Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sun? Flowers? WTF are those? GIMME SHELTER...on the beach.

Best Quote I Heard All Day
Spring is nature’s way of saying “Let’s party!”—Robin Williams

Party on, Mar. Party on, Tonant Weaders. Even though as I write this, it’s currently around 40 degrees Fahrenheit here in beautiful NEPA, the vernal equinox has arrived.

Ravelry Boohaha Feh-stival
I truly appreciated all of your comments re: the last post. Your support means more to me than I can express. Even though I do write for myself, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it makes me happy that others find something in what I write. I’ve still not bothered reading the thread. I left that up to you.

I’m not going away too soon. So the mean girls on Ravelry(I loved that analogy) are just going to have to take their pom-poms and perform obscene acts with cheap yarn.

So now, back to business.

Rock On
Jerry had a surprise for me on Saturday. He took me to see Fleetwood Mac at the Izod Center in the Jersey Meadowlands. Classic. Was that not a sweet thing to do? He’d been planning this surprise for a couple of months. And managed to keep his mouth shut, too. Nieces Kate and Michele came along and the four of us had a great time.

Fleetwood Mac was amazing. Especially since they are all over 60 now, including Stevie Nicks, who looked great. She isn’t doing her whirling dervish routine anymore, though. I suppose she has arthritis like me. I can still whirl, though, when the situation calls for it.

Besides knitting, music is a huge part of my life. Once upon a time, I was a musician...guitar and violin. I still play at the guitar, although not as often as I should.

The most important tool that a tech writer can have is an iPod Shuffle. In most places I’ve worked, writers are allowed to listen to them because music eliminates the office bullshit talking. No, I don’t have my own office. I have a wall. Not even a true cubicle, just a desk, with an overhead cabinet, and two foot-wide sides where I hang my calendar and other junk.

Here’s what’s on the Shuffle: The Stones, Tom Petty, Springsteen, The Grateful Dead, The Yardbirds, The Who, Warren Zevon, Talking Heads, Billy Joel, and a bunch of others. Rock is particularly inspiring when I’m making tutorial videos.

MD Sheep & Wool
I’m definitely going. And dragging poor Jeremiah with me, although he’s wonderfully supportive and has actually gone to Stix ‘n’ Stitches, my local yarn shop down in Montclair, NJ, with me (he fell asleep on Sheila’s couch, though). So I expect to meet some of you, right? And please, don’t give me that “I saw you but I was afraid to approach you.” Nonsense. My friends think I’m likeable, so don’t fear the reaper, OK?

I can't decide whether to buy the Ladybug or put money towards a new Mac laptop. Or maybe not spend it at all, even though I can afford to buy one or the other. My job is as secure as a job can be in this climate, but I've been loathe to spend money lately. However, I will buy something at MD, to be sure.

Jerry's Aran
Getting the back done. In fact, I should really be knitting and not writing. Halfway up the armholes, so it should be done by this weekend. And then, a sleeve.

I've decided to use the off-kilter braid as the center sleeve panel, offset by the three baby cables on each side. The braid is just wide enough to work for the saddle shoulder.

The Punk Princess Marches On
One of Liz's friends put this up on FaceBook. My little tin soldier had just hit her head while at the mall, how I don't know. And why she was in her band uniform is a mystery, unless they had just had practice and then she and her little gangsta friends made haste to their hangout.

Hard to believe she's going to be 17 this coming July. Still tiny, though. But quite the adult. Rare, handy, and a smartass to boot. Truly my blood. I was so much like her at that age. Brazen, artsy, and never afraid to run my mouth.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Come On Baby, Let's Do the Twist

Best Quote I Heard All Day
Whatever games are played with us, we must play no games with ourselves, but deal in our privacy with the last honesty and truth--Ralph Waldo Emerson

I wasn't planning on writing anything today because I spent eight and a half hours today hammering out words that will hopefully help a lot of people learn to use SharePoint, a Microsoft web-based collaborative platform where people can share documents, files, ideas, and many other things. Last week, it was creating seven videos to get people up and running on a new application release.

Some may think it's rather ironic that I'm a SharePoint administrator and architect, among my other work skills. In fact, it isn't. It's one more item in the list of things that I do in my profession.

Yes, I know there's a discussion about me and my blog on Ravelry. I haven't read it and I won't. I really don't care whether there are negative comments about me. I probably haven't cared about what other people think since I was five years old. I don't know these people and frankly, I'm not interested.

The fact is, people who read my blog think they know me. They don't. Do I suffer fools gladly? You know I don't. Do I strive for excellence? Always. Am I compassionate? Yes. I've spent many years helping people, be it with knitting problems, technical issues, even dealing with grief and mental illness. I've never said no to anyone who asked me for help. Ever. And I never will.

People write me frequently with questions about knitting, spinning, manic depression, dealing with the death of a spouse and I always try to give them a shoulder and whatever answers I've found in my journey.

That said, I do believe in taking responsibility for your own deal and relying upon yourself as much as possible. That doesn't mean not asking for help when you need it. It means setting a bar for yourself and making every honest effort to achieve excellence on your own. It's the ultimate satisfaction. Excellence needs to make a big comeback. If it doesn't, we're fucked.

Jerry always tells me that I should be proud of what I have accomplished in my life. I am, but my satisfaction and achievements are things I keep to myself, like a snotrag that I can take out when I snuffle and need to rotor-rooter my sinuses. And I do snuffle, frequently.

As a child and a young adult, I was a chronic underachiever. I fucked off all through school, winging it because I could read fast, write well, and BS my way through tests and papers. I never cared enough about school to bother doing my best. Getting Bs and Cs was fine with me.

And then, I screwed up college on a manic-depressive rollercoaster, married a guy who was an anchor, and had kids at 19 and 21. I learned the hard way that you have to be responsible for what you learn because maybe nobody is going to hand you shit. It became a challenge for me, one that stays with me to this day and will die only when I do.

Recently, I began to consider shutting the blog down. I began it in the throes of grief and now, almost seven years later, I thought that perhaps it was time to move on. The question was, do I still have anything to say? I don't know. Perhaps. I write for myself and at this point, writing my book is dearer to my heart, a legacy that I can leave to Liz and Ian, so that they know what kind of a life their grandmother has had. I wished that my grandmother had written a book so that I could have delved into her because I loved her so much.

Joe convinced me not to shut down, for reasons that I won't go into. But suffice it to say, my gay brother is damned smart.

So, if you want to get to know me, meet me at MD Sheep & Wool and/or Rhinebeck. I've gotten to know a few of my readers personally and that is the greatest benefit of writing a blog. Otherwise, if you haven't met me, shut the fuck up. Although I may straighten your ass out if you run your mouth in my Comments, I don't assume I know you at all. And if I have to rap your cyber knuckles for something stupid you say, I'm sure I don't need you as a friend. I have plenty, all of whom I love dearly.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is This the Party to Whom I am Speaking?

Best Quote I Heard All Day
I’m still clinging to my BlackBerry. They’re going to pry it out of my hands.—Barack Obama

Fortunately for the Prez, he’s being allowed to keep his BB, now with special security-enhanced software.

You have to love a President who’s savvy enough to appoint a CIO for the country. It’s about time.

And I understand his love for his CrackBerry. I can’t access my personal e-mail at work, or for that matter, FaceBook. But I can on my BB.

I guess FB is out of the question for him, though.

We loves Web 2.0, precioussss.

Grouped Up
I’ve never been a joiner but lately, I’ve been going to a Wednesday night knitting group and enjoying it. After a day filled with tech crap, it’s good to clear my brain at least one night a week, see other people, and talk shop.

Last week, I brought my Joy and BJ brought her Louet and we had a little spinning lesson. I think Beej finally got the hang of it. I know that it helps a lot to watch other people draft. Talking to other knitters is good. The quality of knitting that I’ve seen in this group gives me some hope that the bar is starting to be raised.

It All Starts With a Slip Knot, Ya Know
It’s always been a concern of mine that knitters in general are overly dependent on sources other than themselves for help. It’s fine to ask for help if you’re hopelessly screwed up and you tried hard to do it yourself first before screaming SOS. However, I’m afraid that it’s been a national malaise for a long time, this “I’m owed an explanation, hold my hand” attitude.

I and other friends my age, like Loopy, had no resources back in the early ‘70s, when we picked up our needles and began to knit seriously. I cut my teeth on Mon Tricots, those wonderful French knitting magazines that I discovered around 1977. I read every set of directions for every garment and tried to visualize what was going on, usually in the bathroom, where I do my best reading. And I’d pull out my needles and some scrap yarn and practice stitch patterns. There was no one to ask so I learned by trial and error, mostly error. When I discovered Elizabeth Zimmermann in 1978, I realized that I wasn’t a blind follower because I had bumbled and stumbled my way into knitting competency.

Is it good that there are now You Tube videos for virtually every knitting function? I think so but there’s something to be said for figuring shit out on your own. It builds self-reliance and confidence, as well as the ability to troubleshoot.

In other words, think for yourself before you ask everyone on Ravelry what you should do. It is a good thing that there is a wealth of useful resources available now. However, it’s the extraneous shit that tends to boggle the mind.

Old Sweaters Never Die
I dragged my first Alice Starmore, the Morning Glory vest from Stillwater, out of the cedar chest this morning. I hadn’t worn it in several years. The vest is now 12 years old. (Just for shits ‘n’ giggles, I looked up Stillwater on—the going prices is $232. Gawd.)

Other than one button missing, the vest is in great shape. I tend to keep my stuff for a long time. The oldest sweater I have dates back to 1983, a Perry Ellis bolero that I made from Manos. It still looks like new, amazingly. Manos tends to pill like a bitch, which is why I rarely work with it.

Spinning Shit
Well, besides helping BJ with her spinning, I was the happy recipient last week of arguably the best spinning book ever written—The Intentional Spinner by Judith MacKenzie McCuin, published by Interweave Press.

This book, besides its comprehensive chapters on fiber—animal, vegetable, and synthetic—gives the most lucid explanation of drafting methods that I’ve ever read. Mabel Ross’s book, Handspinning, was my Bible when I was learning how to spin. And I still defer to her “measure, count” advice. But McCuin, with her excellent explanations and photographs, takes the subject matter and makes it comprehensible to rank beginners.

My one beef about the book are her ops cit for Spin Off articles from past issues. What I call “See thises”. I would have preferred seeing these placed in the Bibliography and Further Reading appendix rather than directly in the text. It’s one thing when you’re writing a textbook for historians or scientists. It’s another when you write for hobbyists. When you place this kind of citation in the body, the reader gets cranky because it’s highly likely that they don’t have access to the issue in question, nor will they be able to get it. Given that Interweave publishes Spin Off, it would have been far simpler for McCuin to include passages from the articles in question rather than tease the reader with “for more detailed information.”

I say, gimme the detailed info HERE and NOW.

The point that McCuin makes in the book and one that I’ve always posited is that an expert spinner is not one who can spin thin. It’s a spinner who can spin whatever weight of yarn they desire. This is the true test of a skilled spinner and one that I’m working towards achieving.

Jerry’s Aran
I cranked away at this over the weekend and managed to get more than 36 rows done. Cabling is slow going.

All in all, I’m pleased with the results so far. As is Jerry.

In several ways, this is far from a traditional Aran. For one thing, it’s not knit in bainin, the oiled Irish yarn that is scarcer than hen’s teeth to find. Jerry already has a Aran that he bought in Ireland on a trip there some years ago, so I wanted to make him something a bit lighter. My use of seed stitch as a side filler is also not particularly traditional.

The stitch patterns that I chose are not seen very often in the Aran sweaters made in Ireland. Frequently, they incorporate varying combinations of a double moss stitch-filled diamond central panel and other basic symmetrical central panels, simple six-row cables, Trinity stitch, double moss for filler, plus traveling stitch patterns such as Marriage Lines and Tree of Life. If you examine these sweaters, they are very basic in their design. Wonderful sweaters, to be sure. But not terribly complex. However, lately I’ve seen some Arans that are pretty complicated and done in different colors along with the traditional ecru.

It would be more accurate to call my design an Aran-style pullover. I’m thinking I may design a really traditional Aran for myself, since I don’t own one. Yeah, kiss me, I’m German. And now it's time to help Mr. McCarty use Internet Explorer. He may be rare and handy but not computer literate.

Monday, March 02, 2009

I Meant What I Said and I Said What I Meant

Best Quote I Heard All Day
Shorth is better than length.—Dr. Seuss

I think all knitting directions should replace length with shorth. Although I think it should actually be sherth.

Long = length. Short = sherth.

Catch the vowel consistency?

Today would have been Theodor Geisel’s 105th birthday. I’m old enough to remember when Cat in the Hat was published in 1957. I was seven and had been reading since I was four. But the sheer goofiness of the book won my little heart.

My favorite Seuss book is McElligot’s Pool, a book that has been overshadowed by other Seuss works.

That book, and Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass, inspired my fertile imagination, which really needed no encouragement. I was a whimsical child and I identified with Alice, who rebelled against the boring and repressive Victorian lifestyle she lived by escaping into Wonderland.

Dr. Seuss offered me the same escape. So, what's your favorite Seuss book? I loved reading Green Eggs and Ham to my girls, particularly since Corinne only ate about five things as a child: hot dogs, steak, my chicken and cashews stir-fry, mac and cheese, and McDonald's hamburgers (she hated mine).

Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Aran? Aran Who?

Aran’t you glad I didn’t say Orange?

Sorry. An uncontrollable pun leakage. I’m not going to explain the original joke. If you don’t know it, Google it.

The Dale Falk for Jerry’s Aran finally came in on the slow boat from Denmark last Thursday.

My swatch showed me a few things. First, I needed to move the two tight plaits closer to the center motif—I had placed them a bit too far away and as a result, they seemed drifty rather than anchored. Second, the one baby cable was too weak to have any impact. So I added two more. Finally, it was clear that the single moss stitch added absolutely nothing and in fact, detracted from the baby cable. I decided to use simple seed stitch as a filler. It’s quietly innocuous and wouldn’t detract from any of the other stitch patterns.

Years ago, someone told me that an odd number of items catches the eye far better than an even number. This had something to do with flower arranging, as I recall. Back then, I didn’t know anything about the Fibonacci Sequence. Jerry’s Aran has 3 main design elements—the central panel, its tight plaits on either side, and the rambling braid. If you count the three baby cables as one element, plus the seed stitch filler, there are a total of five elements: Three major, two minor. An odd number. Think about how an even number of elements might appear. I don’t think they’d work nearly as well.

I can do the sweater calculations from scratch but I usually use Sweater Wizard because I’m intrinsically lazy and because it generates schematics too. Based on the swatch’s layout, I knew that I’d need at least 116 stitches for the bulk of the front/back patterning, excluding the filler stitches on each side. Once I plugged in Jerry’s measurements and the gauge, everything fell into place. My final numbers, 132 for cast-on and 148 for the body, works perfectly with my layout.

I debated on fiddling with the ribbing, maybe sticking some small cables therein, and then decided to leave it the fuck alone. There’s enough going on in the body of the sweater. Less is always more. I like 2/2 ribbing. Good elasticity and better than 1/1 to knit.

Being a tech writer means that I’m relatively organized when pulling together directions and associated stuff, such as the charts. Everything goes into a dedicated folder on my local drive, and then I plug all the pieces—charts, directions, and schematics—into a Word document. (Sweater Wizard will export to Word, although the formatting sucks.) The directions get a quick edit. I print them out, shove ‘em into plastic sleeves, and then into a binder.

As I go along, I’ll mark up the directions with any additional information that needs to be added.

Here it is—ribbing is done and 20 rows of the pattern, so far.

I've decided on the motifs for the sleeve. When I get there, you'll see how I've designed the pattern layout. It's going to have saddle shoulders, so I'm sure you can use your head and figure it the fuck out, right?

I've been asked if I'm going to publish this design. Yes. I'll sell it from here, probably. The old Cafe Press routing, most likely. I'll do the actual leaflet, .pdf it, and that's how it will go.

I miss being a magazine editor. Funny...I haven't thought about editing magazines in a long time, being up to my eyeballs in tech writing. But lately, doing these video tutorials for work, I've had a chance to screw around with graphics, editing the video, and trying to put a little artistic imagination into an otherwise dull corporate dealie.

Fibroid Events

Post Rhinebeck Retreat Survey

I’ll be talking to Ted soon about this. The results of the survey have given me a pretty good idea of what’s what and I wasn't terribly surprised at the high scorers. Here are the results, with 43 respondents so far.

Ted and I had discussed having this retreat at Easton Mountain; however, they would prefer a 4-day event. That doesn't matter, though. There are, I'm sure, plenty of places in the Rhinebeck vicinity, that would be quite suitable. I think that this survey is pretty indicative of what would fly. I know it's certainly what I would like: A 2-day, laid-back retreat, with some of us doing the teaching. I would certainly teach finishing and the computer bit, Ted and I could both do lace, and I'm sure there may be other qualified people who may like to teach. I was amused that only 9% wanted a "name" teacher. And that no one was particularly interested in an intarsia session.

MD Sheep & Wool

I think I’ve gotten Jerry to agree to go to MD S&W this year. We were thinking about going away for a long spring weekend anyway, so why not? Frederick is lovely that time of year—at this point, any place in the spring would be lovelier than this fucking mess.

It’ll be a good dress rehearsal for Rhinebeck, I suppose. Jerry is tremendously supportive of what I do, especially since he's the main recipient of my shit these days. I don’t know who’s going to MD, other than my friend BJ, but that doesn’t matter. It's not that I need more crap but I am truly jonesin' for that Schacht Ladybug.

So, despite the hideous weather, I've been doing and feeling great. Honestly, Jerry has made the difference. And it's so nice to have someone who loves those Raggi socks I make. I've got another pair on the needles that I'll try to finish this weekend for him. Raggi socks are truly rare and handy foot coverings. As Jeremiah is a rare and handy man--Lally columns and other construction projects around the house. Yikes.