Thursday, July 29, 2010

Some Thoughts On Having Attended the Opening Day of the Newberry Library Book Fair

1. Whoops.

Just over two feet, in case you were wondering.

2. If only I'd had more time to browse.

3. I got kind of a sick thrill when the lady at the cash desk staggered back and said, "Whoa."

4. Now that I've been, you may go and pick through the leftovers.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Buncha Buncha Bohus

First, a follow-up to the previous post. The lovely people at Schoolhouse Press graciously allowed me to spend some alone time with the samples from the upcoming book of unknown and revisited patterns by Elizabeth Zimmermann, and to photograph them; but I've promised not to show any until the book is nearer to press. I promise they're worth the wait.

What I can post right now are a few snaps I took of the Schoolhouse Press collection of sweaters from Bohus Stickning, the Swedish high-fashion knitwear house whose products were all produced by home-based handknitters. Meg brought them in for us to examine and paw over (which we did, while emitting uncontrollable squeaks of delight).

I won't undertake a history of the Bohus, as you can find a neat and authoritative account here. The book Poems of Color, happily back in print, will tell you the full and inspiring story–and probably tempt you to try your hand at emulating the talented Swedes who crafted the originals.

Look at these.

Bohus Yoke

All are worked in light DK/fingering weight yarn, usually an angora/merino blend. The light halo softens the transitions, rather like blended watercolors.

Bohus Yoke

It's common for a single round to incorporate three or more colors,

Bohus Yoke

and purls periodically mix it up with knits for a fascinating texture.

Bohus Yoke

The interiors are as neat and finished as the exteriors.

Bohus Label

Each one is a masterclass in color mixing.

Bohus Cardigan

I can only hope that anything I create will look this fresh half a century later. Amazing.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Knitting Camp Bulletin

I'm at Meg Swansen's Knitting Camp, watching a parade of projects that will be included in an upcoming book from Schoolhouse Press of revisited and new Elizabeth Zimmermann designs in garter stitch, many of which have been drawn from previously unpublished notes and sketches.

Incredible sideways gloves. A chic biased garter stitch pullover. Little slippers with curled Turkish toes. Piece after piece after piece after piece and they're not done yet.

I will beg Meg for permission to post a few pictures. For the moment, this is all I can show you:

Looking at...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bridal Suite

Talk to any professional artist or designer you can find (seedy bars and discount grocery stores are good places to look) and chances are they will agree that inspiration is probably the most misunderstood ingredient in the murky chowder of creativity.

In movies, inspiration looks much like the manic half of manic depression. The artist runs amok in montage, flinging paint around in a large, white studio while loud bits of Mahler (or possibly the Pointer Sisters singing "I'm So Excited") flood the soundtrack. He is hyperkinetic, unfettered, unstoppable. He is not the person you want living in the apartment upstairs. But he can't help himself...he is inspired.

I admit that occasionally, out of nowhere, the Inspiration Fairy socks you in the gut with a full-grown idea so damned good it almost lifts you right off the barstool. But if you intend to make a living from your ideas, and you only sit down to work when that happens, you'd better have a rich uncle or a back-up plan in something nice and stable like accounting or dog grooming.

Inspiration (for me, anyhow) is less like a lightning bolt than like being constantly pecked by a flock of unfocused chickens. Here a peck, there a peck, until the combined pecking reaches critical mass and you can't take it any more and you scream, "Stop, chickens! Stop! Stop!"* and you sit down and draw the cartoon.

This can be every bit as unpleasant as it sounds.

The only way to avoid going mad, which usually happens to artists in movies shortly after the Pointer Sisters stop singing, is to learn to love your chickens. Think of the pecking as their way of alerting you to little details that will move you along, by slow inches, towards something good and whole and new.

And now I want to show you some drawings of old wedding dresses.

That sounds like a non sequitur, I know, but the old wedding dresses were inspiring. Everything you've just read was intended to lead up to them. But then I introduced the chicken motif, and it hasn't come out where I thought it would, and it's almost dinner time so I'm not going back and rewriting it. Sorry.

Inspiration at the Chicago History Museum

This is my second year as a member of the Chicago History Museum, which not so long ago was the Chicago Historical Society. In the old incarnation, it was just as clubby and dusty as it sounds–mostly of interest to the people around here who have major streets named after them.

After a grand renovation and expansion, however, it has become one of my favorite places in the city. Along with a first-class permanent exhibit about the Great Fire of 1871 and several rooms of Lincolniana unmatched by anything at the Smithsonian, they have frequent and splendid shows of items from the textiles collection.

The latest is called "I Do! Chicago Ties the Knot," and it's a doozy. Wedding gear from the mid-19th century (when Chicago sprang, almost overnight, from the mud) to the present day, including bridal gowns, corsetry, going-away attire, and men's costumes–including a pair of matching tuxedos worn by a gay couple, thankyouverymuch.

Oh, and there's a perfectly preserved 120-year-old top tier from a wedding cake, just for good measure.

They don't allow photography in the exhibit, but I spent a fun afternoon there, sketchbook in hand, drawing interesting details under the puzzled eye of the guard.

Here are a few. I plan to go back soon and collect more.

I would write something about the chickens here if I could think of a good tie-in, but it's Thai delivery night and I want my panang curry.







*If it's near Christmas and so they happen to be French hens, I suppose you could scream "Arretez-vous, poulardes, s'il vous plaƮt!" If they're German chickens, I got nothing, but that almost never happens.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


The First Fall 2010 issue of Knitty is live, and my contribution to the potluck is Flo, a little elephant with an interesting history.

Flo the Elephant, Knitty First Fall 2010

My inner six-year-old is unable to look at that picture without feeling compelled to share some of my very favorite elephant jokes. (Please set aside your juice boxes before proceeding.)

How do you stop an elephant from charging?

Take away his credit card before he goes into the yarn shop.

Why did the elephant cross the road?

To get to the yarn shop on the other side.

Why do elephants paint their toenails red?

Because they need something to do while they wait for the yarn shop to open.

What did the grape say to the elephant?

Nothing–grapes can't talk! But if grapes could talk, the grape would have asked for directions to the yarn shop.

If you see an elephant in your car, what time is it?

Time to drive the elephant to the yarn shop.

Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Fair

Midwest Fiber and Folk Art FairMy inner six-year-old is also busting with anticipation because next week (July 16-18) is the annual Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Fair in Grayslake, Illinois. Have you been? This year I get to not only go and wander around the market, the art show, and the exhibits, but I'm also teaching.

The problem with teaching, of course, is that I can't also take classes, and my friends Edie Eckman (the knitting and crochet sorceress who taught me intarsia without killing me) and Carol Rhoades (of Spin Off and PieceWork magazines, et al., and on whom I have the most uncontrollable schoolboy crush) are also in the line-up.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Once Upon a Time... was the custom for American citizens to read aloud, on this day, the document that started it all: The Declaration of Independence.

I think it's a terrible pity that the custom has long fallen out of fashion.

Whatever your politics, you cannot deny that the United States is in the throes of a painful identity crisis. Argument is rife as to what it means, exactly, to be an American.

This is not a political blog–heaven knows I don't have the brains or stomach for that*–but on this one day, I humbly suggest that as we collectively search for an answer we might begin by reviving the old custom.

Turn off your cell phones, your laptops, your iPads, your iPods, your Blackberries and your television, and read the Declaration out loud to your family, your friends, your cat–whoever's there. You may feel somewhat akin to a cornball for the first few lines (beautiful as they are) but the feeling (I promise you) will pass. (If you knit or crochet, feeling somewhat akin to a cornball is terra cognita, anyhow.)

As we try to reach a common understanding of who Americans are, and what America is, we can't do better than to return to the source. And we are singularly fortunate, as a nation, to have the source still with us.

Do you believe we're all created equal? Do you believe we are all entitled to certain unalienable (go look it up) rights, including Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?

If so, perhaps we can agree–at least for the length of time it will take to read the Declaration aloud–that being American is less about one's color, or the color of one's state, than it is about buying into these very basic ideas.

Take it away, Mister Jefferson.

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

*I am so averse to political argument in social settings that I almost shut off the comment feature for this entry–until it struck me that this would be outrageously undemocratic. But hear this: keep your comments civil. And I mean on both sides. No cracks about anybody–not Sarah P., not Barack O., not anybody. If anybody starts anything, I'll delete comments with a tyranny so ruthless that it'd make George III clutch his stars and garters.