Monday, September 04, 2006

When is a doily not a doily?

When it has religious aspirations and becomes an altar cloth.

Here, friends, is my little home altar.

Altar

It's an Indonesian chest I found in a shop in the neighborhood. I liked it because a) the brass bits to the right and left of the lock escutcheon resemble Dharma wheels and b) it was reduced for quick sale.

On it, left to right, are a bowl gong and striker, the Buddha, a figure of Kannon (the embodiment of compassion), an incense burner and (in the back, peeking around the burner) a Daruma doll dedicated to the completion of a certain task which for now shall remain unspoken.

The whole of this is tucked into a niche I created by shifting one of my bookcases to another part of the living room. On the wall, I hang Japanese scrolls that change about every month or so.

When I'd finally hunted down the bowl gong and checked off all the items on my wish list, I decided I needed one more thing. Something of my own, something I'd made. I considered casting a figure of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Clear Thinking, but it turns out the terms of my lease prohibit iron smelting. So I decided to knit an altar cloth.

I could build a fort in the middle of the living room with all the stitch dictionaries on my shelves, but ultimately the pattern I chose was from that nice Cheryl Oberle's Folk Shawls. In my stash there was most of the skein of Dale Baby Ull that made Istvan's paws, and when I swatched it using the motif Cheryl cooked up for the Kimono Shawl I knew I had a winner.

This was a fun knit. The pattern is very simple, and after one full repeat I worked from memory. The fabric flowed off the needles.

Altar Cloth in Progress

(In the background, please to admire the lovely stitch marker, one of a pair made and given to me by the one and only Rabbitch.)

The cloth conveniently reached its full extent as the skein ran out, and I was left with the usual shriveled fungus that is unblocked lace.

Altar Cloth, Unblocked

After stretching it until it screamed for mercy, I have an altar cloth that is almost what I wanted.

The stitch pattern and yarn, I like.

Altar Cloth, Stitch Detail

If you want to try lace but it scares you, give the Kimono Shawl a try. This motif is only about eight stitches by fifteen rows or so. In return for rather easy work you get a striking fabric with interest not only from the yarn overs, but also from the texture lent by the lines of the increases and decreases. Lotta bang for your buck.

Altar Cloth, Blocked

What makes me grit my teeth in a most un-Zenlike fashion is those frigging wavy edges. I'm not an experienced blocker and I couldn't figure out how to pin out a good rectangle. I'll have another go after I've done some research.

Or maybe I'll just tell people I wanted it to look like that.

Sleeping in the Zendo

While we're on the subject of Zen practice, Ted asked (twice) what happens if somebody falls asleep during a round of meditation in the zendo.

I'm still new at this, so I can only tell you what I've experienced.

The first is: nothing. We actually had somebody nod off during a Sunday sitting a couple of weeks ago and start to snore gently. This went on for a minute or so and then the fellow woke himself up. One of the clever things about the standard zazen postures is that they are inherently stable: you can drift off and not topple over immediately.

Or, it may be (I've also seen this) that the monitor, who faces the room and keeps things on course, will go over and give the sleeper a gentle shake.

That's it. Nothing too dramatic. There's an old saw about Zen practioners being smacked with a stick when they doze off. Not true. There's a stick, yes–it's called the kyosaku–but (contrary to popular belief) it's not used in a punitive fashion.

I prefer to save that kind of thing for other occasions, thank you very much.

48 comments:

Ashley said...

You want string for those edges. Thread it through the edge stitches and use it to create a taut line. (You can also buy blocking wires for the same purpose, but string is pretty much free.)

jayne said...

Hi Franklin
Yippee! You're back. The altar looks great. Would it be terribly irreverent to suggest knitting a robe for one of your figures for cold winter days? I'm a Jesusy person, but I can be pretty irreverent about him too. Somebody once gave me a statue of Jesus as a thank-you gift. That sort of thing isn't really my taste, but the Jesus was so exuberant (and not placid and, well, flaccid as Jesus tends to be portrayed) that I was often moved by the figure. Some days, he held a tiny umbrella. Don't ask me why. I just started my own blog this week. Sure is fun!

Sara in WI said...

Hi, Franklin! I always learn so much from you, fiber and other. Thanks for sharing.....

Liz said...

gorgeous!

About blocking, string works well and so does the cheap unwaxed dental floss - easy to get in and out without leaving fiber on your work.

kate l said...

Have you seen the Tibetan movie "Phörpa" (aka The Cup)? Lots of irreverant monks-in-training who regularly fall asleep during practice, so if they can do it then really no worries, right? And they're mostly short and bald - do you reckon they knit?

Gasp - could Dolores have infiltrated a Kathmandu monastery?

Kate said...

I know your Kannon as Kuan Yin - the Bodhisattva of compassion. Your shrine looks lovely with and without the doily/altarcloth.

Mel said...

Lovely cloth. My aspiration from the Cheryl Oberle book is the fir cone shawl, but it is a wonderful book. Sometimes - actually fairly often - I get it out just to look at the pictures.

Linda said...

I love Folk Shawls. It makes you feel that you can do it - always a desireable thing with lace knitting. I'm off to relook at the Kimono pattern...

Leanne said...

I've recently used the string blocking method with great success - although I couldn't find any string about the house, so I improvised - I had some DK weight cotton yarn left over from a project. That worked fine. You can also buy blocking wires, or the hardware equivalent - stainless steel welding wires.

The altar cloth looks lovely, but would look even lovelier with straight edges :-)

Anne said...

You know you can make that bowl sing as well? If you strike it (wow, that sounds harsh) then run the mallet gently around the edge, you'll hear the most wonderful sound. *sigh*

I have a Tibetan singing bowl that I really love. Has a good aura to it.

marylee said...

Kate's right. The Cup is a deeelightful movie that reminds us that holy people are ordinary people and vis versa. Lovely altar cloth.

Sweet Camden Lass said...

I love the cloth. I was going to suggest blocking wires, but, now, I'm thinking of trying the string method on my current mass of lace (which isn't photographed anywhere, since it's supposed to be a surprise for the recipient).

~x~

Joe said...

It's so great to see someone who can learn things by reading, but not do it without heart. I've never seen someone who is so devoted to learning through books and can put soul and exuberance into his work. Very nicely done with the lace and thanks for sharing your personal altar space.

Ginger_nut said...

Hi Franklin - I just discovered your blog. I have to say I love it, especially delores. I am hinting to Tuffers that I would like a sassy delores t-shirt (and an ichy lamb one.) Your so cute and funny. Cheers!

Nita said...

Love the lace alter cloth! Instead of blocking wires, for achieving smooth lace edges I've used small-diameter (like 2s) metal dpns. I weave the needle in and out every 2 stitches or so, using T pins at the ends of the needles to align and hold the lace out. Works great!

Wystful said...

Lovely alter cloth! Looks like a nice pattern and a quick piece. Congrats on adding your own special touch to the alter. May you find the enlightenment you seek at it.

Melanie said...

Blocking with thin nylon cord works really well--cotton, not so much, because the cotton stretches out when wet. The nylon is smooth, strong, and less stretchy when soaked.

(I have a soft spot for that particular pattern because I used it to make a shawl for my wedding.)

junior_goddess said...

It's lovely WITH the wavy edges.

Darinka said...

Ahh-So I wondered about your daruma. I couldn't tell if he had both eyes filled in or not. (You know, two eyes finished means wish granted....) I'm still looking for a buddha that has the right "feel" for me (and fits in the budget!), but have some lovely kwanyin who are quite lovely and powerful.

Elizabeth said...

Sticks or Cup Hooks???? Don't make me use the cup hooks.

Anyway, I love the altar cloth. What they all said about string is what I was going to say. I had some thin nylon twine around the house that I used to block my Branching Out scarf last winter. The nylon is very strong for the weight, holds up under tension, and is easy to pull out when you're done with blocking.

I had heard an internet rumor that welding rods work in place of blocking wires for a fraction of the cost. I went to Farm and Fleet and looked at welding rods and the ones they had were nothing I want to put in my knitting edges: greasy and covered with some stuff that promotes better burning and melting.

marie in florida said...

you know the ten ox herding pictues? at my thrift store; i found (read was gifted with) a small stature of 6: Riding Home. i also have the Lady of Mercy, a madonna, daruma; puss n boots from Shrek,a "smallprize o matic", which is a tiny claw machine which my kids gave me...long list; but not a lovely wavy edged hand made cloth, just some cat's hair. LOL
may one ask? what's on the card, eh?

marie in florida said...

i'm baa--ach...
i see others are recommending "the cup"
get thee to a video store. i still think it's only on tape tho>

Mother of Chaos said...

Beautiful altar cloth! I love that pattern - I made the 'full sized' one for my Gran last year.

Things-you-made-yourself really are perfect for blessing our religious moments. From altar cloths to prayer shawls, they're just...extra special.

catmum said...

The wavy edge is good as it is, remember that wavy lines confuse devils.

Dianna said...

I love your perfect touch of the lacy cloth! For pointy lace, I pin out the points, and with straight edged lace, I thread the blocking wires (or string) through the edges on each side, and if there are any other obvious straight lines elsewhere in the piece, I do it there as well. I am increasingly using a grid underneath the blocking lace to keep the lines straight while I stretch the piece out. You have ome a very long way in the past year in knitting and spinning! Congratulations!

PuppyMomma said...

Great. Now I'm going to be wondering what that stick IS used for.

Andi said...

The lace is lovely. I think the wavy edge makes it seem like a family heirloom...older rather than brand new.

Lucia said...

In general whenever I have gotten myself into a quiet, meditative place for any length of time I have tended to fall asleep -- unless I am doing something with my hands and/or feet such as spinning or knitting. Perhaps I just need further enlightenment and/or whacking.

Alyssa said...

Hey - the lace is absolutely beautiful, as is the altar atop it. Wanna share with a fellow Chicago knitter where you got that fabulous table? :) Thank you so much for your blog - it inspired me to start one of my own! Love from Lakeview...

David said...

The lace looks really cool. I had no idea you stretch it to make it look like it does. I thought it just came out that way. Whadayaknow?

June said...

Totally OT, but Franklin, you must see this:

http://mfrost.typepad.com/cute_overload/2006/09/australian_anim_1.html

It's like your cartoon, personified!

Linda "K" said...

Franklyn - you just might fit a baby mokugyo on there: http://www.dharma.net/monstore/product_info.php?cPath=21_37&products_id=495

I like the wavy edges! Think of it as sand being washed on the shore. Also nothing wrong with having more than one cloth!

When I started Zen I was in a combined Soto/Rinzai group and the old saw about Kyosaku and nodding off was not an old saw at all - you snoozed, you could get bapped. But, that was 25 years ago and enough people with heart condtions attended sesshins and complained - so that monks were told to curb their enthusiasm. A monk could still blast out a tatami-rattling "WAKE UP" though. Worked well.

Linda "K"

Linda "K" said...

Franklin: Oh Geeeeeze! So sorry about your name snafu. Middle age is a terrible thing on a formerly almost-crisp mind. Ack!!! I even have another friend named Franklin! Double Ack!!!

Linda "K"

katherine said...

I have to confess, the first thing I thought of when Ted asked what happens when one falls asleep was that monk in the movie The Cup -- which, BTW was recently released on DVD.

The director, Khyentse Norbu, is a Buddhist teacher, and is recognized as the reincarnation of a 19th C. Buddhist saint.

He's also had a more recent film out (2003) -- called "Travellers and Magicians", which is an inventive telling of a traditional Buddhist fable. http://www.travellersandmagicians.com/ for more info on that.

The Making-Of for that film was really...um...enlightening about this most unusual and highly talented director.

Lovely altar, BTW. I aspire to having an altar, just as soon as I can move enough of the stash.

Anonymous said...

OK, thought I knew all about blocking, but the string thing is new to me. So I get my dental floss or whatever woven along the edge -- then what? tie it to pins at the end, kinda like an old-fashioned canvas stretcher for people? Surely the mere presence of string is not enough to cause a straight edge?

Sean said...

I love it...perfect accompaniment...you’re so clever! I really like that space. It somehow makes the rest of the room quite peaceful! You’re an amazing knitter. You decide to learn/do something...and voila — done! Impressive!

Judith in Ottawa said...

I block with fairly high-test fishing line. It's stiff enough to thread through the edge without a needle, although sometimes if the tip catches I melt a little ball-point on the end over the stove (with lace nowhere in sight, of course!)

I pass the line in and out as frequently as possible (i.e., every stitch in large-gauge knitting, every couple in the finer stuff) and as near the edge as possible.

Using a length a bit longer than each side of my blocking space (and hopefully longer than the finished lace) I tie a loop in each end and pin the line taut. Distribute the knitting evenly along the length of the line. A few pins along the length keep the line from bowing in toward the centre.

Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

A word about the Kimono shawl pattern: I think it probably looks best in a smooth yarn. I'm currently swatching the pattern in Knitpicks Alpaca Cloud and having grave doubts about using anything even slightly fuzzy for it. The stitch pattern doesn't really show up.

Carina said...

New here, but I had to comment that we use altar cloths, too, in Eastern Orthodox Christian practice. We have home altars of icons, incense burners, lamps or candles (or both), holy water, and some other stuff, and we're supposed to drape the icons with doilies (helps with dust) or have one on the table or shelf.

Isn't that neat--all that time and distance in our faiths, and yet we are so similar. We have prayer ropes and constant meditative prayer, too. That's cool!

Anne said...

In Gathering of Lace there is a description of string blocking that I believe they call Russian Blocking. Just make sure that you run the strings through before you wet the lace! I used it on two shawl and a scarf recently with wonderful results.

I'm also wondering where you got your Daruma doll, as I've been doing some looking for one myself. Any suggestions?

Lizardknits said...

blocking wires or strng wll get rd of those wavy edges.....

dragon knitter said...

string works, but blocking wires work well. i've read somewhere (don't ask me, my brain is wedding-fried (can't sleep, flowers will eat me)) that welding wire works well, and is a damned sight cheaper than real blocking wires. i'm assuming there's a stainless version of some sort, so your lace doesn't rust. give it a shot. and it looks very nice.

shobhana said...

beautiful altar!

Elizabeth said...

I love the polychrome buddha. Wish I could find one like that. I had the same problem blocking a long long table runner. I will try reblocking using the string. I made a little scarf for my office buddha.

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