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, gem├╝tlichkeit, etc. will return within 24 hours.