Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lurching Toward Epiphany: Day Seven

On the seventh day of Christmas, Dolores gave to me

Day Seven

seven kegs a-brimming,
six queens sashaying,
five Highland Flings,
four letter words,
three clenched men,
two hurtled jugs,
and a party that lasted 'til three.

(Happy New Year, everybody, and thank you all for your support, encouragement and good cheer through a thrilling and often scary 2008. I hope 2009 will bring peace and abundance to all of us! Love, Franklin)

Lurching Toward Epiphany: Day Six

On the sixth day of Christmas, Dolores gave to me

Day Six

six queens sashaying,
five Highland Flings,
four letter words,
three clenched men,
two hurtled jugs,
and a party that lasted 'til three.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Lurching Toward Epiphany: Day Two

On the second day of Christmas, Dolores gave to me

Second Day

two hurtled jugs,
and a party that lasted 'til three.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lurching Toward Epiphany: Day One

On the first day of Christmas, Dolores gave to me...

First Day

a party that lasted 'til three.

To be continued, I fear.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Out of the Sketchbook

Greetings of the Season, y'all.

A Child's Christmas Wish

Off the Wagon and Onto the Sleigh

Listen, I have something to tell you and I don't want any grief about it or I'm packing up my dollies and going home.

Remember when I wrote smugly that I wasn't doing any knitting for Christmas this year? The words were no sooner out there in the universe than I had a marvelous, irresistible idea of something to knit for Christmas. It happened in a flash as I stood in the midst of chaos, staring down a six-foot-long to-do list studded with imminent deadlines. So I cast on immediately.

But it's Christmas knitting and therefore secret, and therefore I can't tell you about it or show it to you even though it's turned out quite sweet. Oh, the agony.

I can't stand it. I want to give you a peek. You want a peek? Just a peek.

Here's a peek.

Christmas Knitting

I feel so much better now, don't you?

Shop Around

The folks who want us to host the Summer Olympics in 2016 would have you believe that Chicago is Shangri-La on Lake Michigan, but it ain't so. We've got the highest sales tax in the country, soaring poverty, lousy schools, a rotting transit system, daily drive-by shootings, a growing gang problem, city and county officials so corrupt and inept they make Caligula look like King Arthur, and a climate that combines the worst of the Amazon jungle and the Arctic tundra with the air quality of Beijing.

On the other hand, we have more than our share of quite good yarn shops–so many that I have yet to see all of them.

This week, I got to visit two for the first time. By happy chance both proved to be not only stuffed with good yarn and fun knitters, but interesting for their strong, individual visions of what shop can be.

On Thursday night, I hung out at Knit Night at Sister Arts Studio in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. It will tell you everything that I was scheduled to be there for two hours and wound up staying for three-and-a-half. There were knitters, crocheters, and I got my first up-close look at shuttle tatting from an engaging and articulate corsetière.

Donna, the owner, has built a business that encourages a many-branched approach to creativity. Her place is not just a yarn shop, though her selections of yarn, hooks and needles are excellent. She's got kits and supplies for many crafts, some fibery and some not, with an extremely generous selection of tools and resources that will appeal to kids. (This is a great shop for kids. They even offer camps and parties.) I came away feeling that here is a shop that doesn't just sell and teach, it promotes creativity across all age groups in a way that ultimately benefits the greater good.

Then, on Saturday, I ventured to what was for me the ends of the earth: the northwest suburbs. I'd never been to Prairie Arts and Fibers in Grayslake because I'd never been to Grayslake. I'd never heard of Grayslake. It's part of that scary hinterland beyond O'Hare Airport that, on my mental map, is mostly blank aside from a few sketches of dragons and a big question mark.

But the owner, Linda, kindly encouraged me to visit and put me into the capable hands of Denise, who arranges all the events. Denise assured me that the commuter rail to Fox Lake stopped mere steps from the shop's front door, and that if by some chance I missed the station the train and I would not, in fact, roll off the edge of the earth and into the void. Who knew?

So after a quite pleasant ride from Union Station, I got out at Prairie Crossing and found a shop that is large, bright, beautiful and–they did not lie–directly across from the station.

Like Sister Arts Studio, Prairie Arts and Fibers goes way beyond being a yarn shop; it's a yarn shop/gallery hybrid. Linda promotes the work of local artists, so among the skeins of this and that are photographs, prints, pottery, even furniture. What's more, the selection is excellently curated. No junk. And fair prices, too–fair to the artist, and fair to the buyer. On top of that, they've got a line of mustards, sauces and preserves from the Galena Canning Company. I came home with a jar of the pumpkin butter and it is to die for.

City folks, it's worth a trip and the trip is easy. Get the Fox Lake Metra schedule and go!

Even Further Afield

Now that I've braved the northwest suburbs I think I'm ready to trek onward. In fact, I'm going all the way to Montana. Billings, to be precise. This will be my first visit to Big Sky Country, and I can't wait.

Wild Purls (1343 Broadwater Avenue) has very sweetly asked me out for a book signing (on Friday, January 9 from 6–8 pm) and to teach a class on Elizabeth Zimmermann's Tomten Jacket (on Saturday, January 10). The signing is free, of course. I think the class is sold out, but if you're curious about anything you can contact the shop at wildpurls (at) bresnan (dot) net or call (406) 245-2224.

Ah, Billings in January. I hope it won't be too overrun with honeymoon couples and day trippers. And I should probably finish knitting my gloves.

Friday, December 12, 2008

These Things Are Pleasant in Winter

I fell asleep last night reading an old favorite, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. When I woke up, I lingered in bed and jotted this in my notebook. Because I'm pretentious like that.

These Things Are Pleasant in Winter
  • An unexpected lick of warm air from an open door, as one passes by on the frozen sidewalk.

  • The hollow of a man's neck hidden and revealed by the curves of a beautiful scarf.

  • A knife's blade of sunlight slicing the clouds.

  • Stepping from a strong wind into the shelter of one's own doorway.

  • Enough snow to erase the scars from the landscape, but not so much that a pleasant stroll is impossible.

  • The luxury of too many blankets, especially as one wakes beneath them in the morning.

  • The approach of a distant storm, contemplated from a favorite chair while wrapped in a shawl.

  • Streaks of blue water between sheets of white ice on the lake.

  • Rough weather that prevents one from attending a dull party, and gives the gift of many hours to knit without interruption.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

We Found Her

Ever since Dolores took to the road to console herself over the loss of the election, we've been wondering where she is. Well, Harry has been wondering. I've just been enjoying the smoke-free environment, no to mention going into the bathroom in the morning without fear of finding a bleary-eyed dancer from the Lucky Horseshoe lolling in the tub with my rubber duckie.

There was a postcard about a week ago from Texas, indicating she'd found work in "a ground-breaking stage production of a classic work," but that was it. I figured if there was any state in the union able to deal with Dolores, it would be Texas. Hell, in Texas she might not even stick out in a crowd.

Those little wrinkles in my forehead were just starting to smooth out when Harry called me over to read a news item he found during his habitual morning perusal of


Get Outta TownWaxahachie, TX. Visitors to last night’s performance of the annual Living Nativity Pageant sponsored by the Waxahachie Full Bible Baptist Church were horrified to see a beloved local tradition come to an unexpected and violent end.

Witnesses say that as the Herald Angel (played by Wanda Meeks, daughter of the Reverend Lou Meeks) was lowered into the scene to begin her speech to the shepherds, a sheep broke loose from her tether and threw what appeared to be a half-empty bottle of Four Roses Bourbon into the air, narrowly missing Meeks’ head and knocking one of her wings to the ground.

Meeks began screaming to be let down, but remained suspended helplessly above the scenery while stagehands attempted to corral and subdue the angry sheep, whom police have identified as Dolores Van Hoofen of Chicago, Illinois.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Betsy Cartright of Midlothian, who was cast in the role of Shepherdess #2. “She just came out of nowhere cussing a blue streak. I knew she was trouble from day one. We had to keep telling her to put out her cigarettes around all the hay.”

According to pageant director Louise-Lynn Butler, the sheep had been a constant source of disruption during rehearsals, making overtures of a sexual nature to two of the three wise men and offering suggestions for enlarging her own role. At one point, Butler and Van Hoofen came to blows after Van Hoofen insisted on taking over Wanda Meeks' role as the Herald Angel, and replacing the traditional “Fear not, I bring you tidings of great joy” speech with a harmonica arrangement of the Frank Sinatra hit “Come Fly With Me.”

“I should’ve fired her, I guess,” says Butler. “But it was a big deal for Waxahachie to have a real sheep in the pageant this year instead of dressing up Lulu McWhirter’s lhasa apso the way we usually do.”

Before police and fire fighters could secure the scene, Van Hoofen bit or kicked at least three-quarters of her fellow cast members, and her cigarette sparked a blaze that within minutes had consumed most of the stable and severely damaged two papier-mache palm trees. A donkey and three chickens on loan to the production broke loose and were later apprehended in the parking lot of Pizza Hut.

Van Hoofen, who is presently in custody at the Waxahachie Jail, had no comment on the incident but says she still expects to receive the $35 she was promised in exchange for her performance in the Living Nativity. To which Louise-Lynn Butler responded, “Dream on, crazy Yankee bitch.”

As Texas state law has no precedent for filing criminal charges against livestock, the Waxahachie sheriff’s office has confirmed that tomorrow morning Van Hoofen will be escorted to the edge of town and put on a Greyhound bus heading north. A large crowd is expected to make sure she doesn’t try to turn around and come back.

On the Calendar

I'm pleased as punch to be signing the little book in two, two, two places this week. On Thursday, December 11, I'll be at Sister Arts Studio in Lincoln Park from 6:30–8:30 p.m. And on Saturday, December 13, I'll be at Prairie Arts and Fibers in Grayslake, Illinois from 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

And, in a late-breaking addition to the travel calendar, I'll be at Purl Diva in Brunswick, Maine twice this month. On December 20, I'll be reading from It Itches at 3 p.m. and then signing copies until 6 p.m. Then, on December 27, I'll be teaching a class on photographing your fiber–with an emphasis on making the best of your available equipment, whatever it may be. For information about class fees and registration, check out the Purl Diva Web site.

Looking into the future, by the way, I've been asked to sail along with Sea Socks 2009. Amy Singer's coming, too. If you'd like to sail with us, click here for more information.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

And Quietly Gets Swallowed By a Wave

I mentioned knitting on the trip home, but I neglected to specify what I was knitting: Eunny Jang's Print o' the Wave stole.

I wanted something portable, complex enough to be diverting, simple enough to be worked in company, and long enough to fill up the whole voyage. Plus, the idea of knitting waves while surrounded by them appealed to my sense of poetry.

The stole answered on all counts. I cast on at O'Hare and worked about three repeats before landing at Heathrow. Then it sat untouched until we got on the bus to Southampton. By the time we disembarked in Brooklyn, I was up to the tenth repeat or so.

That's when I noticed that in the fifth repeat, I had neatly eliminated one of the three rows of faggot stitch in the "trellis" that separates the the leftmost motif from the others. It was a beautiful move, truly–practically invisible. You never saw the like. There were three rows in the trellis, and then–poof!–there were two. Magical.

I looked at it for quite some time in wonderment, before getting up and going to the window and yelling quite a selection of vile, hateful things about the shawl to people passing by on the street. I think I suggested that the shawl was descended in the maternal line from a lady dog. I distinctly recall accusing it of having done something unspeakable to its own mother.

Happily, as I live on the fifteenth floor and had the window shut, nobody heard any of this except possibly my next door neighbors, and they don't bother to call the police any more.

So I ripped back and re-knit. I'm not sure how I managed it, since I hadn't put in lifelines, but I did. Maybe the shawl cooperated because it was afraid I'd start yelling again. (I'm small and quiet, but when roused I can achieve ear-splitting decibel levels.)

I'm exactly halfway up the center now at 17 repeats. It looks good, but I'm encountering pattern fatigue. Some knitters, I know, embrace large stretches of Same. They find it relaxing. I wish I did, but I don't. Too much Same makes me think another hobby might suit me better. Something with more rapid changes of scene, like Bungee jumping.

Mind you, I'm not giving up. I know if I keep on going my mood will shift and I'll fall trulymadlydeeply for the project again. It's a sweet, clever piece I plan to use as an inspirational sample for my lace knitting classes. Still–right this precise moment...

Will it Never End?

Let's just say it's a good thing I can't find the Bungee Cords.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Slapped with My Own Glove

Yesterday I flipped the calendar to December and, after pausing to admire the engaging shot of a comely butterfly collector* wearing nothing but a pith helmet and a mounted specimen of Morpho eugenia, I smiled a self-satisfied smile.

Morpho eugenia

The first of December is usually the day upon which I well and truly freak out over my unfinished holiday knitting. But not this year. This year I am not freaking out over my unfinished holiday knitting, because I am not doing any holiday knitting.

Saint AnysiaIf that made you clutch your pearls with shock, cease thy clutching. I'm still knitting like mad, just not for Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, or the Feast of Saint Anysia.** There just weren't any projects that matched up with any recipients. Instead, I've got a bunch of class samples on the needles and one or two things for myself.

When the weather got too cold to ignore I pulled the bin of accessories out of the hall closet and realized I hate all my gloves. Gloves are a problem for me. That part of my brain which is supposed to keep track of my belongings is entirely stuffed with the lyrics of songs I hate,*** so I have nine individual gloves but only two matching pairs. They're all store-bought, they're all ugly, and they don't fit me.

It's hard enough being a short man when I go shopping for pants and shirts. Short men are like fat women: the mainstream clothing industry prefers to pretend that we don't exist. But over the years, I've found my way to retail sources for pants and shirts. Not gloves, though. Never in my adult life have I pulled a pair of men's size small gloves off a rack in a store. "We don't bother to stock 'em," I was once told by a snotty salesman at Filene's in Boston. "Nobody's got hands that small." Nobody but those of us who, apparently, could trade mittens with Hummel figurines.

I have had salespeople direct me to displays of women's gloves, with fancy floral stitching on the back of the hand, or pretty scalloped trim at the wrist. I have been offered children's gloves, gorgeously emblazoned with the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers or Dora the Explorer. None of these harmonize with Chippewa motorcycle boots.

I have bought the one-size-fits-all stretchy numbers from Walgreen's, and discovered that they offer no warmth at temperatures below 72 degrees and disintegrate upon contact with snow or ice.

I have tried to tough it out with no gloves, and nearly lost my fingers to frostbite.

I have never thought, until this year, of knitting my own damn gloves. I'm slow like that. I'm so slow that often, when rounding corners, I find myself face-to-face with my own posterior.

This week I decided to knit a pair to go with my new hat, and the scarf that I made to go with the hat. And I got the most madcap idea. Are you ready? I'd knit one glove in each colorway from the two used in the scarf.

I know. You're thinking, "Franklin–deliberately mismatched gloves? You nutty thing! Who the hell do you think you are, the Lucy Neatby?"

Okay, maybe that's not what you're thinking, but that's what I was thinking. And I got fantastically excited and even pictured myself with my eyebrows dyed three shades of fuchsia.

So I jumped right in, using a partial ball of the brown colorway that was sitting on the work table, following Meg Swansen's eye-opening method in Handknitting with Meg Swansen. If you have steered away from gloves because you hesitate to knit skinny finger tubes on double-pointed needles, you must try Meg's method. I won't give it all away, but I'll say this: I-cord.

The glove worked up with lightning speed and when I tried it on after joining the thumb, it fit. Perfectly. Like it was made for me. Which of course it was. So I raced breathlessly down the hand, and hit the end of the partial ball just before the wrist.

Glove, Forever Unfinished

I ran to the cupboard to fetch the other ball of brown, since I'd originally got two for the scarf, and that's when it hit me: there was no second ball waiting. The "second" ball is already in the scarf. The partial balls, one in each colorway, are all that's left. There's not enough yarn here for a pair.

I indulged in a moment of rage, during which I may or may not have kicked a teddy bear across the room. Then came an hour of pondering and a white-hot clear epiphany: there's no way in hell I'm gonna leave the house wearing deliberately mismatched gloves.

Allowing myself to do so would unlock a chamber in my psyche that is bolted shut for a reason. I'm already too whimsical for my own good. Today, a wacky pair of gloves, tomorrow an Artistic Hat, and where will it all end? I can't say for certain, but I'm afraid there might be a cloak in the picture. For my own sake and that of those who love me, I am not going there.

But I love this pattern, and I need gloves, so there will be a sequel. I think I have some nice, navy blue worsted in the back of the stash.

*From the Studmuffins of Lepidoptery calendar. What, you think I only pay attention to knitters?

**December 30. Before she was martyred by a Roman soldier he ripped her veil, so I think she should be the patroness of lace knitters.

***And the Wichita liiiinemaaaan is still on the liiiiiiiiiiine.