Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Did you ever want very much to say something, but just couldn't bring yourself to say it?

On Purpose?

Now available in the shop on shirts, a knitting tote, a magnet and a button.

A special tip of the pen to David, in honor of his new arrival.

[Addendum: Sheep on a Plane is now on a coffee mug. Thanks for asking!]

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Yet Another Postcard


Postmarked: Findlay, Ohio; August 26

Life on the road is becoming tedious. We lost Victorine somewhere near Dayton. She may still be in the ladies room at Denny's. I don't know. I don't care. Tootsie and I got into a tiff over the uses of metaphor in Aristophanes while we were cruising through Sandusky and he's still pouting. What a baby. Victorine has your address so if she shows up lock the liquor cabinet and for God's sake don't let her sleep on my cushion until you've hosed her down in the parking garage. Love D

Monday, August 28, 2006

Just Eat

A little introductory note: I've noticed in my stats and on Bloglines that there are suddenly a whole lot of new readers. Welcome! I'm pleased as punch that you're here. I just want to warn you that this is not a knitting-only blog. I often veer into other topics that interest me. Chalk it up to the male fear of commitment.

One of my favorite Zen stories is about two novice monks from long ago who were discussing the relative merits of their teachers.

The first said, "My teacher can do amazing things. He can stand on one side of a river with a brush, while an assistant stands on the other side of the river with a sheet of paper. As he moves the brush through the air, writing appears on the paper."

The second said, "Interesting. My teacher can also do amazing things. For example, when he eats, he eats. And when he sleeps, he sleeps."

To which the first monk replied, "Yo' mama."

The first time I read this (and the second, and third, and fourth–it's a Buddhism Greatest Hit) I thought I understood it. When you sit down to eat, pay attention to your food and to eating. Do not distract yourself with thoughts of other meals, of a past you can't change, of a future that doesn't exist. When you lie down to sleep, let go of the day's worries and don't invent new ones for tomorrow. Just sleep.

Sounds rather impossible; but okay, fine. Great. Got it. What's next?

Well, I didn't get it. As popular as stories are in Zen teaching, Zen isn't about words. It's about experiencing things directly, yourself. You can't get that out of books.

Me, I love books. I love books the way that Fafnir, the dragon in Siegfried, was rather fond of treasure. Books have been my greatest, sometimes I think my only, teachers. So when I've been told that reading books on Buddhism isn't going to get me anywhere, I've nodded and said, yes yes. And then I've gone out and bought another book.

Time for an attitude adjustment.

Sunday was a great big helping of Direct Experience. Our center held "zazenkai"–a full day of meditation. This was my first time. Here's the schedule:
  • 7 am-10 am: zazen (seated meditation) and kinhin (walking meditation)
  • 11-noon: teisho (lesson)
  • noon-12:45: lunch
  • 12:45-2 pm: zazen and kinhin
I love zazen, but that's a whole lot of sitting still. By the time teisho was over I was definitely ready for lunch. I imagined kicking back around the big table with the other Zennies and comparing which parts of our bodies had gone numb and might very well fall off.

Instead, I was shown in silence that I was to help myself to the soup, rice, fruit, and crackers in the kitchen and then take a seat in a chair in the living room. And just as in the zendo, the seats were arranged to face the walls.*

There I was, after five hours of not talking, being sent to eat soup and crackers while looking at nothing and speaking to nobody. For just a second I considered slipping out of my robes and into my clothes, and running away into the street shouting at the top of my lungs.

Instead, I sank dutifully into a chair by the fireplace. There's a small bronze Buddha on the mantel. I looked at it and thought, "2,500 years ago you had a bright idea under a tree, so now I'm sitting here in Chicago dressed like Obi-Wan Kenobi having lunch with a wall."

I took a spoonful of soup and my eyes rolled back in my head. The taste was incredible. It didn't make sense, though. This was pretty plain stuff. Broth, vegetables. But it blew my mind. So did the cracker when I bit it.

I kept eating, trying to get a grip on the sensations rocking my head, and then I realized this was possibly the first meal of my entire life in which I was permitted–compelled, really–to just eat. No checking e-mail, or making calls, or dishing friends not present. It was just me and the soup.

The word that sprang to mind was luxury. I've never enjoyed any meal so much, not even dinner on the Minerva II, eating five French courses while watching the sun set over the Aegean. It felt unspeakably indulgent. I stretched out my bare toes and sighed, which in the hushed room sounded like a car alarm.


And what?

I don't know. There's no pat conclusion here. No specific lesson learned. I'm not going to start declining dinner invitations so that I can have tete-à-tetes** with a sheet of plasterboard. I do feel that I've been shown something interesting. I might never have seen it if it weren't for practice.

Reason enough to keep practicing. (Plus I get to wear cool robes. I look pretty darn cute in the robes.)

* In the Soto Zen tradition, which I practice, we meditate with our eyes open, facing the wall. It's an homage to the Zen ancestor Bodhidharma, who is said to have reached enlightenment after meditating for years while facing the wall of a cave in China.

**Where the hell is the circumflex on this keyboard?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Another Postcard

New Hope

Postmark: New Hope, Pennsylvania; August 20

Tootsie apparently has terrible sense of direction. We are supposed to be in Nevada. Am sitting by train tracks writing this and knitting leg warmers while he and boys go antiques shopping. Victorine is making complete nuisance of herself, says American hay inferior to Canadian and is giving her crise de foie. I think it might have something to do with pouring Jack Daniels over her Cheerios in the morning. Do you miss me, cupcake? Love D

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

How to Survive a Lousy Business Presentation

I was cleaning up my office files and ran across a folder of notes from a business conference I attended two weeks after beginning my present job.

I remember writing the sheet posted below. We were about forty minutes into a presentation that was slated to continue another forty. I was certain that I was going to die from boredom. Truly. It seemed inevitable that I would slip, unconscious, beneath the waves of inanity gushing from the speaker, and there expire.

Doodling might have saved me, had I not been seated next to my boss. Scientific evidence suggests that busy hands actually help one's retention rate, but bosses don't care. Bosses always expect one to do the professional thing: keep the eyes forward, nod every so often, and fantasize about sex with a tabloid celebrity.

If you can't do that, and I couldn't, you can pretend to take notes. Doesn't matter what you write, unless your boss has superior eyesight. On this day, the Latin word matella (-ae, f.), which means "chamber pot," popped into my head. Highly appropriate during a presentation that was a pile of crap.

I amused myself by inserting matella into a couple of sentences. Alas, my vocabulary was limited by a curriculum heavy on Caesar.

(Jean and Vivienne, get out your red pens. But be nice. I'm just a grammar school boy.)

Latin Scribbles from a Stupid Business Meeting

If you don't enjoy Latin, letters of resignation in any language are always fun.

Actually, I'm thinking about writing one right now.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Stitches Midwest 2006 Part V: In Which I Stop Dragging This Out Any Further

Let It Be, Already

Did I mention the Beatles fans? I don't think I've mentioned the Beatles fans. We were sharing the host hotel at Rosemont with a multi-day convention of Beatles fans.

They began arriving Friday, dragging beer coolers behind them. The muzak in the hotel lobby gave way to a nonstop loop of Beatles tunes supplemented by the simultaneous outpourings of a dozen amateur guitarists. The fans were a mixed lot, just like the knitters. Most were perfectly nice people. Many displayed a possibly unhealthy attachment to the 1960s. And a few need to get out in the sunshine a lot more.

I like the Beatles well enough, I suppose, but after the first full day of them blasting in my ears I was starting to twitch. Then I made up a little game called "What if the Beatles were knitters?"

Here's what I came up with:
  • "She Loves Ewe (Baaaa, baaaa, baaaa)"
  • "Norwegian Purl"
  • "Can't Buy Me Yarn"
  • "I Wanna Hold Your Handspun"
  • "A Hard Day's Knit"
  • "Sgt Pepper's Local Yarn Store Band"
  • "All My Roving"
  • "Lucy in the Sky with Bobbins"
I felt better.

Gansey Marathon

Sunday was devoted to "Knitting Ganseys" under the tutelage of knitting rock star Beth Brown-Reinsel. I've admired Beth from a distance ever since I picked up her book on Gansey knitting at Halcyon Yarns in Maine.

This is Beth.

Beth Brown-Reinsel

You may well imagine my surprise when she, like Merike Saarnitt, turned out to have read this blog and said some awfully nice things. I blushed to the roots of my hair. Or at least where my hair used to be. (Who else is out there that I don't know about? Lily? You reading this? Speak up, Lily. Don't be so shy.)

Beth's method in her full-day gansey class is to lead the students through the creation of a miniature gansey. It uses all the techniques of the full-sized garment, even unto itty-bitty baby cables. I was on enough of a cloud that I sailed right through the Channel Island cast-on (of course, I'd had a brief encounter with it at Knitting Camp) and sped upward through the body to the point where the patterned stitches begin.

And then I realized I'd 1) completely forgotten the seam stitch on the left side and 2) started adding an extra purl stitch in the patterned area, thereby throwing off the design completely.

It was at this point that I began to mutter to myself like the Condoleeza Rice reading the New York Times. I grit my teeth and ripped back.

Jon, meanwhile, flowed steadily onward.

Jon Knitting

He's such a good knitter. Clickety click went his needles, leaving an adorable little sweater in their wake. No fuss, no muss, no swearing. He reached the neckline in time to take off for lunch. I stayed in my seat and tried to make up for lost time.

I'm pleased to report that in spite of a precipitous drop in blood sugar around 1:30, I did catch up. I even made it to the Market in time to eat a stale, overpriced hot dog in the presence of Sally Melville, who was lunching with Sean. (They're pals, you know. Am I connected, or what?)

Then, back to class for three more hours of knitting. Beth handled the class extremely well, demonstrating processes (including basic gansey design) up front while still taking time to help everyone individually as needed. And she didn't dumb things down, either. Our miniature sweaters had split welts, shoulder straps, all the finicky details.

And I learned, oh boy did I learn, that I am a Loose Knitter. Not that kind of Loose. Well, not only that kind of Loose. Jon and I were working on the same sized needles and with the same yarn, and my sweater was twice the size of his.

Of course, that gauge meant that ultimately I created about 3/4 of a vaguely sweater-shaped conglomeration of lumps in which something like cables may be glimpsed if you strain your eyes.

Mini Gansey at the End of Class

But I've done it now. I've done the cast-on, the welt, the side seams, the arm gussets, the sleeve pick-up, and so forth. My plan is to do this mini-sweater again, on smaller needles, and then plunge into a gansey for myself.

Thank you, Beth. As we used to say back on the farm, it was just like one of the Guermantes party scenes in A la récherche du temps perdu. A total rip-snorter.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehn, Etcetera

When you've spent three days knitting with a group of guys, and eating food of dubious quality, and watching Marie Osmond hawk chillingly ugly baby dolls on QVC, you can't help but bond.

Here's my buds, in the shirts I cooked up as a welcome to Chicago.

The Guys, Stitches Midwest 2006

Of course, they're gay. So then this happened.

Franklin's Angels

Oy. I'm fahrklempt.

P.S. Cafe Press has picked up "Sheep on Plane" as part of their gallery of Snakes on a Plane paraphernalia. World domination through wool, comrades. Excelsior!

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Sequel?

Plane Cartoon

[Addendum: Your wish is my command. I've added a slightly more colorful version to the shop on shirts and a bag.]

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Stitches Midwest 2006 Part IV: Well, Shut Mah Mouth

Saturday dawned early for Jon, who had a morning class. Sean and I were suffering somewhat from Stitches overload and so took our time getting out to Rosemont after morning of lying about and playing with yarn.

Our afternoon class was "Spinning for Knitting" with Merike Saarniit.

This is Merike Saarniit.

I went into Merike's class with a Bad Attitude that makes me want to smack my own head. The reason? That curious object she's holding in her right hand: a drop spindle. In the registration packet I received for Stitches Midwest, the description of this session had been amended to note that we'd be using spindles in class, and could only use a wheel if we brought our own.

Upon reading that, my inner brat kicked into high gear. You see, among my many neuroses is a gigantic fear of doing something in front of other people if I'm not reasonably certain I can pull it off. This has made me a pain in the neck to many people on more occasions than I care to ponder. Even worse, it has often kept me out of situations in which I might have learned something new and valuable.

I'd gone ten rounds with my spindles, of which I possess two, and been knocked out cold every time. On my wheel, I'd turned out acceptable beginner's yarn. On a spindle, I'd spun exactly 17.5 inches of a nice Merino singles while Ted was there to watch. Everything else: Variations on a Theme of What the Fuck Is That Supposed to Be.

Things improved somewhat, I will admit, with the arrival of a new spindle. I had been working with a spindle of which I am fond because 1) it is lovely to look at and 2) it was a present from one of the best bloggers on the Web, of whom I am even fonder. Ted admired the spindle as well, but suggested that for my purposes another tool might be better for learning.

And did he have a specific tool in mind? He did. And here it is.


This little gem is a 1.6 ounce top-whorl comet by Tracy Eichhelm of Woolly Designs. Ted gave me my spinning lesson on one of Tracy's spindles, and I was encouraged enough to immediately order one. It's made with tender loving care. Look, it's even signed.

Spindle Signature

As well it should be. A tool of superior make is a work of art, after all.

More about Tracy's spindle further along. Now, back to Merike.

When I found out I was going to be called upon to spin on spindle in front of a class, and therefore make a Gigantic Honking Ass out of myself, I wrote a couple things in this blog that sounded exactly like the noises you would expect from a Gigantic Honking Ass. I did something one ought never to do: I judged something before I experienced it.

So when Sean and I arrived at the classroom, I was actually shaking. That may sound bizarre; but I was confronting one of my great fears. And I was immediately set upon by Merike, who ran up to me, said she loves this blog–and gave me a big hug.

Whereupon I blushed beet red with shame and the neon "ASS" sign over my head began to flash.

It burned brighter as class progressed. Merike is so in love with spinning that the warmth pours out of her in great waves and within about two minutes, I realized I was no longer shaking. She was not at Rosemont running through the basics with Beginner's Class #2,752 just to make rent money. She was genuinely joyful to be sharing her spinning know-how.

I wrote the following quote in my class notes and surrounded it with stars:

"The best way to learn about spinning is from other spinners. And with this knowledge comes the responsibility of passing it on."

When she said that, a frisson ran through my entire body. The sheer arrogance of what I'd been feeling appalled me. There I was, a link in a chain of spinners going back to the beginnings of twisted fiber. To learn to spin from a good teacher is a privilege. And to presume that I could, or should, know everything perfectly before even showing up was not only absurd, but an affront to the subtleties of the craft.

At a pace that was (for me, anyhow) perfect, Merike took us through the steps of changing Coopworth roving into yarn using our spindles. She was such a good teacher that even the two women who had brought their wheels did not (so far as I saw) even touch them. We spun, and we spun some more. And then we plied.

There was a feeling in the room that I hope I never forget. Most of us, it turned out, were spindle novices and there was a release of warm energy as our spinning found a groove and we began to produce. Round and round the spindles went, copps were built up, and although we were mostly silent you could almost hear a buzz of happiness.

And then Merike told us we were going to ply what we'd spun. She set us up around the room and neatly demonstrated the technique, and before I knew what was happening I'd created the best yarn I have ever spun: an almost perfectly balanced, miniature skein of pretty, even yarn.

Here it is, knitted into a swatch. Until now, I've never liked my yarn well enough to bother knitting it.

Handspun Swatch

It ain't much, but it means a lot to me.

Thank you so much, Merike. What you taught me is already making me a better spinner on the wheel, too. And kids, if you ever get a chance to take a class with her, do it–even if you think you hate spindles.

More About Tracy's Spindles

They spin like a dervish on speed, the prices are insanely reasonable, and Tracy can also provide you with one of these:

Spindle Safe

It's a spindle safe. I was able to carry my spindle around even in the crowded Market without worrying it was going to get bent or broken. In these days of You Can't Take That On a Plane Anymore,* can you think of a better invention?

One Last (And I Mean Last) Word About the Missing Men's Room

I note that two commenters have no sympathy for the removal of the men's room from the Stitches Classroom area. That's okay. I still have sympathy for you, and the fact that all too often you encounter a long wait in public spaces. I hope things will improve for you.

Next, my complaint is not "hating on" XRX. I don't hate XRX. Why would one waste valuable energy hating a fiber publications company?

If one has an issue with a business, one has three options. One can suck it up and keep buying. Or, if the business is doing something truly egregious, like polluting the environment, one can (and should) protest and take action. If the business is merely unsatisfactory or unresponsive, one can withhold one's business. This is what I will do if XRX confirms that they truly would prefer to keep Stitches a women-only event. I hope it will not be so.

As for my not being senstitive to the enormity of the task of putting on a large event, I am part of a staff of 26 who are responsible for roughly 100 events per calendar year ranging in size from theater evenings of 100 to multi-day class reunions of several thousand. We do this in addition to a punishing schedule of producing publications both print and electronic, running educational programs and providing customer service for other areas of the university.

And this is what I know: the needs of all guests are to be taken into consideration. This is why wheelchair access is necessary, and vegetarian options must be part of a meal plan even if one is only expecting three vegetarians and one person in a wheelchair. That a particular paying customer is in some way a minority is no excuse for neglect. The XRX folks could have changed over that restroom and also put up a sign directing the men to their alternate accommodation, but they did not. That very simple act of kindness would have alleviated much of the ill-feeling.

Now let's talk about something more savory, shall we? There's too much good stuff in the world to dwell on urinals.

*No, I haven't heard anything about spindles not being allowed on planes. But you never know what's going to change, do you? Nota bene: Please DO NOT start a discussion of knitting/spinning equipment and airline travel in my comments or I shall be very cross. I mean it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Pardon the Interruption

No post today, kids. I'm having an attack of Life in General. And I want to do justice to spinning with Merike Saarniit. It was that good. Hope to be back tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Stitches Midwest 2006 Part III: All Dressed Up and No Place to Pee

I Have No Class

On Friday I was signed up for no classes and drifted lazily about, stringless as Pinocchio, enjoying whatever and whoever was in the vicinity.

My few idle moments during last year's Stitches weren't what you would call social. I was terrified to open my mouth. I didn't know anybody, felt like I knew nothing; and this blog was barely six months old. When I wasn't with Jon, I mostly stood in corners and watched. This year, to my delighted surprise, people spoke to me. Lots of people. Nice nice people, most of whom I'd never met.

Indeed, even while we waited in line before the Market Preview on Thursday night, a darling woman thirty feet away waved to me and mouthed, "I love your blog." I just blushed and waved back. I never found you to say thanks in person, darling woman, so thanks.

Thanks to every single one of you. I am still glowing. Being spoken to without having to speak first was a shy person's delight. It took all the pressure off. I've never felt so at ease in a crowd in my life.*

Of course, one does make a few friends in the course of a year. Busy as the Market was, I still bumped into Meg and Jonathan, the Two Sock Knitters; and Chicago's own fab designer Bonne Marie Burns. While I was chatting with Marcy from Arcadia Knitting and her delightful pal Susan (from Colorado), Karen happened by and I got the three of them into a photograph.

I was pretty nervous about having my camera confiscated** by the Mondragoons, so here's my only other photo from that day, of Susan. I found Susan's knitting notebook captivating. She doesn't like white, so before she began using it she painted all the pages with watercolors. Her color charts and sketches are laid on top of them. The book itself is a work of art.

Still Not Buying Yarn

If you read my account of Meg Swansen's Knitting Camp, you know I succumbed to the siren song of Bavarian Twisted Stitch. At the Market, the good ol' Yarn Barn o' Kansas was selling all three volumes of Lisl Fanderl's Bäuerliches Stricken in one cosy set, and I decided it would be prudent to procure them at this time. Bäuerliches Stricken is German for "stitch patterns that will make you rip off your eyebrows in frustration and eat them."

So I'm something of a masochist. So what?

I also bought a little sock yarn. Buying sock yarn doesn't count as buying yarn. Everybody knows that. Stephanie said so in her book.

Pissed Off

Friday was also the day we discovered that XRX had turned the men's bathroom in the classroom area into a second women's bathroom. No signs indicated where men ought to go, nor was the Stitches map in the registration materials any help.

Upon inquiry at the registration desk, we were directed to follow a complicated path to a remote men's room in another part of the building. It was, said the woman at registration, "right over there." And so it was, in much the same way that when you are standing in downtown Chicago, the west suburbs are "right over there."

I try like the dickens to keep my temper, I truly do, but this was unfair and I object. Apparently women complained last year of needing more restroom space, and so it was decided that the men must give up theirs, since there aren't so many of us.

I asked the women at the registration desk: would you mind if you arrived at a male-dominated event and found the women's room had been commandeered, with no convenient, alternative accommodations available? Would that not be considered sexist? They admitted I had a point, but they didn't do anything about it.

XRX already makes Stitches a needlessly gender-biased affair. The lone man who ever shows up in the promotional materials is Mondragon, and he only counts on a technicality. If he wishes to be the only rooster in his henhouse, that's his prerogative. I'll simply withhold my business in future. I paid full price for my admission, and I expect equal treatment.

Meat, Men

Jon, the soul of generosity, provided the highlight of the evening's entertainment for us: a trip to Morton's Steak House. I've only been to Morton's once, for a birthday years ago with Mr. Ex. That visit paled in comparison.

I was so caught up in the gemütlichkeit I even had a drink. My first in more than a year. And I've toughened up. I downed the entire rum and pineapple juice over the course of three hours and didn't
  1. pass out cold,
  2. proposition the waiter,
  3. tell everybody at the table what they should do to be better people, or
  4. throw up.
All of which have resulted from previous attempts at drinkin' with the boys.

Morton's is Chicago at its best. A handsome room, good service, excellent food. We three were in solid agreement about such vital matters as which side dishes to order. I consumed my own weight in creamed spinach while talking about knitting with two handsome men. I was happy. It don't take much.

*Except while talking to the lady who seemed truly, seriously suprised that Dolores was not walking around the Market with me. That was a little freaky. Honey, I'm so glad you like her, and I hate to spoil the illusion even for a moment, but have you ever noticed the dark black line around Dolores in all the pictures? That's India ink.

**Photography was tricky this year. After the Market Preview was over, a sign went up threatening anybody caught with a camera with explusion from the premises. Apparently in spite of the cost of attendance, XRX doesn't feel we're entitled to take snapshots.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Stitches Midwest 2006 Part II: I Show Admirable Restraint

Nobody in our party attended Thursday's Student Mixer or the opening lecture plugging the new XRX lace book. We had a quick dinner in the hotel restaurant and then headed to the Market Preview.

Last year I likened the atmosphere at the Market entrance to a shark feeding frenzy. This time I couldn't stop thinking of Pamplona just before they let the bulls loose. Knitters were queued up four rows deep, hemmed in by stanchions, stamping and huffing, bug-eyed, red-faced.

Then, the bell. Or maybe it was a trumpet call. I don't remember moving my feet. I believe I was simply carried forward on a tide of eager shoppers, and didn't come to rest until I was at the back of the market face-to-face with Toni from The Fold.

I'd only met Toni once before, but she's still one of my favorite people in the entire world of fiber. She was deluged with customers, but took a moment to chat and said to me, "Hey, my shop's just an excuse to have my friends over."

You'd have to hear Toni say it to understand that this isn't fulsome gush, she's quite earnest. And that, my dears, is one reason why The Fold is such a landmark.

I immediately set about not buying things, and was successful for an entire thirty minutes. Then I enountered these women,

and everything went sort of fuzzy and blue.

When I came to I was holding a new wooden swift.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Fie, varlet! You said right there in fourteen-point electronic type that you weren't buying anything in the Market!"

Well, yes, I did. But let me clarify. And please get down off my sofa.

By "not buying anything" I meant to say that I was not buying any yarn. A swift is not yarn. No. A swift is a sturdy, solid piece of equipment designed to last a lifetime. This swift is an investment. I shall hand it down to my descendants as an heirloom.

Of course, Jon and Sean were not nearly so restrained as I. They shimmied up and down the aisles schmoozing vendors, kvetching about the stock and sucking up bargains like a pair of well-matched Hoovers. Such a display of consumption as you never saw.

As closing time drew nigh, I practically had to conk Jon over the head with my Beautiful Heirloom Swift™ to get him into a taxi and home to sleep before class the next morning. Clearly, some knitters have no self-control.

To be continued.

Stitches Midwest 2006 Part I: We Gather Together

There's no sensation quite like having three good friends all in the air during a terrorism alert.

I woke up on Thursday to the news that the likelihood of espresso or Pantene exploding in mid-flight was causing travel snarls across the country. I wondered whether Jon, Sean, and Lars would make it to Chicago at all, or whether I'd wind up wandering around the Stitches Market not buying anything all by myself.

In spite of all odds, Sean signaled early in the day that he was on his way. Jon followed him not long after. Poor Lars, however, was only heard from late Thursday night as he waited in Indianapolis for his plane to refuel. It seemed there'd been a diversion due to thunderstorms over Midway. When you get right down to it, Al-Quaeda still has nothing on Mother Nature.

We convened at my apartment in Boystown, and embarked on a walking tour of the 'hood. Lunch at Joy Noodle, the traditional "first date" restaurant for gay men of all ages, and then a walk up Halsted Street including a stop at Beatnix, an equal-opportunity emporium where you can buy drag supplies (they have an entire wig and tiara room) and/or leather gear. Guess which Jon preferred.

Jon at Beatnix

The owners of the shop had apparently anticipated his arrival.

Beatnix Sign

Thence to Rosemont Convention Center, via Chicago's sparkling and elegant public transit system. Sean worked his eye-crossing cabled sweater from a chart as we jolted along Irving Park Road on the x80 bus to the Blue Line.

Sean on the bus

Show off.

To be continued.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hold That Thought

As Stitches Midwest 2006 recedes into memory, I find I'll need more than ten minutes to write about it. I learned a lot of lessons, some of them about knitting.

Shop Sizes

I don't want to wait any longer, though, before addressing a comment left anonymously regarding the sizes (not) available in the shop.

My shop is one of scores that operate as part of the Café Press system. Café Press is a company that consists in the main of three things: online shop tools, a customer service office, and a large warehouse and production facility where orders are fulfilled and shipped.

At the moment, Café Press is my only option for selling things online because I lack the financial backing needed to procure my own stock of products, shipping materials, etc. And even if I had all the above, I don't have the resources to house merchandise and fulfill orders (i.e., see who's ordered what, pack it up, ship it, keep the books, and provide customer service). I'm still just a guy with a demanding day job of 50-60 hours a week living in a small city apartment.

The upside of Café Press is that they make it possible for me to put my stuff out there for those who like it. The downsides are 1) I make almost no money (usually a dollar or two per item); and 2) I can only sell what they choose to stock.

When I first opened the shop I got a query about extended (XL and above) sizes and I wrote to Café Press asking why those sizes were not available for most garments. I also asked whether they might consider making them available. The response I got was, in effect, "because they're not, and no."

It bothers me to no end that XL is the upper limit for much of what's there, and if I were running my own operation this would not be so.

So, yes, Anonymous, I would like "to make a mint," but even more I would like anybody who wants Dolores on a t-shirt to be able to have Dolores on a t-shirt. I happen to be related to many bodacious, ample women and men and count even more of them among my friends. It drives me cuckoo what they have to go through to get decent clothes. When my financing materializes, we'll make it happen. Count on it.

In the meantime, I'm working on buttons. One size fits all. It ain't much, but maybe it will help.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

And Then Came the Invasion

The knitters are coming! The knitters are coming!

In stark contrast to last year's Stitches Midwest, at which Jon and I were two of the four knitting men in attendance, this year we've also got Lars coming in from New York and Sean traveling from Boston. And if our little tribe has thus increased, who knows how many other men will be coming?

Who else is going to be there, male or female? Speak up.

Here's my schedule:

Morning. Jon arrives at my apartment while I'm at work, signs standard non-disclosure statement that will be waiting on dining room table, makes self comfortable.

Evening. Students' Market Preview. Not buying anything. Just going to look.
All day. No classes. Knit and schmooze, knit and schmooze. May visit Market, but won't be buying anything.
Afternoon. "Spinning for Knitting" with Merike Saarniit. [Author's note: Ill-judged diatribe deleted. So sue me. Merike turned out to be one of the most inspiring, masterful teachers I've ever encountered. I need to be more aware of how my own insecurities affect my writing. Lesson learned: experience first, evaluate after. More about Merike in my full report.]

Totally not buying anything at the Market.
All Day. "Knitting Ganseys" with Beth Brown-Reinsel. Jon's in this one, too. I can't wait. If Beth's as good as her book, this should be a treat.

No time to buy anything at the Market.
I'm skipping all the other muck - the fashion show, the dinner, the Big Lecture, etc. I suffered too much last year.

The Big Lecture is on "Victorian Lace Today." The title puzzled me when I first saw it. A discussion of modern usages of lace patterns created between 1837 and 1901? Would that hold enough general interest to draw a large audience?

Then I saw the announcement of the new XRX book, Victorian Lace Today, and the motive became clear. I won't be buying the book. If they didn't catch the honking typographical error on the front cover, I'd hate to think what quality control was like for the interior.

Not to mention that I suspect the XRX idea of "Victorian" must be about as historically accurate and thoroughly researched as a Harlequin Romance novel.

(Want to place bets as to whether when I open my registration materials, Rick Mondragon will have rigged them to explode?)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


With little effort I can summon compassion for tens, even hundreds of thousands of people I do not know and will likely never meet, who live in far-off countries I've never been to. Even when they practice religions whose tenets confound me. Even when they hate my country and, by extension, myself. Even when they actively seek to destroy me.

Yet when a neighbor lady in ridiculous platform shoes topples over in the elevator and causes a needless commotion from which I cannot extricate myself for twenty minutes which means I miss my first train which means I miss my second train which means I arrive at work late instead of early as I'd intended which means my entire morning is crap with a side of chaos, I think about my neighbor and instead of feeling compassion I imagine bludgeoning her with one of those damned shoes.


I haven't figured out the sound of one hand clapping yet, either.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Joy by the Foot

After spending most of Saturday indoors wrestling with my muse, and having little to show for it other than a busted lamp and a couple of bite marks, I decided to head downtown and pick on Buzz. That's always good for yuks.

Buzz (cute-and-available-to-boys) is presently employed in the men's department of the Marshall Field's at snooty Water Tower Place on Michigan Avenue. Is there, I ask you, a greater joy on earth than a buddy who can tell you when Hugo Boss is going to go on sale? Perhaps a buddy who can tell you when the cashmere yarn is going to go on sale, but we're talking shades of difference.

I arrived near the end of his shift, met his (cute-and-available-to-boys) coworker Charlie, and made him wait on me while I threatened in loud tones of voice to have him fired. Good times. Then we hung out for a bit at a coffee shop in the atrium and dished the world in general. I finished my first sock all the way to the end of the toe, with only the Kitchener left undone.

Knitters: what would you do in this situation, sitting in an uppity bistro surrounded by North Shore housewives and well-heeled bourgeois tourists? Why, you'd do what I did. I took off one boot and tried on the sock.

It speaks to Buzz's remarkable sense of empathy that he, who does not knit, did not even blink. On the contrary, he expressed great joy at my accomplishment and even whipped out his camera phone to record the moment.

I thought the starchy couple at the next table was going to collapse into a heap of Ralph Lauren woven pastel separates. Honestly, some people are too easily mortified. It's not as though I put my foot on their plate of rugelach.

The Kitchener was completed the next day, following the traditional pattern of:
  1. Try it once, feeling confident, and screw it up royally.
  2. Undo it at the rate of three vile oaths per stitch.
  3. Turn off the television, the computer, and the phone; draw the shades; arrange seven reference books on the table; take a deep breath; and get it done right.
  4. Try it on. Dance around. And around and around and around and around.
And here's the sock. I've already cast on for the mate. Merriment is unconfined. Are we sure this is legal?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Postcard


Postmark: Coalville, Utah; August 3

Have made friends with group of motorcycle enthusiasts, having marvelous time much fresh air and stimulating conversation while touring the plains. Am buddy riding with Tootsie, ample fellow who shares interest in political science, vegetarian cooking. One of riders, Snake, says he met you once and asks if you recall fondly weekend in Gstaad? Or maybe was Des Moines? Victorine sends you bisoux as do I. All is forgiven about credit card, was able to pay for stone massage by trading your leather vest and armband. Kisses, D

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I'm Feeling the Love

I was completely overwhelmed by your outpouring of support and advice in the wake of my mini-rant (rantette? rantini? rantchen? ranteleh?) about the world shortage of non-variegated male-oriented sock yarns.

Turns out there's not really a shortage in the world, just in the places I've been looking. This had enitrely escaped my notice, which will surprise those who know me not at all. I appreciate all the pointers to the sort of yarn I had in mind, believe you me. Left to my own devices I might have stumbled around for years wearing socks in colorways like "Itty Bitty Baby Ducklings on Parade."

And I also appreciate deeply the offers to send me yarn, but darlings, you mustn't. Please don't ever interpret anything I say in here as a request for freebies. Money is precious. If you have a little extra, enrich your own stashes, or take your Mom out to lunch, or pay your kid's bail. I'm just glad you're here. There's no membership fee.

Meanwhile, the first sock is about 1/4 inch from toe shaping. No, I'm not going to show you a picture. Who wants to see a picture of that? Somebody asked what the yarn is. It's wool. I'm pretty sure it's from Regia. I lost the ball band somewhere between Wisconsin and Chicago. Should you find it, write and tell me.

I'm Franklin Habit. Who the hell are you?

I'm just finally getting around to writing about Monday's most enjoyable "Meet the Bloggers" event at Arcadia Knitting because it has been too hot to download the two photos I took. The heat wave is also the reason I haven't done laundry, or called Grandma, or finished shredding my old credit card statements, or vacuumed the living room, or learned Japanese.

What was I talking about?

The blogger thing at Arcadia. Right. Well, it was the hottest night of the summer–we're talking 111 degrees Farenheit after dark–and still about four dozen people showed up to eat cookies and play with wool. Quod erat demonstrandum, knitters are deranged.

Needless to say, I felt right at home.

Here are some of the deranged who held still for my camera. Please to identify yourselves in the comments, won't you, with links to your blogs? I swear I remember your names but not your blogs, which embarrasses the hell out of me. How the @#%%!* does Yarn Harlot do it?

Arcadia Group

Gail there on the left is just a little too happy about all the yarn. The absent Margene is represented by the sock, center. That's what they told me. The sock is Margene. Margene is a sock. (You see? Deranged. Deranged.)

Just behind Gail is Lynn. Lynn had been deeply moved by the post in which I described carrying a stitch marker in my bosom for several days without knowing. In a display of compassion worthy of Kuan Yin, she gifted me with two two markers rather more elaborate than my little orange rings of plastic. Lookee.


Could she have chosen better? No, she could not. Stitch markers that speak to who I am, to what I love. Stitch markers that reference my fascination with Orientalia and my long-time Anglophilia. Stitch markers way too substantial to ever get lost in this:

No title necessary

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Somebody Else's Knitting

One of my colleagues recently returned from her own stint as an alumni tour host. Around the same time I found out I was going to the Aegean, she got orders for a cruise through Russia. I suggested she keep an eye out for knitted lace, and wouldn't you know, she listened to me.

Katie acquired a palatine (aka knitted lace stole) during a stop at an artisan's colony somewhere near Moscow and was kind enough to bring it to the office so I could fondle it, examine it, and take a few photographs to share with y'all.

The lace is not from Orenberg, but it was definitely worked using the Orenberg construction method as outlined by Galina Khmeleva. I found the cast-on on the bottom edge, and the final border graft near the upper left corner.

Katie's Stole 1

Here's part of the bottom edge - with tassels attached. Hadn't seen that before. The yarn is a loose ply of a variegated silk singles and a very fine rust-red mohair singles.

Katie's Lace 2

The entire center was worked with this stitch pattern, which looks like droopy vine leaves. Not complicated, but very pretty.

Katie's Stole 3

Interestingly, although the top and bottom borders both had the "five-hole teeth" that Galina says are characteristic of all Orenberg borders, the sides of the stole had only four holes per tooth. [Note to non-knitting readers: Yes, that is interesting. Shut up.]

Katie's Stole 4

Russian lace becomes her, does it not? And she got a good price, too: a bargain by American standards, but high enough to be fair to the knitter. It sounds like the knitters (and the other artists) sold directly to the public, with no middleman to grab the profits.

Word from Dolores

It was the work of mere minutes to alert American Express that my card information was on the loose, but by that time there were already unauthorized charges to a luxury car rental company, several roadside restaurants and bars, and finally a "sheep only" nudist resort somewhere on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

The phone rang at about 2 a.m.

"Wazza?" I said.

"Cupcake, there seems to be an issue with this credit card of yours," said Dolores. In the background, I could hear somebody bleating angrily in French.

"Hey, you fluffy old thing," I said. "How's Victorine enjoying Las Vegas?"

"Well not too much, sweetheart, since we are trying to get hot stone massages and your naughty little credit card has suddenly stopped working. Marco and Rufus are not amused. You see our difficulty?"

"Say, did you take my Aeneid with you? I need to look up a reference."

"It's in my bedside stack under a packet of letters from Ann Coulter. Are you listening to me? Your card is no good. I need you to call AmEx and sort it all out before these boys go off the boil."

"That reminds me. Since you're away, do you mind if Jon sleeps on your cushion while he's here next week?"

"Franklin! Pay attention!"

"Gee, the connection's breaking up, Dolores. Are you driving through a canyon?"

"No! I am standing here with two short-tempered masseurs who are waiting for a deposit! Now hang up the damn phone and–"



I can hardly wait for the postcards.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Paging Susie Snowflake

Heat. Everywhere. No escape. It creeps in under the drawn windowshade, laughs at the feeble warning shot from the air conditioner, and runs its sticky tongue down your neck to the base of your spine.

A simple three-block walk to the subway stretches to ten shimmering miles. The exposed subway platform is so hot that sap and tar ooze from the wooden planks. Your shoes fry as you wait for the train, delayed due to overheated and malfunctioning signals somewhere in the Loop. The train arrives, overcrowded. Everybody on in your car stinks.

Sleepy silence reigns until a woman's bare, sweaty shoulder smacks up against the impossibly crisp white shirt of a businessman. The businessman, aghast, calls the woman a pig. The woman shakes her hair and drops of sweat fly across his face, his glasses, his briefcase. He screams. Then the woman reaches out to embrace him in a moist hug. His face takes on the violent contortions of a damned soul in a mediaeval altarpiece.

You trudge the mile from the train to your office. Your brain, liquifying, conjures perverted fantasies in which ice and snow are put to uses not intended by nature.

You are startled from these bright visions by the sounds of yelling. The owner of the bookstore is yelling at a homeless man. A motorist is yelling at a cop. A mother is yelling at her children. The children simply yell.

You arrive at the office and find that painters have been contracted to touch up the walls. Today. Out of the three hundred and sixty five days in which, theoretically, painting could be done, this day has been chosen.

The painters insist on working with the windows open. There are no window screens. You attempt to focus on work as the temperature climbs into the nineties and a plague of nasty, heat-loving swamp insects gathers on your monitor.

You ask if you might work from home and are told no, you may not, as the university does not cease normal operations due to the vagaries of climate. You hear the air conditioner in the boss's office kick into high gear as he hangs up the telephone.

Your coworkers smack wildly at the swarming locusts and flies. The smell of paint hangs in the air like a fog.

You wonder if this is a health and safety violation and decided to consult the OSHA Web site, but are so disoriented from huffing secondhand latex fumes that you cannot remember how to spell OSHA.

A normally mild-mannered, elderly coworker tells the painter she is going to turn on the ceiling fan and he is just going to have to deal with it. He tells her she can't as he needs to work on the ceiling. She calls him a "motherfucker."

You turn back to the Panama Canal article and find yourself staring at the water in the accompanying photograph. The blue, blue water. The blue, cool, clear water. So much water. In your mind, you strip off your clothes and dive into the water and suck it into the red-hot coils of your lungs.

The painter and the coworker are locked in an escalating battle of words that promises to turn physical. You wonder what exactly would happen if a gallon of Navajo white were poured over the CPU of a Mac G5. You find the idea of being dipped into a stream of nice, cool Navajo white alluring.

Somehow, you have moved from your chair onto the floor. It's cooler down here.

The darkness under the desk beckons to you. Cooler still under there. So dark, so cool. If you just bend your legs a little, you can fit completely under the desk. Ah.

You curl up, thumb in mouth. You close your eyes, and wait for November.