Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blockin' with Ma

Indiana was a good place to rest and recuperate. Fresh air, open space, great stretches of soothing greenery, and this.

Rock Pile

Such a sight for a weary uncle's eyes. Gosh, did we have fun! We blew bubbles, and splashed in the pool, and read Proust, and played on the swing, and put all the animals into Noah's ark, and pet some doggies, and discussed the application of Kant's categorical imperative to the present political situation, and built a tower with alphabet blocks.

While I was there I finished the little hoodie I was working on–pictures in the next post–and got to check out the Baby Surprise Jacket that my mother made for Abigail. It was her first shaped garment and she did a bang-up job. She hadn't washed and blocked it, though, so we did that together.

When I first started knitting in earnest, I remember that blocking scared the daylights out of me. I didn't have anybody to show me what to do, and the instructions I found in books were labyrinthine. I remember one authority who wrote that it was impossible to block a sweater properly without a waterproof board–five feet square, marked with a grid of one inch squares–and a dozen clean, white bath towels.

I don't remember who she was, but I'm pretty sure she didn't live in a city apartment.

Since then other, kinder authorities have shown me how easy it is. I've also learned how vital it is not just for cleaning a piece, but for giving it a properly finished appearance. Not blocking is akin to not weaving in your ends.

If you're just beginning, here's what I've been taught to do. It works for me. There may be a better way, and I'm sure there are flourishes and refinements I have yet to learn, but so far I haven't turned any of my sweaters into potholders and that's good enough for me.

Mind you, these instructions are for wool. Wool from sheep. Other fibers or blends may have other requirements. If you need to wash and block the shrug knit from a cat/mohair/rayon mix, do your homework before you take the plunge.

Here's what you need to do the job.


An absolutely clean, watertight basin. The kitchen sink is fine, if you make sure to get the stubborn, dried on pasta from last week's spaghetti dinner off the sides. Since we were doing baby clothes, we used a large pot.

A mild detergent. I am presently in love with Soak, but you can use a mild dishwashing liquid or baby shampoo–which is what we did.

A couple of bath towels. They don't need to be white, just clean.

Now, let us begin.

Step One. Fill the empty basin with tepid water. Lukewarm is fine. Don't use hot. Hot can shock wool fibers and encourage felting. When the basin is full and you've turned off the water, add a few drops–maybe a teaspoon per gallon–of your detergent. Swish the water gently to mix in the detergent, but try to avoid making suds.


Step Two. Place your knitted thing on top of the water and watch it sink like the Titanic. It can be fun to pretend to be the hand of God and push the knitted thing gently under the water and scream "Help me! Help me!" in a tiny voice as all the little Edwardian people are drowned for tempting Providence with their "unsinkable" ship. Fools!


Do not agitate the knitted thing. Agitation can cause friction, and wool plus friction plus water equals felting.

Let your knitted thing soak undisturbed for up to an hour. I soak stuff with thicker yarns for longer times to make sure the water penetrates completely. Just let the thing soak. Leave it. Walk away. Go.

Step Three. Gently lift the knitted thing from the water. Keep all of it well supported in both hands. Don't let the sleeves or other bits hang loose or they'll stretch like taffy. Somebody–Elizabeth Zimmermann?–compared this part to handling a baby.


If you are using a wool wash that doesn't require rinsing, go to the next step. Otherwise you may repeat the first three steps, omitting the detergent.

Step Four. Holding the knitted thing over the basin, squeeze it. Don't wring it or rub it, just give it a few good, firm squeezes to drain some of the water. (This part is not like handling a baby.)


Step Five. Wrap the knitted thing in a towel. Put the towel on the floor. Jump up and down on it to press out more water. You may enlist help with this process.


Step Six. Lay the knitted thing out on another, dry towel which you have spread out in a space that is unlikely to be invaded by inquisitive pets, curious children, or nosy adults.


Arrange the thing into the shape you'd like it to hold when dry. This is an opportunity to make small adjustments to the fit, including length or width of sleeves, curve of the shoulders, and so forth. A yard stick is useful for making sure that you keep the hem even, the sleeves the same length, and so forth.

The yard stick is also useful for beating back inquisitive pets, curious children, or nosy adults.

Let it dry. You may set a cool fan to play on it in order to hasten the process. But just leave it alone. Leave it! Walk away. Go!

When it's absolutely bone dry, put it on the recipient and have a fashion show.

Proud Nana

I think Abigail loves her jacket. I hope Nana's proud.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Sorry to have been silent. After a month of much travel and more than a little work, my body rebelled and collapsed. So I've kept still. Keeping still is, I have learned, the surest cure for whatever ails me.

It's sad that stillness is so out of fashion these days. Exhausted is where it's at. The way some ancient cultures made a personal display of their material wealth, today we're expected to festoon ourselves with anxiety brought on by careers, children, politics. I was privy to a conversation recently in which someone said he didn't trust anybody who looked relaxed in this day and age, because that person was clearly out of touch with the world.

So be it. I spent the first three decades of my life struggling to be a serious, engaged person. It was highly unpleasant, both for me and for those who had to deal with me. I endeavor daily to become less mature.

You can see some of it in how I dress.

I spent my college years and quite a bit of time after living in Boston, land of earth tones. I will never forget the first time I strolled through the Back Bay wearing my first biker jacket. People stared. People pointed–and not out of admiration. It was then that I realized I was not, and was never going to be, a real Bostonian. It only took me eleven years. I'm often slow on the uptake.

Chicago is a great deal less concerned with how one dresses, which has allowed me gradually to reclaim the things I set aside when I went to college. Color is chief among them.

Not that I walk around Lakeview in a purple beret and a pink ascot. One has one's limits, and you can't undo the habits of a decade in an eyeblink. I have fifteen identical plain, black t-shirts in the closet. But more and more stuff is turning up like the green socks. Oh, those green socks. They truly were buds heralding the arrival of spring. In my case, a long overdue spring.

Still, when Beth Casey of Lorna's Laces suggested that I be part of her new "Color Commentary" series, I had to laugh. "Color Commentary" is a line of colorways designed by and named for bloggers. I'm in high company. Grumperina was first, and coming down the pike for the next several months will be many others, all far more notable than I.

My first thought was that five shades of black would not make for a particularly fun skein, except perhaps among the Goth Knit set–and I wouldn't want Zabet and friends to think I'm trying to muscle in on their territory.

I looked around the apartment and through my "design morgue" of inspiring stuff (postcards, magazine clippings, etcetera) and realized that William Morris's palette is the one that really makes my head spin. On the outside, I'm wearing black; but in my heart I truly am a greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery sort of fellow.

So after much fooling about in the dye pots Beth took my favorite Morris wallpaper, Pimpernel,


and arranged the key tones into a colorway that works in Lorna's Laces skein.

Ladies and gents, for your consideration I present "Franklin's Panopticon."

Lorna's Laces Ad Redux

Ahem. Sorry about that. Her modeling gig was part of the deal.

Another, less exuberant view:

Franklin's Panopticon Skeins

I'm in the midst of knitting a small garment for a small person with two skeins of the Shepherd Worsted, and so far I like the way the colors play together in stockinette.

Lorna's Laces Swatch

You can get it in sock, worsted and lace weights from Lorna's Laces retailers both traditional and online. I'll show you soon what I'm making out of the dreamy Shepherd Worsted.

Once I dreamed of being a playwright and having a theater named after me. Instead I became a knitter and there's a colorway named after me.

This is better.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

O Canada

When I was a little kid, my mother's parents lived in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit is, of course, mere spitting distance from the Canadian border. I thought that was fascinating. There was sign: BRIDGE TO CANADA. Grandma's American television caught Canadian broadcast signals; I became quite a fan of "Mr Dress Up." In any handful of change, you were bound turn up a Canadian penny with a picture of an honest-to-goodness queen on it.*

It was all impossibly exotic and alluring and I wanted desperately to go visit the strange (and reputedly very tidy) country just a few minutes away. We never did.

I finally saw it in person for about an hour when I was sixteen. My family, including our dog, had been on the road in a van for a month, driving from California to our new Air Force assignment in upstate New York. We made a brief detour north to look at Niagara Falls. They were wet.

But now I've really been to Canada, and really met Canadians. All the good stuff you've heard is true. In fact, there's a lot of good stuff you haven't even heard about because the entire country is way too modest. Or maybe they just don't want the Americans to know, for fear we'll move up there en masse. Heaven knows I was tempted to stay.

I remarked several times that as an American I found it relaxing to spend a bit of time in a country that is not concerned with what Mrs McCain thinks, if she can be said to think, of Mrs Obama; that has long been accustomed to high gasoline prices; and that is not suffering what honestly feels like a new natural, political, or economic trauma on a daily basis.

I found it positively titillating to walk down the street in country where I could, theoretically, get married. Not domestically partnered or unionistically recognized or surreptitiously blessed but actually married. Mind you, my heart's rather spoken for at present and no proposals were forthcoming; but it was exciting to be so close to the action.

The reason for the visit was, of course, for a 1,000 Knitters shoot at Toronto's own, dear Lettuce Knit.

Lettuce Knit surprised me. It's located in Kensington Market, a divinely scruffy neighborhood full of artists who put their mark on everything in sight, from the sidewalks to the rooftops. The shop itself is tiny. Somehow, given the reputation, I'd expected room after room. No. Two tiny, packed show rooms in a Victorian row house, with gorgeous yarn spilling right over the threshold and onto the front steps. Behind these, a small kitchen/storage room with access to a back garden. Nothing more.

Interior, Lettuce Knit

I had come to shoot in this remarkable location thanks to the creative thinking and beneficence of two right-on women, Rachel H and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. The latter writes a pretty good blog. You should check it out some time.

They enlisted the help of their friends to make everything work, and work it did. I owe enormous special thanks to these six folks.

Toronto Six

Top row left to right: Rachel H, whose talent for planning is such that she could arrange world peace by next Tuesday, given the opportunity; Denny, who is...forget it, I'm not going to try to describe Denny; Megan, who owns Lettuce Knit but let us play with it for a whole day.

Bottom row left to right:
Juno, whom I long have admired from afar and now know is even wiser and funnier in person; Ken, who kindly housed me during my visit and also made sure I got from Point A to Point B without wandering into the woods; and Stephanie, who as I mentioned before is a blogger of some note. [Note to self: I think she writes books, too. Double-check before posting.]

They had planned everything so well that all I had to do was show up. Ken understood my neurotic need to always arrive early and we got to Kensington Market in time to savor the local cocoa.

Coffee with Ken

(I don't drink coffee, which puzzled the natives. When they found out I also don't drink beer, several heads exploded.) Ken's working with some of that new Noro sock yarn, which I have not yet tried but feel I soon must.

No sooner had we opened the doors than the knitters began arriving and the scarf, which already took up a quarter of my large suitcase, began growing again.

Toronto Twelve

In this batch, there are a few folks you might know including Debbie New (second row, center) and Amy Singer (fourth row, right). Debbie, whose previous knitting projects include a lace boat (you don't believe me? read the book), spent the time before her portrait knitting a windmill. That's what she said, a windmill. Amy, who is famously allergic to wool, graciously donned gloves so that she could work with the same yarn as everybody else.

The steady stream of knitters never slowed. Stephanie made sure I paused between sitters to have a bite of this or that, knowing full well that left to my own devices I would eat nothing and die. Every so often, I would hear screams from the front of the store as Rachel and Denny drew the winners of hourly prizes. Two winners got sock yarn in a colorway I'm particularly excited about...more on that later, though.

Toronto Fifteen

In the sampling above, the second row from left to right shows Stephanie's daughters Sam and Meg, and their charming friend Maddie. Stephanie's friend Rams (third row, left) showed up all the way from America as a surprise, and brought along her lovely pal Vicki (third row, center). Just below Rams is the delightful Fiona Ellis, who I hear writes books. So prolific, these Canadians. Must be nothing else to do in the winter.

And we had an American writer on hand–Leigh Witchel, who took notes and is writing up the day for Vogue Knitting. Leigh is a friend of mine, based in New York, who has been trying to get into the series forever. But I was away when he came to Chicago; he was away when I came to the East Coast. We missed each other just slightly in California and Pennyslvania. Finally, we intersected in Toronto.


If that doesn't confirm Toronto's reputation as Knitting Crossroads of the World, I don't know what could.

By the end of the day I was flying on adrenaline and cupcakes, and got everybody who was still hanging around to do something I've not done before: try on the scarf. All at once.

Scarf People!

How could I not have enjoyed a day with that lot?

Usually the morning after a shoot I fly home, but this time I got a bonus day to spend with Stephanie, Juno, Rams, and Vicki; and in the evening Ken, Rachel H, and Steph's whole family. Aside from getting hassled by a roving mariachi gang (I'm serious) it was a perfect way to ease down from the high and prepare myself for re-entry.

It's always good to come home, but part of my heart's up there in Canada. I think I left it behind the Chesterfield at Stephanie's hoose.

*American money has a portrait of a queen, too, but only on the ten dollar bill.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Reminder for All of Us

I've just finished downloading and sorting the photos from this weekend's 1,000 Knitters public shoot in Toronto. It has taken about six hours. The keynote of the day was joy–joy in the gentle weather, the beautiful setting, the good company, the abundant creativity.

I'll put up a full description tomorrow, but I find I can't wait until then to say something that's been increasingly on my mind for months now. The more knitters I meet, the more I want to say it. Looking over Saturday's faces and remembering the many conversations has convinced me that now is as good a time as any.

Ours is an odd hobby. As Stephanie has noted, according to trustworthy estimates we, the needleworkers, outnumber golfers in North America. We are enthusiastic–even evangelical–about what we do. Yet knitting enjoys nothing close to the media attention or popular regard given to the sport of golf. When was the last time you saw a copy of Interweave Knits at an airport newsstand? But I bet you could find a copy of Golf Digest.

It may not be fair, but it's the way of the world. Until those at the very top of the power hierarchy put down their clubs and take up needles, I won't hold my breath waiting for serious coverage of yarn issues on the nightly news.

The media–and the world that consumes it–neglects most folks. It seldom (except in a voyeuristic, often disrespectful manner) dwells on fat people, short people, quiet people, shy people, poor people, plain people, nonconformists, minorities, or those who simply work too darn hard every day to seek the spotlight.

Another Observation

Unfortunately, many of us–myself included–take this to heart. When you are bombarded each day by advertisements, television shows, billboards and books that tell you in no uncertain terms that you are not okay, it's easy to feel too flawed even to leave the house. When you never see yourself reflected accurately in the whirling collage of popular imagery, it's easy to wonder if you count for anything.

But here's what I've come to realize. The world is wrong.

The society that doesn't value handwork is wrong. The magazine article that suggests you are less than human because you prefer an evening with your cat and spinning wheel to dinner at a noisy new restaurant is wrong. The company that doesn't believe you can enjoy a knitting circle and also chair a board meeting is wrong. The husband/wife/parent/child/friend/boyfriend/girlfriend who sneers at your knitting as a dowdy little hobby for boring little people is wrong.


I've met more than 900 of you now and spent at least a few minutes talking to each of you. I haven't met a boring knitter yet. I haven't yet met a knitter with no talent or no story to tell. I haven't met the knitter who shouldn't feel proud as all hell at his or her desire to create beauty every day, when most of civilization does nothing from cradle to grave but consume, consume, consume.

The wider world is too busy chasing its own tail to understand what's worthwhile. Pity it. Attempt to educate it, if you like. But if it persists in being clueless, let it go.

Stop waiting for approval. Celebrate yourself. You are beautiful, you are talented, you do count for something. And you have a lot of interesting things left to knit before you die.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fleece to Face with Carol Sulcoski

Her BookFranklin's note: Good morning from Toronto. This interview with Carol Sulcoski, one of the talents behind Knit So Fine: Designs With Skinny Yarn, is part of the fantastic new book's multi-blog tour (click here for full itinerary). It should have appeared yesterday, June 14.

Unfortunately, guest interviewer Dolores Van Hoofen, who had begged for this assignment back in May, disappeared shortly after we cleared customs in Canada and only turned up again this morning, wearing nothing but her glasses and a hockey sweater of unknown provenance.

As we have been unable to revive our girl reporter sufficiently to complete her assignment, what follows has been reconstructed by Harry from her notes and rough draft. We offer our apologies to Carol, Interweave Press, and Knit So Fine's legions of fans.

DVH: I'm sitting here this morning with my dear friend, Carol Sulcoski, one of women behind one of this season's biggest new books, Knit So Fine: Designs With Skinny Yarn. The other two, Laura Grutzeck and Lisa Myers, couldn't be bothered to show up. Carol, good morning!

Hello again, Dolores.

DVH: What can I get you to drink, cupcake?

CS: If you've got some of the Krug Clos du Mesnil '95 I'll have that. Otherwise I can slum it with Perrier-Jouet.

DVH: Right you are, pretty lady. Tequila coming up. And would you care for some snacks? I got soft cheese on Triscuits, toast points with anchovy paste and these fabulous Crispy Hay Nibbles I picked up at Trader Joe's.

CS: Thanks. Just had breakfast. How about we just skip right to the interview?

DVH: It's kind of warm in here. Would you like to take off that sweater?

CS: Actually, I made it myself so I would prefer to keep it on.

DVH: Were you this difficult before knitting stardom, or has success made you so stand-offish?

CS: Well, I–

DVH: Doesn't matter. Moving right along. Let's see, "Question one, ask subject to tell something about self, such as when she started knitting." Carol, tell me something about yourself. When did you start knitting?

CS: My mom taught me when I was seven. She always made us mittens and scarves–it was the seventies, so they were usually avocado green Wintuk. I convinced her to teach me to knit and started a scarf. I didn't learn to purl, though, for about twenty more years. When I was a young lawyer in Philadelphia, I started knitting again to help deal with all the stress. I remembered how to do the knit stitch, and bought a little booklet to teach myself the rest.

DVH: Fascinating, Carol, just fascinating. And you have very nice rack, by the way.

CS: Well, okay. Thanks. I hope this isn't too forward, but since we're asking personal questions can you tell me what your micron count is?

DVH: Why don't you have a little feel and take a guess?

CS: Never mind.

DVH: Ah, East Coast girls. So prim and puritanical on the outside, such seething cauldrons of passion just under the surface.

CS: Does this have anything to do with my book?

DVH: Oh, right, we do need to have some book chat or Franklin says I don't get my fifty bucks. Knit So Fine is all about skinny yarn. What do you have against fat yarn?

CS: Absolutely nothing. But just as the yin needs its yang, just as a delicate Brie provides an alternative to the tart Cheez Whiz, I find that skinny yarns provide a great counterpoint to chunky ones.

DVH: I'm just teasing you, cupcake. It's my way. Honestly, that Colinette Tao you sent me–the stuff you used in one of your patterns–is divine. Pure silk always makes me think of Rita Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai. What drew you to it?

CS: I was entranced by the luster and feel, as well as the sense of luxury and glamour it evokes.

DVH: Well, I did a wee swatchie with some of mine, and knew exactly what I wanted to make because the drape with fine silk yarn is so incredible. Guess what I made with it.

CS: Um...A Clapotis?

DVH: No, guess again.

CS: Véronik Avery’s Beret Gauffre?

DVH: Wrong! Guess again.

CS: I didn’t think so. But I really like talking with un accent Québecois.

DVH: I’ll give you a hint. I’m wearing it right now.

CS: A camisole?

DVH: Wrong! Show and tell time. Lacy knickers! Perfect for summer! Look!

[Long silence.]

DVH: I think it’s definitely hot in here. You’re flushed. Why don’t you take off that sweater?

CS: I’m...fine. Besides, one of my editors, the wonderful Anne Merrow, warned me quite ferociously to keep all my clothes on during interviews.

DVH: Well, excuse me for living. So, little Miss Famous Author, why should people buy your book? Doesn’t it take forever to knit stuff with these little tiny yarns?

CS: Dolores, hon, you managed to knit yourself a pair of size XXL lady knickers in just a few weeks, so you can see that fine yarns don’t take that long. Besides, one of the biggest advantages of fine yarns is fit. Fine yarns fit better and they are more flattering to one’s figure. Even a zaftig Romney will look much more svelte and slim in a sweater knit in fine yarns.

Speaking purely hypothetically, of course.

DVH: Can you give us a little peek at the future?

CS: Sure thing! Right now, I’m finishing up a second book with Interweave Press that is scheduled for release in January. It’s all about how to knit socks in handpainted yarns, and patterns were contributed by some of the coolest designers in the business – Nancy Bush, Ann Budd, Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Véronik Avery – as well as some newer names, too. Laura, Lisa and I are also talking to our editor about a sequel to Knit So Fine: I’d love to do a follow-up that features designs for men and women. And maybe sheep.

DVH: Exciting! Can you give me a little peek at your rack?

CS: You'll have to wait until Mardi Gras like everyone else.

DVH: More tequila?

CS: No.

DVH: Fine, we're done. Franklin, where's my fifty bucks?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Toronto Packing List

Packing for Toronto

  1. Camera. Would be difficult to photograph 120 knitters for 1000 Knitters Project without camera.

  2. Scarf. Would be difficult to photograph 120 knitters working on scarf without scarf.

  3. Yarn. For raffle at Lettuce Knit. Am sure there is already plenty of yarn in Canada, but have impression they are always happy to get more.

  4. Other raffle prizes. Not yarn, but still pretty cute.

  5. Moose repellent.

  6. Lyric sheet for "O, Canada." In case of impromptu sing-along.

  7. Bag of extra u's. For use in "honour," "colour," etc. Natives apparently sensitive about this.

  8. American-Canadian dictionary with metric converter and supplement on proper usage of "Eh?". In case am suddenly separated from guide and must speak unassisted to locals about curling, back bacon, or toques.

  9. Hockey skates.

  10. Passport. May help if American border guards balk at permitting re-entry of Arab Democrat hippie homo yarn smuggler.

  11. Stephanie's birthday present. Don't forget livestock certificate.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Scenes from TNNA

I've been back home from TNNA for two days, and already my memories of the weekend have taken on the candy-colored hyperreality of an especially lucid, potent dream. The things I'm remembering can't be true, can they?

Did I really sign previews of my little book? Did I really sit under an umbrella and chitchat with Clara Parkes? Did Annie Modesitt and Janel Laidman really give me copies of their new books?Did I even go at all?

I would say no, except the pile of stuff still waiting to be sorted indicates otherwise.

TNNA Gatherings

I have no photographs, as there were advance warnings that anyone snapping a camera on the show floor would be flogged with iron rods and dragged naked through the streets of Columbus. I had to resort to making little notes and sketches, which it is my pleasure to share with you now.

I wish I could have taken you all with me, but there was only one bed in my hotel room and I snore, so you would not have got much sleep.

This is me at TNNA.


Here is me with my fun friend Carol Sulcoski and her fun friend Laura Grutzeck. They wrote Knit So Fine.

Carol and Laura

I got to meet Jess and Casey! I got to meet Mary-Heather, too, but she moved before I could finish the picture.


This is a diagram of our dinner table on Friday night. (I had a salad and Yarn Harlot put a sock in my mouth.) You can see actual photos at Anne's blog.

TNNA Dinner Table

At the Interweave Press booth I finally got to meet Anne Merrow, who is the editor of my little book.

My Dear Editor

And I got to meet Eunny Jang who edits Interweave Knits.

Eunny Jang

Jeane Hutchins, the editor of PieceWork, showed me the advance copy of the article I wrote about my Grandma for the summer issue. I was happy I could express my appreciation in person.

Jeane Hutchins

On Saturday morning I signed previews of my book, it was fun!

Signing at the Interweave Booth

At TNNA when you are not working you can wander around the show and collect free samples, but you have to be pretty good at sweet-talking the vendors. I wasn't very successful at first.

Goody Bags

Here is something I noticed about three famous people I met at the show.

In the Zone

I had male bonding with Drew Emborsky, the Crochet Dude.

Crochet Dude

I ate miraculous Jeni's Ice Cream with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and Sandi Wiseheart. Mine was Belgian Chocolate. Sandi is even nicer in person than you would think. You should meet her.

Jeni's Ice Cream

I walked around the show for a little while with Stephanie. It took us two hours to move fifteen feet because some people recognized her and wanted to say hi.

Stephanie P-M

Some of the vendors were wicked nice to me.


I kept meeting cool people and being geeky at them.

Veronik Avery

Really geeky.

Cat Bordhi

There was terrific yarn everywhere! And I got some!

Westminster Fibers

Abby Franquemont even gave me some yarn she spun herself. I loved watching her spin; she's so masterful the fiber and the spindle are like extensions of her hands. She has very graceful hands, like little white birds that dance together in the air.


I hated to leave but at some point you just have to go home or your head will explode. Thanks, everybody, for making the new boy feel so welcome. I can't wait until next time.

Listen to This

A couple of weeks ago I had a long, jolly chat with David Reidy (the sexiest male voice in knitting podcastery) and the interview is included the latest episode of Sticks and String. I've been listening to Sticks and String for a long time, so it was funny to tune in as usual and hear myself. The segment is so well-edited that I sound almost coherent.

David, it was great talking to you. Let's do it again, next time in Australia, preferably when it's February in Chicago.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Keepin' It Weird

First, I must offer my thanks to all of you who left comments or sent e-mails asking whether I was sick, dead or perhaps trapped beneath a fallen refrigerator and therefore unable to blog. The answer, happily for me, is None of the Above.

I just don't know where the week went. I came back from Austin, I did some work for the little book, and I got ready for my first-ever trip to The National Needle Arts Association's summer trade show. That's a mouthful, so most folks just call it TNNA. The semi-annual TNNA shows are where needlework retailers go to meet vendors large and small, see what's new and place their orders. Chances are, if it's on a shelf at your local yarn store, the owner first saw it at TNNA.

Before I get to that, though, I gotta tell you about the 1,000 Knitters shoot at The Knitting Nest in Austin.

The Knitting Nest is a new shop. The owner, Stacy, hasn't been open for long but I think she's going to be around for a while. You know how some shop owners create a good, solid shop with good service, and then others do that and also build what amounts to a haven for the yarnishly inclined? Stacy's of the latter variety.

Our little trio got an extremely warm welcome at the airport from the Knitting Nest's own trio: Staci (the Nest's beloved teacher), Steph (who isn't strictly on the payroll, but acts as a combination porter, ambassadress, cheerleader and photographer), and David (Stacy's husband, known for good reason on her blog as Mr Wonderful).

"Welcome to Austin, Ms Van Hoofen," said David, extending a hand to Dolores.

"Don't be so formal," said Dolores. "Call me Dolly and gimme a hug, you big longhorn."

David hesitated, fingering his wedding band.

"Give her one," I said. "Or she'll just take it anyway."

A few minutes later the hug was over and we were off to the hotel. Harry had been chatting with Steph and was clearly enamored of her KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD t-shirt. He'd been extremely excited at the prospect of going to a town that holds great store by its weirdos and was eagerly scanning the sidewalks for his first sighting.

"Can I meet some weirdos? I think weirdos are cool. I think I want a KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD ball band. Is that a weirdo over there? How about her, is she a weirdo? She looks like she might be a weirdo."

"You know," said Steph, "I'm pretty weird."

Whereupon Harry was struck speechless for the rest of the drive.

The day of the shoot dawned bright and hot. I opened the curtains to find this splendid view waiting. Nothing gets my blood pumping like a cool new skyline first thing in the morning.

Austin Skyline

I listened to the weather report for the sheer pleasure of hearing the weather lady say "The hot, dry and sunny trend will continue through the week." You don't hear that in Chicago unless it's followed by the words "April" and "fool."

I asked Dolores and Harry if they wanted to come along to meet the knitters, but they declined. Dolores was set on visiting the museum and libraries at the University of Texas campus. Harry, with map, camera and binoculars at the ready, was going weirdo watching.

By the time David and I got to the shop–an hour early–there were already folks waiting outside. Inside, there was a buzz of cheerful preparatory activity as Stacy and her crew put the registration table and everything else into apple pie order.

Then the doors opened and all cheerful hell broke loose. We had 57 knitters roll through and it was a group I'll never forget.

Austin Dozen No. 2

Guess what? We passed the 800 mark with Sherilyn, Knitter 0800.

Knitter 0800

And Ana, Knitter 0772, knit one of her hand-made Lone Star stitch markers into the scarf as a souvenir of Texas. I was touched.

Knitter 0772

Lone Star

One of the things I'm discovering is that the cliché "everybody has a story" is actually true–and the stories are fascinating. So far in these little reports you're getting mostly the images; but the final project will be just as much about the stoies. Here are two stories I have to share, in brief, from Austin.

Meet Rachel, Knitter 0794.

Knitty Knitty Bang Bang

Rachel used to be a Texas Rollergirl under the nom de skate Kitty Kitty Bang Bang. She has since retired, and now goes by Knitty Knitty Bang Bang. I am fairly certain she is the first roller derby queen in our line-up.

Meet Sam, Knitter 0809.

Soldier Knitter

So far as I know, Sam is the only person in the series who learned to knit in order to pass long, tedious hours sitting in a tank in Iraq. Thank you for serving, Sam.

Sam's Big Needles

And before any of you write to ask, Sam is married to the adorable Amy, Knitter 0808–fourth row below, on the left. So fuggedaboudit.

Austin Dozen No. 1

The last of the two sitter's was Amanda, Knitter 0813. Amanda's just finishing up her college degree in Photojournalism and was kind enough to show me her portfolio. The kid has it, in spades. Somebody at Spin or Rolling Stone needs to take notice. I hope some day one of the things they'll say about me is that I shot Amanda Klaus before she got all famous and uppity.

Two Remarkable Women

And we capped it off with the Lady Herself, Stacy, the mastermind behind all of it. Stacy, what can I say? You are a perfect example of why Texas hospitality deserves its legendary status.

When the day was done Stacy asked me to decorate the blank wall of the sit-and-knit area, which we'd used as a backdrop, with a portrait of the candidate whom she, a loyal Fibertarian, will be supporting come November. Dolores breezed in just before dinner (naturally) so she, Harry and Stacy's adorable Westie, Hank, struck a pose.

On the Wall

If you're curious as to how the drawing emerged, the awesome Steven has a sort of time-lapse series on his blog. (Love the title, by the way.) How anybody will be able to sit and knit with this staring down at them I don't know, but it ain't my shop.

And then they fed me barbecue. Real barbecue from The Salt Lick. We all ate around the big table in the shop like the Waltons, although I don't recall that the Waltons ever talked about yarn over dinner. (More fools they.)

Knitting Nest Crew

Knitting Nesters, you won my heart. I hated to leave and I can't wait to come back. Thanks for everything. Miss you, miss Texas, miss the brisket. Especially you. And the brisket.