Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Alright Already

Cripes, what a pushy bunch. I take time out from a rare family holiday to write a post with photos of a finished project*and what happens? Almost as one, the readers rise up and shout,


Perhaps, like global warming and the war in Afghanistan, it's my own fault. I mustn't have been clear that the pink poncho is not, and was never intended to be, a Christmas gift. It's taking far too long for that, and anyhow it can't be worn in this beastly northern climate until May at the earliest. Not to mention that I am enjoying taking my time with it–finding my own way to shape the hood, experimenting with lace patterns, checking out late-1940s couture draping to figure shaping for the cloak.

Yes, cloak. Not poncho. I know–she asked for a poncho; but there's a problem. I hate ponchos. Hate them. I intend no offense to those who love them; I simply do not share your taste. I find them graceless and droopy. And as I am a child of the 1970s, they are forever associated in my mind with aesthetic nightmares like gloppy terra-cotta pottery, tourist-market serapes and macramé plant hangers. I'll be damned if I'll expose my niece to any of that, even if she begs.

I'm turning out to be a very old-fashioned sort of uncle. No–a very old-fashioned sort of aunt. I find that I have nothing but gender in common with the famous, old-fashioned uncles who spring to mind: Remus, Tom, Scrooge. However I closely resemble quite a few old-fashioned aunts: Polly, March, and especially Aunt Alicia in Gigi.


Like Aunt Alicia, I adore my niece exactly as she is. And I intend to fix her. Indiscriminately catering to small children's natural sartorial whims is dangerous; it leads to college graduates who go grocery shopping in their pajamas. Noble savages are fine and dandy, but I have no intention of taking one to the ballet.

So though I wish dearly for her to love it, the Pink Thing will honor the spirit and not the letter of the request. For example, on my watch we do not wear clothing that sparkles unless we are going to an evening party. Therefore, in lieu of iridescent novelty yarn extruded from a unicorn's ass, I'm using a pretty but serviceable and sensible wool (Cascade 220 Sport) in pure pink.

We have just had a wholly successful fitting of the finished hood. I didn't want to proceed until I was certain it was the right size and shape, with enough drape to be romantic but not so much as to flop backwards and forwards willy-nilly.

A picture:

Pink Thing Preview

That's it, there ain't no more. I had to bargain to get this one, because the sun came out and the new (pink) snow saucer from L.L. Bean was calling. The client's response was extremely positive. She even attempted a twirl, but as there are still two balls of yarn attached you can guess what happened.

I hope this answers a bit of the curiosity. All kidding aside, I appreciate your interest in the progress of the design. It jolts me from the natural indolence that is my nature. More to come.

*Floradora V.1.0 made a successful maiden voyage today, carrying gift cards which I hear were used to purchase a hamburger.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Making Things

We have been making things.

Abigail and her mother have been making cookies. Those cookies.


I have already had it up to my proto-Gandalfian eyebrows with holiday baking so I kept out of the kitchen. Instead, I sat down with Abigail on Christmas Eve and (courtesy of a sweet little notion from Girl on the Rocks) did my best to further instill the home truth that Making Things with Yarn = Fun.

Sheep Ornament

(You get to choose your own yarn. We chose Cascade 220 Sport.)

On Christmas morning, I presented Abigail with another yarn-based thing I had just finished making.

Floradora Purse (beta)

Floradora Purse (beta)

I've named the purse* Floradora. This is the beta, child-sized version. A grown-up version, larger and considerably refined, will hit the shops in January to herald the launch of a new class, "Cavalcade of Colorwork," débuting at the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat in February.

Now that I have made this blog post, I am going to make a trip to the cookie jar. (I said I was fed up with holiday baking, not holiday eating.)

*I forgot to mention it's in Cascade 220. I guess we're having a Cascade Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2010


If this post smells of butter and drool it's because I've spent about half the day baking cookies. The kitchen looks like Open House at the Keebler Factory, including the flour-covered resident elf who is typing this from a perch by the cooling racks.

I hope you can't get fat from inhaling near a pile of fresh cookies. I just got back into these jeans.

Oh, such a display. We have pinwheels, we have brownies, we have chocolate chips–courtesy (respectively) of Maida Heatter, Irma Rombauer, and Ruth Wakefield.

Piled highest, at the back, are the other cookies. The special cookies. You won't find the recipe for them in any published book; and don't bother asking for it, because after I told you I'd have to kill you. It's a family secret–as deep and dark as the one that keeps the Kardashians on the air, except ours goes better with coffee.

These are Grandma's Jennie's cookies.

Grandma Jennie, rest her soul, was my mother's mother.

Three Generations

She's on the right, in the bow. That's my mother on the left, and the howling lump in the center is me–a week old. (I was either hungry, or commenting on the prevalence of drip-dry polyester fabrics in early 70s fashion.)

We assume Grandma learned how to make the cookies from her mother. We don't know for sure. We never thought to ask. It's a bizarre recipe. I've got about 32 linear feet of books on cookery ranging from 1747 to the present, and there's nothing in any of them that comes even close. It starts out a little bit like shortcake, only without sugar; and then–

No, wait. Can't tell you. Would have to kill you.

These cookies were the first thing I ever baked. I was about ten or eleven, and my younger sister was my accomplice. Every pass of the rolling pin was an act of transgression. Mom wasn't home, we didn't ask permission to use the stove, and these were Christmas cookies. We made unsupervised, unauthorized Christmas cookies in May.

I know that seems piffling at a time when the second graders on "Gossip Girl" get their kicks by snorting cocaine and crushed Flintstone vitamins during little bitty orgies in the VIP room at American Girl Place. But back then, to us, it was thrilling.

My sister, once the sous chef, is now the master baker. She inherited Mom's gigantic yellow Tupperware bowl–you could take a bath in it–which holds the stupendous amount of dough produced by the full recipe. She has developed and perfected a system that allows her to keep one hand clean and dry while the other adds ingredients and kneads them in. And her cookies always have the proper amount of crunch on the outside, while the inside melts in your mouth.

We grew up rolling out the dough and cutting it into moons and hearts and trees, which is what Mom does. But we were surprised to learn during a visit to Grandma's that she didn't use cutters. She rolled the dough out into long ropes with her hands, then twisted sections of rope into curlicues, knots and braids.

Her hands flew. She twisted, we watched. My grandmother was a lovely woman; but she didn't like children mucking around in the kitchen. Baking cookies wasn't a game, it was work. Without interference she could produce six dozen in record time. If you were good, you might be allowed to help with the sugar sprinkles. If you got too enthusiastic and sprinkled the floor, you'd better run.

A Tribute

Susan and I still mostly roll and cut, but near the end of each batch we also make a few twists as a tribute. It's not a hospital wing or a fountain in Central Park, but there are worse ways to be remembered than through a cookie recipe. I think Grandma Jennie would have appreciated it. Especially with coffee.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Queen Looks at Princesses

Sweet Sally Melville, can you believe how long it’s been since the last post? I’m appalled. I intended to chirp immediately upon my return from Loop in Philadelphia (it was marvelous, thank you for asking) but on the way home a nasty little microbe or virus or microscopic protoplasmic sonofabitch slipped past my defenses and landed me on the sofa, huffing decongestant.

While the bug was in residence I felt it best to keep mum, for which you should be grateful. I’m not exactly a bouncy ball of fun when I’m well, and when I get sick I head straight for Act III of La Traviata.

Alfredo…is that…you? Everything…everything’s going black…

I am such an ill-tempered, ungrateful patient that if Florence Nightingale had been put in charge of me she’d have quit and become a bus driver. If you’re in the room and I feel myself going down, I’m taking you with me.

Catastrophic sniffles aside, I’ve got a surprising amount of knitting done. The trick, I discovered, is to hold one needle in each hand while you knock on death’s door with your forehead.

In our household, works-in-progress are usually referred to by color, i.e. The Pink Thing, The Green Thing, The Blue-and-Orange Thing. The Pink Thing is the one I can write about, and you’ve heard me mention it before–it’s Abigail’s Bespoke Pink Princess Poncho, now in Version 4.0 (beta).

I think I’ve probably done more research and development for this design than any other. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, I was never a little girl and have never experienced the desire to be, or dress like, a princess. This puts me at risk for turning out a poncho more suited to a marchioness. Disaster.

So I’ve been digging into primary source material, the better to discern the essential characteristics of princess gear.

Here’s what all I’ve been able to figger so far.

1. Go pastel or go home. Princesses don't wear tweed.

2. Put a swag on it. At least one. Swags are good.

3. Put flowers on it. Flowers are even better than swags.

3. Put swags and flowers on it. Simplicity and moderation are for peasants.

4. Fringe is not an acceptable substitute for flowers or swags. A princess who wears fringe will tank at the box office.

5. Drama above the shoulders is key. If there’s not a crown, there’d better be a tiara. If there’s not a tiara, there’d better be a big floppy romantic hood from which to peer with your goo-goo-googly eyes.

6. It had better look good when you twirl. The typical princess will twirl 87.23 times on an average day.

On days when a ball is given, the average rises to 149.25.

The above list is incomplete, of course. Research continues. Meanwhile I'll show you little bit of The Pink Thing in a few days, when I come back from a place where princesses, so I hear, are very thick on the ground.

No, not a private school in Lincoln Park. Somewhere else. You'll never guess.