Friday, February 20, 2009

Stole Away

Yesterday afternoon, I finished my Print o' the Wave stole and put it on the blocking wires. This morning I set it free and spent a happy hour just playing with it: throwing it up in the air to watch it float, draping it over things, wrapping it seductively around my head while singing the Habanera from Carmen. You know, the usual.

Print o' the Wave Stole

I cast on in November 2008 at O'Hare Airport, waiting for a flight to London. I knit it in the air, I knit it (just a little bit) in England, I knit it on the sea voyage home. It went to Maine, Montana, Florida. It had layovers in New York and Minnesota. It has been on the subway and the bus, to restaurants and bars, to hotels, to the gym, to the library, to the homes of friends. It has been worked in moments of great happiness, of quiet reflection, of depression and frustration. It has been cooed over and it has been sworn at. (Mostly sworn at.)


I knit it specifically to show students who take my Introduction to Lace class what they'll be able to do with basic skills. It isn't a complicated project, really–just an endurance test.

Stole Edging

Not that I didn't learn stuff. It's a rare and sad project that teaches you nothing new, right?

My great eureka moment came at (you should forgive the expression) the tail end, during the weaving-in. I remembered from Sharon Miller's Heirloom Knitting that the Shetland knitters (when working square shawls from the edging inwards) often sewed the four trapezoidal borders together while the piece was pinned out on a blocking frame. So I decided to weave my loose ends after the stole was dry, but still on the wires. Much more efficient, and the results were extremely satisfactory–a great improvement on my past performances. I'm sure I'm not the first person to figure this out, but as I can't remember reading the tip online anywhere I pass it along.


I knit this stole to show the students in my Introduction to Lace classes what they'll be able to do with their basic skills. I didn't have any large-scale inspirational pieces to hand since all my previous ventures in lace have been given away. (It's hard, sometimes, being a boy.)

The pattern is clear, it's free, and provided you take care at the transition points (i.e., picking up stitches for the border and grafting the ends of the edging) success is well within a beginner's grasp.


And it's so pretty. I am totally wearing this the next time I go to a monster truck rally.

Shout Out

I was invited to knit last night with a group of librarians from the Music Library Association (they're in town for a conference) and had a marvelous time. Thanks, y'all–especially Lisa, Laura Gayle and Cheryl. (I told them to check out Loopy's Knit Night tonight. Wish I could be there.)

Another Shout Out

To everybody who left encouraging comments for the creators of Redress. They've read them, they appreciate them, and they've promised to keep us posted about future incarnations. Thank you!

The Knitter Who Came in from the Cold

All systems go for this weekend's events in North Carolina. The photography class on Sunday morning is full, and a nice crowd has already signed up for the talk/reception on Saturday evening. (If you're interested in hearing my squeaky voice, more information is here).

A very nice North Carolinian wrote to warn me that the weather there is nippy and to bring sweaters. Honey, we in Chicago would sell our grandmothers for a day or two of "nippy." We rejoice in "nippy." We run naked in the garden when it's "nippy." I'm sitting here looking out the window at sheets of ice the size of Madison Square Garden bobbing on the lake. Still, you are kind to worry about my comfort, and I promise to reciprocate with a weather advisory should you ever visit our fair city in winter. (Our version of your "nippy" is "bone-crushing.")

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I suspect that those of you who only know me through this blog think of me as just an old-fashioned, tree-chopping he-man. The kind of guy who's most comfortable sitting around drunk in the cabin I built on a bluff outside of Laramie, watching monster truck rallies on satellite TV and picking my teeth with a matchbook cover.

But there's so much more to me, kids. When I'm not doing the watching-and-picking thing I love to check out what's happening in the art world. Hell, I'm an art junkie. Hang it on the wall or stick it on a pedestal under a spotlight and sure, I'll take a peek. High art, low art, folk art, insider, outsider, good, bad–whatever. In this day and age, I'm just happy that people are still doing something besides watching monster truck rallies and picking their teeth with matchbook covers.

My friend Nancy called me up and told me there was an installation I should check out at the School of the Art Institute's Sullivan Galleries (33 State Street, 7th floor– aka the old Carson Pirie Scott building). She said it wasn't just any art, it was art with knitting in it. Well, you don't have to tell me twice. (You do, actually. Sometimes more than twice, because I inhaled too much Paas Easter Egg dye as a child.)

So Nancy and I went to see the installation, Redress, and I liked it so much I went back again yesterday to take pictures and chat with the creators. It's a collaboration by three artists–Amber Ginsburg, Carla Duarte, and Lia Rousset, all students in the MFA program.

Redress is interactive.


A rail of thrift-shop sweaters is suspended from the ceiling; more are piled in one corner. Even more have been unraveled, and the reclaimed yarn is spooled around eight wheel rims (from wrecked bicycles) mounted on a wooden platform (salvaged from a warehouse). The yarn winds off the rims (as though from a swift), swoops across the room via a series of hooks, and hangs down above eight seats (more salvaged wood) where it is being turned into eight swatches.


RedressAnybody can knit on the swatches, and lots of people have. Afterwards, they can log their time on the appropriate time card.

The concept is simple, and the artists have done a good thing in not posting a notice explaining what it all means. You walk in, you knit (or watch the knitting) and you think your own thoughts and draw your own conclusions.

I was surprised as all heck at how much bubbled up in my brain during my visits. Knitting is something I do every day, and have done for so long that I generally don't think about it much. I should clarify: I think about what I'm knitting, but not the act of knitting.

Well, sitting in the middle of Redress I was suddenly very aware of my knitting again, almost as though I were a beginner, or a non-knitter watching a knitter. The knit stitch suddenly looked...odd. Alien.

And whenever I'd need more yarn, I'd pull on the suspended strand and the bicycle wheel would spin, and make a pleasant clicking sound. And that sound would remind me, "You are using more yarn." I became very aware of using up the raw material.Redress

Handling the yarn and seeing what was left of the original sweater, I started to think of the person who had run the knitting machine that made it. I wondered who it was, what the factory looked like, what they'd been paid. I wondered if they ever enjoyed the work, what they'd been paid. Was it a man or a woman? Was anything about the process pleasurable for them, or was it pure drudgery? And here I was, using the remains of their work to do...what, exactly?

There are no rules for the knitting, so at leisure I added or subtracted stitches, threw in yarn-overs, worked garter, ribbing, stockinette. It was the first time in a long time I've just played with yarn. And it occurred to me that this was a pleasure the maker of the original sweater had not had. S/he had churned out fabric on a knitting machine as ordered by some factory foreman, period. It made me consider what a privilege I enjoy, knitting what I want in whatever manner pleases me.

And other knitters were there, knitting, coming, going. It was a knitting circle like any knitting circle, except it wasn't. It was a knitting circle with a frame around it. A knitting circle with everything but the knitting removed. A knitting circle where none of us really knew what we were knitting. We were knitting to knit. We were knitters, and we were also art. And our knitting was knitting, and it was also art.

This all sounds jumbled, because so were my thoughts. They tumbled over one another like a cascade of marbles and by the time I left (I was only there for an hour) I felt exhausted and excited. See "art geek," above.

If you're in Chicago or can get here, Redress is open through February 21. Not much time left, but enough time to see it before it's gone. Go and have your own experience. And make sure to clock in and out.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love Snack

Hi, it's Dolores. And shit, am I ever excited.

Today, the fourteenth of February, is my Day of Days.

Goddess of Love

As heiress to the Love Goddess tradition embodied through the ages but such hotcha gals as Venus, Cleopatra, Delilah, Helen of Troy, Mata Hari, and Mamie Eisenhower,* it is my duty on this sacred occasion to spread the message that love is grand, love is universal, and love makes the world go 'round.

As I once said to Paul McCartney in a tender apr├ęs-schtupp moment, "All you need is love, cupcake." Guess what happened next.**

And let me tell you, to celebrate love you don't need anybody else in the room. A lover can be nice, don't get me wrong–even if it's just the temporary kind you pick up at the market along with a bag of Cheese Doodles and a bottle of Pellegrino.

But if you're alone, see, you can still have a snack and a drink and you don't risk a fight in the afternoon because somebody forgot to wash his hands after eating the Cheese Doodles and now you've got sticky, neon orange fingerprints all over your underpants, the new satin sheets, the headboard, the kitchen table, and the privacy fence next to the Jacuzzi.

If you're having a solo Valentine's Day, why not get yourself a little something nice to nibble on and have a romantic film festival for one? Or for you and your best like-minded pals? Since this blog caters to yarn-centric types, Harry and I put together a list of romantic knitting classics:
  1. The Way We Worsted
  2. Cashmere to Eternity
  3. Feltin' in the Rain
  4. A Colorway Named Desire
  5. Sheepless in Seattle
  6. Yarnstruck
  7. The Postman Always Purls Twice
  8. The Last Tangle in Paris
  9. The Koigu and I
  10. It Happened One Knit
  11. The Yarn Stores of Madison County
  12. It's a Wonderful Laceweight
  13. The Unbearable Lightness of Kidsilk Haze
  14. When Harry Met Sally Melville
  15. Gone with the Ball Winder
And if you're feeling bitter about the romance thing, there ain't no law against throwing a handful of Cheese Doodles at the screen when the kissing starts.

Now, if you're really out of the love loop and would prefer to see people struck by chainsaws rather than Cupid's dart, ponder our list of stasher movies. You might achieve catharsis.

But remember, kids, you're never truly unloved. I love you, as how could I not considering the earth-shaking extent to which you love me? Mama's got more than enough Valentine going on here for anybody who can handle it.

Just remember to wash the Cheese Doodles off your fingers if we shift into second gear.

* Seriously. I knew Mamie. Trust Me.
**Note to Paulie: Where's my effing royalty check, you cheap bastard?

Monday, February 09, 2009


A reader in South Carolina writes:

I like your blog, but why don't you talk more about
your process?

This sets me to wondering whether I can say truly that I have anything so orderly, so forward-looking, as a process when it comes to my knitting.

I wish I could answer with a firm yes. If compelled to pick a side–either a "product" knitter who knits according to what he wants to wear, or a "process" knitter who knits for the sake of knitting, I sit more often on the "process" side of the debating chamber.

But do I have a process?

It doesn't feel like I do. Does a hurricane have a process? Does an earthquake? How about a toddler?

I've been thinking about this a great deal lately, usually when I am having a terrible day at the drawing table or the writing desk. My thoughts wander to other people in the field and I imagine them, right at that moment, needles or pencils or fingers flying, turning out work that makes people start Ravelry threads with the ejaculation "Squee!" in the title.

In my imagination, their work spaces are always very pretty and spare, awaiting the arrival of the photographer from Real Simple. Clear surfaces, bathed in gentle sunlight. On the wall, side by side, a handsome calendar full of Important Dates and a long list of Works in Progress with neat tick marks next to those that have been finished. Often, cats pay silent witness to the birth of finished projects like the unborn souls peeking out from behind God the Father in Michelangelo's Creation of Adam.

My own space looks like a wreck caused by the collision of two trains–one carrying yarn and the other full of art supplies.

When I work, I sprawl like a Midwestern suburb. Over there, swatches and odd balls. Fore and aft, graph paper pencils eraser droppings empty water glass stitch markers books and more books. In the middle, me knitting.

The nuns always told me a person's possessions and home are an extension of his mind, and they were damn right. Because my mind feels like this most of the time. A jumble. A rotating bin of lottery balls from which I very occasionally draw a winning combination. More often, I tear up my worthless ticket and scatter the pieces across the mouldering heap.

Stole in Progress

It's a wonder, honestly, that I ever get anything done at all. I look over my project page on Ravelry sometimes and think, what the hell is the matter with you? I'm all over the place - from dust-colored hats to lime green socks. No coherent aesthetic, just impulsive forays into whatever wilderness looks prettiest when I get up in the morning.

I got an e-mail recently from somebody who said, in effect, you have a lot of nerve blogging on the same Internet as Brooklyn Tweed. More often that not, I am inclined to agree.

But maybe this is my process. Maybe I need chaos in order to create–however haphazardly–a snippet of order here and there. Maybe my style is no style and my palette is no palette. Maybe one day I will achieve the sunlight and the neat lists, or maybe I won't. I'm still new at this, so who can tell?

Meanwhile, I just keep knitting.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

(Won't You Take Me to) Geekytown

I've been working on the Fair Isle vest. No, I haven't.

I've been messing around with the yarns that I hope, pray, intend shall at some future moment become the Fair Isle vest. I have so far produced 1) a Photoshop chart of small test patterns, and 2) most of a small swatch, which are but the primoridal protoplasmic ocean-dwelling ancestors of the finished vest.

Swatch and Chart

These are to help me decide what to do and, more importantly given my dismal track record as a colorist, what not to do.

Here's what I've figured out so far about color:
  • In the palette of yarns I have darks and brights. Within the darks and brights, the colors divide themselves about equally into browns and blues.

  • Patterns made entirely with browns look dull and mushy.

  • Patterns made entirely with blues look gaudy and mushy.

  • Patterns that mix the browns and blues have a nice jig to them. Since the plan is for bright patterns on dark grounds, the finished motifs should be bright blues on dark browns, or bright browns on dark blues.
And regarding gauge:
  • I thought after the recent spate of socks, lace class swatches, pence jugs, teeny oranges, and that frigging lace-weight Victorian nightcap that it would make a nice change to work on something heavier, like a sweater vest. And after a couple of experiments, it's clear that this thing will have to be worked on a US 3 (3.25 mm) circular. My biggest piece of in-progress lace is on a US4 (3.5 mm). Oh, the irony.

  • The swatch is still on the needles, so I haven't definitively measured the gauge, but it looks to be somewhere in the region of 8.5 stitches/inch. I have never been so happy to be so short.

  • The test patterns are far too small to read effectively at a fine gauge, so I'll have to spend many more hours playing with charts in Photoshop–and then do more swatching. I am so vibrantly excited about this that I know I will never again be able to roll my eyes at anyone whose idea of a good time involves Star Trek trivia, golf or computer code.
I've known for decades that I'm an irredeemable geek, but it's still alarming to have it confirmed by a swatch. Shut up, swatch.

Going to Carolina

I'm tickled to bits to announce that arrangements have been made for a trip to North Carolina. On Saturday, February 21 from 5:30-7 p.m. there will be a talk/signing/reception at Yarns, Etc. in Chapel Hill; and on Sunday, February 22 from 9 a.m. to noon I'll be teaching "How to Photograph Your Fiber" at Great Yarns in Raleigh. The class is a repeat of the session that was such a hoot at Purl Diva back in December. For complete information, click here.