Saturday, December 19, 2009

Out of the Sketchbook

I'd like to have done a more finished version of this, but–well, read the caption and draw your own conclusions.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Up to My Neck

Feh. Blurgh. Yuck. Five days laid up with a cold. And such a cold. Such a cold as I would not wish on my worst enemies, not even parents who let their five-year-olds push the grocery cart.

This was no pissant, garden variety, off-the-rack sniffle. It was epic. Five days of ceaseless misery; of labored breathing; of lying in bed and looking up to find a flight of angels beckoning toward a bright, bright light.

Cough Cough Cough

And I was like, Are you kidding? Have you seen all the Christmas knitting I have left to finish? And they were like, Whoa–nevermind.

So I was not gathered to my reward, and am expected to make a full recovery; but Dolores is working on a screen treatment of my story. We're hopeful that HBO or Lifetime will option it for a new picture in which I'll be played by either Steve Buscemi (if the former) or Valerie Bertinelli (if the latter).

I'm back on my feet just in time to trot up to Madison, Wisconsin to speak to the Madison Knitters' Guild (details here). The topic will be Antique Knitting Patterns. And you can wipe that look off your face because that's what they asked me to talk about. Those knitters up in Madison are hardcore. They appreciate the entertainment value of this kind of thing:

Old Pattern

You just know it's going to be a wild night.


I finished knitting something. It's the neck warmer that launched a thousand swatches, and was begun in earnest while we waited in New York for the flight to London.

Calaf 2

I could have skipped the swatching and been done with it in a week, if I hadn't decided it would be fun to work out my cable pattern.

And then I thought, wouldn't it be fun to work the cables the long way so they'll wrap around the neck? And then I thought, wouldn't it be fun if the cables flowed out of the edge treatment? And then I thought, wouldn't it be fun to make the edge treatment flow out of the cast-on edge? And then I thought, wouldn't it be fun to make the cast-off edge the mirror image of the cast-on edge?

And then I thought, wouldn't it be fun if I stopped swatching and knit the damned thing?

Calaf 4

Look, children, at all the fun.

Calaf 3

It still needs buttons. I haven't found the right ones yet. I'm being hyperfussy about the buttons. Surprise.

Calaf 5

It has, to my eye, an air of chinoisérie, therefore I'm naming it "Calaf" after the hero in Puccini's Turandot. Calaf tells Turandot the Ice Princess that he thinks she's groovy, and she threatens to have his head cut off; so there's a subtle jest in using his name for a neck wrap. Okay, a very subtle jest.

Shut up. I bet they're laughing in Madison.

P.S. Lorna's Laces Fisherman Yarn in "Pine." Good stuff.

Monday, November 30, 2009

About a Rose

Way back when I was living in Boston and working for starvation wages at a rather grim college for musicians, I had a secret dream. Well, I had two; but the first involved feeding the president, provost and faculty of the grim college for musicians into a wood chipper, so I kept it quiet.

The second was to be a host on The Victory Garden. Didn't happen. It's tough to land a job demonstrating the proper way to espalier an apple tree when you've never actually tended any plant that wouldn't fit in a window box.*

All of my adult life, you see, I've been a city apartment dweller with–at best–a south-facing windowsill deep enough for a couple of African violets. So, although I yearned for a bit of earth, I was stuck with Gertrude Jekyll, The Victory Garden, and digging compulsively in my window box with a very tiny spade. Did you know that too much loving care can actually kill an African violet?

Since African violets are supposed to be the one thing still blooming after a nuclear holocaust, when I got my hands on a rose bush I figured the sucker was toast.

Mind you, I'm talking about one tough mofo of a rose. It grows on this property in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood–so-called because of its proximity to the famous Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

This rose sprouted voluntarily in a bed adjacent to the sidewalk, and there survived at least 25 brutal Chicago winters without a lick of attention. It is also an easy target for drunken Cubs fans who stop to pee on it as they stumble away from yet another ignominious defeat. A rose that can handle being pissed on every time the Cubs lose is a rose that wants to live.

When I took control of the flower bed, the rose was alive, but only just. It had one large dead and two small living stems, the tallest being six inches high. Nobody knew what color it was, since nobody in the building could remember it blooming. One year it achieved a bud, which promptly turned black and fell off. If it were a person, this rose would have spent every day in a dark bedroom listening to emo and writing Twilight slash fiction.

After doing a little soil preparation, I moved the whole plant from the shady corner to a sunnier spot on the other side of the bed. I fed it. I watered it. I encouraged it to do its own thing, but told it I was there if it needed me.

And three months later, look what happened.

First Rose

Just a small bloom, yes; but it burst forth with panache and lasted an entire day until a passing hurricane lopped it off at the neck. So I christened it Marie Stuart.

Not long after, Marie managed another bloom. By then it was nearly September, and in Chicago's climate after September 1st all bets are off as to what the weather might do. As I watered the bed, I found myself humming a favorite song, John Stevenson's "The Last Rose of Summer."

If you were assembling an album to be titled Queen Victoria's Greatest Hits, "The Last Rose of Summer" would jockey for top billing with "Home, Sweet Home" and "The Lost Chord." The lyric–actually a poem by the Irishman Thomas Moore–is a real heart-tugger.

In the first stanza, we note the eponymous blossom, looking lovely but lonely:
'Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
To give sigh for sigh.

Sniff. But wait, it gets better. This is a Victorian poem, remember? And what's a Victorian poem without a little premature death?

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter,
Thy leaves o'er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

In case you're made of stone, Moore throws in one more stanza that ponders the futility of life and the cold, cold solace of the grave.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
From Love's shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit,
This bleak world alone?


Seriously, it's really a sweet, simple little piece. These days it's more or less the property of schlockmeisters like Charlotte Church and André Rieu. But I'll never forget a performance I heard once in the mid-1990s on World AIDS Day: nothing but a tenor and a piano. The singer, the pianist and about half the men in the audience had watched all or most of their beautiful friends die. In that room, in that context, it was devastating.

Of course, Mother Nature doesn't give two hoots about poetic justice. Well into fall, the dang rose sent up two new shoots and each produced a bud, which meant Exhibit A was at best The Penultimate Rose of Summer. Who's going to set that to music? Nobody, that's who.

When the late arrivals hadn't opened by the time I left for England, I figured frost would get them. Nope. They just got bigger and fatter and then, on Thanksgiving Day: pop.

Second Rose

As dear Edmund Waller wrote, "Go, lovely rose! Dude! Right on!"

*Also, I was the wrong color. Everybody on The Victory Garden was white, in that purebred luminescent way that only old-style Bostonians can be white. The show's sole nod to ethnic diversity, as I recall, was a presenter whose last name was Shimizu, and even she was blonde.

**Rolling On the Floor Clutching My Mourning Brooch and Sobbing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Incident at Windsor

As you may recall, Dolores professed herself a newly converted disciple of Love and Light after her extended stay at the Voluptuous Lotus Ashram and Casino in Eugene, Oregon. And she did seem softer around the edges–less inclined to sarcasm, more inclined to help with the laundry; and while not entirely teetotal, certainly more moderate in her drinking.

“Three days on one bottle of Stoli,” I said to Tom, “and yesterday she washed and ironed all the napkins without being asked. Maybe she really has changed.” He patted me indulgently on the head, much as he pats Augie, his mastiff, whenever Augie mistakes the fire hydrant on the corner for another, redder dog and tries to chase it away.

I know what you’re thinking. But if you remember any of my previous trips with Dolores, you will understand my urgent need to believe that this time would be different.

True, the ride over was pretty smooth, although the surly border guard at Heathrow insisted that Dolores was livestock and therefore subject to a long list of restrictions including quarantine. We waited nervously while she and several uniformed officials disappeared together into one of those Little Rooms. Five minutes and forty-three seconds later, she emerged with her hat slightly askew and a stamped passport.

Harry, of course, was agog and excited from the moment we stepped into the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station and started trying out his idiomatic British English on the other passengers.

“Hi,” he said to the guy across the aisle. “I mean, g’day. No, wait, that’s Australian. Um. Wait. Oh, yeah. View halloo, old sport! My mates and I have just popped across the pond and are most dreadfully peckish would love to find a jolly mess of crumpets. Where do you think we should go to get some?”

The man frowned and turned to the lady next to him, who was buried in a copy of Le Figaro. “Qu’est-ce qu’il a dit?” he hissed. There was a whispered conversation, and a bunch of shrugging; and then the man tossed Harry what turned out to be a two-pound coin and waved him away.

“Wow,” Harry said to me, admiring the golden profile of The Queen. “I like England. At home all I ever got on the subway was a pamphlet about how Jesus is coming and he’s in a bad mood. Who’s this pretty lady?”

“That’s Queen Elizabeth,” said Dolores. “She runs this place.”

“The whole train?” said Harry.

“The whole frigging sceptered isle,” sighed Dolores. “Plus the island next door. Lucky bitch.”

“Wow,” said Harry. “That’s a lot to be queen of.”

“She used to have a whole empire,” I said, “but some of it dropped off.”

“She’s a hoot,” said Dolores. “If we run into her I’ll introduce you.”

“Of course,” said Tom. “Of course you know The Queen.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” said Dolores. “She wrote me a fan letter once.”

“I’m not going to ask,” said Tom, looking out the window. “I’m not, I’m not, I’m not.”

“Last time I was over here I was working for the BBC,” Dolores said. “Years ago. I had a recurring role on The Archers. I played a well-to-do American sheep who comes to Ambridge searching for distant relations–real heartbreaking stuff. They appreciate high-class drama in this country.”

“Notice how I didn’t ask,” Tom said to me.

“Well, at the climax of the story line I had this knock-down drag-out fight with Jill Archer because Phil was going to leave her and run away with me to Natchez, Mississippi, so we could start a new life together as co-proprietors of a puppet theater.”

“Still not listening,” said Tom.

“Oh, I am,” I said. “Do please continue.”

“Anyhow, I had no idea but Elizabeth–or Betty, that’s what she likes to be called–Betty is a big-time Archers fan and she got totally into the story, and the next thing you know this dude shows up at my door with the wig and the buckled shoes and the whole nine yards, and hands me a gushy note on her personal stationery asking me to come over and hang out, plus a signed picture and a little brooch shaped like a corgi.”

“What’s a corgi?” asked Harry.

“A dog,” I said.

“Like Augie?”

“Sort of like Augie,” said Dolores, “but half as much dog and twice as much teeth. She collects them. They run around the palace and pee on the carpets. I’d hate to see her cleaning bills.”

“I don’t like how the dogs sound,” said Harry. “But I like how The Queen sounds. Can we go see her?”

“No,” I said. “She’s a very busy lady. But we’re going to visit one of the big houses she lives in, up on a hill at a place called Windsor.”

“Cool,” said Harry. “I mean, jolly good, old chap.”

“We’re almost to Paddington Station,” said Tom. “Finally. How long have we been stuck on this train?”

“Fifteen minutes,” I said.

He glanced at his watch, and sighed.

* * * * *

We were back at Paddington a few days later, bright and early, to catch the train to Slough and connect there with the train to Windsor.

In case you’re planning a visit of your own, be advised that Paddington Station is an absolute nuthouse on weekday morning. The platforms are crowded with Very Important People in expensive suits, dashing around like a startled herd of pinstriped gazelles

Harry was terrified of being kicked onto the tracks, so Dolores picked him up and stuffed him into her handbag until we found our car and settled in for the ride.

On the Train

“I wish you wouldn’t have run so fast,” he huffed as Dolores lifted him, sputtering and disheveled, onto the seat. “You broke some of the cookies.”

“Cookies? What cookies?”

“The ones I brought for the Majesty Lady if she’s at home. You should always bring a little something when you visit somebody’s house so I brought snickerdoodles. If she’s not there I’ll leave them in the hall with a note.”

“Crumbs!” Dolores snapped, peering into the depths of her handbag. “My whole damned bag is full of cookie crumbs! If there are butter stains on my emergency panties swear I’m gonna smack you until you felt!”

“Let’s moderate our voices, shall we?” I said. “Seeing as we’re in England, Land of Hope and Glory and Nice, Hushed Tones?”

“I’m going to take pictures,” said Harry. “Smile, Tom!”

Tom smiled.

Smile, Tom

The journey from London to Windsor is blessedly brief, and minutes after leaving Slough the famous Round Tower of Windsor hove into view.

“Check it out,” I said. “The standard is flying. The Queen’s at home.”

“Whee!” said Harry. “Good thing I remembered the cookies.”

“Calm down,” I said. “It’s not like she’s going to answer the doorbell. If we’re very lucky, we might catch a glimpse of her from a distance.”

“Pish,” sniffed Dolores. “I’ll just let one of her people know I’m here and we can all say hello. If found out I came over and didn’t tell her, she’d be pissed.”

“American pissed or English pissed?” Harry asked.

“American,” said Dolores.

“Righty-ho,” said Harry.

Dolores dropped her name repeatedly¬–to the ticket taker, a tour guide on the North Terrace and a guy pushing a wheelbarrow through the Moat Garden–but to her great surprise we were not immediately ushered into The Presence.

“Her Majesty will wish to see me if you will kindly let her know I’ve arrived,” she said to the guard at the entrance to the exhibit of Queen Mary’s Doll’s House.

“Yes, madam,” said the guard vaguely, “this way, please, and mind the step.”

“That’s Van Hoofen, with a double O.”

“Yes, madam. This way please, so as not to block the doorway.”

Even as royal residences go, Windsor is in a class by itself. Harry was mesmerized–as we all were–by the sight of what can be achieved over the course of one thousand years by scores of artists and architects all pouring themselves into the creation and decoration of one splendid building.

“I wish we could take pictures,” Harry whispered to me as we stood at the door of the Waterloo Room, taking in the colossal portraits of the European leaders who had banded together to defeat Napoleon.

“Me too,” I said.

When we reached St. George’s Hall, an immense banqueting room magnificently restored after the fire of 1992, Harry’s jaw dropped.

“It’s so big! Do you think sometimes The Queen likes to put on her roller skates and come in here and go around and around until she gets dizzy?”

“I hope so,” I said.

Dolores, meanwhile, had buttonholed one a particularly well-shaped guard near the fireplace.

“With a double O,” she was insisting. “We’re friends from my days with the BBC. Listen, gorgeous–if she finds out I was here and nobody bothered to tell her, she’ll start cutting off heads. You know how she gets. And it would be a shame for such a pretty head to end up in a dumpster.”

“Perhaps madam would like to move on to the next room?” said the guard nervously.

“Madam is definitely moving,” I said, grabbing Dolores by the arm. “And I apologize profusely.”

“Not at all,” said the guard, looking relieved.

“When they break both your skinny legs on the rack,” she shouted as I nudged her onward, “don’t come running to me!”

Harry is a stalwart fellow, but by the time we’d crossed the full expanse of the hall and reached the next room, Tom noticed he was rolling a lot slower than usual.

“You feeling okay, Harry?”

“Yup,” Harry said. “But there sure is a lot of floor in this place.”

“Maybe Dolores could give you lift.”

“Nothing doing, bright eyes. The inside of my purse already looks like an explosion at the Little Debbie factory.”

“Please?” Harry begged.

“The young gentleman does seem a trifle peaked,” said yet another guard, stepping forward. “If you’ll pardon my saying so, miss.”

For a moment, their eyes locked. Dolores sized him up, and down. “Cripes–does she handpick all you guys on the basis of a close resemblance to Colin Firth? Or is it just a coincidence?”

The guard blushed and looked at his brightly polished shoes.

“Honey,” she said, stooping to give Harry a gentle pat, “of course you can ride in Auntie Dolores’s purse. Step right in and get comfy cozy, and maybe this handsome specimen of British beef would be kind enough to point out some fine points of the architecture?”

“With pleasure,” said the guard, still blushing. “Over here is a memorial to those who fought the great fire…”

“Pssst. Check it out,” said Tom quietly to me, nodding at a door inside in alcove that had been cordoned off with velvet rope. “The guidebook says it’s the entrance to the private apartments.”

I knew what he was thinking.

“Dolores,” I said, “We really need to get going.”

But she had already spotted the door, and had a determined look on her face.

“Do you smell that?” she whispered, sniffing the air.

“Smell what?” I said.

“White Shoulders. Her perfume. She’s probably right there on the other side.”

“I don’t know what perfume The Queen wears,” said Tom. “But I’m pretty sure it’s not White Shoulders.”

“Oswald,” said Dolores to the guard, “Oswald, sweetheart–to what of fragrance is the boss lady partial?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” said the guard. “Most embarrassing. We’re supposed to be able to answer all questions a visitor may pose.”

“Shucks,” Dolores pouted. “I’d really like to know. See, I’d like to get a bottle of whatever it is myself, and dab it gently on all my tenderest parts when I’m fresh from the bath.”

Oswald turned as scarlet as his coat. “Er, um, well, you know,” he stuttered, “I could ask my friend Eddie–he’s just in the next room–he’s been here heaps longer than I–I’m sure I could find out for you.”

“You do that, lovey,” cooed Dolores, blowing him a kiss.

Oswald disappeared through the door to St. George’s Hall, and Dolores ducked under the velvet rope. I grabbed at her coat, but she was too quick.

“Next room?” said Tom.

“Next room,” I said.

We moved briskly along the designated path, pausing now and again to listen for the alarm bell that would indicate Dolores had come face-to-face with her old pal.

“Do you think The Queen might shoot her?” asked Tom, sounding rather hopeful. “I bet she carries a gun in that purse.”

“She must have people to do that kind of thing for her.”

“If they serve mutton at the next Garter Lunch we’ll know for sure.”

We had reached a room that looked out over The Quadrangle, a large courtyard separating the State and Private Apartments. Tom wandered over to the window and gasped. “Come here! Quick! Corgis!”

Sure enough, a trio of royal dogs was bounding across the emerald-green grass, chasing after a little blue ball.

We had only begun to take in the charming scene when a rapid tapping of hooves and the sound of ragged breathing made us turn around. And there, breathless and panting, was Dolores. Her coat was torn and her open handbag dangled from a shaky hoof.

“So,” said Tom, “How’s Betty?”

“Ha frickity ha ha,” said Dolores. “Before I could get near her those dogs came outta nowhere and lunged at me. Look at my clothes! Shredded! I thought they were gonna eat me alive.”

“If only,” Tom sighed.

“It was like a frigging Merchant-Ivory remake of Wolfen. All brocade and sharp teeth. I threw everything in my purse at them and I still barely got away with both legs.”

“Everything in your purse?”

“Everything. I’m gonna sue the knickers off that woman. I had a brand-new two hundred dollar tube of mascara in there.”

“Dolores,” I said, swallowing a rising sense of panic, “You’re here. Where’s Harry?”

“He was…I just…wait a minute…”

She turned her open bag upside down, dislodging a small cascade of snickerdoodle crumbs.

Out in the courtyard, the corgis began yapping like mad. We turned to the window and saw them still chasing the little blue ball–which was now trying frantically to climb up the wall.

* * * *

That afternoon, on the train back to London, Harry sat quietly on my lap munching a Duchy Originals Oaten Biscuit and pondering a sheet of extremely posh stationery covered with crisp black handwriting.

“Did I tell you that she looks just like she does on the money?”

“Six times,” muttered Dolores.

“And she said she was so sorry about what the dogs did to my old ball band, and she gave me this new one as a present,” he said, puffing up his chest to show off the gilt EIIR emblazoned across the front, just above the washing instructions.

“Do we have to go over this again?” Dolores moaned. “I have a sick headache.”

“Ignore her,” I said. “You look very snazzy. Right royal, in fact.”

“I told her about the snickerdoodles and she said it was too bad the dogs got them because she really likes a good snickerdoodle in the afternoon. Did you know that?”

“I bet they pair well with Dubonnet and gin,” said Tom.

“Fascinating,” said Dolores. “Alert the Times.”

“And she told me I should come back again soon and we can have tea and she’ll introduce me to her yarn. All I have to do is show the doorman in the funny hat this letter, because now my name is on a list.”

“Ain’t that just dandy?” said Dolores.

“Oh,” said Harry. “I asked if I could bring you, Dolores, and she didn’t remember you, but I told her all about you, and spelled your name for her, with a double O. And she put you on a list, too. Except I guess it’s a different kind of list.”

“Harry,” said Dolores, “When we get home I’m going to spit splice you to the tail of Mrs Teitelbaum’s cat.”

Royal Harry

“Righty-ho” said Harry.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

London (and Windsor) Alphabet

London and Windsor Alphabet

A. Column, Victoria and Albert Museum
B. Boots the Chemist
C. Charing Cross Road Station
D. St. Paul's Churchyard
E. Royal Cypher, Windsor Castle
F. Foyle's Bookshop
G. Entrance, National Portrait Gallery
H. Old Deanery, St. Paul's
I. Ladies' Room Sign, Windsor Guildhall
J. Jane Bostocke's Sampler
(the oldest known signed and dated sampler, 1598)
K. Railing of the Golden Gallery, St. Paul's Cathedral
L. Fire Plug Notice, Windsor Castle
M. Royal Insignia, Windsor Station
N. Monument to Queen Anne
O. Sign for the Moat Path, Windsor
P. "Mind the Gap," Tottenham Court Road
Q. Sign for Old Queen Street, Westminster
R. Sign for Thurloe Place, South Kensington
S. Restaurant Awning, Windsor
T. Turnbull and Asser, Tailors, Jermyn Street
U. Queen Mary Memorial, St. James's
V. Cypher of Queen Victoria, Mail Box, Windsor
W. Lamp Post, Piccadilly
X. Some Pub or Other (Ox? Fox? Goldilox?), Windsor
Y. Christmas Factory (No Kidding), Windsor
Z. Don't Remember Anything About This One Except
Being Relieved to Have Spotted
a Frigging Z on the Way to the Southampton

We're home.

Friday, November 06, 2009

En Route

The first leg of the journey across the pond is complete. We are now pond-adjacent. Greetings from Kennedy Airport, New York City.

View of the tarmac, JFK

As usual, I don't know how I got here. Yes, I know there was an airplane involved. But the bit before that has gone all fuzzy.

I've spent about the past week dancing my customary work-pack-work-pack two-step to the beat of Harry singing "My Old Man Said Follow the Van" and "Land of Hope and Glory" to "get us all into that London-type mood."

And then Mrs Teitelbaum, ever the helpful neighbor, presented him with a copy of Useful English Vocabulary for Americans Abroad. He's been frantically brushing up his English ever since. Our bathroom is the loo; our cookies are biscuits; the grocery delivery truck is a lorry; and when Dolores sent him to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes, his new vocabulary almost got him punched in the mouth.

Speaking of Dolores, she's back. She returned from the ashram two days ago, swathed in a baby blue batik caftan that she claims was dyed to match her newly renovated aura. She doesn't look any different; maybe a trifle thinner, but it's hard to tell with a caftan. Harry says last night he heard her chanting in the shower, and this morning she snapped at me for running over her chi with my roll-aboard.

The most difficult part of packing was, of course, figuring out the knitting. This is going to be a two-week trip.

I envy dedicated sock knitters the ease with which they must pack for this sort of thing. One set of needles, plus maybe a spare set. Chuck in a couple balls of something cute, and close the suitcase.

I brought along the neck warmer that's been my project-in-chief since I finished the Transatlantic Scarf. If you think that sounds like an awful lot of time to spend on a neck warmer, you're right. Unfortunately, after scanning every pattern on Ravelry tagged "cowl," "neck," "warmer," "gaiter," and "dickey," I realized I wasn't going to be happy unless I made up my own. Not because there were no good patterns–there are some spectacular patterns. But somehow nobody has posted a pattern for knitting up the finished object in my brain.

Twelve swatches later, we have this.

Cables at Kennedy Airport

I had to take the picture with the computer camera, but perhaps you can still get the idea. I had very particular notions about how I wanted to treat the edges, and spent six of those twelve swatches working on the cast-on and the first eight rows. The other six were swatches were to work out the cables, which I based on a Bavarian twisted stitch motif in the third volume of Liesl Fanderl.

Process knitter heaven. Product knitter hell.

I've also brought along a new lace project: Sharon Miller's Unst Lace Stole from Heirloom Knitting. I keep flitting around that pattern the way some folks put a copy of Middlemarch on their nightstands and leave it there, untouched, for twenty years. I think six days on a boat may help me launch it at last.

I'll report in when I can. E-mail and Internet will be sporadic from here out. At the moment, I see an American Airlines gate attendant motioning frantically from the direction in which Dolores wandered five minutes ago, so I'd better sign off. And Harry says he needs to go to the loo.

Toodle-pip, and what what.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Out of the Sketchbook

Halloween Sketchbook

Over the Water

I'll be popping across the pond in just two short weeks. On November 10 at 6* in the evening, I'll be at I Knit in London for an informal but lively evening of knitting, talking and reading from works old...and new.

In the Shop

The annual knitting ornament is newly available for your Christmas tree, Festivus pole, Hanukkah bush, Kwanzaa privet hedge, Solstice rubber plant, or Secular Humanist creeping charlie.

I enjoyed making it for you. I hope you will like it.

Ornament Preview 2009

* Whoops. I mistakenly wrote 7 pm on first writing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Story of a Scarf

Transatlantic ScarfI flicked open a discussion thread on Ravelry last week wherein a group of regulars had clustered around a new knitter to perform the customary dance of welcome, which in my imagination always mixes aspects of the Highland Fling with the “One of Us, One of Us” scene from Freaks.

The new knitter–let’s call her Petronella–had posted a shy query about something fundamental, like how to count rows in garter stitch or the proper method of stealing Alice Starmore books from the public library–and ended with a sigh about How Very Bewildering It All Is and How She’d Never Get It.

The regulars explained, encouraged, cheered, cajoled.

Of course you will get it, they said. And she will, will Petronella. She will get it, and then she will get more, and more still until the yarn begins to block out the sun from the living room windows and she joins the ring of knitters chanting “One of Us, One of Us” around an unsuspecting newbie–let’s call him Wenceslas–who was only looking for something to help pass the time while “Stargate” is in reruns.

We’ve all been there, or most of us have, and I have been thinking this week about how sneaky people are when they encourage you to take up knitting. They always emphasize the empowerment, the creativity, the yarn that’s as much fun to pet as a Shar-Pei but which will never chew your slippers or wet the carpet.

They glide right past the inconvenient truth that becoming a knitter (or a crocheter, for that matter) also makes you susceptible to an entire flotilla of neuroses of which non-initiates are cheerfully unaware.

For example, I am unable to contemplate the purchase of a winter hat–however fine or functional it might be–without a corresponding wave of guilt. I am a knitter. I do not buy hats. Why would I buy hats? It would be wrong for me to buy hats. I knit hats. Same goes for scarves.

Except that I don’t like knitting scarves.

My first project, years ago, was a scarf. So was my second project. My third was a pair of mittens. After that, four more scarves.

It was a joy, back then, to make my own scarves. You couldn’t buy anything long enough in a shop–just wimpy five-foot swatches of acrylic in WASPy oatmeal-and-rust plaids or boring stripes. It was empowering to motor through seven feet of garter stitch and end up with something superabundant that I could wrap around my neck and face, with enough extra to trail fetchingly in the Atlantic wind.

But, with all due respect to St. Elizabeth of the Schoolhouse, time and repeated exposure take the zing out of garter stitch, at least in the shape of a seven-foot rectangle.

That, kids, is why you’re not going to find a lot of scarves on my to-do list. I don’t cast them on for pure pleasure, portable though they are. On the other hand, life and winter make demands that cannot be ignored. When it happens, the best thing is try to liven up necessity with a challenge or two.

I just finished what I’m calling the Transatlantic Scarf. Last year, I made the triple-thick Transatlantic Hat for Tom, which he obligingly wore as we sailed home from London (hence the name) and which withstood a nasty and prolonged Chicago winter with nary a pill.

Transatlantic Hat

However, I wearied of seeing the hat paired with a selection of store-bought partners–thin and wimpy, not a patch on the rich, deep hand-dyed blue of the hat. I needed to fashion a proper mate. And I had enough of the identical yarn stashed away to make that happen.

Of course, the finished scarf needed to be six feet long, and the yarn in question (Sheep's Gift Solid from Joslyn's Fiber Farm) is DK. Garter stitch? No.

The hat was cabled, so I could cable the scarf. Parallel ropes of three-over-three twisted every sixth round would match perfectly. Perhaps with a nice moss stitch border.

Tried it. Got about four inches finished. Had visions of self lying in a box in a funeral home, with friends standing around whispering, “They say it was boredom.” Frogged it.

I dug into my stitch dictionaries and came up with a pattern that looked simple enough to
a) memorize, and
b) work without a cable needle
and which was also
c) the same in both directions–a visual palindrome, if you will.
That third quality meant I could use it to knit a scarf in the seaman's style, but end-to-end. No fuss with provisional cast-ons, working two pieces, and grafting.

A seaman’s scarf, if you don’t already know, consists of two wide, flat ends with the narrower center bit–the part that goes across the back of the neck–worked in ribbing. A tried-and-true concept with a comfortable fit. And psychologically, it would break up the work into three acts. Good enough for Puccini, good enough for me.

My first thought was to abruptly end the cable pattern when I reached the center and start ribbing. But as the transition approached, I knew in my gut it would be more fun–and probably handsomer–to somehow flow into the ribbing and out of it while preserving the integrity of the cables. After only two false starts (a new record for me), success.

Transatlantic Scarf

And so it’s complete, and awaiting bestowal upon the intended neck. I keep looking at it and squishing it and unrolling it and rolling it up again. I’ve started writing the pattern.

Transatlantic Scarf

I also realized, looking this morning through the box of winter accessories, that I have nothing decent with which to cover my own neck.

I’m thinking "cowl."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fleece-to-Face with Janel Laidman

Harry, the ReporterHi everybody it's Harry and I am so excited.

Because you know normally when we have a Guest Star visit Dolores gets to do the interview and all I get to do is sit in the next room in case they yell for help.

Well not today. Because it turns out that Dolores is having such an enlightened time at the ashram in Oregon that she did not come back yet and Franklin is in the room with the drawing board and the sign up that says ON DEADLINE DO NOT DISTURB UNLESS STEPHEN FRY IS AT THE FRONT DOOR NAKED AND HOLDING CASHMERE and so guess what I get to do the interview!

Janel LaidmanOur guest is Janel Laidman who wrote the The Eclectic Sole last time she wrote a book, and it was about socks. And now she wrote another book about socks which is The Enchanted Sole and when we got our copy I stayed up past my bed time reading it because it is very pretty and unusual, and so I have read the whole book. And also I am qualified to talk to Janel about knitting socks because as you know I am sock yarn.

And so anyway here is our chat which I hope you will enjoy or at least look at the pictures.

Harry: Hi, Janel! I hope you don’t mind if I do the interview. Dolores usually does them but Franklin asked if I would fill in, is that okay? I haven’t done it before but usually I get to watch Dolores so I know how I’m supposed to do it.

Janel: Well, Harry, I’m actually thrilled that you’re doing the interview. I’ve always had a bit of a secret crush on you. Dolores is all well and good with her antics and shenanigans, but I’ve always had a bit of a fondness for a guy who is clearly steady, useful and down to earth. If you ever need a place to get away from it all, I have a lovely stash you could come hang out with.

Harry: Oh gosh I am blushing! You are so cool, Dolores is going to be mad she didn't come home to do this interview! Okay, before we start would you like some milk and cookies? I made snickerdoodles and chocolate chip.

Janel: Mmmm…I’ll have the snickerdoodles, please. I mean really–snicker, doodle–how can I resist?

Harry: Excellent choice, madame. Now it's the question part so let me get my notebook. When you first tried knitting a sock, what sock was it? Was it plain or fancy? Did you think right away how cool it is to make your own socks, and dream you would make up your own sock patterns some day?

Janel: I first tried knitting a sock because I saw these really cool people called Danish schoolgirls and they were knitting socks in physics class! And somehow also learning physics, in Danish! I thought that must be the trickiest thing on earth and I decided I wanted to be a Danish schoolgirl too, so I tried knitting a sock.

It was a plain ribbed sock, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know how to knit. It came out looking like an elephant might wear it if he liked mustard yellow cotton socks. I was in Denmark because I was an exchange student and I dreamed I would someday be a famous language expert and work for the United Nations. I had no idea that my special language would end up being the language of K and P.

Talking Fish SockHarry: I understand, because I really admire Danish too except when it's prune. So you have made two books now, and the new book is called The Enchanted Sole. It has a lot of patterns, and all of the patterns are based on make-believe. Like you have a Mermaid sock, and a Pixie sock, and a sock called Licorne which is unicorn when you are speaking French. So do you enjoy make-believe stories a whole lot?

Janel: Yes, especially when they end with lots of golden coins piled up in a vault with my name on it, and fairy princesses scattering flower petals and a magical fish dinner, with a goblet that sings…Where was I?

Harry: I don't know. I kind of got lost when you said magical fish.

Janel: Well, actually I just like stories a whole lot, both make-believe and stories of “true grit." I like to work with themes as an inspiration and this particular book had a make-believe story theme.

Harry: Do you have a most favorite make-believe story? Mine is the one about the shoemaker and the elves because I think it would be fun if elves did my chores, like if I made cookies they would come in after and load the dishwasher. I like to imagine that.

Janel: I always liked the one about the talking fish who grants wishes, and the stupid guy who wishes for sausages and his stupider wife who wishes they were stuck to the end of his nose. And I also like stories that are sad and a little wistful, yet the earnest and honest person gets the rewards in the end.

Tintagel SocksHarry: That's the best kind of story! When you were making your book, how did you get ideas? Did a story make you think of a new sock, or did you maybe see a good-looking ball of yarn and it made you think of a story that you read that would be an excellent sock?

Janel: Well, both actually. Sometimes it was the story, like for example with the Snow Queen sock which was inspired by Snow Queen stories, or the Tree of Life sock - that one was definitely inspired by the many stories with a tree of life in them.

Other times a handsome ball of yarn would come along and whisper what it wanted to be. The Tintagel sock was like that and so was the Atlantis sock. I knew when I saw that watery aqua color of Madeline Tosh yarn, it just had to be something about mystical water and the word Atlantis floated up into my brain. Sometimes I was inspired by the technique and then had to figure out which story it went with. Like the Traveler sock. I knew I wanted to make a sock with a secret pocket, but then I had to figure out who would be wearing that sock.

Harry: I love the one with the secret pocket! I'm going to make it for Franklin to wear when he goes to the nudist resort so he can have a place to put his room key.

Janel: I'm sorry...what?

Harry: Would you like some more cookies? I made tons and Franklin is on a diet.

Janel: Oh my, I’m on a diet too, but really it’s hard to resist. Snicker, doodle. Who named that cookie? Oh, alright, just one more.

Harry: Do you think it is a shame to make socks with pretty feet and then put them into a shoe and nobody gets to see the pretty part?

Janel: Well, I usually wear my socks with pretty feet in some kind of open shoes like Birkenstocks so I can be as much of a show-off as possible. But I think that sometimes it’s really delicious to have a secret pretty thing that only you know is there. It makes you walk around all day with a silly little Mona Lisa smile because you know that, secretly, you have princess feet.

Harry: I agree! Are there any make-believe characters that are too scary so you wouldn’t make a sock of them because while you are knitting you would get too scared and have to put all the lights on and call your best friend?

Janel: Well, usually I think the villains in the make-believe stories are more complex than they appear to be, so they don’t usually scare me too much. However, I don’t think I’d make a scary or ugly sock. I mean, there is just too much pretty out there to enjoy. I definitely wouldn’t make a sock from The Shining because that story made me put the lights on and stay up all night singing lalalalalalala.

Firebird SocksHarry: Now these socks aren’t made out of scary stories but they might be scary to make. I will explain what mean. Like this one, Firebird, has a great big picture across the whole entire leg! If somebody is nervous about making a sock like that what would you say to be helpful and encouraging?

Janel: It’s actually not scary at all. Colorwork is a lot of fun because you can’t wait to see the picture emerging. And a colorwork sock is a much smaller project than that Henry VIII pullover by Ms. Starmore.

Most people are worried about getting the tension even doing colorwork on a small project like that. If you haven’t ever done a colorwork sock, try knitting it with the sock inside out so the floats are going around the outside, that makes the tension very even and allows for a little bit more stretch.

Also, that sock, and the other colorwork socks in the book have built in leg shaping so that they will fit the curvy part of your leg much better than a straight leg sock.

Harry: Okay, I think that is very comforting. Hey, do you only knit socks or do you knit other things, too?

Janel: I love to knit other things. It’s just that socks are kind of like potato chips, once you start it’s hard to stop.

Harry: Would you like to do more books about socks right away or do you need to rest for a little while?

The Enchanted SoleJanel: My next two books will definitely not be about socks. I love socks, but I also love other items. I’m currently smitten by mittens and gloves so I think a book about those will be in order, and I’m also quite excited by lace, and textures and sweaters. I’ll come back again to socks some day, but I think my current books can keep sock knitters busy for quite a little while.

Harry: I think you're right! Janel, it sure was nice to meet you! Thank you for being interviewed. If you want you can take some cookies home as a souvenir.

Janel: Well, it was truly a treat meeting you Harry, remember what I said, if you ever need to get away for a while…

Okay everybody, that's the interview! If you want to get The Enchanted Sole you can go to Rustling Leaf Press or visit your friendly neighborhood yarn shop. And tell them Harry sent you and I said hi!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


I have an excessively negative iPod.

I was clicking around in search of Mimi's addio from La Boheme this morning and noticed for the first time how many songs I've loaded that begin with the imperative Don't.
  • "Don't Be the Bunny" (John Cullum, Urinetown Original Broadway Cast)
  • "Don't Answer Me" (The Alan Parsons Project)
  • "Don't Bring Lulu" (Gladys Mills)
  • "Don't Call Me Baby" (Madison Avenue)
  • "Don't Dream It's Over" (Crowded House)
  • "Don't Ever Leave Me" (Pearl Bailey)
  • "Don't Leave Me This Way" (Thelma Houston)
  • "Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Germans" (Noel Coward)
  • "Don't Like Goodbyes" (Pearl Bailey, House of Flowers Original Broadway Cast)
  • "Don't Look at Me" (Barbara Cook, Follies in Concert)
  • "Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington" (Noel Coward)
  • "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" (The Andrews Sisters)
  • "Don't Tell Mama" (Natasha Richardson, Cabaret Revival Cast)
  • "Don't Waste Your Heart" (The Dixie Chicks)

To balance this I can find only Bessie Smith singing "Do Your Duty," which is not so much positive as pushy.

Friday, October 02, 2009

We Now Pause for Location Identification

From where I'm sitting I can see a skyline, and the skyline includes the Sears Tower,* and I can hear the mayor's staff weeping softly,** so this must be Chicago. Which means I must have come back from somewhere and paused on the way to somewhere else. Which means I must stop dithering and write an entry before it's time to pack the suitcase again.

Travel Snapshots

Harry caught you up on the middle portion of the tour of Washington State (thanks, Harry) and here's the finale: Paradise Fibers in Spokane.

Spokane and Seattle are in the same state, but you wouldn't know it to look at them. To get from one to the other takes about four hours by car. And if you begin in Seattle, as I did, it's shocking to pass the through vibrantly green, rain-soaked mountains and find this waiting for you on the other side.

Road to Spokane

And I thought the two halves of my brain were a study in contrasts.

Paradise Fibers was ready for me.

Paradise Fibers

I, on the other hand, wasn't quite ready for Paradise Fibers. Sure, they told me it would be...different. But I did not listen. And I was shocked.

In case you haven't been, here are some distinguishing characteristics that make the place Not Quite Your Usual LYS:
  • Shares street frontage in a warehouse building with a porn shop;
  • Sort of looks from the outside like a used auto parts dealership;
  • Has one (1) female employee, the rest (including the owner) being (cute) (straight) males;
  • Has enough square footage for the spinning wheels and looms to be in separate rooms;
  • Has a sound studio and a race car garage tucked into odd corners;
  • Served chicken kebabs to the students in both of my classes;
  • Combines excellent, friendly service and an encyclopedic selection with a cool factor that is off the charts.
Travis and Sara, who run the joint, are a trip.

Paradise Fibers

After teaching two full-to-the-brim sessions of my lace class to exuberant and often far-traveled students (including one from New Mexico and a whole pack from Idaho), I was plumb tuckered out. But these two are so engaging–every bit as cool as the shop they run–that I had to sit and up and chat with them for a while before drifting off to sleep in my beautiful room at the fabulous Montvale Hotel, which I am told once functioned as a whorehouse. Kids, it don't get no better than that.

Yup. I used the words "cool" and "fabulous" to describe a trip to Spokane. If you haven't been there, go see for yourself.

And I'm just back from another trip to the Pacific Northwest–to Knit-Purl, in Portland. (Jet lag now! Ask me how!) But the write-up is giving me a headache because I've been threatened by the locals with grievous bodily harm if I tell you how every good thing you've heard about Portland is true, even the things you would swear couldn't possibly be true. So I have to find some way of telling you what I did in Portland and showing you photos, and not making you want to drop everything and hire a moving truck.

Eastward, Ho!

In the meantime, here's a heads-up on another trip coming soon: Delaware. I'm going to be doing two events on October 10 at Stitches With Style in Newark. There will be a brunch in the morning at 9 am, followed by the "Introduction to Lace" class at 11:30 am. Both require that you please sign up, which you can do by calling (302) 453-8130. So do come, won't you?

Widdle Biddy Kiddie Hat Korner

Remember when I translated the antique baby hood pattern for Knitty and used a grumpy five-day-old model for the photographs, and a contingent from the Society for Mandatory Infantile Lighthearted Expressions (SMILE) marched on Chicago and pelted my front door with Cabbage Patch Dolls and Precious Moments figurines?

Well, the baby has grown, as I am told they do. Aside from the occasional bout of melancholia, she seems admirably even-tempered and free of permanent scarring from the ordeal.

Smile Baby

I promised her parents a baby hat*** as compensation for her services. The hat is complete and awaiting delivery. Knitting it was a snap. Choosing a pattern was not. I waffled like a Belgian with a full jug of batter until I saw the Wayna Picchu Earflap Hat from bluegirl knits. And then I knew I'd found it.

Wayna Picchu

Another compulsive piece of knitting, much like the Oliver sock. I think I worked it in three hours. Had me from the get-go, it did. And there's a grown-up version that may wind up on my head this winter.

The yarn? More of that Nordique from Véronik Avery, in oatmeal and chalk blue. (Shut up. I can stop knitting with Veronik's yarn any time I want to. I just don't want to.)

Wayna Picchu

I don't know why, but I'm in love with the tone-on-tone thing lately. I keep swatching with colorways that are so subtle in their variations they're almost, but not quite, monochrome. I have no idea where I'm going with it, of course–but since when has that ever stopped me?
*Yes, they changed the name. No, I don't care.
**You just know that when he gets back from Copenhagen, the beatings will begin. Good luck, Rio.
***We in the word biz call this "irony."

Friday, September 25, 2009

We Did Fun Stuff with Guys

Hi everybody it's Harry! So Franklin is still figuring out which evening kimono to pack for Portland and he said hey, would you mind writing some more about what we did on the trip to Washington State and I said sure can I write about the men's retreat and he said okay sure. So here I am doing it.

So after our visit at Renaissance Yarns we went to a knitting retreat that was kind of like a sleep-away camp except everybody was grown up and a guy. There were no ladies which as you know is kind of unusual.

The place we stayed at was right by the water but that didn't bother me because I am superwash and I got to go down one day when the tide was out and take some pictures with my new camera that I bought off eBay with the money I made this summer from sellling lemonade on the days they have games at Wrigley Field which is right near our apartment.

So anyway this is how pretty it was where we stayed.

Dumas Bay

Dumas Bay

But weren't there all the time because we had field trips. The first one was to Skacel which is where Addi Turbo needles come from, and when Franklin found out we were going there he got all red in the face because don't tell him I told you this but sometimes when he doesn't know anybody is watching he pulls out the case with his Addi Turbos in it and he touches them and he has this look on his face like Dolores gets when she is looking at the new Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue.

First this pretty lady talked to us and her name is Karin and she owns the place so she told us a lot of interesting facts.

Karin at Skacel

And we got to look around the Garment Room which is where they keep all the pattern samples and the guys had a lot of fun trying things on and they kept saying "I want this one" and "I have to have this one" and "This is so fabulous" and it was also like when Dolores is looking through the new Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue. Here is a picture of Keith and some garments.

In the Garment Room

This is Stephen who loved one of the sweaters so much he decided to model it and I said you work it and he was quite fierce don't you think. Miss Tyra Banks if you are reading this I think you should have Stephen on your show next time he is so sassy and versatile kind of like Linda Evangelista but funny.

Stephen is a Model

And we had a tour of the whole place, first we went into the warehouse. They had this sign on the door and I think they were being funny but as you know I am yarn and to be honest it made me kind of nervous.

At the Skacel Warehouse

Well I was relieved because inside there was no flying happening that day but boy there was so much yarn. Think of all the yarn you have ever seen in one room and it was more than that. No really I am serious, look here is a picture of my buddy Joe who writes a famous blog.

Joe Likes Yarn!

Joe is tall but the yarn is even taller than he is! And see, he has that look on his face which is like the one Dolores gets when she looks at the new Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue.

And then we went into the needle room and this is a picture of Rob who is the marketing dude and he is very nice too and smart.

In the Needle Room

So in the needle room they keep all these thousands of Addi Turbo needles and Addi Lace needles and like every kind of Addi needle including some we never saw before. You know what it was like it was kind of like that wand shop in Harry Potter or maybe it was more like the goblin bank except no goblins.

And Franklin said it was not how he imagined, he always thought there would be a moat around it or a vault door or a retinal scan or something, and when we were leaving he asked if there would be a body cavity search and Rob said no and between you and me I think Franklin was disappointed.

So then if that wasn't enough we were hanging around at Skacel and who shows up but Cat Bordhi, who writes the books about crazy ways you can knit stuff , and then suddenly she and Franklin climbed up in a tree. I don't really understand what happened but I am pretty sure it was Cat's idea.

Cat in a Tree

Candice from Skacel sent us this picture. Shout out, Candice! Thanks girlfriend!

And Franklin said to me afterward when Cat Bordhi shows up you never know what will happen so be prepared and just in case wear grippy shoes.

Let's see, then the next day was another trip and we went to a farm where they raise alpacas which is called Moonshadow Alpaca Ranch, and I was excited to go because I think alpacas are always so cute don't you?

This is a picture of Deb and Nancy, the ladies who own the farm, they were so friendly and told everybody about what it is like to have alpacas and I think maybe some of the guys would like to have their own farms. I saw one alpaca that was not so big like maybe you could keep it in an apartment and I asked Franklin and he said if I can figure out a way to make Dolores move to a remote corner of Idaho he will buy me two alpacas!

Ranch Ladies

Here is one of the cute alpacas.

They Were Not Kidding

This is picture of all of us guys at the very end of the weekend. Franklin is in the front row next to Mike who was the dude in charge, I am in the very front near the center wearing the new Persian Poppies ball band I made after I took a workshop about color knitting from cute James who came all the way from New Zealand for this!

All the Guys

The whole weekend was so much fun that when it was time to leave I think Franklin maybe cried just a little bit but I said hey it's okay, they will have one next year so we can come back again and he cheered up, and plus we still had a trip to Paradise Fibers in Spokane to look forward to, but I will let him tell you about that next time because it's time for me to go to bed because we have to be at the airport early tomorrow to fly to Portland.

So this is Harry signing out. Bye!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cupcake Goes West

When you grow up in a military family, as I did, it's a fact of life that you're going to see more of the world before you're ten years old than many Americans do before they're fifty. Every three or four years, orders come through to pull up the tent stakes and head west, east, north, or south as dictated by the whims of Uncle Sam.

My sister and I saw even more than we might have, thanks to our parents' fondness for road trips. For example, when our orders were to leave Tucson, Arizona (Davis-Monthan Air Force Base) for Fairborn, Ohio (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) we made the trip in our Plymouth Scamp via a serpentine route that introduced me (aged five) to a number of firsts, including:
  • first encounter with a live chicken
  • first entrée composed chiefly of a creature to which I had been introduced
  • first swim in natural body of water
  • first contact with muddy bottom of stagnant pond
  • first admonishment for screaming like a girl
  • first ride on horseback
  • first fantasy involving cowboy boots
  • first plate of biscuits and gravy
  • first second helping of biscuits and gravy
  • first third helping of biscuits and gravy
  • first fishing trip
  • first attempt to get out of going on second fishing trip
And that was just Arkansas.

Over the years I wound up spending at least a few days in most parts of the country–but never the Pacific Northwest. I'm not sure why. It wasn't for lack of wanting to go. You hear such lovely things about the place. Ferns, coastline, fabulous cooking, yarn shops sprinkled thickly across the landscape.

Nancy at Renaissance YarnsIt was the yarn that finally drew me out there: two shops and one retreat simply stuffed with it. The first was Renaissance Yarns in Kent. Owner Nancy (she's the one on the left, without the goatee) welcomed me into her beautiful shop with immense cordiality for a book signing. The place filled up with merry knitters, who I am afraid may have been a touch disappointed to find I was unaccompanied. They were too polite to say so, but something about the sweet table suggested who the real attraction was.

Dolores in Frosting

As you know, it's not uncommon to see Dolores toasted; but it's rather unusual to find her baked.

The multi-talented confectionary artiste behind the cupcakes was Allison, who kindly posed for a souvenir portrait with the charming bibelot she'd created just to commemorate the occasion.

Allison at Renaissance Yarns

A closer look:

Dolores in Felt

The scary thing is that no matter where I put it, the eyes follow me around the room.

Renaissance Yarns was a terrific introduction to the Pacific Northwest, and set the tone for the rest of the trip. More about that in the next few entries.


I like to think of myself as a curious knitter, always interested in a new ways of doing things, but I have no illusions that this applies to my sock knitting. I learned cuff down, heel flap, Kitchener toe from dear Charlene Schurch and the only thing I'd ever done differently since was switch on occasion from four dpns to two circulars. Until now.

One of the goodies I got at the Men's Knitting Retreat was a pattern called "Oliver" by Marlowe Crawford, which had been created specially for a previous men's retreat. I confess that when I first saw it I thought, Oh, a sock pattern, yippee, and then I pulled out the next thing in the goody bag, which was a Della Q needle case, and I went all gooshy and forgot about the sock.

But when you hear ten guys out of thirty wax eloquent about a pattern and how it turns out the best-fitting sock they've ever met, and you know some of those guys have been around the block with quite a few socks, you can't help but take a second look.

So I cast on for it using Schaefer Yarns Heather in "Betty Friedan," and didn't get out of my chair for two days. I can't remember ever working through a project in such a froth. It was like racing to the climax of Anne Rice's The Witching Hour, except at the end of the sock I didn't want to knock on the author's front door and demand a personal apology.

Purple Sock

Instead, I want to send a thank-you note. This sock hugs my foot like Dolores cuddling up to a fresh bottle of Ketel One. Marlowe, you're a freaky genius. Whatever weird gears in your brain turned in synch to help you create this thing, I hope they keep spinning for a long, long time. More, please.

Notion of Note

I was helped immensely in knitting "Oliver" by yet another prize from the retreat, a set of clever stitch markers by Girl on the Rocks. These are made of wood, and smell very faintly of hickory smoke.

Stitch Markers

Since I can never seem to remember which side of the damned gusset is k2tog and which is ssk, these are going to settle permanently in my knitting bag.