Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fight the Good Fight

This one's dedicated to Joe Pete and Miss Otis, the beagles who give my sister Susan and my brother-in-law Phil something to do in their spare time. From my December sketchbook.

Oh Venus! Hey Venus!

Linda asked if I'd mind putting Venus on a women's ringer t-shirt in the shop. And lo, it is done. Glad you like her enough to ask, Linda.

Ten Rounds: Chin vs. Mondragon

All this talk of the knitting Olympics has my competitive juices flowing. So I'm going to start a new featurette: imaginary fights between famous people. The winner will be determined by popular acclaim.

Battle number one:

In a bare knuckle bout, would you back Lily Chin or Rick Mondragon?

[Note: Voting on this match has now closed.]

Okay, girls: into your corners, and come out fighting!

Monday, February 27, 2006

I Had a Much Better Time Than Bode Miller

On Friday night, without fanfare (except the one playing in my head) I finished my Orenberg Barbie Shawl and therefore my participation in the Knitting Olympics.

I was not one of the participants who picked a project as a speed challenge. After the ruana, I don't ever want to be the in the position of having to knit a large project on a tight schedule ever again, even if the result is satisfactory.

Instead, I went for learning a new technique as my challenge. Or rather, two of them.

The first was the creation of a shawl in the Orenberg manner, which differs greatly from the traditional Shetland in that it is knitted all in one piece from the lower borders to the top. There are no seams.

The second was the blocking of lace. I'd never done it, and trying it for the first time on a very small piece seemed the ideal way to get my feet (or rather, hands) wet.

Here's the finished bit o' lace unblocked and looking forlorn.

My intent was to block this using the method described in Gossamer Webs, which makes use of two pieces of nylon cord and far fewer pins than are normally required in lace blocking. However, after three tries, I gave it up. In practice, the description of blocking in the book was woefully sparse (which is surprising, given the thoroughness of the book as a whole), and the notes I took during my class with Galina Khmeleva didn't help.

So I wound up blocking according to the more common million-and-one pins method. Marilyn's advice to begin by shaping the inner square first was key. Once the center was firmly in place, pinning out the simple edging wasn't difficult at all.

I adjusted and re-adjusted the pins all around many times until I had it looking the way I felt it should look. Since the sample shawl is so small, instead of taking the featherbed off my mattress and so forth I just used a sofa cushion.

Sorry about the busy chintz. Mr. Ex picked it out and I have to live with it for the time being.

Once the pinning was done, I tipped the cushion upright on the floor and put a small fan in front of it, set on gentle/no heat. About two hours later, I unpinned it. I fully expected it to snap back into its original amoeboid shape.

But it didn't. It didn't!

The next day I pressed it into temporary service as an antimacassar on my reading chair. It won't stay there, as I'm just not a doily person. Old-fashioned in many ways I may be, but as none of my friends is given to dressing his hair with macassar oil, I don't see the need for this.

To sum up:

Pattern: Orenberg Sample Shawl from Gossamer Webs by Galina Khmeleva and Carol Noble

Changes: Added partial repeat of "bow tie" stitch pattern, plus two small strawberries, to center (pattern calls for plain garter stitch)

Yarn/Needles: Nature Spun sock yarn, colorway not noted; US 2 10" aluminum straight needles that belonged to my great-grandmother

Notes: Fun as all get-out to knit. If you have any inclination to try an Orenberg shawl or stole, do knit the sample shawl first. It will give you hands-on experience of the construction techniques. The Orenberg method of turning corners is ingenious and any knitter with a curiosity about process should try it. Ditto the extremely clever grafting technique that takes place at the very end of the shawl.

Also a fantastic way to introduce oneself to lace blocking. A small piece is easily encompassed by eye, hand, and mind, and allows one to get a feel for stretching and arranging without the palpitations that would probably accompany blocking a full-sized shawl with no prior experience.

Am I Glad I Did It: Hell yeah.

A Note About the Medal

I've sent the finished Olympics Gold Medal to Stephanie and am certain it will be available soon. There will be three versions: two sizes for Web display, and one for printing out.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Had a Rough Week?

I can almost guarantee a mood lift if you go here.*

I want one of these so much. I want a ewe, and I will name her Lucy. I will put on my leather jacket and combat boots and I will take her for walks down Halsted Street on a leash. We will stop at Caribou Coffee and I will have a cocoa and she will have a little bowl of water, or maybe a latte. I'll knit and she can sit under the table and munch sheep treats.

The guys will stop and stare down at her and she will look sweetly up at them and say "baaa."

I can take Lucy over to the lake and let her graze in Lincoln Park. Or walk her around the zoo. I bet she would like the penguins.

She can accompany me to the neighborhood bookstore, after I've trained her not to nibble on things on low shelves.

She will be a hit at Charlie's Bar when I go two-stepping. She can wear one of my cowboy kerchiefs around her neck.

For shopping trips to Michigan Avenue I will get her a fancy leash at Kenneth Cole.

If I used her as a model, she could be a tax write-off.

At night she can sleep on a fluffy blue pillow (with tassels and a monogram "L") at the foot of the bed.

I wonder if they can be housebroken?

*A special nod to Liza, who turned me onto this site.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Sentimental Yarn

When I realized that my whole knitting life was turning into a lace festival, I decided I'd better add something simpler to occupy my time on the train and preserve what passes for my sanity.

At Rhinebeck, I only made one yarn purchase (no, seriously). It was, ironically, the first yarn I saw. I fell in love with it instantly.

It's from a firm in Texas called Brooks Farms and it's a variegated wool/silk worsted called Four Play. (Snicker.) The colorway snagged my attention, and Joe's, too–he also bought some. The price was amazingly fair. I put the two hanks away in my stash, thinking I would make a hat and scarf for myself from it when the time came.

And then, two days ago, the time came.

I've never used a variegated yarn before, aside from the self-patterning stuff that went into my Mary Thomas Test Sock. I knew variegated yarns often don't work well in textured patterns, but I really did not want to do a scarf in plain garter stitch.

So I got this idea. There's a famous pattern called King Charles Brocade that was so named because it appears in a silk undershirt that was worn by poor old King Charles I on the day his head got snicked off. It has been preserved and apparently has blood on it. Is that cool or what?*

Anyhow, I loved both the pattern and the historical association, and wondered if the mix of a seed stitch lattice and the stockinette panels might work well with the variegation. Seed stitch causes purl "bloops" of color to show up on both sides of the fabric, while stockinette would (or so I guessed) show up as simple rows of a single color.

Slap my ass and call me Sally if it didn't work out that way.

Here's what it looks like at the moment.

Between the quality of the yarn, the happy memories it holds, and the stitch pattern, this is rapidly becoming a favorite. I'm usually more about process than product, but I'm rabid to get this thing around my neck.

Broadway Baaaaaabies

The chorus line of high-kicking sheep I posted a while back seemed to have struck a chord with people, so they're the latest addition to the shop. The design (except for the knitting bag) is the first to include the name of this blog. Is that obnoxious? Be honest. If you'd prefer the shirt without the blog name, I'm interested to know.

The front of the shirts has this design. The back has a full-on Rockettes-style extravaganza with three lines of 15 wooly cuties who want to tap, tap, tap their way into your hearts.

Sing it with me now:
A pretty sheep is like a melody,
That haunts you night and day.
Just like the strain of a haunting refrain,
She'll start upon a marathon
And run around your brain.
You can't escape–she's in your memory,
By morning, night and noon.
She will leave you and then
Come back again.
A pretty sheep is just like a pretty tune.
*If this is one of those knitting myths, like Aran patterns being particular to a family so that drowned fisherman could be identified from their ganseys, I don't want to know. Not yet. So don't tell me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Like a Diamond in the Rough

Make that a zircon. A small one.

Here's a scan of the Orenberg Barbie shawl, awaiting blocking. The poor thing. It looks very bedraggled and depressed. It would not get a date for the prom. It would not be America's Next Top Model. It would not be featured in a series of Gap ads, although it does sing better than Kelly Clarkson. (Who doesn't?)

No, this piece of lace knitting would retreat to a lonely mountaintop and wallow in its pitiful sorrows.

So, time to block it. I've decided I definitely want to do this all the Orenberg way, and use the technique in Gossamer Webs that makes use of a nylon cord and a handful of pins in lieu of no cord and 10,000 pins.

Galina Khemeleva demonstrated this method in her class at Stitches Midwest, so I've seen it done in person (unlike any other sort of blocking). She made it look easy, but she is the Orenberg Lace Ambassador to the World.

But what the heck. As I once said to that one guy who asked me to perform that particular act with that unusual object, why let a total lack of experience get in the way?

I plan to photograph every step for posterity, for better or worse. The final photo may be of a pretty little piece of lace, or it may be of me tossing the thing into Lake Michigan. We shall see.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Since I began blogging (which I realized yesterday was one year ago as of the 17th), I've instituted a policy of not blogging about work, chiefly because bitching about the office is something other people do better than I, and far too many people do badly.

However, as a glimpse into my psyche (hide your children) I present to you a complete, unexpurgated sheet from my notebook of "notes" taken during a recent meeting that can only be described as an Apotheosis of Pointlessness.

(I wonder if they'd consider paying me to paint it, à la Rubens, on the conference room ceiling.)

At the meeting's end, the person in charge earnestly singled me out for thanks for my contributions to the discussion, and said they would adopt my suggestions when moving forward.

I truly don't know whether I ought to be flattered or not.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Those Clever, Clever Russians

The knitting of the Orenberg Barbie shawl, it is complete. And let me tell you, I had no idea what an education an eight inch square could be.

I gushed in a previous entry (just after casting on) about the ingenious beginning of a traditional Orenberg shawl.

The ending, as it turns out, is equally so. After turning the upper right corner and knitting across the top border (as indicated by the arrow in my last picture), you turn the upper left corner, and then you graft the edges of the border together.

And you do it without sewing. There's just a simple process of slipping stitches from each needle one over the other, and suddenly the edges are grafted - including the yarn-overs - quite perfectly and without any apparent join. The pattern in the edging is completely uninterrupted.

When Archimedes leapt out of his bath, he could not have been more excited than I when I learned this.

In fact, I was so busy waltzing delightedly about the room with the finished object (to the tune of "Ainsi que la brise légère" from Gounod's Faust) that I forgot to take a photograph. I'll remedy that tonight.

I also realized in working on this little sample how much kaboom the Orenberg knitters get from the absolute simplest of lace patterns. Not that the patterns themselves are child's play, but they are all based on knit, yo, k2tog, and occasionally k3tog–and nothing else. If there are more elaborate moves, I can't find any mention of them either in the Khmeleva/Noble book or anywhere else.

From those stitches, the founders built 10-12 small, basic patterns (i.e., peas, mouse prints, cat's paw, strawberry, diagonals). And from those patterns, everything else is constructed.

This is a phenomenal achievement. I used to be dazzled by Orenberg shawls because they appeared so bone-crushingly complex. And now I've learned with my own two hands that every one of them comes from the skillful arrangement of an elegant set of common elements. And I am even more dazzled.

Let Us Be Gay

I usually shy away from making broad generalizations about Things Gays Like (hanging around with ass-kicking gay cowboys who've never heard of Ethel Merman will do that to you) , but I am perhaps willing to admit that there is some intrinsic attraction to ice dancing.

(Stop looking so smug, Brenda Dayne.)

As the temperature in Chicago is the sort that can reduce your nose to ice crystals within minutes, on Sunday C and I stayed in and had a very indulgent movie night. When the first feature (Close Encounters of the Third Kind–most amusing) wrapped up, up popped the ice dancing competition in full swing. Er, rhumba.

We found ourselves physically unable get off the couch until the scene had switched to women's speed skating.

I know part of it, for me, is the costumes. There's nothing like seeing an amazon on skates doing the samba while wearing a peptol pink skirt that appears to be strangling her. Or cheering on a perky little thing who let the designer highlight each of her breasts with a separate patch of multicolored rhinestones. Beep, beep.

But I'm infringing on Go Fug Yourself's territory now, so I'll close.

Next up: blocking for Barbie.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Waiting to Inhale

Okay, listen, I worked on the Orenberg Barbie shawl and got all the way to the final corner, but there's no picture yet. Sue me.

Today I have to write about a topic far more important, as it relates directly to my personal health and well-being. This is an open letter to any members of the general public who frequent the Chicago public transit system.

If you recognize the image below, you may skip this post.

If not, I need to speak to you.

On the basis of far too many harrowing train rides in the past two weeks, it seems to me that a large segment of the metropolitan population is losing its grip on the concept of personal cleanliness.

Time was when my greatest olfactory ordeal while commuting was the occasional man or woman who felt naked in public without a cloud of Brut or Windsong surrounding them like a mediaeval saint's nimbus.

Now, however, instead of being stuck in a wheeled box for two hours each day with a flower garden, I am making the same trek with a pig farm. The final straw came this morning, when I was forced to endure the proximity of a woman whose personal aroma was sharp enough to cauterize wounds.

I don't know what's going on. A poor soul who has to live on the street, without access to santiary facilities, may be forgiven for being somewhat whiffy. But the folks who have been curling my nose hairs are very obviously not only not homeless, they're employed. And yet their body odor hits one like a poke in the eye.

People, wash yourselves. Every single day. It's not impossible, I swear, or even time-consuming. You can easily do it and still get over to the Jerry Springer studio in time for taping.

You still need persuading? Okay, how's this. Britney Spears does it. You wouldn't always know it to look at her, but she does. That get you going? Yeah, I thought it would.

Now. That picture above? Let's see it again.

This is called "soap." It is readily available at many fine retail establishments, including drug stores,* convenience stores,** and grocery stores.*** It can be had for mere pennies, and a single bar can often last a week or more.

Go buy yourself some "soap," right now, and then come back. I'll wait.

Do you have your "soap"? Good. Now, read the following instructions carefully before you go any further. I will walk you through this, while trying my best not visualize you doing it.
  1. Remove all your clothing. (Clothing should also be washed with its own form of "soap," but that's another post. We must crawl before we can walk.) I would recommend you lower your shades, if any, before doing this.

  2. Go into the bathroom (you're about to learn why we call it that, isn't that exciting?). Locate the bathtub. You may have to push the stacks of old TV Guides aside in order to find it, but it's there. Look for something like this:

  3. Empty the tub of debris. The spare tires for the pickup truck and your comprehensive archives of the National Enquirer will have to go elsewhere for the time being.

  4. Find the little hole at one end of the tub and plug it by any means necessary, then turn on the water. You want hot water. That's the knob with the "H" on it. The "H." That's the letter that looks like the Olsen twins shaking hands. Yep, you got it.

  5. Get into the water. No, it won't melt you. The Wizard of Oz was all made up. They did that with special effects. No, seriously. We can talk about the flying monkeys later. This is not the time. Focus.

  6. Notice how the water just turned black. That's bad. Water should be clear. This is where the real fun begins.

  7. Pick up your "soap." Dip it in the water. Now, rub it all over yourself. Visualization may help. Pretend this is a music video and you're Christina Aguilera. Right. Sure, you can also be Lil Kim. Or Billy Idol. You pick.

  8. The "soap" will begin to bubble. Do not be alarmed. This is perfectly normal.

  9. Once you have run the "soap" over every part of your body (even, and especially, including your goodies) let the water out of the tub and rinse yourself all over with new water.

  10. Repeat steps five to nine until you can touch the water without making it change color.

  11. You are now clean. You need to dry off, but as that requires a clean towel, this may be an issue for you. I'm sorry, I guess I didn't think ahead. I can't be the one to always think of everything. No, I don't want to discuss this on Jerry Springer.
*Where you get your meth ingredients.
**Where you get your monthly copy of Juggs.
***Where you get your Funyuns and diet soda.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Approaching the Final Turn

Can I make a confession to you? (Like you have nothing else better to do with your day.)

I've been working on my Knitting Olympics thing, but I haven't been watching the Olympics. Not even the littlest bit. I'm sorry. I'm just not a spectator sports guy. Not even the Olympics. Not even when it's men's diving in the summer games, and you have possibility of Speedo slippage.

I cast on right on schedule, but not while watching the opening ceremonies. I've never been able to enjoy those either, except possibly for camp value. To me, the opening and closing ceremonies are what Broadway shows would be like if they found a way to ban homosexuals from working in theater. Not that Broadway is looking too good these days, come to think of it. (Guys...what's up with that?)

That said, I've rounded the third corner of the Orenberg sample shawl, and it looks like (to borrow an expression from Rabbitch,* who has a way with words) boiled ass.

Mind you, I'm not worried about that. I've learned enough to know that unblocked lace has all the aesthetic appeal of a used Brillo pad.

Jon asked about the yarn. It's Nature Spun sock yarn, which I bought because...I don't know why. I can't have thought I was ever going to put this stuff on my feet. It's disgusting. Itches like mad. Sheds black nylon ply. I'm using it because:
  1. I already had it to hand and yarn shopping in Chicago is a pain in the ass for me since I have no car;
  2. it's thin enough for a lace exercise I don't plan to use for anything; and
  3. see item one.
When it's done, I'm not going to want it around the house. Maybe I'll donate it to charity. There must be a group out there somewhere called Doilies for the Homeless or Tray Cloths sans Frontieres or something like that.

*I grew up with a mother who was a child of 1960s Detroit, and Rabbitch still exposes me to at least one curse a week that I haven't yet heard. That, my dears, is an accomplishment. The number of occasions on which I have found the term "assbeagle" to be of use is extraordinary.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Aim Higher

Now, the Orenberg sample shawl pattern is really supposed to be all about learning the construction technique for the full-sized article. For this reason, Galina's instructions in Gossamer Webs are for a center composed entirely of uninterrupted garter stitch. The only real lace going on, and that very simple, is in the borders.

When I began knitting the body of the shawl, I decided immediately that this would not do. Some day, when little Euphemia Gladys looks up from her sampler and asks me,

I would rather not have to answer, "I made an Orenberg warshcloth, precious."

So I decided to throw in part of an Orenberg stitch pattern called "bow tie." There's not enough room in the sample shawl for the full repeat, so I've just isolated the center portion.

Here's where I was just before work ceased last night.

Last night's effort also included my first successful attempt at ripping back (as opposed to tinking) lace. I'd placed a YO one stitch too far to the left, and it was driving me batty. Seems to me that if looking at a piece of your work makes you clench your teeth, better you should rip it than try to lower your standards.

From the "How Random is This?" Department

I got a call last night from my folks, who have sold their place in Washington, DC in order to move to their dream house in Kokomo, Indiana (I kid you not).

Yesterday was the home inspection, and the new owners, a nice young couple, were there along with the inspector. The husband noticed my mother's lastest knitting project and mentioned that his wife knits.

My mother said that her son and daughter also knit, and that in fact we both have knitting blogs.

And then, in my father's words, the wife got "sort of a funny look on her face" and said, "Franklin?"

Turns out she reads my blog.

So, hello, nice young wife. My heartfelt thanks to you and your husband for buying my parents' condo so that they can move on to the next, long-awaited part of their lives. I hope you'll be very, very happy in your new home.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Fanfare for the Common Knitter

When I cast on for my Olympics project, a sample-size Orenberg lace shawl, it struck me that here I am, an American knitter, pursuing Olympic gold using a Russian technique.

An action shot of my first row:

I'd like to draw your attention to the needles. They were a surprise gift from my grandmother, who doesn't knit. Apparently they belonged to my great-grandmother, Mary Hudak, who did. They, along with a few other needle sets, were destined to be thrown away or sold at a yard sale until Grandma heard that Susan and I had taken up knitting, so she decided we might like to have them. Susan took the larger sizes and I took these.

The Orenberg Method So Far

Pure genius. The little shawl begins with a mere seven stitches, and the first thing to be knitted is the lower center border. Then, you modify what you're doing at the edge of that border slightly, and whammo, you've turned the lower right corner. Then you knit back across the piece and pick up the bottom half of the cast-on stitches (seen above on a stitch holder), knit a slightly modified version of the border in the other direction and whammo, you've turned the lower left corner.


From this point, you knit upwards in one piece until you reach the point where it's necessary to turn the upper right corner and begin the top border. The center of the shawl occupies the space between the markers. The left and right borders are knitted at the same time with the same yarn.

I had read Galina Khmeleva's instructions (in Gossamer Webs) for this project over and over before I cast on, but it wasn't until I was actually at work that the genius of the method struck me. The simplicity is magnificent, given the apparent complexity of a true Orenberg when it's complete.

I've progressed about two inches beyond the picture above, but before I began I truly did stop for a minute and bless the memory of the generations of women, knitting by oil lamps or candlelight in tiny cottages, who were clever enough to work this out. What a gift to the knitters who have come after them.

Friday, February 10, 2006

And Simply Tout le Monde Was There

Opening Production Number*

Sing it with me now!
It's Friday! It's Friiiiiiddddaaayyyyy!

Friday! Friday! Friday!

(soft-shoe dance break)

Friday Friday Friday Friday!

Tomorrow I don't have to go into the frigging office!

(kickline–bring it on home now, everybody)

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!


(Picture pose. Slow curtain.)

How I Spent My Tuesday Evening

As planned, I toddled over to the knitting meet-up that dare not speak its name at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Such a crush, my dears, as you never saw.

It was perfectly delightful, apart from the moment when a member of the museum staff addressed us collectively over the microphone as "Ladies."

It should be obvious to anyone who sees me that I am no lady, in any sense of the word.

But no matter. It was a wonderful night. I even helped four newbies learn to cast on.

(And when I say newbies, I mean so new they were still covered in placenta. They all had those kits from Target, with the size 26 needles and the ultra-bulky yarn, and one of them held up her needles and said, "Now, is this knitting or crochet?" Anyhow, I felt proud to be their first enabler. Aidan valiantly stepped in when one of them simply could not get the long-tail method into her fingers. Thank you, angel.)

Aidan gave me something, which is so special it gets its own post a little later on.

In addition to Aidan, Andy from the men's group showed up, bringing the andro contingent up to three.

I was also delighted to see Nancy Kwik and Dierdre again, from the Windy City Knitting Group. (Nancy brought along her non-knitting husband, who was extremely charming and very cute...you go, Nancy.) And the one-and-only Bonne Marie was there. Bonne Marie was working with this delish Lorna's Laces Shepherd's Worsted in a colorway (it's here, on the dress form) that she got right from the Lorna's Laces studio, and which was never issued. She's lucky I like her, or I might have tailed her out of the museum and mugged her in the dark to get it.

And, joy of joys, Jen was there, with little Alec in tow. (Well, actually she was carrying him. I don't wish to give you the impression that she was dragging him across the marble floors by a leg or something.)

Jen is the person who gave the world the bunny hat in Stitch 'n Bitch Nation, and she just keeps getting better. We lucky few got a chance to scope out a showstopping item she's submitted for publication. I won't say more, I will only say it made me want to adopt a toddler so I could knit this thing.

I don't know of any designer who can beat Jen for creating children's designs that go right up the edge of too precious without going over. The pieces are colorful, and whimsical, and yet never make even a dyed-in-the-wool cynic like me want to blow chunks.

She has hat kits on her site. She ought to have more. She ought to have a book, that's what she ought.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Now, Hear This

Goody gumdrops. I just heard from that nice Brenda over at the Cast On podcast, and she's given my latest bundle of audio joy the green light.

I'll be on the next episode, which will appear on Friday.

I'm so excited I could pee! How about you?

Pop Quiz
Q: What's the single hardest thing about writing something funny about knitting?*

A: Coming up with a line Stephanie Pearl-McPhee hasn't already thought of. (Three books? Slow down, girl. Leave something for the rest of us.)
*Unless you're Marilyn, in which case you are sui generis.


If, like me, you require a fix of QueerJoe's Knitting Blog as often as possible, it's very distressing go to his usual domain and be confronted with nothing but the word "ok." Never fear, he has not abandoned us, he is merely grappling with some domain pointing issues.

You can get to him here. He has lots of cool things on his knitting blog that I don't, such as knitting.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Touchy, Touchy

Due to the instability of the international situation, today's scheduled cartoon of the prophet Mohammed knitting an exploding Clapotis has been canceled.

We bring you instead this hasty scribble created during an especially dull staff meeting.

If you don't get it, this site may help to explain it.

Domestic Dialogue

Sunday morning. The topic was the relative worth, for a child, of a blank pad of drawing paper versus a "fun pad" pre-printed with various amusements.

Franklin: I just didn't like "fun pads." I used to flip them over and draw on the backs of the pages instead of working the stupid puzzles.

C: Hey, "fun pads" were cool! They taught you stuff! They were educational!

Franklin: Oh, yeah–like that connect-the-dots picture of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling.

C: You did it wrong! It was a clown!

Then I hit him with a pillow.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Fiber, Art

If you'll be in Chicago tomorrow night, there's a stitch-and-you-know-what going down at:
The Museum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Avenue
from 5:30-8 p.m. I'll be there, and so will Aidan (feet permitting).

The last one was a hoot. There were easily 60 knitters. Should the spirit move you, you can also wander around the galleries and soak up the art - the whole joint is free to the public on Tuesday nights.

Say hello if you see me. I'm dreadfully shy and would very much appreciate it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Lace: A Rant and a Schematic

At some point in every man's life there comes a moment when his illusions about himself are shattered. When he realizes that no matter how hard he may try, he's never going to be exactly what he'd hoped he might be.

I have reached such a point. Like it or not, seems that I'll never be butch.

There have been quite a few articles in the mainstream press about men who knit. If you've read one, you've read them all. They all hit the same key points:
  1. Knitting is not just for grandmas any more! Men knit!
  2. But that doesn't mean they're gay!
  3. No, really! Lots of straight men knit!
  4. Knitting does not make you queer!
  5. See all the manly men knitting and drinking beer and not being queer?
  6. When men knit, knitting is very, very butch and not at all queer!
The most recent article of this type to flit across my desk was about "Boys Night" at KnitNY in New York City. As usual, the writer did his best to stave off heterosexual panic by emphasizing the beer drinking, back-slapping, and the knitting of bikinis for girlfriends by "many" of the members.

Even the manager of the shop was quoted reassuringly as saying that this was not a gay dating event.

I have never been to this particular knit night. Things may well be different in New York City than they are in Chicago, and perhaps at KnitNY the straights outnumber the gays, and the gays stick to their knitting and never flirt across their needles (yeah, right).

It may be that, in New York City, even the gay men who knit aren't, you know, queer.

But I can speak for myself, and when I knit, knitting is queer as a three-dollar bill. Even if I'm kitted out in my favorite cycle boots, chaps, a biker jacket, and three days of stubble, nothing's going to help.

My name is Franklin...and I like to knit lace.

Due to the bizarre American belief that the creation of anything delicate and beautiful is inherently sissified, an American male who knits lace automatically places himself at the Liberace/Rex Reed end of the Kinsey scale.

A man who is knitting scarves or sweaters or socks is on somewhat firmer ground. He is performing the very manly task of crafting protection from the elements. A hat, when you think about it, is just a roof you can wear on your head–and what could be more masculine than roofing?

There is no such excuse for lace. Lace has no practical purpose. A lace shawl will keep you warm to an extent, but the real purpose of lace is to be pretty. And American men are not supposed to make pretty things. Men are not supposed to even care about pretty, unless they're looking for female companionship.

So be it. I've never let other people dictate what I do in my life, and I'm not going to start now. And as for those men–gay or straight–who have to pound their chests while knitting lest other guys make fun of them?


The State of Maine Stole

About, oh, a month ago, reader OutfoxedKnitting asked whether the "State of Maine Shawl" listed in my projects was a pattern readily available. Well, sort of.

I'm making the shawl–which has become a stole, and will henceforth be referred to as such–for my sister. Susan lives in Maine, and her husband is in politics there. He is, in fact, a state senator. This means Susan has quite a few political outings to attend, and as Phil is about to go into re-election mode there will be even more such outings.

So here's my plan. I've decided she needs a nice wrap, preferably something that could be thrown over a day or evening outfit, that is Maine-related and might serve as a nice point of conversation. And if I can, I'd like to make it local fiber–maybe alpaca.

This is what I have in mind, and what I've been swatching.

All the patterns are Shetland, right out of Sharon Miller's Heirloom Knitting. And all of them have something to do (in my mind, anyhow) with the landscape of Maine.

For the ocean, there's Print o' the Wave. For the forests, there are patterns resembling fir cones and ferns. And for the edgings, I'm trying out different patterns that look like mountains. (Susan and Phil have spent many happy days climbing the mountains in Acadia National Park.)

I also want to work the word "Dirigo,"* the state motto, into each end of the stole. I nabbed that idea off a palatine in Galina Khmeleva's Gossamer Webs that has the word "Orenberg" knitted into one end.

Have I ever knitted words into lace? No. But Jean has done it, and I love how it looks, and perhaps if I ask very sweetly she will offer pointers.

Of course I'm awfully glad Phil's not in politics in our former home state, Hawaii, where the state motto is "Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono." Maybe in another 30 years I might be up to that.

* Latin: "I lead."
** Hawaiian: "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."