Thursday, February 28, 2013

For the Sheer Hell of It

When I mentioned the ship Lurline after writing about the edging "Lurline" I did not expect to get multiple, thrilling comments from readers who had sailed on the ship; or had seen the ship in its prime, or who had relations who'd sailed on the ship; or who actually knew a Lurline who was directly descended from the Lurline who had given her name to the ship. And, fine, yes, I will be learning to play the goopy sweet song about finding love on the Lurline on my ukulele.  I eat that sort of thing up with a spoon, you know I do.

Here, just for kicks, is another nineteenth century edging from Weldon's Practical Knitter (Fourteenth Series). It's called "Cyprus."


Not so unusual as "Lurline," but handsome and easily memorized. Like "Lurline," this edge is worked in garter stitch so it doesn't curl. It's heading for not one, but two upcoming projects I am otherwise not supposed to talk about right now.

yo2. Double yarn over–yarn wraps twice around right needle.
sl 1. Slip stitch as if to purl, with yarn in front.

CO 12 stitches. K 1 row.

Row 1. Sl 1, k5, k2tog, yo, k1, k2tog, k1.
Row 2. K4, yo, k2tog, k2, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 3. Sl 1, k3, k2tog, yo, k1, k2tog, k2.
Row 4. K7, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 5. Sl 1, k4, yo, k2tog, k1, yo2, k2.
Row 6. K3, p1 (2nd wrap of yo2), k2, yo, k3, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 7. Sl 1, k6, yo, k2tog, k4.
Row 8. BO 2, k2, yo, k5, yo, k2tog, k1.

Repeat from Row 1 as needed.

The yarn, by the way, is Zitron Lifestyle from Skacel. I have fallen deeply in love with it. It's wool, it's superwash, it's lightweight, and it has so much spring that if I'd been in charge of branding at the Zitron mill I would have called it BOING. An absolute joy to handle.

Today is a bit overscheduled, so I must dash, but if you want more of me I just did an interview for the gorgeous people at Squam Art Workshops. Oh my yes, I will teaching at Squam again this year. I guess they took me seriously when I said if they didn't invite me back I was going to sneak in anyway, sleep in a tree, and eat moss.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Joy of Edging

It's no secret that I love edging. I could edge for hours. Hell, I teach classes about edging. If you want to edge, I'm your guy.

Here's one I've enjoyed particularly. In fact, it made me giggle. Sturdy little thing, suitable for blankets and bedspreads. It's from the Fourth Series of Weldon's Practical Knitter (1880s) and it's called "Lurline."*


yo2. Double yarn over–yarn wraps twice around right needle.
sl 1. Slip stitch as if to purl, with yarn in front.

CO 14 sts. K 1 row.
Row 1. Sl 1, k1, k2tog, yo2, k2tog, k1, yo, k2tog, yo, k2tog, co 4, k2tog, k1.
Row 2. K13, p1 (first wrap of yo2), k3.
Row 3. Sl 1, k1, k2tog, yo2, k2tog, k5, k1 and p1 into each of next 4 sts, k2.
Row 4. K17, p1 (first wrap of yo2), k3.
Row 5. Sl 1,k1, k2tog, yo2, k2tog, k1, (yo, k2tog) 6x, yo, k2.
Row 6. K18, p1 (first wrap of yo2), k3.
Row 7. Sl 1, k1, k2tog, yo2, k2tog, k16.
Row 8. BO 8, k9, p1 (first wrap of yo2), k3.

Repeat as needed from Row 1.

You may have noticed that it's pinned out on the top of a cardboard paper box. I do that all the time. Then the piece is easily shuffled around–this is a small workroom–and I don't have to worry about stepping on pieces while they dry.

Rough Neck Sweater Progress

I'm well into the collar on the Rough Neck sweater. I do believe the structure is making sense and will work–although the instructions present one of those obstacles that you find fairly often in old patterns. It's not an error, exactly–just a lack of perfect clarity. Suffice it to say that if I hadn't already gathered that the entire collar is double-thick, and then confirmed my hunch thanks to a phrase referring to the finishing of the front bands, I'd be in for a helluva lot of ripping.

I would show you photographs if the sweater didn't defy clear shooting at this point. No matter what I do, all it looks like is a mass of stockinette shooting out incomprehensibly in three directions. Once I've finished the collar, I'll see what I can do by way of an update.

*I'll forever associate that name with Matson Navigation, whose ships I helped to load and unload in Honolulu during a summer job as a stevedoring clerk. The Lurline (named after a lady of the Matson family) was one of the line's signature vessels–a pretty little ship that had once carried passengers from California to Hawaii and back, but after the advent of jet travel had been gutted and turned into a cargo ship. Pity.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Child Is the Father of the Man

I've been ruthlessly clearing out boxes and bins for the past several months. I don't wonder why.

In August, after my grandmother died, we discovered that for years she had been treating her tiny house as a four-roomed, three-dimensional game of Tetris. Every inch of every closet, drawer, and cupboard was packed, neatly, top to bottom and back to front.

We–four adults–began our cleaning out by emptying closets. There were three. At the end of two days, we still hadn't got to the back of all of them.

The things we found. Oh, the things. My grandmother, proud daughter of the Great Depression, had learned early to never throw anything out because one day you might need it.

A bag of margarine tub lids (just the lids).

Eighty-three representations of the Virgin Mary in materials ranging from plaster to crochet

All the receipts for repairs to a car (I think it was a DeSoto) that probably made its last trip to the grocery store in 1962.

All of her pay stubs, from the 1940s to the day she retired.

A tea kettle with a burnt bottom. A roasting pan with a burnt bottom. A lid for a pot that disappeared, but which might fit another pot.

Thousands of zippers and buttons collected during eight decades of work as a seamstress and tailor.

Her prayer books. Her late son's prayer books. Her late mother's prayer books. Her late brother's prayer books. My grandmother was a religious woman, devoutly Catholic, and so when people died and left behind devotional paraphernalia, people said, "We should give this to Pauline." And my grandmother was certainly not going to chuck a crucifix, a Missal, or a guidebook to apparitions of the Blessed Mother in the trash.

It makes you think, seeing all that left behind. Some of it, I'm happy she saved. The trunk my great-grandfather (her father) brought with him as an immigrant in 1903 is here with me now, holding a heap of my knitted samples. It's a nice thing to have.

Other stuff, we groaned over. Why did you save this? Why? And off it went to the dump or St. Vincent de Paul or the scrapyard.

Back at home, I looked around and felt like opening the front door to the general public and screaming COME AND GET IT! I started asking myself, Why did you save this? Why?

One of the surprises I unearthed was a beat-up five-subject spiral notebook. Two hundred sheets, green cover. An old sketchbook, though with more than sketches inside. I date it to the year I would have been about ten, maybe eleven.

I found a Christmas list inside (I wanted Trivial Pursuit?), the recipe for my Italian grandmother's cookies, the start of a dreadful mystery novel (stolen diamonds), and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of drawings.

I have to laugh. In this neighborhood, at this time, any kid who shows the slightest inclination to draw or paint is immediately presented with a plein-air easel, a set of oil paints, a tray of watercolors, a personal tutor kidnapped from a picturesque street corner in Montmartre, an agent, and a gallery show.

I drew on lined notebook paper with...whatever. Appears to be mostly Number Two pencils,* which seems about right. Art supplies cost money, and I didn't have any. And my art lessons consisted entirely of checking out art books from the base library and making freehand copies of stuff I liked.

What I drew made me laugh even harder. Looking at these pages, I wonder if I've changed fundamentally at all in the intervening thirty years.

Vaguely nineteenth-century still lifes, mainly domestic, mainly culinary. Our kitchen never looked like this. I just wanted it to. I'd still like it to. (It still doesn't.)


An obsession with Toulouse-Lautrec–again, the nineteenth century, writ large.




I already saw New York City as the Great Elsewhere–more chic, witty, urbane, and exciting than wherever we happened to be stuck.


I didn't understand half of what I read, but I forced myself to plow through everything in The New Yorker from "Talk of the Town" to the back page with the hope that one day it would all make sense. (It did.)

And costumes. Oh, costumes. Pages and pages and pages and pages of bustles, crinolines, lace collars, drapery, trains, capes, tiaras, gloves. I looked at Tintoretto's take on St. George and the Dragon and ignored both the saint and the dragon. What caught me was the fancy chick in the foreground.


I just looked at the original painting again and what gets me now is the muscular nude male in the middle ground. I'm sure I must have noticed him at the time, but I had separate notebook (now long gone) for those sorts of drawings.

I'm not keeping the sketchbook. In fact, by the time you read this, it'll be gone. But it was fun to look it over one last time and see how far I have, and haven't, come.

*Young readers, Google it if you need to. Number two pencils are what we used to use for making erasble marks on paper. There was erasable ink, for a little while, but it never caught on.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

One Plain, One Fancy

Last month I wrote a piece for Lion Brand Yarns that mentioned an almost century-old pattern that I've had my eye on. This is it:


Look at that collar. Gorgeous, and perfectly practical for a pencil-neck like me who is prone to agonies of stiffness if I get even a whisper of draught down my back. I saw it, I want it, I'm going to make it.

Mind you, I'm going to change it. It's too long, for starters. As written,* it would hang to halfway down my thigh. Not pretty. I'm adding shaping in the torso, too–a taper from chest to waist.

It'll be gentle taper, because a sweater like this is meant to be a smidge loose. You put it on at home, in your study, when you've finally taken off your jacket and loosened your tie.  It's not for the office. It's for quiet solitude. However, should somebody drop in on my solitude, I'd rather not have it hang on me like I'm wearing daddy's old bathrobe.

So, the Product Knitter within wanted to knit the sweater in order to wear the sweater. The Process Knitter within–which is dominant–wanted to try out the pockets.

Here's a shot of one pocket.


As you can see, not much else happening for acres and acres of stockinette but that pocket. Marvelously smooth opening, no?

You make it by knitting to the point at which you want your pocket opening to lie. Then–without breaking the working yarn–you work only on the stitches that will form the interior of the pocket, knitting and purling back and forth on them until you have a strip that's twice the intended depth of the pocket.

Then you line up the live stitches of this strip with the live stitches you left sitting on your needle and–again, without breaking the working yarn–resume knitting across all your stitches. The strip, now folded in half, forms the interior of the pocket. It's very neat, and just requires seams up the sides when the piece is finished.

Here it is in hasty scribble form.


And here's what the actual pocket (finished except for side seams) looks like from the wrong side.


I like it. The opening is, of course, seamless. The method is straightforward. You must plan for your pockets in advance, of course–so the devil-may-care atttiude I enjoy when putting in afterthought pockets is replaced by the smug satisfaction of knowing that part of the work is done, and I can just motor on toward the front-and-back shaping.

The yarn is proving to be a perfect choice–LB Collection Organic Wool. It's soft (without being so namby-pamby that it'll start to pill before the sweater is complete), it's springy, it's cuddly as a puppy wrapped in polar fleece, and the rustic texture is a welcome accent for a piece that's otherwise so plain.

Really, really curious about the collar, since to be blunt I haven't the faintest idea of how it's going to work after reading the pattern fifty times. Sometimes you just have to buckle on the parachute and jump.

How I Got This Way

Speaking of Lion Brand, the most recent essay I wrote for them–"Inheritance"–talks about creativity running in families–though often your creative family tree will include folks who aren't necessarily blood relations. I enjoyed writing (and drawing) this one...and my mother left a comment. That was a good day.

Turning Weaving Into Knitting

Quick update on the bag that card weaver John Mullarkey and I are collaborating on, using HiKoo CoBaSi. John sent along four band designs to choose from. He'll use the band as the basis for the strap.


I settled on the second from the top. What he wove, I'm going to try to interpret (not necessarily copy) in knitting for the body of the bag. Joy of joys, it's swatch time! I'm thinking mosaic might be the way to go, for the highly scientific reason that I've never tried it and it looks interesting. But first, we chart.

More to come.

*If you want it, the pattern is in the facsimile edition of the 1916
Lion Yarn Book that is available here. Facsimile means it's an unaltered copy of the original–so you'd be working from the period pattern, just as I am.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

I Say, Have You Done Something Jolly With Your Yarn?

Having a frustrating time of it, kids.

I have been knitting and writing and drawing myself into a froth, but most of it is for clients–which means no show and tell until the clients do the showing, at which point I can do the telling.

I can show you yarn, though. I've started a Tumblr feed called Yarn Shaming. I love yarn, you love yarn, but yarn does not always love us back, does it? The feed is a place where the occasionally ugly truth can be aired.

Speaking of ugly truths, I reached a point in my workroom where the options were either to clean the place out or to brick up the doorway and pretend it was never there. City real estate prices being what they are, I settled upon the former.

After two months of digging, tossing, and organizing I can see the top of the desk and the bottom of the Orphaned Yarns bin. I also slotted upwards of 100 million loose knitting patterns into binders.

For somebody who uses patterns as little as I do, I've acquired more than my fair share of them–mostly old, and mostly (thanks to a very, very generous reader in England) British.

The English Bequest (which how I like to think of it, even though the donor is only sweet and not deceased) now has its own set of binders.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I'm a museum-quality Anglomaniac and even the scent of these leaflets–a bewitching combination of damp, printer's ink, and coal smoke–was enough to make my heart beat out the bass line of "Jerusalem."

They're all mid-1960s or earlier (I don't collect anything newer than that).

Some of them I love for their very mid-century English take on boudoir allure, like this glamourpuss in handknit lingerie made from Lavenda, a fine wool produced by Lister & Co. of Bradford.


Lister's promise at the time was "Distinctive and Charming Results." If you ask me, they nailed it.

On the masculine side, you have rugged numbers like this:


Butchy McPipesmoker's cardigan was made from Femina Botany by Bairns-Wear Yarns of Nottingham. The company placed a marvelously reassuring message on the back of the pattern:


There's something about the blue ink and the upright typeface that says, "We're sure to beat Hitler, madam, so certainly we can help you to figure out your sleeve cap."

But my favorite pattern covers are those that display quintessentially English people doing terribly, terribly English things, like sitting on the hearthrug toasting crumpets in the fireplace.


Patons and Baldwins, Ltd. produced my favorite works in this genre. I am unable to so much as glance at them without beginning to spin elaborate Blightycentric fantasies.

These small leaflets ought properly to be viewed while Vera Lynn sings "There'll Always Be an England," so chuck this on the Victrola before you scroll down.

Mrs. Armstrong and her daughter, Judy, put together a jigsaw puzzle because this is not America, Judy darling, and we won't be able to afford a television until the mid-sixties. Judy will be arrested for setting fire to a crocheted effigy of Margaret Thatcher during a Poll Tax riot in 1990.


After an exhausting day at St. Winifred's Comprehensive School in Thwack, Enid Ormerod and brother Christopher Robin play at skittles on the green. (See "no television," above.)


Meanwhile, at No. 16 Canterbury Close, Surbiton, young Susan White-Hamilton and her Aunt Gwladys catch a glimpse of their neighbor, Colonel Anstruther, through that gap in the hedge. The Colonel's rather eccentric routine of morning exercises–a practice he acquired while stationed in Cyprus–are a subject of much neighborhood interest.



Lifelong friends Gertrude Antrobus and Edith Moffatt, of Windy Cottage, Muckleford, Hants., rejoice at the successful performance of their champion Setter bitch, Vita's Furry Delight, at the county dog show.



Modern technology unites, rather than divides, the generations.  Jane Pilkington of Royal Tunbridge Wells uses her portable wireless to revel in the song stylings of Mr Jagger and his Rolling Stones; while mother Constance listens in to "Mrs Dale's Diary" and learns that Mrs Dale has been worried about Jim lately.


And down at the Fox and Grapes, Alf and Reg exchange the latest village news along with subtle, but meaningful, brushes of arm and thigh.


Oh, Britannia. You rule.