Friday, January 28, 2005

Best Quote I Heard All Day
The multitude of books is making us ignorant—Voltaire

If you don’t know who Voltaire was, I suggest you read something other than a knitting book.

Bookbrained, Part Uno
My second passion, besides knitting, is reading. While I don’t often discuss my current non-knitting reading, the fact is that I am seldom without a book in my bag. Most likely, it will be a mystery—I have a fascination with true crime as well as fictional crime. I like to think it has to do with my sense of justice and my love of finding solutions. History is another big favorite, especially British history, the Battle of Gettysburg, World War II and the history of New York City.

Right now I’m attempting to read Postcards From the Edge, which I’m finding unreadable. I am making no emotional connection to Carrie Fisher’s writing, probably because I never did drugs or alcohol while manic or depressed.

In terms of knitting books, my cup runneth over. For the better part of 25 years, I have collected as many knitting technique books as my wallet could bear, and believe me, during the lean years of my youth, some of those books were hard won. What I would do was to read bibliographies of books that I owned, and then go out and buy the books listed in the bibliographies. In this way, I built up my library in bits and pieces, even though I often bought knitting books on faith alone. I have one wall filled with these books now, plus back issues of everything from Vogue Knitting to Threads to Spin Off to McCall’s Needlework & Crafts to the late, lamented Handmade.

I have been asked by many people what books I would recommend. And that’s a damned difficult request. I could write reams on that subject. But let me give you a few titles. Many of you probably already own these books. If you don’t, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by investing in them.

When I was first learning to become an accomplished knitter, I depended heavily upon Elizabeth Zimmermann’s books. Although I don’t subscribe totally to her percentage system—it has its issues, particularly in the calculation of sleeves and armholes—I think their value lies in teaching a knitter to think for him/herself. EZ’s designs were often clunky and ungainly but there is much to learn from her, even if you just read rather than do.

Another fine writer in the old style is Mary Thomas. Her two books, Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book and Mary Thomas’s Book of Knitting Patterns, have withstood the test of time, for sure. And let’s not forget the Barbara Walker Treasuries of stitch patterns. Absolutely essential if you want to do your own designing. I use these more than any other books I own.

As far as reference books are concerned, I own Principles of Knitting, Vogue Knitting Book, and the Maggie Righetti books. I almost never use POK. I don’t like it, I find myself at odds with some of June Hiatt’s proclamations, and frankly the book is too unwieldy to be handy. VK’s book is fine and has all the basic stuff. But Maggie Righetti’s books, Sweater Design in Plain English and Knitting in Plain English are superlative.

My latest favorite reference books are IK editor Ann Budd’s excellent books o’ patterns, The Knitter’s Handy Book and The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweaters, which give you patterns in different sizes for different weights of yarn. If you’re too lazy to do the calculations, these books are absolutely perfect. I own the Handy Book, Elly got the sweater book for Christmas. I can’t be bothered figuring out the calculations for gloves, tams, and so on, and I’m more than happy to let Ann do them for me. I enjoy doing sweater calcs but Elly can’t do them, so the sweater book is perfect for her.

So, how many books should you own and what type? More is always good but make sure that you get value from what you buy. If you want to learn how to become a better knitter, buying technique books is important but reading them and practicing what you read is even more important. I tend not to buy pattern books because pattern books are not cost-effective as a rule, although I don’t miss a Jamieson’s book, I own all but one of She Who Sues At The Drop of A Kilt’s books, and of course, the Lavold Viking books.

There are lots of knitting books that focus on specialized areas, like lace, Fair Isle, and so on. If you’d like, I’ll talk about those books in my next entry.

Obligatory Blah-Blah Knitting Shit
Haven’t been doing much of interest other than working on the China vest and plying the cranberry merino, so I don’t have any pictures at this point. I absolutely have to set up the yarn meter and measure the Wensleydale so that my mother can figure out what pattern she wants to use.

Knitting survey on the KL? Shut the fuck up. No one cares. And fortunately, thanks to Ms. Merrick and others, they’re supposedly putting a halt to the incessantly perky and self-serving survey posts. Lisa did a great send-up survey, which she sent to the KL. Naturally, it was not allowed by the List Moms; however, they did allow Lisa to remain on the KL, much to her disgust. Too bad.

Anyone who gets their asses thrown off the KL is a fine human being and should be awarded the Croix de Guerre. Allons, enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire est tres handy. Or so the French might say.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Best Quote I Heard All Day
The mystery of government is not how Washington works but how to make it stop.—P.J. O’Rourke

Once again, the disgraceful Bush regime flaunted its ignorance and insensitivity with its Inaugural extravaganza yesterday.

For many of us, his re-election is nothing to celebrate. Dead and wounded American soldiers and Iraqi civilians are hardly cause for an overpriced pat on the back, either. Loopy’s son, discharged from the Army last year, is now back in uniform involuntarily, and forced to pay for equipment that he can ill afford. This guy is most likely headed for Iraq, with little hope of having the proper protection because Rumsfeld treats our troops with disdain. These guys are not being protected. It’s a national disgrace.

Vague Knitting
OK, so I broke down and bought the latest issue. It’s so-so. I must agree with Joe in his assessment of Mari Lynn Patrick’s non-talent. Jesus, what goes through that woman’s head when she’s cooking up a “design”? That pink-and-black jacket looked like Chanel on crack.

I liked three designs—Brandon Mably’s, Sasha Kagan’s, and Kristin Nicholas’s. The rest you can throw in the garbage. Not even awful, just weird. Lately, though, there’s been a return to set-in sleeves in all of the magazines, thank God. At least the schmattehs will fit better.

What was rather amusing was the “Reader Survey.” I suppose that when interpreting statistics, the VK editorial staff takes its lead from the Bush administration. “You like what we’re doing with the magazine—46% of you think it’s better than it’s ever been.” Um, what happened to the other 54 percent?

And how about this wretchedly constructed sentence: “We also know that when it comes to studying the craft, our readers are prolific—more than 65 percent of our readers have twenty-plus books in their personal libraries.” First of all, I must have ten times that number, so I’m not hugely impressed, particularly with the evergrowing piles of sappy, HYUK-y books out on the market. Quantity means zip. Second, how does owning lots of knitting books make one more prolific? God knows buying knitting books hasn’t made me a faster, more prolific knitter. Of course, if I knit rags at 2 spi, I suppose I could then consider myself prolific.

The VK sop to technique was Meg Swansen’s how to do a German Twisted cast on, a cast on for which I have not found an adequate use in 47 years of knitting. So many of VK’s readers are newbies that I would think holding their collective hands through a basic cast-on or two might serve a nobler purpose. Veronik Avery did an excellent article on shortrowing for Interweave Knits, a far more practical and needed explanation than that of some obscure cast-on. That's the kind of technical article that's useful.

Catalog Time
I finally got the KnitPicks catalog in the mail and was surprised to see that they’re seemingly dumping other yarn companies in favor of their own label, primarily Andean wools and alpacas in different weights. Loopy ordered some of their DK and laceweight alpaca, so I’ll wait to see what she says about the quality before jumping on the bandwagon. However, the prices are spectacular and I liked the colors, at least online and in the catalog. Very bold and risky move, I think, but one that may be quite smart.

Along with the KnitPicks catalog, I received the Lion Brand Catalog. Why, I don’t know. The catalog certainly has improved as far as layout is concerned, but that’s Nancy Thomas’s fine touch. Of course, everything else within is crap.

So where’s the Patternworks catalog? That’s the one I’m waiting for. I’d say it’s about due.

Books Bitching
OK, so do we think there are now enough books on the market for idiot knitters so that no one need ask for the following:

A basic sock pattern
A scarf pattern
A basic mitten pattern
A basic hat pattern
How to do anything basic

It’s amazing how many writers keep rehashing the same old information. How many sock books do we need? If you’re going to own one, it needs to be Folk Socks—not for the patterns but for the design information. (I’ve heard that a few of Nancy Bush’s socks don’t fit that well.) But what more do you need than a basic pattern that fits your feet, anyway?

I don’t tend to buy pattern books because in general, they aren’t worth the money. The Jamieson books are the exceptions. But the technique books out on the market are just the same old stuff rewritten and repackaged. Rather than bother with all the new HYUK books, the fine old classics are better buys.

Hope everyone is staying warm because it’s fucking cold here in NJ. Seven degrees with a wind-chill factor of FREEZE YOUR ASS OFF. Heh. And a big mother snowstorm headed our way tomorrow. Oh joy.

Snow is ever so rare and handy…elsewhere.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Best Quote I Heard All Day
Nothing is impossible. Some things are just less likely than others.—Jonathan Winters

I’m back from the holidays and my trip to Maine, refreshed and crankier than ever. Amazing how psychotropic medication doesn’t sweeten the disposition, eh? Back into the work fray as well. You play, you pay.

Lithium Doldrums
Last week my cell phone rang at work, and who should it be but my beloved Joe, checking up on me because a particular reader was concerned that I had succumbed to either depression or mania. Not exactly. I’ve come out of what my shrink called a prolonged period of dysphoria, which is mania without the happies. Somehow I managed to function during that time, including writing the blog. But I’ve been tired and feeling somewhat detached and unmotivated—this is, of course a direct result of taking the lithium.

I spent my Christmas vacation getting stabilized on the lithium and distancing myself from the blog a bit. Besides the fact that I didn’t feel much like writing, I didn’t have much to say, either. But it was good to do some thinking about the blog’s direction and what I’d like it to be.

Rather than be part of the problem, I think it’s good to be part of the solution. In other words, besides criticizing the magazines for poor design and lack of teaching inspiration, I plan on adding more info on technique to the blog. I’ve done some of this in the past. This year there will be a lot more of that.

Christmas Crapalong
No submissions, no winner. But then, who could improve upon Carol S’s fine objet d’art of last year, the decorated toilet seat cover.

Frankly, I wouldn’t enter my own contest. I’ve got better things to do, and so should you.

Lists Adieu
As I said to Loopy, I might as well unsubscribe from mailing lists because I don’t have the time, the patience or the inclination to read all the spew. The only list I can see keeping is the Spin List and that’s because I’m a relative spinning newbie, so there is some value there. Otherwise, I can’t be bothered with any of them, and that includes those lists that consider themselves above the others. Even those lists get weighted down by onerous threads on topics that have little or no intrinsic interest or value.

In other words, bullshit blather is bullshit blather, whether you use fractured English or dollah-three-eighty words.

Christmas Gifties
Mammy bought me the Nancy's KnitKnacks Yarn Meter so that I can measure what I spin. I do have a McMorran scale but it seems to have disappeared. I’ll be trying it this weekend when I measure and wind the Wensleydale. Ma has already knitted up a swatch at 6 spi and declared it to be very nice stuff. I’m glad she’s happy with it. When the cranberry merino I’ve been spinning is plyed, it should make very nice sock yarn, although probably not terribly hardwearing. No matter.

So here’s to the New Year. May we all continue to be rare and handy, lithium or no lithium.