Sunday, June 17, 2012

Never Say Never Again

My extreme dislove of baseball–both the sport and the act of going to see it played–is something I wrote about at length the last time I was persuaded to trot along with other knitters to see the White Sox to do their thang.

I won't sing that song again. I will take a moment to reiterate that while the American public insists it is my duty as a male citizen to love baseball, I insist it is my right as an adult citizen to not give a flying fig about it. I'm fully on board with the flag, motherhood, and apple pie; but even Ken Burns couldn't get me to regard our soi-disant national pastime with anything other than a jaundiced eye.

And yet.

And yet when I got a call from the owner of our own, dear Loopy Yarns to please put together a promotional table on the day of Chicago's Stitch 'n' Pitch event, how could I say no? Baseball has not been good to me, but knitting has. There would be 150 knitters at the park–but also a few thousand people who might be among the lapsed or the latent. How often do you get a platform like that upon which to evangelize?

Would I do it? Sure I would. For knitting, I would do it.

Happily I had an accomplice and companion for the day–my friend Abigail. I first met her when she lured me up to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, to address the town's annual fiber gathering. You don't spend a wild weekend with somebody in LaCrosse and not form a bond.

Abigail is the sort of person who will drive you to the South Side, roll your dress form across five acres of parking and up a ramp while people cat-call, and never complain even though all she gets out of the deal is free nachos and beer. She will even push the dress form down the ramp and back across the parking lot, drive you home, and continue speaking to you.

Abigail is, to borrow a slangy bit of praise from P.G. Wodehouse, a complete brick.

So we set up a table and talked to people. I brought samples of my stuff and posted a directory of Chicagoland yarn shops and guilds, as well as information about the upcoming Big Deal Yarn Events (Stitches Midwest, Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Fair, Yarn Con, Vogue Knitting Live! Chicago) of which we have an abundance.

At Stitch 'n' Pitch Chicago, 2012

The knitters and crocheters were all lovely, and so were most of the shop owners. (Note to the sole exception: I was advertising your shop. Free. Happily. With great spirit. On my first and only day off in weeks. And I spent my own money doing it. If you want top billing, design input, and no nasty hairy dark ethnic men mucking up your lily white women's event, you go ahead and run the table next year. Really. It's all yours, honey.)

Mostly, because they were the majority, Abigail and I talked to people who were not knitters, or crocheters, or needleworkers of any stripe. About thirty minutes into the game we realized we kept hearing the same things over and over. So to beguile the time and stave off madness, I drew up a bingo card. (If you click it, it'll get bigger.)

Stitch 'n' Pitch Chicago Bingo

By the top of the fifth inning, the drunks were starting to lurch perilously close to the lace and we decided to break camp. We had achieved bingo forty-seven times.

But I think we got a few more people into the tent.

It was worth it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

I Like to Swatch

From Fleisher's Knitting and Crocheting Manual, 1906:
Nowadays, every woman who gives thoughtful preparation to her wardrobe includes a variety of knitted or crocheted garments, because of their artistic beauty and their comforting warmth. Wherever women meet, the art of knitting and crocheting is discussed–the newest garments, the best stitches, the prettiest colors. Many have recently been converted to the charm of this work, realizing that machine made garments do not equal in softness, beauty, and distinctive elegance, those made by hand, and that, therefore, the time spent in knitting and crocheting is both pleasant and profitable.
Pleasant and profitable. That goes right to the heart of why I fell in love with knitting.

Pleasant, in the sense that needlework steadies me sufficiently to keep me out of the Police Blotter. Profitable, in the sense that after the pleasure fades I am left with something tangible and (amigurumi and novelty fruit handbags aside) useful in exchange for my time.

The longer I'm at it, though, the less I find I care about the tangible outcome. I had been knitting for years before I learned about gauges and swatching; once I learned about them, it was another few years before I learned to care. I didn't want to swatch for the thing, I wanted to make the thing. A rogues gallery of the elephantine and miniscule hats that followed would be shown here as evidence, if said evidence had not been destroyed.

After the fifth gift hat a friend refuses to wear because she could easily fit her own head and those of both her children inside, you start to get the message: Swatch. Swatch, and learn something.

Nowadays I love practicing, experimenting, playing with process.

When I get the "What's that you're making?" question, about half the time the true answer is "Nothing in particular." But that draws puzzled looks and prolongs the conversation, so usually I just say it's a scarf. Non-knitters are satisfied, since they can't tell the difference and don't really care. Knitters glaze over at the word "scarf" and will happily change the subject, which allows me to go back to swatching.

Extreme Double-KnittingA new-to-me technique is my favorite thing to swatch. Recently I sat down with a book that's been on my worktable in the "PLAY WITH THIS" pile for ages, Alasdair Post-Quinn's Extreme Double-Knitting: New Adventures in Reversible Colorwork. Full disclosure: I saw the book before it came out, and liked it. I liked it so much that there's a quote from me on the back cover, saying so.

But this was the first time I really sat down and threw myself into working from it. I'd played with two-color double-knitting before; but it was of the slip-this-side-then-slip-that-side variety and I found the process tedious and the results unsatisfactory.

I like Alasdair's method, though. You get a firm, handsome, dense fabric with it. And when I say dense, I mean dense enough to wear as a winter hat in Chicago when you are a bald male of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent and therefore are genetically designed to crumple at the first blast of January wind from Canada.

Alasdair takes "Extreme"–a sadly overused word these days, often denoting either a modest level of skill or an immodest level of bad taste–seriously. His basic method in two colors is a bit of challenge to begin with; but he blows past two-color reversible patterns into working it in the round, shaping it, adding extra colors, working different patterns on opposite sides of the same fabric, double-knitting cables and other textures, and building three-dimensional double-knitted objects. He would probably have zoomed onward into metaphysical double-knitting that alters the time-space continuum if the editor had not at last told him to Put a Lid on It.

I waded into the shallow end with a wrist warmer. The design in the book is cute–a pair of opposing spirals–but as usual I had to get funky and Make It My Own so I adapted a pair of charts from a book I bought at the university bookshop in Reykavik. One is either a flower or a snowflake. The other is a dragon, a griffin, and a Boston Terrier all at the same time.


The result–worked in DK leftovers from my stash–was fun to knit. It's a real charge to flip your work inside-out and see the same pattern with the colors reversed.

This was fun enough that I know I'll take another crack at it, albeit with smaller needles. Alasdair urges you to work at a tightish gauge, and he's right. This specimen, worked with a size 4, would benefit from sliding down to size 2.

My wristlet looks more than a little frowsy and is much too big for my wrist, yet I keep getting compliments on it at the coffee shop.


Yeah. Cup sleeve. I know I said it was going to be a scarf, but I really meant to say cup sleeve.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

On the Unusualness of Squam

When I travel to teach, my hotel doesn't usually look like this.


My hotel room doesn't usually look like this.


The path to my classroom doesn't usually look like this.


My classroom doesn't usually look like this.


I don't usually have one of these,


upon which to do this with Jess, Ysolda, and Gudrun.


There are not usually bedtime stories by the fireplace with Casey and Eloise.


There are not usually random acts of owl-bombing by a mysterious knitter.


I do not usually look like this,


and cry a little when it's time to leave it all behind.


Thanks, Squam.