Sunday, June 27, 2004

Best Quote I Heard All Day
The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.--Robert Frost

That's where I've been. Working. Hard. But very happy at the new job. Just wish I had had a little more time last week to write and knit.

I really have absolutely nothing exciting to write about. How's that for cruel honesty? I had planned on taking a trip down to Simply Knit for the sale but realized that A) I have no extra money to spend on yarn right now and B) what's a stash for, anyway?

I spent today at the lake, catching up with Mama and getting some knitting done...and then segued to the pool at 4:30 for a quick swim. Such is the state of my life right now.

However. Joe has really inspired me to get some spinning done. Hopefully, with the long weekend coming up, I will at least get a bit of that done, as well as start planning out those beaded socks that seem to horrify certain readers (Kathy).

Stitches East Redux
I did find last year's guide to Stitches East in my rather haphazard cleaning up the other day. Odd that I missed so much last year--Goddess Yarns were there, as were several other booths of interest that I should have checked out and did not. I'm hanging onto this booklet so that I can better pinpoint good stuff. Despite my mother's admonition that "if you haven't used it in a year, throw it out," she admitted that for once, it was a good thing I didn't listen to her.

Of course, the number of times I have not listened to Elly are legion. And she knows that. But we don't discuss it. You know how that goes.

I'll write more later this week, when I have a chance to take some pictures and decorate this seemingly bare and forlorn little blog. In the meanwhile, it's off I go, ready for Monday so I can be my rarest and handiest.


Friday, June 18, 2004

Best Quote I Heard All Day
Artists can color the sky red because they know it's blue. Those of us who aren't artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we're stupid.--Jules Feiffer

I'll admit it--I'm a frustrated artist who can't draw and can't paint.

Which is why I do love Fair Isle.

FI Thoughts, Again
Gee, considering the proliferation of web sites and blogs where you can find great Fair Isle knitting, I was more than a bit surprised to read the comments from the last entry. Seems like a lot of people can't get enough of FI knitting and have questions unanswered. So I'll try to address a few that I've gotten on-blog and off.

But first, here's a picture of my very first Fair Isle, the Morning Glory vest from She Who Litigates At A Sneeze. I so love the colors and I took a very quick picture, so I don't think it does the colors justice. (And I noticed the vest is missing a button that I will need to replace.)

The most difficult piece of knitting on this vest were the neck/buttonbands. Egad. Those little leafy peeries on the bands changed direction at the back of the neck. How I got it right, I still don't know.

But enough of the vest.

Some more FI help for RJ, Barb, and the rest of you who are interested.

:: To keep your floats looser, flip the work to the inside of your circs or dps. You'll still be knitting the right side, only the floats will stretch a bit more on the outside circumference of the needle. I swear to God, this works.

:: Don't knit Fair Isle when you're tense, pissed off, or otherwise not relaxed. It will most certainly show in your knitting, particularly if you've had problems controlling the looseness of the floats.

:: No matter how well you knit Fair Isle, the finished garment must be blocked. Blocking a Fair Isle will relieve a great deal of the knitting inconsistencies. I have a woolly board, which is made for Fair Isle blocking. If you don't have one, pin it out to measurements carefully and cold-mist it. I've steamed my Fair Isles too but lately I prefer to cold-mist block everything. Less damage to the fiber and the stitch patterns.

:: I know some people really like the tensioning ring (or Strick Finger Thingy, as Carol calls it). I found it cumbersome but try it for yourself. It may help you a lot.

:: Get yourself one of those row counters with the ring attached and count your rows EVEN if you are following a chart. With more complex designs, it can be a bitch to try and figure out where you left off in the pattern if you're like me and don't work on your FI for a period of time. The row counter is good insurance.

:: Learn to knit continental anyway, if you throw your yarn with your right hand. It's well worth knowing, especially for Fair Isle. I taught myself how to knit continental initially so that I could knit faster, having been taught the English method by Elly when I was a child. (She claimed it was too difficult to explain continental to me when I was 7. I think that's BS, but that's Elly for you.)

:: Do checkerboard steeks. It's the only sane way to steek.

:: Never be afraid to cut your steeks. The knitting will not run because you are cutting vertically, not horizontally.

A lot of this nonsense can be found in various and sundry books. I'm lucky in that I've been collecting knitting books for 35 years and have virtually every reference book on knitting techniques written. I swear, sometimes the only reading I retain in my head is my knitting reading.

All this writing about Fair Isles makes me want to go back to knitting the Queen Anne's Lace, which is 50% up the armholes. Too hot, though.

Knitting Meet-up
I generally don't do well with a lot of people in groups because I'm shy in person, which is why I'm not a joiner of clubs. Rather than spew, I tend to sit back and observe. But Annie Modesitt is a co-host of our local meet-up and I really wanted to see her. It had been way too long. So I went last Wednesday and had a very nice time indeed. It was gratifying to see 16 people, most of whom were younger than I, knitting stuff other than scarves. Of course, there was one woman working on some raggy-looking Tahki junk but she seemed happy with it. And I did meet a blog reader, Edith, who has my "Shut Up, I'm Counting" old lady picture on her fridge. That was pretty nifty. I love meeting readers.

Ah, fame. Will it change me?

Nah. Big-butted, coffee-drinking, pink nail-polished, over-50 broads like me really don't give a rat's ass.

Chinster's Buch
You know what? I checked out the Tiny Diva's book on beads and knitting when at Borders for the meet-up's half decent. I'd buy it for the technical info, which seemed to be well explained and illustrated. Of course, the garments were pretty much awful, overdone schmattehs, as usual. She managed to ruin a very nice cabled pullover by shoving beads into every spot imaginable. The adage "Less is more" means nothing to our Urban Knitter. More like, "Excess is Best."

I'm about to start a pair of lightly beaded socks for the book. (Note the emphasis on "lightly.") I've never done beaded knitting, so the book might be worth having as a reference.

By the way, it's interesting that TD is not teaching at Stitches East this year, nor was she mentioned anywhere in the brochure. Perhaps the X-Men are a bit ticked that she published with Interweave? God knows, she was wise to do so.

Time to start the weekend. Monday it's back to work for me.

I just haven't been rare and handy enough the past few weeks. That's gotta stop.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Best Quote I Heard All Day
Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.—Franklin P. Jones

I’d like to share with you something that a reader sent me in an e-mail.

What literature needs most is a new and abusive school of criticism. So wrote Rebecca West in 1914, in an essay called "The Duty of Harsh Criticism." Book reviewers were too kind, she argued, and literary standards debased. English departments were remarkable only for the shocking amounts of unreadable writing they produced. Then there was the "formidable army of Englishmen" who had managed to become men of letters without having written anything: "They throw up platitudinous inaugural addresses like wormcasts, they edit the letters of the unprotected dead, and chew once more the more masticated portions of history." There is now no criticism in England, she concluded. "There is merely a chorus of weak cheers . . . a mild kindliness that neither heats to enthusiasm nor reverses to anger." (via today's Maud Newton)

We also have become a nation of “Can’t Dos.” I think that the prevailing dumbness and instant gratification seen in knitting is merely symptomatic of our country’s malaise. That’s why I criticize the knitting establishment of magazines, lists, yarn companies, and the knitters who support “easy,” “quick,” “simple to do.” And why I do not support our current administration, which is dumber than dumb. It’s a perfect example of how ignorance and stupidity become dangerous.

End of sermon for today.

Designing Fair Isle
My design background is primarily in Aran knitting and textures, although I’ve designed Fair Isle socks. That’s not to say that I haven’t knitted quite a few Fair Isle sweaters, primarily Starmores. However, in the doing there is learning. I’ve completed a FI chart for the book, which is composed of bands of peeries (small repeats) in rainbow colors on a black background.

This may be stating the obvious but I think that the most difficult phase of designing a Fair Isle garment is determining the colors and how to balance those colors within the design. Frankly, the garment shape itself and the calculations that go with it are the least of the project’s tasks. The garment shape is simply the canvas.

It’s easier to start off designing a Fair Isle by thinking small motifs. And keep your selection to a minimum—don’t go crazy. Less is more. It will be easier for you to design your sweater. And you will have less color choices to worry about, particularly if you find yourself intimidated by color. I’m not, but I know a lot of people are. If you are, buying a color wheel is a wise idea. I have one and use it when I’m in doubt.

If you design with small motifs, you will have a much easier time working your design into the garment, simply because you will have more room to fiddle with width AND length. Don’t forget, the wider and longer the motif, the more it will dictate how wide and long your garment can be. The length in particular can become critical once you get to the sleeves.

Although I tend to stay away from drop-shoulders, I think that this is the way to go if you have never designed a Fair Isle before and don’t have a lot of experience designing your own. Yes, you can shape right next to the steeks, and I do. But you may wish to concentrate on the patterning more and the shaping less. That’s your call.

Here’s a few tips that I’ve learned over the course of my Fair Isle design experience so far.

:: When you begin to design your motifs, make sure that they are symmetrical. That means you should be able to divide them into exact quarters. Most Fair Isle patterns are but some of the smaller peeries are not. So pick your motifs wisely.

:: Buy only Shetland 2-ply, such as Jamieson’s Spindrift, because it’s the best for Fair Isles. You can get the detail you want because it produces a smaller gauge and it’s like Velcro, which you need when you steek.

:: Buy a good deal extra in the colors that you choose because…

:: You’ve got to swatch a lot. Simply making a pretty chart is not enough. The colors on whatever charting device you’re using, be it computerized or coloring in graph paper, are never going to be true.

:: Make a circular swatch. I prefer Meg Swansen’s method of knitting flat across on a circular needle, then carrying the yarns across the back in long strands and knitting the next row beginning at the same end, rather than making a true circle.

:: Block the swatch by pinning and cold-misting it. Then walk away from it for a few days. Your perspective on the design will be better if you don’t look at it for a while.

So go for it. I would say that if you have never knitted a Fair Isle sweater before, you would be very wise to start with someone else’s design. If you have any of Starmore’s books, particularly the later ones, such as Stillwater or Pacific Highway, you can pretty much substitute the Campion 2-ply with Spindrift, colorwise. And the three Jamieson books published by Unicorn Books have excellent Fair Isles. Sweaters From Camp published by Schoolhouse Press also has some good Fair Isle designs in it, besides the best technical info on Fair Isle knitting I’ve ever read.

I wouldn’t say that Fair Isle knitting is the most difficult, either to design or execute. I think that lace knitting takes that award, myself. Of course, as in most things, that’s arguable.

Das Buch
That’s Carol S.’s name for it. For a nice German girl like me, it’s just the right name.

I just want to reassure people like Kathy that, no, I am most definitely not teaching people the basics in the book. Why should I reinvent the wheel when so many are busily doing just that? Rather, it’s more of a segue into intermediate/advanced knitting. I’ve got several chapters written and right now I’m busy designing and knitting the projects that will illustrate those chapters. The peerie Fair Isle chart that I mentioned above will be part of the book, although at this point, I suspect I will be doing a child’s Fair Isle. The most time-consuming part of this project is certainly the designing and knitting. Writing I can do quickly, knitting I can’t.

And of course, you do realize that there’s absolutely nothing in this book that I invented myself. Really, it’s a compilation of the knowledge that I’ve accumulated from 36 years of serious knitting. (I don’t count the years between 7, when I learned, and 18, when I got back into it.) When I began knitting seriously, I could never find the answer to why you use one method over another, when you do certain things, when you don’t do certain things, etc. I had to find out the hard way, by trial and a lot of error. And this is what I don’t see addressed in many knitting books, even now.

Complaint Department
I’ve always bitched about certain retail practices, particularly that of Starbuck’s, who seems to have some weird naming conventions for their coffee sizes. Now, I’ve found a kindred soul. In my web meanderings the other day, I came upon this excellent letter that says everything I’ve ever wanted to say to Starbuck’s.

And I’m not even that crazy about their coffee, either. It shouldn’t cost me a mortgage payment to buy a latte, for crissakes.

Is Dunkin Donuts rare and handy? I dunno. They seem to be following either Krispy Kreme in their doughnut packaging or Starbuck’s for their coffee selections.

Coffee from a NYC street cart is possibly the best.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Stop It Right Now

I am only going to say what I have to say once. So listen up.

I have to say, I am truly sorry to see my comments for June 7 in this state.

First off, let me say this: I did not realize that Greta the dog was dead--for some reason, the "Memorial" part of it passed me by. Must have been a brain fart, which I've been having many of this past week. Honestly. Having lost a pet myself last year, I sympathize sincerely. Losing a pet is very, very hard. So I do apologize on that front.

I do not apologize for any of my comments about the shallowness displayed by some of the people who have posted. Actually, the person who made the comment about age having nothing to do with maturity is absolutely correct.

I find including cutsey comments about one's pets on a blog to be silly. That's all I ever said in my initial entry. I find that treating animals like humans even sillier. It is the kind of thing I would expect from kids, and which is appropriate for kids to do.

What I do care about is knitting, which is why my blog is pretty much devoted to that. I am telling ALL of you now to stop this back-and-forth crap. Anyone, be it a regular reader or someone from the Purling Puppies, who posts one more stupid comment is going to be banned from commenting. I have already banned a number of people and I have absolutely no qualms about doing so, as you know. For those people who have come here from Carrie's blog looking for a fight, please go back to your knitting and learn how to do it well, if you don't already.

In the final analysis, my greatest concern, and one that I've discussed here many times, is the dumbing-down of knitting. I take my knitting very seriously. It's my craft, my sanity-keeper, and something that I do well. I would hope that I offer my readers not only my take on the knitting scene, but also some of my knitting know-how. Those of you who have written to me privately with knitting questions know that I always answer you and always help you out. And I always will. I never turn away anyone, on the blog or privately, who wants to learn more about knitting.

That said, instead of bitching at each other, wouldn't it make better sense to add something to my Comments that's of value? There's a lot of talent among my readers, some of whom I know personally. Let's use that talent for more constructive purposes.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Best Quote I Heard All Day
History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.--Napoleon Bonaparte

Funny how now that Reagan's dead, the media forgives all.

Knit List History OR YMBAKLOT
The past few days the Knit List has had a thread about KL old timers or, as they abbreviate it, as they must incessantly do, YMBAKLOT (You Must Be A Knit List Old Timer).

Yeah, I am one of them old timers. It was nice to be mentioned in a couple of the posts. Of course, I don't post on the KL anymore, but I do have fond memories of the old list, when it ran off of the UMN server and there were probably not more than a thousand or so people on it.

When I first joined KL in 1996, it was run by Jill McAllister. A bunch of excellent knitters were on the list, people like Avital Pinnick, Chris Erickson, Liz Clouthier, Kim Salazar, and piles of people who not only knew their stuff but spent time writing about it. I believe our own QueerJoe was also on the list back then, although I more remember ignoring Leigh Wichel's lengthy, egocentric posts as the list's Pet Gay Boy.

Sure, there were interminable posts about Peeps, people's illnesses, and Marie's ratties, but by and large, it was a comfortable community where people generally asked intelligent questions. None of this constant "I'm going to Kalamazoo, does anyone know any LYS there?" crap. I do remember starting a flame war about Martha Stewart, since as far as I'm concerned, she's still a Jersey girl from Nutley who's forgotten her roots.

Many of the original people who posted no longer do. And little wonder why, since the dumbing-down of knitting is clearly manifested on the Knit List, as well as on Knit U. When people are too damned lazy to Google, they don't deserve spoon feeding from those of us who are industrious.

I started my original web site in 1998 as a shelter from the sticky-sweet morass that the KL had become. This blog is a continuation of that. I rant about the dumbing-down of knitting because my philosophy in life, given to me by my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Laskowich, is: "If you want to be a garbageman, be the best garbageman you can be."

And to answer the KL poster who asked who were the Evil Twins: Chris Erickson and Lisa Schweitzer (did I get her last name right, Chris?). In case anyone wants to know.

The best thing I got from being on the KL was my friendship with Chris. Scarcely a day goes by that we don't e-mail each other back and forth. We've shared an awful lot over the past seven years besides knitting. I've met her in person once--she lives in Michigan, I live in New Jersey. But I couldn't have a better friend.

Born To Run
NJ's state anthem. Really, it was once proposed in Trenton. Never got anywhere.

The other day, when it was 95 degrees and I had to run to the supermarket, I drove out the back of my complex onto Alphano Road. Never mind what you see on The Sopranos, New Jersey is a lovely state if you know it well. Right off of Alphano Road is a massive valley that was obviously once a lake but is now filled with sod farms (and Godlewsky's Nursery, with great plants and great prices).

I had the camera in my bag and I couldn't resist taking a picture, which doesn't do the lush green justice.

And then it was back to my little townhouse.

I don't open the door to Jehovah's Witnesses but I do give out candy on Hallowe'en.

It's rare and handy, my little fiber nest.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Best Quote I Heard All Day
Cats are smarter than dogs. You can't get eight cats to pull a sled through snow.--Jeff Valdez

I want to go on record as saying I love animals, with cats as my first preference. I miss my cat Milo, who's been gone for a year, and I plan to adopt a kitten.

However, I am really not sure why the anthropomorphizing of animals needs to figure into knitting.

Puppy Love
Will someone please tell me why it's necessary to combine your pet's antics with your knitting activities on your blog? It's really only of interest to you, unless your dog Woogums has suddenly sat at your computer and written the first draft of a romance novel.

In which case, I'll enjoy seeing Woogum's interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20.

What's got me on this rampage is not so much reading about other people's pets but that knitting and pets has now been combined into a web ring. That's right--the Purling Puppy webring.

Give me a break.

I believe there is also a webring for cat lovers but I didn't want to check it out.

I'm presuming that the average age of a Purling Puppy ring member is about 12. Or possibly 14, since the owner ends her rules for joining the ring with "Yay puppies. Yay knitting."

That sounds like what John's daughter Katie would say. And she'll be 14 in August.

Now don't be leaving me snotty comments about how mean I am. I just think dog blogs should be dog blogs and knitting blogs should be knitting blogs. I really don't give a crap about your pet. I do care about your knitting.

Is that so mean?

Knitting Stuff
Not much to say on that front. I'm cranking along with the Taos, got the directions written, and Elly will get her copy tomorrow. Because of course, she bought some too. I wish I could be motivated to get some housework done, but knitting on the deck seems like such a nicer option when I'm home.

I am finally getting around to putting the Ran tunic together. I get all fussy about how I finish my knitting and in this case, I will be doing a 3-needle bind-off to attach the sleeves to the armholes. How do I do that? Well, it involves seaming the shoulders together (also 3-needle bind-off) and then picking up X number of stitches around the armhole, and then binding them off with the open sleeve top stitches. Makes for an impeccable finish. Mind you, it works best on a drop-shoulder sweater. It can get a bit fiddly doing the pick-up on a fully-fashioned armscye. I've done it but you must make sure you have selvedge stitches all the way up the armhole. You should do so, anyway.

Wish I could say that I've been keeping up with the lists but frankly, they're such snoozers, I only read them during lulls in my poker hands, when I've folded.

I was amused to see that the X-Dragon got called to task on Knit U for failing to infuse the magazine with more technical articles. His excuse? There's technical info incorporated into the directions. Oh please. So, as the tasktaker noted, that means that if you wish to garner technical info, you'll just have to make one of those gawd-awful designs.

When Knitter's first started, it touted itself as a teaching magazine. Too bad the present editor doesn't take a look at the back issues, when the magazine was worth the paper it's printed on.

I picked up this issue in Saratoga and despite what I thought initially from the few pictures I saw, it's pretty good. Most of the stuff I wouldn't wear at my age but I liked the lacy tank-top and a few of the other projects. I don't have to want to make a design to appreciate its attributes.

At least it wasn't an endless parade of frou-frou scarves and ugly color combinations.

I'd like to express my sympathy to Annie Modesitt, who recently lost her mom. Annie's eulogy to her mother was so extraordinary, that I felt as if I knew her. I am so fortunate to have my mother hanging around, knitting with me. I'll remember to tell Elly how much I love her tomorrow when I see her.

Anyway, it's time to work on writing other than the blog. My final word to you is,

Yay handy. Yay rare.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Best Quote I Heard All Day
Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.--Barry Switzer

The quote has nothing to do with nothing I'm writing--I just like it. Barry Switzer, by the way, was a football coach. Odd analogy for him to use.

But it is baseball season and I'm waiting for the Yanks to overpower the Bosox in the standings. This will happen shortly. Bosox fans can bite me. They're still pissed about losing A-Rod.

Life After Knitting
I actually have other interests besides knitting. "Interests" is perhaps too bland a word. "Passions" might be more in order. As you know, I love baseball. Playing pick-up games with my brother Rich and the neighborhood kids are some of my happiest childhood memories. All those lost balls in the Cornells' yard. Heh. Old man Cornell screamed at us every time we invaded his rhododendron to retrieve a homerun.

I play poker and gin vociferously, mostly on, where I don't gamble with money, I gamble with tokens. You can find me there at some point most evenings.

I'm passionate about history and politics. I'm passionate about music, mostly rock but I studied classical music growing up and those roots run deep. I'm passionate about my friends and family--there's nothing I won't do for them, short of murder. I'm passionate about my Johnny, who's the best thing that's happened to me in a long, long time.

I love flowers and miss the gardening I did when I owned a house, so I'm trying to turn my little 10x5 townhouse deck into a tropical paradise. My kitchen windowsill is filled with plants.

And of course, my passion since childhood is writing. In some way, every job I've had, with the exception of Psychiatric Technician, has depended upon my writing skills.

Knitting alone makes for a dull girl. Combined with everything else, it makes me happy.

Aunty Cotton
OK, so I said I don't knit with cotton. Generally, that's true. However, as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, Trendsetter Taos is an interesting, subtlely variegated 3-ply cotton with a thin, thin binder thread, also variegated. The binder thread was, I thought, metallic. At this point, though, I'm thinking that it's actually the sheen of the poly-whatever that it's made of, that fooled me into thinking metallic.

This is the kind of "fashion" yarn that I find appealing. And although it's cotton, the binder thread provides a certain cohesiveness to it so that I don't worry about it stretching. Putting the yarn together with a simple slip-stitch pattern really gives the cotton the structure it needs.

The garment will be a simple shirt with a rolled hem. That's all the yarn needs. I really like the woven effect of the slipped stitches. Yes, this will go into the book. I'm not doing much these days that won't.

I needed the trip badly. But I don't need a mental health excuse to go up to see Em and Mitch and their kids, Owen and Zach. Emily knits also, so it gives us something to do while the Boyz In Da Band play their guitars.

That's Mitch on the left in the shades and JohnnyBGoode on the right. We spent a wonderful, sort of '60s afternoon at Moreau Park, not far from Saratoga. It was just the thing for me to do, after being worn out from the Job Wars. And incidentally, the Job Wars ended up with me going to Eagle Rock. I'm finished at TCI. Long story but it just wasn't going to work for me, staying at TCI. As John says, "Bad karma."

Bad karma, indeed. So I need to be rare and handy at some other place of employment. Works for me.

PS--We're back to the Haloscan comments.