Monday, October 31, 2011

Spooky Poetry Corner

Happy Halloween, kids.

I've lost the battle, yet again, about how our merry little band is celebrating.

My plan was to dress in my favorite costume (a Cloak of Indifference), sit on the couch and stream old episodes of Acrylic Intervention with Clara Parkes on Netflix. (The one where she gets knifed at the Methodist church bazaar while counseling the lady who can't stop knitting toilet roll covers is scary enough for two Halloweens.)

In the event, I was outvoted 231 to 1 (stupid traitor sock yarn colony) in favor of Dolores's plan that we make an appearance at the Bottom Dollar Lounge's "Haunted and Humpy" party in a group costume.

It could be worse. The first idea on the whiteboard was that we all dress as the Human Centipede, with Dolores in front. After much spirited debate, she's going as Slutty Barbara Walker and the rest of us are going to be swatches and top-down sweaters.

I'm still finishing my Slutty Baby Cable costume, so I hope you won't mind re-visiting an Occasional Piece I wrote several Halloweens ago but which has never actually appeared on the blog. It's an homage to one of the great American masters of horror literature, and was created for Brenda Dayne's Cast On podcast; if you'd rather listen than read, it's available (with pipe organ accompaniment) in her archives.

And yes–I know Slutty Baby Cable is in questionable taste, but my first choice (Slutty Moss Stitch) seemed way too obvious.

Anyway, here's the poem.

Dolores as The Romney, 2006

The Romney

by Franklin Habit, d'aprés E. A. Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I knitted, weak and weary,
On a lumpy Aran sweater that was truly quite a bore,
While I cabled, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping–
As of hoofbeats gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis the maintenance man,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door.
Only this–and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember I was knitting for December
For a boyfriend who stretched six feet from his temples to the floor.
Eagerly I wished it finished, yet the skeins were undiminished–
Though I knit ’til I was crippled and the sweater was a bore–
Though that lumpy Aran sweater was a never-ending bore.
So I sighed–and knit some more.

When at last the row at last had ended and the stitches dropped were mended,
“Sir,” I said, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore.
But the fact is, I was counting and my agitation mounting
When so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you.”–here, I opened wide the door;
Darkness there–and nothing more.

As I stood upon the doorstep, suddenly I heard a sure step,
And in walked a fluffy Romney ewe I’d never seen before.
Without a word or nod, across the welcome mat she trod
And lighting up a Camel cigarette, she perched beside the door–
Perched beside the bust of Barbara Walker near my chamber door;
Perched, and smoked–and nothing more.

Then, quoth the Romney, “Knit some more.”

Much I marveled this unruly sheep to hear command so truly
In my native tongue an order rendered in a tone so sure.
“Tell me, madam,” I addressed her, “Why am I the one you pester?
Why not Mabel, Midge, or Esther?” Questions did not interest her.
She just rolled her eyes and flicked some dying ashes to the floor.

Quoth the Romney, “Knit some more.”

And the Romney, sitting primly in the hallway, smoking grimly,
Those words only ever said, and those words only–nothing more.
So, into my armchair sinking, I resumed my fruitless tinking,
Working on the Aran sweater ’til my fingers all were sore.

And the sheep said, “Knit some more.”

And that Romney, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,
Near the bust of Barbara Walker just inside my chamber door.
And she smokes, and drinks, and titters while I try to knit with jitters
On the lumpy Aran sweater that is as it was before.
Though Decembers pass away upon this sweater, every day,
I shall be knitting–evermore.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


For knitters, one of the staggering things about the streets of Reykjavik is that they are so full of people wearing handknits that you almost stop noticing. The lopapeysa is everywhere. What's more, it's on everyone. The hip and the dowdy, the young and the old, the ample and the spindly all hike about with the signature patterned yoke around their shoulders.

On day one, spotting them was sport enough. "Over there," Stephen would hiss in my ear, "by the coffee shop." Mike would snap a surreptitious picture with his iPad, if a photo taken by waving a large, flashy piece of electronic equipment in the air can be said to be surreptitious.

By the end of the trip, we had moved along from mere sighting to identifying according to which Lopi book they'd been published in. "Number 26," I'd say, casually nodding my head in the direction of a passing specimen. "That's four this morning," Stephen would note. Stephen is good at counting things. Mike would snap a surreptitious picture with his iPad, if a photo taken by waving a large, flashy piece of electronic equipment in the air can be said to be surreptitious.

You can attribute the universal popularity of the lopapeysa to many things. It's warm. It's handsome. It's durable. You can buy the yarn for it at the grocery store for thirty bucks.

But that's not the whole story. It also turns out the damned things are addictive to knit. I started my Vetur three days ago with a swatch to test the colors. I have already finished the yoke,

Front Yoke

and I'm having trouble setting it aside so that I can eat, sleep, bathe, engage in human contact.

Yoke Back

I had to force myself to put it down so I could photograph it and write this. In fact, I'm tempted to stop writing immed

Thursday, October 20, 2011


In order to compensate, in part, for no longer being surrounded by this,

River at Thingvellir

or this,

I Miss You So Much

(click to embiggen; it's worth it)

I have begun working on this:


It's Vetur, a lopapeysa by Védis Jónsdóttir, from Lopi 28. I left Iceland with a sweater's worth of yarn (thanks to Ragga of Knitting Iceland), and had thoughts of designing my own yoke. There's lots of other work on the table, however; and I decided following somebody else's instructions for a change would be a vacation in itself.

So I'm knitting Vetur as written, aside from changing it from the two original colors to four completely different colors.

Yarn for Vetur

And using Létt-Lopi (a spun yarn, with a finer gauge) instead of Plötulopi (which is unspun and slightly bulky).

And trimming some of the lower edge of the yoke, since I don't think a large yoke flatters a small person.

And eliminating the pattern from the body and sleeves.

And altering the neckband.

And making it a zippered cardigan instead of a pullover.

And working it from the top down instead of the bottom up.

Aside from that, I'm absolutely going to sit back and let dear Védis do the driving.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

They Weren't Kidding

Ladies and gentlemen, the yarn section of the grocery store–this one's attached to a mall in Reykjavik. The yarn is just past the dairy case.


Mostly Lopi, but also a very large selection of Dale of Norway. Also sock yarns, mystery acrylics, pattern books, needles, notions, and buttons.

How Very Civilized

The above is plötulopi (unspun yarn, in wheels), wrapped in plastic to preserve the yarny freshness.

I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Birthplace of Lopi

This was taken at Álafoss, a few hundred yards from the modern Istex mill where Lopi Yarn is produced.


In the early days of the industry, in the late 19th century, this river ran with naturally warm water. The raw wools were washed in it.


Today, the original mill building houses a shop that sells Lopi–including the famous unspun yarns that are put up in little wheels.

Álafoss Yarn

Footnote: Across the path from the shop is a former swimming pool that became the recording studio for the band Sigur Rós.

Studio at Álafoss

Before this trip I wasn't a fan of either Lopi or Sigur Rós. Boy, did that change in a hurry.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy

Yesterday, in an antiques shop near the harbor in Reykjavik, I found these* under a stack of old sheet music.

Good Find

Last night, inside the blue one, I found this.

Amazing Find

That's the most exquisite hand-drawn lace chart I've ever seen. I think it's time for a mystery knit.

*Kunst-stricken is "art knitting"–in other words, knitted lace.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Having a Terrible Time

Iceland is just so cold and barren and forbidding and stark. Help, help.

Knitting at the Lagoon

New On the Calendar

As much as it pains me to contemplate a time in which I shall not be in Iceland, at least I have some exceedingly cool stuff to look forward to.

December 2 and 4, I'll be in New York City (hurrah!) at Lion Brand Yarn Studio for three classes and an evening talk / book signing. Sign-ups are open–follow the link for more information.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Answer Man

Am rushing off to the Blue Lagoon (my life, it is bleak) so only time for three quick answers this morning.

1. Prancing pony Lopapeysa in the Lopapeysapalooza post is available here as a free download in English. Awesome, no?

2. The sheep in the graffiti post is in the upper left corner. It's wearing black sneakers, which is the way that Icelandic sheep camouflage themselves. Very effective, apparently.

3. Yes, I have heard about the volcano possibly erupting any minute now. I hasten to reassure you that I am not sitting on top of it. Please stop with the alarming e-mails. I'm fine, we're all fine, and if by chance it blows me sky-high I'll die happy. I'm surrounded by sheep and yarn. What more can you ask for.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Speaking in Tongues

Grocery, Reykjavik

Before this trip, the only thing I knew about the Icelandic language was that it was sprinkled with letters I didn't recognize, most notably the eth (ð) and the thorn (þ). Aren't they pretty?

Now that I've been here a few days and heard it spoken constantly, I'm in love with it. It has lilt and sparkle. It falls gently on the ear. A casual conversation in Icelandic sounds less like chitchat than a duet. (Or a trio, quartet, or–after a substantial amount of Gull has gone down the hatch–a free-for-all twelve-tone Viking war chorus.)

I love languages and am usually pretty good at picking them up on the fly. But not Icelandic. Three days and I still can't pronounce the name of my street (Þórsgata) in a way that doesn't make taxi drivers say, "What?"

Being unable to decode anything written–menus, shop signs, magazine titles, street signs–is wildly disorienting. The street signs, in particular, make me seasick. Þórsgata is an easy one. Usually you're confronted with Rauðarárastígur, which when spoken properly sounds as though it only has two syllables, neither of which uses any of the letters in "Rauðarárastígur."

To cope, while I try earnestly to improve myself, I've had to resort to remembering street names by what they kinda look like instead of what they actually are. This morning, I'm in charge of navigating myself and my companions (Mike of FiberBeat and Stephen of Hizknits) to a thermal pool we haven't tried yet. It's at the corner of Burgermunch and Snuffleuppagus.

If you don't hear from us in 24 hours, send help.

Addendum: I opened Flickr this morning to be greeted by this.

Very Funny, Flickr

Go fuck yourself, Flickr.

Sunday, October 09, 2011


A flock of lopapeysa (traditional Icelandic yoked sweaters) caught on the fly during a community inspection of rams.






Check out the size and spacing of some of these motifs. Notice that strands are often carried for far more than five stitches–and nobody died. No weaving on the wrong side, either. When I asked about this, I was told that Icelandic wool felts so readily to itself that with very little wear, the long floats pretty much disappear into the fabric.

The longer I knit, the more I realize that Elizabeth Zimmermann was right: there are no rules in knitting that cannot be broken.

The tour company that brought me here has produced a thoroughly charming instructional video about these sweaters. Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Morning in Reykjavik

A corner of the graffiti park.

Graffiti Park, Reykjavik

Did you spot the sheep?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Iceland Welcomes You

A sheep farm in the West Country.

Iceland. Sheep.

Sheep here don't say "baaaaa" they say "mehhhhhhhh." But aside from the language barrier, we got along famously.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Next Stop Reykjavik

Twice in one day. It's either feast or famine around here, isn't it? Not, come to think of it, that two brief posts constitute a feast.

Not unless you're one of the two French women at the next table, here in the Food Court at the Boston Logan International Terminal. They are having quite a heated conversation about how all the options here are too much, too much! They haven't mentioned liver attacks yet, but they're French, so it should come around any minute.

I happen to agree with them. It's too much, and it's disgusting. What passes for decent food in an Airport–any airport I've been through, even outside the United State–would be considered slop for half the price in the land outside the runways. I settled on Chinese food, like the two French women. They are splitting a single entrée, a bottle of water, and a cup of rice. They might consider these two entries a feast.

Notice how I finally remembered where I was going with that?

Oh, and the hat. I finished the hat, aside from weaving in the ends. I wound up just doing an asymmetrical garter-stitch brim. Here's a picture.

Almost Ready for Iceland

I hope you noticed the cleaning lady in the background, asking herself, "What in the Hell is he doing?" You work at an airport, honey. This cannot possibly be the weirdest thing you've seen today.

Maybe I should leave the needle in, and tell people who ask that it's an antenna. Better yet, leave the needle in and tell that to everyone, even if they don't ask. I bet I could get three seats all to myself.

Fine, it's not going to win any design awards, but it'll keep my flipping ears warm. It's also my first top-down hat, and it's a method I'll be delighted to repeat.

I could fuss with the brim some more, but I have to move on to the next project.

Because I forgot to pack a scarf.

PS They just said it! Crise de foie! I feel like I should yell, "Bingo!"

I've Been a Little Busy Lately

I remember a time when I didn't write most of my posts while sitting in airports. But here's another one. I'm in Chicago, waiting for a flight to Boston. From Boston, I go to Reykjavik, Iceland.

I've never been to Iceland; but I hear tell that they sell yarn at the grocery store, so I'm expecting it to be an Earthly Paradise. Albeit a slightly chilly Paradise, which would explain the omnipresence of yarn.

I was packing for the trip when I realized, last night, that I don't have a winter hat for myself. Not one. I've knit tons of them, but they've all gone off into the world on other heads.

It's in such a situation that Knitters and Those Who Do Not Knit part company. Those who knit not would go out and buy a hat. Knitters, or at least this knitter, reach a point where buying a winter hat feels like cheating (at worst) or giving up (at best).

There is simply no way I can show up in Iceland with a four-dollar hat from Target.

So I'm knitting one en route.

Leaving for Iceland

I have until I get there to figure out and finish the brim treatment. Ribbing is out. Too pedestrian. This should be a Project Runway challenge: finish your garment by the time the plane lands, or get frostbite.

Off we go.