"The Nation's Leading Bi-Regional Knitting Blog" --Ann's husband • "Kay sure is wasting a lot of time on this" --Kay's husband

September 30, 2003

Mason-Dixon Mailbag

Dear Kay,

One mission of Mason-Dixon Knitting is to give voice to the voiceless, to champion the unheralded, to honor the creativity and talent of those too modest and too busy actually having a life to blog endlessly about their knitting. And so, selflessly, we blog for them.

Our Rowanette friend in Boston, Benedetta, knits like a fiend, knits Kaffe Fassett for fun and relaxation. The headbonker China Clouds is next on her plate. In her sleep one night she cranked out this fantastically hip eyelet skirt (NOTE: wristlet alert in this link) in recycled denim from the summer issue of Knitty:

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She writes: "I followed blindly the instructions, which were for one size, without even swatching, so I guess I was lucky and the pattern/yarn forgiving. It is knitted in 2 equal pieces, with seams at the sides. Just as well, since I can't manage circulars." I find that hard to believe.

Very cool. Please note the righteous bed of chard flourishing in the background. Maybe if I ate chard the way Ben does, I'd be modeling this eyelet skirt and not some giant shapeless shawl?

Thanks, Ben, for upping the cool quotient of Mason-Dixon Knitting.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 12:19 PM | Comments (11)

September 29, 2003

KayCam on the Streets of...the Bronx

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Dear Ann,

This is what you would certainly call a tender pic. It shows my friend Judy cradling her 1-month-old granddaughter, Lily, on the stoop of my brother-in-law's family's home in the North Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. This is a tree-lined neighborhood of Tudor-style brick homes built in the 20s and 30s, perhaps best defined by the fact that one would plant oneself with one's newborn grandchild on the stoop, the better for passersby to admire and kvell. Since my brother-in-law's wife has declared that she intends to be carried out of this house at the end of a long and full life (i.e., they're never moving), I hope that one day I will be sitting on this very stoop with a grandchild or great-niece or -nephew, hoping like heck that a neighbor will walk by.

Now Ann, I know you're thinking, nice photo, excellent PR for the Bronx, but where's the knitting angle?

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Judy is a knitter. She made this heirloom blanket for little Lily from a pattern that a friend's mother had used, years ago, to make four blankets for her four grandchildren, who are all grown up now. The blanket consists of 48 squares, which are sewn together to make the flowers and textured design. Here's some detail, without the glaring flash (blankets don't move--I'm learning how to work this thing!).
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Thanks to Judy for sharing her blanket and her beautiful granddaughter, and for all those challahs on all those holidays (Judy is an ace baker also).

Love, Kay

P.S. Wish I had a better photo of Judy, but in every single shot she was looking away from the camera to maintain unbroken eye contact with Lily, as required by the Shop Rules of the International Grandmothers Union.

Posted by Kay at 11:40 AM | Comments (10)

A Final Word on Birch

Dear Kay,

When I finish a project, I like to make a 3 x 5 card with the top ten things I learned while making it. OK so I don't make a 3 x 5 card, and I don't actually sit around and try to improve myself. But it does seem that enough folks are trying Birch that I really ought to, in the Red Tent Sisterhood of Knitters sort of way, share. Most of these things were shared with me by knitters who actually know what they're doing (including you, o psychotherapist), so I send warm positive thoughts their way.

Top Ten Things to Remember When Knitting Birch (clip n save!):

10. Make a swatch first, using a friendly and unfurry yarn. Study this swatch. Notice how the holes of the birch leaves line up. These holes are your landmarks along the way as you get started. Every other row generates a new set of holes. If your leaf holes aren't lining up, you are in what we call "trouble."

9. Use the brilliant chart by Rowanette Duc Ta. I could not have done this without the chart. I am in deep negotiation with Duc to somehow mooch this chart from her for everyone. I have offered her naming rights to Mason-Dixon Knitting and think this will tip her our way: "Duc Ta's Mason-Dixon Knitting." UPDATE: Duc Ta has kindly let us provide the chart, the KEY to Birch: Duc Ta's Beautiful Chart. And we don't even have to rename the blog.

8. Use needles with sharp points. The bamboo circulars I used were too blunt, and it was hard to do decreases because of them.

7. Cast on those 299 stitches early in the morning, after two or three cups of coffee, when your self-esteem is shiny brite. Kidsilk Haze is a weird yarn, thin and hairy.

6. Begin by knitting two rows of garter or stockinette, depending on which version of Birch you're knitting. These two rows will make it easier to start the first pattern row. I did stockinette because I thought the pattern was purtier that way. But it does mean every other row is a long, long purlfest.

5. ::Controversial:: Use stitch markers for the first repeat of the pattern. I used a ton of them--one every ten stitches--because I knew I could never get more than ten stitches out of whack. The markers made it much fidgetier to knit, but after two failed attempts, I figured slow and fidgety beat fast and really screwed up. I ditched the markers after the first repeat and felt like a faith healer had taken away my crutches.

4. After the first repeat, you will feel a) frustrated. b) unproductive. c) hateful toward whatever animal it is that generates mohair. You will, however, see a bunch of little birch leaves, and this will spur you on. Yea! Only 26 more repeats!

3. Beware two bugabears: a) The dropped decrease stitch. There are many, many decreases, and Kidsilk Haze makes it easy to think you've knit two stitches together, when in fact one of them is not caught. You find the dropped stitch three rows later, patiently sitting there because the yarn is so fuzzy that the dropped stitch doesn't go anywhere. How I fixed those dropped stitches is something I do not care to revisit at this time. b) Knitting two stitches together by mistake. The yarnovers in particular cling to the stitch beside them, so make sure they're separated.

2. Finishing: The delight at finishing cannot be overstated. Whooeeeeee! At least one Stevie Nicks-style swirl is required.

1. Blocking: Some folks don't block their Birches, and that's just fine for them. But my Birch turned into something much finer after I put a sheet on the floor and used a zillion pins. I soaked it with my Rowenta spritzer feature, and let it dry.

Good luck, y'all. You have nothing to lose but your mind.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 09:41 AM | Comments (14)

September 27, 2003

Morticia Wears Her Birch

Dear Kay,

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Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 08:02 PM | Comments (21)

September 25, 2003

Gone Cooking

Dear Ann,

I wish I could say I Have Finished Something (Alert the Media!). But every year as the Jewish New Year holiday of Rosh Hashanah approaches, my in-laws hold a secret meeting in which they vote unanimously that the festive meals (there are several) will be organized by Kay. (They will bring cake.) This gives me the chance to renew my acquaintance with that secular saint and angel, and all-around all-right gal, Julia Child. Much mixing and chopping ensues, during which I look exactly like this picture of Simone Beck:

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(I'm the one with the glasses, frowning.)

It's such a novelty that it's actually fun. Sauteeing! Braising! Sweating! Panting!

Hurry up and finish something else because people don't visit us for cooking stories. Also you must model Birch--surely it's dry by now.

Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 06:08 PM | Comments (3)

I Have Finished Something

Dear Kay,

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It's kind of cosmic, really. If you keep decreasing and decreasing, you can actually make a project disappear. Vanish, just like that! I finished Birch last night and had that dog-catches-car moment: now what?

This morning, after tenderly packing the darlings off to their hi-kwalidy preschool and second grade, I got down to brass tacks. Or pins, or whatever. We have discussed my love of blocking, the hypnotic flow state that comes with sticking pins along fourteen feet of shawl edge. I had to rent out the convention center downtown to get enough room for this thing. Three hundred pins later, I still don't think I pinned it enough, but my thumb kind of hurts now and I keep yanking the little balls off the ends of the pins.

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Reminds me of the days when Granddaddy Allen used to cure coon skins on the side of the barn. Oh, not really. I'm Alabama, but not that Alabama.

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The bug guy came through as I was waving Rowenta around in a steamy way, and he did not say a word. Man has seen it all.

I know you're thinking, Nice, Ann, but I'm still seeing a little Jemima Puddleduck in this project. What I heard from Hubbo last night was even more damning: "Creepy! Very Morticia Addams."

The heck with all a ya.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 11:52 AM | Comments (24)

September 24, 2003

The Challah Has Landed

Dear Kay,

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It is not often that a fresh-baked challah with raisins shows up on the doorstep via FedEx, wishing us a happy new year. Come to think of it, it has never happened. It's BEAUTIFUL! What a spectacular surprise from Hammy and the whole lot of ya. The ChallahCam doesn't do it justice.

We send our southern-baked new year greetings your way.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 03:46 PM | Comments (5)

The Chenille Inquisition (Part 6)

Dear Ann,

I know at this point I'm sucking all the fun out of the Elfin Knitalong for you. But what about my needs? I need a sweater in Fine Cotton Chenille and I'm not going to quit posting about it until it's a done deal.

One thing I did, after reading all that scary stuff about 'bars' appearing in chenille stitches and how to avoid them by knitting on the tippy-tips of the needles, was to attempt to do just that. Here is my swatch, a good start on the 'Rupert' colour-block scarf from The Chenille Collection:

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You can't really see it in this photo, but when you hold it up to the light, it looks like open-work. Bars aplenty. Rampant bars. And this was after my best effort to follow Rowan's bar-avoidance methodology. My conclusion: it's impossible to avoid bars. (In more ways than one.)

But that begs the question: Are bars so bad, so terrible, so wrong? The fuzziness of the chenille, its light-reflecting qualities, and its many other good points, make the bars beside the point. They are a characteristic of this yarn as knit by mere mortals, and we must accept that and move on and get cracking on my selected knitalong sweater:

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Paris! As in France! As in poodles!

As in, I'm just kidding!

What I really want, and this is my final selection, is:

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Sassy!

Sassy has a Rowan difficulty rating of only 1 skein. This means it will be the hardest thing you have ever attempted to knit, but maybe not. It requires only 7 skeins of luxurious Fine Cotton Chenille (which we should start calling FCC just to draw communications wonks to our blog by mistake). OK, it does require you to do lots of ribbing, which I know you hate under the best of circumstances, but remember, we are viewing this knitalong as a Zen journey of spiritual growth. Like the humble oyster, we are going to transform our irritants (Kid Silk Haze ruffles, for example), into lustrous, if irregular, pearls.

You are not going to keep ripping out in search of rib perfection. It is all going to fuzz together in a fabulous Sassy cardi for your pal, who will enjoy it for life and leave it to someone very special in her Last Will and Testament (Codicil No. 1: Knitting). (By which I mean: Lis, who has shared with me that in case of my sudden demise, she will be at my apartment immediately to sort through my personal effects. Weeping and keening, to be sure! That's what friends are for. Thanks Lis!)

The FCC is in the mail, with the pattern!
Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 10:59 AM | Comments (8)

September 23, 2003

Two Degrees of Separation?

Dear Kay,

So I'm doodling along reading some of my favorite blogs, and I'm having a browsefest at CurlsandPurlsNYC, enjoying Lis's photos of last weekend's New York City Knit Out. Lis, being curly haired as she is, snapped a picture of an equally curly-headed knitter, and posted it on her curly-haired blog.

As I idly look at this "Linda" person and wonder what pattern she's wearing, it occurs to me, I know that person. It's Linda, for heaven's sake, my old knitting-maniac publishing pal Linda whom I haven't seen in ten years. Here's "Linda," as she appeared last weekend in Union Square:

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Here is my friend Linda K., circa May 12, 1990. That would be my wedding day, when she was in Nashville to help me through my nuptials:

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So, forensic photographic detectives, whaddya think? Am I right? Is Pink Sweater Linda the very same one who knit this ultracute eggplant hat for my baby in 1996?

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(When was my seven year old ever this small?)

Love,
Ann


Posted by Ann at 05:26 PM | Comments (6)

September 22, 2003

Oy, I'm Getting a Pain

Dear Kay,

Moss-stitch chenille? All I can figure is that you have grown to love my endless bitching and moaning and have been casting about for the project that will most likely generate the maximum whimpering from me.

It would be a great pleasure, along the lines of cleaning out gutters, to make this for you. Especially because you'll be hating Kidsilk Haze on the Elfin you're doing for me. We can have a Whine-Off.

Some production notes: From which Rowan does this come? If it's from one of the eBay Pricebuster Fresh-from-the-Smithsonian early issues, you'll need to send the pattern. I have to put kids through college, you know.

How much Fine Cotton Chenille does it need? I have ten skeins in the most delicious soft chartreuse/apple green called Catkin, a shade that suits us of the Formerly Blonde persuasion. (It's softer than it appears in the shade card.) If you want to provide the chenille, then we MUST work out some stash-balancing adjustment, because you're already in the hole for the Felted Tweed for my Elfin WITH TEN MILES OF KIDSILK HAZE in it. (When the bars start showing up between my moss stitch, and my pile is going in the wrong direction, I'll just remind myself that you're knitting with hair and I could have it worse.) I have plenty o' Felted Tweed in Arctic (a lighter gray) and Willow (a hay color) if you're jonesing for more. Failing that, I plenty o' just about anything except Handknit DK Cotton, because you have cornered the market on it.

Thank GAWD you came to your senses and ditched that simple, straightforward pattern and that giant, spongy, forgiving yarn. Hardship! Bring it on! What is life but toil and strife!

Love,
Ann

P.S. Have you come to any conclusions on the colourway for Elfin?

Posted by Ann at 09:44 AM | Comments (8)

So I'm Fickle

Dear Ann,

Been doing some thinking this weekend about the very serious matter of what we're knitting for each other in the CurlsandPurlsNYC knitalong. Particularly what you're knitting for me.

I took a look at my initial selection, a pattern in last year's 'Knit It!' Mag for a cardi called 'Hippy Chic'. To tell you the truth, it was just too damn easy. For starters, the button band was knit right on, which would deprive you of the existential angst of figuring out just how 'slightly' to 'slightly stretch' the separately knit-on buttonband as required by those demonic designers at Rowan. Also, it was 18 stitches over 4 inches in a well-behaved yarn (All Seasons Cotton), and in (yawn) stocking stitch. I know you like to use MUCH smaller needles, my fidgety little friend, and I remember how much you enjoyed getting used to Linen Drape in our last one-on-one exchange. (By 'getting used to', I mean 'hating and cursing.') Plus, I recently gave myself a stern talking-to about the urgent need for de-stashing before anybody (and by 'anybody', I mean a tall, cuddly and indulgent person known as the Big Adorable) discovers that Liberty bag in the closet--and I had no ASC in stash in the appropriate quantity.

All of which brings us to your mission, should you choose to accept it. I give you:

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Florence!

Before any freaking out occurs, let me tell you just a few of the reasons that Florence has a helluva lot going for her.

a. She's 'vintage' Rowan. This pattern is from The Chenille Collection, which is hard to find anymore. We all know they're going to discontinue this yarn any minute. So it's an honor and a privilege to be entrusted with a bag of the stuff.

b. She's in Fine Cotton Chenille, in a soothing navy blue that is probably called something not at all suggestive of navy blue.

Here's what the Information Page says on the subject of "Knitting With Chenille":

"Getting the tension correct when knitting with chenille can be difficult. Knitters often get a bar between each stitch [huh?] making the knitting too open. This is because the pile does not allow the yarn to re-adjust itself on the needles, so the stitch has to be created in a more precise way. [Uh-oh!] If you run your finger tips down a length of chenille you will feel the pile is smoother one way than the other, so when knitting you will find it much easier if the pile is going away from your knitting rather than towards it and also unlike knitting fairisle where you spread your stitches to keep the work elastic [who knew?], when knitting with chenille keep the stitch just knitted close to the tip of the right hand needle and then work the next stitch close up to it."

Got that? As you would say, 'Clip 'N Save'.

c. She's only rated 2 Rowan 'skeins', and therefore, as any fool knows, is 'suitable for the average knitter'. I know you're up to it! Although, looking at the instructions, I note that there is a 'Left Back Panel', a 'Centre Back Panel', and a 'Right Back Panel' which, I'm guessing, have to be joined in the correct formation. Whoo-ee!!

d. It's in Moss Stitch. You love Moss Stitch.

e. I'm going to love it and wear it all the time and give you all the credit.

Let me know if there's a problem.

Love, Kay

P.S. Florence was photographed on location at The Manor, Hemingford Grey, Huntingdon. It's the oldest continuously inhabited house in Britain (which explains the stack of magazines behind Florence)! The upstairs hall echoes with nine centuries of family conversations! Does that make you feel better?

Posted by Kay at 12:02 AM | Comments (11)

September 19, 2003

Your Swatch Is Ready

Dear Ann,

I hate to interrupt our regularly scheduled rodent programming, but in yesterday's mail I got your Birch remnant in Kid Silk Haze, shade "Lord" (that's missing a 'y' at the end, don't you think?), which you wanted me to check out for the ruffles on the Elfin I'm knitting for you in the CurlsandPurlsNYC knitalong. At first I thought it was too blue for the charcoal Felted Tweed we had in mind. I swatched up some of the charcoal, and voila:

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OK, needless to say I need to go down a needle size as my 23 stitches are 11 cm wide instead of 10, but could we just get off my back about that for a minute? In the pic, the Felted Tweed reads a little browner and duller than it is, but I think the combo is perfect. The Lord (the yarn, not THE Lord) tones down the brown flecks in the charcoal, picks up the blue flecks, and will give an overall midnight blue aura to Elfin Ann's Way. I say it's a go but of course it's your call. Will post the swatch for your review.

As always, we appreciate your business.

The next round of Buffaritas is on me. Here's to Buffy!

Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 12:41 PM | Comments (4)

Hurricanes, Beaverpotamuses, and Yarn

Dear Kay,

I finally just heard from sister Buffy, who weathered (and I mean weathered) the hurricane yesterday in Norfolk, Virginia. She and her adorables live right on the Elizabeth River, which somehow connects with every other body of water in that land of geographic weirdness. (I never know what direction I'm going when I'm in the car with her.) At the worst she had water completely surrounding the house, with the flood up to the fifth of her seven front door steps. The garage become an indoor swimming pool, but no water got into the house. In classic Buffy fashion, the beer flowed and the fishing off the back steps was fine. "I've never had whitecaps in the back yard," she said.

I predict someday they'll name a hurricane for her. Or at least a cocktail.

Dept. of Rodent Affairs

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In other news, not to gross anybody out, but the Times today reports discovery of an ancient rodent fossil. A fossil of a 1,500-pound rodent. The artist's rendering suggests a cross between a beaver and hippopotamus. If our dear little Hammy and Squeaker are giving anyone the queasies, imagine one of these peeking in your window.

Oh, and Knitting

I stopped in at Angel Hair Yarn Company yesterday to look for A Yorkshire Fable, which is slow to show its face over on this side of the Atlantic. Have you seen it yet? I'm itching to get hold of it.

I had a great visit with one of the head Angels, Pam, and with the delightful Morgan, who it turns out is the Fiber Addict. With a layout designed by none other than our own Becky. Who knew? It was so funny to be talking in a nonvirtual way to someone I already know in a bloggy way. Shows what happens when I finally get my act together enough to check in at the LYS. I Need To Get Out More.

Love,
Ann


Posted by Ann at 11:28 AM | Comments (5)

September 17, 2003

Creatures of the Night

Dear Ann,

The wait is over.....

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Here is Hammy, the World's Most Anti-Social Furry Pet! We got him in June, and this pic captures him on September 17, the first time he permitted himself to be held and petted, as befits a pet, without screeching hysterically or otherwise acting weird. Your Squeaker may have the physical advantage in this matchup, but Hammy is the Robert de Niro ('You talkin' to me?') of the hamster world. Be very afraid.

Not scared yet? Get a load of these!

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My pal Lis and I were out shopping last night and stopped in at ABC Carpet & Home, NYC's outrageously overpriced kitsch-o-rama. On the main floor, no less, we came across these "wristlets". They are knitted and/or crocheted confections of crappy yarn, felted to a twizzle--and such a bargain at 95 bucks (that's dollars U.S.!!). And to think you could get a bag of beautiful Noro or Rowan, at retail, for that. Has the world gone completely mad?! (Yes.) Lis and I chose to entertain the staff by doing an impromptu photo shoot, with Lis modeling the fab gauntlets.

What were we out shopping for, you ask, my curious friend?? Let's just say, 'personal illumination devices'. Flashlights, rockclimbing headgear-- you know. I tried to get the adorable salesboy at Paragon Sports to believe that I'm just another amateur spelunker-slash-Manhattan mom, who requires a lightweight lamp to wear on her forehead--no big deal. But Lis gave it up right away that my plan is to knit in the dark. Unfazed, the guy told us he sells them all the time to people who want to read, or barbeque, or whatever, in the pitch black. Lights on your head: they're not just for spelunking anymore!

I've been knitting along, but nothing that's ready for prime time. I'm on the last sleeve of the Core denim jacket from Rowans 21 and 29, in the Memphis shade, for myself--plenty of fiddling and sewing-up ahead. In fact, the sewing-up pile is wobbling these days. I fully intend to get to it....

Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 11:33 PM | Comments (18)

Tidbits 'n' Knicknacks

Dear Kay,

A quick peek at what's going on here. I have to attend a luncheon for "parents" (aka mothers) who will be helping with stuff around David's school.

Birch on the tenth repeat:

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Grinding through a quickie Wool Cotton v neck pullover for son David. Simu-sleeve action with Jack n Eddie. The knit/purl zigzag pattern will begin in a few rows, so the pattern will carry across the front, back, and sleeves:

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And a visitor to the garden. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, this is the second year that these fantastic caterpillars have set up camp in my bronze fennel. Someone please identify what this fella turns into:

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The colourway surely could be some kind of sweater, don't you think? I'm naming this caterpillar Kaffe.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 11:57 AM | Comments (18)

September 16, 2003

Yoo Hoo Department

Dear Ann,

First of all, I'm sure you'll join me in sending a big yoo-hoo out to our friend Yvonne in London, for letting us be the first on our respective blocks to have the first issue of the UK's new, and apparently only, knitting magazine, called 'Knitting'. (The collector in me is hyperventilating, to have the first issue of anything--quel thrill! ) For their first issue they really made an effort and included some lovely things including the first Kaffe pattern that I think might strike your fancy as something you, yes you, might actually wear. It's an understated-for-Kaffe jacket called 'Provence'. (To those just tuning in, at MDK we are on a first-name basis with both Country Music Hall of Famers and Major Deities of Knitting; they don't know who the heck we are, but we are on a first name basis with them).

Thank you Yvonne!

And what would a yoo-hoo be without a gratuitous pic of my latest project?
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This little still life is going to be a scarf/shawl/drapey-shoulder-thing called 'Anntorp' from Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton's book of Noro designs. I'm using a different color of of Noro Iro (left over from the bag I made for last spring's Rowan International exchange), and substituting 4 colors of Cash Iroha for the Silk Garden, since this project is all about virtuous stash-busting. I figure, on #15 needles, and in such gorgeous colors, what could be bad? It's time to get the teacher-present-machine cranked up again!

Yoo-hoo! Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 11:50 AM | Comments (8)

September 15, 2003

The News From Gee's Bend

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Dear Ann,

Here's the current status of Bricklayer (my knitted tribute to one of Loretta Pettway's quilts from the Whitney Museum's Quilts of Gee's Bend exhibit last spring). At last count, 7 rounds of those courthouse steps had been knitted. Only 3 or 4 more to go, but it's a long way around at this point.

Sunday night, faced with a 2 hour ride in the way-back rumble seat of the family vehicle, I decided to try some Extreme Knitting. I grabbed Bricklayer -- endless garter stitch, around and around-- and knitted away on it in the pitch darkness. All was cool until it was time to cast off the strip. What to do? Put it back in the bag and squander a perfectly good hour of knitting time? No way!! I fished out of my purse my trusty emergency mini-Mag-lite, held it in my mouth, and cast off, say, 150 stitches. Then, I had to hold the light in my mouth as I picked up another approximately 150 stitches on the other side. Can you spell 'certifiable'?? It was the sort of feat only a triathlete of our craft could even attempt. Really, though, it's time to research the miner's hat for these late-night car rides--I used to think wearing a light on my head would be too weird, but after holding one in my teeth I'm thinking, it's a fine line and it seems I've crossed it. Definitely crossed it.

A word about the Mag-lite. Naturally, I came up with the great idea of carrying a flashlight in my purse only after the blackout, when I was thinking about what I would have done if I had been in the subway or an elevator with the tykes when the lights went out. My practical pal Lis has had a mini-Mag-lite on her key chain since 9/11, and it helped her walk down many flights of stairs in the dark during the blackout. It's a cool thing. A talisman against scary situations, and the new essential for the knitting bag.

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Summer is over. Hurricane Isabel is en route. The languid beach knitting days of 2003 are over.
Bummer!
xox Kay

Posted by Kay at 01:22 AM | Comments (18)

September 13, 2003

What's Doing in: Tbilisi

Dear Kay,

New! Easy! World travel without actual travel!

My brother Clif has taken off for another of his elaborate journeys. He is in Soviet Georgia for the next five months, along with his wife and their young son Wilson. Clif is an artist, and he'll be working on a new book. Mary Neal, a book designer and editor, will be doing whatever editing she can scrounge, and Wilson will be wandering and absorbing all things Tbilisi. They're keeping a blog of their trip: Living with Caucasians. It's fascinating. So far, I'm thinking the major challenges will be: 1. The language. 2. Being pale in a not-pale country. 3. Avoiding descent into sodden, spongy alcoholism.

Mary Neal has been hired as Mason-Dixon Knitting's Senior Correspondent for Caucasian Fiber Arts. We hope to have a report once she gets good at saying "deelahmshveedohbeesah." That would be "good morning."

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 10:15 AM | Comments (2)

September 12, 2003

The House of Cash

Dear Kay,

I awoke this morning to find that Johnny Cash died in the middle of the night.

I've been worrying about him recently. I feel about him the way I feel about George Jones--how long can a guy keep going, somebody who's been so hard on himself for so long?

In Nashville, we call country singers by first name. When Tammy died in 1998, I watched the funeral on TV. The day I heard about Waylon's death last year, it made me think of my sister's childhood friendship with his daughter Jenny. When Johnny's fabulous wife June died this spring, I felt the same seismic lurch that everyone felt: how could Johnny survive without her?

I've been singing "Ring of Fire" all day. June wrote it, not Johnny. Last week I saw a documentary in which she talked about the day she met Johnny Cash. She felt like she'd fallen into a ring of fire.

Years ago, when I had just moved back home to Nashville, I drove up to Hendersonville, where Johnny lived right there on Old Hickory Lake. Big old country music star compound, big wall all the way around. With a big parking lot in front for the tourists' buses. Johnny understood about his fans.

Love, Ann

Posted by Ann at 06:36 PM | Comments (5)

Fambly Projecks

Dear Ann,

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This photo is all I could think of to say about yesterday's anniversary.

Do your darlings love to do 'projecks'? Mine do, especially if they require refinishing the floors afterwards. "Bring it on," they say. "We are products of the most advanced theories of early childhood education. Staining upholstery is essential to our cognitive and social development."

Last month, on a rainy day at the seaside, we had a solid cohort of kids, including cousins and friends, all hell-bent for projecks. Not wanting to be a party-pooper, I got out a tie-dye kit I had purchased months ago in one of those 'ain't I the greatest mom' moments that comes over me sometimes. After 17 hours of work, this is one of the results. Joseph's ratty old I Love NY t-shirt, transformed into a ratty old tie-dyed I Love NY t-shirt.

Just in case you thought I had abandoned knitting, today's projeck is sewing up my Tumbling Blocks cushion, for my friend Robby (who's 6) and his mom Pam, who have a new home to decorate in Virginia.

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Kaffe (personally, I'm sure) had selected a rather pedestrian navy & cream ticking for my cushion back. I decided Robby deserved More Fabulous Colour!--and an envelope back so that his Tumbling Blocks can easily be sent to the dry cleaner at the first sign of trouble. I fished these squares of Kaffe Fassett fabrics out of my totally superfluous mini-stash of KF fat quarters. Kaffe, waddaya think? Too purple, too matchy, a bit banal, or what?

Time to get stitching (by hand, Gee's Bending all the way!).

xOxO, Kay

Posted by Kay at 09:59 AM | Comments (10)

September 10, 2003

Pig, Nashville Style

Dear Kay,

Thought we should go ahead and share some rodent pix. I would like to point out that it was Kay who goaded me back in June to bring a guinea pig into the brood. She had just adopted Hammy the hamster and was in the throes of small furry pet love. Being the suburban type that I am, we opted for the larger-scale creature. Her cage fits right into the back seat of the Mom Bomb.

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I wouldn't call Squeaker a slow mover; I'd call her a nonmover. What kind of rodent sits stock still for hours under a towel? What kind of rodent can you photograph in low light with no flash?

David, seven years old, points out that the capybara is a rodent too, the largest in the world. A hundred pounds or so. He seemed to be agitating for one.

There is a fiber arts element to this photo. My sainted mother and equally sainted grandmother needlepointed ten chair covers sometime in the sixties. For some reason I equate the moon landing with needlepoint, Vietnam with needlepoint, Nixon with needlepoint, "Family Affair" with needlepoint. These chair covers were a part of life for many years. I'm thinking about "The Dean Martin Show" even as I gaze at it right now.

Looking forward to meeting Hammy. Hate to say it, but my rodent could take yours in a second . . .

Posted by Ann at 10:13 PM | Comments (8)

Happiness (Part 2)

Dear Ann,

It's a been a good couple of weeks at the Receiving Department here at Mason-Dixon Knitting (Northern Outpost).

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Here is the treasure trove of ancient Rowanalia that Emma sent. The photo does not do it justice. The yarn is a Collection, capital C, of Rowan Handknit DK Cotton in vintage blues and greens with those old 'Designer' Rowan labels that cause my blood pressure to rise. Despite my yeoman work in the trenches of eBay, I did not have a single one of these colors. I have spent the last week gazing at them reverently and wondering how I can possibly come up with a project worthy of such rarity.

The notebook is stuffed with many, many shade cards from the 1980s, containing minute samples of now-extinct yarns. Yarns that the likes of you and me have heard the Elders murmur about around the Rowan International campfire. By this I mean everything from the good old workhorses like Designer DK, Botany, and the famous Lightweight DK, which came in so many shades the head spins--to exotica such as Edina Ronay Silk and Wool (who was this mysterious Edina Ronay??) which creates such a frenzy when one or two balls comes up on eBay. None of your Donegal Tweed, though, which means (sharp intake of breath): these cards predate Donegal Tweed!

But there is only one Yarn of Antiquity that has caused me to go all limp and weepy at the loss, the terrible loss of it: Mulberry Silk. I've never seen anything like it. Totally saturated colors. None of that rough and brittle feel of silk blends like Summer Tweed and Jaeger Trinity (both of which I like a lot)--no, it's shiny and smooth, slippery and drapey. Luxe. Excuse me, I need a moment....

Let's just say it would be best for me to stay away from eBay until this feeling passes, because I would make mincemeat out of Wendy 12x12, or anybody else who tried to stand between me and a bag of Mulberry Silk.

Thank you, Emma. You ARE a living doll.

Love, Kay


Posted by Kay at 07:47 PM | Comments (6)

Happiness (Part 1)

Dear Ann,

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Here I am, blissed out of my ever-lovin' mind, sitting on Lis's balcony with the mother lode of Liberty sale yarns that Polly, the Nobel Prize Laureate of the knitting world, bought for me in London and lugged not only across the Atlantic, but to Manhattan from Queens, on her recent visit.

OK, I know you want to know what I got: 2 bags (2 BAGS!) of Jaeger Aqua 100% cotton, in a spinachy green; a bag of Rowan Handknit DK Cotton in Robin's Egg Blue, a bag of Felted Tweed in Charcoal; a bag of Fine Cotton Chenille in a rich navy blue and, the piece de resistance, the icing on the cake, and the best thing I have ever, ever purchased for more than 70 percent off: a BOX, a beautiful pristine BOX, of Jaeger Silk 4 ply in a silvery grey-green. I also got, absolutely free of charge and by the magnanimous good grace of Polly, a jar of Fortnum & Mason Lemon Curd, which is just the best substance you can get by the jar.

So you shouldn't wonder why I look so beatific. High on yarn and curd.

Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 06:49 PM | Comments (8)

September 09, 2003

Mason-Dixon Mailbag

Dear Kay,

Much has happened since last we co-posted the entire history of our lives: Clif's first soccer game. (Half the team decided to hang on the sideline, citing fear of the opposing team, but Fella was out there showing a surprising level of spunk.) Ninety-sixth birthday party for Hubbo's grandfather, Big Daddy. Tennessee Titans professional routing of the loathsome Oakland Raiders. I'm a wreck.

Foremost, of course, is my thrilling progress on Birch. I have decided to chronicle its development in the most painful detail possible, so here we are, 9/9/03.

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The fantastic fluffitude of Kidsilk Haze cannot be overstated.

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The fourth repeat of birch leaves is the first time one feels that perhaps the decreases might someday actually add up to a shorter row. I am proud to announce that this shawl has become my tote-along project of choice, usurping for the moment Jack 'n' Eddie, which will return to top status once I screw up Birch and drop a bunch of stitches.

Mason-Dixon Mailbag

It is fantastic to hear from our readers. I'd like to give a yoohoo to Dr. Betty Ruth Speir, a Pat Clack-level knitter down in Point Clear, Alabama, and dear family friend. I'm talking ten-sweaters-for-Christmas productivity. Knit herself an alpaca suit. Good grief! Here, to give you a sense of where she's coming from, is one of her projects:

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This is surely the first three-dimensional bear-hug sweater I've ever seen. It's as if Debbie Bliss decided halfway through a stuffed bear pattern that it needed to be a pullover. Amazing!

Much blogosity to come shortly.

Love, Ann

Posted by Ann at 09:03 PM | Comments (9)

September 04, 2003

But Enough About You (WARNING: Extreme Content)

Dear readers,

In preparation for our appearance on Oprah, Kay and I have answers to the Interview Game.

Rules of the Interview Game:
1. Leave a comment, saying you want to be interviewed.
2. We will respond by asking you five questions; No five questions will be alike!
3. You will update your website with our five questions, and your five answers;
4. You will include this explanation on your website;
5. You will ask other people who want to be interviewed five questions.
These questions are courtesy of Lis. If anybody else wants to play, let us know and we will send the first 5 people 5 questions, as per the agreement.

1. If you were at a dinner party, what course(s) would you take seconds for?

Ann: Appetizers all the way--starters, primo piatti, whatever. Tapas. Small plates of savory yum yums are what I live for. Dim sum is the perfect setup: ladies wander by with small plates of dumplings. One of my favorite moments in cinema is the scene in "Mermaids" where Cher feeds her daughters hors d'ouevres, nothing but hors d'ouevres because they're less intimidating to fix than an actual meal. Exactly, I thought. It's not really cooking if you're putting it on a toothpick.

Kay: As Lis damn well knows, I would take seconds on just about anything. But if I had to limit my second helpings to just one course, it would be the sides. Anything starchy and savoury, from porcini mushroom risotto to Kraft Macaroni and Processed Cheese Food Powder. If permitted, I would also like seconds, and beyond, on my serving of wine.

2. What is the last great book that you read?

Ann: This is the sort of question that used to curl my hair. My background is in editorial work. Book editing is why I lived in New York for five years after college: I did indentured servitude at Crown, Viking, and Summit Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint. I edited a nationally distributed book review here in Nashville for seven years called BookPage. (It still chugs along.) For many years I read enormously but would blank out the minute anyone asked me what she should be reading. I had too much in my head.

These days, I have the opposite situation--not nearly enough in my head--so it's easy to answer this question. I go into a bookstore and DON'T RECOGNIZE most of the books. The book group I used to scorn for its plebian tastes is a lot of fun, now that I'm not such a litsnob. Far and away, the last great book I read is COLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Frazier. So epic, and so intimate. I have never so utterly lived a book. I dread the movie that's coming, because the ice-hearted Nicole Kidman is the last person on earth I would cast in the role of Ada.

Kay: Not to be a LitSnob ('cause I most definitely ain't), but the last great book I've read happens to be....get this!!.....War & Peace. Yes, the one by Tolstoy. My masochistic little book club selected it long ago, and it took me several book club cycles to make my way through it, but oy! what a page-turner!! Whatta story!! I lliked it a LOT better than Anna Karenina, which was way too gloomy for my taste. And just to show you that Ann and I don't agree on everything, I didn't much care for Cold Mountain. I liked it a lot until the end, which I felt was just plain written to make sure somebody would make a movie out of it without having to rewrite the ending. Tres cinematique!

3. When was the last time you laughed so hard that you cried?

Ann: Last week I had stuck in my head the song by the talented Sheena Easton, "Morning Train (Nine to Five)."

My baby takes the morning train
He goes to work at nine and then
He takes another home again
To find me waiting for him.

Over and over, like a demented karaoke participant I sang this song. Surely this is the stupidest song ever written. I said to my husband, "You know, there really aren't a lot of songs about commuting, are there?"

To which he responded without a blink:

You get up every morning
From your alarm clock's warning
Take the 8:15 into the city
There's a whistle up above
And people pushin', people shovin'
And the girls who try to look pretty
And if your train's on time
You can get to work by nine
And start your slaving job to get your pay
If you ever get annoyed
Look at me I'm self-employed
I love to work at nothing all day
And I'll be...
Taking care of business every day
Taking care of business every way

This of course is from the talented Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Hubbo does this sort of thing all the time. Bad songs, recalled in perfect detail.

Kay: The last time I laughed so hard I cried was quite recently. I recall that I was in convulsions, and that it felt really great, but I can't for the life of me remember what I was laughing about or who I was laughing with. Doubtless it was over something silly. (Lis--Does Ann's hubbo's savant-like ability to quote 70s lyrics appropriate to any occasion remind you of anybody--i.e., our Minnesota friend Bennett??? Ann, if Hubbo recites these lyrics in a monotone, you must seriously consider the possibility that he IS, try as he might to disguise it, a big-boned, round-headed, good-looking Minnesota man with no idea how he ended up in Nashville. I'm assuming, for your sake, that Hubbo has more musicality and sings these lyrics to you. Speaking of being self-employed and the work that we avoid, let's not overlook 'That ain't working, that's the way you do it, get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.....' Dire Straits....1986 or thereabouts, the first CD I ever bought.)

The most frequent cause of laughter to the point of crying and/or wetting my pants is my own hubby's hilarious, although sadly rare, malaprops. The classic occurred some years ago. We were speeding along in our roadster (being childless at the time) and I started choking on my Diet Coke. When I recovered and was sitting there gasping for air, Hubby turned to me and said, in all seriousness, 'Geez, I thought I was going to have to use the Heimlich Remover on you back there!' Which got me giggling so hard I nearly did asphyxiate. Another one occurred in a fancy restaurant, at dessert time, when, watching his weight, he attempted to order the 'Compost of Fruits'. Yum!!! Finally, if you are really, really bad, Hubby might describe you as Evil Incarcerated. It is a wonder I have survived the fits that followed each of these pronouncements.

4. Who taught you how to knit?

Ann: Some anonymous nice lady teaching a course at the Learning Annex in New York, 1986. With publishing having ruined reading as a hobby, I was craving something nonverbal and crafty as a diversion. A few months ago I found the first sweater I ever made.

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Wool/silk, so hot that it can be worn only in the land of the Inuit. But check out the stripes! The slip stitch pattern! The warbly sleeve seams! I quit knitting in 1990 when I moved home to Nashville and got married. Started up again two years ago and, as you can tell, it's getting worse by the minute.

Kay: Who taught me how to knit? Mrs. Kilpatrick, my Camp Fire Girl leader, when I was 11 or 12. We made horrible booty-style slippers in garter stitch, with big pompoms on the toes, out of hideous orangey red acrylic yarn. I wore them proudly, as they were great for sliding on my mom's highly polished wood floors (Mom is to this day a huge polisher of surfaces, whether they need it or not). This was a great deal of fun until the day a splinter the size of 3 toothpicks managed to wedge its way through the Red Heart and required Emergency Surgery by Dr. Lill (my mom). We never made anything else, but in 1992 (let's just say this was 'decades' later), when I happened to walk into a yarn store in New York, and happened to buy a dozen skeins of some deliciously expensive handpainted merino, I simply set the time-warp channel on "Mrs. Kilpatrick, circa 1970" and found that I still remembered how to knit. The rest is history. People have been making fun of me knitting on their sofas for more than 10 years now.

5. Who is your favorite knitwear designer?

Ann: Tough to say. While I knit Kim Hargreaves more than anyone, Cherry Boobs gives her a lot to answer for. [Memo to self: check Hargreaves website to see if she apologizes anywhere for it.] All the Rowan designers are terrific; there is something interesting to me in every single issue. I am a fan of traditional silhouettes and yarns, but also like designs that make something new of old ideas. Jean Moss's Rapunzel in Rowan 34 and Connemara in Rowan 32 have been on my mind recently. They use traditional stitch patterns in new and unusual ways. A WIP I'll be getting back to soon is Kim Hargreaves' Pearl from Rowan 32. So dimensional, yet it uses only one shade of yarn and lots of traveling cables.

When I started knitting again two years ago, I very consciously decided to knit Rowan. Too many yarns in the world, overwhelming. And no other patterns were as lurvly to me. I figured after a while that I would branch out to other yarns and designers, but two years into this I haven't even begun to knit all the Rowans that I like.

A word about Kaffe Fassett. To me, his color sense is what makes him so special. His patterns tend to be simple in shape, mostly because people are busy untangling the 30 shades of yarn he uses. And it's hard to carry intarsia over shaping. I avoid intarsia because I love the rhythm of knitting, and the few times I've done color work, I spent most of my time futzing with yarn balls. Of course, I would like somebody out there to make me Brocade from 29 or Lacy from 33. The Kaffe designs I like best are the ones that aren't too wildly geometric. My favorite Kaffes are Kilim and Pebbles. (DAMN! Why didn't I buy that kit? Wendy12x12, you eBay sniper, I hope you're HAPPY.) It's hard to wear something so very vibrant, though they do go well with white t shirts and khakis.

Kay: My favorite knitwear designer has got to be Kaffe (huge fawning sigh)!! I agree that he's not tops in the shaping department, and that most of his stuff is put to better use hanging on the wall than on a human, but his imagination and his visual sense are unequalled. He makes me proud to be a humble practitioner of the craft. For wearable garments, I have to say I knit a lot of Kim Hargreaves even though I find her to be somewhat repetitive. She's always tweaking the same basic pullover and the same basic cardi (except for the psychotic episode called Cherry Boobs). I also love the Jo Sharp designs. Classic, fresh, chic, simple, wearable, and--this is key--sans boob ornamentation of any kind. For baby wear, who can beat Debbie Bliss??? Like Ann, I stick to Rowan most of the time, for lots of reasons. The yarns, the community of Rowan knitters, the fact that I (generally!) understand the way the patterns are written, and, for sure, my incurable Anglophilia (ah, to be in Holmfirth in autumn....). But mostly for the community of knitters. The knitalongs, the exchanges, the people saying 'blimey' and 'knackered' and 'dead naf'...I love it all!!

Posted by Ann at 05:33 PM | Comments (16)

The Trouble with Markers

Dear Kay,

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Look, ma, no hands! After the first Birch repeat I took out all the markers because they were screwing up the tension--one diagonal line of stitches was larger than the rest. Ecch! The markers were crucial for the first repeat--I knew I could never get more than ten stitches out of whack as long as I had the markers. But once I saw the full pattern, I didn't need them anymore. Crutches, and fiddly as all get out.

I finally feel like I'm actually knitting and not doing beadwork. I keep thinking about those French nuns making lace all those centuries ago. This is definitely the kind of thing that would put anybody off sex.

Meanwhile, Back in Easyville

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In other news, the sweater now known as Jack 'n' Eddie is cruising along. I reduced the Eddie pattern by one zigzag row to fit this eight-year-old size. I love gansey patterns, so rhythmic. So binary. So NOT lace.

There are twelve guys in my front yard getting ready to pave our driveway for the second time in nine months. The first attempt resulted in a mottled, wrong-sloping driveway that did not solve our drainage "issue." I do believe Rome was completed in the time it has taken to get this re-do underway. Ah, I love the smell of asphalt in the morning. Smells like . . . home improvement . . .

x0x0x0 Ann

Posted by Ann at 12:07 PM | Comments (7)

September 03, 2003

Please Stand By

Dear readers,

Weblogmate Kay is experiencing one of the plagues of the Internet: no phone connection. May she be spared from any others: viruses, power surges, lightning strikes, spam, popups, chain letters, toads, flies, lice, boils, hail, and locusts.

We look forward to her return once she gets right with God, or at least pays the phone bill.

In the meantime, aha! I have a complete monopoly on Mason-Dixon Knitting! I shall post a baby picture!

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My fella in his Nashville Sounds hat with his cousin at the beach.

Love to everyone,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 07:58 AM | Comments (2)

September 02, 2003

Tale of Three Birches

Dear Kay,

In the Samuel Pepys tradition of excruciating detail, here is where I stand on my Birch shawl.

Attempt Numero Uno

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As Kenny Rogers says, you gotta know when to fold 'em. Something felt really wrong, after one lousy row. Wrong wrong wrong.

Attempt the Second

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Ah, folly! Ah, youth! Why did I think that blindly knitting along for a while would result in lovely rows of airy birch leaves? Why did I not consider the following? Kidsilk Haze stitches tend to cling together, making it easy to knit two together. They slide right off the end of the needle, too, resulting in the dreaded Lost Yarnover. After a while, it became clear that my little markers were only adding to my misery. Nothing worked. The center could not hold.

I did cast off this irregular lump of whatever, figuring that it would make a nice edging to something if you did a kind of Elfin bunching. Anyone who would like this souvenir of knitting gone bad, just let me know.

The Final Ascent

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Emma's exhortation rings in my ears: I am the master of this yarn. I almost got some speed going last night, but this is definitely a project for the quiet moments of the day. Two a.m. insomniac knitting.

And so to Pilates.

x0x0x0x0 Ann

Posted by Ann at 09:46 AM | Comments (9)

September 01, 2003

Farewell, Dear Summer

Dear Kay,

I hope your bacon, lettuce, and tomato festival was a success. I agree completely that there is no more perfect summer flavor. I need to send you a jar of Duke's mayonnaise, the finest of mayos. My sister-in-law exports it to New Paltz whenever she visits the South. Maybe Bloomingdale's will start selling it at Christmas, the way they used to sell another local treat, Goo-Goo Clusters.

September 1 is when summer ends for me. The light is all different now, not summery at all, and the morning has a chill to it. I have a fierce urge to buy a three-ring binder. Best of all, it becomes conceivable that one day I might actually get to wear one of my sweaters.

And now, in honor of Labor Day, my annual singing of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union song:

Look for the union label
When you are buying a coat, dress, or blouse.
Remember somewhere, our union's sewing,
Our wages going to feed the kids.

You know that we all work hard,
But who's complaining?
Here at the ILG we're paying our way.
So always look for the union label--
It says we're able to make it in the U.S.A.!

Sew on, women of the world! You have nothing to fear but artificial fibers!

Love, Ann

Posted by Ann at 08:49 AM | Comments (3)
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