch before taking me to the airport, and I enjoyed playing with my drop spindle while Joe got down to it with the new Robin wheel.

If I were That Sort of Photographer, I would call this one "Contentment."

I got to check out Joe's stash. (Wow.) And his finished sweaters, the pile of which is taller than I am.

And we discovered a mutual passion for peanut butter. This leads me to suspect that perhaps we were separated at birth. You must admit the physical resemblance is uncanny.

What can I tell you? The guy has it goin' on.

New in the Shop

At one point when I was working the letters on the Seneca sweater I had a different color yarn in each hand and had finally achieved a pretty steady rhythm. So I was chugging along the row and then, wham–powerful thirst. I had a glass of milk right next to me on the work table, but I hated to drop the yarn to pick it up.

And then it hit me.

Even the Hindu mother goddess of time and transformation needs to chill out occasionally.

Right now, Kali is available on women's clothes. [Addendum: She's on a knitting bag now, too. I can take a hint.] I'm going to see about putting her on other stuff, but unfortunately the amount of detail in the drawing doesn't translate well to really small (i.e. coffee mug) size. I'll see what I can do.

MenKnit Magazine

Thanks to the passion and hardwork of Dan Vera and Tricky Tricot, the first knitting magazine specifically for knitters with that little (not too little, one hopes) something extra is now available online. You can get it here.

This is shameless plug, of course, because I wrote one of the articles and I didn't do it for my health, you know. Go read it. In addition to my drivel there's actual useful content - some cute patterns.

Actually, people must be reading the magazine because I've already had three pieces of hate mail for choosing Debbie Stoller's Stitch 'n' Bitch as my favorite book for brand-new knitters who wish to be self-taught.

Tough cookies. I only wrote about books that I have personally worked with and found to be effective. Yes, I know (in fact, I stated in the article) that Debbie's book addresses female knitters specifically and almost exclusively. Well, darlings, the woman publishes her own magazine for women and she knows her audience, and she produced the kind of book that she knew they would take to. I don't call that sexism, I call that good business sense.

Besides, she's thereby left the field clear for me to be at least part of the driving force behind a good, solid men's guide to knitting. Nobody else seems to be hurrying to plant a flag on that particular Everest. Why not me?

If you're reading this and you're an editor, let's talk.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Scenes from Rhinebeck V: The Big Day

In Which I Am Surrounded by Knitters and Yarn and Surrender Unconditonally

Joe and Thaddeus not only treated me to a lovely dinner on my first night, but also graciously included in the party two dear friends who live in Philadelphia. (And who drove an hour and a half through incredible muck and traffic just to see me for two hours...go figure.)

Then I went up to my room and laid down on the lacy sheets under the lacy canopy, feeling like myself at six years old, waiting for Christmas morning. I absolutely could not sleep.

It didn't help matters that in the room above me was a straight couple that had either just got married or just begun an extramarital affair. They went at it with the regularity of a cuckoo clock and the volume of Aerosmith in concert. (By the way, dude - she was totally faking it.)

As I stared at the vibrating ceiling a million thoughts raced through my head, chief among them: Would they like me? Or would Carol S. make good on her threat to lose me at the Weavettes booth?

The flying Wallendas continued their rehearsal above, but somewhere around midnight I drifted off. When I woke up, it was six and time to make myself pretty, or as close as I can get.

I put on the Seneca sweater. This would be its maiden voyage. I hoped it wouldn't unravel or rip or otherwise go to pieces. Of course, if it did, I'd be surrounded by several thousand people who could help to fix it.

Joe and I had planned to set off at 8 a.m. and true to his word, we left on the dot. Another reason to like Joe: he's punctual. A gay man who doesn't run on Gay Time (anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour behind the rest of humanity) is a rare and wondrous thing.

The drive to Rhinebeck was about two hours, which put us at the gates around 10 a.m. It was still raining, but our spirits were anything but damp. The first person we spotted was Marilyn, waiting somewhat forlornly in the drizzle. She perked up at the sight of us and we three went in together.

I realized with a start that here I was, walking into a fiber festival with the authors of two of the three blogs that encouraged me to start blogging.

Even sopping wet, the grounds at Rhinebeck were lovely. The main part of it sits on top of a gentle hill, and there is quite a bit of pretty landscaping–big old trees, flowerbeds, and such. A nice change from the county fairgrounds of my youth which never seemed to be much more than mud flats surrounded by chain-link fence.

We hadn't gone far at all when we were pounced on by Kathy and Selma. Think they're funny online? Hah. Try meeting them in person. They could make a guy reconsider his orientation. There was much hugging, and then a beeline for the first vendor barn.

I've just realized I don't have a picture of the first stuff I bought, but you can see it on Joe's blog in the very first picture. In fact, the first colorway on the left is the very one I picked for myself. It's a silk/wool blend from a place in Texas called Brooks Farms.

I love this stuff - the colors are gorgeous, and it's so soft that I can use it to make a hat for myself that won't have to be lined. Bless you, ladies of Brooks Farms, for making a bald knitter happy.

As we left the first barn, miracle of miracles, the sun came out. This part of the country hadn't seen sun for about nine days, so you could literally hear gasps of relief all over the place.

Time for the first picture of the day:

Left to right:With Joe, Selma, and Marilyn. I'm the one in the dead language.

And the second:

Selma and Joe

To walk around Rhinebeck with these folks was to be in very heady company. We couldn't go ten steps without a blog reader recognizing Marilyn or Joe; and Selma, who is an NPR host in upstate New York, was even recognized by her voice.

This barn was also where I ran into the first person who recognized me: Juno. Juno is jolly nice and also staggeringly tall. If I'm Captain Shortguy, she's Lady Longlegs.

Not long after our group was completed by the arrival of Carol S. and Lisa, both of whom I fell in love with at first sight.

And then it all begins to blur.

Evidently I did keep taking pictures, albeit sporadically:

Kathy and Selma with Marilyn's beautiful "Field of Flowers" shawl

Lisa and the shawl

Sheep of some sort in the shearing tent

Other golden moments have stuck in my mind:
  • Realizing that what we all thought was the "macarena" being played over the loudspeakers in an endless loop was actually the auctioneer in the livestock barn;

  • Carol S. spotting a copy of Heirloom Knitting (the holy grail of my Rhinebeck shopping list) through the crowds at the Susan's Fiber Shop booth.

  • Singing along to the hurdy-gurdy with Selma (the Brindisi from La Traviata)
I was already on cloud nine when I was suddenly joined by:

Rachel (aka the Village Knittiot), and her husband Corvus (aka Mr Knittiot). Now, I have been an unashamed fan of these two almost since I began blogging, and had been looking forward to meeting both of them. And how to do they turn out to be in person? Warm. Funny. Exciting. And did I mention generous?

Suddenly, Rachel pulls out the following and presents it to me:

My own drop spindle. And splendid blue merino to spin.

I was speechless and got very choked up. I'm choking up again now just looking at the picture (and not because of my lousy spinning).

Once I got my voice back and gasped out a bit of thanks, I asked Joe to help get me started. I'm far from there yet, but I'm going to figure it out. (The white is some practice romney that Joe sweetly put into my hands to prevent my mucking up the merino straightaway.)

During a quick outdoor lunch of apple pie, so many of you came by to say hello and let me tell you, it made my day. It was a pleasure to meet every one of you, and my joy in knowing that the stuff I write here amuses you is without bounds.

Last but certainly not least, on this day an announcement was made to the group: Marilyn is writing a book. And she asked me to illustrate it. And of course, I said yes. How could I not? I can hardly wait to begin.

Now, all this excitement pales (if you ask Joe, anyhow) to the moment Joe got his wheel. He wasn't expecting it for another six months, you see, and so when he walked over to Robin Spinning Wheels booth and was informed that the lovely display model was actually his...well, let's just say I was all the way on the other side of the friggin' barn and I could hear the commotion.

I was happy to record the glorious event for posterity:

Joe with Gilbert, the nice fellow from Robin who gave him the happy news

New best friends

We kept up the festivites with dinner in Rhinebeck afterwards (I ate my own weight in perfectly made french fries). I hated to say goodbye to everybody. Outside I was (I hope) poised and collected, but inside I was screaming "Wait! Wait! We just got here! It can't be over already!"

As she was leaving, Kathy told me it was an honor to know me. Such a compliment coming from such a woman. Back at ya, my dear. And that goes for all of you.

Then we drove back to New Hope. As you might imagine, Joe and I were both completely wired–he because of his new wheel and I because of, well, everything.

When I got back to my room at the Fox and Hound, the upstairs couple was in full gallop. I toasted them with a glass of seltzer, opened up my new copy of Heirloom Knitting and promptly passed out cold with my nose between the patterns for Alpine Edgings I and II.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Scenes from Rhinebeck IV: Meeting Joe and Thaddeus

In Which I Get Picked Up By a Hot Gay Couple

Having now reached my thirties, I've made peace with the fact that while God gave me the ability to remember easily (for example) the names of Renaissance artists and Victorian methods of controlling household dust, he neglected to flip the "on" switch in the part of my brain that stores simple facts like travel plans and phone numbers.

Perhaps Joe sensed this, as he thoughtfully planned my trip in such a way that I was transferred from hither to yon with as little room for error as possible. It made the whole process unusually comfortable.

Following my instructions, I left the gate and headed for baggage claim. And sure enough, I heard someone call out, "Franklin!" and there was the remarkably handsome Thaddeus, waiting for me. He spotted me instantly in a room full of suitcases piled higher than my head. The man must have eagle eyes.

Joe was waiting right outside with the car and his camera. I barely had time to say "Hello!" and think "Wow...even cuter than the pictures," when–click!– I was blogged. I think as the flash went off I was saying, "Bitch, don't you dare," or words to that effect.

It's about an hour's drive from Philadelphia to New Hope, so Joe had plenty of time to fill me in on the personal idiosyncracies of the knitters I'd be meeting at Rhinebeck. It was quite a lot to absorb, but thanks to the driver-controlled locks on the car doors I was still in my seat when we arrived at the guest house.

This is where I stayed. It's called the Fox and Hound and I loved it.

Cute, eh? Oh, just wait until you see the inside. When the nice innkeeper showed me to my room (named "Captain Reeder"–on the second floor in that bay window) I almost plotzed.

The lace stole immediately made itself comfortable on the bed, and had a chat with the canopy (which turned out to be some sort of distant cousin, wouldn't you know).

I also had a pretty sitting area right in the bay window. Note the crocheted bureau scarf.

When I was a kid, this is exactly the sort of bedroom I dreamed about. And here I was, finally getting it for two whole nights.

I may have done a little dance. I'm not telling.

Scenes from Rhinebeck III: In-Flight Stitch 'n' Bitch

In Which a Fellow Knitter Saves Me from a Complete Meltdown

So, we pushed back from the gate twenty minutes late and then sat on the runway for another twenty. As we sat on the tarmac, I dug into the Orenburg "cat's paw" pattern.

There was the usual buzz of conversation around me. Bzzz bzzz bzzz delayed again bzzzz bzzzz miss my connection bzzzz bzzzzzzzz grandchildren in Florida bzzzzz bzzzzzzzzz bzzzz yarn bzzzz bzzzz...


I was seated on the aisle, in the second-to-last row of the plane. Turning around, I saw behind me the tell-tale tote bag with a strand of blue bulky snaking out the top. Upon further investigation, I found that one of the flight attendants was passing the time by knitting an afghan.

It was a pretty big afghan, a Christmas present for her daughter, which she told me she works on during odd moments in her day. All garter stitch, her first piece, and very nicely done. Good straight edges. She seemed to enjoy having another knitter pet and admire it. She asked about the lace stole, so I showed her the patterns and told her it's not nearly so complicated as it looks.

We chatted for a good ten minutes about knitting stuff and then the captain announced it was time for take-off. Oh boy! Off to Philadelphia!

* * * * *

Flash forward about an hour and a half. We're approaching Philadelphia and the plane is bucking and rearing like a bull at a Texas rodeo. Me, I would rather be sitting on the bull. Instead, I am clutching the tray table and waiting for the moment, surely imminent, when the plane will fall out of the sky.

(I see the funeral in breathtaking Cinemascope. My pulverized remains are displayed in an extremely small urn, over which is draped the Seneca sweater. It has miraculously survived the crash. "He never even got to wear it," everyone is saying. The organist launches into "Aloha O'e" in a vain attempt to muffle the sobs.)

Meanwhile, the four-year-old in the next seat continues to hum "Jesus Loves Me" and color Barney the wrong shade of purple.

The Knitting Flight Attendant, passing by with empty drink cups, notices that I've got my eyes screwed shut and am breathing like a Soviet-made vacuum cleaner.

"Is something wrong?" she asks.

"I don't really like flying," I say, perhaps setting a new record for understatement.

"Keep breathing," she says, "I'll right back."

And she does come back. She perches on the edge of a nearby, empty seat. "Show me your lace again," she says. "And tell me about the patterns."

I know what she's doing, but can't believe she is taking the time.

I pull out the stole and start from the bottom. "This is called 'Peacock'–it's Estonian, very easy to knit because it's symmetrical and has short repeats..."

By the time I get to the end of the stole, we are in our final approach and my stomach has left my shoes and returned to its accustomed location.

"You think you can make it the rest of the way?" she asks, kindly.

"I'm much better, thank you." I slip the stole back into my bag.

We land. No balls of fire. I am not pulverized.

And Ms. Flight Attendant, let me tell you something–I hope your daughter loves that afghan.

Scenes from Rhinebeck II: Airport Security

In Which I Nearly Moon O'Hare Terminal B

To get through airport security I always have to take off my boots, which have steel toes; and my belt, which has a large metal buckle. I was walking through the metal detector when I suddenly felt my new jeans slip downward alarmingly.

I hitched them up as best I could and hoped this time I might be spared a delay in getting through the line, but no: Arab men and pointy sticks are now considered a dangerous combination by the TSA. I was hauled aside as usual for the following dialogue:
Security Guy (indicating needles from which depend unfinished lace stole): Sir, can you tell me what this is?

Franklin (trying to look dignified while keeping up his jeans with one hand): Yes, that's knitting.

Security Guy: Knitting?

Franklin: Yes, I'm knitting a stole. It's lace.

Security Guy: You're knitting this yourself?

Franklin: Yes.

Security Guy: Can you demonstrate to me that you know how to knit with these items?

Franklin: Only if you let me have my belt back first.

Scenes from Rhinebeck: Apologia and Preface

Author's Apologia

Let's just get this out in the open right now and be done with it.

My photos of the New York Sheep and Wool Festival, known in the vernacular as Rhinebeck, are absolutely abysmal. I would like to blame the sheep, since they can't argue back, but I can only blame the photographer. My head was spinning around like Joe's new wheel (you'll see) the entire time, and it shows.

(I didn't even get a good picture of Carol S. And I really liked Carol S. So much that I can even forgive her for being so much funnier than I am. Carol, I'll make it up to you. Just don't open the file I'm sending at the office or in front of the kids.)


This is how I understand it all started.

Back in early summer, two knitters sat in a coffee shop in another state and for some reason– it must have been a slow news day–began to talk about me. They had never met me. They knew me only as chief cook and bottlewasher of this blog, and through comments on this blog and this blog.

These two knitters, Selma and Joe, decided it would be nice to meet me, and came up with a scheme to get me out to Rhinebeck on a sort of scholarship funded by blog readers.

When I learned of this idea I was stunned, flattered, and dubious. I have never been one to rely on the kindness of strangers, as in my life strangers have seldom been kind. Were they insane? Who the hell would give up stash money to import a knitter whose most complicated finished object was a pink bunny hat?

I was a total newbie then. I didn't fully comprehend the generosity of the knitting community.

Now I do.

I'll be posting the full story in little bits over the next two days.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Personal Knitting Milestone

Ladies and gentlemen, I beg to put before you the completed Rhinebeck Sweater.

Seneca Sweater, Complete

The final cuff stitches were worked last night, rather late, and it is further confirmation of C's status as a gold-standard boyfriend that in spite of crushing fatigue he roused himself to say, "Congratulations on finishing your sweater, sweetie."

About 80% of it was made on the Chicago elevated train, including the final end-weaving which took place this morning. I was literally making the final stitch when the lady sitting next to me asked, "Did you make that yourself? Or are you just mending it?"

I told her I had made it, and she told me she is also a knitter and new to Chicago. She made much of the sweater and will, I hope, be able to find the blog so she can read my public thanks for her praise. It was poetic of the Knitting Gods to allow me to finish this project in the presence of another knitter, especially in a most unlikely setting.

Now that it's done, I'm renaming it "Seneca," as the distinguishing feature is the Latin tag that runs all the way around the chest, back, and shoulders.

It reads, starting at the cross just above the right pec:


This translates colloquially as:

There has never been a great talent without an element of madness. - Seneca

If you're just tuning in, the basis for this sweater is Elizabeth Zimmermann's seamless percentage system as put forth in Knitting Without Tears. The yarn is Jo Sharp DK Wool that I picked up from WEBS at Stitches Midwest for a ridiculously low price. I bought a bag of 10 balls and used a bit less than nine of the main color, and about 1/2 ball of the second color.

There are quite a few surprises for me in the finished product, but these are my favorites. Smack in the center of the chest, as though I had planned it, is the word MAGNUM:

In the context of the tag, this is the adjective "large" or "great." In Latin, however, the "magnum" on its own can also be a noun meaning literally, "big thing."

And what word is centered on the back?

I need not translate, I'm sure.

I dealt with the flippy/flaring hem issue by picking up stitches around the bottom and knitting downwards, decreasing 20% and using what I suppose you could call and haphazard various on moss stitch. I didn't work in strict knit/purl alternation, but went at it randomly. I didn't want a recognizable pattern, I just wanted something that wouldn't curl up.

I had never seen a sweater before that had a single sentence running around it, and now I understand why. It was a headache to chart (it took me six hours), a bitch to work, and in a commercial pattern would be a nightmare to translate for different sizes. It is, in effect, a 248-stitch single-repeat pattern with no rhythm to it at all.

So there you have it, my first sweater.

It's not exactly what I envisioned. It gave me far more trouble than I expected and in ways I never anticipated. On more than one occasion I wanted to chuck the whole damned thing out the window. But it's mine, I made it, and the end result is eccentric but serviceable. I love it in spite of its many flaws.

Which is probably sort of how my parents feel about me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Something for the Boys

With Rhinebeck looming (a pun, ha ha) my schedule is getting very tight, but I've managed to add one more design to the shop, available on shirts and two styles of bag. [Late addition: It's on a coffee mug now, too. Without the caption, it fit very nicely indeed.]

[Much later addition: it's on women's clothes as well.]

Creation of Knitting Design
If you want to see a larger version, click this one.

For the time being, I'm only putting it on men's clothes. Even with Adam's goodies covered up by a ball of worsted this just didn't strike me as being unisex. If I'm wrong about that, I have a feeling y'all will let me know.

Somebody asked if it's okay with me if images get lifted from my blog and used elsewhere in non-profit settings. While I know perfectly well I can't stop you, I'd rather you didn't, please. The little daily cartoons are one thing - if you want to stick them in your personal blog and give me credit and a link, that's perfectly cool. But the stuff that goes on sale in the shop is a different matter.

I work very hard on these, silly as they are, and they are subject to copyright laws. (No, I don't hold the copyright on the Sistine Chapel, but I do hold the copyright on my designs, drawings, and photographs.)

This being the Internet, all I do is hope you'll be nice and consider the laws of karma before you right-click.

Rhinebeck Schedule

Coming to Rhinebeck? Wanna say hi? Please do. Check out QueerJoe's blog for information about when I'll be there, and where. I plan to follow my guides and hosts around obediently and try not to say anything too stupid.

I also checked with the landlords and confirmed that sheep, however small they may be, are strictly prohibited under the terms of my lease. Poop.


One of my boss's favorite sayings is "A successful child has many parents." (This is how he justifies the upper management's annoying habit of taking credit for my work.) When the Rhinebeck sweater is finished, it will be thanks in large part to the helpful advice and encouragement I've received from all of you.

Roggey and Judy Foldi wrote in and outed themselves as fellow fans of British historical TV series.

Judy asked if I'd seen The Pallisers. You betcha, Judy. Love it. I own the first series on DVD and am making my way through the others thanks to the kind people at Netflix. It's especially fun watching the original Forstye Saga (the peerless black-and-white version) and The Pallisers in alternation, in order to enjoy Susan Hampshire playing a sunny, frivolous idiot in the latter and a sunny, frivolous bitch in the former.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Dead Scanner = No Cartoon

Ah, such timing.

My scanners (work and home) have completely given up the ghost, which means this happy, happy day will get no triumphant cartoon however much I feel it may deserve one.

The Rhinebeck sweater underarms are woven/grafted/kitchenered/freakin' finished.

They look good, if I may say so myself. I did the first one in about 10 minutes, and the second in about five. The joyful little dance that followed lasted about twenty, with a brief pause for chocolate milk. I may have even shouted "Wheeee." Perhaps I should get out more.

I'm almost done with sleeve cuff the first, and expect to finish it tonight and begin sleeve cuff the second. Second and last. I'm so glad I'm not an octopus.

Then: blocking. Because my life isn't full of enough exciting new experiences right this minute.

Of course, I've just read the essay in Yarn Harlot's new book about the sweater that, when it got wet, suddenly began to spread and grow like a fungus in the warm summer rain. May I ask, please, if anybody has had anything of the sort happen with Jo Sharp DK Wool? If so, maybe I'll just try to shake all the cookie crumbs out of it and call it a day.

Assuming that it, and I, survive the blocking process, there will be pictures just before I take off for Rhinebeck.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Just Keep Breathing...

This is my mantra as I work on the underarm weaving.

It also relates to the first cartoon to hit the shop. I've put it on a bag and on shirts, and a mug has also been suggested. Sounds good to me, though I won't be able to make that happen this weekend.

Joy of joys, I get to work at a football tailgate this morning. I get to check IDs at the beer garden. The university refers to this as "other duties as assigned." My four least favorite words in the English language when thus strung together. What they really mean is, "We can make you do anything we want, no matter how humiliating, ridiculous, or inappropriate."

Breathing. Deep breathing. Ommmmmmmm.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Captain Shortguy Vs. Weavezilla

Who will win? Tune in next week to find out!

Today's cartoon is dedicated to hot mama Colleen, who caused a copy of Interweave's facsimile reissue of Weldon's Practical Needlework to be deposited in my mailbox. It is so gorgeous that the minute I took it out of the wrapper I had to excuse myself to be alone with it. My dear, the idea of knitting a shawl from an 1880s pattern thrills me through and through and I will name the first one after you.

And my heartiest thanks to all of you for the advice on places to look for guidance on kitchener. I've gone two rounds with the first seam, and came within one stitch of perfection the second time. I find the process isn't hard, no. The problem lies in getting distracted while I'm working on it, and then forgetting what I just did to which stitch. I can usually figure it out. Usually. The one time I didn't, the sweater won.

But I'll be damned if a pile of wool is going to take me down. VincerĂ²!

Join The Glee Club

I would like to mention that C, a veteran blogger who has been on a long hiatus, has begun a new blog. Go read it and you will likely fall in love with him, too. (Hands off, though, or you're in for a world of hurt, capisce?)

New Shirt

There's another new design in the shop. It's not a cartoon, but I hope y'all will like it. The cartoons are taking a while because, well, making something by hand takes longer. If you read this blog, it's a situation you understand.

I am deeply distressed to learn that Cafe Press is low on plus sizes. I hate that. I'm going to see what I can do to remedy it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Meanwhile, I'm Knitting

Sweater News

The Rhinebeck sweater isn't done yet, but we're getting there.

The collar is finished and now fits over my pointy little head. The hem has been completely redone and doesn't flip or flare (I'll tell you what I did in another post).

Then two nights ago I sat down, slid another episode of the original Forsyte Saga into the player (Fleur Forsyte, you are a conniving bitch, but I cannot look away) and wove in all the ends.

Talk about maximum result for minimum effort. It only took me about an hour, but when I was finished the sweater seemed to have taken a giant leap towards completion.

Encouraged by this, I did what I should not have done. I tried something new, when I ought to have shut the lights out and gone to bed.

The underarm stitches had been patiently hanging around on waste yarn since I'd put them there weeks ago. I slid those on the right side onto two needles, propped up Knitting Without Tears on the work table and decided this would be the perfect time to learn stockinette weaving.

Do I even need to tell you what happened next? No, I didn't think so.

Happily, the Jo Sharp wool I'm using is quite soft, so the living room window didn't break when the sweater hit it.

There's no photo. I can't even draw you a picture. It's too painful to recall. Though not as painful as undoing the screwy weaving and putting 40 stitches back on the needles again, dropping two for every one that gave no trouble.

[Note to Kathy Merrick: at this point I am so grateful to my crochet hook just for being there that I think I may need to learn to crochet out of sheer gratitude.]

The sweater and I will reconvene tonight (early) to revisit the matter of underarm weaving. I shall be armed with the video demonstration of Elizabeth Zimmerman weaving (thanks, Greg!), Montse Stanley, the Vogue Knitting Reference, and Mary Thomas. And it is going to work, or this time I'm throwing the sweater at the window again, but this time the window is going to be open.

Lace Report

If you had told me back during the "Branching Out" era that I would some day knit lace to relax, I would have said you were nuts.

But that's what I'm doing. Granted, we're talking dreadfully simple lace, knitted with sock yarn (Nature Spun, I think) on US 2 3/4 Inox needles.

Here's a picture:

I know, I know. It's not much. There's no plan for it, even. I'm just making a sampler using stitch patterns I learned in my classes at Stitches Midwest. When I get tired of working a pattern, I knit a few plain rows and do a different one.

Perhaps I will call this the "Fear of Commitment" stole.

Along the bottom is the Estonian "Peacock" pattern, with the "Twig" pattern running up both sides above. In the middle is "Chain Hearts," which comes from Orenburg, in a field of garter stitch. Above all of that, in progress, is the Estonian "Leaf" pattern (no nupps).

This is what I've been doing on the train morning and evening, and loving it. I'll keep knitting it until I get sick of it or run out of yarn, then bind it off and use it to practice blocking. It's too wide to be a scarf, so I'm calling it a stole.

Stole, scarf, table runner, antimacassar–whatever. All I know is it has no neckline and no underarms, and right now that's enough for me, baby.

And He Created Them Male and Female

This is being written in haste, kids, so keep that in mind as you read.

Point Number One.

It's a just a stupid t-shirt. Cool your jets.

Point Number Two.

If what male knitters want is no longer to be objects of curiosity (and let's be honest, fellows - don't tell me you don't sometimes enjoy the attention when it isn't condescending), then what we want is a world in which everyone mixes and nobody is excluded.

I designed the original t-shirt for Jon as a present, based on a funny comment C made. Jon loved the shirt. Many people who saw Jon wearing the shirt loved the shirt (though I'm sure the model was part of the reason). Many of those people were women, and many wanted to know if I would do a version for them.

And why wouldn't I?

The thing I like best about the design is that it does work for either sex.

We're all knitters. We all have needles. And none of us should be messed with.

Boys, you'll have your own designs from me by and by, but don't look to me help build a club that keeps out all the girls all the time. I happen to like the girls. The old attitudes are changing and the girls have been mighty nice to me of late.

Point Number Three.

Girls buy shirts. So far, may I add, only girls buy my shirts. And Captain Shortguy needs a new camera. That's capitalism for you.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Tricky and Franklin: A Correspondence

What follows has been abridged and edited for clarity, but it's mostly real.

I've submitted an article to the new online men's knitting magazine being put together over at My editor? None other than Tricky Tricot. Ain't it a small world?

(Oh, and before I forget: new women's shirt in the shop. Cartoon shirt designs to follow. Plus a knitting bag.)


FR: Tricky
TO: Franklin
DT: 28 Sept 2005, 15:38:51
SUBJECT: Menknit Submission

I may have neglected to mention I need a short bio from you as well as a photo to include with the mag (it's coming, it's coming!). Can you send this ASAP?


[Franklin then sent a message inquiring about specs for the photo, which is here omitted.]


FR: Tricky
TO: Franklin
DT: 29 Sept 2005, 11:59:15
SUBJECT: Re: Photo and bio questions

Um, just send us a hi-res color jpeg of your face/head. Remember - millions of men will be looking at you asking, "Is he single?"

Don't go too wild on the bio - I don't want to hear about eating brioche as a child, or this one time at band camp. I need like a 100 words max.


FR: Franklin
TO: Tricky
DT: 30 Sept 2005, 06:04:27

How's this:

Franklin Habit ( is a photographer, designer and knitter who lives in Chicago, Illinois.


FR: Tricky
TO: Franklin
DT: 30 Sept 2005, 06:14:32
SUBJECT: Re: My bio

I'll take it - though if I had known you were going to be so brief, I would have allowed some brioche.


FR: Franklin
TO: Tricky
DT: 30 Sept 2005, 6:16:00
SUBJECT: Re: My bio

Franklin Habit ( is a photographer, designer and knitter who lives in Chicago, Illinois. He rarely, if ever, eats brioche.


FR: Tricky
TO: Franklin
DT: 30 Sept 2005, 6:24:43
SUBJECT: Re: My bio



FR: Franklin
TO: Tricky
DT: 30 Sept 2005, 6:37:25
SUBJECT: Re: My bio

Franklin Habit ( is a photographer, designer and knitter who lives in Chicago, Illinois. He rarely, if ever, eats brioche, because as a very small child he lost both parents in a freak baking accident, and ever since has associated the smell of yeast and the sight of traditional French pastries with loss and tragedy. This prevented him from taking over the generations-old family business (Crust and Company, LLC) and instead forced him to pursue what appeared to all outsiders to be the luxurious, devil-may-care lifestyle of a rich, young, and fantastically good-looking orphan. A society obsessed with celebrity eagerly awaited news of his latest exploits via the tabloids, various fan sites, and of course his critically-acclaimed MTV reality show "Oh, That Frankin!"

Who could know that behind the glamour, the fame, the adulation of millions was a shy, lonely boy who fought crime wearing a fetching mask-and-leotard ensemble under the pseudonym Captain Shortguy? Yes, apprenticeships with the keenest masters of martial arts, weapons design, pyrotechnics, aeronautics and data mining had turned him into an unstoppable crime-fighting machine, a force for justice, defender of the downtrodden, symbol of hope to millions of poor and underprivileged.

In his spare time, Franklin also enjoys fishing, batik, and four-way bargello. But he absolutely never eats brioche.


FR: Tricky
TO: Franklin
DT: 30 Sept 2005, 7:01:09
SUBJECT: Re: My bio

Do you really want me to print this? I could make room...


FR: Franklin
TO: Tricky
DT: 30 Sept 2005, 7:32:43
SUBJECT: Re: My bio

Um, no, we'd better not. I made up some of it.

(I'm only a symbol of hope to hundreds of thousands of people, not millions. One would hate to be accused of exaggerating.)

Monday, October 03, 2005

In Which I Meet Many Delightful Knitters, One of Them Quite Famous

One of the reasons rant and screed blogs have proliferated is that superlatives make for dull reading. Misery loves company, and folks slogging through a typical American work day of endless meetings, routine humiliation, and painstaking labor without tangible result cannot be blamed if they'd rather not read about the perfectly wonderful time somebody else is having.

If that's the mood you're in today, you might want to skip this entry. Not that I generally corner the market on Blog Bitchery, but this report is going to be obnoxiously sunny. Allow me to get it out of my system. Tune in tomorrow, and things will be back to normal.

On Saturday, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (she is who is known as Yarn Harlot) made her first visit to Chicago. While I'm not one to get weak-kneed and slobbery over famous knitters in general (okay, Nancy Bush is an exception), I find Stephanie's work to be rock-solid and deeply funny, and I wear my Harlot Fan Club Secret Decoder Ring with pride.

She was scheduled to appear at Arcadia Knitting, which is one of my two favorite yarn shops in the city. (From my very first visit, they've never given me attitude. Quite the contrary. I recommend them to all knitters in Chicago, particularly men who are tired of second-class treatment.)

I stopped by early and, in addition to accidentally buying Gladys Thompson's Patterns for Jerseys, Guernseys and Arans and a skein of Lorna's Laces (oops), I also asked whether they had a photographer hired for the event. They didn't. I offered to be It. They accepted.

[Insert little shout of joy here.]

On the way back to the shop around 3 pm (with Harlot due to arrive at 4) I was delighted to step into the subway car and see somebody knitting a (really cute) sock. As a rule, I won't approach a knitter on the subway (or anywhere else) as it's best in the city to leave people alone if you have no compelling reason to bug them. But happily, as we sat on the Lawrence bus heading to the shop she introduced herself - it was Melissa, who you probably know better as The Stitchin' Seminarian.

The shop was already buzzing and I swung into action. Being the photographer at an event like this is marvelous for a shy person because you cannot sit in a dim corner and pretend you're invisible. I started photographing groups of knitters and asking where they'd come from. As expected Harlot's appearance had drawn in not only knitters from the suburbs, but also folks from Minnesota, Michigan, and Indiana.

My first big surprise was how many people recognized me from this blog and introduced themselves. I will not pretend it wasn't gratifying. When I started writing this thing, I did it as a way to motivate myself to keep projects moving and record daily minutiae. At Stitches, I met in person two people (one of them Jon) who read it, and that felt wonderful. On Saturday, at least 20 people had a kind comment to share, and I nearly hit the ceiling.

I was already floating around on a cloud when Harlot showed up. It's difficult to write about her and say anything new, as the 12,493 other bloggers who met her first have it pretty much covered. My summary:
  • Yes, she really is that funny. By the time she wrapped up her Q & A and began signing books, I'd laughed so hard and so much that my face hurt.

  • She has no pretense about her at all. She took Chicago public transit to the shop, for heaven's sake. I know people who live here who wouldn't have done that.

  • She has the patience of a saint. There had to be 80-100 people who lined up for autographs. I was standing there for much of the time taking photographs, and she gave every person her undivided attention.
As I was shooting for the shop, they get dibs on most of my photographs for their Web site, but I'll post a select few here that are of purely personal interest.

Here's Emily, who wouldn't you know turns out to be the sister of Tres and a heck of a fun person?

Harlot with Melody, who has one of the most infectious laughs you've ever heard:

And this is Melissa (my fellow public transit rider), who (how meta is this) having her picture taken for her own blog.

And this is Jen (also seen above taking Melissa's picture), the dear woman who designed the bunny hat, and was very nice to me even though I made my version in acrylic.

If the day had ended with the signing, I would have gone home to C bubbling with stuff to tell him. But it did not end there.

Because as things were wrapping up, Bonne Marie (my dear, you are stunning, how did you manage to avoid getting into any of my photographs? hmmm?) asked me if I would like to join Stephanie, the owners of Arcadia, and a few other people for dinner.

Oh, gee. Let me think about that for a little while.

It was heady company for a guy who only got down to knitting in earnest in January. But everybody else was drinking, so I may have given the impression that I held up my end of the conversation.

Before you start thinking it was all very serious, I should also mention that after dinner Stephanie took off her shoes and I took off my boots and we stood back-to-back to see which of us is the shorter person. (She is. But not by much. And I would kill for her waistline.)

In the absolute final picture of the day, proof I didn't make all this up just to piss you off.

Stephanie's the one in the middle. The pretty lady in black is Kathy, one of the owners of Arcadia. I'm the one with no hair and the Cinderella-at-the-Friggin-Ball grin on my face.

(Dear God: Remember that awful eighth-grade Halloween dance when I was 13 and had acne and my haircut sucked and none of the girls would dance with me and I spent most of the evening stuck in the corner listening to a classmate I didn't even like talk about his Star Wars action figures, and then went home, realized my zipper had been open the whole time and cried myself to sleep? Well, you finally made up for it. Thank you.)

*Late addition. I can't believe I forgot to give shout-outs to two people. Marcy, who brought you the Lil' Devil baby pants in
from the Stitch 'n' Bitch series; and Stephanie's publicist, Sarah, who also braved the Chicago El without losing her hair and who remembered the little review of the first Harlot book that I wrote way back when. Saturday was a gathering of right-on women. I was fortunate to be there.