Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Project Runway: The Lost Episodes

[SCENE: The "Project Runway" workroom. One hour until the next runway show. Tension reigns as the four remaining designers feverishly add finishing touches to their latest creations.]

Your Genial Host(Enter TIM GUNN, host and mentor.)

TIM: Hello, designers!

DESIGNERS (wearily): Piss off, you great prancing queen.

TIM: Excuse me?

DESIGNERS (brightly): Hello, Tim!

TIM: That's better. Now, you've all had fourteen dollars and two days to prepare your looks for tonight's show, and your challenge was to create an ensemble that your model will wear on the red carpet at an exclusive gala benefit sponsored by our friends at AngelSoft Bathroom Tissue.

I don't think I need to remind you that the winner will not only receive immunity for the next challenge, but also a layout in Marie Claire's upcoming Colonic Irrigation special issue sponsored by Activia.

I'm looking around the room and, frankly, I'm concerned. Schuyler, let's start with you.

(SCHUYLER snaps to attention. He's about 22 years old, six feet tall, and weighs 190 pounds, half of which is biceps. The heat of the competition has caused him to remove his shirt. Again.)

TIM: I see feathers. And beads. Feathers and beads. Again?


SCHUYLER: Right. Well, see, my inspiration was my Native American heritage, but with a contemporary twist.

TIM: A sort of fashion-forward Pocahontas?


TIM: I'm a little confused, Schuyler, because until now we've all been under the impression that you're fourth-generation Italian-Scottish from White Plains.

SCHUYLER: My high school football team was the Redskins.

TIM: Fair enough, fair enough. Do you feel confident about this look, Schuyler?

SCHUYLER: I feel confident that I'm the only cute gay dude left and if I get kicked off the ratings will drop fifty percent.

TIM: Carry on.

(TIM turns to LILA, a quivering waif who has been weeping softly for the past three episodes.)

TIM (gently concerned): Lila, honey, how are you?

LILA (sniffling): Fine.

TIM: I have to say, you don't sound fine. Talk to me.

LILA (sobbing): It's just...all the pressure...and...my boyfriend...sent me a break-up text message last night...and then I accidentally sewed a bugle bead to my left nipple...and my cat got out of the hotel and I can't find her...and...

(She breaks down.)

TIM: Can I ask you a question? How much sleep have you had in the past two days?

LILA: About six minutes.

TIM: And how much coffee?

LILA: I kinda stopped counting when Starbucks cut me off.

TIM: Okay, well, let's see what you have to show me. Are those...bunny ears?


LILA: Yes. The inspiration is a childhood memory.

TIM: How...sweet.

LILA: We lived on this beautiful farm outside of Moline, Illinois...and every day I used to run through the woods and gather leaves and flowers...and I'd use them to create these fantastic outfits for myself...and all my imaginary friends...

TIM: And one of them was a rabbit?


TIM: Are we going to hear about the rabbit soon? The clock is ticking.

LILA: Can I blow my nose on your lapel? I ran out of Kleenex.

TIM: No. And Kleenex is not a sponsor of this program, so we're going to have to charge you $15,000 for that unscheduled product endorsement, okay?

LILA (fingering her scissors): Okay.

(At the next table, TIM convenes with XIAO FOU, who has tied up her unruly hair with a length of Vienna sausage links.)

TIM: How's it going, Xiao Fou?

(XIAO FOU stabs her model, INGRID, with a straight pin.)

INGRID: Ach du lieber! Dat vent right through vere my thigh vould be!

XIAO FOU: Serves you right, stupid cow.

TIM: Xiao Fou, what seems to be the trouble?

XIAO FOU: Last night she swallowed a Tic-Tac and now I have to re-fit the whole effing gown.

TIM: Oh, dear.

XIAO FOU: Plus this is like the eleventh episode and you still can't pronounce my name.

TIM: Well, if it's any consolation this is the fifteenth season and I'm still not sure how to pronounce "Klum." Let's talk about your piece, and then Ingrid can go vomit and see if that helps at all.

XIAO FOU: Okay, well, the inspiration was my family's roots in colonial New England.


TIM: Hence the mob cap.

XIAO FOU: You have a problem with mob caps?

TIM: No, no. I would just hate to see this get too costumey, if you know what I'm saying? You're going to have to style it very carefully.

XIAO FOU: I was thinking of using the butter churn off the Macy's accessory wall.

TIM: Brilliant. Carry on.

(TIM steps over to MAARV'YN's work table. MAARV'YN is madly sewing fur trim onto his model.)

TIM: Maarv'yn, talk to me. What is this?


MAARV'YN: It's a dress.

TIM: Can you be more specific?

MAARV'YN: It's a...long dress.

TIM: Can you be less specific?

MAARV'YN: It's an expression of who I am as a designer.

TIM: Better. And is that real fur?


TIM: How the hell did you buy real fur at Mood with only fourteen dollars?

MAARV'YN: I didn't get it at Mood.

TIM: Then where did you get it?

MAARV'YN: Seen Lila's cat today?

TIM: Make it work! Make it work!

[Cut to commercial.]

And Now for Something Completely Different
In times of crises, each must do what he or she can. And so I've put an original sketch of Dolores (originally seen here) on sale in the shop, with proceeds going to Haitian relief.

Even if you'd rather not expose visitors to your household to the sight of Dolores in full cry, please consider making a contribution in some way to the relief efforts. Much has been done, but more will always remain to do.

[Alrighty - the first sketch sold about 40 seconds after this post went live, which was gratifying. I've put up another, also from the archives, in case you were interested but showed up too late.]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How to Propagate a Stereotype (1968 Edition)

1. Design a charming floral block in crochet.


2. Make it the dominant motif in your pattern for a bedspread.


3. Publish it with instructions sized only for a single bed.


4. Style the photograph to look like Room 148 at Shady Acres Community Home for the Terminally Lonely and Criminally Aged.


5. Name it after a religious movement most associated in the public imagination with never, ever having sex.


6. Wonder why the rising "Me" generation is not flocking to purchase your yarn.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dang It

Why do they always put the mailing label over the best part of the cover?

Rhapsody in Blue

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fancy a Shag?

Those of you who are too young to have experienced the 1970s can never fully comprehend them. The cultural débris it left behind like a retreating glacier–Qiana, est, "Three's Company," the BeeGees, The Poseidon Adventure, Watergate–is easy to sneer at. From a distance, through eyes jaded by experience, it appears hopelessly naïve, tacky, excessive, ridiculous.

Yet it was an exciting time. A time of experimentation, free thought and gleeful rule-breaking. Take the matter of carpet, for example.

Yes, carpet.

For centuries, carpet had been something you mostly put on the floor. Sure, the odd Renaissance muckity-muck might use a nice bit of Turkish in lieu of a tablecloth,

Holbein, The Ambassadors

but for the most part, carpet = floor covering.

In the 1970s, this practice was called into question. I know it was, for though I was a mere child (having arrived in January of 1971) I recall distinctly the happy excesses of the Cult of Shag Carpeting.


Devotees of the cult, who included (or so it seemed) all persons responsible for decorating airports, airplanes, public schools, upscale homes, fashionable hotels, retail showrooms, and cocktail lounges, felt that shag carpeting–though hardly a new invention–was the wave of the future. It was a magic wand, a panacea, a sure cure for all aesthetic and architectural ills.

According to some estimates, between 1970 and 1979 as much as 62% of the surface area of the United States of America may have been covered in shag carpet.

In many rooms, shag spread across the floor and then, like a moss that fed on patchouli and disco music, jumped the skirting board and ran right up the wall. It obliterated the boundaries between floors and walls, even between floors and furniture. My kindergarten classroom, in what was then a brand-new and forward-looking Arizona elementary school, had almost no chairs. We sat on tiny cubes upholstered with red shag carpet, arranged in a circle upon a floor covered by red shag carpet, surrounded by walls swathed in red shag carpet. Indoctrination at an early age was of paramount importance.

The stuff was so popular that fashionistas even carried it as an accessory. Sound incredible? Take a look at this striking image from a booklet published in 1973 by Coats and Clark.


In 1973, nothing said "comfort" and "style" like a handmade shag carpet muff. You could work it colors to match your polyester mix-and-match wardrobe, or your favorite faux-Tiffany swag lamp.

It kept your hands warm on the way to the singles bar; and once there, it allowed you to flirt shamelessly, yet coyly, with the leisure-suited airline pilot two seats down. The next morning, after you'd had a "meaningful connection" on his Broyhill waterbed, the 100% acrylic muff could be hosed down and drip-dried before your next outing.

What's that, youngster? You're sorry you missed it?

You should be.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I Most Certainly Did Not

Surely Not, Madam.

Behold the cover of just one of a short stack of such publications that I received with great joy on Christmas Day. I think we may need to take a little wander through them together. What do you say?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Feelin' Epiphanic

Here we are, then: Epiphany. The finish line. I cleared the triple hurdle of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve with no more than a bruised knee and periodic outbreaks of flop sweat.

Magi PWNage

And how, my dears, are you?

Are you perhaps thinking, as I do, that it might be nice if we spread the winter holidays out just a shade more? Frontloading all the Big Stuff into forty days is an appalling strain on the nerves, not to mention the finances.

It also leaves one staring forlornly across the frozen tundra without the comforting beacon of even one really good all-inclusive reason to get down and boogie. Valentine’s Day is for couples. St Patrick’s Day is for the Irish. Easter is too damned early in the morning.

And when I speak of the frozen tundra, remember that I live in Chicago, where global warming is something that only happens to other people. Come March, when we could really use it, the holiday glow has long since fizzled to a heap of dead ashes. So we huddle indoors, eating and drinking too much–kinda like Christmas, except that without decorations and presents and Very Special Episodes of “Gossip Girl” it’s mostly just depressing.

I haven’t felt my toes since late November. And according to the scum-sucking hag weather lady* our present blast of cold air is about to be supplemented by an additional blast** plus a blizzard.

At a time like this, knitting ceases to be a fiber art. It becomes a martial art. Me and my yarn versus frostbite and cabin fever. And if Old Man Winter throws down with me, he’s going to get a US 7 right in the groin shins.

He'd better steer clear of my posse, too. Especially this one.

In the Kitchen
"You know what would be great in these?
A slug of bourbon."

In case you don't recognize her, that is my Exceptional Niece Abigail,™ just a shade over two-and-half years old and already a dab hand at mixing our family's traditional butter cookies.

I arrived at Abigail's house in a gray mood, disinclined to rock around the Christmas tree. She was such a tonic to my nerves that a few days later, when Santa landed on the hearth rug, I forgot to kick him in the nuts shins.

One highlight of my stay was a guided tour of her stuffed animal collection. What began in 2007 with a cow and a bunny is now the largest private zoo in the Western hemisphere. It rivals, both in numbers and biodiversity, the population of the Serengeti Plain.

But the animals are as nothing when compared to the babies. Abigail has in her care enough infants to make Mrs. Duggar pay a call on Planned Parenthood. They're quite literally everywhere. On the couch, the windowsill, the stairs. Under the kitchen table. In the bathroom. They drip from the eaves. They clog the gutters.

Spot the Handknits
"Let's play Count the Handknits."

To keep track of so many, Abigail has had to eschew traditional names like Wilma and Cherise in favor of more starkly descriptive labels like Naked Baby. This is Naked Baby.

One Doll
"Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form."

Naked Baby arrived wearing clothes, but they were removed within minutes and haven't been seen since. Her only concession to modesty is this burping cloth sarong, which I think makes her look like a mendicant Buddhist nun.

This is Hair Baby, so called in recognition of her crop of brushable, tuggable hair.

Another Doll
"Mama says I'm the pretty one."

I also met, but neglected to photograph:
  • Purple Baby, whose sewn-on purple pajamas saved her from being christened Naked Baby II.

  • Pink Baby. As Purple Baby, but in pink.

  • Band-Aid Baby, who has an oval logo on her knee that looks like a Band-Aid. (Abigail is fond of Band-Aids and often applies them decoratively, like temporary tattoos.)

  • New Baby. No longer, strictly speaking, new; but retains the title out of courtesy.

  • Mexico Baby, who short-circuited after falling down the stairs and now speaks only Spanish.

  • Pajama Baby, who came in a car seat. We expected she would be christened Car Seat Baby, but Abigail likes to throw a curve ball now and then.
Christmas Knitting

Christmas knitting was very subdued this year. No great plans, no big surprises.

Last year, I knit my first pair of mittens as a gift for Abigail. Through the entire Maine winter they kept her hands warm and dry, and they wore like iron; but by first snow this year, she'd outgrown them. So I presented a new pair.

Mittens 02

These are improvised along Norwegian lines, by way of Elizabeth Zimmermann in Knitting Around. The orange blossoms are out of left field. I think Dolores slipped something into my Virgin Egg Nog.


Not fancy, but she seemed taken with them and they've already seen action.

Snow Art
"I call them Romulus and Remus."

There was also a sweater, of course. Here's a peek, while I await the full photographs of her in it. If it looks familiar, it's because you've seen it here once before.

They say they want to eat our brains.
"Get off my front porch before I call the cops."

I made some small tweaks to Abby's version, because apparently I can't even knit my own patterns as written.

I've been thinking about and working on socks, too; but more about that after I've polished off the last box of chocolate. (If you eat Christmas candy after Epiphany, the calories count.)

*I know. The weather lady is just doing her job. But I hate the way she smiles when she says, “Stay inside or die.”

** Thanks again, Canada.