Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Let's Pretend Flowers are Almost the Same as Knitting

This Part Doesn't Really Have Much In It About Knitting

So I went out to Guthrie, Oklahoma for the annual Sealed with a Kiss Knit Out. It was the first time I'd done anything in Oklahoma other than spend a night in a hotel during a drive to Santa Fe, and it's not fair to make a decision about any place based on the quality of your stay at a Hilton Garden Inn.

I had a blast. In writing about Oklahoma, Mr. Hammerstein got it surprisingly right for a New Yorker–there was indeed a bright golden haze on the meadow every morning; and I saw a hawk making lazy circles in the sky. I awoke to the cry of a lonesome train whistle, and that would have been extremely Johnny Cash except I was sleeping in a canopy bed covered with blue roses.

The knitters were good-hearted in the extreme (a future post will be devoted to a piece of stunning generosity–I haven't yet been able to photograph the gift properly). The event itself is so awash in charm, I didn't wonder that students had come from far afield (and my fellow teachers, the redoubtable Fiona Ellis and Jane Thornley, had come all the way from flippin' Canada).

Guthrie, which you should visit, is about the size of the frozen foods section of our Costco. It consists in the main of gloriously untouched High Victorian buildings standing cheek-by-jowl, with occasional outcroppings of Art Deco. There's a historic theater (the kind with live actors and footlights), a truly splendid yarn shop (see Sealed with a Kiss, above), art galleries, good restaurants and so many, many, many antique shops.

We have antique shops in Chicago, but I usually can't afford to look in the windows. For example, once I noticed in passing by a store in Ravenswood that they had a bag of old wooden clothespins for sale. They were the kind with no spring that I remember my grandmother keeping in a big old chip basket, handy to the washing machine. They were nicely weathered, and I thought they'd be useful for photographs, so I went inside and asked the price.

It was $35.00 per dozen. That's $2.1966666 per pin. The saleswoman explained that they were eco-friendly and upcycled, and that hanging out your wash is the new In Thing for the local yuppified supermoms–apparently it offsets the carbon they generate while driving their kids three blocks to school in a Range Rover. Rustic "vintage" clothespins are sine qua non for the fashionable wash line.

Guthrie is far more reasonably priced, not to mention blessedly free of yuppified supermoms; and on one afternoon plus two lunch breaks plus a quick dash in early evening I...um...well, I bought some stuff.

Including thimbles. It seems I have kind of a problem with buying thimbles. Well, no. I have no problem with buying thimbles, I have a problem with not buying thimbles, at least when they're as cheap as they are in Guthrie.

I'm not gaga for all thimbles, mind you. I don't care a fig for the twee pewter souvenir variety that could never be used to sew because they were designed to sit on a rack and remind you of your crazy party weekend in Yucca Flats.

The thimbles I like could be used for sewing, if you (okay, me) could fit your stubby manfingers (okay, my stubby manfingers) into them. They're old, and slightly battered, and often offer charming suggestions like "Make It Yourself with Wool."


And yes, fine, along with that one and the bridal thimble from Royal Worcester, and the advertising thimbles from Newsom's Flowers of Marion, Kansas and Glass Portrait Studio, there is a souvenir thimble from Mesa Verde. I'm hoping it will give visitors the impression that I once had a crazy party weekend in Mesa Verde, because my reputation could use a dash of daring.

The only thing difficult about shopping in Guthrie was that I was making the rounds on the eve of the Rapture, and the little old ladies at the cash desks kept wishing me "a blessed day." I'd stand there holding my two dollars and wondering, "Are you saved? Because if you are, I'm just going to come back the day after tomorrow and pick this out of the rubble."

This Part Has Even Less in It About Knitting

I wish I could show you what I'm knitting right now, but everything is either for a client and therefore top secret, or it's my niece's not-a-pink-poncho and still bunched up on a circular needle and therefore unphotographable. However, I fully expect the pink thing to be unfurled in a week or so–we're nearing the end of the third version of the cape. There's also a new design for Skacel, of which I am immensely proud. Pictures forthcoming.

In the meantime, I have flowers. If you don't care for flowers, you can go back to planning your Disney vacation or reading Justin Bieber slash fiction or whatever.

I took a head count a week ago and realized that in the two main flower beds I have to play with, which together measure a whopping sixteen square feet, I have 14 herbaceous perennial species represented in a total of something like 34 specimens. This is the antithesis of the American suburban gardens of my childhood, which considered three gaudy Burpee marigolds in a line near the front door to be overdoing it.

Among the plants currently doing their thing, and doing it well, we have Dicentra spectabilis "Alba," a white clone of one of my favorite plants, commonly known as Bleeding Heart.


And there's also an Aquilegia, or Columbine–new for this year–which is obliging me with a second round of blooms. It's my first Columbine, and what the gardening books don't warn you about is that once you have one, you'll find yourself wanting more. They're like thimbles that way. I will for the present confine myself to hoping it sets seed .


And not yet in bloom, but getting there, is another new acquisition: Alchemilla mollis, or Lady's Mantle. The leaves are shaped like inverted umbrellas (which I, as a Chicagoan, know all too well) and are covered in tiny hairs. The hairs catch the dew in the morning and the entire plant sparkles like a dress covered in crystal beads.*

The first spikes, which will be covered in chartreuse flowers, are just emerging.


Yes, I know it's not knitting. But aren't they pretty?

* Hence the name, or so I've read. Alchemists believed the water collected by the leaves was purified, and therefore suitable for alchemical experiments.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Proof That Knitting Makes You Smarter, Even If You're Me

Hi, kids. I'm sitting at O'Hare airport, waiting for a flight to Oklahoma. I'll be teaching this weekend at the Sealed With a Kiss Knit Out 2011 in Guthrie, in the exalted company of Fiona Ellis and Jane Thornley.

I only just got home from my last trip–a joyful co-production of Boston's Common Cod Fiber Guild and Mind's Eye Yarn in Cambridge. The first event was a talk at M.I.T., in a terribly swish lecture hall designed with verve aplenty by Frank Gehry. We arrived to find the place crawling with equations. It looked like Einstein had inhaled too much chalkdust and sneezed violently across all twelve blackboards.

I had a few minutes of downtime before curtain, so I put on my thinking cap and got to work finishing what the class had started. Piece o' cake. Add a couple yos, balance with a few k2togs, start and end with asterisks to indicate the repeat and now you have a theory of velocity (or electricity, or gravity, or energy, or something) that also makes a really cute lace capelet.

A Little Talk at MIT

Hearty thanks to Patience for sharing her photograph with me. I hope the nastypants meanie meanie teacher who made me cry over long division in fourth grade in front of the entire class runs across this post and has a stroke.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Incident at Westminster

“So,” I said. “How was the wedding?”

Dolores lifted herself off the sofa just enough to fling a wine glass at my head, but jet lag had sapped the oomph from her pitching arm. The remains of that morning’s indifferent breakfast Cabernet fell short by half and landed on the rug.

“Meh,” she said, and passed out again.

“She’s cranky,” said Harry.

He was sitting on the table, scissors and glue at the ready, preparing to paste souvenirs and photographs into his scrapbook. His copy of the Official Programme, which he’s been carrying with him everywhere, was propped against the toaster.

“Looks like you had a lot of fun,” I said, picking up a napkin on which someone had scribbled a snippet of music with a lyric. “Is this from Elton John?”

“Yup,” said Harry. “He’s so nice. We were near each other at the Abbey and when I started to cry because everything was so pretty he hugged me and I said I’m a good bloke, and he cried, too. Then at the party we were talking and he said I made him think of a whole new song and he wrote down the first part for me.”

“Is seems to me,” I read, “you lived your life like a sock yarn in the wind.”

“He must know what Chicago weather is like,” said Harry, “because I sure do.”

“And where are the leaves from?”

“The big one came off a tree in Kew Gardens. You aren’t allowed to pick stuff but it was on the ground already so I figured it was cool. The little one fell off one of the trees in the Abbey when Dolores–well, you know.”

Oh, yeah. I knew. You’ve probably heard already, or seen the leaked video clips on TMZ, but in case you’ve been otherwise engaged here are the details.

It was evident from the wording of Harry’s invitation that Dolores remained persona non grata with the palace crowd, thanks to her impromptu audience with the Queen’s dogs at Windsor Castle. She did not take the snub gracefully. After a hatchet-faced goon from the CIA turned up at our door to ask about unsettling e-mails that had been sent to Kate Middleton from our computer, I revoked her Internet privileges for a month.

To her credit, Dolores spent the duration of her punishment making amends. She watched news bulletins about the wedding preparations without throwing cocktail nuts at the screen. She took Harry down to one of the fancy tailors in the Loop to have his royal ball band fitted. She helped him bake and pack eleven dozen snickerdoodles for the royal cookie table. She confirmed and re-confirmed his reservations at the International Yarn Hostel in Wapping. And as I was up to my Gandalfian eyebrows in deadlines, she offered to escort him to the airport.

Right. I know what you’re thinking. You might have spoken up at the time. But you didn’t, did you? No, you did not.

Dolores was terribly worried about Harry’s navigating O’Hare Airport all by himself, so she secured a pass from the ticket agent that allowed her to usher him through security and into his seat without incident. She then attempted to leave the aircraft, whereupon she tripped, fell and became wedged beneath a vacant seat in First Class. Alas, she was unable to extricate herself until the flight was somewhere over Iceland.

The crew did not eject her immediately (that would have been unfair to Iceland), but the captain made it clear that she would be sent back to Chicago on the next flight from London. A few hours later, as the captain was visiting the loo, Dolores busted in on him to plead for clemency. She emerged with a highly personal narrative the captain does not wish to have shared with the media, plus enough Frequent Flyer miles for a round-trip ticket to Rio.

In the days leading up to the wedding, Harry made friends with some lovely Australian and German yarns from the hostel. They visited Kew Gardens,

Kew Gardens

took in a couple of shows, got lost on the Underground–the things one does when one is young and free and superwash in London.

Dolores, meanwhile, did a good deal of shopping because she hadn’t planned on traveling and therefore had only a week’s worth of clothing, her passport and her make-up kit.

Harry said that on Friday morning you could feel the crackle of excitement in the London air. Or it might have been radiation from all the surveillance equipment. Anyhow, he was up at dawn and rolled out the door on his way to the Abbey. He had expected Dolores to tag along and try her hoof at getting past royal security (practice makes perfect), but she hadn’t come home the night before.

“I never saw anything like the crowds on the way to the church,” Harry told me. “They had little flags and champagne and funny hats and it was sort of like Gay Pride Day except way bigger and Englisher and most of the guys had shirts on.”

Harry presented his credentials at the door and was warmly welcomed, though he says getting to his seat was exhausting and perilous. “It’s a long building. And that creepy lady who married the famous soccer player tried to step on me when I got in her way. But I got a space near the front so I could see pretty well.”

Everything went off without a hitch. Almost. I’ll let Harry give you his version of what happened next.

“Seriously It really was like a fairy tale,” said Harry. “There was the prince and Cinderella and I even thought they had paid two ladies to be the wicked stepsisters but then I found out they were princesses, too. Weird, right? So the choir started to sing and it was amazing like angels and I sang too, because they put all the words in the booklet, and then the tree I was sitting near shook a little and some leaves fell down. And I thought oh it’s the wind, but then I remembered we were inside and there’s no wind unless somebody left the window open, but when I looked around I didn’t see any open windows, and then I looked up in the tree and I saw Dolores’s butt.”

Yes. You remember the trees? The beautiful estate trees that decorated the aisle?

Someone in a Tree

How did she get up there, you might well ask. Probably best to let Dolores handle this part of the narrative herself.

"It was almost too freaking easy,” she said. “I happened to be doing some sightseeing in the neighborhood the day before, and along comes this truck with the Hundred Acre Wood on top. So I ask somebody who looks official, what’s with the greenery? He says, all confidential-like, ‘I’m sure I can’t say, miss, but perhaps it might 'ave something to do with the big do tomorrow, eh?’ And he winks at me. Big winkers, the English.”

“Did you say...winkers?”

“Yeah, winkers.”

“Oh, good.”

“What did you think I said?”

“Never mind. Continue.”

“Right. So at that moment the whole gorgeous plan just popped fully-formed into my head. I knew what I had to do. I went over to where they were unloading the trees and I said, in my best la-dee-dah Lady Bracknell voice, ‘To whom, please, do I speak about my role in the d├ęcor?’

It took some bleating but I finally got some guy with clout to listen, and I told him I was sent by that Campaign for Wool that Prince Charles is so hot about, and he wanted me to be part of the modest green recyclable country-type outfittings as a surprise to the happy couple.”

“And he bought that?”

“Not at first. He looks me up and down and says, ‘Are you sure you’re British?’ in that hoity-toity way they do. And I said, ‘Yes, quite.’ And he said, ‘Well, what breed are you then?’ and I said Blue-Faced Leicester. And he said, ‘Then ’ow come you ’aven’t got a blue face?’ and I said, ‘Because it’s very warm in here.’

“Then I showed him the hat I picked up that day at Philip Treacy, and I said what would I, an ’umble English sheep, be doing with a hat like that if I wasn’t gonna be at the royal wedding? So finally he let me in, and I kicked back in one of the little chapels until they were finished unloading and nobody was looking. Then I shinnied up the nearest tree and got comfy.”

“And that’s where you were when Harry saw you?”

“Well, yeah. See, I was still pretty jet-lagged and fell asleep up there and when they struck up the band it scared the living shit out of me and I lost my balance. I slipped a little off the branch, but kept hanging on for dear life until the show was on the road. I didn’t want to cause a scene or anything.”

“Of course you didn’t.”

“Naw, I have too much class for that. But once they were all up front and everybody’s eyes were glued to the bride’s face and her sister’s ass I figured I could let myself down the trunk really slowly, and then just blend in with the crowd.”

“Uh huh.”

“But my hat got knocked sideways, so I grabbed for it and that’s when I fell out of the tree.”

“And landed on the Archbishop of Wales.”

“And landed on the Archbishop of Wales, yeah. That pointy hat hurt like a mofo.”

It speaks to the efficiency and steel resolve of the security staff, as well as the ready availability of chloroform in the UK, that Dolores was removed from the Archbishop’s hat, and then from the Abbey, with such speed and tact that the event barely registered with the other guests and the ceremony proceeded without a hitch.

While Dolores slept off the rest of the day under guard, Harry headed off to Buckingham Palace for the wedding breakfast and the parties that followed. “I was afraid it would take me forever to get there,” he said. “But when the Queen was going by I waved and said, ‘Hi, Queen!’ and she smiled and picked me right up and carried me down the aisle and outside!”

After the Ceremony

“And then she said she had to stop and powder her nose before they left so she gave me to one of the princesses and she took me the rest of the way.”

Ride in a Hat

I was watching, groggily, from home. But I woke up the neighbors when the wedding party emerged to wave from the balcony.

Wave to the People

Harry boogied until dawn at Buckingham Palace with the young royals, carefully avoiding any further engagement with the resident Corgis. He was, in fact, the last guest to leave.

“I think I had too much chocolate milk,” he said, “because I came over all fuzzy and then I guess I fell asleep on a chair and they didn’t find me until they were cleaning up. And when they saw the Queen’s initials on my ball band they handed me over to somebody who handed me over to somebody who handed me over to somebody else and then before I knew it I was sitting there with the Queen and she was having breakfast and looking at the newspapers and she asked if I was busy and I said no and she asked me to come have a look at her horses. She likes horses.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“And while we were giving the horses some carrots and sugar I apologized for Dolores falling out out of the tree and landing on the Archbishop and I told her I would make sure Dolores behaves herself when we go to London for Knit Nation.”

“And what did she say to that?”

“She said for such a little ball of yarn I have very big dreams.”

“Her Majesty is very perceptive.”

“Righty-ho,” said Harry.