Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Alright Already

Cripes, what a pushy bunch. I take time out from a rare family holiday to write a post with photos of a finished project*and what happens? Almost as one, the readers rise up and shout,


Perhaps, like global warming and the war in Afghanistan, it's my own fault. I mustn't have been clear that the pink poncho is not, and was never intended to be, a Christmas gift. It's taking far too long for that, and anyhow it can't be worn in this beastly northern climate until May at the earliest. Not to mention that I am enjoying taking my time with it–finding my own way to shape the hood, experimenting with lace patterns, checking out late-1940s couture draping to figure shaping for the cloak.

Yes, cloak. Not poncho. I know–she asked for a poncho; but there's a problem. I hate ponchos. Hate them. I intend no offense to those who love them; I simply do not share your taste. I find them graceless and droopy. And as I am a child of the 1970s, they are forever associated in my mind with aesthetic nightmares like gloppy terra-cotta pottery, tourist-market serapes and macramé plant hangers. I'll be damned if I'll expose my niece to any of that, even if she begs.

I'm turning out to be a very old-fashioned sort of uncle. No–a very old-fashioned sort of aunt. I find that I have nothing but gender in common with the famous, old-fashioned uncles who spring to mind: Remus, Tom, Scrooge. However I closely resemble quite a few old-fashioned aunts: Polly, March, and especially Aunt Alicia in Gigi.


Like Aunt Alicia, I adore my niece exactly as she is. And I intend to fix her. Indiscriminately catering to small children's natural sartorial whims is dangerous; it leads to college graduates who go grocery shopping in their pajamas. Noble savages are fine and dandy, but I have no intention of taking one to the ballet.

So though I wish dearly for her to love it, the Pink Thing will honor the spirit and not the letter of the request. For example, on my watch we do not wear clothing that sparkles unless we are going to an evening party. Therefore, in lieu of iridescent novelty yarn extruded from a unicorn's ass, I'm using a pretty but serviceable and sensible wool (Cascade 220 Sport) in pure pink.

We have just had a wholly successful fitting of the finished hood. I didn't want to proceed until I was certain it was the right size and shape, with enough drape to be romantic but not so much as to flop backwards and forwards willy-nilly.

A picture:

Pink Thing Preview

That's it, there ain't no more. I had to bargain to get this one, because the sun came out and the new (pink) snow saucer from L.L. Bean was calling. The client's response was extremely positive. She even attempted a twirl, but as there are still two balls of yarn attached you can guess what happened.

I hope this answers a bit of the curiosity. All kidding aside, I appreciate your interest in the progress of the design. It jolts me from the natural indolence that is my nature. More to come.

*Floradora V.1.0 made a successful maiden voyage today, carrying gift cards which I hear were used to purchase a hamburger.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Making Things

We have been making things.

Abigail and her mother have been making cookies. Those cookies.


I have already had it up to my proto-Gandalfian eyebrows with holiday baking so I kept out of the kitchen. Instead, I sat down with Abigail on Christmas Eve and (courtesy of a sweet little notion from Girl on the Rocks) did my best to further instill the home truth that Making Things with Yarn = Fun.

Sheep Ornament

(You get to choose your own yarn. We chose Cascade 220 Sport.)

On Christmas morning, I presented Abigail with another yarn-based thing I had just finished making.

Floradora Purse (beta)

Floradora Purse (beta)

I've named the purse* Floradora. This is the beta, child-sized version. A grown-up version, larger and considerably refined, will hit the shops in January to herald the launch of a new class, "Cavalcade of Colorwork," débuting at the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat in February.

Now that I have made this blog post, I am going to make a trip to the cookie jar. (I said I was fed up with holiday baking, not holiday eating.)

*I forgot to mention it's in Cascade 220. I guess we're having a Cascade Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2010


If this post smells of butter and drool it's because I've spent about half the day baking cookies. The kitchen looks like Open House at the Keebler Factory, including the flour-covered resident elf who is typing this from a perch by the cooling racks.

I hope you can't get fat from inhaling near a pile of fresh cookies. I just got back into these jeans.

Oh, such a display. We have pinwheels, we have brownies, we have chocolate chips–courtesy (respectively) of Maida Heatter, Irma Rombauer, and Ruth Wakefield.

Piled highest, at the back, are the other cookies. The special cookies. You won't find the recipe for them in any published book; and don't bother asking for it, because after I told you I'd have to kill you. It's a family secret–as deep and dark as the one that keeps the Kardashians on the air, except ours goes better with coffee.

These are Grandma's Jennie's cookies.

Grandma Jennie, rest her soul, was my mother's mother.

Three Generations

She's on the right, in the bow. That's my mother on the left, and the howling lump in the center is me–a week old. (I was either hungry, or commenting on the prevalence of drip-dry polyester fabrics in early 70s fashion.)

We assume Grandma learned how to make the cookies from her mother. We don't know for sure. We never thought to ask. It's a bizarre recipe. I've got about 32 linear feet of books on cookery ranging from 1747 to the present, and there's nothing in any of them that comes even close. It starts out a little bit like shortcake, only without sugar; and then–

No, wait. Can't tell you. Would have to kill you.

These cookies were the first thing I ever baked. I was about ten or eleven, and my younger sister was my accomplice. Every pass of the rolling pin was an act of transgression. Mom wasn't home, we didn't ask permission to use the stove, and these were Christmas cookies. We made unsupervised, unauthorized Christmas cookies in May.

I know that seems piffling at a time when the second graders on "Gossip Girl" get their kicks by snorting cocaine and crushed Flintstone vitamins during little bitty orgies in the VIP room at American Girl Place. But back then, to us, it was thrilling.

My sister, once the sous chef, is now the master baker. She inherited Mom's gigantic yellow Tupperware bowl–you could take a bath in it–which holds the stupendous amount of dough produced by the full recipe. She has developed and perfected a system that allows her to keep one hand clean and dry while the other adds ingredients and kneads them in. And her cookies always have the proper amount of crunch on the outside, while the inside melts in your mouth.

We grew up rolling out the dough and cutting it into moons and hearts and trees, which is what Mom does. But we were surprised to learn during a visit to Grandma's that she didn't use cutters. She rolled the dough out into long ropes with her hands, then twisted sections of rope into curlicues, knots and braids.

Her hands flew. She twisted, we watched. My grandmother was a lovely woman; but she didn't like children mucking around in the kitchen. Baking cookies wasn't a game, it was work. Without interference she could produce six dozen in record time. If you were good, you might be allowed to help with the sugar sprinkles. If you got too enthusiastic and sprinkled the floor, you'd better run.

A Tribute

Susan and I still mostly roll and cut, but near the end of each batch we also make a few twists as a tribute. It's not a hospital wing or a fountain in Central Park, but there are worse ways to be remembered than through a cookie recipe. I think Grandma Jennie would have appreciated it. Especially with coffee.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Queen Looks at Princesses

Sweet Sally Melville, can you believe how long it’s been since the last post? I’m appalled. I intended to chirp immediately upon my return from Loop in Philadelphia (it was marvelous, thank you for asking) but on the way home a nasty little microbe or virus or microscopic protoplasmic sonofabitch slipped past my defenses and landed me on the sofa, huffing decongestant.

While the bug was in residence I felt it best to keep mum, for which you should be grateful. I’m not exactly a bouncy ball of fun when I’m well, and when I get sick I head straight for Act III of La Traviata.

Alfredo…is that…you? Everything…everything’s going black…

I am such an ill-tempered, ungrateful patient that if Florence Nightingale had been put in charge of me she’d have quit and become a bus driver. If you’re in the room and I feel myself going down, I’m taking you with me.

Catastrophic sniffles aside, I’ve got a surprising amount of knitting done. The trick, I discovered, is to hold one needle in each hand while you knock on death’s door with your forehead.

In our household, works-in-progress are usually referred to by color, i.e. The Pink Thing, The Green Thing, The Blue-and-Orange Thing. The Pink Thing is the one I can write about, and you’ve heard me mention it before–it’s Abigail’s Bespoke Pink Princess Poncho, now in Version 4.0 (beta).

I think I’ve probably done more research and development for this design than any other. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, I was never a little girl and have never experienced the desire to be, or dress like, a princess. This puts me at risk for turning out a poncho more suited to a marchioness. Disaster.

So I’ve been digging into primary source material, the better to discern the essential characteristics of princess gear.

Here’s what all I’ve been able to figger so far.

1. Go pastel or go home. Princesses don't wear tweed.

2. Put a swag on it. At least one. Swags are good.

3. Put flowers on it. Flowers are even better than swags.

3. Put swags and flowers on it. Simplicity and moderation are for peasants.

4. Fringe is not an acceptable substitute for flowers or swags. A princess who wears fringe will tank at the box office.

5. Drama above the shoulders is key. If there’s not a crown, there’d better be a tiara. If there’s not a tiara, there’d better be a big floppy romantic hood from which to peer with your goo-goo-googly eyes.

6. It had better look good when you twirl. The typical princess will twirl 87.23 times on an average day.

On days when a ball is given, the average rises to 149.25.

The above list is incomplete, of course. Research continues. Meanwhile I'll show you little bit of The Pink Thing in a few days, when I come back from a place where princesses, so I hear, are very thick on the ground.

No, not a private school in Lincoln Park. Somewhere else. You'll never guess.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Peek on Earth

Judging from the pile of comments, the little movie in the last post touched a chord in quite a few tender hearts. Mind you, whether that chord was major or minor depended on how the heart was feeling about this year's roster of holiday knitting.

I'm taking my own on the road (to sweet Loop in Philadelphia for classes on lace and photography, information here) tomorrow, but before I head for the airport I'd like to let you know that this year's edition of the annual Panopticon Shop Holiday Knitting Ornament, "No Peeking," is ready and waiting in the shop. I've put it on cards as well. I do hope you will like it.

2010 Holiday Knitting Ornament

Peeking at your presents is a time-honored holiday tradition. Our family had another, related tradition: a merry reminder from my mother that any child caught or even suspected of hunting around for hidden goodies would get to watch in silent horror as every last box and bag went back to Santa's Workshop. I was 23 years old before I could open a closet door between Thanksgiving and Christmas without having an anxiety attack.

Monday, November 01, 2010

An Animated Discussion

Halloween 2010 is but a memory–a hazy memory for some in this household. Between us and the gift-oriented holidays lies only the blip of Thanksgiving. Now dawns the sobering realization that we may already be too far behind to catch up.

I was talking about this with my therapist just last week. She suggested that I deal with my holiday angst in a constructive fashion by putting my heated inner dialogue down on paper so that I could properly analyze it. But I was out of paper, so instead I made an animated cartoon starring Albert Einstein and the Queen of England.

That will strike you as an odd coupling until I explain that whenever I experience a heated inner dialogue, that's who the voices in my head sound like. (Although sometimes instead of Einstein I hear Fanny Brice; but the animation Web site doesn't offer a Fanny Brice avatar.)

The result is that I still don't have my holiday knitting under control and I have to find a new therapist.

Anyway, here's the stupid cartoon.

Trick or Tweet

Halloween Tweets

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fresh Ink

Somebody left a comment a few entries back–I can't remember who, and to find out I'd have to stop typing, get off the chaise longue and walk all the way over there to look–asking whether I still actually knit anything, or do I just sit around now making smart remarks about knitting in between hits on my hookah?

Well, missy–or mister, I can't recall–yes, I still knit. Sweet Barbara Walker, do I knit. I've spent the past many months doggedly knitting my stubby little peasant fingers to even stubbier little peasant fingers. I haven't been able to show you much, because most of it was in the service of publishers who get all hissy and litigious when you leak photographs before the books or magazines come off the press.

This week two of the pieces have been de-classified.

The first is tiny, a bagatelle: a book cover, called Aemelia in honor of the pioneering authoress Aemelia Lanyer, in the new issue of Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts.

Aemelia Book Cover

It was inspired by the demure sewn cloth covers my mother and her friends used to slip over the bodice-ripper paperbacks they read and traded with each other–classics like Johanna Lindsey's The Devil Who Tamed Her, which invariably sported cover art as overheated as downtown Chernobyl.

I had planned to put a cable on the front, but wound up designing my own interpretation of a Jacobean embroidered tulip because a) that seemed more interesting and b) I wanted to see if I could do it.

I put in my pattern notes that the tulip bud is a traditional symbol of hidden, burgeoning female sexuality, but they didn't include that in the magazine. Go figure.

The second is larger, and my first pattern in a printed book, and a beautiful book it is, too: Modern Knits, Vintage Style: Classic Designs from the Golden Age of Knitting.

The publishers, Voyageur Press, asked folks to design new pieces based upon an iconic fashion images. I chose Jacqueline Bouvier's wedding veil, because I am gay like that. I figured if I was supposed to pick an icon, why not go with the Regina Coeli of mid-20th century fashion?

The original lace veil wasn't knitted but it was utterly gorgeous, especially the huge pairs of bouquets marching up the center. I created a new motif–little primrose nosegays–and put them into a white-but-not-necessarily-bridal stole worked in undyed Lorna's Laces Helen's Lace. I liked the color of the undyed wool; it makes the finished work look gently aged, like a special-occasion piece that was carefully put away a generation ago for safe-keeping.

Bouvier Stole

The short edges are self-scalloping and the long edges have a looped edge similar to one I first encountered, and loved, in Sharon Miller's Heirloom Knitting. Like Sahar, it's knit in two halves and grafted in the center. Unlike Sahar, there's no edging at all–when you're done, you're done.

Meanwhile, I've been working on something close to home–Abigail's bespoke poncho. But pictures of that will have to wait for the next entry, because the hookah's pooping out and I have to stop typing, get up off the chaise longue and scream for one of the servants to fetch me a fresh one.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Public Service Announcement

With the holiday travel season fast approaching, a timely reminder seems well advised.

Handy Reference Guide to Stash Attack Advisory System

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Experience The Magic of Photo Retouching

TO: Franklin
FR: Tom
SUBJ: Photoshop help?

Hey, is there any way you can fix this pic of Augie with Photoshop?


Augie, Before


FR: Franklin
TO: Tom
SUBJ: Re: Photoshop help?

Done. Fifty bucks, please.


Augie, After

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Keeper

A few years ago I started cataloguing my personal library over on a site called LibraryThing. At this point I'm a little less than half finished, with 887 books on the list.

I used to think I had a lot of books, mostly because upon stepping into my apartment visitors invariably confront the phalanx of overstuffed shelves and exclaim, "Whoa! You have a lot of books!"

LibraryThing has reassured me that no, I do not have a lot of books. There are more than a few collectors on that site whose collections number in the tens of thousands. I don't think most of the school libraries I encountered growing up were that well stocked.

Lucky bastards.

If I attempted to fill this place with tens of thousands of books the floor would collapse. Also, I would have to sell all the furniture and sleep on a catafalque made from the complete works of Anthony Trollope. It's frustrating, this lack of square footage. On the other hand it keeps me from ending up on a very special episode of Hoarders.

Truth is, it's tough for a book to merit a permanent slot on my limited shelves. I cull twice a year, and a dozen or so titles head to the charity shop. I'm still running out of room, but without discipline it would have happened years ago.

It's especially unusual for knitting and needlework titles to stick around longer than six months. So many arrive by mail these days (my life, it is hard) that the population, if allowed to grow unchecked, would soon invade the adjacent cases devoted to authors from the British Empire (on the left) and biography/autobiography/memoirs/letters/journals (on the right).

For a knitting book to earn permanent residency it must bring more to the table than a good collection of patterns. My favorites have taught me to be a better knitter, not just how to add a particular sweater to my wardrobe. I'm a child of Elizabeth Zimmermann and I can design my own sweaters, thankyouverymuch.

So it's rare that a book grabs me as quickly as Gwen Bortner's new Entree to Entrelac.

Entree to Entrelac by Gwen Bortner

I've heretofore avoided entrelac by pretending it did not exist. Once, when it tried to say hello during a knitting retreat show-and-tell, I was forced to put my fingers in my ears and shout "La la la la I can't hear you I can't hear you." (Nobody likes to sit next to me during show-and-tell.)

Why this aversion? I wish you wouldn't have asked, because it kills me to admit this.

Long ago, a knitter at a neighborhood meet-up who was working on an entrelac scarf told me what was involved in producing it, and called it a pain in the ass. She demonstrated the making of one square, and I was so put off I swore I'd never touch it. Cowardly!

But when I learned that Gwen–who is nobody's fool–was sufficiently enchanted to run on about it for a couple hundred pages, I got curious. After several weeks of cohabiting, I've decided the book gets to stay. It's empowering, and that makes it a keeper.

Entrelac itself is a very specific technique. It does what it does and it looks like what it looks like, and that's that. To her credit, Gwen pushes it about as far as it will go, using it to fashion not only the usual suspects like scarves and other mainly flat pieces, but also surprisingly fetching fitted garments.

Patterns aside, however, the book explains the underlying principles of entrelac so clearly and exhaustively that after working through the practice exercises an intermediate knitter could begin to design his own projects, or adapt the attendant patterns to suit. I waded in, as directed, with needles and scrap yarn in hand. In 15 minutes I produced my first complete square.

Daddy's First Entrelac

Yeah, fine. I'm not going to enter it in the county fair, but it led me all the way 'round the garden path without veering off into the pachysandra.

Gwen also pushes the technique of knitting left to right (also known as knitting back backwards) as essential to making entrelac a joy, since it obviates the need to constantly turn the work. You knit the stitches from the left needle to the right needle, as usual–and then you knit them back from the right needle to the left needle.

I'd seen it done. I'd envied those who could do it. But I'd never done it. Using Gwen's tutorial, I learned to fluently knit, purl, k2tog and p2tog backwards in five minutes flat. Obviously, here is a work written by a born teacher.

Now, a bit of irony. Learning to knit back backwards has put entrelac within my reach, but it's also the reason I won't be knitting any entrelac right way.

Thanks to Gwen, I can finally tackle a project I've wanted to make since the moment I saw it: the Roman glass vest from Kaffe Fasset's Glorious Color. There are two photographs, but no pattern–only Kaffe's succinct description in the text of how he did it. It's knitted flat, and involves working both intarsia and jacquard in the same row throughout.

I've wanted to make it as a showcase for some of the beautiful, beautiful yarn I've been given by spinners and dyers when I travel (did I mention that my life is hard?),

Embarrassment of Riches

but didn't want to face working the wrong side rows. Now that knitting back backwards will allow me to keep the right side facing me at all times, it's time to go swatch.

Philadelphia: Back to Loop

Before I forget, I've added a trip to my calendar that's coming up pretty soon–to beautiful Loop in Philadelphia, November 13 and 14. I had so much fun there the last time that I can't wait to come back.

I'll be teaching three classes (lace and photography) as part of a lovely weekend that will also include a class and trunk show by my bosom companion Carol Sulcoski of Black Bunny Fibers and Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn. Full details are here.

And My Thanks...

The outpouring of supportive comments to It Gets Better was mind-boggling. I've managed to put high school behind me–although as you can tell, the memories are still vivid when I summon them. But should some kid in need stumble upon that entry, I have no doubt that she or he will find far more encouragement in your responses than in my testimonial!

And thanks, also, for making my maiden voyage into self-publishing a sweet one–Sahar is doing quite respectably, and there's already a beautiful FO in Rowan Felted Tweed on Ravelry. Who's next?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

It Gets Better

(NOTE: I'm sorry that there won't be much today about knitting. I don't often veer off topic these days, but this is something I feel like I ought to write. I'll return to the usual yarn-based tomfoolery in my next entry.)

My last post, in which I suggested via t-shirt that persons unspecified should do something anatomically impossible to themselves and repeat from asterisk, has been up rather longer than intended. The plan was to follow up with something considerably chirpier, since bad moods are just that–moods. They pass.

The chirp has been pre-empted, however, due to a recent spate of suicides by young gay people.

This is not a new problem. Nor, sadly, is it uncommon. Suicide is the third-highest cause of death among Americans aged 15-24; and studies published in the past 15 years by the Federal government and the American Journal of Public Health suggest that youth who identify as gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender are two to three times more likely still to attempt to kill themselves.

It’s probably the lurid nature of the events leading up to the death of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman, that have pushed the problem out of the pages of specialty publications like our own, dear Windy City Times and into the mainstream media. Tyler Clementi’s private life was surreptitiously streamed onto the Internet by his roommate, who also Twittered to let the world know what he was doing. Tyler, distraught at his abrupt outing and the subsequent torment by his peers, jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

Tyler was one of at least nine young gay men known to have taken their own lives in the past few weeks due to anti-gay bullying.

As a result there have been, and continue to be, statements made by high-profile types–Ellen DeGeneres, Tim Gunn, the cast of “Modern Family,” etc.–under the theme I’ve used as the title of this post: It Gets Better. The message is simple, short, and (one hopes) effective: it may seem like life isn’t worth living, but don’t give up just yet. As you grow older, it gets better.

I’m certainly no celebrity, but I’m adding my squeaky voice to the chorus on the off chance that it might, in a small way, help somebody somewhere sometime. Who knows? Maybe there’s a gay kid out there who’s suffering at the hands of his classmates because he’d rather knit than kick soccer balls. And maybe he wandered in here after Googling “garter stitch” or “toy elephant.”

If you’re reading this, kid, it’s for you.

I know what you’re going through. That’s not an empty statement. I mean I know exactly what you’re going through, because I walked a mile and then some in those leaden sneakers when I was your age.

Thinking about suicide? So did I. In fact, I did more than think about it. I tried it.

It wasn’t my idea.

I was egged on by quite a few authority figures, the ones who seemed at the time to run the world. They weren’t my parents, I hasten to add. I got lucky in the parental department; they didn’t always understand me, but they always loved me.

They–my bullies–were mostly teachers and school administrators. You see, I went to this really, really awful little private high school devoted less to academics than to promoting the veins-in-your-teeth cult of virility. It was no place for sissies, and if they suspected you might be a sissy they did their best to beat it out of you.

I was only there for two years, but the life lessons they taught on a daily basis have always stuck with me. Here’s a small sampler, verbatim, including the language they felt was appropriate to use in front of schoolboys:

“We have to believe gay men choose to be gay. Otherwise we would have to admit that God makes mistakes, because there is no sorrier mistake than a bunch of faggots.”

“If my son turned out to be gay, he’d have two choices. He could shape up, or he could get the hell out of my house before I shot him through the head.”

“God created you to be a man, and to fuck women. If you don’t fuck women, you’re not a man. If you’re not a man or a woman, you don’t fit into creation and the sooner you leave it the better.”

“Frankly, if I was a gay man I’d shoot myself. I mean, I’d be going to Hell anyway and I might as well get on with it and skip over dying from AIDS.”

(Isn't it funny, Mr. Roberts? I don’t remember anything you taught about biology–you were a lousy teacher, so that’s no surprise. Yet I remember so much of what you said with shocking clarity.)

Day in, day out for two long, painful years, I drank it in. I remember being flabbergasted at how often our teachers could work jabs at homosexuality into topics you’d think were completely unrelated. I was 13 and hitting puberty hard, yet I swear I was less obsessed with dick than they were.

Usually these barbs were volleyed at all of us, a general exhortation against the evils of buggery. But on especially bad days, they were aimed pointedly at me, the designated class pansy–while the other boys listened and smirked.

That led directly to problems with a classmate who decided after one such lecture that he was going to prune me, the mutant bud, from the Tree of Life with his own hands–since that’s what God, the saints, and the faculty wanted. I appealed for help to a couple of teachers and to the dean, all of whom told me I was on my own.

If you’re going to act like that, they said, you deserve what you get.

Sound familiar?

Now, I was brought up to be a good kid and respect authority. And authority was telling me I was a horror in God’s eyes, and ought to bump myself off.

So I tried it. Not successfully, obviously. And not right then. I have a strong constitution; it took years for their poison to reach my vital organs. But it was probably bound to happen sooner or later.

It might not have if somebody, anybody, had been there tell me what I’m going to tell you.

People–teachers, parents, classmates, pastors, whoever–who call you a mistake are wrong. Totally wrong. Completely wrong. Wrongeddy-wrong-wrong.

You’re no more messed up than the straight kid in the next chair.

When they say that your nature is unnatural, they do not speak from wisdom. They are either misguided themselves, or they know better and are deliberately lying to you. Either way–you don’t have to listen. In fact, you shouldn’t. In fact, don’t.

I know. They appear to hold all the cards. They can force you to run laps, sit in detention, do punishment homework. But you have my solemn promise that this is temporary. One of these days you’ll be out of there, and such petty power as they possess can no longer touch you.

Hang on. Don’t let them keep you from pushing forward, because what’s waiting for you beyond is quite wonderful. It’s not all couleur de rose, but it’s so much better than what you’re going through right now.

There are ways to get help. The Trevor Project is a good place to start. You don't have to be desperate, either. Better, in fact, to seek a little support before you are desperate.

(And in the meantime, if you don’t know how to knit, please consider learning. It’s a marvelous way to keep calm, knitters are wonderful people to gather ’round you, and nothing says “piss off” to the bigots like a really amazing hand-knitted scarf.)

Friday, October 01, 2010

Been There, Done That, Made a T-Shirt

Did you ever have one of those days? Today, I did.

Now that it's quite over and the bodies are neatly buried, I've made a t-shirt to commemorate it.


In case you should at some point find yourself having a similar day, please note that I've added it (on a few different items, including a mug and button) to the shop.

Sweetness, light, conviviality, gemütlichkeit, etc. will return within 24 hours.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Color Me Impressed

It’s been a wonderful tour. I’m waiting for my flight home (via Los Angeles) from cozy, foggy Eureka and so have a little time to tell you about an unexpected and delightful adventure last week in Washington during the Men’s Fall Knitting Retreat.


WonderMike, host of the popular Fiber Beat podcast, is the driving force behind the gathering; and one of his many strengths is finding unique outings for us. Last year, we visited the Moonshadow Alpaca Ranch in Auburn. This year, he arranged for us to try our hands at indigo dyeing at Earthues in the Ballard section of town.

Now, I have a confession to make. I went to Earthues with only the mildest curiosity about what I might see. I love to knit, obviously. I enjoy spinning, when I can get to it. But though dyeing seemed interesting in theory–I certainly have enjoyed my visits to Lorna’s Laces and admire my friend Carol’s work at Black Bunny Fibers–I had very little desire to get my own fingers into the pot.

We were advised to bring along fiber to dip, so at the last minute I casually tossed a few odd hanks of blah stash wool into the suitcase. Word was that the neighborhood around Earthues is full of interesting shops, and I figured I could prowl through them if the dye studio turned out to be a snorefest.

Once through the door, it took all of fifteen seconds for me to lose my mind and begin fantasizing about planting a guerilla dye garden in the park near my apartment.


Calling Earthues a dye studio is like calling Disneyland a kiddie pool. The company was founded by Michele Wipplinger, a visionary dyer with almost a quarter-century of experience, as a home base for her mission of promoting and supporting the worldwide use of natural dyes.

There is a retail space (as of this writing, open Monday–Friday from 1o am to 5 pm), gorgeous and beautifully stocked with naturally-dyed fiber products from around the world, including a selection of yarns and beautifully printed cottons in fat quarters. They also offer gift items, objéts d’arts, and even some notions–I lucked into a beautifully carved wooden needle case and crochet hook I’ll photograph when I get home.



Beautiful light and sources of inspiration are everywhere.




We spent most of our time in the educational area with Michele’s passionate, charismatic business partner, Kathy Hattori. While Michele travels a great deal to consult and teach, Kathy keeps things buzzing in Washington State–managing the shop, fulfilling commissions, teaching classes, and–during our visit–deftly guiding 30 guy knitters through the ABCs of natural dye in one short afternoon.


I learned a lot in a hurry, including that indigo (above) looks a lot like basil and marigolds (a flower I have always detested) produce a lovely yellow dye.

It was like finding out the smelly, annoying kid across the street is secretly a concert violinist.

After our introduction, we moved into the yard where four big pots of indigo awaited. Since this was, of course, a group of guys, we were interested (and perhaps slightly disappointed) to hear that our own indigo experience would not require the use of pee.

One by one, we dipped and watched as our yarns turned from white


to green


to blue.


At the end of the day I had two skeins of yarn and one shin that were dyed several exceedingly fetching shades of deeps blue.

My assumptions that the natural palette would be limited, muddy and fugitive turned out to be utterly incorrect. Turns out you can, in fact, make brilliant and lightfast colors without recourse to petrochemicals; nor does Earthues use heavy metal mordants of any kind.



I was so impressed I went back later in the week on a free afternoon to hang out with Kathy some more. When I told her about my budding interest in quilting she showed me a fascinating project undertaken a few years back by another dyer at the shop. She had subjected a rather insipid selection of quilting cottons to systematic overdyeing in a series of natural hues.


The word "magic" is as overused these days as Lindsay Lohan's prescription drug plan, but it's the only word that seems appropriate.

Since my dream of of planting an indigo patch is likely to remain a dream, I was particularly interested to learn that in the 1990s Michele pioneered extract forms of natural dyes; they allow you to play with the process even if you aren’t ready to grind your own cochineal bugs or grow your own woad. Earthues sells the extracts in little kits and pots, and I know with fatal certainty that I’m going to have to try them out. Happily, they already sell some products online and there are plans to expand the range of Web site offerings in the near future.

If you find yourself in the Seattle area, for goodness' sake head over the Ballard Bridge (the Number 17 bus will take you there from downtown) and knock on the door at Earthues. If you care about fiber in any form, you really ought not to miss it.