Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Alfresco Knitting

Whenever I read or hear somebody's sad comments on his or her stormy relationship with a sibling, my heart fills up with pity. Me, I got lucky. My sister is a wonderful person who knows exactly how to make me smile.

For example, she sends me dispatches from her lovely vacations in the wilds of Maine (four postcards! four!), and then afterwards takes care to send me shots like this.

Somewhere in the happy hunting/knitting grounds, she who wrote Knitter's Almanac while floating around Wisconsin in a canoe is smiling.

If you're trapped in an office or at home with the flu, Susan's lavishly illustrated account of her hiking trip (accompanied by husband, dogs, and scarf-in-progress) might do you a world of good.

Posts about my own knitting-in-progress tomorrow. Alas, I'm working the needles on the subway and in coffee shops, not on a rocky and picturesque coastline. But it's better than not knitting at all.

Monday, August 29, 2005


Sometimes I think my whole life to date could be summarized as a struggle for balance. This weekend, for a short time, I achieved it.


There was knitting.

At KnitNY, C spotted a green tweed that he liked and said he would enjoy having as a scarf. I bought one hank of it and have been working it in broken 2x2 rib using a US8. The pattern called for knitting the ribs for 8 rows before breaking them, but I've been varying depths of 6, 8, or 10 at random. The pattern of uniform lengths as called for in the Vogue Knitting Reference looked machine-made and sort of dowdy - a scarf you would find in a very uninspired church bazaar.

The needles are larger than the recommended size, which is making the fabric slightly loose. C gets too hot when he's hermetically bundled up, so I'm hoping this will keep him warm but still let his skin breathe to keep him comfortable.

Tweed Broken Rib Scarf

I also cast on and worked about 4 repeats of a stole that I put together from the patterns and design theory of Nancy Bush's Estonian Lace class at Stitches Midwest. Of all the lace knitting I've seen, the Estonian pleases me the most. I'm going to keep this stole at home for working on at odd moments, a treat to myself when I've made progress on

The Rhinebeck Sweater

I would like to show up at Rhinebeck in something (not a bunny hat) that I've made myself. My gauge swatch for the sweater is finished, and I have all the needles I need. Now, for the push to finish. I think I can get it done if I make it my primary focus between now and the trip. To that end, I'm clearing the decks of all other projects.

Setting forth that goal in here, thereby risking public humiliation if I should fail, should provide me with ample motivation to start clicking.


There was also photography and photography-related work. I started assembling actual pages in my portfolio, captions and backings and what-not.

The light on both Saturday and Sunday was marvelous, and the air was cool and dry. I'm willing to undergo a lot of physical discomfort to get a good shot, but I'll admit it was nice to be out with the camera and not frying or steaming.

In the afternoon, down in the Loop, the light on the marquee of the Chicago Theater was as perfect as if someone had lit it specially.

Marquee of the Chicago Theater, August 2005

I wasn't just shooting randomly, though. I was on a mission. I needed two shots for a poster that first saw light two years ago as a Christmas present for my folks, and which can now be put into a finished form and sent off to print. Once it's printed, I'm going to try shopping it around to see who might carry it. Maybe I'll also sell it online.

It had better pay. Getting one of the shots meant visiting an iffy neighborhood where I was harassed on the street by a group of ill-intentioned kids before a Chicago police officer scared them away. Note to self: some places are not for shooting without somebody to watch your back.


I'm still at work on my article for the new magazine - and it's nearly finished. The mag is still happening, right boys? Right?


Knitting and photography were both solo occupations. I was happy to also spend time with a dear friend I don't get to see much, who came up to Chicago for our gay rodeo. I didn't go to the rodeo, which thanks to the boys from Boystown usually doesn't feel like a rodeo but like a circuit party where horses are welcome. Instead, John came up to the city and we went to the Toulouse-Lautrec special exhibit at the Art Institute.

If you are in Chicago, or can get here before the show closes on October 10, do it. The Art Institute is on a roll. John was up here last year and we saw the special exhibit surrounding Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. It was revelatory. This exhibit packs the same wallop.

Then, as if that weren't enough, the photographic galleries have a show up of Paris before 1950. Kertesz, Atget, Brassai, Cartier-Bresson, Lartigue, Germaine Krull, Lee Miller. A roll call of my favorite photographers in their prime. I was sticky wet by the time we were through.

Sunday night, C took me as his guest to a party celebrating ten years of the monthly Prince Night at Berlin. I've been a few times and always enjoyed it, even though I know next to nothing about Prince. He took this shot of me, which for once I quite like. (One of the reasons I enjoy being a photographer: When you're behind the camera, it can't see you.)

Since I started dating C, I've de-aged. I swear I'm starting to look almost my own age. Or maybe it's just the salutary effects of dim lighting.

The shirt I'm wearing is from the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit. The Art Institute usually does different two shirt designs for the special exhbitions, one for adults and one for kids.

The kids shirt, which you see here, is always far better. I suspect this is because the museum's marketing people shut up and let the designers put together the children's design with less interference.

I fit better into the kids medium than the adults small, and it's five dollars cheaper. It's good to be short. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

Toulouse-Lautrec and Prince in the same weekend. Small guys who made it big.

Maybe I'm next?

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Hunting of the Snarky

(Author's Note and Disclaimer: It was late. I couldn't sleep. Much of this is tongue-in-cheek. If it riles you up, you probably shouldn't be reading my blog anyhow.)

Over on QueerJoe's blog, he has posted the following:
Early on, most on-line knitting communities tended to melt into the overall philosophy of the KnitList, which was "don't cause controversy", "don't rock the boat", "be nice"...

Then some blogs took up the call for more snarky, attitudinal commentary on knitting
Now, as a child I learned in the last line of Lewis Carroll's epic poem that a snark was a boojum, and considered the matter settled. But here we have an obvious use of the old word taking on a new meaning.

What, then, is snark? Is it wit? Is it nastiness? Can one snark good-naturedly, or is it mean-spirited by definition?

As with any neologism, I doubt there's a hard-and-fast answer. But maybe I can zero in on the meaning as it occurs in the narrow sector of knitting blogs and fora.

The KnitList: Absence of Snark

If, as Joe avers, the KnitList was the primordial ooze from which sprang the blogs and message fora that now constitute the online knitting community, we can accept its core values as embodying the opposite of snark or non-snark.

With Joe as our guide, we witness the KnitList as an organization eschewing
  • controversy,
and which values
  • conformity,
and which self-polices participants to make sure they are always
  • nice.
"Nice" is a tricky word. For greater clarity, let's consult the dictionary to see which of the many definitions most likely are meant in the context of the KnitList. (You have nothing else to do tonight, right? If you do, why are you still reading this?)

These are the logical candidates:
  • pleasant or pleasing or agreeable in nature or appearance,
  • decent: socially or conventionally correct,
  • courteous: exhibiting courtesy and politeness.
To be "nice," in the realm of the KnitList, may therefore be taken as being agreeable in nature, conventionally correct, and polite.

Snark as Alternative Value System

If snark, as a quality or perceived value system, was considered so incompatible with the KnitList that its advocates were inspired to break away and form their own list, we can logically surmise that snark would display attributes opposite those above. Those partial to snark would therefore welcome:
  • controversy,
would value
  • self-expression over conformity
and would at least on occasion enter the realm of the
  • unpleasant, unconventional, impolite (opposities of "nice").
To test our theorem, we must find at least one example of a forum or blog which demonstrates the quality of "snark."

While Joe, like any quick-witted gay man, has his moments, the generally accepted ne plus ultra of knitting snark is undoubtedly The Knitting Curmudgeon. Does it conform to our definition?

Here is Marilyn, the eponymous curmudgeon, exhibiting in one representative paragraph all of the attributes of snark. The topic is the term "Knitting Universe."
And those of you who knit, know the genesis of those words. Well, I find that concept offensive. Yes, it's true. I am offended. While I wouldn't put it in the same league as abuse of women and children, discrimination, instruments of mass destruction and other things that offend a great many of us, I still find the term odious. Why? Well, without risking a lawsuit, let me say that it takes big brass ones for one magazine to define The Knitting Universe as it pertains to the editorial staff and its bombastic, out-of-control publisher. Yeah, I know. I'll never work for them after this little essay. Ask me if I care.
We have here controversy ("I am offended"), self-expression over conformity ("I'll never work for them...") and the employment of sentiments not within the realm of conventional politeness ("big brass ones," "Ask me if I care.").

We have, in short, a museum-quality example of snark.

Coexistence of
Snark and Non-Snark

This cursory bit of pondering leads me to believe that snark can be defined as an entire value system, not simply a manner or speaking or a figure or speech.

And as the presence of only one value system would indicate a fascist regime, I would venture to say that the continued co-existence of snark and non-snark communities should be reassuring to both camps.

However, as with any value system, when snark is employed it will tend to encourage those who share it and alienate those who do not. This is perhaps the reason that snark-based blogs often draw dissenting commentary from those who lead non-snark lives, and vice-versa.

Conclusion: In Defense of Snark

Without wishing to enter (it's nearly midnight, for heaven's sake. am I nuts?) the larger argument of whether knitting and needlework are art or craft, I do wish to point out that the qualities of snark, as defined above, are those which delineate the "critical" aspect of any art form, be it painting, cinema, writing, or any other.

Viable, lasting art cannot be created in a critical vacuum. A world in which art is created according to a single, strict set of principles and policed for conformity seldom inspires works that outlive the moment of creation. Witness the state-backed operas and public artworks of the former Soviet Union, most of which now strike one, at best, as emotionally stillborn curiosities.

If an art is to progress, or even persist, history demonstrates time and again that a self-critical population is necessary to prevent sterility and vacuuity. Artistic "golden ages," such as the Renaissance and the explosion of jazz in the 1920s, often emerge when a community is radically re-evaluating its own identities and questioning established conventions.

It defies logic, but stasis and stability are often enemies of creativity. As André Gide wrote: "Greece banished the man who added a string to the lyre. Art dies of liberty, and thrives on restraint."

Without criticism, you have no art.

Without snark, you would probably have mostly ponchos and toilet paper covers.

Take your pick.

Attention, Vermin Spammers

If you spend any time at all reading blog comments you'll have noticed a sudden and depressing wave of spam comments. As my parents have said approximately 5,489,201,627 times during my life span, people always have to ruin everything.

"Hi! This is a great blog! I am also interested in guinea pig rescue, you should check out my site, it pretty much covers guinea pig rescue* stuff!"

Please, and I mean this with a sincere and caring heart, fuck off and die.

People who distribute spam in any fashion - e-mail, comments, pop-ups, or photos of Paris Hilton - are vermin. Actually, no. Idiot people who purchase goods or services from spammers and therefore give them a reason to keep spamming are vermin. Spammers are simply the plague lice who feed on the blood of the vermin.

To try to cut down on this, until the nice people (hey, they are nice - I'm not paying for this service) at Blogger can get a handle on things, I'm turning off "Anonymous" commenting. It only takes a second to register, and isn't it more fun to pick out a cute name for yourself anyway? If that discourages you from commenting, I'm sorry, but I don't want to hear any more from dubious weight loss clinics or shyster wedding photographers (shame on you!) in England.

Also, Paris honey, please stop sending me your pictures. If I have told you once, I've told you a thousand times: I just don't love women in that way. On the other hand, if you want to learn to knit you can give me a call. With my sliding scale adjusted for your income, my fee is $4,000/hour. But I'm afraid I'll have to insist that you keep your top on.

*Not a joke. Found this waiting in the in box this morning. Now I am definitely going to step on any guinea pigs I find running loose in Chicago. So there.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Humanitarian Aid from New Zealand

Don't even get me started about last night's commute. Just please don't even ask.

Okay, fine. Here's the short form:
  1. Worked late.
  2. Fire on train tracks south of Evanston.
  3. Trains stopped running.
  4. Transit Authority staff completely unable to offer any prognosis on restoration of service. Nobody is telling them anything. And they can't find out anything on their own.
  5. Restoration of service announcement ("a train will be arriving momentarily") followed by an hour of no trains. Staff contradicts announcements. Say they don't know where trains are, if they're running, when they might arrive. One says for all he knows, trains might be stopped all night. Also says they cannot call or otherwise contact anyone to find out anything.
  6. After almost two hours of this, broke down and paid for cab home.
  7. Cab stuck in traffic due to #%!$@ Cubs baseball game in my neighborhood.
I had my knitting, thank God, but there are occasions when even knitting will barely pull you through.

Regarding point number four, I would like to say I find it amazing that my father can pinpoint the location of his Toyota to within seven feet anywhere on planet Earth using a GPS, but the Chicago Transit Authority is unable to communicate to the Davis Street Station attendant where any of the Purple Line trains might happen to have gone to.

Should you ever find yourself on the Chicago "El" with a question, don't ask a CTA employee. Just talk to the wall. It will be able to offer you better service, more politely.

Given all this, it was mighty nice to arrive home and find a little package from Kiwi James in my mailbox, along with the usual cheap 'n' naughty lingerie catalogues that show up by the dozens thanks to the apparent slut who formerly lived at my address.

I opened the package and the most heavenly scent of tangerine came wafting out. Inside: wonderful New Zealand tangerine chocolates, and a little basket of scented soap and lotion, and a note saying I have to share it all with C.

C is lucky I'm so fond of him or the chocolate would be only a memory by now.

I now have this image of New Zealand as an island paradise that smells like tangerines.

James, honey, watch your mailbox. I promise I haven't sent you anything that smells like Chicago.

I'm beginning to daydream about running away to Morehouse Farm to seek a new life as a shepherd.

(You think I'm kidding?)

Pic du Jour

Madonnas. Just a wee small part of my grandmother's collection, from the top of her bureau.

Madonnas on My Grandmother's Bureau, 2004

P.S. She's Catholic.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Little Guy, Big Apple

I heart New York.

I've wanted to live there since I was a kid. I'd turn on "Sesame Street" and watch the segments shot in Central Park, or on rooftops in Queens, or sidewalks in the Bronx, and think how lucky those kids were. They got to live in a place where right outside the door of your apartment were shops, and theaters, and libraries, and all different sorts of people.

My parents thought this was little strange (New York, to them, was place where you had to rush down streets paved with trash and lined with muggers). So did just about everybody else. It's noisy! It's crowded!

Yeah, it is noisy and crowded. It's New York. What the hell do you expect?

All I know is that from my first visit, as a college freshman, I found the vastness and the pace invigorating, not frightening.

We lived on a succession of Air Force bases that were pleasant, and safe, but about as exciting as your typical American suburb. Which is to say, not exciting at all. Nothing but row after row of identical houses. The base library was usually too far away to get to without a parent to drive me and there was never anything interesting to see or explore within walking distance. Not even a park or a playground.

Yet all these years later I've still not lived in New York. I'm not much of a gambler, and I've always felt I'd have to be going there for something in particular, most likely a job. Temperamentally, I'm not one to just move to New York and see what happens next.

This latest visit was to celebrate C's birthday and goof around with his wonderful friends Lila and Alex. Lila and Alex live in lower Manhattan and are the best hosts you could ask for.


I'll come right out and say it. New York yarn shops beat the living hell out of Chicago yarn shops.

I got to visit two: KnitNY and Purl. I didn't expect to see Purl, but Lila needed to make a stop at Murray's Cheese Shop in the West Village and so we stopped in on the way.

This is me outside of Purl:

Outisde Purl, New York City, August 2005

See that smile? That is the smile of a man who, for the second time in one day, has been to a yarn shop where he was greeted politely and treated with respect, and was able to buy excellent yarn at prices many dollars cheaper than can be found in his own city.

Chicago shops justify their incredible mark-ups by citing high city rents. So why are the regular prices for yarns like Manos and Rowan lower - often by 50% - in New York? Because retail space in the Village is an absolute steal compared to the same square footage in Lincoln Park?

Yeah, right.

The service was also sterling at both shops. Purl was busy as heck, but the saleswomen found time to help me out. One of them even got excited over my "Middlemarch" t-shirt - turns out she's an Eliot fan, too. At KnitNY, I got to work a ball winder and swift for the first time. I think I'm now qualified to be a "ball guy" like Jon.

Yarn Person

Of course, I can't go to New York without visiting The Strand, the most incredible used bookshop in the United States. They have something like 8 miles of books for sale, a length slightly reduced after I'd had a go at their photography and needlework sections.

While I was scoping out the knitting books, the lady standing next to me saw the copy of the Vogue knitting reference I'd pulled off the shelf and said, "That's a lucky find."

We started chatting and who does she turn out to be? Marion Edmonds, one of the designers whose work appears in Last Minute Knitted Gifts. Good grief!

Happy Birthday to U, C

Lila is studying at the French Culinary Institute and arranged for us to have dinner at L'Ecole, the school's restaurant. But first she put out a wine and cheese course at the apartment that nearly made me crumple to the floor with delight.

It was all dreadfully Noel Coward, as you can see:

Lila and Chris, New York City, August 2005

Maybe Noel Coward mixed with a little Tennesse Williams. Lila's roots are Southern.

It just kept getting better. At L'Ecole we got a kitchen tour and a private dining room. We ate a great deal of excellent food and drank a shocking amount of good wine. Note the line-up of glasses. Most of those are from one person's place setting.

Self, Chris, Alex, and Lila at L'Ecole, August 2005

This may explain my red face and the incipient mania in my eyes. I drank in sips but it still must have added up to a full glass, well over my usual safe limit of 1/4 glass per calendar year.

C got a surprise with his dessert. He won't tell me what he wished for, but after he blew out the candle I was still at the table. That was a relief.

Chris Makes a Wish, L'Ecole, New York City, August 2005


Occasionally as we walked around I noticed we were being stalked by Edward Hopper:

Corner of 9th and 1st, New York City, August 2005

It made a nice change from Chicago, where one is more likely to be stalked by Diane Arbus.

Speaking of art, we spent a large hunk of Sunday at P.S.1 in Queens. I got shivers from the place - good ones. If you've never been there, it's a sort of MoMA satellite, housed in an old school building. A lot of the works are site specific, and the cumulative effect of the place is surreal. You step from what still looks like a fairly standard school hallway through what looks like a normal classroom door, and discover the room is full of human-sized, animated yeti. You walk down another hallway and notice a tree with paper leaves is growing out of the wall. And on and on and on.

Not even a preponderance of bad video art installations could kill my buzz.

We finished up the weekend at the Guggenheim, where there was a good Mapplethorpe exhibit on display. I had somehow never been to the Guggenheim before, so now I've got one more Frank Lloyd Wright building crossed off my life list.

Chris at the Guggenheim, New York City, August 2005

Not pictured is the noted gay porn actor we saw wandering around the exhibit.

Ah, New York.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Don't Get Me Started

I'm back from New York City. It was hot, it was crowded, it was delicious and I hated to leave. Pictures and story tomorrow. Try, until then, to go on about your little lives as best you can.

La Meme Chose

This is for Rabbitch, who tagged me. Don't get any ideas - I'm doing this because 1) she has made me laugh out loud so many times that I feel I owe her one and 2) it gives me the chance to say I'm hereby declaring myself untaggable henceforth in perpetuum.

I'm supposed to list five of my idiosyncracies. This is not difficult, except in picking only five examples from a catalogue that would rival that of Sears-Roebuck and Company.
  1. I am often a very dim bulb. I have more than once run around the house searching for keys I was holding in my other hand, or the hat that was already on top of my head.

  2. I sometimes prefer to do things the hard way. When I decided to knit a sock for the first time, I also decided to work from Mary Thomas's highly detailed but mainly theoretical treatment of the subject instead of finding an easy, modern pattern. (See also "Tendencies, masochistic".)

  3. As a snack, I often eat peanut butter right out of the jar with a butterknife. I prefer crunchy. And it has to be with a knife. I never use a spoon. That would be weird.

  4. I am uneasy sitting in restaurants or cafés with my back to the doors or windows. This is probably genetic programming from my Sicilian side.

  5. I am scared to death of flying. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. You can quote me statistics, philosophy, religion, or aerodynamics, it won't help. I hate flying so much I don't even like to talk about it when I'm on the ground. (On Friday, when our plane to New York hit a thunderstorm just before landing at La Guardia and started to pitch around, C got a chance to see me in full panic mode. He let me hold his hand and kept talking to me the whole time, which has earned him...I dunno yet, but something big.)
And by the way, why the hell are they called "memes"?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

How Fast Can I Type?

I'm on my lunch break. The first one I've had this week. It's only 15 minutes long, but that's better than nothing.

My Stitches Midwest Diary has brought a lot of compliments, a lot of comments, and apparently a lot of new readers. I'm floored. Thank you all. I wish Blogger made individual replies easier. I'm going to try to get to those.

New York City Bound

C and I leave tomorrow morning for a weekend in NYC. I'm excited as all hell. A bunch of you made suggestions for yarn shopping. Alas, it looks like only KnitNY is going to fit into the schedule, most of which is out of my control, some time on Saturday, and probably only for a couple minutes. I am a little bummed about that. I would have liked some time to set up a yarn crawl with Mark and Sahara and whoever else would like to play guide and a trip to John's shop. On the other hand, I never seem to be away from the City too long these days. I'll be back. So don't get silly and move to Jersey in the meantime, okay? (No offense, Marilyn.)

Speaking of Sahara

Have you seen her work?

She ought to be running the fashion end of things at Knitter's. Then we might see some real style. Not that she would necessarily want the job, given the one splendid one she's got now.

When she writes about a project in progress, you get much more than "finished 12 more rows," you get an object lesson in paying attention to detail and how a designer thinks about a work in progress. And you also get a wonderful sense of her vibrant community of knitters and needleworkers. I always come away feeling inspired. It's enough to make a boy move to the Bronx.

Stitches Stuff I Forgot

I know, I know, what could I possibly have left out?

I won a door prize. A bracelet. 3,000 knitting-related door prizes and I got a bracelet. But now I can't say I never win anything.

I also would like to apologize to Nancy Bush, if by some slim chance she's reading this, for gushing over her so profusely at the market. I simply could not help it. I'm also sorry about getting drool on the advance copy of her new book, which had just been sent to her and which she let me riffle through. It looks wonderful, people. (see, there I go again.)

As we walked away, I asked Jon if I'd been too much of a sycophant. "Yes. You were kvelling," he said. Oh, great.

And Finally, A Photo

Veliko Gradiste, Romania, 2004
Veliko Gradiste, Romania, 2004

This is for me, to remind me that when I come home, the finishing touches on the portfolio are task number one. I must resist the siren song of all that Jo Sharp until the portfolio is finished and I've made a pitch to the two places at the top of my list that show photos.

Oh, and that picture looks like crap when compressed for Internet viewing. But the bell's rung, and lunch is over. Back to work.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Stitches Midwest Photos

(My Stitches Midwest 2005 Diary, should you care to read it, begins here.)

If you were hoping for a photo essay, I am sorry I cannot give you one. I have learned that I can be either a knitter or a photographer, but not both at once. For most of the weekend I put the camera away so I could focus on knitting. These are the paltry few shots I took at the very end.

Me do better next year.

First up, in the market, the ugliest jacquard sweater ever in the history of the entire world. The vendor who perpetrated this was pushing knitting machines.

Ugliest Sweater in History, Stitches Midwest 2005

The only thing that would redeem this garment in my estimation would be a back panel showing the next logical step in the implied action sequence: the cat biting the head off the unsuspecting squirrel.

Here we once again have Robert (left) and Jon (right) with some of the 85,000,000,000 miles of yarn on sale in the market. Mind you, I didn't tell them how to stand, I just told them where. They instinctively went into spokesmodel/Rockette mode when I lifted the camera.

Yarn Boys are Hot, Stitches Midwest 2005

Robert was standing about knitting a fair isle tam. Show off.

Robert Knitting a Tam, Stitches Midwest 2005

And Jon asked me in advance for a portrait. This isn't one, it's just a snapshot which comes with the promise of a proper one the next time I see him. It doesn't do him justice.

Portrait of Jon, Stitches Midwest 2005

That's all, folks. Show's over. Nothin' else to see.

Stitches Midwest Diary, Concluded

(Continued from here.)

Saturday Morning: Intarsiapallooza

Today, as the wrap-up to my first Stitches (I would like for it to not be my last) I have a class called “Intarsia without Fear” taught by Edie Eckman. In the time since I signed up for this class, I have become disenchanted with the whole idea of intarsia, but figure I ought to learn it anyway.

I arrive early and get a good seat. The class is sold out, and I notice with fascination that the knitters who signed up for this class are on the whole different from those I met in my lace knitting classes on Thursday and Friday.

They nearly all fall into one of two categories:
  • well-cushioned, middle-aged women who want to knit choo-choo trains on the fronts of children’s sweaters; and
  • petite, twentysomething women who want to knit Marcia Brady daisies onto the fronts of their own sweaters.
There is also another guy in the room. He looks familiar, but I can’t place him.

I like Edie Eckman right off the bat. She’s personable, organized, and enthusiastic. She’s also honest. She states bluntly that while she will teach us how to work intarsia, she will not promise that we will like it.

When the first sample she holds up is a children’s sweater with a cute widdle bulldozer on the front and the entire class says “Awwwwwwwwwwww,” I wonder if maybe I should just cut my losses and go.

But no, Edie’s far too entertaining to walk out on and I’ve had reassurance from Jon, Mark, Sahara, and others that intarsia patterns are not inherently evil, just frequently awful.

Edie says that intarsia isn’t necessarily complicated, just messy. And she’s right. Our practice swatch only uses two lengths of color, then three, but I still find myself waltzing with the tar baby after about ten rows. Stop. Deep breaths.

I begin again. No holes apparent between colors, but when I stretch the fabric…little holes. Damn. Blast.

Edie comes by. She’s says I’ve been very quiet, and wants to know how I’m doing.

I explain (truthfully) that I’m so used to working alone and with books that I forget a real, live teacher is able to respond and diagnose. I lift up my swatch and say I’m perplexed about the holes.

Edie takes a look. “These will go away when you weave in your yarn ends,” she says. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“So I’m doing it properly?”

“Yes, that’s pretty much perfect.”

Well, how about that?

As I continue and start to relax I take in more of what’s going on around me. It’s not pretty. We have some real lulus in the room. People are asking perfectly idiotic questions, meaning Edie has already answered them twice–or three times. Or they’re covered in our class packet in nice big print. Or they’re just a matter of damn plain common sense.

One lady near to me is treating the woman next to her as a secondary teacher. “How do I do this? How do I do that? See what happened here where I changed colors? Do you think that’s right? Do you think I should use the green next, or the yellow?”

I long for the woman she’s pestering, who has also paid a lot of money for this class, to grow a backbone and tell her to shut the hell up. But she doesn’t. Perhaps she’s deaf and happily unaware? No, finally, she says tersely, “You know, I think maybe these would be good questions for Edie.”

Perhaps because of the different requirements of the technique, this class is far chattier than my lace classes. Nobody chats with me, as I’m sitting by myself, but all around me there’s a steady buzz and most of it concerns grandchildren, knitting for grandchildren, horrible daughters-in-law who don’t knit for their children, etc. By the end of three hours, I realize that if I hear the words “precious” or “darling” one more time I may not be able to keep my breakfast moving in the right direction.

As I pack up my needles and yarn, I concede that Edie was right. She has been able to teach me intarsia, and she has done so very well, but she’s hasn’t been able to make me love it. I am glad to have taken the class, as I’ve got another string to my bow – a useful way to achieve a particular effect when I'm knitting. But I won’t go out of my way to seek intarsia patterns.

I’m leaving the room when the Other Guy stops me. And suddenly I know where I know him from. The old, horrible days with Mr. Ex.

“You used to be with [name of ex]!” he says jovially.

“Yes,” I say. I try to sound genial, but I know that single syllable has 1,000 icicles dripping from it. My usual, instinctive tone whenever Mr. Ex is mentioned. “But that’s ancient history now, thank goodness.”

It’s not this clueless fellow’s fault that into my weekend of fun, he’s dropped a reference to a time when I was routinely and heavily abused on a daily basis. I decide the best thing to do is get away, fast, before I say something stupid. I tell him I hope he’s had fun and that it was nice to see him, and scram.

I’m still shaken when I meet up with Jon and Robert. I’m doubly glad they’re around, because I’m reminded that my old life is over. These are the sort of people I meet now. Good people, not sleazy barflies and bitter bears. In a few minutes, I’m back to normal. Or as close to it as I ever get.

One last fling in the market. Susan’s Fiber Shop turns up a copy of Mary Thomas’s Book of Knitting Patterns, and I can’t resist. It costs less than lunch, for heaven’s sake.

I say a reluctant farewell to Jon and Robert, as I’m headed back to home and reality. I’m surprised to remember that less than a year ago, I was still strictly a scarf-n-mitten guy, and now I’ve spent almost three days surrounded by knitters and knitting.

I also realize that I’m going to have to take a taxi home. Three bags of Jo Sharp and new books and yarn from Jon and (I confess) a set of video tapes is too much to schlep along with all the things I brought with me.

Then it hits me.

For the first time, I have much more yarn in my possession than what’s being used for the current project.

I have a stash.

Fairy Godmother…am I a real boy now?


(Except the pictures. They're next. Not many of them, but a couple.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Stitches Midwest Diary, Part Six

(Continued from here.)

Friday Night: The Fashion Show

As Jon, Robert and I head into the ballroom for the evening’s dinner and fashion show, I am thinking to myself how happy I am to be there. Two terrific classes taught by two excellent teachers, and a well-planned market with a good range of vendors. It’s a complicated affair, and I have to admire the hard work that went into getting it off the ground.

We join a large table of festive ladies right next to the runway. I will admit to being one who enjoys a good fashion show, and I’m looking forward to this. I also hear from Jon that the door prizes can be quite nice.

Dinner is interesting. We are served salmon. I usually do not eat fish because it often makes me sick. But I’m so famished I shovel in a few forkfuls and demolish the fettucine. I eat one of the haricots verts, and it tastes like a Clover bamboo US 4. Bon appetit.

Everyone is finishing up dessert (individual factory-made custard tarts the size of silver dollars) when Rick Mondragon takes the stage. I know it’s him without being told. He is, and I do not say this without years of experience to back me up, the gayest man I have ever seen.

We are talking Liberace gay. Richard Simmons gay. Rex Reed impersonating Bette Davis while simultaneously having sex with Paul Lynde, baking a soufflé, and redecorating the bathroom gay.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

No, seriously. I’m not the world’s butchest man, myself, and camp humor can be a riot. Alas, Mr. Mondragon is not funny. And a big queen who is not funny has an Annoyance Factor rating somewhere between a telemarketing call on your wedding night and a wasp in your underwear.

After some welcoming remarks and a couple prizes, he gives a shout out to some woman named Maggie. I have never heard of her before, but Jon has shown me some of her designs at the market. (They weren’t to my taste, but I could see them being deeply popular with women who live in Palm Springs, carry raffia totes, and describe themselves as "sprightly.")

A shout out is fine, but Maggie is then invited to take the stage to tell us all about her new love. It would seem that she is getting married to some fellow who makes her knees weak, and moving to Spain. She gets that far before becoming fahrklempt and handing the microphone back to Rick. She doesn’t say anything about knitting. Or yarn. As she sits down again at her table and starts winding wool, I cannot for the life of me understand what has just happened.

But it is time for the show.

Things get off to a rocky start. Whoever has been hired to run the audio is having a bad day. Or is possibly drunk, or tripping. When the lights go down, there is no music. Rick calls for music. There is a long pause. Then the music starts. Then stops. It will continue to do so haphazardly throughout the evening. Songs will repeat (how hard is it to come up with an hour of different disco songs?) or occasionally fade out completely in the middle of a model’s walk on the runway, leaving her stranded.

The balance with the microphones is also off, meaning that sometimes you can’t quite make out what Rick and his co-host, someone named Susan, are saying.

Given Rick’s announcing skills, this is perhaps a good thing. Unfortunately, we do hear at full volume and clarity his extremely inappropriate and unprofessional remarks about the sole male model. At one point, he goes beyond mere leering to say that Casey or Chip or whatever his name was “…has to get home soon, his parents don’t trust me around him at night.”

Great, Rick. That’s just what we need. A gay man in a room full of Midwesterners reinforcing the negative stereotype of gay men as predators who can’t control themselves. I am embarrassed and angry.

The pieces on display are a mixed bag and there are far too many. The show seems to go on for hours. Edited down by half, it would be an appropriate length, but would still have far to many schmattehs.

We are subjected to an entire segment devoted to ponchos. So many that they sometimes have to come down the runway in groups of three.

Now, it’s my guess that the poncho must have risen to popularity partly because it is by definition a simple garment. However, that simplicity means you can only do so much with it. The designers, having realized this, apparently have decided that the only direction in which they can take it is “uglier and uglier.”

The nadir is reached when the “Mermaid Poncho” is thrown in our faces. Where the name came from, I don’t know. Perhaps, like the Little Mermaid, it is supposed to look like something wretched and bedraggled that washed up on a beach. If so, hats off to the designer for succeeding with flying colors.

I begin to notice a pattern. There are only two designers whose works consistently draw actual, as opposed to merely polite, applause. They are Sally Melville and Barry Klein. Sally Melville’s men’s sweaters are almost all wonderful, the only exception being an odd pullover which is described as having “shirt-tail styling.” Unfortunately, it makes at least four people at our table ask, “Hey, what’s up with the ass-flap?”

I also notice that:

  • Very few of the women’s garments in the show would fit the average woman sitting in the audience. Given that so few supermodels knit their own clothes, I think this stinks. Know thy audience. The designer who gives instructions for plus sizes (or hell, even average sizes) stands to make a mint.
  • 80% of the pieces in the show would not be worth the time, effort, and money because they will fall completely out of fashion within one season.
By the time the lights come up and the music limps to a close, I feel 40 years older and barely have the energy to straggle down the Habitrail to bed.

My final summation is that obviously those responsible for Stitches, while eminently capable of getting great teachers and putting together a fun market, don’t have a fucking clue about putting on a proper fashion show. If this is they best they can do, they should either not do it again, or hire somebody who knows how to do it.

And Rick Mondragon should keep his mouth shut. His clothes make enough noise on their own. I now understand why the stuff in Knitter’s looks like it does.

To be continued.

(Sorry this is taking so long, y'all. I wrote most of it Sunday night, and I'm posting it when five minute lulls in my work allows.)

Stitches Midwest Diary, Part Five

(Continued from here.)

Friday’s Class: Lace Knitting the Russian Way

Class starts at 8 a.m. I am sleepy. After spending half a week’s salary on a cup of tepid hot chocolate at the hotel coffee shop, I join Robert for the trek over to the convention center. This requires walking through a glassed-in connecting passageway I have christened the Habitrail.

For reasons known only to them, the proprietors of Rosemont have air conditioned the Habitrail to a temperature most suited to long-term fur storage. Dr. Zhivago would feel right at home, as would a side of beef. I worry that the slow-moving old ladies trying to make it to class will die of hypothermia before reaching the other end.

Robert and I make it to the classroom just in time. Our teacher, Galina Khmeleva, is as passionate about Orenburg-style Russian shawls as Nancy Bush is about their Estonian counterparts.

In a thick but charming accent, she introduces us to the basic pattern dictionary of Orenburg lace, which she says includes (among others) “mouse prints,” “honeycomb,” “strawberries,” and “pizz.”


A look at the class materials confirms this last to be “peas.”

We are each given cute bobbins of brightly-colored Zephyr to work with. I learn yet another way to cast on, this time a modified long-tail around two needles.

The woman to my right has for some reason brought only a US10 circular to knit on. I offer her my straight US 2 3/4s, which she gratefully accepts.

I have brought my US 3 10” set from Nancy Bush’s class, and rapidly discover I will not enjoy knitting Zephyr with them. They’re far too large and heavy. I am normally a fairly quick knitter and they’re slowing me down. It’s like trying to knit dental floss with a pair of Lincoln Logs.

Aside from that, however, I’m once again on a lace cloud. My first pattern, strawberries, looks good in spite of the wonky edges of my swatch. I’m not used to slipping the first stitch of each row, and instead of the neat loops Galina has promised, I have chewed-looking bits of string.

No matter. I keep going. “Diagonals” is the next pattern. While we knit, Galina gives us tells us terribly candid, entertaining stories about her life in Russia (when she bought her first Orenburg shawl for the equivalent of almost two months’ salary, her mother-in-law nearly kicked her out of the house) and about Russian shawl knitters and why they do things the way they do.

As lunch approaches I am beginning to droop. I’ve had enough of working with aluminum fence posts. After a hot dog and bag of chips which cost as much as a barrel of crude oil, I take advantage of a sale on rosewood needles at The Yarn Barn and get a pair of US 1s. I notice, once again, the Elizabeth Zimmerman videos. I pick them up. I put them down. I pick them up. I put them down.

I also buy Galina’s book at her booth. What the hell. It’s not at Barnes & Noble in Evanston, so I can’t get a university discount on it. I know perfectly well I’m going to keep knitting lace, so I might as well have a nice, signed copy on my shelf.

I go back to the classroom early to get in some more practice. The change in needles is just what the doctor order. My edges look pretty now, almost plaited. My second go at “diagonals” is spot-on. I move along to “pizz” feeling very good indeed.

Galina comes around, checking our work, and asks how long I’ve been knitting. I tell her aside of from mittens and scarves, only about a year. She seems, dare I say it, mildly impressed.

We bind off. Our bind off is the purl (Galina says “pyu-url”) version of Nancy Bush’s Estonian cast-off from the day before.

And then we have a blocking demonstration. I wish lace didn’t have to be blocked. Blocking scares me. When Galina does it, however, it looks about as difficult as folding clean underwear. Of course, she’s working with a sampler-sized shawl. When she says that one can very well block lace on the living room floor, I realize the only way I could do that would be to move out of the apartment first.

I don’t know how soon I’m going to tackle a full-scale Orenburg shawl. The yarn alone would be several hundred dollars, the knitting would take about a year, and it’s not exactly a practical garment for me. Maybe a babushka? My grandmother might like a new babushka for church on Sunday.

When class is over I’m grateful to Galina. Two good teachers in a row. I’m impressed.

Dinner is not imminent, so Jon and Robert and I head back to (where else?) the market, which is positively seething with students and day-trippers. The three of us have together seen about 10 men, including ourselves, who are actually knitting and not holding purses. It’s an upward trend. Very good.

Meanwhile, Jon is getting requests from all sides for his t-shirt, the one I made with C’s slogan beginning “I have two needles, you have to eyes…”. I decide that it’s going on sale online as soon as possible after I get home. [Note: It's available. Click here to see it.]

We are in the vicinity of The Yarn Barn (did I mention they have Elizabeth Zimmerman videos?) when Jon says, “There she is, behind you. Your friend Lily.”

And I turn around see Lily Chin, in the flesh, signing books. She is so animated that from thirty feet away her vivacity gives me a sunburn.

Instead I scoot off in the direction of Cheryl Oberle’s booth. She’s there in person. Her work is so good that it eclipses the neighboring racks of eyelash and kitten entrail. I am drooling on the samples when Jon reminds me that Cheryl wrote a book on shawls and that one of the designs sounds like the wrap I’m want make for Susan, but for which I haven't found or formulated a satisfactory pattern.

He walks right over to Cheryl and asks about it. She pulls out a copy of the book and, sure enough, there it is. The perfect wrap. But it’s too long. Aha, says Cheryl, you’ll notice there are instructions for figuring out a shorter length.

I would kiss her, but we’ve only just met and I've been eating onions. Instead I just buy the book, which she signs for me.

(Supporting good design isn’t shopping, it’s philanthropy.)

We have to go now, because it’s getting late and the dinner and fashion show are imminent.

I can hardly wait.

To be continued.

(Rick’s in the next installment. Brace yourselves.)

Stitches Midwest Diary, Part Four

(Continued from here.)

Thursday Night: The Market Preview

I make a quick call to C to let him know I have survived my first class and that I'm having a ball. He is audibly amused by my enthusiasm, which seems to grow by the minute.

Jon and I have an early dinner in the sports bar of the Hyatt. It is my first encounter with convention center food, and I wish I could know it will be my last. We watch two men from the auto parts show (also taking place at Rosemont) try to chat up a pair of knitters at the next table. The men’s excitement is palpable. Everyone knows that girls who like yarn are loose.

It’s market time. Nobody will be allowed in tonight except students. As we make our way to the entrance, we become part of a surging throng puts one in mind sharks following the scent of blood.

Last night, thinking ahead to the New York City trip and further photography/portfolio expenses, I made a deal with myself. No buying in the market unless 1) the price is incredibly good and 2) the item is something I would not be able to get in Chicago or online for a similar price. As I go through the doors and am confronted by the sight of more knitting paraphernalia than I’ve seen in my enitre life, I have to grit my teeth to keep my resolve from melting.

Thank God I’m with Jon. He’s a very good guide, leading me gently from booth to booth pointing out the best (and the worst), answering a constant trickle of questions with patience and occasional amusement. We frequently meet people he knows from past shows and it's obvious he's a very well-liked and well-respected person in this field.

Much of what we see is beautiful. We also see an awful lot of novelty yarn. Awful in every sense. Chacun à son goût, darlings, but I will never understand the urge to knit with yarn that resembles:
  • Christmas tinsel,
  • intestines,
  • shag carpet,
  • foam insulation,
  • vomit.
We come to the gigantic WEBS booth and I make my first purchase. Jo Sharp DK Wool. Ten (ten!) balls for $25. I buy bags in two colors, a bright jewel blue (it will become an Elizabeth Zimmerman seamless raglan for me) and a gorgeous autumnal red for Susan’s wrap. Even Jon, who can buy wholesale through the shop he works for, gives in to a bargain this good.

I am tempted by so much else, but even though there’s much to slobber over, I refuse to give in to impulse buying. This isn’t so hard, really, as long as I keep before me a mental image of myself sleeping in a Chicago alley on a large pile of cashmere yarn, rats chewing the ends off my rosewood needles.

We visit The Yarn Barn of Kansas City and I see a rack of Elizabeth Zimmerman videos. $95 for the set of three “Knitting Workshop” or “Knitting Around.” I pick them up. I put them down. I pick them up. I put them down. I pick them up. I put them down. I suggest to Jon that we please move far, far away from The Yarn Barn of Kansas City right this very minute.

We meet up again with Robert, an extremely nice fellow from Minnesota who Jon knows from a previous Stitches. Robert is witty, friendly, and modest in spite of prodigious knitting accomplishments. He will be in my six-hour lace knitting class tomorrow and I find this cheering in the extreme.

As we meander I’m able to finally see and touch yarns that bloggers mention daily, but I’ve not encountered before.

Thursday night I sleep fitfully, and dream of yarn.

To be continued.

(Yes, as I matter of fact I am going to draaaaaag this out as long as possible.)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Stitches Midwest Diary, Part Three

(Continued from here.)

Thursday Afternoon: Estonian Lace

I am sitting and waiting for Nancy Bush’s “Knitting Estonian Lace” class to begin. I finger my "Dale Baby Ull in a light color" and check out the competition.

Of course, this is not a competition. This is a class. But the two are forever confused in my mind, try how I might to separate them.

I could knit to calm and distract myself, except for one thing. I forgot to pack a project to work on. At ground zero of the temporary epicenter of American knitting, I have nothing to knit.

Immediately to my left is a gorgeously dressed Japanese woman with perfect hair. She is already working a piece of lace. She has the fastest fingers I’ve ever seen. Zoom, zoom, zoom. I think I hate her.

The student to her left reaches into her own bag and takes out a jumbo skein of 100% acrylic baby yarn in beer-piss yellow. Is this really, as the class syllabus specified, the equivalent of Dale Baby Ull? I think not, yet I admire her chutzpah.

A bunch of other students are also knitting lace and talking to each other, activities that to this point I have considered mutually exclusive.

Nancy Bush comes in. She doesn’t look mean.

She hands around bright yellow packets of course material. I open them and see lace charts. My heart sinks. This is going to be dreadful. I cannot read charts. I have tried. I have failed. My print-out of the “Branching Out” chart is stained with blood and bile.

Nancy calls role. I am the only man, and when she calls “Franklin” the whole class looks at me. I resist the urge to say, “Actually, my name is Doris.”

She has one of those soft-as-silk voices that seem unusually appropriate for a fiber artist. She launches fluidly into brief introduction to the history of Estonian lace. I’m fascinated to learn that it’s not a centuries-old tradition as I’d thought, but a clever attempt by the women of the village of Hapsalu, Estonia to cash in on the tourist trade that arrived in their town after hot springs were discovered there in the late 19th century. You go, girls.

There is even a pattern called “Greta Garbo.” Could there be a more perfect lace for a gay man to knit?

Nancy pauses. She explains that she has suddenly come down with an upset stomach, and is going to leave us for just a moment. She asks whether we can all amuse ourselves by looking through her pictures and maps of Estonia. Silly question, as by this point the ace lace knitters in the class have already dug into her handouts and are casting on.

Nancy returns and soldiers on bravely, in spite of apparent food poisoning, leaving us occasionally for a moment or two. We are calmly and concisely introduced to the basic techniques and patterns of Estonian lace. When she pulls out a shawl made up in the “twig” pattern I thank God I was put on this earth with two hands that can knit. This stuff is beautiful.

Much to my surprise, I manage the Estonian cast-on without difficulty and make it through two rows of two repeats of “peacock” with no mistakes. Then four rows. Then all the way to the end. I’m not sure what is different about this day or this room, but suddenly I am enjoying lace knitting. When I pause and stretch out the fabric I’ve made, I want to shout.

I relax. We begin working on “nupps” (small, flat nubs that accent some Estonian patterns) and jokes begin to fly. I throw out a remark and everyone in my corner of the room laughs. Nancy stops to check my work and gives me an approving nod. I am the king of the world.

I glance over to my left, and my Japanese classmate has finished about half a shawl in perfectly-done “twig.” She’s not even sweating.


The class comes to a thrilling (you non-knitters can just stop snickering, please) conclusion when Nancy teaches us to bind off our swatches with an incredibly elastic, marvelously simple Estonian technique that eliminates the need to tie a final knot. Applause.

I’ve so seldom been the recipient of good teaching that when it happens, I have trouble controlling my gratitude. With class finished, part of me wants to offer the teacher services as houseboy/love slave/sycophant-of-all-work. However, I keep my feelings in check, say “Thank you very much,” and do my part to let Nancy get the hell back to her room in peace.

Then I remember that after dinner comes the students-only Market Preview.


To be continued.

Stitches Midwest Diary, Part Two

Thursday Morning

(Continued from here.)

Stitches Midwest 2005 is not really happening in Chicago. It’s happening at Rosemont, a convention center complex near O’Hare. A cab ride to Rosemont from my neighborhood costs more gelt than I care to shell out, so I decide to take public transportation.

I am laden with a knitting bag, an umbrella, a present for Colorado Jon, my smallest camera bag and a rucksack with clothes for two days. I look like a gay bag lady with a fondness for lace knitting.

There has been so little rain in Illinois this summer that we’re in a severe drought. For weeks the skies have been blue and empty. Today, as I leave the house laden with wool, I step into the first steady downpour since April.

Happily, I did decide to wear combat boots. They're waterproof, comfortable, and of course will fit in so well with the crowd at Stitches.

At Rosemont, on the escalator in the lobby, I catch sight of my first Other Knitter. Classic Midwestern: short haircut, ample tuchus and a tapestry knitting bag covered with pink and green cats. As I follow the signs to registration I see another knitter. Then two more. Then six. Then I turn a corner and find myself in a sort of lounge area where 26 of the 30 people sitting around are knitting socks.


I join the line for registration and everybody in the queue is friendly. Almost too friendly. I wait semi-patiently as the ladies in front of me register, then ask about the market hours, then compliment the staff member on her haircut, then talk about their grandchildren, the air conditioning, the official Stitches Midwest 2005 t-shirt, the official Stitches Midwest 2005 pin, a darling design in the latest issue of the magazine, that funny Rick Mondragon, their grandchildren, and where to get lunch.

Finally, I step up to the window. The nice woman does not recoil at the sight of a man holding a knitting bag. She smiles brightly and gives me my registration packet. It takes fourteen seconds.

I Meet Colorado Jon

Jon and I have agreed to meet near registration at around this time. Before I can move 10 feet, I hear somebody shout, “Franklin!” and there he is, just like his picture but minus the hoodie and clean-shaven. I would have known him anywhere. It’s odd, this meeting someone you’ve known online but never in person.

But the strangeness passes very quickly, and instead it feels like we’ve known each other for years.

There is, in addition, the still-unfamiliar thrill of talking about knitting with another guy. Make that talking about knitting with anybody.

Jon sweetly suggests I drop off some of my impedimenta in his room as I am starting to develop dowager’s hump. I take advantage of the moment to give him his present: three t-shirts, two with his blog name and one with a witty knitting-related slogan that C came up with.

He is visibly delighted. I am so happy.

He presents me with a perfectly gorgeous hank of luxury yarn in a purple-blue colorway and a rare back issue of Vogue Knitting devoted to patterns for men. I jump up and down. When he shows me the “odds and ends” of yarn he offered to bring me for use in intarsia class (I’d bought Lion Brand Wool-Ease) I realize that a friend who works in a yarn shop is to be treasured above rubies.

On our way to our first classes, we stop by the glass doors into the market. It’s not open yet, and vendors are still setting up. Jon points out this booth and that booth, telling me some of what I'll get to see. I press my face up against the glass feeling distinctly Augustus Gloop-ish.

To be continued.

Stitches Midwest Diary, Part One

Wednesday Night

It is 10 p.m. I am picking over the contents of my knitting bag, suspicious that items packed four days ago and since checked 37 times will have jumped out and hid themselves.

Yarns: check. US3 and US8 needles: check. Folding scissors: check. Familiar, comforting copy of Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book: check. I’m crossing items off the list when I’m suddenly swamped by a rolling wave of déja-vu.

I am 10 or 11 years old. I am loading my backpack for what will be my first and last trip to Boy Scout camp. I am unaware that the next five days will be a giddy whirl of bad cooking, illicit drinking, flunked swim tests, thunderstorms, skunk attacks, poison ivy and suspiciously friendly camp counselors.

Maybe Stitches will be different. There will at least be flush toilets.

I go to bed. I want to say a prayer but don’t know who the patron saint of knitters is. I decide on St. Clare of Assisi – she’s the patroness of embroiderers and can always pass along the message – and the Virgin Mary, who is obviously fond of shawls.

I sleep fitfully, dreaming that Nancy Bush is chasing me around a classroom with with a Brittany needle the size of a baseball bat.

To be continued.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Outside the Box

I went over to Katie's office to show her some copy I'd just written. While I was there she asked for my comments on a postcard she's designing. It's a tough one.

The card is supposed to serve as an all-purpose event invitation shell. It is to be used by more than 40 alumni clubs for everything from lectures to theater evenings to dinners. It has to look inviting, and it can't bland, but neither it can it be too specific.

Katie has come up with the clever tagline, "We're saving a seat...for you." This should cover just about any event, except those at which everybody would be required to stand all night, but when your age demo skews heavily to 60+ this happens rarely.

She wants to surround it with images of empty seats in theaters, banquet rooms, lecture halls, and so forth.

This sounds easy, but it's not. Finding the right seats in the right settings, photographed and styled properly takes some doing.

I tried to be helpful, but as we talked it over and looked through online libraries of stock photography I couldn't resist pondering how the tenor of copy might change if we used pictures of:
  • The Last Supper
  • the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey
  • Lincoln's box at Ford's Theater
  • the electric chair at Sing Sing
  • a deck chair from the Titanic
  • a set of gynecologist's stirrups
Why not offend as many people as possible with a single print piece? It would be far more efficient than my usual practice of pissing off trustees, major donors, and high-strung volunteers one by one.

Notes, Assorted Colors and Sizes

Kids, it's going to be a rough week, so don't expect to hear much from me. These are just some quick notes. Half of them are more for me than for you, so I apologize. Daddy will try to be more entertaining after Stitches.

Which bring us to item one: warm thanks to everybody who not only read through my neurotic jeremiad about Stitches Midwest and lace anxiety, but took the time to offer encouragement and advice. It is helping enormously.

Amazing how tenacious early behaviors can be. School is but a faded (or repressed) memory, and still I have a compulsion to be The Best Little Boy in the Whole Class.*

Aren't blogs wonderful? My galloping neuroses on display for your entertainment. Schadenfreude for everyone, bartender, and ask what the boys in the back room will have.

Actually in this neighborhood I already know what the boys in the back room are having, and it ain't Schlitz.

Item two: My portfolio (remember my portfolio? I started this damn blog in order to spur me on to complete my porfolio) jumped this weekend from about 50% completed to about 90% completed. The remaining 10% is mostly window-dressing - captions and such. Technically, I could show what I have now.

Public and heartfelt thanks to C for kicking my ass about getting it done. He understands what motivates me, and happily his Stern Look is close enough to my mother's to get the job done.

I can't believe I'm typing this, but after giving it a look-over in the cold gray light of dawn, I'm happy with it. I feel confident about showing it. And if nobody wants to hang my stuff, fuck 'em. I'll hang it myself.

Item three: New York City trip imminent! C and are heading east later this month to celebrate his birthday with old friends in the city. Our stay is fairly heavily programmed already but I want to hear, pretty please, about yarn shops I ought to see as we move about from pillar to post. KnitNY is mere steps from our gracious hosts' apartment, so it's a given, but I'd like to know about others worth seeing.

(Tricky did mention to me a place where one can by stainless steel yarn. I'm not sure what one would make from stainless steel yarn. Feather-and-fan Brillo pads? Only in New York. Which is why we keep going there.)

*To tall, loud Carrie, who said she'll be in the Estonian lace class: You sound like my cup of tea. Look for the short quiet guy. Aw hell, just look for the guy.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Yarn a Go-Go

There's this gigantic and famous Paul Gaugin painting at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, with the title painted helpfully right on the canvas:

D'où venons-nous? Qui sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?

Even though French seems to be the lingua franca of knitting blogs (must be all those Canadians) here's the translation just in case:

Where did we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?

I remember standing in front of that painting sophomore year with Birdfarm and another friend of ours, Sylvia, a vastly entertaining person who had more than a touch of Wednesday Addams in her personality.

Birdfarm and I gazed, and pondered, as was our wont. Sylvia sized the thing up for a second and said flatly, "We came from Cambridge. We're Harvard students. We're going to lunch."

Her tone of voice was such that Gaugin, had he been there, would have felt very silly for even asking such questions, let alone spending all that time painting an answer.

Today, however, I am not a Harvard student, I did not come from Cambridge, and it's too late for lunch. Today, I am a guy who knits, I just came from the yarn store, and I am going to Stitches Midwest in less than a week.

I wish I could tell you I'm wild with untrammeled excitement about the classes I picked. I am not. I selected them months ago (register now and SAVE!) based on what I guessed I'd be ready and willing to do by August.

Nine of my twelve hours are to be occupied by lace knitting. The first three are with none other than Nancy Bush, whose name meant nothing to me when I registered. Now, of course, I know she's dreadfully famous. I imagine the class with be full of devotées who have already knitted an acre or two of lace, and I'm scared shitless.

It doesn't help that after going 10 rounds with the @#$%@! Branching Out scarf, just to get myself accustomed to the processes of basic lace knitting, I have black eyes and a bloody nose. And no scarf. (Please don't tell me to knit lifelines so I can rip back when I have to. I should be so lucky as to get that far.)

My other three hours are an intarsia class. Unfortunately I've realized over the course of the past several months that I hate intarsia. Or at least I hate pretty much everything I've seen done with it. Fair isle, or jacquard knitting - those I would love to try. But not intarsia. And I won't change my mind until I've seen evidence that it can be put to better use than this, which is only slightly worse than the usual offenses.

I must qualify the above. This makes it sounds like I'm dreading Stitches, and I'm honestly not. I'm delighted to be going. I've never been to anything like this before. All that yarn, all those people to whom I can speak of knitting without their eyes immediately glazing over. Is this heaven? No, it's Rosemont.

It's probably good to have it under my belt before really jumping into the deep end at Rhinebeck.

Maybe dear Nancy Bush will not slap me for misplacing my yarn-overs. Perhaps I will encounter an intarsia pattern that does not look like a crayon doodle made by a second-grader with poor motor skills. Maybe my classes will not be like the last paragraphs of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" with me in place of Tessie Hutchinson.

Oh, I wish, fairy godmother. I wish!

I must remember that I get to meet and hang around with Jon, which alone is worth the price of admission. Of course, all bets are off when he sees that I've bought Lion Brand Wool-Ease for the intarsia class. (I know, I know. But it's practice yarn, and at $1 per skein it looked pretty freakin' beautiful to me. Even if it does feel like rug yarn. People wear this stuff?)

Now that I've vented my fears just as the nice doctor said I should, I'm going to go sit in a corner, hug my skein of "Dale Baby Ull or equivalent in a light shade" and think happy thoughts.


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Oh, Pooh

I'm perplexed. So many of you seemed to think there is something naughty about an innocent game of Poohsticks. What ever do you mean? Must you see smut everywhere?

Macho Knitting

You boys in San Francisco, Denver and New York City, and especially you smug fellows in Washington, DC can just drop the attitude, because Chicago now also has a men's knitting night. Hah! Well, it had one. Last night. And there were only two of us. But still.

A quiet (non-commenting) but frequent reader of this blog contacted me a while back and asked if I'd like to meet up and knit, possibly prompted by my endless whining that I haven't got any other men to knit with.

(Oh, stop it. I am not a mysoginist. If you read this blog regularly, you know that. Among my dearest friends I count far more women than men, and most of my heroes are more properly called heroines.

And I love knitting with women, I really do. But you know how it is. Sometimes, as the Jewish grandmother of a guy I knew in college used to say, sometimes you need to get away from the goyim for a little while.)

Anyhow, Greg (that's the fellow's name) suggested we could have fun knitting together and he was right. Hell of a nice guy. He's far more accomplished than I am, being a veteran of numerous sweaters. He has also just finished a sock so beautiful that I hid my Mary Thomas Test Sock under the sofa cushions so it wouldn't suffer from crumpled self-esteem.

Greg also brought goodies: Elizabeth Zimmermann videos. Oh my.

St. Elizabeth in Living Color

I've been that way about Elizabeth Zimmermann since I first picked up Knitting Without Tears.

It's not the first book I would hand to an absolute beginner. She explains the basics well, and in fact helped me finally to understand what was wrong with my purl stitch. But what sets her apart is a mix of uncommon common sense, solid writing, and a bravado in the face of established "rules" that is infectious and liberating. She literally changed the way I think about knitting. Until I read her books, I never imagined I could be brave enough to deviate in the slightest from a printed pattern. Now I know better.
Greg has her "Knitting Workshop" series, made for television back in (I believe) the 1970s, and brought them along.

They have to be seen to be believed. They are the opposite of the slick stuff you see on HGTV. There is one camera and precious little editing. Elizabeth just sits in front of a stack of wool and talks and knits, occasionally turning her back so the camera can get an "over the shoulder" view of her work.

Occasionally somebody (Meg Swansen?) speaks to her from off-camera to remind her to talk about a particular topic or correct her gauge calculations. (After doing the math incorrectly in her head, Elizabeth says good-naturedly, "You see, I'm simply not qualified to teach knitting.")

She does each episode in a single take.

It's like having her in the living room. It's perfectly marvelous. It's inimitable.

Greg, thank you. Let's do it again.

And so, I have a question. Did anybody who might be reading this ever get to meet Elizabeth, or take one of her classes? If you did, and you would be kind enough to tell me about it, I would be so grateful. (I don't care how long-archived this article may be when you're reading it - speak to me.)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Completely Out of Context

From The House at Pooh Corner, by A. A. Milne:

"I can see mine!" cried Roo. "No, I can't, it's something else. Can you see yours, Piglet? I thought I could see mine, but I couldn't. There it is! No, it isn't. Can you see yours, Pooh?"

"No," said Pooh.

"I expect my stick's stuck," said Roo. "Rabbit, my stick's stuck. Is your stick stuck, Piglet?"

"They always take longer than you think," said Rabbit.

"How long do you think they'll take?" asked Roo.

"I can see yours, Piglet," said Pooh suddenly.

"Mine's a sort of greyish one," said Piglet.

"Yes, that's what I can see. It's coming over on to my side."

Rabbit leant over further than ever, looking for his, and Roo wriggled up and down, calling out "Come on, stick! Stick, stick, stick!" and Piglet got very excited because his was the only one which had been seen, and that meant that he was winning.

"It's coming!" said Pooh.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Thank Heaven for Little Girls

An exact and unabridged transcript of a conversation that took place this morning on the train, between a little girl (aged five or six) and me. I was knitting Baby Scarf I.

Little Girl: Boys don't knit!

Me: They do so!

Little Girl: Oh! Okay!

Then she smiled at me and went back to reading The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies.

We have here an example of a child who is not only reasonable, but well-read. I hope she is allowed extra ice cream with dinner tonight.

Baby Scarf I

Baby Scarf I, 70% Complete

Above, over the shoulder of the comely Martha, is the baby scarf. It doubles as a swatch for Susan's scarf (meant to go with her toque), which I started and then frogged after realizing the check pattern was not working for me. It seemed a bad idea to keep knitting and frogging the same pricey alpaca until the design worked, so I switched over to less expensive test yarn.

This is 100% baby-proof acrylic and will go to the same little girls who are getting the bunny and bear hats. There's not much to this "design," I grant you, but for a newbie who has only played with simple knit-purl ribbing before it's strawberries and cream.

The border is dot stitch and the center is zigzag ribbing, both from that nice Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. We love Mrs. Walker at our house and wish very much we could invite her over for supper.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Anger Management

When I left the apartment this morning, I was in a tender mood. It was a good weekend. The weather is beautiful. I am knitting a fluffy white baby scarf.

By the time I reached the office I was a budding maniac. Apparently, today is Get Franklin Day in the Chicagoland area. Or at least, Keep Franklin From Reaching the Office Without Smacking Somebody Day.

Since at some point a court-ordered therapist is going to ask me to do this anyhow, here's a little chart showing all the lovely people I encountered, and what I imagined doing to each of them.
IdiotFantasy Punishment
Slow-moving woman in platform sandals who made me miss my train...againClocked with left shoe
Man smoking stogie under "NO SMOKING" sign on platformForced to eat large bowl of Virginia Slims
Woman in otherwise quiet train car having loud, angry 20-minute conversation about ear-piercing with daughter via cell phoneShaved bald
Perky, preppy summer school girls who decided to stop and chat during morning rush hour, blocking only stairs down from train stationTeeth ripped out, made into stylish necklaces
University department which rendered adjacent sidewalk impassable with lawn sprinklersBulldozed, replaced with Pizza Hut
Pushy man handing out flyers for local bagel emporium, screaming loudly and blocking narrow sidewalkFed to sharks
Expensively dressed North Shore mother with double-wide SUV stroller containing whining twins who spit fruit punch onto my boots (mother's reaction: laughter)Made to watch one "Rugrats" epsiode in endless loop while being shot with super-soaker full of Juicy Juice

What I actually did, of course, was nothing.

At least the baby scarf looks nice.