Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas 2006: It's a Wrap

And just like that, another Christmas whooshes past us like Lindsay Lohan on her way to the liquor store. Seems like I landed in Maine mere minutes ago, and now I have to fly back to Chicago. Sigh.

But it's been a trip replete with high pleasures, including a chance (all too brief) to meet Mel and David. I am pleased to report that they're every bit as sweet and funny as you'd imagine from reading Mel's blog. I hope to see them again on my next visit. And I'm not just saying that because they have access to alpacas. Honest.

On Christmas morning, I had the opportunity to present Susan and Phil with the first thing I've knitted expressly for the baby. Now that they've seen it, I can finally show it to you.

Opening the Sweater

Do you think she likes it?

The Littlest Democrat Sweater

Finished Democrat Sweater

Pattern: Adapted from the Sweetheart Pullover in Melanie Falick's Knitting for Baby

Yarn: Berroco Ultra Alpaca knitted on US 4 and 6 needles

My brother-in-law is a state senator in Maine, and a Democrat, and it struck me that whatever its gender, we ought to start the child off right. For readers unfamiliar with American politics (lucky you), the donkey is the symbol of the Democratic party.

This is my first foray into intarsia since my class with Edie Eckman and Edie, ya done good by me. I was able to chart the donkey myself and then work it with no real issues, although I won't pretend my work is anywhere close to perfect. However, I wish to point out that it's all intarsia with the except of two duplicate stitches.

Donkey Intarsia

The tail is three pieces of yarn woven into the wrong side of the fabric, then braided and tied off. I dabbled with adding a little mane of fringe, but after a test decided it detracted from the overall effect. As is so often the case, the simpler road was the better.

I like Melanie's book and I like this pattern. It's clear and concise; any knitter with half a brain and basic skills could make it with no difficulty. It's knit flat (including the collar) and sewn together. I'm not nuts about the seam showing in the collar, and if I did it again I might just pick up stitches and knit it in the round after sewing the body.

Sewing the seams, though? Fun. No, seriously. I enjoyed it. I must have some of my grandmother's seamstress blood in my veins.

My only other alteration was to add little gussets under the arms to loosen the fit a bit. I'm sure I don't know babies as well as Melanie, but the sleeves as dictated seemed a bit tight. So I knit up two itsy-bitsy triangles and sewed them in, borrowing the idea from traditional Gansey construction (thank you, Beth Brown-Reinsel). Now the little kid can wriggle to its heart's content. Which is what I'd be inclined to do, I think, after spending nine months cooped up in a uterus with nothing to read.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy

Mama says since I was good on Christmas Day and helped with the dishes and ate all my vegetables and didn't pull sister's hair that today we get to go to Halcyon Yarn and I am so excited it's almost like Santa put Stephen Fry in my stocking and Stephen was holding a big box of Belgian chocolate only it's even better than that because yarn doesn't make you fat except if you make a sweater out of Lamb's Pride bulky.

I'm so excited I have to pee okay bye.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Franklin and the Night Visitor

There must have been an angel (Bodhisattva?) on my shoulder as I set out from home this year, because somehow in spite of all the snow and snarled air traffic my flight from Chicago to Maine was a mere forty minutes behind schedule. And thanks to the miracle of Xanax, even impressive turbulence over Ohio didn't stop me from knitting briskly on a new, slimmer-fit green sock.

Maine immediately began to have its usual, soporific effect on me. The minute I smell the pine trees, my blood pressure drops and my eyelids clang shut. I barely made it through dinner before slinking off to my bed, which is in the barn.

It's not like it sounds. I'm not sleeping in a pile of hay with an ox and ass breathing on me for warmth. I've been made quite comfortable in the office, which was carved out of one corner of the barn. It's snug and quiet and offers every comfort. Susan even hung a picture of Buddha next to the bed so I'd feel encouraged to do zazen. What a good egg.

That first night, I woke up to find that the rain had stopped for a little while. The moon was shining through the latticed windows, and there wasn't a sound except a little rustling of tree branches. I adjusted my pillows and remembered lying awake like that before so many Christmasses, wondering if I might see reindeer sailing past the stars.

And then somebody threw a rock at the window.

I froze. In the next room, the three dogs began barking and howling. Footsteps came pounding down the stairs. I met, Phil, my brother-in-law, flashlight in hand, in the kitchen.

"There's somebody in the backyard," he hissed, opening the back door. The dogs charged forth. There was a piercing shriek, a cry of "Shit! Get off me, you motherfuckers!" and the sound of ripping fabric. Then a series of thwacks, and suddenly the whining dogs came running back inside as a shadowy figure tapped up the porch steps.

"Well," said Dolores, "that was some diplomatic goddamned welcome to Maine from an official representative of the state."

And she hit Phil in the shins with her umbrella.

"What the hell are you doing here?" I said. "You're supposed to be in Chicago until Christmas Day, and then you're supposed to be in Canada with Victorine."

"I have a swell idea. Maybe we could play 'Firing Line' after I get out of what's left of my raincoat," she huffed. "And I wouldn't mind a drink, either, unless you'd rather let those vicious beasts finish me off."

She pulled her leg away from Milton, the dachsund, who was amicably licking her right hoof.

Meanwhile, my sister had come warily down the stairs. "Everything okay?" she called.

"Sort of," said Phil.

"Is that the little mother?" squealed Dolores. "Is that her? Come here, honey! Let me see you!"


Susan clutched her bathrobe shut and ran back up the stairs.

"I repeat," I said, "What are you doing here?"

"Well, you know how Victorine is," said Dolores. "About as reliable as Mark Foley at an Altar Boy Jamboree. I was all set to go up there and then she called and said not to come because she's going to Winnipeg to hang out with some ram she met over the Internet two weeks ago."

"And Harry," I said. "Where's Harry? How is he going to get back and forth to the theater?"

"I know that," she snapped. "I took care of it. Half the sock yarn went to Aidan's, the other half went to Meg and Jonathan's, and Harry is staying with Mrs. Teitelbaum in 1507."

"Mrs. Teitelbaum? You left Harry with Mrs. Teitelbaum and her cat?"

"Yeah," said Dolores, dropping into a chair and tossing her soggy hat on the table. "It's so cute. By the time I left they had already made friends. They must have been playing hide-and-seek, because Tinkles was trying to drag Harry out from under the sofa."

"How heartwarming."

"I have a question," said Phil. "Why didn't you just come to the front door and ring the bell?"

"I didn't want to wake up the whole house," said Dolores. "I thought that would be rude. Kind of like turning one's dogs on a visitor and then not fixing her a nice cosmo by way of saying you're sorry."

"I'll get right on that," said Phil, going upstairs.

"You know," I sighed. "You might have called and told me you were coming."

"I thought about it," she said. "But then I decided I'd rather be a great, big holiday surprise."

"You've succeeded with flying colors."

"Monsieur is too kind. Merry Christmas, Cupcake."


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Baby Girl Names I Have Suggested to My Pregnant Sister, All of Which Have Been Rejected

Eula Mae
Chevrolet Caprice
Elizabeth Zimmermann

They already have a boy name: Philip Emerson. Great. He'll fit right in at Choate.

Monday, December 18, 2006

There Is No Help For You Here

I spent an idle moment looking over my blog traffic stats last night and noted a distinct trend among the referrals via Google and other search engines.

The usual searches indicating offbeat sexual tastes (i.e., "Dorothy Hamill naked") have been bumped off the top of the charts by this sort of thing:
  • free men's sweater pattern
  • man sweater quick knitting
  • man's hat quick knit
  • knit man's sweater quickly
  • fast sweater knitting
  • sweater seamless quick
  • I help need to finish a sweater
There is real pathos to the last set of keywords, no? It's enough to break a knitter's heart. Makes me feel bad that I wasn't here, waiting to answer in person like those nice people at Butterball who field desperate turkey questions on Thanksgiving Day.

You with the hat, there's hope for you, unless you're knitting seven hats for seven brothers.

As for the rest, if that sort of search has brought you to me, I'm afraid all I can do is suggest giving gift certificates, power tools, or a pony. I can't tell you how to finish a partly completed sweater by Christmas–let alone start one now and have it under the tree by December 25.

You could of course give the sweater "on the needles" if it's well begun. That's the traditional IOU of knitting and acceptable to most recipients. For a sweater not yet begun, you might at least show them the yarn and the photograph in the pattern. If you don't have a pattern or yarn, see note above about gift certificates, power tools, pony.

The status of my own Christmas knitting has improved considerably since this entry, with the finish line well in sight and the results looking as I had hoped. I'm absolutely gasping to show you one of the pieces, in particular, but it'll have to wait until after the recipients see it.

Buddha Claus

This being my first Buddhist Christmas, I'm amused at the number of my friends who have asked me, "Does this mean I shouldn't get you a Christmas present?"

That is correct. No self-respecting Buddhist accepts Christmas presents. We prefer cash. A nice little stack of twenties and fifties is customary. For Mahayana practitioners, a neat parcel of real estate is also an option, especially if it's a couple of waterfront acres in Amagansett or a small adobe on Acequia Madre in Santa Fe.

Just don't use fancy wrapping paper. It offends our sense of simplicity.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my culture with you. Viva diversity.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Star in the Family?

When I got home from work last night, Dolores was in the kitchen making snickerdoodles and having a heated conversation on the telephone.

"And don't you try to pull anything funny, you conniving bitch, because I will come after you. And where I pee, no grass grows. I want everything in writing by tomorrow. Now hang up and get to work."

"So, how is your dear mother?" I asked.

"Ha," said Dolores. "That was Harry's agent."


"Yeah," said Dolores. "We were leaving the Goodman after the Saturday matinée and this guy stopped us at the stage door and asked if Harry has representation. A couple of meetings, a few calls to New York, and boom–as of today he's signed on with Myrna Weinstock and Associates. Not too shabby. Turns out his type is very much in demand just now."

"He's a ball of sock yarn."

"No shit," said Dolores. "Yarn is hot. Don't you read Vogue any more? Next week we have two go-sees for print work, and Myrna is sounding out HGTV about adding a co-host slot to 'Knitty Gritty.' "

"I appeal to an unusually broad television demographic," said Harry proudly, helping himself to a still-warm cookie.

"Get away from those," said Dolores. "We can't have you sitting in a fashion director's office looking bulky."

"Aw, but..."

"You can have a couple of celery sticks."

Harry rolled dejectedly into the living room.

"You gotta suffer if you're gonna be famous, kid!" Dolores screamed after him. "I'm only doing this for your own good!"

"I never seem to know what's going on around here any more," I said.

"Have a snickerdoodle," said Dolores. "And we need to talk about headshots."

"He doesn't have a head," I said. "He's a ball of sock yarn."

"Yes, we've established that," said Dolores. "I need four poses, one full length, 8x10, black and white, fifty copies of each by Monday. Also, five full-color shots, five different looks, printed as a single sheet, fifty copies. With his name on all of them. Keep the font simple. I'm thinking Univers. Why aren't you writing this down? You know you'll never remember."

"Do you have any idea how much I have to do before Christmas? I am not setting up the studio to take headshots of a ball of yarn."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not."

"Fine. By the way, I found the disc of 'art shots' that were taken of you last summer and was thinking how nice they would look printed up as a calendar for your mother."

Harry's Headshot

Yes, I am.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Look! It's my two-circulars lime green sock of liberation!

See! See how I've moved past the leg! I've turned the heel! I've finished the gusset! And I've moved right along into the foot!


And guess what! It's too big! Way too big! Look!

Sock to Scale

But I exaggerate.

It is not way too big. I wish it were. Had it been way too big, I'd have caught on early and started over. It's only a little, tiny, eensy-weensy bit too big. Close enough to the proper size that I kept trying it on, wondering for a moment, and then continuing. But still big enough that if I try to wear it, it will slide around on my foot (especially at the heel) and remind me with every step that I was a Very Bad Knitter Indeed.

I feel sentimental about the circumstances in which it was cast on, but sentimentality ever has been and ever shall be the root of too much bad art and craft. There's no point in finishing something unwearable. Into the pond it goes, to be resumed after Christmas.

As far as two-circulars technique goes, I am pleased to say it has been no trouble. I owe thanks yet again to the lucid instructions in Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks. (No, I don't own stock in Charlene. I just have a crush on her. Yes, I know I'm gay and stuff. The heart has its reasons that reason knows not. Especially when there's knitting involved.)

It Figures

I think this item from Big Red Buddha may explain the current state of my love life. I just knew I should have picked Moses over Shakyamuni.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Incoming Stork

There's something I've been wanting to say for quite some time, and now that my sister has made the official announcement in her blog, I can speak up.


As you may infer, I'm somewhat excited.

I'm also frantically knitting a Christening shawl. The baby is due in mid-May. I am a slow knitter. It is a big shawl. Jean Miles, come here, I need you.

Santa Fe

Hi, kids. I'm back from Santa Fe, New Mexico. My first visit. Stunning.

I've added it to the wheel of possibilities. Yes, I know it's expensive–but one does grow weary of believing one will only ever be able to afford to live in places so uncomfortable and unattractive that the rents are cheap, you know what I mean? I'm tired of being practical about everything.

Before I steel myself for another day in the salt mines, here are a few snapshots. I love to photograph religious shrines, and New Mexico delivered. I don't think any of these will wind up in my portfolio, but it certainly was fun taking them. Not pictured, because none of the shots are particularly interesting, is the honest-to-goodness Tibetan Buddhist stupa I visited.

I love Santa Fe.

Loretto Chapel

Loretto Chapel

Canyon Road

Votive 2
Juan Diego, Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, El Santuario de Chimayo

Votive 1
Crucifix with Votive Offerings, El Santuario de Chimayo

All images ©Franklin Habit. Use without permission in any format prohibited.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hat Jam

It's very frustrating that more than half of what I'm knitting right now has to be kept secret. But I can tell you I've finished two hats for the Dulaan Project, because so far as I know I only have one Mongolian reader and neither of these is for him.

Dulaan Hats

The yarn for both is Patons worsted, which I bought in Indiana from the woman who thought I wanted to rob her. (Not to be confused with the lady from Indiana who wanted to know if I learned to knit in prison. Do I really look that rough?)

I've had a heck of a good time with these because they're completely improvised. All I knew when I started them was:
  1. I wanted to work in Fair Isle so the hats would be double-thick; and
  2. I would rip back and re-knit anything that I wouldn't put on my own head.
So I cast on, then made design decisions on the fly. No stitch dictionaries, no sketches, no measuring, no net. Yeeeeeeehaaaaaw.

This the first one, sized for a small child, was started the day after Thanksgiving and finished just after coming home.

Minor Dulaan Hat

I kept the floats as loose as possible, and yet the checkerboard section still puckered. Go figure. But the hat is still comfortable and looks good when worn.

The second, larger hat began on the trip to Los Angeles and was completed last night.

Major Dulaan Hat

Originally the top was to be all white, but that made for dull knitting. Rip, rip, rip. I decided instead to divide the space into eight parts, alternate the colors, and run the decreases along the left edge of each section. I had no idea what would happen.

Turns out I knit a propeller beanie. Look!


I absolutely have to do this again on a hat for me. Why should Mongolians have all the fun?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Uh Oh


(P.S. If you know you won't finish your knitted gifts, maybe you'd like to send the new shirt in the shop, which I dedicate to Rabbitch with love. Secondarily, I dedicate it to the reader who told my work has been too cutesy lately.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Pointed Discussion

I hate to spoil the mellow, friendly tone I started by telling how I realized that Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Life, but if I am to present an honest picture of my world I'm afraid controversy is inevitable.

Today's topic is socks on double-pointed needles (dpns) vs. socks on two circulars. You may wish to leave now, or at the very least hide the children and lock up the pets.


I'd only worked on dpns until this weekend, when John taught me the rudiments of beginning a sock with two circulars. What can I tell you? I was feeling wild, iconoclastic, rebellious. Had I been wearing a bra, I would have burned it.

We are now on day three and inch six of the first two-circulars sock. Here are my feelings so far.

Like a good little Buddhist I find myself inclined to follow a Middle Way between the two usual camps. In one camp, you have those who believe any knitter promoting the use of circulars is an unmitigated yahoo and very possibly a menace to the underpinnings of decent society. In the other are those who suspect anyone using dpns probably also wears bustles and sends messages by telegraph.

My own, more moderate, feelings I have recorded below.

Category One: Convenience When Traveling.

Possibly the finest aspect of socks as a knitting project is portability. I can (and do) take them with me whenever I have any distance to travel by public transit. They fit well into my accustomed shoulder bag and still leave ample room for gym clothes, books, small firearms–the impedimenta of modern urban life.

As it is the nature of Chicago transit to be, shall we say, unpredictible, my socks-in-progress are subject to being pulled out of the bag and shoved back in with great haste. This has on more than one occasion caused a dpn to go flying through the air, leaving whole rows of stitches vulnerable. If the errant needle hits the floor, I must decide whether to retrieve it and risk catching something incurable from whatever's down there; or just give the needle up for lost and fix a whole mess of dropped stitches once I get home.

Like well-mannered children, unless greatly interfered with circular needles stay put. Winner: circulars.

Category Two: Ease of Use

As of now, I don't seem to go any faster on the circulars than I did on four dpns, in spite of having fewer changes of needle. It's a mystery I could solve through careful observation, timing, record-keeping, and data analysis. However, had I that sort of time on my hands I would probably elect to spend it doing something else, like reading the Halcyon Yarns catalogue or polishing my boots. Winner: tie.

Category Three: Aesthetics

There is a certain dignity in the sight of a knitter working round and round on double-pointed needles. Even those who do not knit sense this, and tend to ask questions from a discreet distance and with a sense of awe. Double-points have history behind them. Double points have tone that circulars do not, in much the same way battered, old Louis Vuitton luggage outshines brand-new bags from American Tourister.

A sock being knitted on two circulars has far too many weird wires that shoot out the top and bottom, bobbing and flipping like a poor piece of 60s mod sculpture. The knitter appears to be cuddling an alien life form, to which he gives succour. Aesthetically, a sock on two circulars is brash, nouveau–a guest who talks too loudly and laughs too long, causing unease even when he is amusing. Winner: double-points.

My opinions may well shift as I progress into the heel flap. If so, I will revisit the topic.

And I know that there is a third camp, comprising those who advocate the Magic Loop. But of course they're just a bunch of whacked-out hippie freaks.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Now, Where Was I?

There are trips after which you think, "My, that was pleasant, but it's nice to be home." And then there trips, rare trips, after which you think, "I'm not the same person who left four days ago."

This trip was one of the latter.

Where did I go? Here's a hint.

Corner of Wilshire and 4th

No, not Anchorage. Here's another hint.


Who said Buffalo?

What do you need, a picture of a breast implant? I was in Los Angeles.

Here's how it happened.

Not long ago two knit bloggers struck up a long-distance friendship. This one lives in New York City. He was going out to Los Angeles for his second appearance on DIY Network's "Knitty Gritty."

He was talking about the TV appearance with the second blogger, who lives in Chicago. The second blogger made a joke about coming along to help out, and the first blogger said, only half-joking, that he'd already imagined that could be fun. And then they laughed, and then nobody was joking. And then suddenly there were plane tickets, and two bloggers who had never met in person sat in their respective cities thinking, "What the hell just happened?"

Which is how John Brinegar and I wound up walking at sunset on the beach in Santa Monica,


which I must say for the record is rather nicer than walking down State Street in December by myself.

John seemed to enjoy it, as well.


It turns out that he and I knit at the same gauge, which made it possible for me to help put the finishing touches on his step-outs for the show. (I won't explain step-outs, since you all read Yarn Harlot anyhow.) This photo is so that my Mom and Dad will know which bits to cheer for when the episode airs.


I just hope they spell my name properly in the credit roll.

Curiously, I have discovered that I have almost no photographs from a day-and-a-half at the studio. I was too blissed out to click the shutter, I guess. No, not blissed out. That suggests calm. I was giddy.

It can be tough sitting around on a set when you're not involved in the production, but the folks at "Knitty Gritty" were so jolly and accomodating I didn't feel de trop at any point. Instead, I got to watch Something Being Made. I've always enjoyed that. I'd rather be behind the scenes than in the audience, any time, and this was my first visit to a television studio.

And aside from the people who make the show, there were the other guests who kept popping in and out as their episodes were put together, including Amy Singer, Iris Schreier, Jennifer Hansen (aka Stitch Diva), and Stephen of HizKnits fame. Stephen taped just before John, and then much to my delight decided to stick around which meant we got to sit together and dish and bond and bitch and kvetch and giggle–you know, the things all men do when in good company.

And Amy let me try on this hemp slip-stitch sweater from her new book (the one with no sheep in it) which fit me as though it had been made to measure. (Amy honey, you have my address. Parcel post will work just fine–winter won't be over for ages.)

One moment so I can sweep up all the dropped names.

The day after the taping was free and clear, so we met up with the formidably cool Wendy of Knit and Tonic at Wildfibers, which I didn't realize until we got there is owned by Mel Clark, who collaborated with Tracey Ullman on Knit Two Together. I didn't buy much, but what I bought...well, I'm saving that until last.

Wendy led John and I out to Malibu, where we sat at a restaurant by the ocean and watched dolphins and pelicans and aggressive seagulls, and ate peanuts, and dished and bitched and kvetched and giggled and bonded–you know, the things all knitters do when in good company.

Afterwards, we went down to the beach and used Wendy's clapotis to pretend we were doing a location shoot for Rebecca magazine.

Zut Alors

"Ja! Ach du lieber! I em dee krazee skinnee German knitter! I em zo filled vit gemütlichkeit my head vill explode et enny zecond!"

And then home, and then another sunset, and then a knitting lesson, and then the goodbyes, and the airport, and home again. Typing this, looking out to the frigid lake over the snow in Lincoln Park, through the frost that is covering half the windowpanes.

I don't know why, but a different person left for LAX on Wednesday than is sitting here right now. Maybe it's because Southern California has always scared and intimidated me–it's the only city I've ever been too that has done so. This time it didn't. Instead I felt magnified, more confident, as though I were being carefully lit and retouched everywhere I went. Hell, I even got a compliment from a stranger in a restaurant.

This all feels weird for a guy who spent the first 33 or 34 years of his life (I'm 35) trying miserably to be what other people expected him to be. Never worked. That phase is finally ending, I guess, although I don't usually notice it except in brief moments of clarity. I had one in, of all places, Wildfibers.

I was looking around in the sock yarns for something masculine and shoved aside a skein of Wildfoote in lime green to pick up a little bundle of quiet rust-and-brown that was behind it. And then I picked up the lime green. And I imagined myself wearing socks made of it, and I thought how bright it is, and how silly that would look, and how respectable men never, ever wear bright lime green socks.

And then in a flash I realized three things:
  1. I love strong colors.

  2. I really want a pair of lime green socks.

  3. I just don't give a fuck any more if people think I'm respectable–particularly people who are going to judge me according to the color of my damned socks.
For 35 years I have allowed (among many others) the Pope; my nasty fourth grade teacher, Mrs Hess; various administrators, faculty, and alumni of Harvard University; the citizens of Back Bay and Beacon Hill; assorted ex-boyfriends; and my employers past and present to live in my head and decide what I like, what I wear, what I listen to, how I view the world and above all, how I view myself. Today's eviction day, folks. Get out.


Wherever you are reading this, whoever you are, I hope you feel at some point today...or any good as I do right now.