Sunday, April 27, 2008

Notes to Self

My sketchbooks for It Itches* are dotted with questions I jotted down while working on the rough cartoons, so I'd remember to research or puzzle out the answers later on.

As I enter the home stretch, I keep running across them as I flip through looking for the bits and pieces to be used in finished drawings.

ScrapHere's a representative sample:
  • Miles Topeka to Kansas state fair?
  • Where do breasts go?
  • Length and curve of blade? Bloody?
  • Number of panes in Shetland window?
  • Lion? Unicorn?
  • Bird and squirrel can be friends?
  • Which fricking e has accent and is grave or aigu?
  • Fat baby pajamas?
  • Wolf toes?
  • Would she say this to him like that?
  • Mausoleum door locks?
  • Ask Leigh how large ballerina ass?
  • Ancient sheep face hair?
  • Table can support bear? Two bears?
  • How big should balls be?
Yeah. Just standard knitting book fodder.

Your encouragement in the comments to the last post is much appreciated. Please don't think I'm whining–the chance to publish a book is a blessing, and my worst day as a cartoonist is better than my best day trying not to smack rock-stupid university alumni across the face.

While the pen's busy the needles are idle, aside from occasional rounds on the second Primavera sock. I'm almost to the toe, and still loving the pattern. I expect to finish book and sock almost simultaneously.

I have promised myself that once the final packet of drawings flies off to Colorado, I may begin Sharon Miller's Wedding Ring Shawl. (Yes, I bought the pattern before it sold out. Nyah, nyah, nyah.) Mine will be worked in a handsome, red Merino laceweight. Of course, it's not as fine as the cobwebby Tinkerbell dental floss Mrs Miller recommends; so if I actually reach journey's end, the finished shawl won't slip through a wedding ring.

I wonder if that means I'd have to call it something else? If you call it a wedding ring shawl when it won't actually fit through a ring, does the Shetland lace cartel send goons to your apartment to shoot out your kneecaps?

Those chicks in Heirloom Knitting look pretty tough. I wouldn't put it past them.

* Internet fun fact: If you Google "Interweave Itches," the first result is my book.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


...of a real post, today I present a still life entitled, This Is Why I Am Not Giving You a Real Post Today.


The book deadline approacheth. Apparently there have been pre-orders, and not all of them are my mother, so I have to finish on time. Above you can see seven (out of seventy-five*) inked cartoons on the drawing table, each awaiting the finishing touches of watercolor wash as needed.

This isn't the sum total of my progress, of course. It's just that I'm having trouble sending the other finished panels to Interweave because once they go into print I can never, ever change them.

That's been the biggest surprise of this whole process–the realization that at some point, final art is final.

It's enough to make my hands shake, so I try not to think about it. Nonetheless, my usual creepy-crawly line may look a little creepy-crawlier when the book is published.

*Somebody asked whether the book will be new material or stuff from the blog. Both. Some of the cartoons will have appeared here, but the majority are previously unpublished and all but one will be completely re-drawn. Some essays will incorporate material I've used before but, again, I'm reworking everything and much is brand new. OhgodIneedadrink.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Holy $#@*

Kids, I am alive and awake but just about done in. Pulverized. Wiped. It's all I can do to write this brief dispatch from a horizontal position.

Bloggin' at Carol's

Yesterday, during an eight hour shoot at Wool Gathering, I photographed 131 knitters for the 1,000 Knitters Project.

My memory is scrambled like eggs at Sunday brunch but I recall an atmosphere of cheerful insanity and controlled chaos. Yarn was everywhere. Also cookies. And five pounds of very special candy. Then somebody threatened me with a crochet hook...

I'll have to sort it all out and write a fuller report from home. Right now I'm going to try to keep still and enjoy restorative quiet play time with Carol's daughter's Pretty Pony Princess Magic Castle.*

131 freaking knitters in one day. Dude.

*Staying in this room has allowed me to be the six-year-old girl I always wanted to be. Ooooh! Rainbow Brite!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Interlude with Evelyn Clark

Last Christmas, I chose Evelyn Clark's Flower Basket Shawl as a present for my mother. It was a success on all fronts. Mom liked it, and I liked knitting it. I liked it so much, in fact, that I made a very public offer to feed Evelyn bonbons and tweak her dear little nose.

Now Evelyn's famed Swallowtail Shawl has been chosen by the readers of Interweave Knits as one of five designers to be featured in their new, free eBook, The Best of Interweave Knits Readers' Choice Awards. And in spite of my earlier statements, she was not too creeped out to answer a few questions about her work and her inspirations.

Q. You're best known for your lace designs, particularly your lace triangles. What was your first encounter with lace? Was it love at first sight, or an acquired taste?

A. I was really inspired by Robert Powell's lace shawls, and it was while knitting them that I fell in love with lace. The fabulous Icelandic Three-Cornered and Long Shawls book (Prihyrnur og Langsjol) by Sigridur Halldorsdottir* has many top-down shawls, and while studying the shawls in that book I realized I could use a top-down construction for a shawl I wanted to do as a result of the listing of the salmon. That became the Pacific Northwest Shawl, thanks to Bev Galeskas of Fiber Trends who was willing to publish my results.

Q. Tell me a bit about your design process. For example, do you like to start with sketches? By picking up needles and playing with yarn? Some other way?

A. I love to graph, and I do that with a pencil and a very large eraser. Then I start the piece, and start over if it does not work. Sometimes I have to knit the whole piece to see if it works and sometimes more than once. The beauty of being able to design for my own amusement is that I can take all the time I want.

Q. So many of your designs are based on natural motifs and indicate a very close, loving observation of the natural world. What's your favorite way to get back to nature?

A. I do like to garden and hike or walk. This year I also am able to travel more, and I am looking forward to finding new inspiration on those adventures.

Q. When you spin, what's your preferred equipment?

My favorites are the Bosworth mini spindles, and I have knit four shawls from yarn I spindle spun and plies. I love that spindles are so portable and highly recommend Priscilla Gibson-Roberts' book Spinning in the Old Way for anyone interested in spindling.

As a prize from the Wild Fibers Magazine/Buffalo Gold contest for the Heartland Lace Shawl, I got a Lendrum single treadle wheel. Having the wheel makes me acceptable at spinning retreats, but at home, I keep returning to the spindles.

Q. If you could be any fiber-producing animal, what kind of fiber-producing animal would you be, and why?

A. Some of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest had a little wooly dog whose fur they used for fiber. Since I am not fond of standing outside in all sorts of weather, I think I would be better at being a dog that could creep close to a fire occasionally.

* * * * *

The Best of Interweave Knits Readers' Choice Awards will be available for free download from the Knitting Daily Web site until 5 pm MST on May 15, 2008.

To view and purchase more of Evelyn Clark's designs, visit her Web site.

This is the final stop of the week-long blog tour celebrating the release of The Best of Interweave Knits Readers' Choice Awards. For previous stops, visit:

Monday, April 14: Sandi Wiseheart on Smoking Hot Needles
Tuesday, April 15: Norah Gaughan on Lolly Knitting Around
Wednesday, April 16: Kate Gilbert on Moth Heaven
Thursday, April 17: Stefanie Japel on Chez Aristote

*Now available as a reprint from dear, old Schoolhouse Press.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

So Many Knitters

I'm sitting here with my half-packed suitcase nearby. I can't quite believe it's time to travel with 1,000 Knitters again. The more the series grows, the more surreal the experience feels.

I know photographers with more training, more experience, more talent, and more money than I. And yet so many of them have projects that have been stalled or stunted for months or years. So why is this one flying along at such a startling clip?

The difference, of course, is all of you. It's your interest and support that power the dynamo. Without you, I'd have a ball of yarn and an empty frame.

With all that's happening I never got around to properly thanking Lauren (aka Knitter 0176) and the Windy City Knitting Guild for a splendid Chicago shoot, during which we added more than fifty sitters to the line-up.


We also achieved a milestone, though due to a miscalculation I was wrong about when exactly it happened. Ladies and gents, I give you Diane, Knitter 0500, who brought us to the halfway mark.

Knitter 0500

Lauren, who has the patience of three or four especially put-upon saints, managed to get me to a Guild meeting after only nine months of planning. It was wicked cool. I want to go back again as a private citizen so I can just hang out and knit.

And then, of course, there was a shoot during the Yarn Market News conference. I owe that opportunity to the magazine's intrepid editor (and conference planner), Karin Strom. Talking to so many folks who who keep us in yarn and needles and roving and wool wash and notions and cute bags and other necessities of life was a treat and an education.

Yarn Market News 12

(The only bummer was missing Cheryl Krementz, who couldn't come along with the team from New York. Cheryl's a smart and prolific writer–not only for YMN but other publications including; and she always gives me juicy illustration assignments for the magazine. One of these days, Cheryl.)

And that brings me to this past weekend, and what I was doing while Dolores was inflicting deep mental scars on those poor 4-H kids.

The folks from The Yarnery, who apparently don't require sleep like the rest of us, decided it would be nifty to schedule a visit from yours truly the day after a night of testifying and song with the Yarn Harlot. (Seriously, dudes. They sang to her. It's on You Tube.)

After such a night they would have been fully justified in being cranky and overtired, but no. Tim and I dropped by the shop to say hello and chat with the Yarnery's vigorous men's group, and I got a royal welcome. They had cookies!

The Yarnery Guys

These three guys from the group (Eric, Scott, and Sean) came the next day to have their portraits made.

Three MSP Guys

Scott's the one who made the cookies. From scratch. Exceptional chocolate chip cookies. And he showed up for his sitting with more cookies. I like Scott. I wish I lived closer to Scott's oven.

The shoot was at Yarnover, a long-running annual day of fiber-related indulgences put on by the Minnesota Knitters' Guild. This is a seriously impressive event, folks. The vendor market was large and varied, although I totally didn't buy anything. Except some yarn.

And the classes–oh, the classes. What a list of instructors. I actually got to meet the Rainey Sisters, Joan Schrouder and Lucy Neatby; and I heard Chris Bylsma, Sally Melville and Melissa Leapman were in the house. And those are just the names I know about.

All told, 73 absolutely gorgeous knitters for the day. Here's a tiny smattering.

MSP 18

There in the center of row three is Lucy Neatby, who announced, "I'm going to put a hole in your scarf," and then did. You can see it clearly in the center of the bottom row, in the portrait of my buddy Robert. Robert was one of the first guy knitters I ever met, back at my first Stitches Midwest.

The final knitter of the day was Gerrie (0622).

Knitter 0622

Gerrie was scheduled in the last spot, but her goodie bag–crammed with toothsome fresh-baked treats from the Franklin Street Bakery in Minneapolis–was waiting for me at the shoot first thing in the morning. When I'm walking around Provincetown in a caftan this summer, Gerrie, I'll think of you.

I owe special thanks to everybody at The Yarnery, especially Maura (who deftly handled all my arrangements) and Mary Lou, Knitter 0620,

Knitter 0620

who served as my assistant during the shoot. She went above and beyond by running to Home Depot to replace a lightbulb that the airline managed to smash through a cardboard box, a metal protector and five inches of bubble wrap. Mary Lou, you were the perfect companion, especially when Lucy invited us to rummage through her case of samples and we discouraged each other from "accidentally" walking away with certain pieces.

I can't wait, my dears, to come back again if you'll have me. Even if you don't sing to me because nothing rhymes with 'Franklin'. (And nothing family-friendly rhymes with 'Dolores.')

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Rest of the Story

Continued from yesterday's post.

I heard nothing further from Dolores or Harry until late that night, when Tim answered the bell and found the two of them standing, muddy and rumpled, on the doorstep.

"You must be Dolores," said Tim.

"And you must be a master of deductive reasoning to figure that out, " said Dolores. "Do we get to come in, Sherlock Holmes, or would you prefer that we sleep outside so our frozen bodies can be nibbled by rabbits?"

"Or cows," said Harry. "You don't have cows in St. Paul, do you?"

"For the last time, you little drama queen," said Dolores, "she was just being affectionate."

"She ate my ball band!" Harry said to Tim. "I had to come all the rest of the way naked! And it's cold out there! I hate cows! You don't have any cows, right? I'm not staying here if you have cows!"

Tim just looked from them to me, and back to them, and back to me, and didn't say anything.

"Go back to bed," I said. "I'll sort these two out."

You've never seen a man move so fast.

While Dolores huffed around in the bathroom repairing the day's damages to her toilette, Harry sipped a restorative mug of cocoa and filled me in on the trip.

"Well I would have been done for except it turns out Dolores speaks Cow. She told Bonnie Belle–that was her name–to knock it off and take us to the closest road gong north. We had to walk through this huge field and whenever Dolores wasn't looking the stupid cow kept trying to bite me. I hate cows!"

"We've established that," I said. "Why didn't you guys call and tell me what was going on?"

"Well we were going to," he said. "But when we got to the road Dolores said she wasn't doing anything else until she had a martini. And then she spilled her vodka flask into her purse and it got all over the phone and we couldn't make it do anything but play her Thong Song ring tone."

"And then?"


"Well we sat there for a long time and she was real grumpy and then we saw headlights, and she stood up and started shouting and waving. And then it turned out it was this bus full of students from the 4-H Club going to Minneapolis for a big meeting, so when Dolores said can we please get on board they were totally cool about it! They even let me have some of their cookies!"

"Lucky break, that."

"I know! The cookies were really good! So anyway, the best part is tomorrow they said we can come with them to their big meeting, because this one kid said he has been working with livestock since he was just little and he never, ever saw a sheep like Dolores before. And guess what? They asked her to come up on stage for the presentation on sheep breeding and you know how she loves to be in front of people."

I don't need to tell you the rest, of course. You've doubtless seen the headlines everywhere regarding the riot that broke out at the regional 4-H conference, and the exhibit that was cited for disturbing the peace, public lewdness, indecent exposure, and corrupting 300 minors.

After much finagling and pleading she's managed to avoid the possibility of jail time. But if we get out of this without a humiliating appearance on the "Today" show I shall be very surprised indeed.

Tomorrow I'll tell you how my weekend in St. Paul went, in case anybody cares.

Help a Friend?

I have a good friend, Leigh Witchel, who lives in New York City and is hoping to catch a ride out to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania for the 1,000 Knitters shoot this Saturday at Wool Gathering. I know that's one heck of a trip, but on the off chance that anybody's either going out from the city or able to provide (for example) a lift from the train in Philadelphia, would you kindly be in touch with him? (If his name seems familiar, maybe it's because he's a regular contributor of features to Vogue Knitting and Knit 1. Also, he's clean and polite and a good conversationalist and cute.) His email is leigh (at)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Life as Usual

I'm back from the photo expedition to Yarnover and had a splendid time. It was a chance to reconnect with my buddy Tim from St. Paul, who extended his hospitality and hoisted my bags; to meet the wonderful people from The Yarnery and a whole lotta terrific knitters; and to add a further 73 people to the 1,000 Knitters Project–sneak previews to come.

However, as Dolores and Harry decided they wanted to come along, you know that's not the whole story.

Those of you who tune in regularly will be not at all surprised to know that shortly after I landed in the Twin Cities on Friday, I got a frantic telephone call from Harry. He was jabbering a mile a minute and sounded oddly muffled, as though he were calling from inside a suitcase.

Which, in fact, he was.

"Slow down and speak up," I said. "I can't help you if I can't hear you. Now, what did you say?"

Emergency Call

"It's terrible," he whimpered. "I was really having fun because I went to the cafĂ© car to get a soda pop and I met this guy from Fargo and he said do you like Scrabble and I said sure and he said me and my sister brought our Travel Scrabble so why don't you come play with us and I said okay I have to go tell my friend first but when I got back to our seats Dolores was up in the luggage rack and three conductors were trying to pull her down again and she was screaming and yelling bad words and then she bit the one guy's hand–"

"She bit a conductor?"

"Yeah I guess while I was gone she started handing out campaign flyers and the man got all mad and said you can't do that in here lady and she got mad back at him and threw her purse and it hit this other lady in the head and knocked her glasses off and people started running around and I climbed in here to get out of the way and now I can't even find my soda pop and it's dark and I'm scared. What do I do?"

I sometimes wonder if Harry thinks I possess a little book entitled How to Handle Any Emergency that includes entries like "Train Travel: Trapped in Suitcase Due to Sheep/Conductor Fracas."

Before I could offer any advice, I heard a zip and a scream and Harry was gone. There followed a tense hour while I waited for news. Amtrak customer service, helpful as ever, hung up when I called to say I'd received word from a ball of sock yarn about a fight taking place on the Empire Builder between three conductors and the sheep who lives in my apartment.

Finally, my phone chimed: CALL FROM VANHOOFEN, D.

"If this is your one call," I said, "you've dialed the wrong number."

"Oh thank you, thank you so very much for your support," she grumbled.

"Where are you?"

"We're not sure. Somewhere in Minnesota. It's snowy and I see cows."

"It sounds awfully quiet. Is the train delayed?"

"We're not on the train."

"You're not? Well, what's the name of the station?"

"We're not at a station."


Dolores En Route

"We're in a field next to the tracks somewhere or other. They slowed down and pitched us off the back of the caboose. If any of my hats are crushed, I'm going to sue."

I heard Harry scream.

"Harry!" shouted Dolores. "Just shut up! That cow is more afraid of you than you are of her! Smile and make friends!"

Harry screamed again. Louder.

"Whoa," said Dolores. "Gotta go."

There's more to tell, but duty calls. The rest of the report to follow soon.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Leaving, Apparently, on a Jet Plane

Yes, I'm booked on American Airlines for the flight up to Minneapolis today. However, the flight has not been canceled. My original flight was canceled yesterday, but I noticed it while checking my stock of frequent flier miles and managed to jump into the last remaining seat on a slightly earlier flight.

Minnesota knitters have warned me that the local forecast calls for rain, snow, hail, pestilence, earthquakes, dead arising from their graves, hay fever, and unattended toddlers, so I've packed accordingly. Unfortunately even my large suitcase isn't big enough for the collapsible harpoon, so I'll have to make do with a dpn if the situation arises.

Dolores and Harry are coming along, but they have opted to forego air travel entirely and will head north on Amtrak. Harry is excited at the prospect of lunch in the dining car, and Dolores is excited at the prospect of eight hours in a vibrating seat.

If all goes well, I look forward to meeting bunches of you tomorrow at Yarnover, although I'm skittish about following close on the heels of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's visit, which was also sponsored by The Yarnery. It's a bit like having the Rolling Stones open for the Jonas Brothers.

What I really want is to some day tour with Stephanie. You know, like that gaggle of blue-collar comedy guys who all tell jokes about living in a swamp and sleeping with their first cousins? For our finale we'd sing the bluegrass classic "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," with Stephanie playing the banjo and me on the bull fiddle, only with new lyrics about sock knitting.

Hey, Steph, you in?

And Now, A Little Message for China

A Message for China

Monday, April 07, 2008

Sometimes a Knitting Needle Is Just a Knitting Needle

I'm getting the gear ready for this weekend's shoot at Yarnover in Minnesota. (Thank you 1,000 times to The Yarnery of St. Paul for being my host; information is on their Web site.) In sorting everything I ran across the images of knitters–most of them yarn store owners or managers–that were made during the shoot at the Yarn Market News conference.

That reminded me of a sketch I drew while sitting in the back of the room during a marketing presentation. Sitting there and listening to the owners discuss their daily highs and lows gave me a new and visceral empathy for the folks in the business–particularly in the wake of so many Ravelry threads about how yarn shops that don't offer a free lunch buffet and foot massages simply aren't meeting their customers' needs.

I guess it spilled over onto my notebook. I've substituted a printed caption for my illegible pencil scrawl; otherwise this is the rough page as I left it.


Hope everybody's having a good week so far. I'm looking forward to meeting some of you this weekend.

Edited to Add: I must be distracted. I forgot to offer thanks to you for all the kind comments about the Tomten Jacket. My advice is that if it looks at all appealing, knit one. Have fun with with the yarns you want to use...experiment. And don't worry if you don't have a kid to knit one for. One will show up. Or you can just make one for yourself; Brooklyntweed did a gorgeous adult variation I can't wait to dig into.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Practical Magic

It still needs a tassel on the hood (my mother's excellent suggestion) and a zipper in front, but for all intents and purposes the knitting of Abigail's Tomten Jacket to be found in (Knitting Without Tears, Knitting Workshop and The Opinionated Knitter) is complete.

As Houdini was wont to say, "Ta-daaaaa."

Tomten Front

This was my first waltz with the pattern and it won't be the last. It's 100% pure Elizabeth Zimmermann: clever, useful, adaptable, addictive. As with most of her designs, variations are numberless and I humbly add mine, with all its flaws and fudges, to the pile.

Tomten Back

Ages ago I promised a demonstration of the garter stitch jacquard technique and am now renewing that promise, although I won't get to it this week. I have so many deadlines to meet that I dare not contemplate them in aggregate or they'll drive me straight to the fainting couch with a bottle of sal volatile.

I can promise that blog posts will be thin on the ground this month, but don't forget me. I'll be back.