Friday, May 30, 2008


Greetings, y'all, from Austin. 

The trip down was lovely. I flew out of  nasty, rainy, chilly Chicago and landed in sunny, warm (okay, hot) Texas right on schedule. I am almost pathetically happy to be here. The people are friendly, the sun is shining, and it's hot. Super hot. My spicy Arabian blood is dancing for joy. 

The Austinites think I'm insane, and keep pulling me back into the air conditioning, but they didn't spend the winter (which is still going on) in Chicago.

Dolores and Harry have opted to spend the afternoon at the hotel pool. So far, there have been no frantic text messages from Harry so I presume little miss fluffy hasn't groped a lifeguard or done a drunken cannonball into the lobby fountain.

It looks to be a fun shooting day tomorrow. There are piles of people signed up.  I'm typing this from the big work table at The Knitting Nest in company with a delightful group of ladies who have come all the way from Dallas for a getaway weekend with 1,000 Knitters as the centerpiece and stopped by early to say hello and get first crack at all the yarn.

Here's a group shot, courtesy of the Photo Booth program on my Mac.

Dallas Contingent

I'm the bald one. Left to right, with hair, are Annise, Liz, Betty, and Tasha. In the background, Malabrigo and Cascade.

If this isn't heaven, I hope heaven is something like this.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Moment of Ooooooh

When last we met, I had just placed mixed Wedding Ring Shawl v.1.0. Then I placed an online order for a cone of cobweb-weight silk yarn in silver from Heirloom Knitting in the United Kingdom. That was on May 22, a Thursday. The next day I got friendly confirmation of shipment from Mike. And guess what showed up in Chicago today, May 29, also a Thursday?

Silver Silk Cobweb

Now that, my friends, is customer freaking service.

Let me tell you, Gussie, I feel like I'm hosting an angel in the parlor. It's so light, and the color is so delicate it's almost not there. I just want to sit on a floor cushion and contemplate it* from a respectful distance.

There's no time, though because tomorrow I leave for the next 1,000 Knitters shoot at The Knitting Nest in Austin, Texas. I haven't been to Austin for years, which is far too long to stay away. Often when I travel I worry about being too weird for wherever I'm going. Austin's one of the few places where I worry about not being weird enough.

Of course, seeing as I'm traveling with Dolores, who has decided this would be a great opportunity to stir up Fibertarian loyalties in the president's home state, maybe my fears are unfounded.

*By the way, in case you're wondering, the cone is perched on an antique, traditional Norwegian yarn adoration pedestal, or garnaädøratpedystöl. Usually they're terribly expensive and impossible to find outside museum collections, but I picked mine up for a song at a flea market in Little Oslo from a woman named Oonehoode Olsen who says during the Golden Age no knitter in Norway would have been caught dead without one. No, seriously! That's what she said!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Knit It Like Nietzsche

I began the Wedding Ring Shawl.

I noticed an error in the Wedding Ring Shawl.

I frogged the Wedding Ring Shawl.

I re-knit the Wedding Ring Shawl right up to the row I missed.

And then I realized something.

The yarn's not working.

Truly, it's not. I've let the piece sit for a few days so as not to make any hasty decisions. I've played with it, stretched it, patted it, and even wet blocked a portion of it. I did everything but put it on the altar and pray for a miracle. And it's not working.

It's too thick. It's too heavy. Sharon Miller wrote this pattern for a cobweb yarn, and that's what the design needs. In this yarn, what should look ethereal looks instead like it should be hanging off Stevie Nicks in the mid-1970s. That's fine if that's what you want to knit, but that's not what I want to knit.

On the sample card Sharon sent with the shawl pattern is a gossamer silk. Much thinner, as you can see, than the red Skacel merino.

Skacel Merino Lace vs Heirloom Knitting Gossamer Silk

I knit and blocked a little (about 1 1/2 inch) swatch with the silk on a US 0 (2 mm) needle.

Swatch in Gossamer Silk

Yes. Much better. I've ordered a cone from Heirloom Knitting. I'm going to do this right, or I'm not going to do it at all. The red merino will become another, heavier lace piece.

If that which does not kill us makes us stronger, this shawl is making me a very strong knitter. Either that, or I'm going end up wandering the streets of Chicago talking to a six-foot-tall silkworm nobody else can see. Time will tell.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Galloping Towards 1000

Now that the little book is for the most part tidied away, I'm playing catch-up with a lot of life–including the 1,000 Knitters Project.

Back in April (though it seems like a year ago) Wool Gathering in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania hosted what turned out to be the largest public shooting day yet - more than 130 knitters in one session.

And here I wondered if y'all would get behind this idea when I first proposed it.

Even if we'd only had three people, I'd have enjoyed hanging around Wool Gathering. It's a beautiful shop in a beautiful town, well worth the short drive from Philadelphia to enjoy the historic and eclectic shopping district even if you don't knit.

Woolgathering - Kennett Square, PA

The owner, Jackie, is a vibrant and creative shop owner who has made the shop into a wonderful resource and gathering place for knitters. When my buddy/hostess/handler Carol (one of the trio behind Knit So Fine) and I arrived to set up, Jackie and her able crew were already in full swing setting up a sign-in table on the sidewalk, as well as chairs for knitters waiting their turns.

It was a good thing they prepared, because before the opening bell officially rang we were already inundated. I was drowning in knitters, which is of course my favorite way to drown.

Kennett Square Knitters

I was inside the shop chatting and shooting, while just outside the window I could hear the growing hubbub of knitters passing the time in the warm sunshine, getting to know each other before it was time to come indoors and add their stitches to the project. I met so many of you who are frequent commenters (hi, Anne Marie!) and even more of you who had absolutely no freaking idea who I was.

Kennett Square Knitters

We had a real kaleidoscope that day, a cross-section of knitting humanity. People came from other states–Washington, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, New York, Delaware. We had young, youngish, young-at-heart, old, and one lady who said she was representing the "really, really old" and offered to pose nude. (I declined, as we were in a public space, but she was a looker.)

Kennett Square Knitters

On occasion a sitter will show up with a little gift, and while I don't usually post about them as I consider them personal, I absolutely have to show you a sample of what bj (she prefers the lowercase) brought all the way from New Jersey. She works for Mars (the candy company, not the planet) and she gave me five pounds of these.

Eat Me

1000 Knitters Project M & Ms. In the basic colors of sheep's wool.


It was a delightful day, even if I'm rather fuzzy on what happened afterward. I know we all went out for a delicious dinner, and then very good ice cream. And then Carol tossed my exhausted carcass into the back of her car and drove us home.

Woolgathering Crew

Thank you, Jackie (giving the bunny ears) and Carol (getting the bunny ears) and all the wonderful crew at Wool Gathering. I can't wait to come back. For one thing, I know you have Rowan in there and I did not get a chance to shop.

And Now for a Little Announcement

This has been in the works for a long time. Today another stop–international, no less–is on the calendar. Click here for the full details...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

In Which I Am Temporarily Deflated

You know that part of Oedipus Rex where Oedipus is all like, "Tra la la, I'm king and I'm married to a sexy chick and I got the world on string, dancing on a rainbow," and then gods are all like, "Ha ha dude, you murdered your father and that hot chick you married is your mom," and Oedipus is all like "Ohhhhhhh nooooooooooooo" and claws his own eyes out?

Well, I feel somewhat akin to Oedipus right now. Not because I'm guilty of patricide and incest (shut up! gross!) but because the knitting gods have chosen this moment to knock back a few beers and have a giggle at my expense.

I was fewer than ten rows from the end of the first repeat of the Wedding Ring Shawl center when I noticed something. See the little green arrow?

Missing Row

It's pointing to the row I skipped. Yup. Just skipped right over it. Didn't knit it at all. Left it out. Golly! Whoops!

That row mostly serves to put a space between the two beads inside the lozenge, so I didn't notice anything was goofy until I'd worked half the second row of lozenges in the repeat.

Then I said something emphatic and unsuitable for general audiences that rhymes with "Truck! Pluck! You smother clucking Tina Yotherbucker! What the ducking plucking truck! Zit! Zit!"

I could keep knitting, and chances are nobody would ever notice. But I would notice. I'd spread out the finished piece and the absence of that row would be the only thing I'd notice.

So, bloody but unbowed, I rip. This is an epic project; I'll do it well or not at all. It is the mature way. The noble way.

And if you tell me I should have used lifelines so help me beeotch I will gouge your piggy eyes out with my own two thumbs.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Helpful Commentary for Various People in This Coffee Shop

To the Guy in the Northwestern Cap
She came in here to study. She is not looking for a date. Specifically, she is not looking for a date with you. You have now told her about your swell condo, your eco-friendly hybrid car, your burgeoning net worth and your boat. Yet she has said little more than "uh huh" at any point and hasn't taken her eyes off her book for five minutes. This is called "rejection." If she is your only prospect, you're not getting any tonight. I suggest driving your eco-friendly hybrid to the video store to rent some porn to watch all by yourself in your swell condo.

To the Angry Lesbians at the Next Table

As I am in no way personally responsible for the American government's refusal to issue free tampons, the existence of high-heeled shoes, the veiling of Arab women, or the weird taste of your latte, glaring at me every time one of you uses the word "men" will not put a stop the ongoing abuse of womynkind by the patriarchy.

To the Guy in the Northwestern Cap, Again

Seriously, dude, bringing up the sad story of your childhood pet's untimely death just seems desperate.

To the Skank at the Next Table

Number one, it's not warm enough out to justify a top that skimpy. Number two, if I wanted to see bare female nipples, I would go watch porn with the guy in the Northwestern cap.

To the Kid Who Keeps Kicking My Chair

Stop kicking my chair.

To the Mother of the Kid Who Keeps Kicking My Chair

When you take him over to Nettlehorst School to register for the mayor's very special fee-based kindergarten program for gifted white children, I hope he pees on the headmistress.

To the Short, Bald Guy Knitting at the Corner Table

You wouldn't have to rip back your lace rows quite so much if you'd focus more on the chart and less on the other customers.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Proud Son

Yesterday was Mother's Day, and all across the country mothers were getting things–flowers, cards, telephone calls–from their children. My own, dear mother deserves her own island in the Caribbean, a pony and a chocolate fountain; but since I didn't want to embarrass her with extravagance I just sent flowers.

She sent me something, too, and I want to share it with you.

First, a bit of background.

Mom and one-day-old Susan.
Susan just celebrated her own first Mother's Day.

My mother is a can-do sort of woman. If she wants to excel at something, she will. She did not, for example, learn to sew at her mother's knee. As a young wife, she decided sewing would be a useful skill. She got a sewing machine, took a class, and turned into the second coming of Betsy Ross. We reveled in an abundance of expertly hand-sewn clothes, gorgeous Halloween costumes, perfectly tailored school uniforms and matching family Christmas pajamas.

She also learned from a friend how to knit. Aside from an occasional afghan, however, this was a skill that lay dormant for years. The first time I ever saw her do it was Christmas 2005, when our incessant chatter about the joys of yarnplay persuaded her to join the fun. Her powers of recall were startling. We gave her a pair of needles and a gentle nudge, and soon she'd turned out several very nice scarves and a few patterned washcloths.

Then she decided it was time to try a shaped garment. She picked a doozy–Elizabeth Zimmermann's Baby Surprise Jacket. In case you've been knitting in a cave, the Baby Surprise Jacket (which you can find in The Opinionated Knitter and Knitting Workshop) is a little cardigan sweater that's knit as one flat piece, folded up like origami and seamed at the shoulders. It's a classic pattern and a fun project, but not always an easy knit for a beginner.

My mother, however, does not care about easy. She wanted to knit the jacket. She got the yarn, the needles, the pattern and Meg Swansen's instructional DVD, and off she went. And look at this.

Mom's BSJ

Not only did she finish, she worked in a bunch of Meg's fine details including paired increases and decreases, a collar, and a cast off that eliminates the little dog-ear at the very end.

Mom's BSJ - Collar

I'm choking up just looking at that. How you've grown, mother darling. There's a Rogue Hoodie in your future. I just know it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Lace Quickie

Do not tell Interweave I posted today. I'm supposed to be finishing the essays for the little book. But I had to show you how the center of the Wedding Ring Shawl is turning out, even if it means getting locked into the cupboard under the stairs again with nothing but my laptop and a pile of Clif Bars. (Mmmmm. Clif Bars.)

Row Twentysomething of the Center

Reader Emma rightly pointed out in the comments that I miscounted the depth of the shawl's border–132 rows, not 63. Given that, I'm afraid finishing by next Tuesday is out of the question. It's going to take until Thursday, at least.

Reader Laura Sue said she's fascinated with lace but having trouble getting the hang of it. I hear you, darling. My first attempt at lace was Knitty's pretty Branching Out scarf by Susan Pierce Lawrence, which many folks say was their gateway project. Me, I tried it three times and wound up bleeding from both ears.

Ultimately I realized I needed to start with something even easier than Branching Out - a pattern with smaller repeats and a little less going on in each row. My advice? Try a lace sampler. That's what I did.

After two introductory classes at Stitches Midwest, I sat down with some fingering-weight yarn, figured out how many stitches I'd need to repeat a simple motif* a few times with a garter stitch border on either side, and started knitting. When I felt I'd mastered the motif, or got bored with it, I started a new one.

Sometimes that means adding or removing stitches to make the count work properly. No problem–just do a little easy math, and put your increases or decreases evenly into a few rows of plain knitting between each section. (By the way, building a facility for that sort of calculation was good for me–it's made me a much stronger knitter on all sorts of projects.)

After about six patterns I felt confident enough to tackle a "real" project. I was terribly proud of having figured out such an effective training tool, until I learned that of course lace knitters had already been doing the same thing for centuries. I don't know if it's true that there's nothing new under the sun, but there sure ain't anything new on the needles. (Except Cat Bordhi's needles. Cat Bordhi is the exception to everything.)

After you cast off the sampler, block it–an important skill to practice. You'll have either a mat, a doily, a scarf, or a table runner, depending on how fast you knit and how carried away you got.

If you can't sit down with an experienced lace knitter for a lesson, the most comprehensive source of free instruction I can think of is Eunny Jang's excellent series of blog articles, which begins here. Marilyn (aka the Knitting Curmudgeon) also has a concise and informative tip sheet in the "Free Shit" section of her sidebar.

Okay, I have to go write now. But this has been fun. Let's do it again. And remember, not a word to my editor or I will be so mad and you will not be invited to my slumber party.

*My favorite source of motifs of all kinds is the classic series of books by Barbara Walker. If you hunt around, you can also find an avalanche of free patterns online.

STOP! WAIT! BREAKING LACE NEWS! The lace book I've been waiting for more than any other is open for pre-orders. Nancy Bush on Estonian Lace. I have goosebumps. Or maybe they're nupps.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


I imagine that there are people who can be creative in a vacuum, but I'm not one of them.

I had a visitor once, a young aspiring decorator, who told me candidly that my living room gave him a headache."I don't understand your theme," he said, wincing.

Well, Mary, there ain't no theme. If I like it, I hang it on the wall. If it has a happy association for me, I hang it on the wall. If it makes me want to pick up a pen and draw, or sit down at the keyboard and type, I hang it on the wall. You're not going to see my apartment in Homosexual Interiors magazine, except possibly on the "Yikes!" page, but it keeps me going.


Working on the little book has made me understand for the first time that if I'm cut off from stimulation, I stop producing. At one point I tried to go the monastic route, with life reduced to barest necessities and all extraneous matter removed. For a week, all I made were doodles of little, pinched faces that got angrier and angrier; and finally a picture of a lady kicking a cat down the stairs.

PollySo I relaxed, and let myself indulge in other stuff–like really, really bad late-Victorian chick lit. Here's the latest gem on the bedside table: Polly: A New-Fashioned Girl by L.T. Meade. I picked this up at a bookshop in the neighborhood for a pittance, attracted by the cover art (shown left), the title, and my previous experience with other titles by the author.

Polly is a "new fashioned" girl. What could that mean? According to the flyleaf inscription the book was a Christmas present for "Violet from Mamma" in 1900, so it could mean Polly shows her bare ankle to the butcher's boy, or joins the Suffragettes, or travels to the Middle East and converts to Islam.

Well, I'm about a third of the way through Polly and I'm still befuddled. Nothing remotely new-fashioned has happened yet. Polly's mother dies on page six, as most good mothers do in these books. It's such a common plot twist that as soon as I see an angelic mommy surrounded by an adoring brood, I automatically assume the Grim Reaper is crouched behind the pianola sharpening his blade.

Polly and her twenty-three siblings are left carry on with their father (a good doctor, but apparently a lousy obstetrician) and a handful of servants. Dr. Daddy is worried about the kids running wild, since he is constantly being called out to preside over other childbed deaths in the neighborhood. He says that if his eldest daughter can't keep house he's going to hire a governess.

The children, who have all read "The Turn of the Screw," understandably freak out. I've reached a point in the tale where Polly, anxious to do her bit, has begun to order the servants around according to cockeyed notions gathered from old cookbooks. It's not going well. Breakfast is a mess; and on top of everything else it turns out that father is going blind.

I can hardly wait to find out what happens next. Maybe new-fashioned Polly will attempt to save his sight by performing emergency surgery on the dining room table, using her copy of Mrs Beeton and dead mama's embroidery scissors.

I sure hope so.

And Some Knitting

I also decided that if you're writing a knitting book, knitting counts as research and development. So I'm still tapping away to finish up the essays, but I've also started Sharon Miller's Wedding Ring Shawl.

Shawl Beginning

The picture shows the eighth patterned row of the 300+ in the center square. After that, there's a very deep (63 row) border knit around and around the center, followed by a sideways edging. So I won't be able to show you a picture of the finished piece until at least next Tuesday.

The best part is the temporary cast-on in pink acrylic DK yarn, which makes it look like I'm working a misbegotten pink-and-red baby blanket for a kid named Valentine.

Friday, May 02, 2008

La commedia e finità

Sketches DryingI did it.

Seventy-five finished ink-and-wash panels for the book. On time.

It's funny. Now that they've left the nest, seventy-five doesn't seem like such a large number. But I took photos like this one, of a batch drying on the living room floor, to remind me of how it felt.

Just looking at that makes me want an epidural.

Mind you, I still have essays left to finish in short order; but writing isn't quite the physical labor for me that drawing is. And there are more presentation-quality drawings in this book than I've made in the rest of my life to date.

I think I'm going to have a little lie-down, now.

No, wait a moment. Word on the street is that the Summer 2008 Interweave Knits is on the shelves and landing in many mailboxes. I have an article in there–my first for IK–about Meg Swansen, Elizabeth Zimmermann and the fifty-year story of Schoolhouse Press.

Nothing daunting in such an assignment, no. Quite simple, really. Write a complete history of the world's most beloved fiber company in 1200 words, using an interview with one of your personal household goddesses as a primary source. Hah. No sweat.

But it really was fun. The fact is, the folks at the Schoolhouse are just as down-to-earth as the knitter on the street. Making a living with yarn and related paraphernalia hasn't dimmed their enthusiasm. When I spoke with Eleanor–who has worked there for 25 years and seen a thing or two happen in the field–it was a heady combination of knit chat and history lesson, with generous doses of good humor thrown in.

Thanks to everybody who agreed to be interviewed–I'm indebted to you all.

And Eunny seemed pleased with it, so here's to hoping more work from IK comes my way.

And Also...

I finished the Primavera Socks. I love the Primavera Socks. I will knit the Primavera Socks again. There is no higher compliment I can pay to the designer. And Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock (this colorway is "Violet") is so fantabulous to touch that I had to take seventeen photographs before I got one in which my toes were not curling.

Primavera Socks

Now. Where's that red laceweight?