Tuesday, January 29, 2008

So Big

This weekend's shoot at Threadbear Fiber Arts Studio in Michigan was the ninth public shoot for 1,000 Knitters and the third to take place outside Illinois. As I packed my lamp and reflector in the big suitcase and tucked sixty copies of the model release into the outside pocket, I figured that at this point I had the whole system down pat. Eight-hour shoot? Fifty knitters. It always worked out to fifty knitters. Time after time.

Of course, I'd heard Threadbear was a big place with a loyal following, so I added those ten extra model releases to the stack just in case.

Harry was deeply concerned that I wasn't packing enough warm clothes. "I think you need some more sweaters," he said, peering over the edge of the suitcase. "And you can borrow my electric blanket if you want."

"You're made out of wool," I said. "What do you need with an electric blanket?"

"I have a very delicate constitution," said Harry. "My mother was a laceweight cotton blend."

"Ah. Well, maybe you should keep the blanket, then."

"No, you should take it with you," Harry insisted. "I was watching the Weather Channel and where you're going, it'll be so cold that if you sneeze outdoors at midnight your boogers will turn into an icicle."

"They said that on the Weather Channel?"

"Well, not exactly," said Harry. "They said how it would be freezing in Michigan and Dolores told me the other part."

Dolores had refused to come along on the trip even after I appealed to her vanity, pointing out that many fans might be expecting a meet-and-greet.

"Nothing doing," she said from the depths of the afghan-covered sofa. "I am a sheep; not a sled-dog, polar bear, or wolverine. You wanna skip across the tundra like Nanook, fine. Send me a postcard. But don't bother me with ice unless it's resting comfortably in a cocktail shaker."

So north I went, alone, via Amtrak's Blue Water line. We had no heat in the car, the bathroom broke down, the reading light above my seat fizzled out at Battle Creek, and we waited on a siding for an hour to let a cattle train saunter past. It was an uneventful trip, by the standards of American rail service.

The bears themselves, Matt and Rob, welcomed me with great cordiality.

Da Bears

Their shop was a shock; all descriptions had fallen short. Racks and racks of yarns stretching to the horizon, many of which I'd never seen in person or never even heard of. All good stuff, too–no fizzy gloppy crap just filling space. Threadbear faithful simply call it "Mecca," and now I understand why.

The next morning, on the way to the shoot, I noted that with snow falling thick and fast I hoped people would still show up. Rob snickered. He asked if there were anything special I needed. I said no, the set-up was quite simple, and I had sixty model releases ready to go.

"That won't be enough," he said.

I thought he must be joking, but he wasn't. As soon as I unpacked the forms he grabbed one, handed it to a convenient Bearette, and asked her to please get another 100 or so copies. I thought it a silly expense, but decided to let him have his fun.

Fifteen minutes later–a good forty minutes before the shop opened–cars began to arrive in the parking lot. Then they opened the doors, and suddenly I had twenty-two people in line.

Previous public shoots have always been jolly good fun, but this one took the frenzied merrymaking to new heights. Rob and Matt knew their clientele better than I. They came in droves, these people, sliding down glass-slick roads with carefree abandon, lured by the promise of five minutes in my chair and a whole lotta yarn for sale.

We had a family of four near the front of the line. Meet the Davises.

Tricot En Famille

Mr. Davis was the last to sign on, apparently on the principle that if you're outnumbered, you better learn to purl damn quick.

I clicked and clicked and the knitters kept on coming, varied and numerous as the snowflakes outside (though not so chilly). I lost track of time.

Lansing Twelve

We had a Podcasting duet, Kim and Kimber of Knit Therapy, running about with their iPod recorders to capture the atmosphere for an upcoming episode.


Jillian Moreno, she of Big Girl Knits and the forthcoming More Big Girl Knits, showed up and brought me two (yes, two) gorgeous birthday cakes.


After my brief encounter with Jillian, I have decided she is the knitter mostly likely to accept a cage-wrestling challenge from Dolores...and win.

Honnay (and her totem lamb, Mammy) drove up to Lansing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and brought Graeter's Ice Cream, packed in a cooler with dry ice, for which she has earned my everlasting gratitude. (I got a whole pint of double chocolate to myself. I have never felt so spoiled.)


This lady, who is known to all as "Dirty Sue" although she was not, so far as I could tell, visibly soiled, brought fried doughnuts with chocolate frosting.

Dirty Sue

Clearly, in Michigan one is never in danger of going hungry.

Maybe because Matt and Rob have built such a sense of community, such a snug harbor, this group seemed to open up more than any other. I heard amazing stories. People who knit their way through cancer, through divorce, through bereavement and depression; who taught themselves to spin their own yarn back when there was no decent knitting wool to be bought; and–perhaps most flattering on a personal level–who had overcome serious, long-standing phobias about being photographed in order to take part.

Lansing Sixteen

We finished up some time around...I don't know. Six? I truly don't know. Suddenly the roar settled down and Rob asked me, "How many did you get?" I calculated very quickly.

One. Hundred. And. Eleven. About 10 percent of the entire project. In one day.

That brings the grand total to 412. If this keeps up, folks, soon we're going to be talking serious numbers.


Thank you, Threadbear!

Monday, January 28, 2008

What Do You Call a Gathering of Michigan Knitters?

After Saturday's 1,000 Knitters shoot at Threadbear, the word that springs to mind is "avalanche." Ladies and gentlemen, we broke the record: 111 knitters in the course of a single day of shooting. I've been downloading and sorting frames for three hours and I'm still not finished.

I'm up against an article deadline, so a full write-up will have to wait a bit; but I couldn't wait to thank everybody, especially owners Matt and Rob and their incredible staff. For me, the day was equal parts fiber festival, birthday party, Maypole dance and tent revival.

Full details to come, but first I must share a delicious snippet of conversation overheard on the Amtrak ride home.
He: What's that, like, mark by your ear?

She: Oh, yeah. I fell asleep on my friend's couch for, like, twenty minutes, and when I woke up this drunk guy was sucking on my neck.

He: Solid. I mean, gross.
Oh, dearest Amtrak. You're rickety, you smell, and you're unreliable; yet you never disappoint.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Not Appearing in the Book

Sometimes when I'm working on panels for the book I like to let my mind and my hand wander just to see what happens. And then, sometimes, I snap back to full consciousness and find that I've drawn something like this, and I consider whether I ought to seek professional help.

Oh, snap.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Unbridled Consumerism

Let nobody say I'm not doing my best to live simply. Paring down one's belongings is suddenly fashionable in the United States, as we all prepare to move into cardboard boxes and wait out the looming recession. (At least that's what they said on the "Today" show.)

Over the past five months I've engaged in a massive apartment purge. Fourteen huge bags of shredded paper have gone down the trash chute, a new wing has been added to the local charity shop to accommodate the former contents of my closets, and I purged my bookshelves of all superfluous volumes.*

However, as good as it sometimes feels to let go, I won't pretend for a minute that the arrival of new goodies ain't a thrill for me. Please, I'm only human. And a knitter. Apparently some of you are, too, judging from questions in the comments.

So today I'm going to light candles in front of the statue of Mammon and lead the congregation in Hymn #42, "In Heaven Be There No Credit Limits and the Good Yarn Is Always on Sale."

Shut Up and Knit Shirt

Elizabeth (no blog) asked where to get the "Shut Up and Knit" shirt worn by Lilith in her portrait for the 1,ooo Knitters Project.

Monkey Shirt

As it happens, Lilith herself designed the shirt, and it's available through a friend's online shop. Clever woman, that Lilith. I wish I'd thought of this one, myself.

Dragonfly Dishes

A whole bunch of you expressed interest in the dragonfly dish that inspired the dragonflies on Abigail's Kimono. I got mine from Cost Plus/World Market, which has a Web site but doesn't appear to sell them online.

Honestly, although I love how they look, they're disappointingly fragile. I'm not one to fling crockery across the room (unless the president is on television), but almost all of my dragonflies are already chipped from nothing more than normal, occasional use. I won't be buying earthenware from World Market again.

Dragon Stash Guardian Shirts and Mug

You asked for a dragon on black/dark shirts. You got it. You asked for a dragon mug. You got it.

Stash Guardian

It's all here.

People were speculating as to whether it's supposed to be Smaug (from The Hobbit) or Fafnir (from The Ring of the Nibelungs). Neither. Her name is Mary Alice and she's from Rancho Cucamonga, California.

Pattern Tamers

I saw these at Yarn Con, but was so busy making portraits that I never got a chance to look closely at them. But the maker, Kelly Black, was kind enough to provide me with a set to try out. In brief, they're ribbon-covered magnetic markers that can be used to mark lines or charts in your knitting books (or cookbooks, or any other kind of book).

Here's my set in use.

Pattern Tamers

When I plan on toting a complicated project around, I usually make a personal-use photocopy of the chart and keep it in a Knitpicks chart keeper. But when I just want to just try out a motif–for example, a pattern out of one of the Barbara Walker treasuries–that can be a lot of bother. Kelly's Pattern Tamers mark your place–and hold the page down–without harming the book. Yes, please.

She sells them via her Etsy shop and also through six or so Chicagoland yarn shops.

Pre-Orders of 2008's Most Eagerly-Awaited** Knitting Book

An encouraging number of you have asked about pre-ordering my book. So many of you, in fact, that my panic attacks have decreased to no more than one per hour.

I checked with the nice people at Interweave Press and they anticipate Amazon pre-orders will be possible in or near May (the book itself is to appear in the fall of 2008). However, pre-orders through Interweave's own site should be available sooner than that. I'll let y'all know when that happens.

So keep your pants on, Ma. It's coming, it's coming.

My Dream Knitting Bag

For ages I'd been carrying my knitting around in a Chinese military surplus bag. I tried to pretend this was hip and cool, but in fact the thing was so bedraggled and filthy that when I walked around with it over my shoulder it encouraged passers-by to offer me spare change and sympathetic looks.

I knew I needed a new knitting bag, but...I'm a guy. For guys, picking out a new knitting bag is like beating your head against a wall, except that beating your head against a wall at least burns calories.

It's unlikely that your local yarn shop carries anything suitable. The saleswoman may insist that all the metrosexuals are carrying batik totes with bamboo handles this year, but you will know in your heart it's not so.

An Internet search on "men's knitting bag" pulls up no useful results, unless you want to follow Stephen's example and knit your own. But I don't want to knit my knitting bag. I just want to put my knitting in it.

Women who are allergic to the traditional "pink brocade kitties" styles can go to a host of smaller, slicker designers; a big name like Jordana Paige; or even Knitpicks. Alas for men, in re-inventing the knitting bag these folks have basically re-invented the purse.

Well, at last I found my bag. Or rather Tom, a non-knitter, found it and presented it to me at Christmas.

Tom doesn't knit, but he pays attention. He took mental notes as I jabbered about what I needed and the pitfalls of so many would-be knitting bags. He knew it had to be tough, top-opening, subdivided on the inside, and not too deep. He knew it had to be free of Velcro, the natural enemy of yarn.

This is what he came up with. It's from Victorinox Swiss Army (how butch can you get?) and I adore it.

Bag Exterior

Guys, it's fantastic. It comfortably holds two small (or one large) projects, the odd book or two, my sketch book, pencils, notions and spare needles (in interior zippered compartments), my chart keeper, and my collapsible umbrella.

Bag Interior

The shoulder strap is comfortable and sturdy. There's an exterior zipper pocket so you can get at your day planner, your pen, your subway pass or whatever without opening the whole thing. It has no Velcro, no batik and no pink kitties. It in no way resembles a purse. GI Joe could carry this thing into battle and nobody would bat an eye.

And that, if you ask me, is the only reason you've never seen GI Joe knitting. He couldn't find the perfect bag to match the boots.

*Ten. A new record!
**By my mother.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

In the Nick of Time

When Abigail was born, I was admonished from all quarters to enjoy every moment of her babyhood because babies grow like mushrooms after a warm rain.

I thought I comprehended this fully, until I arrived for Christmas to find the sweet but mostly inert lump-in-a-blanket I'd seen in July had sprouted arms, legs, and motor skills. Here she is accompanying me in selections from Schubert's Winterreise on Christmas Day.


That was a real kick in the ass to finish the incomplete Debbie Bliss baby kimono I'd had lying around the apartment since August. I'd made it in the 9-12 month size when Abigail at 9-12 months seemed a remote possibility. Now I had minutes to sew the thing up before she'd outgrow it.

My experience with seaming is limited, but I admit (at the risk of being smacked in the head by several of you) that I actually enjoy it. The seams (in spite of my incomplete grasp of proper shoulder technique) were not the problem.

The problem was the embroidery. In My Baby Is Better Dressed Than Your Baby, Ms. Bliss covers the kimono with little daisies rendered in embroidery floss. The effect is charming and in perfect taste, but I wanted...I dunno. Something with a little more oomph. And there was no way I could finish until I'd settled upon the perfect solution.

I consulted Ravelry to see what others had done. No help there. Of the four Ravelers who list this piece as a finished object, only one has bothered with embroidery–and she notes that she hated doing it.

I wanted to push the envelope, if at all possible. Grandly disregarding that my needlework skills have been rusting in the toolshed for over a decade, I hunted down photographs of traditional Japanese, Chinese, and Arab motifs. For a long time I fancied the idea of a dragon swirling around the back, over the shoulders and down the front. Alas, a few small samplers brought home the realization that it would take me another year of work to bring my skill set and my idea into alignment.

Meanwhile, Abigail would move out of baby clothes entirely and begin asking "Does this cut me in the middle?" and "Does this make my butt look big?" and the other questions forced upon ever-younger females in our present Era of Enlightenment.

I was on the verge of giving up and sprinkling the damn piece with the damn daisies when I looked down at my breakfast and realized what I'd do.

Not a dragon. Dragonflies.

Dragonfly Plate

That motif, happily, was within my grasp (once I'd practiced French knots a few dozen times). I actually used the simplified insect on the plate to work out my own design.

Motif Detail

For good luck, Abigail's kimono has a very tiny swarm of three. One on the front:

Kimono Front

And two in the back:

Kimono Back

Now all I have to do is ship it express to Maine before she begins work on her dissertation.

They grow up so fast.

Friday, January 18, 2008


We're still not sure what's going on with Dolores, but there have been two ominous signs:
  1. She got a mess of large, heavy UPS parcels, which she locked up in one of the closets (after first carefully throwing my overcoats onto the floor).

  2. Victorine has arrived, toting her Singer Featherweight. The arrival of Victorine never bodes well for my sanity. She refuses to share Dolores's cushion next to the Victrola because Dolores hogs the blankets, so she's instead sleeping under my drawing board. This morning I forgot she was there until I felt something licking my bare toes.
Harry decided he was going to become a spy and figure out what's going on, but tipped his hand by insisting on wearing his trench coat and slouchy fedora at all times "like the real guys." I don't know what Dolores said when she jibbed what he was up to, but it took two hours and a whole bag of Mint Milanos to coax him out of the cupboard under the sink.


0286The real reason I'm writing today is to let you know that 1,000 Knitters* is coming back to the East Coast. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of owner Jacquelynn, there will be a public shoot at her shop, Wool Gathering, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (about 30 minutes south of Philadelphia). We'll be clickin' and knittin' from 9 am-4:30 pm on April 19, 2008.

As Harry would say, "Cowabunga!"

*By the way, in the past month I've started getting a lot of requests to visit specific cities, which is incredibly exciting. At the moment, though, without any sort of underwriting (or a small, personal fortune) I can only travel with the project if my transport and accommodation expenses are underwritten. If you're interested in hosting a shoot, I've got more details on the 1,000 Knitters blog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Trouble Brewing?

I've been so preoccupied with working on the book, scheduling 1,000 Knitters shoots (when they're confirmed, I'll tell all) and doing a bunch of freelance projects that I haven't been able to keep an eye on Dolores as much as I'd like. Need I tell you this is never a good idea?

Gift knitting took over my waking hours in the months leading up to Christmas, so it wasn't until we were sitting around the tree and Abigail ripped open a package printed with cartoon reindeer doing kegstands that I knew about this:


"Well," said Susan, gingerly opening the cover, "at least it's not a seventh copy of Goodnight, Moon."

"It's just a mock up," said Dolores from amid a pile of discarded wrapping, "We're still shopping it around. But I thought I'd give to her now. Somebody needs to take the child's education in hand."

"We're already sort of working on that," said Phil.

"Oh, of course," said Dolores. "A-B-C and what's the capital of Idaho and that sort of thing. But there's so much more to life, and that's where the Little Helper comes in."

"What's this?" said Susan, pulling a smaller booklet from between the pages.

"The supplement to the bartending guide. I've added it on the advice of my agent. You might want to give it a look, yourself. This egg nog is a smidge underpowered."

Susan and Phil agreed to tuck the book away and share it with Abigail when she reaches an appropriate age (some time around 2050, I believe) and that, thank heaven, was the end of it; although Susan later did grudgingly agree that the egg nog recipe was an improvement on Martha Stewart's.

After the holiday rush, we came home and settled down to what passes for normal around here.

I continued working on the handsome socks from The Knitting Man(ual)in between sessions at the drawing board.

Socks in Progress

I'm really enjoying these. There's just enough to the pattern to keep it from being a dull knit without making it too fussy for public transit or standing in line. I think the end result is fetching. The yarn (a present from Tom, who picked it up on a trip to Michigan at Ewe-nique Knits) is Margo Jones from Schaefer - the first time I've worked with Schaefer yarn. It won't be the last if I have anything to say about it. Good stuff.

Harry and the rest of the sock yarn decided to follow Dolores's writerly example and pick up their pens, and soon I was stepping around fifty-odd little journals or baking cookies for the poetry slams being held in the living room.

However, Dolores apparently has grown bored with the literary life. She's started going out and keeping late hours–late even for her. When she's home, I have to pry her off the computer with a crowbar. Her cell phone rings nonstop, and she rushes into the bathroom to engage in heated but muffled conversations. And she's made a point of grabbing the mail out of the box before I can get to it.

Yesterday Harry looked up from the draft of his latest poem, "If You Are Sad I Will Hug Your Heart," to ask me if I thought Dolores was acting weird.

"It's hard to say, of course. What have you noticed?"

"Well, for starters last week Stan spilled his ink all over her best peignoir and instead of freaking out she just said something about looking at the bigger picture. And then me and the guys were on our way to open mic night at The Alienated Espresso and we ran into Mitchell from The Lucky Horseshoe, and he said she hasn't been there even once since we came home from Maine. They had to lay off two bartenders."

That's all I needed to hear. I'm officially worried.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Knit a Little Lamb: Exciting Conclusion

The Hollywood writers are still on strike, so I figure I got a decent shot at you tuning in to see how the little lamb turns out. You could choose to walk away and watch old episodes of "Bosom Buddies" on DVD, but it would make him cry.

The Model

Knitter's choice.

At the end of part two we finished the main shapes and only needed to add small details to finish up. Frankly, I could have covered this all in two installments but I forgot to knit a background swatch to stick the thing on.

A Meadow

Plus it was lunch time and I'd developed an unaccountable craving for souvlaki.

Okay. Pretend the green square (note the garter edges; I love you so much I made the swatch neat and pretty) is the pocket of Abigail's sweater. Whipstitch the lamb body onto it.

Whip It Good

It still doesn't look much like a lamb, though. We have to give it a face. And just as we reduced the body to its simplest elements in order to knit it, so we must pick out only the essential details in the face. Happily, there's not a whole lot going on in a lamb's face.

Face, Analyzed

That's all, sister.

Easy enough to render with a bit of doubled sewing thread–chosen in lieu of yarn or embroidery floss because the former is too thick, and the latter is unlikely to stand up to much washing.

Using our simplified sketch as a guide, we add the nose, mouth and beady little eyes.

Face, Complete

Now, ears.

You could drive yourself cuckoo knitting two itty-bitty little ear flaps, then painstakingly sew them onto the lamb only to find out they make it look more like an albino bat. But since I've already done that, you don't have to.

Instead, simply embroider a single petal from a lazy daisy on either side, and fill 'em both in with a couple stitches each.

Ear Detail

And behold, the lamb.



It's not just for babies, either. You can do so much with it! L@@K!

Wee Drinkie

Trendy wine coaster.

Country Home Decor

Cozy antimacassar.


Avant-garde toupée.

Wipe Wipe

Polishing cloth.

Where Was I?


I Wish I Could Smurf You

Smurf hideout.


Ironic disguise.


Cat bed.

* Finis *

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Knit a Little Lamb: Part Two

When last we left our little lamb, it looked like this.

Head and Body, Combined

As this lamb is going to wind up half inside a sweater pocket, we don't need to think about the legs, just the head and body. In the interest of further simplification, we're going to shift the basic shapes slightly to bring them into alignment, thus.

Simplified Alignment of Shapes

And that's what we've got to knit first.

This is where you have to draw on your own knowledge, experience, and preferences as a knitter. There are probably as many ways to realize those shapes in knitting as there are knitters. You could, for example, simply knit up two stockinette shapes in the appropriate sizes.

On the other hand, as this lamb will be placed against a stockinette ground, why not try out a textured stitch to give it a little more visual oomph? Maybe the render the fluffy body in moss stitch?

Let's try it. Cast on as many stitches as you think you need, and go.

Beginning the Body

Not bad. Good enough to continue. In fact, rather than knit two pieces, what if we used texture to suggest the separation between head and body? Maybe render the face in stockinette? And we could throw in a pair of decreases at the "shoulder" line for shaping.

Testing the Face

Promising. Enough to go on. I find that when you're improvising like this, it's extremely important to make frequent stops for assessment–something I learned from Maggie Righetti in Knitting in Plain English. When I started knitting I felt guilty about constantly pausing to look at my work, until I read Maggie's sound advice that you should do so to decide if you like it–and rip it back if you don't. That has saved me a lot of time and trouble.

So, here's the finished body and head in one piece.

Basic Shape Complete

It's okay. The top corners are a bit sharp, but maybe they can be fudged in the sewing. But the face looks sunken when it should project forward, as a glance at the model shows.

The Model


We could undo the head. Or, before we go that far, we could try knitting the lamb a little oval snoot, since that's the bit that really sticks out in the original, and apply it over the stockinette face. Maybe that'd counteract the sunken effect. It'll only take a few minutes.

Testing the Snoot

Hmm. Not bad. Let's sew it down, and tuck a bunch of yarn ends underneath to give it a little extra volume.

Head and Body, Complete

And there we are–the basic shapes are in place. It's not quite ready to baaaaaaaa, but it's gettin' there.

Next time, we'll finish up by adding the details to the face and head.

New in the Shop

I was procrastinating feeling inspired a couple of days ago and made up a new design for the shop, which for the moment is on bags and shirts. If there's interest in having it on magnets or journals or cards or whatever, do speak up and I'll see what I can do.

Stash Guardian

(Yeah, I played Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. You wanna make something of it?)