Thursday, September 25, 2014

That's What Friends Are For

I was in Seattle, enjoying a weekend of lectures and classes at Makers' Mercantile, when a long-time reader came forward with a magnificent gift.

She remembered that I am (in a very small way) a print collector, and gave me this.

Spinnerin (detail)

It's called Die Spinnerin, engraved in the nineteenth century after a painting by the 17th-century Dutch artist Caspar Netscher. It made my dark little heart go thumpitta-thumpitta-thumpitta-boom.

The folio sheet (21 by 28) hasn't been cut. The tones and textures, which defy capture by my cut-rate phone camera, are pure velvet.

Then there's the subject matter, of course, with all the lovingly rendered details: the niddy-noddy, the hank of flax,

Spinnerin (detail)

the little hand-cranked* (!) wheel. (Single drive? Curious. I would love to hear from anyone who might know whether this is accurate, or whether the artist goofed. All the rest is captured in such fine detail that it seems odd he would leave out an entire loop of the drive band, if it were actually there.)

Spinnerin (detail)

This isn't the sort of thing you fold up and stuff in a suitcase, so I asked my good buddy Chuck at Skacel if he could please hand it over to their shipping department and have it sent home to me.

I got a message from Chuck a few days later saying that (as you might imagine would happen at a yarn company) the print had caused quite a stir and everybody had wanted to run away with it.

In due course, a sturdy tube arrived from Skacel. Inside was the sweet spinning lady, looking as beautiful as ever.


Thanks, Chuck! You're the best!

*Edited to add: Mind you, there is a footman, which suggests there is also a treadle hidden under the skirts. So, hand-cranked and foot-powered? The more I look at this the more fascinated I get.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Miniature Entry: Cheat Sheet from the Past

A dear friend recently gave me a magnificent present that deserves (and will get) its own entry. But tucked inside this gift was a piece of paper, the survival of which amazes me.

It's a sheet of the slick, translucent typing paper that some of us remember was called onionskin.

Yellowed, battered, and containing...


typed instructions for Kitchener stitch.

Below the typed copy is a spidery line of manuscript that reads...

ME spiral narrow at 19" narrow quickly

Somebody was making socks, I bet. Knee socks, maybe? If you were to knit a 19-inch tube, quick spiral decreases would give you a toe at the right point for a short woman's knee sock.

Or, possibly, "spiral" applies to "ME" and the socks were akin to the spiral stockings (knit without heel shaping) in Mary Thomas's Knitting Book.

I can't say with any certainty what "ME" means. Make Even? Possibly, though it's not a usage I have run across before.

In the upper right corner is a name and address:


Alice Maynard
558 Madison Avenue, N Y City

I wondered who she was, what sort of apartment she would have had on Madison Avenue in the East Fifties, and why she was typing instructions for Kitchener stitch for one of my friend's relatives. The miracle of the Internet gave me an answer in seconds:

Expert Guidance Offered to Knitter and Crocheter (New York Times, August 18, 1964)

Knitting help at Macy's,* Gimbel's, and Bloomingdale's. The mind boggles.

If any of you have memories of knitting at Macy's, Gimbel's, or Bloomingdale's; or of shopping at Alice Maynard, I would love to hear about it in the comments.

*Although Macy's "has no time for anyone who has not mastered the basic stitches." Love it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Miniature Entry: Advice That Made a Difference

My favorite quote by the late Maya Angelou isn't from one of her poems, and in fact there's not even a trace of it (that I can find) online.

It came from an answer to a college student's question about changing the world. She told the student that if you want to change the world, start by making your bed every day.


Because if you haven't got sufficient will and dedication to do that one simple thing, you might want to reconsider whether you have what it takes to reach your more ambitious goals.

You don't have to agree with her about this. But I do. And it's one of the only pieces of Advice from a Sage Thinker that has made any damn difference in what I do with my day.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Miniature Entry: On the Loss of a Great Writer

I wish I had something poetic to say about the wonderful Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, who has just died; but I don't.

Instead, I can tell you that in my freshman expository writing/fiction writing class at Harvard, which I hated, I once said in a discussion that I saw great similarities between the plots of "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" and Auntie Mame.

I did this just to provoke an aneurysm in a snooty bitch classmate from Miss Porter's. She always spoke in a breathy voice redolent of italics of her desire to "explode the confines of linear fiction," and she openly loathed me for turning in assignments that were funny. Every time one of my stories got a laugh, she would shake her Annie Hall bob in disgust and bite the end of her pen.*

It worked. She actually did get so angry she left the room. I've always been grateful to Mr. Márquez for that. And, of course, to Patrick Dennis.

This will probably be the only Márquez tribute that mentions them both.

RIP, Gabe.

Now I have to go finish roasting a chicken.

*She was also an avowed Freudian.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Miniature Entry: Life at Sea


At present I am aboard the Cunard liner Queen Victoria, sailing from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale via the Panama Canal.

If you've been reading for a long time you know I love Cunard ships, past and present. I am supposed to be having (on doctor's orders) a complete rest from work but of course you know I wasn’t going to climb aboard without any knitting.

So I've taken to doing a little in the Winter Garden, in the mornings. As you would expect, it's a surefire conversation starter. The passengers are in the main fairly elderly. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of them knew Queen Victoria personally. When she was a little girl. I couldn't be happier–this is my crowd. We tend to like the same music and the same movies.

I was clicking away a few mornings ago as we headed for Costa Rica and a flurry of tropical print hove into view. The person in the print stopped, then dropped into the next chair. She was English, ambiguously eighty-ish, artfully preserved.

"That," she said, pointing at my knitting, "is very impressive work. My father was a knitter, so I know."

Whereupon we started chatting.

She is doing the World Cruise, Southampton to Southampton. This is something like her forty-fourth Cunard voyage. (The brand breeds loyalty.)

"Of course my favorite is and forever shall be the QE2," she said. "They'll never build another like her."

I nodded. I never sailed in her, mind you. I only saw her, once, back when I was on the Minerva II and she docked beside us in Malta. I remember that seeing C-U-N-A-R-D on the side of ship for the first time gave me chills.

"But may I say something? I'm going to say something."

She leant toward me and through her dark round sunglasses I could feel her glare. "You young* people," she said firmly, "have absolutely no stamina and no idea how to have a good time. No. Idea."

I raised my eyebrows.

She pointed towards the windows above us, which belong to Hemispheres–the ship's disco. "They will close that bar tonight at one o'clock and you will all go to sleep. Ridiculous. Ridiculous! On the QE2 we never dreamt of bed before sunrise. A party every night. Until sunrise. We knew how to have a good time. You young people, I don't know what's wrong with you."

"Well," I said, "the seventies were different, weren’t they? All that cocaine would keep anybody awake."

This time her eyebrows went up. She leant even closer.

"You'd better believe it, kid," she whispered. "You'd better believe it."

 *Yes, on this ship I'm young. I'm quite possibly the youngest person aboard not scrubbing pots or being looked after by the Cunard nannies.

Note: The lady in the photograph is not the lady in the story. She's another lady, with whom I danced rather madly one evening.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


You may not know that the chief residents of our little household are all on Twitter. I am @franklinhabit. Dolores is @doloresvanh. Harry is @yarnpoetharry.

That was how I found out about our newest resident. She's still here.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Miniature Entry: Other String

I'm in Madison, Wisconsin. This weekend was the local (enormous) guild's annual Knit-In, and they asked me to come up and do a bunch of fun stuff. On Friday I gave a talk. It was all very prim, as is my wont, but they made it sound dirty.


For the record, a night with me ends at about nine. Party down.

I leave for home in just a wee while but wanted to show a bit of progress with the tatting. When I remembered that dear, old Weldon's Practical Needlework had offered tatting numbers of course I had to pull them out and see if they were any good. Turns out they were.

Working in odd moments between furious, deadline-driven labor I've crept along to two-thread tatting (Some folks call it continuous tatting or tatting from the ball.) This is a Weldon's two-thread edging.


The thread (some old crochet cotton I had lying around) is really too coarse for the work and my tension is all over the place; but hey, I'm having a good time.

When I showed the first shots of my tatting I got a couple of comments–some quite concerned–that this must signal the end of my engagement with knitting. Really? Really? How? Why?

Are you afraid I'll be unable to resist the pull of the tatting market, and the legions of tatting enthusiasts who flock in their thousands to the glamorous international tatting circuit? Are you certain that within a year I'll have been put under contract to appear exclusively on one of the several tatting television series that ornament the airwaves?

This happens every time I mention a craft other than knitting.

So, to clarify.

If I write about a flirtation with crochet, tatting, weaving, embroidery, quilting, sewing, or any other fiber-y fabric-y gerund, it doesn't mean I'm jumping off the knitting ship. It means I'm looking to find out what else string can do for you. I find it refreshing. I find it inspiring. I don't believe in craft monogamy or textile purity. I'm all about seeing how techniques combine and complement.

I wrote a piece for Lion Brand Yarns about my desire to see knitting and crochet returned to their former unity. With John Mullarkey I've been mixing knitting and weaving in projects like our Ligeia Stole. And when a Madison student brought this in to show me, my heart skipped a beat:


She found it rolled up in her grandmother's sewing machine. On the right is a tatted chain. On the left is what the chain looks like when you complete the edging pattern with...crochet.

Mix it up. Mix. It. Up.