Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Civic Pride

Okay, so I may be Welsh for the duration, but I'm still really a Chicago knitter.

So how could I say no when asked to make them a button?

I hope you like it, fellow citizens. Urbs in horto all the way.

(By the way, I regret extremely this is the only button I'm able to make right now. I'm up to my rosy pink nipples in work. But thank you for thinking of me.)


When I agreed to make the "gold medal" for the Knitting Olympics, I figured that would be the extent of my participation. After the ruana, I am no fan of knitting on a deadline. I thought the idea was brilliant, just not my cup of cocoa.

Then Marilyn asked me if I might like to join her and some other knitters in working on this, the Wedding Ring Shawl from Heirloom Knitting, as a summer project.

As you may remember, knitting lace is my personal Mt. Everest. I've dabbled in it, I've taken classes with Nancy Bush and Galina Khmeleva, I've read every book on it I can lay hands on. I just haven't actually made a finished project. And there's no way I was going to pass up a chance to work on a project with experienced knitters to offer advice and encouragement.

In order to get my chops ready for the Wedding Ring Shawl, I decided to take on one of the sample shawl* patterns from Galina's book on Orenberg lace, with the goal of finishing it and blocking it in a reasonable amount of time. I cannot promise to finish by the time the torch goes out, and I'm not going to let that worry me. My goal is to work a piece of lace to the end and block it.

In spite of everything I've read and everything that's been said to me, I'm sorry, but blocking in general is scary to a newbie and blocking lace, in particular, makes me want to crawl under the bed with my teddy bear. I have no intent of launching into a Shetland showpiece without prior experience of the whole process under my belt, so a sample shawl it is.

As nothing motivates me quite like a looming deadline (I was once a writer, after all) the Knitting Olympics seemed like the very thing to make me pick up the needles and just do it.

Funny, You Don't Look Welsh

Then I got a message from Brenda Dayne of the Cast On podcast, asking if I'd like to join the Welsh Knitting Olympics Team.

One brief romance with a guy from Cardiff notwithstanding, I don't have a drop of Welsh in me. But Aidan's doing it, and one of Susan's neighbors read A Child's Christmas in Wales to us on Christmas Eve, and I like leek soup, so I figured hey, why not. I just hope they don't ask me to sing the national anthem.

Speaking of Brenda: Yes, I am at work on another piece for an upcoming episode of her show. No, Herbie the Elf will not be making a guest appearance this time. Herbie and I are not speaking at the moment, and he knows perfectly well why. Thank you so much for bringing up a very painful subject.

*Sample. Meaning miniature. Think doily. I am not going to try to knit a five-foot full-sized Orenberg in two weeks. Despite what you may have heard or any pictures you may have seen, I am not into masochism as a lifestyle.

Monday, January 30, 2006

For the Kid Who Has Everything, Literally

I hit kindergarten right around the time Free to Be You and Me went into distribution. For those of you not familiar with it, this movie was an anthology of songs, poems, stories, and cartoons designed to free youngsters from the restrictions of traditional gender roles. One story was about a boy wanted to play with dolls, one was about "perfect little lady" who insisted on "ladies first" and got eaten by tigers, one was Rosie Greer singing about how boys can cry, and so forth.

Every time it rained and we couldn't go outside for recess, we watched either Free to Be You and Me, Paddle to the Sea or Really, Rosie. I think they were the only films the school owned. It was tough back then. The movies were probably expensive to buy, and showing them required setting up both a complicated projector and a screen. (The first time I remember a grown-up saying "shit" was an afternoon when my first grade teacher dropped a heavy film cannister on her toe.)

I loved Free to Be, and still do, even though "William Wants a Doll" was sort of a cop-out because the ultimate message was "It's okay for a boy to play with dolls as long as it's because he wants to practice being a daddy." This did nothing to help those of us who wanted Barbies so that our G.I. Joes would have somebody to go shopping with.

As I don't have children, naturally I'm not so in touch with what's out there for them these days. So I was most interested to run across Birdfarm's post about games and books for kids with problems. Problems too big, presumably, for Barney's sage wisdom or even a Very Special Episode of "Rugrats."

Birdfarm thinks that some of the titles suggest a series, including one called Sammy's Mommy Has Cancer. She's absolutely right. Write these titles in light verse, and illustrate them with whimsical pen-and-ink sketches, and Sammy might turn out to be the next Madeline.
Sammy's Mommy Has Cancer
Sammy's Daddy Has a Mistress
Sammy's Big Brother Deals Drugs
Sammy's Special Secret Game with Father Murphy
Sammy's Unusual Rash Down There
Sammy's Birthday Pony Falls Over Dead and Squashes His Pet Kitten
Sammy Flunks Fourth Grade
Sammy Gets Bashed in the Shower for Looking at Fred
Sammy Says Yes, Please to Heroin
Sammy Goes to Juvenile Detention
Sammy Is Unemployable with that Felony on His Record
Sammy Meets Betty Ford
Sammy Ends Up Dying Alone in a Cardboard Box Under a Bridge
I smell a Newbery Medal.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A Whole World Connected by Yarn

I didn't write about it, because I don't really celebrate it, but a couple of days ago was my birthday. C, being the solid gold boyfriend that he is, gave me the perfect gift (more about it in the near future) and a breakfast of my favorite banana pancakes. I refuse to consider the possibility that anybody in this or any other universe makes banana pancakes as good as his.

I also got a most unexpected gift via the post. James of Fibre Alive sent me a scarf. And such a scarf. As you can see, Boswell was every bit as overcome as I.

This is the first thing anybody has ever knit for me, ever.

But Wait, There's More

The first time the extreme connectedness of the knitblogging community really struck me was just after Marie Irshad's podcast interview with Yvonne Davies. I always enjoy Marie's KnitCast, but I particularly enjoyed listening to Yvonne speaking about running the "Relax and Knit" area at the UK's Knitting and Stitching Show. So I went over to Yvonne's blog to tell her so, and after leaving my comment noticed my blog was already in her blogroll.

Startling, to say the least.

So, what does this have to do with my scarf from James?

Well, if you know James's work you know he has a most unusual way with colo(u)r, and this scarf is no exception. He wrote in his note to me that he remembered I once said that most of my clothes are black (me and Carmel Snow, we have that in common), and that maybe this would brighten me up a bit.

And then he told me that the gold mohair was spun by Ted Myatt, and the green Koigu given to him by Kathy Merrick. That would be Ted Myatt, aka Knitterguy, with whom I am privileged to correspond regularly; and Kathy Merrick, part of the crew I met at Rhinebeck and one of my favorite people on the entire planet.

So I, in Chicago, got a birthday scarf from a New Zealand knitter I've never seen in person, that incorporates yarn from two other knitters I know, only one of whom I've actually met, who live in Canada and Virginia.

After I realized this, it took a good two hours before my eyes uncrossed.

Little Shop of Knitters

Reader Bess asked if I'd mind putting Marge on a shirt, and I don't mind, so I did.

Also, if you want the 2005 Elf Ornament, time's running out. As promised, I'm pulling him from circulation on the 31st of January.

I'm definitely interested in working on a calendar and on stationery. My chief issue right now is that, frankly, I think the prices at Café Press for those items are completely ridiculous. Even if I were to forego any commission on my part, they'd still be expensive. So I'm looking into alternatives.

Etiquette Follow-Up

I had a ball reading everybody's comments about the post on etiquette. In addition to learning that Marilyn was apparently the model for Eloise, I was deeply amused by Mama Lu's description of her very proper grandmother. In fact, I love the comment so much I'm going to quote it so that everybody will be sure to see it:

Franklin, you should have been related to my grandmother (of course you're much too young, she was born in 1875). She said "gel" (with a hard g) for girl and "lahndry" for laundry and could never forgive my mother for the fact that her grandchildren had no manners and talked like Americans (we were Canadian, but no matter).

She never used the telephone for any social purpose; it was for doctors and tradesmen (notes and invitations were sent by post, which was delivered twice a day). And she always dressed for dinner, even during the war, when it consisted of boiled eggs (if you had chickens) or cheese on toast.

I was in awe on the three occasions that I met her, I was told she could be quite funny. She complained that the V2 raids at the end of the war always came when she was in her bath, and she quoted Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII: "Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my king, he would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies."
My kind of woman.

The reason manners were so much on my mind yesterday was that in the evening, I had to photograph a work event at which the presenter was none other than Peter Post, great-grandson of Emily.

I got to sit next to him at dinner. We talked about asparagus as finger food, and our collections of etiquette books. He signed my copy of Manners for Men. The great-grandson of an immigrant Pennsylvania coal miner and the great-grandson of the WASP matron nonpareil had dinner together. Now that's democracy in action.

You know, in spite of everything, I do love this country.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mister Manners

"Curtsy while you're thinking what to say. It saves time."–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The family into which I was born is, to put it mildly, informal.

You know those holiday commercials that show gleaming, symmetrical groups of soft-spoken kin around a mahogany dinner table, with the paterfamilias doling out a turkey without getting grease on his necktie? We were not that family. We had as much in common with that family as we did with nomadic Mongolians and those tribes in the Amazon that didn't see white people until the 60s, or whenever it was. Come think of it, we probably have more in common with the Amazonians.

As a child, this drove me nuts.

I was thoroughly convinced by age six that I was a changeling. My "father" and "mother" were satisfactory for all practical purposes. They kept me clothed and fed. But they could not possibly be my real parents. My real parents would not eat off paper plates, or hang around the house on Saturdays in jeans and t-shirts. My real parents threw cocktail parties, dressed for dinner, and–the height of glamour to my infant mind–would take me to Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Princess for my birthday.

A lot of little kids try to run away from home. Not me. I parked myself on the curb in front of the house, with Raggedy Ann under one arm and a book under the other, and waited for my real parents to drive by in their limousine and pick me up.

It embarrasses me now that this way of thinking didn't fade as I grew older, it just morphed into a desperate need to claw my way to the top of a society that, I have since learned, really only ever existed in my head.

When I arrived at Harvard as a freshman, determined to make myself over into the second coming of Oliver Barrett, my obsession with etiquette began. Having heard that proper manners were the ticket into elevated circles, I set about to acquire them.

I missed.

My parents, I have since realized, had already taught me manners. What I learned at Harvard was etiquette. Extremely formal etiquette. Antiquated etiquette. Etiquette of a sort that only the people who hang around with Queen Liz need to know. Etiquette of a sort that helped change me, for a time, from a dizzy but not unpleasant person into a crashing, boring snob.

Have you ever met a 17-year-old whose fondest desire is engraved stationery and visiting cards? Who issues formal invitations to a Christmas party in his dorm room? And requires equally formal, written RSVPs? Who is so concerned with questions of precedent when introducing a mixed company of ladies and gentlemen of various ages that he nearly passes out from the strain? Who flies home for winter break in a coat and tie because he feels people ought to wear traveling clothes?

Through the grace of God, I have since calmed down. Mostly. I still want the stationery and the cards.*

The remant of this bizarre fascination is my collection of etiquette books and domestic manuals. Below is a small section of the shelf.

Even at this small size, you will doubtless note that they're mostly, ahem, slightly out of date. But that's one of the reasons I love them so. When I read them now, it's not so much for reference as to immerse myself in a world that, if it ever existed, is now long gone.

Take, for example, the 1920s edition of Emily Post. It's the fat blue book just to the right of Manners for Women. Just for one day, I would like to trade problems Mrs. Worldly, who is to my mind Miss Post's most enduring contribution to English literature.

Mrs. Worldly, a hefty dame who perches at the top of the social pyramid in a fur coat, would appear to live a life of perfect ease. But no. Daily, nightly, she wrestles with:
  • How to survive a "camping trip" to the Adirondacks without her maid, because she cannot do her own hair.**

  • Housemaids who noisily stack dinner plates one atop the other when clearing the table.

  • Changing clothes four times a day when in Newport.

  • Remembering the different hours appropriate for making social calls in Newport, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

  • Properly addressing members of the royal family when visiting England.
I could go on, but I don't want to ruin your morning with painful images.

In the years since college, I've come to appreciate my freewheeling parents and my goofy family. I've learned that something Birdfarm once said to me, which at the time made me grit my teeth, was quite true: "It's really just about being nice to people."

On the other hand, if you need to know how to Properly Cross a Ballroom Floor Without an Escort, I'm your man.

*And I still believe firmly in the importance of not only good manners, but of a certain level of practical etiquette. Humans are unpredictible, and their interactions are fraught with the possibility of conflict. When you give those interactions a framework, it helps keep things civil. It's a good thing, if you don't take it too far and use it to shut people out.

**She ultimately solves the problem by wearing a fur hat the entire time. I would never have thought of that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Men at Work

The second meeting of what is, to the best of our knowledge, the city of Chicago's first knitting group for persons of the male persuasion convened last night at the Argo Tea Café in the Loop.

It was beautiful night. The city was at its sparkling midwinter best.

State Street near the Argo

Attendance numbered six, a startling 300% increase from the first meeting two weeks ago.

The knitters were made to feel very welcome by the café staff, and aside from an unfortunate encounter with hibiscus tea (Aidan is probably still trying to get the taste out of his mouth) were much pleased with the venue.

The jolly pre-theatre crowd waiting to see Wicked in the theater next door did much to add to the liveliness of the atmosphere. (Note to the Asian couple in matching red scarves: Get a room.)

The gathering discussed many topics of world import including:
  • Rachel Ray, America's most famous lousy tipper,
  • the proper technique for measuring sock heels,
  • the latest issue of Vogue Knitting,
  • the formation of Team Wales in the Knitting Olympics (more on that next post)
  • the length of my camera lens, and
  • yarn.
Chicago Guy Knitter Trading Cards (Collect 'Em All!)

Jim (a fabulous knitter simply brimming with good advice)

Aidan (organizer, knitter, raconteur, mensch)

Jonathan (knitting a gorgeous sweater vest by that Scottish lady)

Michael (making a lovely sock while still managing to be enormously helpful to others)

Andy (ripping back a 20-year-old UFO that is now becoming a really nice scarf)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Stitches in Britches

Reminder to male knitters in the Chicagoland area: the brand new Chicago men's knitting group, Stitches in Britches*, will have its second meeting tomorrow at Argo Tea Café, 16 W. Randolph Street, in Chicago, from 6:30–9:30 p.m.

I will be there. And I will be knitting. And I can't wait.

Come out, come out, wherever you are, guys.

*Note to Sew Fast/Sew Easy, Inc.: go after our title and we'll smack you into next week.

Stasher Movies

Ladies and gentlemen and sheep, in honor of film awards season, the Panopticon's resident cinema critic is pleased to give you a baker's dozen of...

The Greatest Knitting Horror and Thriller Films of All Time

1. Night of the Living Moth
2. The Sweater from the Black Lagoon
3. I Spit Upon Ewe Grave
4. The Felting
5. The Shetland of Dr. Moreau
6. Knitsferatu
7. War of the Purls
8. Whatever Happened to Baby Ull?
9. Sorry, Wrong Dye Lot
10. It Came from Lily Chin
11. The Ply
12. The Stockinette of Dr. Caligari
13. I Know What You Crocheted Last Summer

Friday, January 20, 2006

You Call This a Knitting Blog?

Contrary to the impression of late, I am still a knitter. You just might not know it from reading this blog.

Bear with me. I've some fun to stuff to show, once Marilyn's illustrations are further along and my brother-in-law's Web site is quite finished and everybody who has ordered a print from me has got the print and my effing shoulder no longer feels like it's being bitten by a long-toothed rodent whenever I move it a certain way.

One thing I've discovered is that knitting has become so much a part of my daily routine that when it's removed, it actively disturbs my brain. I keep reaching for yarn and needles that are not there. Last night, I fell asleep mentally working the chart of my gansey in my head.

Twenty-four hours in a day used to seem interminably long. Now I'm afraid I'm going to have to write to Yarn Harlot and find out where she purchased the additional 12 hours per day that allow her to get her work done and still knit fair isle that makes my eyes cross.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

What Belongs to Whom

I'm coming rather late to the party with this post, but better late than never.

There's a grassroots movement afoot to express opposition to the attempt by some company called Sew Fast/Sew Easy, Inc. (have you ever heard of these people?) to–get this–trademark the expression "Stitch and Bitch."

To this end, all Yahoo groups using the expression in their names have been told to cease and desist, and even the clever "Purl" mascot designed for the Chicago You-Know-What has been pulled off the market by Café Press.

And apparently now they're going after Debbie Stoller. Notice that they've waited until her books have made a great deal of money and become ubiquitous in the stores before saying something. She's fighting back. Give 'em hell, Debbie. You want me to send a group of sheep to picket them?

To quote loosely a favorite line from All About Eve, this breaks all records for running, jumping, or standing gall. The expression in question is a dates back apparently to the 1940s or earlier. You cannot, it would seem to me, legally justify ownership of a commonplace set of words just because you called dibs.

Ironically, if you visit their obnoxiously colored Web site, you'll find a set of tellingly underused forums which includes a section for men who knit, and refers to them as "Dicks with Sticks." Have they also trademarked this? And if so, has the group in San Francisco dutifully changed its name?

There's a grassroots effort afoot to fight the moneygrubbing idiots, and you can find out more about it over through this Web site, dedicated the boycott of Sew Fast/Sew Easy.

Whichever way this case goes, Sew Fast/Sew Easy, Inc. will never see a dime of my money.

On the Other Hand

Cryptic comments left on another blog have suggested that it's time for me to trot out my guidelines for proper use of cartoons and photographs posted on this blog.
  1. Whether marked "copyright" or not, and whether officially filed for copyright or not, a creator's works are held in copyright by him or her from the moment of creation.

  2. Publishing an image (or anything else) on the Web does not mean said image is no longer under copyright.

  3. I'm probably not going to call out the sheepdogs if a blogger posts a single one of my cartoons on his or her personal, non-profit blog provided that a credit and link are provided. I'd rather you did not, but as I can't actually stop you, that's what I'm asking for if you must insist.

  4. You absolutely do not have permission to use any of my drawings or photographs for publication in any other form whatsoever without my express, written permission. If you do, you're stealing. And if I catch you, I will object strenuously.
I'm not pretending that the doodles I draw are sketches by Picasso. But they mean a lot to me, and many of them do require a lot of time and thought and ink and pencil. I have extremely fair rates for commissioned work, and on more than one occasion have also done gratis work for deserving charitable causes.

The person who may or may not be considering purloining my sketch of Mary getting yarn for Christmas* should consider whether it would be nice of me to go into her yarn shop and steal a couple skeins of cashmere while her back is turned just because she might not notice.

Mind you, with a simple, businesslike request and a payment of about the price of those skeins, she could get a superlative copy of the sketch in question. Or for a little more, she could even get a custom design.

As it is, if she goes ahead she'll wind up with (at best) an extremely crappy looking card (Web files look awful on paper, dear lady) and some truly bad karma.

Sorry to sound so, ahem, bitchy. But I have a little while to go yet before knitting is permitted again. This must be what it's like to quit smoking.

*No, I don't know for certain it's my sketch that's being spoken of. But if there's another male knitblogger out there who posted artwork that might go on a Christmas card, I haven't had the pleasure of his acquaintance.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

This Whole Sheep Thing Is Getting Out of Control

You know what the problem with drawing sheep is? I keep falling asleep on my sketchbook.

Ha, ha. A joke.

Monday, January 16, 2006

You Ask For It, You Get It

Remember Marge, who misread her pattern?

I've never had such a reaction to a drawing, not since Man vs. Sweater. A disturbingly large number of readers said they identified with Marge. Are you kidding me? You've actually knit your cat's tail into a...into a...

What the hell is that she's making, anyway?

Since there was so much call for it, I've put her on a knitting bag in the shop.

Anything else you want? Just ask.

Cover Boy

I haven't said a word, until now, about a Christmas gift that was so unexpected, and so lavish, that I got weak-kneed and nearly passed out under the tree when I opened it. My parents, in a show of support that stuns me even now, put into my hands a top-of-the-line Canon digital SLR– with a professional-grade zoom lens so sweet that when I look through the viewfinder, I hear angels singing.

The first real workout the new equipment got was for my day job. Six hours of photography around campus with student models, all for a 5 page brochure for a one-day event. Whew.

But I'd rather be exhausted by photography than by anything else.

Here's a rough mock-up of the cover shot. Having a camera that can make this possible, well...the door is open. If I don't make something happen, it'll be my own damn fault.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Those Who Can't Do, Post

Since I'm not supposed to knit until Mr. Shoulder has had another day or two to calm down, here's a look at what my mother has been up to since she got needles and yarn for Christmas.

This will be an exercise in familial mush, so if that sort of thing makes you sneeze or break out, go read You Knit What.

Exhibit A is a ribbed scarf made out of Lorna's Laces Shepherd's Worsted (colorway "Pioneer"). That's the yarn she got as part of her gift. You do not give a woman who went through difficult labor so that she could clean up after you for 18+ years a ball of Red Heart.

Let me tell you something about my mama. She never does anything if she's not going to do it beautifully. So after we established that she still (after almost 29 years of no knitting) had casting on, knit, and purl well in hand, she began and ripped and began and ripped probably ten times, without fuss or complaint. And then she got into the groove and produced this in short order.

Knitting must be like riding a bicycle. (Except knitting will not firm and tone the buttocks. Alas.)

Then Mom picked up a book of dishcloth patterns with the idea that the little squares would be a good way of learning new stitch patterns. So I give you Exhibit B, the first dishcloth.

I have no doubt that all the dishes, pots, and flatware in Mom's kitchen will now feel deeply loved.

There are rumors of a multi-colored scarf for Dad. But I've seen no pictures. Hint, hint.

Lady Look Like a Dude

Have you heard of this man?

If not, I can pretty much guarantee that you're going to at some point in the next several months.

He has a book coming out in just a week or so. And though my own taste in literature runs heavily to things written a minimum of 50 years before I was born, his is too intriguing to pass up.

There's more here, including an interesting excerpt from the first chapter.

Laughter Amid Tears

I've been sidelined for a couple days due to a shoulder problem. Nothing horrible, just an inflammation in the muscle that stems from an unfortunate collision with a hulking Lufthansa stewardess a couple years ago. (Thanks for the souvenir, Birgit. I hope you limp occasionally. It would only be fair.)

The worst part of recuperation from a flare-up is that I'm not supposed to lift weights or knit for the duration. Feh.

And now I come back to find that in my absence the place has been like the showroom in a Borscht Belt Hotel. Everybody's a comic. And some of you should be ashamed of yourselves. (Giggle.)

I enjoyed reading all the captions. I may have to do that again.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I was thumbing through sketchbooks the other day trying to find a particular doodle to serve as the jumping off point for an illustration for Marilyn, when I ran across this wordless tableau.

This was on a heavily-scribbled page otherwise occupied by drawings of sheep knitting, ice skating, eating cookies, watching television, doing the frug, and generally engaging in unsheeplike activities.

I haven't the faintest idea what made me draw these two. I don't even know what the curly-haired figure is wearing on her (his?) head.

And yet it cries out for a caption, don't you think?

So give me one.

Need to see it again?

Baby, It's Cold Outside

This entry is for recordkeeping purposes. The finished object was presented weeks ago, but I've not put up a photo for the record until now. Sue me.

Item: Baby Bonnet

Pattern Sources:
Basic bonnet from Last Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson; lace edging is "Doris" from Heirloom Knitting by Sharon Miller

Yarn: White 100% acrylic sport-weight "baby" yarn from unknown company

Needles: Heck if I remember. Addi Turbo US5 circular, most likely

Notes: Part of a little ensemble that also included a zigzag rib scarf and a baby hat in the same yarn. I neglected to get finished photos of these two items; in-progress photos are here.

The Doris edging is extremely pretty and not difficult to knit. Edging was knit separately to proper length (allowing some fullness) and whip-stitched with the knitting yarn to the edge of the bonnet.

Deviated from bonnet pattern in not giving I-cord edge to front opening as curled edge looked very pretty and reduced depth of bonnet giving (I think) better fit for a newborn.

And quite by coincidence, the baby for whom this was made was born just after 5 a.m. this morning. Welcome to the world, Samuel Francis, and may it treat you gently.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Where the Boys Are

Busy as all heck today, so all I have time to throw at you is a quick announcement.

Aidan Gilbert has gone and done it. He's organized a knitting meet-up for Chicago men, yclept Stitches in Britches.

The location:
Argo Tea Café
16 W. Randolph Street
The dates and times:
Second and fourth Tuesdays of each month
6:30–9:30 p.m.
The first meet-up will be tomorrow night, January 10, 2006.

Alas, I will not be there due to a prior commitment. I have to photograph 40 chocolate truffles for a print brochure. (If you can't be surrounded by knitters, it's nice to at least be surrounded by chocolate.)

There's a Yahoo group in conjunction with the meet-up, which you can join here.

A Response to an E-mail

The above announcement ties in with an e-mail I got a few days ago, in which a person who remained anonymous asked the question "If you didn't like the women kicking you out of the Stitch 'n Bitch in your neighborhood, why are you plugging for a men's group? Sounds like you are just as big a sexist."

Dear reader, in response I wish to make the following points.
  1. If you think I'm a sexist and/or hate women, you haven't been reading my blog very long. Please reference this, point 32; or this; or this; or this; or this before typing the letters P-I-G.

  2. The group that told me I was unwelcome as a male had advertised itself as "for all knitters" without any mention of gender requirements. Had the group labeled itself as "for women" I would not have intruded in the first place.

  3. Sometimes, even now, each sex needs and has a right to spaces in which its members can associate in exclusivity. The spaces will take various forms to suit various needs: a locker room, Wellesley College, or a knitting group. But the need is valid and should be respected.

  4. Should you feel the need to explore this issue further, your own blog would be the ideal place to do so. I have no interest. I'd rather talk about yarn and camera lenses.

  5. Oh, and cowboys.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Do Needles Make the Knitter?

Given my lousy track record as a diarist, I'm surprised there's still a blog at this address after 11 months. As kid, a teenager, and an adult I started and abandoned untold notebooks and diaries, paper and electronic.

So why am I still blogging? It's the comments.

I have an entire shelf at home devoted to books of letters and diaries by other people. Anne Frank, Henry James, Strauss and Hofmannsthal, George Bernard Shaw and Ellen Terry. I love reading words written long ago by folks who for the most part probably never intended that those words would not only survive, but go into print between hard covers.

And I know that every time I picked up a pen or sat down at a keyboard, I envisioned some poor schmuck cuddled up 100 years later reading (or more likely falling asleep over) The Collected Letters of Franklin.

Then I would feel miffed, thinking that 100 years was an awful long time to wait for a giggle if I'd written something funny. Not that I would even be around to hear it.

So, I love it when folks comment. I write, you read, you say something, and I get lovely tingles up my spine every single time. And not just when they say the cartoon is funny or the urban snails are awful or we wouldn't ask you to leave the knitting group because you've got hair on your chest. I also find it stimulating to get a brickbat instead of a bouquet.

For example, yesterday's entry included the following passage:
As you would imagine with that many knitters, there was a bit of everything. Knitting, crochet, and one lady with a round plastic object she bought at Wal-Mart that somehow makes hats. De gustibus non disputandum.
For those of you less pretentious than I, the Latin tag means "There's no accounting for taste." Several readers took that to be a slam against the circular peg loom. This was not the intent, though on re-reading the sentences I can understand that interpretation. What I should have used, perhaps, was the equally pretentious but more accurate French cousin "Chacun à son gout," or "To each his own."

I'm at least not pretentious enough to say that's my motto, but if I had to pick one it would be a contender. I don't judge what other people use to play with their yarn. Hierarchies in art or craft are, in my opinion, absurd. The point, to me, is that you should enjoy yourself and achieve your goal, whatever it may be. It's your own affair.

Knitters who look down on, for example, those who crochet tend to forget that in the larger world, many of those who paint, sculpt, or make photographs look at knitters as, at best, hobbyists whose rote busywork results in cute hats.

The lady in question had made a quite lovely hat with the plastic ring, she was radiant with excitement about it, and she was generous in sharing her pleasure with the rest of us. That sort of interaction is the reason one goes to a knitting meet-up instead of staying home.

But this entry isn't intended to be a defense of nor an apology for those sentences. They are what they are.

Instead, the comments on them made me consider the more interesting question of tools and fiber, and what their role is in determining the worth or quality of the finished work–not to mention the perceived quality of the maker.

Now, I don't have an answer to this one, because there's no answer. Instead, since there's (glory hallelujah) enough of you out there reading this to engage in a discussion, I'm opening one up.

Here's your proposition.

You have before you two knitted objects (both imaginary).

One is an Aran sweater, knitted skillfully out of gray Red Heart yarn. The handsome design is original, by an obscure knitter from a small town who has no blog, has never published, is in other words entirely unknown.

The other is a six-foot scarf, in a simple knit-purl pattern, made from 100% top-of-the-line cashmere, handspun and hand-dyed. It was created and knitted by a Legendary Designer, a pillar of knitting.

Here's the question.

What are the relative worths of these objects? And why?

Let me say it again: THERE'S NO ANSWER TO THIS. The joy is in the discussing.

And here's the one rule.

Respect one another's opinions. No cheap shots. No personal attacks. Violators will be shown the door, but if you're reading this blog you're probably quite well-mannered anyhow.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Location, Location, Location

As some of you already know, my one previous experience with stitching and bitching in Chicago was not a smashing success. I attended three or four meet-ups of my neighborhood's group, and met some quite nice people. It was fun, even though the meetings take place in a café which is so dark that it's touch-and-go following a pattern unless one is using bulky white yarn and has excellent eyesight.

At the end of my last meeting, however, two members took me aside and said that while the group's description said all were welcome, really it meant all women were welcome. They, and others, found having a man at the table inhibiting. It made it difficult for them to discuss "intimate women's issues."

Well, okay, fair enough. You don't have to tell me twice. So I haven't been back. (Even though I know not all the members felt that way-I have to emphasize that many of them were perfectly friendly.)

But still, knitting is (or at least, can be) a social activity and although I'm often solitary by nature, I missed having face-to-face time with other knitters.

Then I got a message from reader Aidan Gilbert, who suggested that a men's group might be formed. But since that's not something you can start up on short order, we decided to at least meet and knit and get acquainted.

Aidan also lives in Chicago, though on the South Side. For those of you unfamiliar with the size of this city, that means he and I are not exactly next door to one another. From my house (on the North Side) to his house, on public transport, could take upwards of two hours.

So, where's the best place for the South and North to come together?

(Who said Gettysburg?)

The South and North could logically meet in the middle, and that's what we did. At quite the last moment we found out that Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, located smack in the middle of the Loop, had established a Tuesday evening Stitch 'n Bitch.

Problem solved.

Yesterday at 6 p.m. I walked into the restaurant of the museum (photo at left) and found 50 knitters going at it. Fifty. At least. And me without my camera.

This was the second meet-up of the group, and apparently the museum staffers were somewhat taken aback. The first meet-up drew four people.

Aidan was already there, and though I missed him at first he spotted me and got me a chair next to him, and introduced me to the very cordial knitters in the next chairs, Nancy and Dierdre, who also belong to the Windy City Knitting Guild.

Nancy had a metal neck charm that was also a needle gauge. Women get to wear all the cool stuff.

As you would imagine with that many knitters, there was a bit of everything. Knitting, crochet, and one lady with a round plastic object she bought at Wal-Mart that somehow makes hats. De gustibus non disputandum.

Attitude was refreshingly absent, at least where I was sitting. I was working on the Aran sweater (pictures forthcoming when it looks like anything) and the sight of my hand-drawn chart drew some curiosity. There was much touching of other people's yarn and chatter about patterns and what-have-you. You know, the usual.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I even got some knitting done.

Aidan has been knitting for 35 years, or roughly the length of my lifetime. He claims to have knitted black sweaters in the dark, while watching films. And I believe him. This level of skill could make a guy nervous, except he's also very friendly and funny as all hell.

As an added feature, there was a woman with a video camera and a microphone walking about, filming and interviewing. I forgot to ask what she was there for. All signs were that she was going to ignore the two men completely, but in the end she did ask us for the male point of view. She was moderately insulting and knew nothing about knitting, and I expect both of us will wind up on the cutting room floor, wherever it may be.

The idea of a men's group in the city is one Aidan is still pursuing (I will lend my full support, though I regret my schedule is already too full to do much other than publicize it through this blog) and he is setting up a Yahoo group to get the ball rolling. Details as they develop.

In the meantime, boys (and girls), the MoCA meet-up is terrific. The room is huge, the light is good, the tables are plentiful, there's no smoking to stink up your yarn, and admission to the entire museum is free.

Sometimes I almost enjoy living in this city. But don't tell anyone.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Come Knit with Me

Since I don't already have enough to do*, when Tricky Tricot asked if I might be open to co-hosting a knitalong based on Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac, I considered it for a good five or six minutes before I said yeah, sure, whatthehell.

I can hear you snickering out there, some of you. I know knitalongs have a reputation for being somewhat...Comment dit-on en anglais?...wussy.

It is my hope–nay, my intent–that this knitalong will be distinctly non-wussy.

The Spirit of Our Knitalong

Without wishing to be idolatrous, I will say this. Elizabeth Zimmermann managed to convey her idiosyncratic and occasionally revolutionary ideas about knitting using some of the finest English prose written in the twentieth century. If she had devoted herself only to the writing of memoirs, she would have been a second M.F.K. Fisher.

Elizabeth's knitting books always seem to boil the process of handknitting down to three questions:
  • Are your projects turning out as you wish them to?
  • As you create them, are you enjoying the process?
  • If not, is there a better way to do what you're doing?
As we knit through the twelve months of 2006, I'm hoping participants will keep these three things in mind. The point, as far as I am concerned, is not to wind up with 12 projects knitted exactly according to Elizabeth's pithy directions. The point is to expand your mind and flex your knitting muscles. If something in a given chapter inspires you to try a pattern of your own, join us and keep us posted on the progress.

This will be a knitalong where process has as much to do with it (if not more) than product. This means it's open to everybody, the newbie and the expert, because nobody knows everything there is to know about knitting.

The Almanac Along Blog

To keep things tidy, I've created a second blog for my own writing and photos related to the knitalong. When something new goes up there, I'll note it here, but otherwise this blog and its comments will be for non-knitalong content. More information about the knitalong is already posted over there.

We've also got a button, of course. If you wish to use it as a link, please be sure you link from it to http://almanacalong.blogspot.com.

Where to Get the Book

Knitter's Almanac is easy to find in a serviceable Dover edition at a reasonable cost, even when new. You can buy directly from Schoolhouse Press, Elizabeth's own company (now in the capable hands of her daughter Meg, a pillar of the knitting world in her own right). You will also likely find it on the shelves at your local bookseller's.

Other Knitting News

I can't close without drawing your attention to a fine finished object my sister managed to deliver on schedule in spite of great odds. It's an adaptation of a pattern, and I think a good one. A stubborn refusal to stick to directions may well be a family trait.


Monday, January 02, 2006


Marilyn doesn't like New Year's Resolutions. I can well understand this. After all, New Year's resolutions are the reason why for the next three weeks I'll have to wait in line for every machine at my gym.

I won't complain about it, of course. I'll just stand by, trying to be patient, trying to appear genuinely interested in the flyer on the wall advertising the new "Mommy and Me" body sculpting classes for North Shore mothers and their offspring.

When a typical example of Evanston manhood sits on the shoulder press machine, making cell phone calls to his trainer and his broker, I'll force myself to think things like, "Hey, I'm in no hurry, right? I'll just do a few more stretches."

When two tri-Delts just back from winter break spend 15 minutes sitting on adjoining leg machines, discussing the agony of losing the two pounds it will take to get back into their size zero A & F jeans, I will think, "Such dedication, in such young persons!" and smile beatifically.

Or maybe I won't.

Maybe my New Year's Resolution will be to stop being so nice. Maybe 2006 is the year I begin to kick the asses of those who spent 2005 getting up my commodious nose.

By way of example...

Modern Parents and Their Children

Specifically, people who expect the world to maintain a 20-foot zone of space and quiet around their precious children at all times. These are the same parents who teach their kids that the world is their toy box, that their needs are first among those of all people, and that all their demands should be voiced immediately and at full volume no matter where.

These are people like the mother on the bus whose tow-headed darling pointed at me and said, "Mommy, that man looks like a burglar! He has a dark beard and dark skin!" Mommy's equally audible response: "Yes, burglars have dark beards and skin, don't they? But I bet when he robs people he wears a mask."

If you are such a parent, you would do well to keep your children away from me this year. If little Schuyler kicks me in the shins, and you laugh to indicate that I should find this cute, his Baby Gucci boots are getting thrown into traffic. I may or may not take them off his feet first.

Urban Snails

I will move on to people who walk really slow. I don't mean people who have to walk slow, whether their mobility issues stem from age or infirmity. I mean dawdlers-by-choice who live in the third largest city in the United States and have never noticed the line of 30,000 people stuck behind them, trying to get to the platform before the train leaves. They wear high-heeled shoes during ice storms in November. They think State Street during lunch hour is a swell place to stop and smell the roses. They like to pause, meditatively, at the bottoms and tops of escalators.

If they notice their fellow citizens at all, it's to ask, "Hey, why the hurry?"

Why the hurry? Because this is a city, you morons. Cities are for people who like to be busy. Cities are for people who are busy. Busy people don't @$!* have time to stroll. You wanna stroll? Go stroll on a dirt road in rural Wisconsin and bother the cows. Because in 2006, if I'm behind you and the train's coming, you're going to get a pointy umbrella in the back of the neck.

The Preacher Outside the Old Navy on State Street

Listen, loudmouth. Every time I walk by you start bellowing about how mine is not the kingdom of heaven if I behave in a "HO-MO-sexshul FASHion."

Well, I happen to disagree. However, you're the one with the bullhorn, so there's no point in trying to out-yell you. So next time I'm just going to walk over and give you a big ol' French kiss. It's high time you made good on your latent fascination with hot men. Pucker up.

Women Who Wear Lingerie as Outerwear

Especially when combined with low-rise jeans. I include the famous ones, like Britney and Christina; and the less-famous, like the Northwestern University Class of 2007. I am tired of being confronted by your boobs and bellies. You look like pork sausages with low morals. I am buying a super-soaker, and I have great aim.

Midwestern Tourists

Whether you've rolled into Chicago from near (like Gurnee and Naperville) or far (like Iowa) the next time I hear you say any of the following,
  • "This must be the neighborhood with all the queers."
  • "I'm sure those homeless people could get jobs if they wanted to."
  • "Watch your purse, honey, that black guy was looking at it."
I'm personally going to make sure you have one hell of a story to tell everybody back home.

Lindsay Lohan

Shut up. Stop it. Go away.

Karl Rove

And he knows perfectly well why.