Thursday, January 26, 2012

Back on the Chain Gang

Hi. It's Dolores.

His Grace regrets he's unable to be with you tonight, but he's still recovering from having sucked down one too many chocolate milkshakes at his wild birthday bash. If you weren't there, you might as well just give up on going to parties, because The Definitive Party has been given and you missed it. It kicked off at four in the afternoon and the rockin' did not stop until the last bunny cookie with a weak tea chaser went down the hatch two hours later, and the wild band of Bacchae who constitute Franklin's social circle spilled out into the street. Normally to see such goings-on one must attend a gathering of philatelists.

What happened in between? Well, we should all be worried–because I'm pretty sure it's the sort of behavior that brought Rome to its knees. I swear I heard somebody say "F-ddlest-cks!"


I'm on the clock tonight, working off the cost of recovering the sofa. Not re-covering the sofa, recovering the sofa. From Lake Michigan. Something happened at the afterparty, the details of which need not concern us here. So until further notice or the equivalent of $1,000 labor, whichever comes first, I'm doing the book reviews around here.

Book Looks with Dolores

Today we have two titles from the United Kingdom, which is a nice place to visit unless you piss off the Queen by trying to take your rightful place at one of her fancy-ass parties.

First, we have Novel Knits: British Literature in Stitches (Ann Kingstone Designs) by Ann Kingstone.

Novel Knits

Here's what you get: fifteen patterns for garments and accessories, all inspired by the works of Jane Austen, J. R. R. Tolkien, and J. K. Rowling. (I thought maybe there were previous volumes focusing on British writers with first names beginning A through I, but no, this is the first.)

Fleur ToteI like what Ann has done here. The pieces are inspired by, not copied from. If you're looking a particular sweater or cloak or reticule from the movie version of Sauron and Sensibility or Harry Potter and the Return of the Sequel you won't find them here.

No, instead you get original pieces–in a nice range of styles and skill levels–that begin with a character or setting and take off in an interesting direction. If you've seen the photos of me on or under various red carpets, you Lissuinknow I have a fondness for pattern. Kingstone's colorwork designs are sharp. I would totally wear Lissuin, although I might put in a bit more negative ease to make sure it properly highlights my curves. I am here to tell you that stranded colorwork will absolutely stretch like Lycra if you just insist a little bit.

Since nothing here takes its theme too literally, you don't need to be a fan of the authors or their works or the derivatives of their works to enjoy the patterns. Check it out, if only to marvel that somebody has made five Tolkien-inspired patterns that don't look like set dressing at the Renaissance Faire.

And there's this one, Sweet Shawlettes (Taunton Press) by Jean Moss.

Sweet Shawlettes

I like this one, too, and not just because I told my friend Maurice-Jamal about it and he decided his new drag persona is going be a genteel but eccentric mixed-race Louisiana belle called Sweet Shawlette.

Jean has been around the block a couple of times with the whole design thing (her stuff is all over the magazines) and so when you buy her book, you're getting patterns by somebody who knows what the hell she's doing. "Sweet" is not for amateurs, honey. There's a thin line of pink mohair between "Sweet" and "Sappy" and Jean keeps it on the right side of the line.

Brontë FichuYou get twenty-five designs (there's a gallery here), not all of which are strictly speaking shawlettes, but all of which are made to go around your neck in some fashion.

What impresses me is the range, kids. Within four categories, "Country," "Folk," "Couture," and "Vintage," you got your fine lace, your stranded colorwork, your texture, your entrelac, your bulky, your fine. And they pretty much all work. It's boggling to think every one came from one chick with a pair of needles.

CeilidhAnd color. Always with the color. You don't have to use Jean's colors, I know, but if you do, your neckish area is going to look so much peppier.

All the fash mags are talking about how the world is having a Neck Moment, so get on with it.

That's it for now, but we have a stack of review books in the apartment that's taller than Maurice-Jamal's Sunday hair, and I have another 900 bucks to work off, so I'll be back.

Order Novel Knits from Ann Kingstone.

Order Sweet Shawlettes from

Friday, January 20, 2012


Fan me with a tulip, mother–the lopapeysa now has two sleeves, a collar, and all ends woven in.

Next comes:
  1. washing/blocking,
  2. sewing in the zipper,
  3. sewing down the inside edge of the collar (with the upper end of the zipper tucked inside),
  4. wearing it through the long remainder of the Chicago winter (i.e., until the fourth of July) feeling warm, snug, and happy to be a knitter.
Here 'tis on the form, with the fronts pinned to mimic the appearance when partially zipped.

Nearing the Finish Line

After playing hunt-the-zipper in and around Chicago, I gave up and have ordered a metal zip in a custom length. It's worth it. The alternatives were a sticky, white plastic piece of crap from Jo-Ann Fabric; or the same piece of crap marked up 50% more at one of our few remaining sewing shops. Before I let anything like that near my knitting, I'll close the fronts with wads of chewed bubblegum.

Learn Along with Franklin: Part II

In our first installment, we learned something about Native American culture. Today, our topic is good manners. The lessons are taken from this tiny volume.

Little Book

It doesn't look like much on the outside, but inside it's a Wow.

Title Page

Etiquette for Little Folks (part of "Susie Sunbeam's Series") was printed in Boston in 1856. It's a model of didactic mid-19th century children's literature.

The sole decoration is an engraved frontispiece showing a young girl literally taking her younger brother under her wing. Behind the kids, Mama contentedly gets on with her sewing.


After that: nothing but ninety-six closely-printed pages of firm, unvarnished admonitions. The upright, emphatic metal type gives the text a bold authority that you won't find in any modern namby-pamby children's book.

Page 14

A few lessons, quoted verbatim, from the redoubtable Miss Sunbeam:


If you wish to speak to your parents, and see them engaged in discourse with company, draw back, and leave your business till afterwards; but if it is really necessary to speak to them, be sure to whisper.

Never speak to you parents without some title of respect, as Sir, Madam, &c.

Never make faces or contortions, nor grimaces, while any one is giving you commands.

Use respectful and courteous language towards all the domestics. Never be domineering or insuting, for it is the mark of an ignorant and purse-proud child.


Sit not down until your elders are seated. It is unbecoming to take your place first.

When you are helped, be not the first to eat.


Be not selfish altogether, but kind, free, and generous to others.

Scorn not, nor laugh at any because of their infirmities; nor affix to any one vexing title of contempt and reproach; but pity such as are so visited, and be glad you are otherwise distinguished and favored.


Bow at entering, especially if the teacher be present.

Make not haste out of school, but soberly retire when your turn comes, without hurrying.


Jeer not any person whatever.

Give your superiors place to pass before you, in any narrow place where two persons cannot pass at once.


A young person ought to be able to go into a room, and address the company, without the least embarrassment.


Now, clean garments and a clean person, are as necessary to health, as to prevent giving offence to other people. It is a maxim with me, which I have lived to see verified, that he who is negligent at twenty years of age, will be a sloven at forty, and intolerable at fifty.


Nothing can atone for the want of modesty; without it, beauty if ungraceful, and wit detestable.


Observe the best and most well-bred of the French people; how agreeably they insinuate little civilities in their conversation. They think it so essential that they call an honest and civil man by the same name, of "honnete homme;" and the Romans called civility, "humanitas," as thinking it inseparable from humanity: and depend upon it, that your reputation and success will, in a great measure, depend upon the degree of good breeding of which you are master.

I cannot read this book without thinking of the well-to-do children in my own neighborhood. They routinely call their mothers "stupid" at the top of their lungs, insult their teachers and bully their nannies, kick passers-by, and yell at coffee shop baristas for insufficiently sprinkling their cocoa–all without fear of reprimand. And I weep.

Come back, Susie Sunbeam, come back. We need you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

This Place Looks Familiar

I'm in New York City again–which is fine by me. This was my last glimpse of the dining room table (where the packing happens) before my suitcases and I rolled out the door.

Left Behind

Yes, I leave notes for myself as I pack. And I make lists. Many lists. Seven, this time. Otherwise I'd arrive at the gig with three kilts, a dozen mismatched knitting needles and one shoe.

This time the gig in question is the second coming of Vogue Knitting Live! at the New York Hilton.

Classes start tomorrow, but the yarn huffers are already here in force. Walking from the front desk to the elevator I must have passed at least two dozen. Guests who aren't here for Vogue Knitting Live! are already looking adorably alarmed. You can hear the internal monologues and whispered conversations as they pass.

"Is that...knitting? But...why are they all knitting? Omigod one of them is a guy! Is this a New York thing? What the hell is going on?"

Well they should worry. We will accept nothing less than world domination.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Off the Top of My Head

Honk if you've heard this one:
  1. "I could never just sit there and knit. I don't have the patience."

  2. "My grandmother / Aunt Betsy / sainted mama / Avon lady / Girl Scout Leader/ field hockey coach used to do that!"

  3. "I think it's so sad that nobody knits any more."

  4. "How much would you charge to make me a [name of project]?"

My favorite of these is number three, because it leads me inevitably to the conclusion that I have died and am now a ghost. I would love to be a ghost, because the list of people I plan to haunt is longer than my nose and I might as well get on with it.

My least favorite comment is the last, because the well-meaning person who asks to hire your needles is seldom prepared for any answer you may give.

  • "I don't sell my work" sounds snotty (even if you don't mean to be).

  • "You couldn't afford it" sounds presumptuous (because it is).

  • "For a pair of socks like this, at least three hundred bucks" will bring a gasp of disbelief followed by a minor cardiac event. And once the paramedics have left and the spilled drink is mopped up, you have to talk to the innocent victim about fair trade, and the rights of artisans to earn a living wage, and the number of stitches in a sock, and Wal-Mart, and how actually, no, good yarn doesn't cost about a buck a ball.

Once in a great while, however, the questioner throws you a curve ball. A couple months ago, a good friend of mine asked about a hat for his wife. I hemmed. I hawed. I offered him another vodka stinger. He insisted.

I estimated the price of good yarn. He didn't blink.

I estimated the cost of labor. He blinked.

But then he said, "Okay. So, for that price could you have it ready in time for Christmas?"

Well, alrighty then. I could, and did, and here it is.

Commission 04

It's worked in Madeline Tosh Vintage.

Commission 03

I kept copious notes in case it might, some day, turn into a pattern.

Commission 01

In a few places the cables cross and travel at the same time, which is something I hadn't played with before. I love the effect, but I wrote on Twitter this reminded me of a diamond-studded toilet seat (pretty, but a pain in the ass) and Fiona Ellis got all mad at me.

Commission 02

Lessons learned:

  • always quote a fair price, even if you think it won't possibly be accepted; and

  • it never hurts offer the client another vodka stinger.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Year. New Sleeve.

In case you haven't noticed, the holidays are over.

Signs are everywhere. This morning, Dolores took down the Christmas tree. To be perfectly accurate I should say that she took out the Christmas tree when she landed on it at 4 a.m.; but in our house it amounts to the same thing.

The cookies are all gone. So are the pies. Mrs. Teitelbaum has put her menorah back on the top shelf and flown to Fort Lauderdale to wait out the winter with her great-nephew Maurice the Florist. And instead of my inbox filling with junk messages that say LAST CHANCE PRE-HOLIDAY SALE!!! my inbox is now full of junk messages that say LAST CHANCE HOLIDAY CLEARANCE SALE!!!

In America, your last chance is never really your last chance. That's one of the things that makes this country great.

Meanwhile, I'm able to knit for myself again. The lopapeysa (remember the lopapeysa?) grew another sleeve.

Cuff, Version One

You may recall that I decided to just follow the pattern for this one, aside from changing everything about it. That meant coming up with a new chart for the colorwork about the cuff. Not a tall order, as the yoke contains elements that are easy to echo in a smaller circumference.

After the colorwork passage, I knew I wanted purple cuffs. I plan to wear this while teaching, and my flailing wrists + purple cuffs should = wide-awake students.

Notice, though, that there are no needles in the cuff; nor has it been bound off. That's because the photograph was made right before I ripped back the entire sleeve.

Lesson learned:

It does no good to try on a top-down sleeve repeatedly
if you refuse to acknowledge that the sleeve is way too tight
and correct your course.

That little voice in my head kept telling me it was fine, because I like a "snug fit." But this was not a "snug fit," this was cutting off the circulation to my fingers. Granted, the typical baggy generosity of an unshaped lopapeysa doesn't do a fireplug body like mine any favors–some shaping is a must. But lopi should never be expected to stretch like the Lycra in Kim Kardashian's Sunday drawers.

Learn Along with Franklin: Part I

In keeping with the theme of learning new things in the new year, I've decided it might be interesting and useful to share some of the lessons to found in my collection of antique and vintage children's books. This will be an occasional series–I'll post whenever I run across a particularly sparkly gem of wisdom.

For today, we have a word about multiculturalism/architecture from Health and Safety Series: Everyday Living by Brownell, Ireland, and Giles, published in 1935. This is from "Unit Five: The House You Live In."

Lesson One

Better you should live in a casino.