Friday, April 28, 2006

Sheep Shop Shipshape

I put Uppity Dolores , Singles Bar, and the Itchy Lamb into the shop today. The first two are on shirts for now, but when I have a moment to adapt the images for cards, notebooks, pedicure sets, and so forth, I'll add them in. As always, if you want something, ask.

I realized the shop is getting a little large and unwieldy, so I've begun renovations. Should you venture forth to browse, kindly watch your step and keep an eye out for flying objects. I'm hoping the new arrangement will make it a bit easier to see what's available.

It's a lot of work, but fortunately I have assistance.

It's going to be a long weekend.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Look, Mommy!

I made some yarn. All by myself. Except Carol did the coloring part.

This is the green Wensleydale, after a mostly successful encounter with the Navajo ply process. Thank you, Black Bunny Fibers! You changed my life! I'm going to start having my paychecks sent directly to you! I don't need food, clothing, or shelter!

I have to go now, because I stepped on my glasses and need to get new ones in order to see clearly beyond two feet. I'm rather hoping I don't overshoot the optometrist's office down in the Loop and wind up in Missouri.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Curmudgeonly Candles

One of my knitting and blogging mentors just celebrated a birthday. Today's cartoon is dedicated to the Knitting Curmudgeon, because she has been encouraging and supportive, because she makes me laugh out loud, and because I stole the caption from her.

Many happy returns, Marilyn.

Please don't miss the essay she has posted as part of this entry. It's a lovely piece of work. Even Dolores got the sniffles after reading it.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dolores Regrets

Dolores has something she would like to say. If she knows what's good for her.

Go ahead, Dolores.

Good people of Canada, especially the knitters,

It has come to my attention that some of you Canucks were a little miffed when I rudely expressed annoyance at your recent gift of a large mass of arctic air.

Please forgive my thoughtless words. I am truly quite fond of your country, having made several memorable visits to the Shaw Festival, Banff, and
Le Petit Coochie Coochie Bar des Danseurs Nus in Montréal. (Hey, Guillaume!)

My host informs me that Canadians have been extremely good to him, and that if he has to choose between you and me, I'll be getting my mail delivered to the knothole in the oak tree across the street. You don't have to tell me twice.

So, I apologize. I realize that an arctic air mass is fair trade, considering that in recent years we've given you Britney Spears and
Herbie, Fully Loaded. (I'm not going to bring up Anne Murray. I'm not I'm not I'm not.) I'm very sorry for what I said.

I know I should probably say this all over in French, but the only French expressions I know are "Où est le lavabo des dames?" and "Plus forte."

Okay, how was that? Am I done?

No. Go on. Do it.

Fine. And a one, and a two–

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
Am I done now?

Yes. That was very nice.

It would have been better on my harmonica.

I'm not giving you the harmonica back until you apologize to Mrs. Teitelbaum in 1503 for what you did to her cat.

Jesus, I need a cigarette.

Rough Night

We've been having a most unusual spring in Chicago. We've been having it now, in April, instead of the more usual month of June. For the past week or so, temperatures have soared and skies have been blue. The startled populace has been wandering about among the tulips, grinning goofily. The one fly in the ointment was Dolores' announcement that on Wednesday morning she would begin hunting for the perfect new bikini.

Our idyll came to an abrupt end last night at about two in the morning. I was in the middle of a terribly interesting dream involving Viggo Mortensen and a pair of leather wrist restraints when suddenly there was a terrific WHUMP! and the whole apartment shook.

From the other room, I heard Dolores mutter groggily, "Whatever that was, I hope it's dead now."

I got up and went to the window. "It" was the north wind. The sky that had been more or less clear was now threatening and full of fast-moving, low-flying clouds. There were breakers on the lake–big ones. It was raining. And the gusts kept coming. WHUMP! WHUMP! WHUMP!

"Mother Nature is now officially on my shit list," said Dolores, retiring to her cushion and pulling the blanket over her head.

When I came into the living room this morning, Dolores was lying on the couch watching the Weather Channel. A very bright-eyed anchorwoman was explaining that our little taste of February had arrived courtesy of a large air mass sailing down from Canada.

"Fucking Canadians," said Dolores, turning off the television.

"Not nice," I said. "When you're down in the Loop today, could you stop by Field's and pick up some black socks for me?"

"Heh," sniffed Dolores. "You think I'm leaving the apartment in this muck?"

"What about the perfect bikini?"

"I've decided to start shopping this weekend," she said. "They say the weather will have cleared up, plus you can go with me. Mama likes to have somebody to hold her purse. Say, would you mind fluffing my pillow?"

Attention, Mother Nature: You're now on my shit list, too.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Paging Dr. Freud

I had that dream again last night.

You know, the one where I'm standing in the middle of Wrigley Field wearing only my watermelon-print Gap boxer shorts, trying to knit a Clapotis out of Rowan Kidsilk Haze with one broken needle. I look up, and the stands are full of screaming people. Then I realize it's 40,000 Lily Chins yelling at me to knit faster, knit faster.

Every Lily is working a crochet hook the size of a Louisville Slugger, producing a gigantic swatch of "Nolita" that streams onto the field like a tidal wave. I drop my needles and try to run, but the flood picks me up and carries me right over the top of the bleachers and suddenly all of Wrigleyville is inundated by "a fun dusting of eyelash." I start screaming for everybody to head for the lake, but when we get there Rick Mondragon is waiting on a giant scallop shell dressed as the Little Mermaid and holding an Uzi. He pulls the trigger and this jet of cheap bouclé shoots out at us and Mayor Daley screams, "All is lost!" And then I wake up.

Yeah, that dream.

Big Fat Bobbin

I finished a whole bobbin of the Wensleydale from Black Bunny Fibers.

I like the greens even better spun up. If I were eight years old, I would have faked being sick this morning so I could stay home from school and ply this.

It's good thing I didn't knit as a child. I'd have been a complete delinquent, hanging out in the alley behind the yarn store, huffing Kookaburra Wash, trying to score a bit of cashmere from the big kids.

There, but for the grace of God.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Oy, Friday

I don't know how your week was, but after mine I need a laugh. I hope this will give you one.


Last night's meditation was the best for me yet. I've been drifting aimlessly in my post-Catholicism life. I've dallied with the Quakers, the Episcopalians, and the Unitarians. All terrific groups with many merits, but none a perfect fit. My relief at having found what feels like a refuge cannot be described.

Relief often gives way to joy, which is the case with me. It was in the spirit of joy that I wrote yesterday's entry. I was therefore a bit perturbed by the anonymous (aren't they always?) comment that I was belittling a spiritual practice.

I am devoted to exploring this philosophy, but I do not equate devotion with either gloom or a self-consciously serious tone. My teachers and fellow students approach their practices with hefty doses of humor and this is one of the reasons I feel so at home in my sangha.

As for Buddhist meditation leading to a trance, which Anonymous informs me is not the point, "trance" is the word used in three of my study guides and by two of my teachers as the state of mind that comes from successful meditation. As a novice, I can but use the vocabulary I've been given.

Read carefully before writing, Anonymous. Snap judgements are not indicative of mindfulness.

Namaste, y'all.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

There's No Place Like Om

So, I've started going to this gay Buddhist meditation group on Thursday nights. It's called Rainbow Lotus Sangha.

I'm an embryonic Buddhist.* My involvement with the philosophy dates back to February, when I acquired a small pile of useful books from a friend who's a hardcore practitioner in the Tibetan tradition. I liked what I read, so I read more. And I liked that, so I've kept on going.

Meditation is a hoot. Our group is small, and meets in a physical therapy room in a medical center. Not a pretty place, but the leader always hangs a string of colorful Tibetan prayer flags to jazz it up. You know how the gays are.

We sit on the floor, in a circle, on little blue cushions. How cute is that? The first day I was there I had a flashback to kindergarten story time, and Mrs Wortman reading Clifford, the Big Red Dog. It was a real page-turner, but I couldn't concentrate on it because the kid next to me was picking his nose and eating his own boogers.

When you meditate, you're supposed to focus on your breath. Beginners are told to count each exhale, from one to ten, and then start over again. Ultimately, the aim is to achieve a sort of trance state in which insight may occur.

Well, guess what? I've only had four visits and it's already working. I must be quite the prodigy, because I've had two brilliant insights right in the middle of seated meditation. I feel compelled to share them with you. Buddhism is making me very generous.
Insight One: "Rainbow Lotus Sangha" is kind of a dippy name. No zing to it. You'd have a hell of a time marketing a group called "Rainbow Lotus Sangha." How are you supposed to spread the Dharma with a name like that? My zippy alternative: "Fruits of Meditation." That's a brand name you can push, kids.

Insight Two: Om socks. Somebody should design a pair of meditation socks with "OM" worked into the soles, so that when you sit in full lotus with the soles of your feet up everybody can read it. You could also play around with other two-word designs, like "TANTRIC TOOTSIES" or "KOMFY KARMA." I don't mind telling you that when this flashed into my head I almost fell off my cushion.
Amazingly, the basic books I've read about Buddhism say nothing about meditation leading to the discovery of new ideas for knitting. If you ask me, they're really missing the boat.

That's all for now. I've gotta go find the Dalai Lama's e-mail address.

*Don't worry. I don't plan to write much about this, as I don't like talking about religion. I'm rather like Emily Dickinson, who said the open discussion of divine subjects "embarrassed her dog."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Evidence of Fiber Manipulation

Every so often I do remember to post pictures of what I've been working on, to remind you (and myself) that one of the key topics around here is knitting.

Exhibit A: My First Niddy Noddy, in Use.

It contains 44 yards of my first yarn, spun from the corriedale/montadale fiber I got from Susan, who got it from the school janitor/shepherd she knows in Maine. I only had one bobbin, and wanted to empty the bobbin, so I used Navajo ply to turn it into a 3-ply. Dashed clever people, the Navajos. As yarn, it sucks. But it's my first yarn, and I love it for that reason.

Exhibit B: My First Yarn, in Ball Format

Because I just can't stop looking at it. I mean–it's yarn! And I made it! In comparison, the thrill of graduating from Harvard was minimal. (The little sheep are a present from C, who found them in New York City. They glow in the dark.)

Exhibit C: The Glencora Baby Shawl, Edging in Progress

Glencora started off as the February baby shawl in Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac. She said I'd get bored with the plain stitching and she was darn tootin.' So I threw in the tulip, which is Tulip Lace II from Barbara Walker Volume I. Then I added the rosebuds, which are from Sharon Miller's Heirloom Knitting, a book I have come to love more than some of my previous boyfriends.

I'm slightly disturbed by the proximity of the outer rosebuds to the edge of the shawl, but am pretending I can ameliorate this in blocking.

Exhibit D: Close-Up of a Screw-Up

The edging on Glencora is the Wave Edging from Heirloom Knitting. You get a lot of bang for your buck with this edging–it's enjoyable to work, looks pretty, and is far simpler than the uninitiated would imagine.

On my first go at it, I was attaching it with the usual k2tog. It looked like rubbish. So I switched to s1, k1, psso. This I liked - it gave a cute little plait along the joined edge. When I got the corners and began to insert extra rows for fullness, I considered what to do, and tried it out, and found it wasn't working properly. There's an apparent difference, as you can see. I toyed with undoing all those rows and starting the corner over.

And then I decided to just repeat the mistake equally on all four corners and call it a design feature.

Forgive me, Jean Miles, for I have sinned.

Shop Note

Yesterday's full-length portrait of Dolores in her traveling couture drew requests for a shirt. So I put one up, with what I think is an appropriate caption. Click here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Welcome to the Fold

And Dolores Makes Four

On Saturday morning, I got up early, showered and dressed, and slipped quietly to the front door. Not quietly enough.

"Aren't you forgetting something?" said a voice behind me.

I turned and saw this.

"Well now," I said. "You're all dressed up."

"Yeah," said Dolores. "These are traveling clothes. You know, such as one would wear when travelling."

In the elevator I noticed her brooch had a lock of long blond hair in it. She caught me looking.

"Rod Stewart," she said.

"Why do you–" I started.

"I'm not allowed to tell you under the terms of the settlement," she said.

A Field Trip

We set off to Oak Park, and the charming home of Meg and Jonathan, the Two Sock Knitters. If they were startled to find two guests, instead of one, on the doorstep, they were much too polite to say so.

Our ultimate destination was The Fold, a spinning shop in Marengo, Illinois–about as far west of the city as I think I've ever been. I'd never been there, but Jonathan and Meg had, and from their descriptions it was like Shangri-La, only with a better selection of spinning wheels.

Jonathan drove, Meg worked a frog sock, and Dolores fell asleep. As the city sprawl gradually disappeared we turned into genuine countryside, complete with farm fields and big stands of trees, and even the occasional horse. We turned off the highway on to a smaller road, then an even smaller road, then an itty-bitty road, and we were there.

"Dolores," I said. "Dolores, get up."

She sat up, looked out the car window and frowned. "Where are we?" she said.

"At the Fold."

"The what?"

"The Fold. The spinning shop."

"Spinning shop? What the hell are you, Amish? I thought we were going to a casino. You kept whispering on the phone about fun at the wheel."

"Spinning wheel. Not roulette wheel."

"Fuck. I gotta get my hearing checked."

"Well, look, " I said, "There's a whole flock of sheep over there. You can hang out with them if you don't want to look in the shop."

"Fab," said Dolores, waddling off toward the pen. "This will be some hot time. Hey, girls, what the hell do you do for kicks around here?"

"I'm a little worried," said Meg.

"We'll be fine," I said. "As long as there are no particularly good-looking farmhands in the vicinity."

The Fold lived up to its description. There are two sections to it: a yarn portion, into which I did not allow myself to step (though Meg quite a frolic in there); and a spinning portion, where the wool is stacked literally to the ceiling, and spinning wheels of sizes from teeny to titanic crowd the floor. If you prefer a hand spindle, there's a wall of them. A wall.

I was so dazzled I hardly knew where to start. Happily, I'd made a list beforehand and Toni, the owner, led me gently around to the things I needed. Niddy noddy, oil can, bobbins, tensioned lazy kate, orifice hook. All handsome and sturdy, all at fair prices. Toni herself is the model of what a shop owner ought to be: knowledgeable, patient, enthusiastic, and able to make everybody in the room feel like she's been waiting expectantly all day just for them.

Jonathan, meanwhile, had been exploring the wools. Blue-faced leicester caught his attention, and Toni sat him down to try it out.

I envied his skill. The guy spins like champ. The blue-faced leicester looked dreamy, flowing easily out of the fiber mass. Toni saw me drooling and suggested I try out a wheel.

Now, I'd never spun in front of anybody else who could spin, let along somebody who makes a living at it. I felt my face go red, but before I really knew what was happening Toni had me sitting in front of an Ashford Elizabeth with my own length of leicester. After a couple of deep breaths and a very embarrassing bad start, my nerves relaxed and everything went all spinny - in a good way.

From the Elizabeth, I moved on to a Lendrum Saxony. Toni suggested I try it when she noticed that I draw with my left hand. The model in the shop had a right hand orifice, and she thought it might be more comfortable for me. She was right. The wheel was so much fun to play with it qualifies as a sex toy.

But did she pressure me to buy it? No. Quite the contrary. She told me to stick with my Ashford Traditional for now. "Practice, learn, and shop around for a long time. Try lots of different wheels. Don't rush it. When the time comes for you to get a new wheel, you'll know it."

I could have stayed all day. I think we all could have. But with great reluctance we totalled up our damage and headed for the car. Dolores was still hanging around in the sheep pen.

"Time to go," I called.

"Oh, gee," said Dolores. "What a shame. We were just about to start a game of strip poker."

Back in the car, Jonathan asked Dolores if she'd had a nice time.

"Swell," she said. "I haven't been around such an exciting bunch since the last time I went to a Methodist funeral. Can we stop somewhere for a drink? I'm fresh out."

"We're going to have tea with Meg and Jonathan before we go back into the city."

"Tea? Oh God," she said, closing her eyes and lying back on the seat. "Please tell me that's just a euphemism."

[I'm indebted to Meg for taking these pictures, and to Jonathan for sending them to me. You're the best.]

Monday, April 17, 2006

Rotten Egg

(I had a mighty fine fiber adventure on Saturday, but I'm not going to tell you about it just yet. My gracious hosts took pictures which they've offered to share with me, and once I get those I'll write an account. In the meantime, an Easter memory.)

I was about twelve years old, and a dedicated goody two-shoes, when I signed up to join the Catholic Youth Organization associated with our base chapel. There was pressure at home to get out of the house, do something, make some friends my own age. Trouble was, I didn't like most kids my own age. The boys were as obnoxious as they'd ever been. The girls, who had always been my buddies, suddenly sprouted breasts and withdrew into giggling secrecy.

The CYO met near our house once a week, and was supervised by a quartet of happy, shiny adult volunteers. I hoped the adults could keep the other kids in check. If the whole thing became too much to deal with I'd simply walk home.

It wasn't so bad. Most weeks we'd just sit in a circle and talk about a topic of deep import (drug abuse was a favorite). Occasionally there were spaghetti suppers, field trips, or craft projects. Every once in a while we'd indulge in Good Works.

Most of the Good Works were pretty dull. We'd pick up trash along a stretch of road, polish the pews in the chapel, or sort clothes donated for homeless. As Easter Week approached, we were asked if we'd dye the eggs needed for the Interfaith Easter Egg Hunt. That was the kind of Good Work I could get into, even on a Saturday afternoon.

A lot of the other kids felt the same. About twenty of us showed up in the chapel kitchen, where 500 white eggs had been boiled by the Christian Ladies Circle and were awaiting decoration. One of the ladies directed us to a tall stack of dye kits in the corner, told us to help ourselves to sodas from the refrigerator...and left to get her hair done.

Big mistake.

Not that, at first, you would have noticed anything untoward was going on. We didn't fling eggs or cups of dye at one another. On the contrary, as we sat dipping eggs with teaspoons and showing off our handiwork, we could have been an ad for Wholesome Teen Fun.

Then I found the crayons.

I was startled to find that some of my coworkers didn't know that if you drew on an eggshell with a crayon before you dyed it, the wax would resist the dye. You could decorate a egg with a message or drawing that way. It was much more fun that using only solid colors. I showed off a festive "HAPPY EASTER" egg and everybody clamored for crayons. There weren't enough in the kits to go around, so one of the boys snuck into a Sunday school classroom and came back with a box of Crayolas.

After the fifth egg, writing "HAPPY EASTER" lost its novelty. But Easter is short on alternative taglines. If these were Christmas Eggs we could have written "Joyeux Noel" and "Season's Greetings" and "Ho Ho Ho" and whatnot, but with Easter you're pretty much stuck with "HAPPY EASTER."

I did a bunny face, just to be different. But it's very hard to do fine detail with a crayon on an eggshell, so I gave that up. Then Satan, who was hanging around the chapel looking for somebody to bother, came over and whispered in my ear, "You know what would be funny?"

I picked up a blank egg. Giggling to myself, I wrote "THE EASTER BUNNY HATES YOU" and dropped the egg in the dye. As the dye coated the egg and the message showed up in large block capitals, it seemed unbearably funny and I burst out laughing. Heather, who was sitting next to me, looked over and squealed.

"Omigod I cannot believe you wrote that! That is so funny!"

This was an entirely unexpected reaction. Most of the CYO kids never noticed anything I did or said. Now they all crowded around my subversive egg and hooted.

"I'm totally doing an egg like that," said Heather. "Do another one!"

How could you top a slam from the Easter bunny? No problem. In these situations one has merely to wait, and Satan will oblige with inspiration.

"TOUCH THIS EGG AND DIE," I wrote. And dropped it into a cup of pink. As the message appeared, the crowd went wild.

All the way down the table things were haywire. About half the finished eggs going back into the empty cartons were suddenly saying the most dreadful things. Heather held up a two-tone (orange and blue) on which she had written "YOU'RE UGLY" in a legible, if lopsided, hand.

Suddenly I was the most popular kid in the CYO.


And perhaps most ironically, from a kid who probably went on to become a Nietzsche scholar:


We were so enthusiastic that we finished 500 eggs in record time. When the Lady in Charge came back from the beauty parlor, the filled cartons were already in the refrigerator.

"Great job!" she said. "You'll be back tomorrow to help hide them, right?"

Oh yeah. We sure would.

I didn't go. In fact, I didn't even go back to CYO after that. It wasn't out of fear of punishment. All twenty of us had written nasty things, and one of the side effects of being a goody-goody is that when somebody points at you and says "He started it!" the adults don't believe it.

I just knew, somehow, that my brief, shining afternoon of popularity was a temporary fluke. I wasn't a bad child, really,* and when the others realized that I'd go back to being the little nobody. Better to go out on top and leave a fabulous memory behind you. Even if it's only written on an egg.

*I felt so guilty about this that I brought it up in confession. The priest told me to say ten Hail Marys, do something nice for at least one little kid, and think about pursuing a career in advertising.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Enough Already

Hi. It's Dolores. His Majesty is lying on the sofa with a cold compress on his head and said it's his deathbed wish that I announce the winner of the latest Celebrity Smackdown. Oh, the honor. If only I'd had time to get my hair set. Hold my drink, will you, so I can open the envelope? Thanks.

In our little re-enactment of the sex contest between Empress Messalina and the prostitute Scylla–now that's in such good taste–here's how the numbers, ahem, stacked up:
Thel (Scylla): 255 men (60%)
Cathy (Messalina): 169 men (40%)
The winner gets this commemorative loving cup–ha, real cute–and a gift certificate for a complete gynecological examination.

Thel couldn't give us a statement because she had to run home and dye Easter eggs with the kids. Run? I'm surprised she can walk.

All Cathy could say was "WAAAAAAAAH." So what else is new?

Now, if you'll excuse me, the little patient wants cinnamon toast and I gotta go buy some Febreze. Trust me, you don't want to see what 424 lust-crazed men can do to an oriental rug.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Panopticon Celebrity Smackdown V: When in Rome

I will have you know this is not a frivolous blog. We are not always about dancing sheep and lace. Oh, no.

Today, we're not only going to have an ancient history lesson, we're going to have a re-enactment. And you can help!

The Story of Empress Messalina

Valeria Messalina was the wife of Claudius, Emperor of Rome (ruled 41-54 A.D.). Unlike such female monarchs as Queen Victoria and Empress Maria Theresa, Messalina has not gone down in history as a model of royal domesticity. Instead, she is remembered as possibly the greatest slut ever to rumple the bedsheets.

Naughty EmpressThe Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius both describe her as a galloping nymphomaniac with a mercurial temper. If they are to believed, she did the horizontal bop with a fair cross-section of the male population, right under her doting husband's nose. When a potential lover denied her, or a past lover ceased to please her, she was not above mainpulating Claudius into having them executed.

This went on merrily for some quite time until she made the mistake of 1) plotting to have Claudius killed while he was out of town and 2) getting married (in public) to somebody else while this was supposed to be happening. Naughty, naughty.

Claudius, needless to say, was dreadfully annoyed. He had Messalina's co-conspirators executed, and ordered her to commit suicide. She couldn't bring herself to do it, so a helpful tribune stepped in and finished her off.

And that was the end of that.

The most notorious and picturesque of Messalina's endeavors, which is not mentioned in either Suetonius or Tacitus,* was her all-night schtupping contest against Scylla, Rome's chief prostitute. The challenge was to see who could take on the most men in a single night.

As dawn broke, Scylla gave up with the score tied at 25 to 25. Messalina, so it is said, kept on going well into the morning just for the ducks of it.

What Does This Have to Do with the Smackdown?

I'm so glad you asked. I thought it would be a hoot to stage a Messalina vs. Scylla re-match. However, as the two original participants are not available, I've secured stand-ins from the world of entertainment to take their places.

May I present, as the Empress Messalina:


and as Scylla, Queen of the Prostitutes:

Thel, the mom from The Family Circus

One vote equals one boink. Contest ends tomorrow noon.

Who will take on the most lovers in a single night?
Cathy (Messalina)
Thel (Scylla)
Free polls from

*I think it's in Pliny, but I don't have a copy and couldn't find on online confirmation. You classicists, help me out if you can.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Memory Skein

The first knitting shop I ever went into with the intent of buying yarn for myself was Woolcott and Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was a student, and under the spell of a friend who was an advanced knitter–the only knitter I'd ever met who was my age. She had given me basic knit/purl lessons with a scrap of alpaca, and I liked it enough to wish to continue with my own tools and materials.

After peppering the saleswoman with a volley of stupid questions, I left with an armload of incredibly pretty, breathtakingly expensive blue worsted (to make a sweater, of course) and my first pair of needles.

The sweater never happened, but over time the worsted became a succession of tediously long scarves. I never went back to Woolcott, as knitting was something I did once a year. In October, I would knit a scarf. In April, I would lose it. In between, I didn't knit.*

That was years ago. I no longer live in Boston, and many of the places I knew in Harvard Square have long since dried up and blown away. But Woolcott is back on my radar, due to a very happy coincidence.

Sean, a fellow blogger whose projects are an endless source of inspiration to me, has taken over as manager of the store. I wrote to congratulate him, and the response I got should cause Boston-area knitters to shake their needles with joy.

He's been working at the shop in a part-time capacity since 2001. He's a hardcore knitter. He knows what it's like to be a customer. He knows advertising, merchandising, marketing, etc at a professional level. And he's been given a mandate to do with the place as he sees fit. His goal? "I envision empowering people with a belief in themselves and their own creativity."

I read Sean's message to Dolores. "That's very touching," she said. "Ask him again what his vision is after somebody's kid barfs up Juicy Juice on the Rowan display."

(Dolores is not having a good week. She's got a bad cold and refuses to do anything but lie on the sofa drinking orange juice, reading Germain Greer and writing disgruntled letters to the editors of Vogue Knitting and The Economist.)

Anyhow, Sean, if you're reading this: congratulations, and good luck. Also, I was digging around in my stash and found that I still have a full skein of that blue worsted. Is fifteen years too late for a return?

*I know. I can't believe it, either. What the hell can I have been doing?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How to Have Fun with Your Spinning Wheel

Step One.
Consult expert friends regarding the proper lubrication of spinning wheels. Learn that 30 grade motor oil is the way to go.
Step Two.
Call your father, the mechanic, and ask him where one goes to buy motor oil. He will admit this is not a question he ever expected to hear from you.
Step Three.
At your father's suggestion, pay a visit to the little hardware store in your neighborhood.
Step Four.
Ask Miguel (whose coveralls, you note, fit like a kid glove) if they perchance have 30 grade motor oil for sale.
Step Five.
Miguel will say he's not sure there's "30" in stock, but they may have an equivalent. He will ask you what sort of car you're dealing with.
Step Six.
Tell Miguel you want the oil for your, um, spinning wheel.
Step Seven.
After repeating the words "spinning wheel" eleven times and attempting to communicate in mime, draw picture of spinning wheel for Miguel.
Step Eight.
Reassure Miguel that no, he is not being "Punk'd."
Step Nine.
Ponder how peaceful life must be for people with normal hobbies.
Step Ten.
Purchase your bottle of 30 grade motor oil and thank Miguel for his kind assistance. When he suggests that in return you should knit him a hat, tell him you'll think about it if the store would consider carrying a full selection of niddy noddies and orifice hooks.
Step Eleven.
Remember too late that one should never to make fiber-related jokes around the uninitiated.
Step Twelve.
Calculate how long it will be before you can comfortably shop in that hardware store again. If ever.

Call Me Perle Mesta

Aidan's on a Twelve-City All-Star Passover Tour, so I'll be the host* tonight for Stitches in Britches. Stitches in Britches is Chicago's (so far as we know) only men's knitting group. We have a Yahoo! group which you can join here.

We'll be meeting at:
Argo Tea Café**
16 W. Randolph Street (next to the Oriental Theater)
from roughly 6:30-9:30 p.m.

And you shall know us by the trail of yarn.

Out of the Sketchbook

Found this last night. In case you can't read the scribble, it says "Share and Share Alike."

*Meaning I'll say "Welcome" and shake your hand. Not meaning the drinks are on me. And I can't get you a hooker, either.

**Which had better have chocolate chip cookies this time, or I am gonna be pissed.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Gosh, a Year Already?

Word came from Jon last week that the class schedule for Stitches Midwest 2006 had gone up. Seems like only yesterday that I encountered the letters X-R-X for the first time.

Stitches events, in case you're not a knitter, are weekend knitting festivals put on by the company that produces Knitters magazine. The quality of the magazine is much maligned. The head of the firm is, to paraphrase a favorite childhood novel*, "much like marzipan, in that you've soon had enough of it." I went to my first Stitches last year, and loved the classes, the marketplace, and meeting other knitters. The rest of it, I could have skipped. And this year, will.

I was hoping ever so much that Nancy Bush would present her full-day Estonian lace shawl class, but no. She's offering a repeat of last year's half-day workshop (which I enjoyed immensely) and a class in socks, and something else that escapes me at present. All the classes I took last year are being offered and I highly recommend them: Estonian lace (Nancy Bush), Orenberg lace (Galina Khmeleva), and intarsia (Edie Eckman).

This year, the plum pudding of my Stitches feast will be a full-day gansey class with Beth Brown-Reinsel. I bought Beth's book, Knitting Ganseys, at Halcyon Yarns back in December and found it to be both boffo and socko–so much so that I want the benefit of her in-person instruction.

I also signed up for a half-day "Spinning for Knitting" class with Merike Saarniit. I am not acquainted with the dear lady, but is that a perfect name for a spinner, or what? I don't fancy schlepping my wheel to Rosemont on the subway, so I'm hoping they'll have a fleet of them there or something.

(Query: What does one call a group of spinning wheels? I can find no record of an accepted term, in the manner of "murder of crows" or "flock of sheep." Anybody got a suggestion?)

The online interface for XRX is pristine, state-of-the-art 1987 Web technology, so you get no immediate confirmation that your registration has gone through. I'm half expecting that after my comments last year about Her Serene Highness my registration might "accidentally" be "lost," so I'll be following up with a phone call.

The Sheep Pen

This here blog, and the shop it spawned, took off at rather a faster rate than I anticipated,** which threw my already precarious household organization into total disarray.

This weekend, I established a new workflow to keep track of things. And I managed to get five long-overdue items off the drawing board. There are still about a dozen more, but progress is progress and I am hopeful. (Thank goodness knitters are, in general, a patient clan.)

One of the drawings, which I have given the very unoriginal title "Knit Two Together," was purest pleasure. It's a design for the shop (currently on a mug) which, because it was inspired by the kindness of a reader in England, is dedicated to her. I'm also sending her the original sketch as a heartfelt thank-you.

Judith, this one's for you. Watch for the postman.

Tea Cartoon

*The Doll's House, by Rumer Godden
** Anticipated rate: zero

Friday, April 07, 2006

Stupid Yarn Tricks

Yeah, I know. But you can't hit it out of the ballpark every time, okay?

Let's Answer Some Reader Questions

Jax: I just have to hear your opinion on one of the most important aesthetic questions in the art of cowboy watching: Wranglers or Levis?
Depends on the ass being covered. "Wrangler butt" is traditionally one of the great attractions of any rodeo. However, I find that on the wrong derrière (mine, for example) the effect can be flattening rather than flattering. So you'll almost always find me in Levis. However, if you're actually riding, Wranglers are softer. A full day in the saddle in Levis can wear the skin off your legs.
Ellen in Conn: How does one discern the sexual orientation of any particular cow-person?
If it's a hot cowboy, the best way is to go to bed with him. Failing that, participation in a gay rodeo (which is where all my rodeo photos are taken) is a generally reliable (though not infallible) indicator.
Cheryl: Maybe this is just a bi-cowboy.
Hey, whatever gets you through the night, babe.
Daisy: A friend is contemplating raising sheep and I mentioned the miniature sheep you had rhapsodized about on your blog. We can't find that post now. Did I hallucinate that entry? Was it just a dream?
No. The entry (with link) is here. On the larger question of hallucination versus reality, my roommate is an imaginary talking sheep who wears bifocals, so maybe you better ask somebody else.
Taphophile (regarding the Knit Knaked design): And the fourth needle is where?
Don't hassle me with your sick fantasies.
dhi: Could you please confess to the group something that you DON'T do well? Paper-quilling? Balancing the checkbook? Folding laundry?
Actually, you picked out exactly three things at which I am dreadful. Thanks for pouring salt into open wounds. And in public, no less. What did I ever do to you?
Stephen Fry: I have tried so hard to resist, but I've fallen madly in love with you. Please leave your nasty job on the bitterly cold plains of America and come live with me in my cottage in Derbyshire where I will bake homemade scones and be your love slave. I will send Jake Gyllenhaal to C's apartment in order to ease the transition. Please, my darling scrumptious boy, will you be mine forever and ever?
Yeah, fine, whatever. Just stop whining. I hate it when they whine.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Mail Call

Spinning wheels are lovely and all, but when I received a terse telephone call from the North End regarding Dolores's outstanding bar tab I decided there were going to be some changes made.

Contrary to expectations, she's turning out to be a quite good personal assistant. When I came home tonight she'd already sorted the mail.

"Would you mind going through it now?" she asked. "I have a date at 7:30."

"By all means," I said, settling myself into my armchair and taking up the chocolate milk (shaken, not stirred) that she had thoughtfully put out. "What have you got?"

"Elissa Meyrich sent you a cease and desist."

"Again? What is it this time?"

"She says she invented sheep in 1987 and you're violating her trademark. There's a handwritten postscript from Gregory Garvin that says something mean about your mama. What do you want me to do?"

"Send the usual response by return of post."

Dolores tapped a stamp reading "PISS OFF" into her inkpad and thunked it down on Ms. Meyrich's letter.

"Let's see...electric bill, postcard from somebody named Gervais who hopes you still remember Antwerp, an invitation to the Wet 'n' Wild Underwear Party at Cell Block–wait, that's for me– and a bill from your tailor for alterations. Oh, and Netflix sent you Emmanuelle at Stitches West."

"I don't remember putting that in my queue."

Dolores coughed. I made a mental note to change all my computer passwords.

"And you got a big fat package from Black Bunny Fibers. Sounds kinky."

What Carol Sent

Black Bunny Fibers is a new undertaking by a good friend, Carol, proprietress of the blog Go Knit in Your Hat. The lady has a way with fiber and she's decided to put it to good use. Wool for spinning, yarn for knitting, in colors too good to resist.

Here's what I got:

Until now, I've only spun the natural corriedale/montadale from Susan. When this slid out of the package, I couldn't resist the allure of that deep green (or the fact that she named the colorway after me) and so I pulled out a spare bobbin and got to it.

It's very different, spinning Wensleydale. The fibers are longer and silkier and not as tightly crimped. I kept thinking of mermaid hair as I was drafting. The change was mighty educational. I think I've finally grasped the differences between the woolen and worsted drafts, and I also tried spinning from the fold for the first time.

And this is what's come out so far:

I'm not in love with my spinning yet. But I'm falling hard for this fiber. Those greens, in sunlight, shine like emeralds. They're the deep, yellowy greens you find in William Morris textiles. (Excuse me as I break out in a sweat.)

I have this sinking feeling that Black Bunny is going be eating up a hefty portion of my monthly paycheck. If the damn sheep doesn't get me, the damn rabbit will.

Glencora Baby Shawl

I have finished the entire center of Glencora and begun knitting on a lace edging - Wave Lace from Heirloom Knitting. The jury is still out whether the green I picked for the edging is going to play nice with the yellow of the center. I'll post a picture later, when the edging is further along and doesn't look like an indeterminate pile of blech.

Look! A gay cowboy!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Don't look, Mom.

In response to a shocklingly large number of requests from borderline pervy readers, I've added the following to the shop.

I realize this is oxymoronic. If you're wearing the "Knit Knaked" shirt, you may be knitting, but you won't be naked. I suppose you could be wearing only the shirt, and knitting. If you choose to do this, please do not send me photos of it.*

"Knit Knaked" is on men's and women's clothes right now, including the first item of lingerie to appear under my shingle, but if there are calls for it I can put it on a bag, a mug, a magnet, a teddy bear. Whatever tickles your deviant little hearts.

As for more Dolores swag, I'm working on it. Notecards will be next.

*Unless you are one of the guys on my "special list." That means you, Stephen Fry.

Two Good Things

Thing One

I set about knitting the Glencora Shawl on the train yesterday morning and dropped one of my point protectors. It's of the rubber, bullet-shaped variety. When it hit the floor of the car, it bounced and rolled. I sighed and gave it up for lost.

Then a man sitting nearby, a man I would place with utmost confidence in the "straight" category, leapt out of his seat, got down in the aisle, and then presented me with the protector, which he had gallantly saved from oblivion. "I figured you must need this," he said. "You looked pretty upset when you dropped it."

"Thank you so much," I said, and meant it. Without that protector, I would likely have lost a dozen or more lace stitches on the way to the office.

"No trouble," he said. "Just being neighborly. Whatever that is you're making, it looks pretty cool."

Miss Van Hoofen, please file this one under "Hope for Humanity."

Thing Two

Today is the blessed anniversary of the birth of a friend and hero. Blogger, knitter, spinner, quilter, underwear model, all around mensch.

I'm a fan of occasional verse, so I have composed the following haiku in honor of the day:
See the queer man knit.
Swift needles go clickety.
And check out those buns!
Dolores will be by with the cake later on. She may possibly be inside it.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Dolores Calls in Two Favors

I came home Saturday evening to what is now a familiar sound: Dolores shouting back at "The McLaughlin Group" on Channel 11, and occasionally throwing popcorn at Pat Buchanan.

There's no speaking to her while the show is on, so I headed into the kitchen to fix myself a long, tall chocolate milk (tip: use a martini shaker–it's fab) and let my teeth unclench. We had "other duties as assigned this weekend," and I was wound up like a violin string braced for Mahler.

"So," came a voice from the living room, "Don't say hello or anything."

"You always hiss at me when I do," I said.

"Today is different. I got you something. And I'm not dragging it in there."

The last time Dolores said she "got me something," she meant she'd stuffed all my rather conservative wool suits into a sack for the charity shop and filled up my closet with sherbet-colored Italian silks with funny shoulders. I headed for the living room.

"What is it?" I said, trying to sound calm.

"Let's see if you can guess," she said, chucking a few unpopped kernels at Pat's wide-open mouth.

I was about to comment on the state of the rug when I spotted this next to the chair I usually sit in to knit.

"Who does that belong to?" I said, when I could find my voice.

"To you, if you want it," she said. "And you'd better, it was no picnic getting it here."

"You got me a spinning wheel!" I screamed.

"As ever," she said, "Your grasp of the obvious is astonishing."

"You got me a spinning wheel!"

"You're blocking the television," said Dolores.

I sat down and gave the treadle a tentative push with my foot. The drive wheel obligingly spun around, and the flyer gave off a pleasant little whirr. I felt my eyes filling up.

"Dolores...I did you..."

"Spare me," she said. "I'm just sick of you disappearing into the bathroom with the Ashford catalogue for hours. That door is pretty thin."


"It's used," she said. "And it's an older model. But it should work. Somebody in New Zealand owed me a favor. I'd tell you more, but then I'd have to kill you."

I pointed a large, fluffy pile of white in the corner.

"Is that...?"

"From my sister in Vermont," she said. "Rolag. Two pounds. She owed me a favor, too. Just watch out for the split ends. The way Olive abuses that goddamn blow dryer you'd think it was 1978."

At that point, Eleanor Clift came on and every time I tried to speak Dolores just raised a hoof in my direction. So I sat down, and pulled out the corriedale/montadale from Susan that I'd been using on the spindle, and I spun.

First Fiber

All the practice on the spindle seems to have been a good idea. I wouldn't expose my spindle-made yarn to public view (one has one's little vanities), but the making of it did give me a visceral experience of the spinning process. I'm glad it's how I began, much as I'm glad I began making photographs with a relatively simple camera. A limited mechanism forces you to learn by making nothing easy for you. Your hands and eyes and mind must engage, because otherwise nothing happens. For me, in any case, this is and always has been the way to go.

The first thing I had to test for myself is whether Margeurite's spinning song from Faust, "Il était un roi de Thulé," really works to keep you treadling evenly. It does. I'll have to test the spinning song from Der Fliegende Höllander later, as my German is far from what it ought to be.

There were jerks and epithets at first, but things are now spinning smoothly and I made this:

According to all my written authorities, it's not bad. Reasonable consistency, doesn't snarl up in the orifice, doesn't pull apart. Upon close examination, even Dolores conceded that it "doesn't completely suck nine kinds of ass."

Perhaps I'm imagining it, but I think she's warming up a little.