February 28, 2007

Garter is good

I had a feeling that I wouldn't be alone in the sentiment I directed toward our spelling challenged peer, and I can assure you that even without your much appreciated support and encouragement, I am just fine. I am, my tender hearted lovelies, a McPhee woman, and though we are blessed with few skills, those few are mighty. (My grandmother, Kathleen McPhee, was once told by a General that she had "the finest ass in the Western Command", but I'm not sure that's a skill, or that I've inherited it, but I digress.) While McPhee women don't always have grace or dignity under pressure, we do have clarity, and I am at no risk of having the joy and enjoyment this blog brings me yanked from my grasp by someone who cannot even spell their way out a paper bag. (I will admit to several revenge fantasies, but I am both too chicken and too proud to execute them.)

Sound more like me? I think so. After all the trials of the last week I am left with the fabulous adage that "what does not kill me makes me stronger" (though there are days in parenting and life where I am tempted to change it to "What does not kill me may still be grounded until it is 45 years old", but again, I am digressing, and the children cannot be blamed entirely. I have a job as well as a cat that wears on my nerves.)

Jeri wrote:

"Garter is good. Is that a ribwarmer vest? I'm wearing mine today."

Ribwarmersh0228

Good eye, that Jeri. The garter stitch extravaganza is indeed a ribwarmer vest, a fine Elizabeth Zimmermann pattern that can be found in Knitting Workshop. It's a very clever pattern, making a vest out of the most unlikely shapes by way of short rows. Enormous fun the way that only garter stitch can be. I'm having a love affair with Elizabeth right now, and it's not the first time. The last dalliance with her wonderful patterns and prose resulted in a baby surprise jacket, that wonderful combination of origami and knitting that never fails to amuse me. I've got all of her books, and even recently indulged in her DVD, which is all of the episodes of her old PBS tv show by the same name. I don't know if I learn much watching it, especially since there is not much there that isn't in the books. If you've read Knitting Workshop, you've probably heard it all before, but with Elizabeth Zimmermann that's not the point. The point is how she says it.

I was recently shocked to realize that there's a whole generation of knitters out there with absolutely no idea of who this woman was, and that was so stunning a revelation to me that it's likely that you could have persuaded me to eat unwashed fleece while I processed it. The woman is the grandmother of modern knitting. She's so iconic in knitting that many of us only use her initials (EZ) to refer to her. She was the first person who I ever heard say "it doesn't matter that much" or "if the way you are doing it is working, then don't listen to me" . She was like a wonderful mentor who encouraged you not to take the whole thing too seriously while simultaneously living an entirely knitting based existence. Until I ran into her I had only heard absolute explanations of knitting. "You must do this" or "This is the way to cast off" and her gentle urging to simply think about knitting a little more has had a great deal to do with the fact that I think about knitting at all.

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We disagree about several things, Elizabeth and I - like her love of circular needles and my love of straights, her dislike of purling and my belief that it's as pleasant as the knit stitch... but the thing about her is that even though I never met her, I firmly believe that she would like that. I am possessed of the opinion that she would take my polite disagreement, chuckle to herself and say "Well...I said she should think about her knitting".

I love her. If you don't know who she is, go looking. You won't be sorry.

Posted by Stephanie at 1:24 AM

February 26, 2007

Harder than it has to be

Trudging is my theme word this week. Yup. Trudging. My trusty Oxford Concise (I love that book so much) says that it means "to go by foot, especially labouriously" which is exactly right. This last week has been one of those weeks where you just put one foot in front of the other and get 'er done and everything is harder than it has to be. Joe made coffee the other day and somehow forgot to put the lid on the pot. Now, this would normally be a non-event. Not putting the lid on? This should have rated very, very low on the event scale. It should have fallen somewhere in between wondering what dress Nicole Kidman wore to the Academy Awards and wondering if I should put the taupe coloured candle or the cinnamon coloured candle on the dining room table. (I opted to put three candles. I'm experimenting with accessories. I thought it might make me more likely to keep the table clear if there was pretty stuff on it. The candles were buried by our junk while I was wondering that. I've moved on.) In any event, the coffee maker lid turned out to be critical because the coffee won't go into the pot unless the lid is on and so all of the grounds backed up into the filter and the reservoir and the guts of the thing and it took three people 40 minutes (during which a much greater mess was created) to figure out how to get us out of a coffee disaster. See? Trudging. On what planet does it take three people 40 minutes to get out of anything? Hell, when the planet isn't against me like this I think I could dig out of an ice cave in less than 40 minutes. I confirmed that I'm just here to be the universes cat toy this week when after backing coffee up into the maker, cleaning the maker, running a clean cycle, running a plain water cycle and then finally successfully making a much needed cup of that most sweet brown elixir of life, I knocked the cup over with my elbow and was thus denied. See? Harder than it has to be. Maybe it's all the snow.

Questions and Answers (and some other stuff I put in there too.)

1. My scale (which I totally adore)

Scaleshot0227

is a Vector Fuzion xtr-500, (since it weighs up to 500 grams (about a pound) and yes, I believe that my brother did have to provide ID and an address when he bought it. This is because it is not just good for weighing fiber and yarn, but because it's also good for accurate measurements of small but illicit things. (This would be why Claudia affectionately refers to hers as "a drug dealer scale".) As far as I know, we're the only two groups of people using them. (Wait, maybe jewellers too? )

2. I am taking a tiny break from the Bohus.

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This is garter stitch in plain wool on big needles. It is all I am capable of at the moment. Don't expect it to last, as my life and its attendant stress is sorting out pretty quickly and the need for the knitting equivalent of oatmeal should pass straightaway.

3. A note. Generally speaking, I don't answer or deal with nasty email or comments. My mother taught me not to give attention to people for poor behaviour, so usually I just ignore it. This time though, I'm annoyed as crap and stepping up. There is someone who is sending me nasty private email correcting my spelling on the blog. I would direct this to them personally, but they are using a fake email address.

Now, I can walk away from criticism on the blog. Doesn't bother me much. Although this is my virtual living room and I expect people to behave in the comments or my inbox the way they would in my home, I have to accept that the occasional person has poor manners and ...well, not that that's ok, but it doesn't keep me awake nights. I even don't mind the personal email criticizing me for everything from my choice of yarn to my politics. I even don't mind (that's not true. I mind a lot but I'm trying to be big about it) the very occasional email or comment that calls my ethics into question, in one way or the other. We're all meant to be called on the carpet from time to time, it's good for us to be accountable. (I wish that people were always respectful, but, as I have said many times, things will be different after the revolution.)

I am responding to this string of emails, the ones in which the correspondent whips out the red pen (they use a red font, actually. It's very engaging) and corrects my spelling...because it is so wildly inaccurate that I can't even stand it and I can't email them back but I have to say something. I admit that my grammar can be appalling, that I perhaps use the ellipses more than most (that I do enjoy the use of parentheses a very great deal) and that I have a complete and total learning disability about it's and its that I have somehow (goodness only knows how) managed to learn to accept and find a way to live a rich full life despite....but I am not a poor speller and I am not taking the heat on it. There is, my tenacious little emender a whole wide world outside of the one you live in, and the country I occupy has different spellings than in the country you occupy. Now, as much as I would like very much to be able to, what was it? Oh yes... "Take my head out of my ass and get a clue", I just can't, since...my decorous and rectifying reader, you are just plain wrong.

Usually I wouldn't spend this much time on someone who hasn't done their homework, but the emails were so darned mean and I'm still worked up about the coffee thing and hopped up on all that garter stitch and I will present you now with a list of words that I am actually spelling correctly. Feel free to review it at your leisure:

colour (vs your "color")
fibre (vs fiber)
cancelled (vs canceled)
woollen (vs woolen)
labour (vs labor)
cheque (vs check)
centre (vs center)
draught (vs draft)
doughnut (vs donut)
behaviour (vs behavior)
off side (vs incorrect)

Thank you for your attention (you know who are.) To the rest of you, kindly forgive the hijacking of my own blog for these petty purposes. I couldn't resist.

Posted by Stephanie at 2:08 PM

February 24, 2007

As good as a rest

Whoa. Another whole day got away from me there, but I'm much the better for it. Thanks for all your well wishes my lovely knitters, I assure you again that all is well here (or will be) and that the stress I'm dealing with is no more than the stress that we all manage in our lives. That said, I needed to manage the stress in my life, so I went to the wheel. (This was after a dismal attempt at yoga where I was so tense that it ended in an embarrassing string of muscle cramps in various large muscle groups and the suggestion that I might not want to "live in the stress" before I hurt myself. A-yup.) There is a great deal to be said about the meditative qualities of spinning. Even done badly, it's a repetitive act, it needs to be done rhythmically and it slows you down. It's amazing what playing with slow, pretty things does to all the fast, ugly crap in your life.

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I rooted this out of the stash. It's a sampler from The Dizzy Ewe (sorry, I don't think she has a link), and it's an 28 grams/ 1 ounce each of five different fibers and blends (merino, tencel, silk) in five different colours. 140g is plenty for a pair of socks, and I imagined that if I played it right, that I could have a pair that were matching and gently graduated from toe to top. After some consultation with That Laurie (did you see her latest sweater? Etherknitter had a wonderful picture of her in a spectacular graduated yarn pentagon yoke sweater. Rest assured it's the topic of a future guest blog.) I divided each of the fibers in half (right sock, left sock) then in half again for each of two plies. I used the handy-dandy scale that I got for Christmas. It measures very small amounts accurately. (I can weigh pennies, and lint, and $20 bills....)

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I spun two matching singles, moving through the pile, and not worrying too much about being really, really accurate. If one fiber is merino and the next is merino/tencel, there are going to be differences anyway.

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then plied them together to make a two ply sock yarn that runs from lightest to darkest.

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I feel better.

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Not as good as I'm going to feel when I have two socks worth done and have mailed it off to the friend of mine who loves purple and will make herself a very nice pair of socks....

but better.

Posted by Stephanie at 1:33 PM

February 22, 2007

Thundersnow

The last few days have been an upset. Nothing really important, like bombs or sick people or anything (It is important to keep perspective in the middle of these things) just a bit of a blow and an upset. I worry too much in general, think too much in specific, and that means that if you give me a problem(s) I can obsess stupidly for days. If you make it a family problem I am nearly gifted with the worrying. If it is a problem that needs a solution, I can work through it, but if it's a problem that's out of my influence and must be handled by others, I become particularly unsettled. Waiting to see what other people decide to do with their portion of a mutual problem is very hard for me. I keep breathing deeply and quoting something to myself. I don't know who said it, but I find it really comforting.

It's all going to be okay in the end. If it's not okay, then it's not the end.

Since I have dedicated myself full time to worrying, obsessing and analysing (analysing is my favourite. Hours and hours gone to discussing and understanding the problem while nothing changes and you get more upset.) for the last few days, I'm moving a little slowly on the sweater. (I'm moving a little slowly on everything actually. My apologies to the Knit Night for not showing up last night. I swear I thought it was Tuesday. I realized it was Wednesday night and I was missing a whole day about 10pm.)

Bohusthundersn0222

I moved from the unfinished body to an unfinished sleeve. Thought it might break up the monotony. (Um..yeah. I was not surprised to find that it didn't break up much either.) Well, it's double points instead of circular needles...that's exciting? Right? (I am not certain that watching me knit the rest of the Bohus is going to be all that scintillating for you. Prepare yourselves.)

Bohusdetsnow

I got up this morning intending to head to High Park and hike the Black Oak Trails to walk off my some of my stress (knitting it off seemed to be ineffective this time, since I kept putting the knitting down to follow people (Poor Joe. It's not even his fault) around the house or phone them and say emphatic things like "furthermore" and "If I were in charge" and "the more I think about it...", all of which require wild gesturing and get very little knitting (or problem solving) done.

I came downstairs, made coffee and looked outside. The biggest, wooliest snow I had ever seen was falling from the sky.

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(That is a very poor picture of my sleeve which almost, sort of shows you the size of the clumps of snow.)

I stood there and stared at it. It was incredible.

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Not one of these pictures does it justice. The camera deletes at least half of the falling flakes.

Thundersnowstre0222

I stood there and looked at it. The teenagers came and looked at it, and (for the first time in days) nobody said anything. We just stood in the snow, watching it fall. As we stood there, there was a crazy flash of light that illuminated each and every enormous flake falling from the sky. They all appeared to be suspended for an instant, then resumed falling. For a second I thought I was actually having that stroke I keep telling the girls they are giving me, and then we heard it. A very loud, strange and muffled "boom"...that was bizarre in the context of a heavy snowfall, but unmistakable. Thunder.

Thundersnowbacktr0222

Thunder? Thundersnow. It was something. Totally something. I don't remember seeing or hearing anything like it before. (Joe was not as impressed as I thought he should be.) I stood there, listening to the thunder and staring at the snow and I was struck by an interesting thought. Here I've been screeching around the house for a few days, upset because I'm can't control enough stuff to keep our lives going in straight lines...and suddenly here's thundersnow. I'm not saying I had an epiphany or anything. We still have problems, I'm still pissed and I haven't been filled with a great sense of inner peace or any of that stuff....but for about ten minutes this morning I was truly glad that I have never been granted the wish to run the world that I always have when things are complex. Never mind the time it would take away from knitting... but I would have never, ever, in a million years, thought up Thundersnow. Nice show, Mother Nature. Wicked surprise.

Posted by Stephanie at 10:03 AM

February 20, 2007

Ironic

Ironic: characterized by often poignant difference or incongruity between what is expected and what actually is; "madness, an ironic fate for such a clear thinker"; "it was ironical that the well-planned scheme failed so completely"

The irony is not lost on me that I have spent the last few days buried under an unexpected avalanche of knitters responding to my complaint that the number of knitters is frequently unexpected. (Side note to Alanis Morissette? That's ironic. Rain on your wedding day is not, it just sucks.) I spent the weekend doing four things.

1. Celebrating Samantha's 13th birthday. She's officially a teenager and I, officially, now have no "children"... just three teenaged daughters. May the force be with me...and with her, actually. Adolescence is a rough gig.

2. Trying to get Police tickets for Joe and Ben and failing miserably. How fast do you have to be to nail those? I was on the internet, on the phone....still sold out before I could get a credit card number in there. Then they put up another show and that was sold out in a blinding flash too. How does anybody ever get anything from Ticketmaster? (This is actually a little ironic too, since we found out that the Police were coming to Toronto just after Joe watched them on the Grammys and said "If the Police ever come to Toronto there is no such thing as too much money for a ticket". It would be more ironic if I were willing to pay anything (which I'm totally freaking not, there's a limit to how much money I'll give rich people ) to get them and still couldn't buy any...but perfect examples of irony are very rare. ) Do you suppose Sting can be bribed for tickets with handknit socks? Don't answer that. I'm knitting a bohus.

3. Reading every single comment on that previous post and trying to figure out our next move. After careful analysis (and calling Jayme-the-wonder-publicist to figure out what she'll let me get away with) I'm starting to rough out a plan. Points I'm thinking over:

- Obviously, I underestimated the number and enthusiasm (there's that irony again) for the idea of allowing knitters to represent, so I'm thinking that maybe the idea needs to be a little (lot) bigger? What if we did this (what I'm about to suggest) at every stop? What if this was the "Representing" tour? (Er, if we think this is a good idea then we're going to have to find a way to break it to Storey Publishing. I think they thought this would be a book tour. Maybe we don't tell them that we've completely co-opted it for our own purposes.) Might take some of the heat off of you who want to represent but can't make it to NYC?

- Pre-Boarding. Jayme and I are both sort of worried about some of you enthusiasts who are coming a long way, so we've decided to do some pre-boarding, just like on a flight. On the off chance that we get more knitters than space, (Which I don't think will be a problem but we'll cross that bridge if we get there) I don't want someone who made a crazy effort to get there to be left out, but I also don't want to make a judgement call about who deserves a guaranteed spot and who doesn't. Therefore, because you all have always been reasonable and thoughtful knittters, I'm proposing that you use your own best judgement and do the following.

If for any reason at all that seems fair to you (you have a disability, you are pregnant, you have a nursing baby with you, you are old, you have come a long way.... whatever, it's your call...if honestly feel that it is not reasonable for you to take your chances in a first-come first served sort of thing, then all you need to do is email Jayme-the-wonder-publicist and she will guarantee you a spot, no questions asked. Fair enough?

Jayme can be reached at publicityATstoreyDOTcom
(You change the AT to @ and the DOT to . )

- Fire up the travelling socks, because dudes, nothing amuses me more than the idea of meeting in central park for a picture. My sock would love the company. I'm thinking we should do it here?

- Yarn Crawl. What we need here is a list of NYC yarn shops and a suggested 4 or 5 routes to all or some of them. Knitters can then choose a route that interests them and take it at their own pace. We'll work on this. (I suggest, should you decide to do a yarn crawl that you do it in packs. Freaks out the muggles better.)

- A display of economic might. I'm not sure that asking the knitters attending the event to tell us what they have spent on yarn in the last year will do anything to convince the world that we are sane and important. (Plus, the money we spend on yarn is really only interesting to yarn shops, and that's like preaching to the converted.) However, what about asking each person attending to give a volunteer at the door their estimated disposable income? (In the interest of privacy you could write it on a slip of paper or something) We add it all up...and whammo. You would have a number that really meant something to bookstores, banks, restaurants and other business' who would like our collective business.

- Representing if you can't come. What about finding a business or volunteer(s) who would be willing to receive knitted hats? (I have to admit that I also adore the idea of the worlds largest afghan, but realistically, managing that many squares is going to be the worlds largest pain in the arse. They need to be sewn up, they are always different sizes and fibres....too complex for this short a lead time.) Hats though, hats come finished, are useful in many sizes and fibres and can be donated to tons of wonderful causes afterwards. If every knitter who wanted to be there and wasn't going to be able to make it to a later event, sent a hat....

- Who would we donate it to? Since knitters come in all kinds, a cause that we could all give to without political or religious thought is a must. A cause needs to be politics free, religion free and...because we're messing with NYC here (or other towns as this ball gets rolling) I would love for it to give back to people who live in NYC.

Other ideas forthcoming. Volunteers will clearly be needed at some point. (Jayme's got a twitch over her eye already.)

4. I knit on the bohus.

Bohusinter0220

Early trials and funny looking episodes have proven that the thing fits. Every so often I slide the body stitches onto more circular needles and put it on. While it is on I stand it front of the mirror and make completely inaccurate estimates about how much further I have to go and where the decreases should be. So far, this has not been a catastrophe. I could go on and on here about how well this project is going and how nothing bad has happened and I haven't had to frog anything and it's all just so easy, but that would be begging for a knitting goddess smackdown, which would probably be...you guessed it. Ironic.

Posted by Stephanie at 3:12 PM

February 16, 2007

Represent

So, there's this problem out there. I run into it a lot. Jayme-the-wonder-publicist runs into it all the time. It hit Blue Moon like a ton of bricks. It hits yarn stores looking for business loans. You guys have encountered it. It's a knitters problem. It is a lack of understanding (or respect) for the sheer numbers of knitters out there.

-It happened in St. Louis, where the library (despite a warning from the knitting guild and the publisher) decided how many knitters there could possibly be and ran short of books and chairs.

-It happened in MA. where all the knitters couldn't even fit in the shop and spilled into the street and there wasn't even room to sit down.

-it happened in Doylestown where when I arrived the shop had TEN chairs and were extremely reluctant to get more out. I kept saying "You need more chairs" and they kept saying "It'll be Ok." with this look on their face like they just didn't know how to break it to me that I wrote KNITTING books, and nobody was coming.

- It happened to me at a writers dinner, where all these authors were talking about what they wrote and so forth, and I said I wrote "Knitting humour" and I could see from the expressions on their face that they didn't think I belonged there. (Made me want to point out that I was outselling most of their books..but I didn't. That would be petty.)

- It happened to me at a dinner party where Joe called me "a bestselling author" and someone said "well...Not really." and Joe said "How not really? Here are the numbers" and the person said "Yeah, but it's knitting books."

-It happened in Portland where someone made the decision to move the knitters to the smaller store and when I arrived, there were not enough chairs, not enough room, not enough time to sign all the books and I had to insist that they arrange for a microphone. (They hadn't. )

Portlanknitters0217

-it happened with one of my webhosts, who, despite being told how much traffic I get, made his own judgement about what sort of traffic would be possible when I said it was "a knitting blog" .

- it happens to Jayme-the-wonder-publicist on the phone with little tiny bookstores who want to hold knitting events and can't understand why she won't book me into their store that holds 27 people. They get right ticked when she tells them that although they are a lovely, lovely store, they haven't got enough room. They KNOW how many knitters there are, and they KNOW Jayme is wrong.

- it happened to Full Thread Ahead when they asked the city for a permit because they knew how many knitters there were going to be and the city had the hardest time believing them.

- it happened at a bar near here who didn't want to have a knitting event there because - despite our assurances that this was not the case, they didn't believe that it would be well attended, and they didn't believe knitters drank. (Seriously.)

It happens over and over and over again, and it's starting to bug me. It's not that I think that knitting is such an important thing that everyone should worship it. I don't especially care if the muggles don't know about us. They have their lifestyle, I have mine. It's ok with me if we need to tell them what they need to know when they need to know it. I personally am unacquainted with the numbers and needs people who fly fish. It isn't that they are uninformed. It is that they cannot let go of their own ideas enough to cope.

It is that when we explain to them how many chairs/ bandwidth/ credit card transactions/ books/ yarn/ microphones/ beers we are going to need and they pat us on our pretty little heads and go get the number of chairs/ bandwidth/ credit card transactions/ books/ yarn/ microphones/ beers that they think we will need and leave us all standing around without all that stuff that I start getting snotty.
There are plenty of excuses for people not being prepared. No problem. We didn't warn you? Mea culpa. All is forgiven. How should you know.

There are no excuses for when we say "There are 300 knitters coming to your bookstore on Friday. " and they say "Sure...sure honey. Hundreds of knitters. Uh-huh. Why don't you go knit on your cute little sock over there while we PREPARE TO SCREW YOU OVER BECAUSE WE ARE SUFFERING FROM A TERMINAL STEREOTYPE."

Sorry.

In any case, Jayme-the-wonder-publicist and I have come up with an idea. The new book comes out soon and since it's a book about knitting as a destination and the community of knitters that populate it, we thought that this would be an excellent time to make a point. We would like to show the media and the muggles exactly how many knitters there are, how seriously we take it, and exactly how large a demographic they are ticking of when they discount our numbers and our buying power by ignoring the things that we tell them. Essentially, I don't care if they think we are stupid. I don't care if they think Sock Clubs are stupid, and I will still sleep at night if they laugh at us. I just want them not to openly mock us and impede our attempts at commerce or community. To that end, we would like to invite you to a Really Big Book Launch. The shock the muggles night event will be March 22nd in New York City at FIT, The Fashion Institute of Technology. (They have a Knitting Laboratory.) It'll be in the Haft Auditorium, which is in the C building on 27th street just off of 7th avenue. It's really easy to get there.
It will be 6pm or later.

I'll talk of course, but that's not the point of the evening. The point of the evening is to get a whole whack of knitters into one room, then invite the media to come and see. Straighten them out on the world of possibilities, provide all of us with a moment that we can point to and say "See? Do you see what I mean?" An evening of proof. (Apparently The Knitting Olympics and Knitters Without Borders did not provide the world with this proof.) Now. The auditorium holds 750 people. This means that I could really, really be humiliated here (that's the only part I don't like. The image of me and the media in this huge auditorium while I try to explain that there really, really are a lot of knitters, I swear it.) but I don't think that that's going to be the case.

There will be surprises, there will be fun stuff, there will be New York City FILTHY WITH KNITTERS that day. People will see us in coffee shops, on benches, at lunch joints, all converging on FIT. The muggles will look at each other and say "is it just me, or does there seem to be a crazy number of knitters around here today?"
From that day forward, every time somebody tries to tell a knitter that she doesn't represent a huge cash spending demographic that needs some damn chairs, she can point to this day. She can show them pictures, and instead of a pat on the head she can get a freakin' handshake and a business loan.

Obviously, this plan needs you. We're planning on working some charitable action into it, we're thinking about combining with other people (like the Craft Yarn Council) , but I would love to hear your ideas for how to make this the most fun a whack of knitters have ever had. Maybe a NYC yarn shop crawl? 700+ travelling socks posed in Central Park? Get crazy with it. Represent, knitters. Represent.

In other exciting news...the tour page has been updated. I can't tell you how stunned I was to see Alaska and Victoria.

Posted by Stephanie at 2:47 PM

February 15, 2007

Abominable Arctic Air

It's frosty here again, -20c (about -30 with the windchill, that's -22F for the Americans) and it is very, very beautiful and clear outside. It is a sparkling crystalline blue sky, and it looks like it would be wonderful to go for a walk...right up until you open the front door and your nose hair all instantly freezes. Everybody swears then. This morning the girls all opened the door, stepped outside and swore. I was hard on them until I tried to get the mail. Opened the door, stepped outside. Swore - and instantly forgave the girls. Dudes, it is cold. I cannot believe the high point of the weather this week has been it warming up enough (-10c) for it to dump huge snow on us. It's foul.
(You may have gathered that I don't care for this season, although in the time it's taken me to get this post together the temperature has risen to an almost balmy -16c)

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(Those of you who live in very cold places will notice the presence of that "dry" snow. If you look outside at your porch or the road out front of your house and notice that at high noon under a bright sun that there is not one melted flake of snow...It's cold.)

Luckily for me, I have nowhere to go. Joe's going to run my errands today (the upside of him still being "between opportunities") and I've earned myself a playdate with Guld by meeting a big work deadline this morning.

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I read, weighed and contemplated all of the comments you guys left about your opinions about converting Guld to knit in the round, and while they were all compelling, a couple of them really made excellent points.

Lene said:

You know my take on it: it's tradition and you don't f*** with tradition. Keep your evil changing paws off of it and do it the way it's been done since it began.

p.s. Of course, that's my reflex response to anything that messes with time-honoured things and I might be persuaded to see the point if I wasn't still bitter about how Disney changed the end to my favourite H.C. Andersen fairytale just because maybe the original tale of the little mermaid was a little dark. It is my favourite exactly because of the way it ends. I mean - you don't make the Mona Lisa blond, do you?

p.p.s. What was the question again?

Hugo said:

Because I've spent most of my life studying language (even though I don't always spell properly) I tend to relate it to everything. Knitting for me is a language. Language is dynamic and can grow both more complicated and more beautiful as it changes. It can also grow more logical and simple. Just like language, there are reasons for certain things and sometimes they're just that way because that's the way they've always been done. Nothing will be lost memory/tradition-wise if you know the road you're coming from. After all, many traditions were simply adaptations of their time.

Sounds like Hugo and Lene should be seated next to each other at a dinner party, yes? Let's ask Loribird to pass them the bread.

The history won't be lost just because you choose not to follow its dictates precisely - the history is still recorded, and the reasoning behind it may be something we don't consider today(like crap-o-licious circ. needles, as Mary Lou said)I think that especially since, historically speaking, knitting tends to be such a practical application of art, any personal innovations add to the history rather than obliterate it. (Can't you hear them in the 24th century, "At first, Bohus sweaters were knit round for the yoke, then seamed through the body, but innovative knitters in the early 21st century began to knit entirely in the round...")

I thought over these things and gave some thought to the idea of "The Spirit of the law" vs "The Letter of the Law", and decided on a hybrid approach. (You saw that coming, didn't you?) Since I wanted to make the sweater a smidge smaller, and since there is a lot to be said about understanding something before you change it, I decided to knit the portion immediately after the yoke (the part from the yoke to the armholes) Flat.

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Once I had worked the short-rows that lower the front neck and the shaping that dictates the depth of the armholes, I joined my work (decreasing out the seam stitches) and began to work in the round.

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The orange thread you see there is my "counter". It marks the stitches that I am decreasing either side of and counts the number of decreases at the same time. Each time I work a decrease (or a certain number of rows, for the purposes of counting) I flip it from the front to the back (or the back to the front...depending.) When I'm done I'll just pull it out. So far, the whole thing is working pretty well.

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My mission today is to get the whole thing onto enough needles that I can try it on and make some decisions about fitting. I don't want the whole thing to be too roomy so I'm inserting a little side shaping. Out for the bust (such as it is) in for the waist (again, such as it is) and out again for the hips. If all goes well, I think it will be one of the prettiest sweaters I own. Very styling. Naturally, since I have departed from the beaten path with this one, I have a feeling that this comment from Mother Chaos may apply:

You could try my method: First, I will do exactly what the pattern said to do because I'm maintaining the art of the designer. Then, I will not like something about it (usually that I think it's "overly complicated" or "taking too long"), rip it out, and start over my way.

THEN I discover that 'my way' doesn't work for one or a thousand reasons, tear it out again, start over using a second, similar pattern for reference but really just doing my own thing again. This also does not work. Tear it back again, sit down with a pencil and my arsenal of cuss words, write down what I think I'm going to do, cuss, cross out, write, cuss, cross out, write, cuss, cross out, write AND THEN?

One last cuss and I go back to the pattern. Humbly. And refusing to acknowledge that I ever left it. Except that I'm just going to change this one itty-bitty thing over here because it's too >>fussy<<...

Ahem. Not that any of us use that method. Yeah. That Mother Chaos is alone on that one.
Knit on. Big news tomorrow.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:01 PM

February 14, 2007

Love is all you need

This day, Valentines day, has always been a nice one for me. I somehow got the idea (probably from my mother, who has always had a very subtle plan) that Valentines day was about Love in general, not romantic love in specific, and so around these parts it has never really been tied to anything soul-crushing and ego defeating.
It has remained relatively mundane, even in the currently awesome and enormous face of teenaged love, something that I appreciate to no end.

I am an intensely pragmatic person, and I don't suffer fools gladly, not even teenaged lovestruck fools that I am related to, and it turns out I am not much of a romantic. Don't get me wrong...I wholeheartedly agree with love. Especially love of family, love of friends and love of ethics and fairness, but on careful reflection it seems to me that romantic love, given completely free rein and allowed to run wild through civilization, has been responsible for more poor decision making, wars, kidnapping, obsession, suicide, low self-esteem and generalized rack and ruin than any other human emotion in the whole world...and this belief has led me to a significant level of caution around the sort of love that Valentines day sells wholesale.

This Valentines day idea of love, that we can be swept up, or away, or that there is a complete and total love and trust that doesn't necessitate a safety net (particularly for women, who seem to sometimes forget that the best man in the world can get hit by a bus and the rest of them occasionally run off) isn't something I want my daughters to think about. When I was younger, I would have thought that this quote was really beautiful.

We are, each of us angels with only one wing; and we can only fly by embracing one another.

-Luciano de Crescenzo

Now it gives me the itching heebie geebies.
I want my daughters to know that it is possible to be a whole sensible person without benefit of romantic attachment, and many people have gone on to be happily single as well as unhappily married and ....
Well. I just wish we would stop holding out these "I would die without your love" fairy tales to young women and men (we could lay off the older ones while we're at it) and start talking about the sort of love that we should be honouring and asking kids to aspire too. Love that is good for the people who are in it and supports and encourages growth in both partners is to the Valentines Day sort of love as whole grain bread is to twinkies.

I personally am way, way more turned on and reassured about Joe's love when he cleans the bathroom than I am when he brings me flowers. Don't get me wrong buckaroos, I love the flowers, but they would be an entirely hollow gesture if the dude wasn't coming to bed smelling a little like Vim once in a while. A beautiful card would mean little to me if Joe were not an equal partner in parenting, and chocolates would taste a little off if they were given to me while I was felt I was being denied proper support for my career and education within our loving relationship.

Having a day where the romantic performance of your mate and whether or not he or she gets you a card, flowers and chocolate (although I do like all of those things) is paramount takes the focus off of real love and real issues between mates....job sharing, equal education, support, loyalty...and who the hell is making dinner tonight and are both of your names on the mortgage anyway?

I think the world would fare a little better if from time to time we looked at a couple swooning with love and instead of drawing pink hearts and singing "all you need is love" at them said "This is all very nice, but you are both going to be needing an education and life insurance." The streets are littered with women and men who bought the commercialized Valentines day idea of love and ended up in some real trouble because it turned out that there was a lot of dirty laundry, diapers and bills under all that frilly pink adoration.

That's why Valentines Day is going to stay as much of a family affair as possible around here. A celebration of the Whole Wheat sort of love to balance out the overwhelming tide of twinkie love sweeping over them every day through pop culture. I know that I sound more than a little cynical, but I maintain that I am not. What I am is a fan of real, whole love. Love that makes everyone in it better, not just vaguely happier for a while. Love that makes strong women, women who don't end up loosing track of all of the dreams and hopes they had for their own lives because Valentines Day style love says that if you're in love that's all you need, and that if you still want things for yourself after you are in love then you must not be in love "enough" or you would be completely fulfilled by it. I want my daughters, (and your daughters and sons - because my kids are going to need some well adjusted people to marry) to have realistic expectations of love. I want them to know that the Valentines Day love isn't sustainable. Not through taking out the garbage, skunks in the chimney or losing your job. You need love with teeth for that.

My daughters will have their days, and they will be knocked down and dragged through the snake pit of crushing romantic first love and they will likely get hurt and learn something and sob because they think they can't live without the object of their affection. I know it. All I'm trying to do around here is to make sure that someday, when they gaze into their lovers eyes and the lacy and ruffled world of romantic love unfurls around them, that somewhere in the back of their heads, a little voice (it will probably be mine) says "Don't forget to have a bank account in your own name, cupcake."

I'll close with the immortal words of Lily Tomlin.

If love is the answer, could you rephrase the question?

Posted by Stephanie at 11:25 AM

February 12, 2007

Join 'em, eh?

What's a nice little Canadian knitter to do when winter starts getting her down?
Embrace it. Leap in with both feet. Get your layers on and go find the good stuff about winter. So that's what we did. Team Harlot (Joe, the ladies, Ken and I) rented a van (a van with a dvd player in it. I'm telling you, the judicious application of technology to travel is the most brilliant thing ever. Ever. The contrast between a road trip with teens unplugged vs plugged is ridiculous. I'm not normally a big fan of hooking the kids up to a tv to keep them quiet, but on a four and half hour road trip where you can't say "why don't you go for a walk"...it's genius.) and we drove to Tupper's house in Manotick, our launching pad for a visit to Ottawa's Winterlude festival.

Our specific purpose, to skate the whole length of the Rideau Canal.

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The Rideau Canal is 175 years old this year, and during the summer it's a boatway and series of locks and parks. It's very beautiful. In the winter the canal is transformed into the worlds largest skating rink. Very wide (wide enough for large boats) and long....more than 7.8km of maintained ice, with stops for refreshments and history and interesting things along the way. We had a great time.

We started in the middle, at the First Nations Village of Traditions, then skated to the start of the skateway, then across the whole length to the end, then back to the middle where we got off. (There was a time in there towards the end when I was separated from the family. They swear they told me that they were stopping for maple candy, I swear that can't be true. If they had mentioned that they were stopping, I certainly wouldn't have skated another 3.5km looking for them, would I?) The whole weekend could not have been more Canadian.

Canadian Weekend - things that stirred our patriotic (if frozen) hearts.

1. Stopping at a bad truckstop on the way to Ottawa (The Capitol of Canada) and buying buttertarts and coffee.

2. Snow.

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3. Freezing weather.

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(Look. An almost 18 year old specimen of wild daughter spotted having a good time while not on the phone, not near a boy or hooked up to the internet. Careful. Don't make any loud noises that could startle her.)

4. Skating (along with thousands of other Canadians and tourists) on the Rideau.

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5. Skating through the First Nations Village:

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Contemplating (as you wear 17 layers of engineered clothing in a vain attempt to be warm) that teepees, furs and fires were - and in some parts of Canada, still are, the tools with which Native peoples cope with this brutal winter. Boggle at how you would live about 14 seconds.

6. Watching people make maple syrup:

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eating Maple Taffy made in the snow.

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7. Find kids playing with Ice blocks.

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8. Try not to to spill your hot chocolate (and mine) while you skate.

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9. The eternal debate of eating beavertails. Mittens on - or mittens off.

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The mature among us had Lemon and sugar. The younger ones with no taste had cinnamon.

10. We went to see the international ice sculpture challenge.

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11. Saw a one horse open sleigh on Dow's lake.

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12. Wondered if we had frostbite in our toes. (If they feel like they are on fire, it's time to change venues.)

13. We ate Poutine.

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Yes. I know. We are vegetarians. In our defence, this is exactly the weather that hot chips with cheese curds and gravy were invented to fend off - (If you attempt to eat this in a climate where it doesn't cost 1200 calories to keep warm, then your heart just stops.) and if you think that gravy contains, has ever contained or went anywhere near any real meat in it's whole life, then you have a better opinion of poutine bought on the street than I do. (By a lot.)

14. We skated the whole of the Rideau Canal, and back.

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15km of skating, plus more for looking for each other, looking for food, investigating the rest stops and skating to bathrooms. (Rideau Canal tip: Do not use the porta-potties on Dow's lake. Skate further along to the "Capitol Choice" display and use the bathrooms by the hot chocolate place. While going up and down that ramp on your skates is hard (and not warm, by any description), there are no words to describe how cold the toilet seats are in the outdoor potties. Worth the extra kilometres.)

15. Drive home in the snow

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16. Knit the whole time.

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(I'll tell you tomorrow what I decided to do with the seams.)

17. Drink beer. (No picture.)

It's hard to get more Canadian than that.

Posted by Stephanie at 2:06 PM

February 9, 2007

Five for Friday

I am finished the yoke of the Bohus, although some of these pictures are from yesterday because today my camera batteries are dead and it's too cold to go to the store. It will warm up later and I'll go (a moment of respect for how quickly the human perspective can shift? I am now calling the change from -20 to -15 "warming up") but for now, you get yesterdays pictures.

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There have been some requests to see the wrong side, and what with the absolute joy that I find in the wrong side of stranded knitting, I have to comply.

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Now that I'm at the division for the body, I have a dilemma. The pattern is written to knit the yoke in the round, then divide your stitches into two sleeves, a front and a back, all of which are knit flat (back and forth) and then seamed up.

Now, I'm a big fan of flat knitting, but I am considering converting the sweater to knit in the round (like Sally did) for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don't want to sew those seams. Secondly, I'm planning a couple of changes that would be easier to knit in if I were working in the round, and it would make it real "idiot knitting" if I didn't even have to turn at the end of a row. (Believe it or not, the need for idiot knitting was the reason I started this sweater.) Finally, I don't like knitting back and forth on circulars, but straight needles that are 2.5mm are too flexible for me to enjoy, considering the way I stick one needle under my arm to knit. I'm currently in consultation with Susanna and a couple of other clever knitters, but I was wondering what you think.

Five Questions

1. How important do you feel it is to "stick with tradition" and execute patterns with a history in a way that protects that?

2. Do you worry that if we go around changing the way that things have always been done that we will lose that history?

3. Susanna has said that she thinks that garments that are split and seamed wear better and last longer, and this may be true, although my own knitting history, other knitting traditions (like fair isle, or Norwegian sweaters that are knit in the round and steeked) and another clever knitter I've been emailing with all suggest that may not be true. Dale's hold up really well, and there's not a seam in sight. Do you think that seams are important for wear?

4. Some garments need seams for structure. Woe betide the knitter who takes the side seams out of a heavy aran, for she takes some of the integrity of the sweater with her. The garment, without the seams to strengthen them easily stretch out of shape. The bohus sweaters, however, are very, very lightweight. If a sweater does not need seams for structure or integrity, can you think of any other reason to have them?

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I found some batteries. That's the whole yoke.

5. Do you think I'm thinking about a sweater too much, am in danger of being called "overly focussed" again and just need to make up my mind and knit the thing, because seriously, this is not a huge issue?

Note - Added later: Some of you have noticed some issues with the blog having capacity problems. Apparently, although we do not have too many blue shirts in our closet, we open and close the door too often, and the closet owner (webhosting service) has "throttled access" to limit the number of times the door is opened and closed. Ken (without wanting to throttle anyone, which makes him a much better person than I am) is working on it. Please bear with us.

Posted by Stephanie at 11:41 AM

February 7, 2007

An artist needs limits

When I went to school, I studied fine art and english. I left school believing that I was an artist and a writer, although I had very little evidence to support either point of view. My Uncle Tupper has always said that you may use the professional term "writer" or "artist" when you have paid the rent that way... so I guess that at this time in my life I am entitled to use both terms, though having not painted for a few years, I no longer think I am an artist or...maybe I still am. Can one stop once one has started? (By the way, I think this combination of visual artist and writer is really common...anyone else out there have their interest in the arts leak through various mediums?)

For many years I painted, I drew, I had some shows, I sold some paintings... I would have starved had the income been from art alone, and I'm really glad that Tuppers definition didn't include paying the rent multiple times... but it was validating on some level to just hang up art and ask people to look at it. It would have been more validating if I had sold fewer paintings to my relatives and more to complete strangers, but you can't have everything. When I was very young, still in school, I was a realist.

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Not unusual. Many artists begin as realists, it's the safest form of painting and drawing, and certainly the easiest to put in public. Both the artist and the viewer can tell (with very little emotional or intellectual effort) whether or not it is good. If it is good, it looks real. That foot really looks like a foot....good art. That hand looks like an octopus in heat...bad art. The limit of asking the artist to render real life accurately fences them in and makes making art easier.

Now, many artists continue to use realism as their limit for the rest of their careers. Nothing wrong with that. Obviously Michelangelo and Jules Bastian-Lepage were not any less great for sticking with realism for their whole careers. I however, did not stick to it very well. As of 5 years ago it was obvious (probably because of the shaky grasp on reality that all mothers have during those trying early years.) that I was beginning to enjoy the idea and images around fracturing realism. I still needed a limit (as I believe most artists do) to avoid being overwhelmed by an idea and to keep it reined it enough to make it possible.

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It's a snowflake. Somewhat departed from reality, reined in by a monochromatic palette (one colour) and strictly controlled by the lines.
Forgive these photos by the way. They are digital images of old photos of paintings long gone. They lack the detail and straight lines that I like to believe were present in the paintings.

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This one's trees. (Trust me. It is.)

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Mosques. You can see that by the time I got to Mosques, I was obviously using only the suggestion of realism as my limit and relying more heavily on geometric form.
It should come as no surprise then, that this:

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Was next. Pure geometric limit with no realism left at all. Just colour and line.
That limit was eventually pushed even further to this one:

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Which is really just a colour study, using only a palette of colour as the limit.
(I admit that I didn't even control myself entirely there...there's a gold in that painting that is nail polish ripped off from one of the kids.)

Where am I going with all of this? Glad you asked. (I was starting to wonder myself there for a minute.) My point is that every artist limits their work in some way. Even the most avant garde artist bent on breaking down every perceived barrier or limit ends up needing to fence an idea in eventually, or they would never be able to call a piece "finished" and move on. Since I am not painting right now, but writing, I satisfy a great deal of my visual need for art and colour with knitting. What I am knitting is important to me, not just because it is expressive (and making something always is, even if it's a washcloth) but because it keeps me in touch with colour, flow, line and artistic limits. Knitting has a natural set of limits. (It needs to be done on needles, it needs to be done with a continuous "thing" be it yarn or string or chain...) and it gives me a chance to divine new limits for myself, and sometimes I don't even know what they are until I've been doing it for a while.

Apparently, and I should have noticed this some time ago, or certainly when Ryan pointed out to me at the Market at Madrona that what little stash I was buying was the same colourway over and over again, just in different forms...

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When I got to choose my colourway in the mitten class:

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When I got to choose my own colours in the plying class:

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or as I have been knitting the Bohus, I should have noticed that I have a new limit I am working within.

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Clearly I am choosing to express myself these days, by working within the limited palette of

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Appliance colours from the 70's.
Sigh. I was hoping for more depth.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:40 PM

February 6, 2007

Stupid job.

More than anything else today I want to snuggle up and knit on my Guld Sweater.

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I'm into the colourwork and although I thought it was not possible, I love it more today than yesterday. I keep spreading it out and admiring it and smoothing it with my hand and patting the angora/wool like it is a small and endangered pet. The purl stitches amuse me to such a degree that I fear I am simple.

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Sadly, I must go to the dentist (we shall not speak of this) and work at my job, which is at least about knitting if it not actually knitting, but still pales in comparison to the wonder that is drinking coffee, watching it be cold outside and knitting the bohus. I am therefore copping out and doing a Q&A. Forgive me.

Laustin asks:

The sweater is gorgeous and the tee-tiny stiches and color work on the yoke look like they'll be very amusing to an advanced knitter such as yourself. However, I'm a tad concerned about the potential boredom level of knitting the body. Is it really miles of one color stockinette on itsy bitsy needles?

Yup. It really is, and seriously, the miles and miles of stockinette with beautiful soft yarn are the reason that I started this sweater. I can't imagine anything more pleasant for filling little moments in the day than all that plain knitting. I admit that it would be boring if I was just going to sit there and knit it, but I won't. I'll knit it on the bus, at movies, watching tv, at Knit Night....I'm really, really looking forward to it. (Yes. Feel free to quote that back to me in a few weeks when I am threatening to feed this sweater to a pack of roving Patas monkeys.)

Laurie asks:
I read "
Poems of Color" and was very impressed with the art in the Bohus. One of the things that impressed me was the way they made use of the knitters' wide range of skills. The advanced knitters would create the patterened part, and the less skilled knitters would work on the plain stockinette part.

So who's going to knit your plain stockinette?


See above. I'm saving it for myself. There's something really nice about simple things well executed. It's like...apples or bread or....some pasta dish with just olive oil and perfect tomatoes. You know?
Note: I used the Amazon link so you could get the particulars, but they seem to not have the new printing. Poems of Colour, by Wendy Keele is back in print through Interweave and available at Schoolhouse Press. I called them up yesterday (Meg Swansen answered the phone. I almost swallowed my own tongue.) and asked them to mail it. It was not (although I forgot to ask how much it was because it was Meg Swansen) $70 like at Amazon.

Annie:
Wow that sweater is unbelievable! Can't wait to see if finished. Are the instructions in English???

Yes. While the original patterns are in Swedish, when you buy them, you can get the English translation with it. Susanna does the translating, and while she doesn't charge for it, I made a donation to Knitters Without Borders equivalent to what I thought the translation was worth. You certainly don't need to do this, but I know Susanna likes it.

Jennifer:
That sweater is GORGEOUS! Is it a kit that you order straight from the maker? I would love to get myself one but I can't decipher the website. Any tips?

Dee answers her:

BOHUS KIT DATA -
Go to www.solsilke.se
Click on Kontakta mig, which will take you to an email form, which now has English translations for the boxes
Email Solveig. Her English is fine.
Credit card - some people feel comfortable emailing their credit card number, etc. I don't. I telephoned Solveig and gave her the information. Again, her English is fine. The telephone number is on the home page. International phoning was exciting for me. I know; I need a life.
Wait for your kit(s) to arrive, which, for me in northern California, was *way* quicker than I expected.
Knit happy and knit long.

kmkat:
Are those KnitPicks Options needles I see?

Correction added later... They are Knitpicks circular needles, not Knitpicks options. The options don't come down to a small enough size.

Yes ma'am. I like them very well. The pointedness pleases me deeply and profoundly. Also, I like shiny things. (Oh dear. I am simple, aren't I ?)

Posted by Stephanie at 11:14 AM

February 5, 2007

Four minutes

That's how long, on foot- it takes to get to the grocery store, but Joe and I were just sitting here discussing how we could possibly avoid it. (There's no way to avoid it. Dinner would just be too strange made from what we have left and we're going to run out of toilet paper.) Over the last few weeks the temperature here in Toronto has become - well. Normal...and this morning when I woke up only sheer force of will got me up and into the frosty house. Our furnace is very old, and while it is very fuel efficient, it was never meant to heat the whole house...there are no ducts in the rooms where there used to be woodstoves, for example ("used to be" is a very important part of that sentence) and the ancient beast truly groans along when the temperature gets into the -30 range. (Yes, it has occurred to me that the reason it is so efficient is because it is only heating half of the freakin' house.)

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At -30 the girls willingly wear hats and mitts and scarves and longjohns under their pants to go to school. Exposed skin freezes in fewer minutes than it takes to walk there and they are Canadian. They know that frostbite is not good looking. Amanda was laughing today as she put on her layers. She has a new friend in her class, a recent immigrant from Africa, and as she was telling him that he was going to need hats and a scarf for this week, that soon it would be very, very cold, she mentioned -20 to -40 as common for this time of year and he laughed. Laughed and laughed. Thought for sure she was having him on. "Amanda" he giggled "it only gets that cold in the Arctic sometimes."

I asked Amanda what she had said to him then. "Welcome to Canada" was her reply.

I avoid going out when it gets like this. I hate the cold. Hate. It. There are not enough layers in all the world to make me happy outside when it gets to be this cold. Up to about -20 I can consider happiness, swathed in hats and scarves and longjohns and long undershirts and thermal tops and hoods, I contemplate skating and winter walks in High Park...but the minute the windchill takes it down a millimetre past that I can't do it. I go outside...since the whole world is out there, but I don't like it, and I sure don't go for fun. Every bit of my being tells me that these are the days to make tea, cook soup, bake bread and hunker down, taking refuge in all my warm soft wool, waiting for the big ball of fire in the sky to be worth something to me again.

There's no point fighting your instincts, so I finished these:
(As an aside, you can tell I finished these a few days ago because the snow clinging to them is "warm snow". You know, the fluffy bigger stuff? The snow we have now is "cold snow" and it's small and gritty and squeaky. Far less attractive to pose with mittens.)

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The Delicato mitts, modified to fit my wee hands, Alchemy Alpaca Pure, colour 35e- Fauna.

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These are an absolutely genius idea and were pressed into service immediately. I don't know if they are useful on their own in this climate, but as a layer put on under your full mittens, they make boarding the TTC, opening a door, taking out your keys - all slightly less painful. All those times when you have to pull off your mittens to perform an urban function? These are brilliant for reducing the amount of skin that has to be out in the open.

That done, I went into the stash and came out with a box I've been saving. Something the colour of sunshine.

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Oh yes.

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Yes.

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Bohus. Bohus with soft, soft, super warm wool (50%angora, 50% wool) hand-dyed by Solveig Gustafsson. The Bohus movement was a solution to the depression in Sweden in the 1960s...you can read more about it here if you like, (or here at the Bohusläns Museum) and the garments are truly unique. Hand knit on tiny needles (2.5mm are the "larger" needles in the pattern) out of yarn that duplicates the original fine yarn (it knits to a gauge of 34 stitches to 10cm) and the patterns have purl stitches incorporated into the intricate and beautiful yoke patterns. This kit is "Guld" and I love it with a stinking unholy passion that burns brighter than a thousand glowing afterburners on Colonial Raptors.

There's a picture of the finished sweater on Solviegs website. (I couldn't figure out how to link to that page. Go here, then click on "Nyheter" at the top, then look for "Guld" among the examples of the kits that she has recreated.) I'm completely enchanted and over the moon with it. The yarn is so soft and the needles are so small and it's satisfying the way that baking bread is. It can't be rushed.

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It's not hard...it's just, small.

Now. Off to the grocery store before the snow comes. Have any Canadians out there figured out how to get salad greens home before they freeze?

Posted by Stephanie at 10:17 AM

February 2, 2007

Silent Poetry Reading

Today marks the Second Annual Brigid in Cyberspace Silent poetry reading. (Good name) Last year I shared some of the work of my favourite poet. (I have a few others, like Edna St. Vincent Millay, Isabella Valancy Crawford, Daisy Zamora or other women with long or unusual names.) This poet however, continues to capture my imagination, mostly because I find him a person who is frequently a surprise.
This poet, Joseph Dunphy, is my father-in-law.

If there were a contest that I held in the world, a contest to pick sensible men, my father-in-law would be a fine contender. He makes good decisions. He manages money well. He is responsible. He is the sort of man who knows how to fix a leak quickly and will not swear while he does it. He will also not sweat. I have never heard him raise his voice. He wears clean clothes. He exercises regularly, wouldn't wear an un-ironed shirt, listens to the radio, and does not waste time. He is respected by his co-workers and excels at his job. He is a dearly loved father and husband. If you look up the word "steadfast" in the dictionary, Joe Sr. is there.

I understand now that I am making him sound boring, and for that I'm very sorry, because Joe Sr (like the Joe Jr I married) is one of the least boring men that has ever lived. He is not at all what he seems. In exchange for putting in the time to get to know him, you can find out some pretty remarkable things. Like he found a way to finagle himself the purchase of some hand knit socks I did not make. Like he would only eat leftovers if you let him. I think he would eat pickled anything. A huge passion lies in him for St. John's harbour. He's a little weird about the fridge and though he has little to say in person, he's pretty verbose on the phone. One time early in our relationship he called me cross-Canada about some video on MTV he was watching, made me change the channel and watch it with him and then wanted to discuss the fact that some of the people in the video were naked and dancing. It was like being transported to some alternate universe, considering that up until then most of our conversations had been me babbling like an idiot and him saying "Alright then."

Inexplicable. The biggest discovery was finding out that he was writing poetry. Good poetry. Tons of it. Working at it, researching it....passionate, loving, enormously gripping thoughtful poetry. I think the whole family was speechless. It was like having your favourite rock, a good sturdy rock, suddenly split open and reveal a universe of sparkling gems. Who knew?

Well, one person maybe. (Though I think she was pretty stunned herself.) Carol, his wife. Carol and I share something in common, something that the rest of the family will wonder at, I think. We are both married (she to the father, me to the son) to deeply, deeply odd men, men as odd as fish, who are not at all what they seem. At all.

Joe (both Sr and Jr) tromp around the world doing their business in their own strange ways, looking for all the world like one kind of man, while revealing only in the intimacy of their closest, most secret relationships...these otherworldly surprises. Men who seem brusque are tender, men who occasionally appear too private are found to be close personal friends with a hamster, and men who do little or no public revealing are found to be writing very good poetry. In honour of that, the stunning element of surprise in some people, Joe Dunphy (the senior) is this year's poet. Again.

Yellow

The house gets a fresh coat
Of paint every fall, even though
I am old. It helps me to recall

Amid the waning light
Mother at the stove, steam rising
From soups and stews, and water boiling

The brook running, gurgling,
The water hoop, the metal tub
In the kitchen, her hands in my hair.

Father reaming the stem
Of his pipe with a stiff bristle,
Flat cut strips of tobacco nestled

Lightly in a blue tin,
His hand cupped loosely round the bowl
The matchbox tamping, the silver spoon.

How, after rosary, when
The pipe was lit and mother slipped
Stitches on smooth needles, they would talk

Of black backs glistening in
Ice-green waters, fine mists falling,
Ripe fruits lying low in the fen, sweet

In dappled days now gone
For them and me. So, I paint it
Yellow, it reminds me of sunshine!

-Joseph Dunphy

Posted by Stephanie at 12:39 PM

February 1, 2007

The Mittens of Rovaniemi

Warning: This post is picture heavy. My sincere apologies to my friends on dial-up.

While I was at Madrona, I was lucky enough not just to teach some classes, but to have enough holes in my schedule that I could take a couple. (This is a job perk that to a knitter, is the equivalent of having a company car. It rocks.) My favourite was The mittens of Rovaniemi, with Susanna Hansson. Now, by way of disclaimer, Susanna and I are friends. (Or, I think we are. If we are not, she is doing a very good job of making me feel that way and I'd rather not have any illusions shattered.) I admit that one of the motivations for taking her class was that I would get to be in a room with her, and that doesn't happen real often, she being in Seattle and me being in Toronto.
The second motivation was that the last time I was with her in Seattle, she had showed me these incredible mittens from Lene Alve in Finland,

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and when I had tried to ponder out by what magic they had been knit, Susanna had declined to tell me, saying that it was A) too complex to show me over lunch and B) the only thing she had to dangle out as a carrot to get me to take her class where she would teach this.
I was gripped.

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Now, what those are, and I imagine that you cannot quite grasp this just yet, is mittens, knit in several colours in the round, in intarsia, only continuing in the round (never turning back to purl), without carrying any colour at any time (with the exception of the base colour) and without ever twisting them together. They break all the rules. All of them. I'm going to show you some pictures of how this happens, but I'm not going to tell you exactly how to do it because it is A) too complex to show you over lunch and B) the only thing she has to dangle out as a carrot to get you to take her class where she would teach this.

Before Susanna started, she gave us a little historical and cultural context, and tried to divine how it is that Rovaniemi, Finland might have come up with this unique approach. (Credit where credit is due here, Susanna owes much of her knowledge to Lene, who actually lives there and puzzled the thing out with her. Lene is, in case you are unfamiliar with her, a genius and an artist.) She drew a parallel between this sort of knitting and weaving, which was totally lost on me until Susanna showed us a mitten in progress.

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That knitting needle holding the yarns holds them like that the whole time, without them ever becoming tangled. (If you do it right. Mine got tangled once or twice as I learned this brand of knitting voodoo.) The class was marked as "advanced" and I was stunned to discover that we were a room of advanced knitting students all being challenged to learn. Susanna is a very good teacher, since none of us ran ourselves through or threatened to put needles in our eyes. (I realized that it was a really hard thing when I listened to Karen Alfke, sitting in front of me doing Yoga breathing - or maybe it was Lamaze, to get through a row.)

They are knit with that seriously lovely Finnish yarn Satakieli (No. I can't pronounce it either, but it's good yarn.) and (in my case) 1.5mm needles. (That's size 000 for my American friends.) This is enough to make you a little bit woozy, and Susanna, in her infinite wisdom, had decided that approaching this challenge - difficult knitting on tiny needles with wee yarn, would be rendered insurmountable if you hated the colours, let each of us choose our colourways from her stash.

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At least half of the fun of this class was watching people pick their colours. (It was remarkable how many knitters chose yarn to match their outfit.) Then we coloured our charts to match our choices -

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and went forth. It was stunning. It was compelling. It was clever and addictive and the cumulative sound (it's very quiet) of 18 knitters completely resetting their brains was boggling. There was no chatting. There was no conversation. There was only the silence of learning and deep thinking and the occasional expletive. (I am guilty of that.) I paid very careful attention, since while I could execute the technique (after a while) I was extraordinarily concerned about dropping a stitch, since I knew for certain that there was no way I would ever pick it up accurately again.

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Just looking at the work, how would you ladder back up a mistake? I was careful to avoid this dilemma. Once you get the hang though, once you integrate the new way of doing things, it was not doing this manouver that was hard....it was stopping. A portion of the patterned part of the mitt demands the effort, a part does not. I know that I wasn't the only person in the room who, when confronted with an ordinary knit stitch that didn't need special treatment...stared at it like we had never seen it before. Knitters kept just....stopping.

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Every once in a while someone would stop and look at exactly what they were doing, puff up with pride and wonder and smile gleefully.
We put them all together on a table at the end (nobody finished, naturally, even though we were doing mere wristlets instead of full mittens) and the sight of them all together gobsmacked all of us.

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The strands, the ends! The size of the plan....the potential for disaster....

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it was huge. (Not one person had a tangle, thanks to the freakish knitting needle weaving thing. Ever knitter picked their cuff back up our of this orgy of strands and walked away unharmed. Wild.) I snapped this picture while we were at it.
Three knitters working the same pattern, with the same yarn, on the same size needles.

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If anyone ever asks you if you think gauge matters much, think that shot over.

I finished my cuff at home this morning:

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and I admired the way this technique leaves you with an inside as beautiful as the outside:

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I reflected on something Susanna had told us. She had travelled to Finland to learn this. She and Lene had worked hard to turn it into something teachable, they had prepared all the handouts, worked up the charts, done the reseach...amassed the yarn and taught the class and at the end of the whole thing...when Susanna was done teaching this to the 18 people in her class, Susanna figured that this meant, herself included and to the best of her knowledge, that since this was the first time she had taught it, that there were now 19 people in North America who now knew how to make the Mittens of Rovaniemi.
It's an honour. The world is shrinking all the time.

Posted by Stephanie at 2:19 PM