"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 29, 2006

Thread Things

Dear Ann,

One thing I love about big-city life is how much sheer STUFF you can cram into a few hours if you've got a Metrocard and know how to use it. Witness last night.

Intelligent Play

At 6, I got off the B train at 86th Street and popped into the Bard Graduate Center for some Cultcha. The BGC is the coolest. A) it's free and (2) you can see the most awesomest, constantly changing exhibits of fiber and decorative arts work in (c) an over-the-top-gorgeous restored townhouse.

I had been lured to the BGC by our intrepid-yet-blogless friend Amber. Amber loves a beat-up, weird old textile more than most people (even OUR people, who skew kind of high on the Loving Weird Old Textiles scale). Whenever I am with Amber, I see something new to me and cool, and I almost always end up buying a Beautiful Yet Obscure Art Book (Preferably Not In English). I am already thinking about which worthy institution, hopefully decades from now, will receive the priceless legacy of Books Kay Bought With Amber.

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Yesterday's book.

All I can say is, if you're in the area, go see this exhibit (did I mention it's FREE?) of Sheila Hicks' small weavings. There is much to savor, and an excellent video of Sheila Hicks looking at her own work hanging on the wall, commenting and reminiscing. Here are a few nuggets that I jotted in my MoleskineTM:

"Your deepest research is intelligent play. How do you continue to play seriously and not fall into the trap of repeating your greatest successes?"

"There are no contradictions or separations in my thinking when creating textiles....or other thread-things. Pure expression and the utilitarian often join in the most surprising moments."

Think about THAT when you're knitting. (Don't fall into the trap of repeating your greatest dishrags.)

Just Play

But enough High Culture. Now it's time for:

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Tracey Ullman's butt. (Photo used with permission.) (Really!)

Metrocard sizzling, I raced from the BGC down to Columbus Circle, where Mel Clark and Tracey Ullman were holding forth and signing copies of their brand-new knitting book, Knit 2 Together.

I rushed in, breathless, grabbed two copies (who loves ya, babe?), and approached the table. Tracey was wearing this skirt, in Euroflax linen. It looks like a wraparound, but it isn't. MUST KNIT THIS.

Shyly I told Mel and Tracey about my own passionate support of theTwo-Headed Knitting Book. Tracey seemed surprised that I don't have a Southern accent, and started talking in a Southern accent (MUCH more Southern than yours by the way--you really need to work on that). She asked me if we've reviewed their book on this blog of ours. Not a shrinking violet, that one.
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So here's my review: Knit 2 Together is a credit to the two-headed knitting book. Mel Clark's designs are fresh and wearable. And when I say wearable, I mean wearable even by non-celebrity, not particularly Pilatisized people. I especially like the flattering necklines and witty finishes (finally, a use for fancy silk ribbon!), and her wonderfully diverse yarn choices. (Mel is a woman after my own heart: she says linen is 'lovely to knit with'.) I would love this book even if I weren't crazy about Tracey Ullman. Which I am. Tracey is not one of these celebrity knitters who can't purl (not that there's anything wrong with it). She is as crazy about knitting as the rest of us nuts, and she's much, much more photogenic.

I think I would have bought the book for one pattern alone: the SUIT. There is a suit (the "Ponsonby Suit"), and it's a cute suit. Very 'lady', but very chic. Do I dare? Would Rowan Calmer be a good non-wool substitute for Karabella Aurora 8 (100% merino)? Can I knit something that big (if it's not square)?

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A profound truth: In LA, they have better hair.

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A case in point.

Life is good!

Love, Kay


Posted by Kay at 12:57 PM | Comments (38)

September 27, 2006

My Future as a Rockette

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Dear Kay,

Gah, what a pair of whiners we are. You'd think we didn't like to knit or something. Ech! Enough with the complaining--I mean, we're the luckiest clams in the sea, hon, sitting here with our little weird knitting projects, with some of our faculties intact, you with that pedometer and me with the newfound exploration of Pilates.

Speaking of which, if anybody out there wants to laugh their asses off at their own incompetence, I'm here to tell you: Pilates provides the greatest absurdity-per-minute ratio of any exercise regime. It's great--there's this contraption--whoops, I meant THIS contraption. The teacher (in my case a beautiful young thing who was recently a Rockette--of course) asks you to hold a small ball under your back with a bouncy ring gizmo between your knees while sticking your hands in these trapezey pulley things while, at ALL TIMES, doing something she calls "belly deep."

It's so taxing that at one point I heard a small squeaking sound and realized that somehow, my brassiere was giving out. My foundation garment could not hack it, so imagine how the rest of me is doing.

I've Got a New Attitude

Thanks to everybody for the much-needed help on the Print o' the Wave stole. Not so much thanking to smarty pants Kristy for pointing out that I had 43 repeats to go instead of 33. (Actually, Kristy is the opposite of mean, having set up a project to knit squares for a dear grandma who could use a blanket. Here's her project, all you square knitters.)

The border continues in a head-down, get-through-the-sandstorm way. At this point I've abandoned hope that I'll finish the Dakar Rally. I threw a belt on the Land Rover when the tiny ball of yarn rolled down a hill during David's tennis practice, so now the slim remains of the yarn are sort of breaded with mulch flurf. Ah, whatever. I traded for a camel at the oasis, so I'm trying to be all Bedouin about the thing.

I cling to Laurie's hope for a miracle that the yarn holds out. And I chant the words of Lorinda: "Knit fast, honey; then you'll have enough yarn to finish."

Love,
Ann

PS A Summons to Memphis! A road trip looms. I'm going to be talking at the Southern Festival of Books on Saturday, October 14, 1:30 pm. If you are a Memphonian, or a Little Rocker, or Germantownie, or Mississippian, or a knitter in search of a better way, come on. This will surely rank as the first knitting book ever to be included in the Southern Festival of Books. We knitters have a lot to prove to these philistines.

Posted by Ann at 12:08 PM | Comments (22)

September 26, 2006

Underachievers Unite!

Dear Ann,

There you go again, making all of us non-Meadors feel inadequate because we have not sculpted our daddies' heads in Crisco, let alone a transfat-free spread. Thanks a lot! Seriously, what a touching picture of The Seven. Congratulations on pulling off such a mega-event.

Up here, things are in a sad state of No Knitting Fun. I don't know if this ever happens to you, Ms. Print of the Wave, but I am in a vicious cycle of cast-on/hate project/wad up in a tangled heap/cast on something else. Nothing is working out right. I reach desperately for one new project after another. All is despair.

Cry Me a River

Remember the River (Rowan 38) shawl I started as I left Nashville? How super-excited I was to be knitting up some lace again, like the big kids?

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I made it further than this, but as simple as this pattern is, I am simpler. People keep talking to me, as people will, and I cannot keep the row sequence straight. And I've tried 5 different brands of Size 10 needles in an attempt to find a sharp enough point to knit 2 together in Kid Silk Haze without having to do it REAL SLOW. (I don't have this problem with Kid Silk Haze when using smaller needles, but the Size 10s are so clunky to begin with, they just don't make them pointy enough for this yarn. Or this knitter.) For me, the whole fun of lace is the singsong rhythm of yarn over, knit 2 together, yarn over, knit-knit-knit. Like tap dancing. Shuffle-shuffle-kick-ball change. But stopping and starting, coaxing the yarn onto the needle for every K2tog, just sucks the joy out of it. So guess what? I QUIT. That's right: QUIT. Problem solved: Project no more.

There have been a couple other projects like that. The sleeve of Raspy (remember Raspy? yes I'm still digging through the UFOs): I worked it all the way to the armhole. I was feeling smug and sassy, because I solved the problem of the Denim People book being packed away in a god-forsaken garage. Famous last words: "I'll just use the first sleeve as a pattern!"

Do I need to spell it out for you? Quoth the Raspy: Nevermore.

And there were a couple of other false starts that make me tired just thinking about them. Knitting: you call this a hobby? You do this for FUN? It is NOT the New Yoga.

The New Poppy

But there is one old project that I did complete. I will even admit that I like it a little. I give you Poppy, from Elsebeth Lavold's Summer Breeze collection, started in March 2005, ran out of one color, abandoned to its fate until August 2006.

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It looks a lot like the cover sweater, but I did it in Euroflax Originals Sportweight linen instead of the cotton yarn the pattern called for.

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Woopie! I set the sleeves in right, the first time. Life is good.

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The shoulders were short-rowed and left on the needles. I joined them with a 3-needle bindoff on the right side. (Because I hate that 'ditch' you get when you bind off shoulders on the wrong side.) I finished the neck with my 'cro-kay' technique (patent pending). (Pick up and bind off, stitch by stitch, all the way around the neck opening. Like crochet--only fiddlier!)

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I left the seams open at the cuff and hem, for a more tunicky effect.

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Oh, it's tunicky, all right.

Next time I'll remember the importance of shaping. But it fits, dammit! It's done, and it fits, and I don't want to hear anything more about it.

Love, Kay


Posted by Kay at 01:19 PM | Comments (42)

September 25, 2006

Seven of a Kind

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Dear Kay,

Big doings around here. I won't recap the entire weekend, because I'm saving it for the HUGE AND DISHY NOVEL that I'm going to write someday, but it was Dad's 75th birthday, and we managed to get all seven of his children, families attached, from six different cities, in one place for an entire weekend. You know, at the circus, how they have that guy who spins twelve plates on sticks, balances a ball on his nose, and juggles eggs all at the same time? Like that.

But it happened, and it was great. If any of you has a complicated family out there, let me tell you: even a complicated family can come together. It can be done, and it will likely involve a lot of barbecue, bacon, and butter sculptures of your dad's head. (Actually, brother Aubrey used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, and I can't believe he actually made the thing at all. It is quite low in cholesterol.)

Happy birthday, Daddyo--it was amazing.

Speaking of Elaborate Projecks

The shawl. Ye olde Print o' the Wave. Don't get me wrong--I'm still craving the finished product, all right. But for the love of PETE, this border. Oy!

Of the 80 little wavey repeats, I've finished 37, which puts this thing almost at the halfway point. If this is the Paris Dakar Road Rally, I'm in Tripoli, I've busted my radiator, and my driving partner won't stop talking.

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It's big enough that I had to do a Photoshop Photomerge to tile this thing. (Please, I encourage you to go tile something in Photoshop Photomerge. It is just the coolest.)

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The driving partner who won't stop talking is THIS NEEDLE. This needle is holding all the stitches that are being lovingly, tediously, slowly knitted together with the border as I'm blasting through the Sahara. This needle is wholly unreliable--it drops a few stitches every once in a while, it worms its way into the border, it is in the way. If it weren't so freaking essential to this border, I'd take a corner hard and hope he falls out the door. But no--we are in this to the bitter end, until the last 33 repeats are done. I've drawn a line down the bench seat and told it never ever ever to cross that line.

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A problem potentially more vexing than the irritating needle is the possibility that we're going to run out of fuel. I don't really see how this three-inch ball of yarn is going to make it through 33 more repeats.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 11:52 AM | Comments (51)

September 22, 2006

A Hair Is Born

Dear Kay,

Just wanted to remind you that Nashville can't really corner the market on Great Hair. There's one New Yorker in particular who really knows how to do it up right.

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New York meets Nashville! A hairy situation for sure.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 09:30 AM | Comments (25)

September 20, 2006

Grand Ole Hair

Dear Ann,

Honeeeeeeey, I'm home! I had a blast in Nashville, as I always do. Nashville is a wonderland. Then again, it doesn't take all that much to make me happy.

One thing I have been pondering about Nashville is: What's up with the hair? Why is there so much GREAT HAIR in Nashville? I mean, look at Tammy Wynette:

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Girl had awesome hair.

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Dolly's hair? Get OUT! Dolly's hair mojo is so strong that some of it rubbed off on Porter.

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Like Dolly, Loretta Lynn has too much Hair Power for a mere mortal. Look at what she did to Conway Twitty. The Dry Look indeed.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the understated but classically fab hair of my personal patron saint, Miss Patsy Cline. The bangs alone were a day's work, people. Do you think bangs just wisp like that all by themselves?

On my past trips, though, I have noticed that the true Nashvillian hair is not as grand as we have been led to believe. This is why I asked you to take me downtown. I was thinking maybe the good hair is downtown. You know, closer to the Ryman Auditorium and its hallowed hairdos of yore.

Downtown
As long as we were paying 4 dollars for parking, would it kill you to take me to Hatch Show Print? I mean, they carved my very own HEAD in WOOD; I need to show respect if I have any hope of getting to wear the cowboy hat again.

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This is what I call ambiance.

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I nearly applied for a job.

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Here's Agnes Barton-Sabo! Agnes the artist who did our woodcut heads!

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Do you think this would work for a Bat Mitzvah?

Whither The Hair?

That was sure fun, but I left Nashville without finding any truly good hair. At the airport newstand, I grabbed a copy of Real Simple magazine's special Food issue. I mean, it could happen, right? Any day now, I could be cooking dinner. Imagine my bewilderment when I came across this piece:

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YOU have Nashville hair! Consider my world rocked. I'm real proud of you writing such a sa-weet essay on your Most Memorable Meal (even though it wasn't a meal, neither was anybody else's). But mostly I'm proud of your hair. It's been a long journey to the handheld ionic dryer of your dreams. You stayed the course, and earned your hair.

Next time, knitting content. For indeed, there has been knitting of the dramatic and upsetting kind, in which one discovers the limits of one's natural abilities.

Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 06:13 PM | Comments (30)

September 15, 2006

Ding Dong There's Somebody at the Door

Dear everybody,

I hardly know where to begin. Let's just say that when this chatterbag shows up on your doorstep, you can forget about getting much of anything done.

The fact is, Kay's been in Nashville for a couple of days, and the gibblegabble level has been deafening. At the moment she's on her way home yet stranded at the Nashville airport and I feel kind of guilty that she's probably been cornered at the Whitt's barbecue stand by some Nissan manager who's explaining hydrogen fuel cell technology to her.

But not guilty enough to go get her. Instead, I'll fill you in on what we've been up to.

Kay came to town so that we could 1) begin work penning a new tome; 2) watch Project Runway; 3) be on teevee; and 4) witness some sheep judging.

Shawl o' the Doom

Before we get to all that, please note that the above list of activities did not include 5) Help Ann knit the border of her shawl. The Print o' the Wave shawl has hit that gruesome moment which comes when you realize, having finished one pattern repeat, that you have 79 more to go.

By the time I got to the fifth repeat, I discovered this disappointing lack of success at following a pattern:

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The pattern repeats aren't repeating properly. It besucks.

Kay cheerfully suggested that I rip it out now and just hush up about the thing. For the record, in the time I misknit a dozen rows, she finished a picnic blanket and a pup tent.

1. Penning a New Tome

I honestly don't know how we ever penned a tome together. Sample dialogue from yesterday:

Ann: We could do a chapter on aprons. Who doesn't need an apron?

Kay: [Silently knits.]

Ann: Should we get some coffee now?

Kay: [Flips pattern over, yanks more yarn from skein, continues knitting.]

Ann: I'm going to the kitchen. I think an apron could be cute. I wish I had on an apron right this minute.

Kay: Milk no sugar, OK? Did you ever buy some decent coffee?

Sample Dialogue #2

Kay: So it's a cozy for a cozy. Get it? You put the cozy on top of the cozy and--

Ann: I get it! An apron cozy!

Kay: No. Just a cozy for a cozy.

Ann: We could go to Target now?

2. Watch Project Runway

Kay refuses to bite. I've never seen such resistance to hi kwalidy entertainment. What is it going to TAKE to get her to understand this show?

I won't dwell on recent show developments right this minute except to say that if Michael doesn't win, I will personally pass the hat for the guy.

3. Be on Teevee

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It is a rare treat to be able to talk with one of journalism's greats, John Seigenthaler--a man who knows more about the First Amendment than Howard Stern, a man who was a member of the Kennedy administration, a man who can endure two women babbling nonstop for half an hour about why he ought to learn how to knit.

Mr. Seigenthaler wins the first-ever Mason-Dixon Knitting Award Of Valor For Devoting A Show To A Subject In Which He Has No Interest.

I think it's safe to say that Kay broke new ground on A Word on Words with John Seigenthaler. Did David Halberstam knit all the way through his interview? I think NOT.

Don't know the air date yet. Apparently the show will be available as an iTunes/MP3 download at some point.

4. Witness Some Sheep Judging

After the show taping, there we were, all dressed up and no place to go. The makeup lady was so sweet that she used up all her cosmetics on us. Never have we looked so colorized:

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We looked like Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot. I haven't worn that much lipstick since I was abusing Bonne Bell Lip Smackers in the sixth grade.

WNPT is directly adjacent to that three-star Worth a Detour destination, the Tennessee State Fair. Seeing as how I didn't get to go with Angela, my fair date last year (whose coverage of this year's fair is, as ever, worthy of a Pulitzer), or blue ribbon Sheila, I decided it was going to be with Kay or bust.

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We ended up in Sheepland.

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That guardrail was helpful in keeping us far enough away that we didn't pass out from the authentic, sunwarmed scent of 200 bags of prize-winning fleece.

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My old chemistry teacher, Mr. Shuffett, has been reincarnated as a sheep.

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Now, I'm no judge of sheep, but this fella seems like he's got some righteous huevos gigantes. How much more gigante can huevos get? I hope the guy won a ribbon for SOMEthing.

Love,
Ann

PS Before I forget (I'm italicizing this because I am semi-yelling it), Knitting at the Library was a huge, huge piece of fun. Ask anybody who was there. If you meant to come this month but were waylaid by life's travails, do not fail to come next time, Monday, October 9, noon to 2 pm. It is a fantastic group/ locale/thing to do in downtown Nashville. Just great.

Posted by Ann at 05:36 PM | Comments (48)

September 12, 2006

Friends Don't Let Friends Swatch Miters

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Dear Ann,

It started quite innocently. Hunkered down in the rain a couple weeks ago, I ran out of stuff to knit (having just finished my magnum opus). Well, I ran out of stuff I wanted to knit. I recently had discovered two non-wool yarns with self-striping potential. I felt it would be a service to non-wool, self-striping yarn devotees worldwide if I took it upon myself to swatch up a couple of skeins and post the results. People: I'm here to serve. So I set to swatching. I did it for you.

Self-Striping Non-Wools--Why? A Digression

Noro's self-striping yarns are exquisite torture for those of us who are allergic or otherwise averse to wool. I'm talking particularly about Kureyon and Silk Garden. Clever knitters are forever discovering new applications for their miraculous self-striping trick. (If you doubt me, check out this amazing THING.) Since I can knit wool (just can't wear it), I can at least come to the party and knit up things like Taro's Entrelac Square blanket or 8 million striped hats. BUT I HAVE TO GIVE THEM ALL AWAY. What about MY needs? How am I ever going to find happiness without some handknits colored by the inimitable Eisaku Noro?

My favorite use of self-striping yarns is not so much for stripes, but for miters and entrelac blocks. I love the way you can get random, gradual color changes, block by block, miter by miter, without ever cutting the yarn.

I really want an entrelac blanket of my very own. Frankly, my house is running EXTREMELY LOW on handknit blankets. So I keep an eye out for the self-stripers with little or no wool in them. This summer I discovered two prospects.

Hopeful Self-Striper Number One

First up is Noro Tidiori. Tidiori is 60 percent rayon and 35 nylon, with a 5 percent dash of cashmere. It's worsted weight, so gauge-wise it's a good sub for Kureyon or Silk Garden. (Maybe not a perfect match, but I've never been a Gauge Freak.)

In the ball, it looks quite strange and almost unappetizing, lots of grey and black stranding mixed up in the more colorful colors. But how would it swatch? Inquiring minds wanted to know.

Self-Striping Candidate Number Two

Over the summer, I also accumulated several skeins of Katia Jamaica. As with the Noro, my love is not so much for the stripes qua stripes, but for the other possible applications of this feature.

The Method of Swatching

It seemed to me that the best way to test these yarns would be to knit miters. I swear that this is not a symptom of any mental illness on my part. I can stop knitting miters anytime I want to. It is because I couldn't remember eggzackly, or even vaguely, how to set up a row of entrelac blocks. Miters I know. There is no need to look anything up to knit a miter. Here are the scientific results:

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This is two colorways. (No, I didn't save the labels.) The top one (knitted up before I smacked myself in the head and said, "Hey! I could be knitting a miter!") is purply pink with browns and God knows what-all thrown in. The bottom one is pale greens and blues and Noro's signature shots of That Doesn't Go With Anything.

In other words, I love them.

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I liked Tidiori a lot more after it was knitted up than in the skein (the opposite of my usual reaction to multi-colored yarns). With so many colors in each colorway, there is always one or two that I find discordant, but when I am knitting a blanket, I can break the yarn to extract them from the mix, or I can grow in wisdom and learn to appreciate the master's choices. I am thrilled, thrilled, thrilled that there is a non-wool yarn that can achieve a similar effect to Silk Garden and Kureyon. The effect is not identical, for many reasons, but the quality I prize most--random, unusual color changes-- is there. It's an added plus that the knitted fabric is lightweight and springy--a Tidiori sweater or coat would not be droopy.

Yay! Non-wool group hug! I'm okay, you're okay, and the Circle of Knitters is unmarred by jealousy over self-striping yarns!

Let's move on to the Jamaica shall we? I swatched only one skein, which made 3 miters and the start of a 4th using my usual 72-stitch stockinette recipe. Behold:

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Ain't it grand? The cotton is silky soft, a bit lighter in feel than other DK Cottons like Tahki Cotton Classic and Rowan Denim, but gauge-wise it will work with those yarns.

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I love that the white has a blue cast to it. Like skim milk. (In a good way.)

I also like the mini-splotches and brushstrokes. This is a painterly yarn. The colors are intense.

In Which I Fall Into a Hole

Surely you know how this all ends up. After swatching the Katia Jamaica, I started thinking about what an awesome blanket I could make using a few miters of Jamaica and a bunch more miters of, say, Rowan Denim. I stopped all life-sustaining activities until I had knitted nearly enough miters for a baby blanket. Hadn't intended to knit that particular baby a blanket, but I needed a pretext, and newborn Abe played right into my hands (infants are so gullible). I hate to take advantage of the young and inexperienced, but I really can't stop knitting miters right now. 20 down, 4 to go for the Abe Blanket.

Love,
Kay


Posted by Kay at 01:58 PM | Comments (33)

September 11, 2006

Permanent

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The sun is going down smoking
A flaming testament
Something has been broken
And it feels permanent

---from "Beachcombing", Mark Knopfler

Posted by Kay at 08:46 AM

September 10, 2006

The Great Meeting of 2006

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Dear Kay,

Train buffs--and people who watch long, involved television documentaries--know this picture. It's the historic 1869 meeting of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads in Promontory, Utah--the moment when America was connected by a transcontinental railroad. Finally! A quick way to Napa Valley!

Oho, dear friends, we made a little history last night when West met East:

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You can practically smell the coal smoke! Can you hear the plaintive violin solo? Where's Ken Burns?

This shawl/scarf/stole/schmatte is coming along. The two halves, 17 repeats each of a 12-row pattern, are ready for their union via an 80-stitch grafting.

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A word about grafting. I personally like the grafting--it's good and humbling. The process of weaving a row of knit stitches by using a tapestry needle and two needles while constantly muttering "knit/drop, purl, purl/drop, knit" will make you thank Jehovah that regular plain old knitting is nothing like this.

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Eunny's shawl/stole/scarf/schmattah is all over the Web, if you're inclined to poke around. There's excellent hand-holding over at the Knitter's Review forum. You can see finished ones here, here, and here. My Fashionable Life's Anna created a cashmere one (and if you want to see swell knitting day in, day out, visit Anna often).

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Now, why would a person would graft two pieces of shawl together, rather than make one long piece? The grafting means that the lace pattern goes in the same direction on both sides when the shawl is worn. All the waves wave down, instead of the waves on one side waving up. Those Shetland Islanders were the ones who got all wadded up about this issue. You put me on an island for long enough, and I'll start obsessing about the direction of my lace pattern, too.

Several infidels over at the Knitter's Review forum decided that rather than face into the hell that is grafting, they would simply make one superlong piece, with waves waving up and down all willynilly.

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I can't really blame them, though I'm shocked that they would turn their backs on 3,000 years of Shetland Island knitting history. The thing is, I'm not persuaded that this grafted line is so great. Don't get me wrong--I love this pattern. But this bit of knitting looks like somebody was watching an Andre Agassi match for too long and shifted to stockinette. FURTHERmore, the lace pattern doesn't connect in a seamless way (squint at the picture and you can see the wonkiness of it), and now I've got a line of grafting running down my neck. As if I don't have enough problems with my neck already.

Having grafted this thing together, I do feel intense kinship with my Shetland Island ancestors. (Surely I have some.) And it's a blessed relief that I'll be able to look down at this shawl and not get seasick from the waves lurching all whichway.

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And the fact is, the grafting isn't all that noticeable if you mudge the scarf up the way it will be when it's worn.

My next moment of bonding with my Shetland Island ancestors will be in the upcoming episode: The Border. [Cue plaintive violin playing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".]

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 03:46 PM | Comments (41)

September 08, 2006

Clip 'N Save for Miterheads

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Dear Ann,

Eventually the sun came out long enough for me to take a bunch of pictures of my latest chef d'oeuvre in the genre of square knitting. My inbox has been full of how-to questions, and I'm hoping to answer them all in this post. For those who have no interest in the intricacies of the art of assembling a mitered square blanket (and what is wrong with you, anyway?), this post guarantees a solid snooze. Rest your eyes, or read on.

Overview: In Which We Contemplate the Wonder That Is the Mitered Blanket

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Intrepid miterheads know the basic recipe for this or any other mitered square blanket: knit a bunch of miters; sew or otherwise join them together in a pattern pleasing to the eye, and stick a border on it (or not). This blanket used the same stockinette miter recipe used in my previous blanket, which starts by casting on 72 stitches. (For this blanket, I made 60 miters, knitting them together in blocks of 2 or 4 using the method described here.)

On Stripes and Striping

The first basic difference is that I did not do uniform 6-row stripes. I did use 2 colors for all of the miters, but I varied the stripe patterns a lot. As I continued experimenting, I started to become fonder of some stripe patterns than others. My favorite, by far, was the stripe pattern in the lower right corner of this picture (orange and green):

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6 rows Color 1
2 rows Color 2
2 rows Color 1
6 rows Color 2
2 Rows Color 1
2 rows Color 2

It looks kind of Ralph Lauren Polo-ish, but whatever! It was my favorite so I kept knitting more and more of them until it dominated the blanket.

Another favorite was the one on the two left miters in the same picture (top and bottom). To get this pattern, alternate 10 rows of Color 1 and 2 rows of Color 2.

In hindsight, I would have done the whole blanket in these 2 stripe patterns, with maybe just a few others thrown in. The idea was to create a pleasingly varied composition, in which the eye had plenty of places to sit and rest for a second. For me, all of this is intuitive and improvisational. If I planned it out in advance, there would be no discovery or adventure in the knitting of it--it would seem like piecework, just coloring in the squares. Doing it on the fly was much more fun (although I did end up ripping and re-knitting some experiments that didn't pan out--c'est la knitting).

The Weird Partial Garter Miter

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This square is composed of 4 miters that start in garter stitch and finish in stockinette, with a color change at the center. Because garter stitch and stockinette stitches are not equal in length, some jiggering is required to get this square to come out the same size and shape as the other miters. For this, we need an actual recipe. (I'm very proud of myself for writing out this recipe at the time I was knitting the squares. I knew that (a) somebody would want it and (b) once I was done knitting them, I would have no clue how I had done it.)

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Partial Garter Miter Recipe

Using a circular needle, cast on 72. (Use the backward-loop method if you are knitting the miters together into blocks of 2 or 4.)

Set-up row (WS): K36, place marker, K36.

Row 1 (RS): Knit to 2 sts before marker, SSK, K2tog, knit to end.
Row 2 (WS): Knit.

Repeat Rows 1 and 2 three times, then repeat Row 1 again. You should have 62 sts.

Cut yarn. Slide all sts to the other end of the circular needle. (Note, if you are using straight needles, simply transfer the stitches one by one to another straight needle).

The next row (Row 10) is now a RS row. Join yarn (same color) and knit across the row.

Row 11 (WS): Knit to 2 sts before marker, SSK, K2tog, knit to end.
Row 12 (RS): Knit.

Repeat rows 11 and 12 (decreasing on the WS) two times more, then repeat Row 11 again. You should have 54 sts.

Next row (Row 18) (RS), change to stockinette stitch: K24, SSK, (K2tog) twice, k to end.
Next row (and all WS rows): Purl.
Row 20: K23, (SSK) twice, K2tog, k to end.
Row 22: K21, SSK, (K2tog) twice, k to end.
Row 24: K20, (SSK) twice, K2tog, k to end.
Change color.
Row 26: K18, SSK, (k2tog) twice, k to end.
Row 28: K17, (SSK twice), K2tog, k to end.
Row 30: K15, SSK, (K2tog) twice, k to end.
Row 32: K14, (SSK twice), k2tog, k to end.
Row 34: K12, SSK, (K2tog) twice, k to end.
Row 36: K11, (SSK twice), K2tog, k to end.
Row 38: K9, SSK, (K2tog) twice, k to end.
Row 40: K8, (SSK) twice, K2tog, k to end.
Row 42: K6, SSK, (K2tog) twice, k to end.
Row 44: K5, (SSK) twice, K2tog, k to end.
Row 46: K3, SSK, (K2tog) twice, k to end.
Row 48: K2, (SSK) twice, K2tog, k1.
Row 50: SSK, (K2tog) twice.
Next row (WS): Sl 1, p2tog, psso.
Fasten off remaining stitch. You're done.

Initially, I had planned to do more of these squares, to make texture more of an element in the design. But as I went along, I discovered that these squares were not as fun to knit (news flash: garter stitch takes longer to cover the same amount of ground---DUH!-- and the garter rows decrease at a slower rate (2 per RS row) than stockinette (3 per RS row)). I also thought if I had more than one spot of this variation, it would lose its specialness. (Yes, it's very special to me. I can't say why.)

Das Border

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In retrospect, it seems like I totally lost my mind when I decided to do such a deep border. The idea was to mimic my favorite miter stripe pattern (the first one described above) in garter stitch, with the same number of repeats as I used in the miters. The symmetry of that, the echo, was appealing to me. I will just say this: it took a long time, and not just because I ran out of one of my colors halfway through. It took a long time because the project was absolutely non-portable by that point. It wasn't even portable from one chair in the living room to the other chair. It was strenuous just turning the blanket to knit the next row. And the rows were long. And I was weak. Much as I love and revere The Garter Stitch-- the mother stitch, the bedrock stitch of our civilization--I flagged. I weakened and picked up smaller, sleeker, zippier bits of knitting. It took a lot of Will Power to git 'er done.

But now that it's done, I really love it. I particularly love the little miters in the corner, which I did not think of doing until the very end. I knew I was going to miter those corners, but I didn't know what pattern to use. I had a lot of brown and a little green, and this is what I came up with.

Recipe-wise, to do this border I picked up stitches along an edge and garter stitched in the first stripe pattern until I had done a full repeat of the stripe pattern used on the miters, then bound off.

greenmitercornerblock.jpg

When all 4 sides were bordered, I picked up stitches in the corners (22 sts on each side), and working 2 decreases on each RS row, knitted a little garter-stitch miter in the corner, using only one repeat of the same stripe pattern.

At the end, I felt it needed a crochet edge all the way around, for tidiness. Lacking a crochet hook or the gumption to open a drawer to look for one, I "faux-shayed" the edge instead. To do this, using knitting needles, you pick up a stitch, then another, then bind off one stitch. Then you pick up another stitch, and bind off 1 stitch again. Stitch by stitch, you pick up and immediately cast off, ALL THE WAY AROUND THE FLIPPIN' BLANKET. I'm calling this little technique "cro-Kay". Poor man's crochet. Lazy gal crochet. Whatever--it worked for me. (Note: When I pick up a stitch from a bound-off stitch, I pick up in the front 'leg' of the stitch only--not through the whole stitch. I know there are other ways, but this is the way that looked best to me for this purpose.)

So that's it. Git on it, miterheads. Knock yourselves out!

Love,
Kay

P.S. As always, if you spot any errors in the recipes, please let me know.

Posted by Kay at 09:24 AM | Comments (65)

September 07, 2006

Mason-Dixon Mailbag: Our Far-Flung Correspondent

chinastorefront.jpg

Dear Kay,

We just got a letter from my sister-in-law Mary Neal--she who designed the Knitty Jamesey pattern, she who provides us here at MDK with the broad view of the worldwide textile scene, she who puts up with my wandering brother Clif. Read on:

Dear Ann,

Your brother Clif has returned at last from being in China all summer. As usual, he was on the job being our extremely foreign textile correspondent. For those who want to play along with a world atlas, here is where he went.

Chicago to Beijing, change planes to Chengdu, capital of Szechuan province. Stay a few days to try to get over that stunned feeling. Bus to Kangding, where things started to get a little Tibetan. Hire car and driver to Gandze. Only one fatal accident witnessed (no guard rails). Stay a few days successfully working out permissions for the rest of the trip.

By hired car over the Tro La pass (about 5,000 meters) to Dege, only a couple of kilometers from the border of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). It must be noted that he didn't actually go to the TAR, but much of western Szechuan is ethnically, culturally, (and historically) Tibet. But we won't go there.

Dege is a town in a steep valley of the Yangtze River, at about 3,500 meters. There are several temples there where the monks do all the thanka and sutra printing for Tibetan Buddhists around the world. They do the whole process there in Dege: they make the paper, cut the wood blocks, proof, and print. Since Clif is the coordinator of the Book and Paper program at Columbia College, this was like being in paradise.

Here is a paragraph from one of the emails he sent. (There were "web ba's" most everywhere, so we were able to keep in touch every few days by email.)

"Yesterday we were working with the correctors, the guys who get back the proofread copy. The first proof from a new block gets sent to a Kampo [abbot of a monastery with two phd degrees] who make corrections to the block by drilling out the bad part and cutting a little plug of wood, glueing it in, and recutting the correct spelling of the word. I do not have the heart to tell them about InDesign."

Anyway, they spent 3 weeks in Dege, interviewing, photographing, documenting all the temples, the processes, the daily life of the printers, block cutters, and papermakers.

There were many opportunities to indulge in textile-related purchases.

chinastorefront.jpg

Here is one store in the mall.

After buying some beautiful brass buttons for me in Dege,

chinabrassbuttons.jpg

Clif thought they weren't fancy enough, so he commissioned a silversmith to make some exquisite buttons just for me:

chinasilverbuttons.jpg

Clif says, "The silversmith was Han (ethnically Chinese), from somewhere in the east, but in any case, not Tibetan. He had been there a few years."

On his way back through Gandze, he stopped at a wool merchant's shop.

chinatwoshopclerks.jpg

Clif says, "The wool merchants are Tibetan and were in Gandze. The wool was grown (raised?) in Ganze Autonomous Prefecture (its official name, an ethnically-Tibetan, supposedly Tibetan-run province of Szechuan) and hand spun somewhere in the northwestern part, up west and north of Gandze."

He also bought some wool stoles that are woven in colored stripes, with beautifully block printed/bleached patterns on them. Like all the high-mountain wool I have ever experienced, these will be really great for removing that annoying layer of dead skin from my body.

chinasixskeins.jpg

The 3/4 of a kilo of spun wool is likewise pretty rough stuff. Skeins 3 and 5 were spun by someone who had done it before. Skeins 1, 2, and 4, not so much. I'm getting a wpi of around 18 here. It smells loudly of sheep and is quite lanoliniferous. If knitted up tightly, this will produce a completely waterproof garment I'm sure. Of course, there will be that agricultural aroma, but what the heck, people are all the time eating nasty stuff on the El, so I won't stick out.

So now, it's time for the blog poll. What do I knit with this? I will have to double strand it to account for unevenness in the spinning, and also to be able to finish anything before my 65th birthday.

Love,
MN

Posted by Ann at 10:40 AM | Comments (43)

September 06, 2006

Knitting at the Library!

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Dear Kay,

A quick note to all you middle Tennesseans out there (and I do consider you an honorary middle Tennessean, Kay).

A new lunchtime knitting circle is forming at the downtown branch of the Nashville Public Library. We'll be meeting every second Monday of the month in the second floor courtyard, which really is a little slice of heaven.

Our first gathering: this Monday, September 11. Noon to 2 pm. Come on! It gives you an excuse to see this beautiful library! Get out of the house! You never know who might show up--maybe we'll even see Francie Owens, she of the mighty mitered square polymer pins. I ran into Francie last week at Threaded Bliss Yarns, so maybe she'll come explain how you make miters out of clay. Seems complicated to me.

Here are directions and parking info. Parking is in the deck attached to the library, so it's not too tricky. If you're hungry, grab a sandwich at Provence, which is located in the building. (You can hear Rachael Ray's happy-gal review of the bakery here.

Come one, come all! It's going to be a ton of fun.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 11:34 AM | Comments (22)

Picnic at Split Rock

Dear Ann,

The last 10 days of August were quite literally a washout on the East End of Long Island. Now, I had no right to mope. Weather is weather. I generally like the rain, as it provides a respite from Wholesome Outdoor Activity. I can do more knitting, more quilting, more [insert seated activity here]. But day after day of rain, in a town with one movie theatre and no bowling alley---it eats the soul. You can read only so many Hardy Boys--as intrepid as those young sleuths are--and you can only play so many rounds of Blokus. Then (shriek!) you RUN OUT OF BLACK WINDOW ART PAINT. Without the black, you are nothing.

In this weakened state, you are a mere shell of yourself. Let me put it bluntly: You are Gameboy Fodder. You welcome the Gameboy into your home with open arms. You hope that Animal Crossing and Nintendogs are as harmless as you think they are, and that they have enough programming to last through one more rainy, whiny afternoon. You refuse to notice that somebody is playing The MisEdventures of Ed, Edd and Eddy, of which, when it was not raining, you Did Not Approve. You just want it to stop raining.

On Friday, the sun broke through the clouds for a few hours. But by then it was too late for me. I was experiencing visions and hearing voices. There is no other explanation for the story that I am about to tell. Visions and voices. Perhaps woodland fairies. You figure it out.

A pale, damp Boy spoke to me. He said, I don't want to play Gameboy. I want to walk in the woods. I want to walk to the Split Rock.

I said to the Boy: How do you remember? You were 3 or 4. We CARRIED you. He said, you go through Dorothy's yard and you follow the Indian trail until you get to the Rock of which I speak. Let us go, Mother.

walkverybeginning.jpg
And so we set off, the Boy and the Girl walking together. No Gameboys. No bickering. And what was really freaking me out: they were wearing their hats. WITH NOBODY HECTORING THEM TO WEAR THEIR HATS. Who were they? Where were they taking me?

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At the head of the trail, we met a wise old turtle with an awesome Fair Isle pattern on his back.

I'm not saying this was a talking turtle, okay? But somebody said, 'The turtle, he is so happy to be sitting in the super fantastic sun, that he will let the enthusiastic girl touch him."

Walking together, the Boy and the Girl spoke of the Native Americans and how they had made the trail and where they might have rested along it. Passing through a patch of eroded sand with slippery footing, the Boy said, 'Let's work together! We can help each other.'

At that point I thought a gin and tonic could be helpful. Or maybe somebody could pinch me.

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The Boy stopped to read every sign, even though they all said the same thing.

Are we trespassing? he asked. I said, well, maybe, but since none of this is really happening, it's okay.

We came upon a frog. I didn't hear anybody speaking, which I took to be a good thing.

The trail was longer than I remembered. I wondered what these children had done to my children.

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Suddenly, the Boy and the Girl cried out, and began running.

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It was the Split Rock.

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They scrambled up.

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They rested at the top. (No doubt receiving signals from a UFO hovering invisibly above.)

Helping each other, working together, they scrambled back down. We walked back home, quietly. A noticeable absence of bickering and bossing and complaining about being bossed.

It started to rain again.

gameboy.jpg

Love, Kay


Posted by Kay at 12:19 AM | Comments (36)

September 05, 2006

Sick Knits for Crabby Moms

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Dear Kay,

Honey, I don't know what we've all got down here, but I can't really recommend your coming to visit until we get the Bubonic Plague Removal Squad in here. What houseful of randomly sick individuals--ever since last Wednesday, lurching through the weekend, it's been all the time with the barfing, the coughing, the heating up and the chilling, the aching, the complaining. Oy! Get me outta here!

I'm ashamed to say that I managed to get through Labor Day without a single somber thought about the labors of whoever it is we're supposed to be remembering. Happy Labor Day? Good Labor Day to ye? I dunno. All I know is that when I was in a labor union myself--District 65 of the United Auto Workers, no less, which was a union for the publishing industry--there was no such thing as merit pay, and we made the same crummy salaries as everybody else. I did, however, once get to sing the ILGWU song, non-ironically, at an International Ladies Garment Worker Union event. "Look for the union label, when you are buying a coat, dress, or blouse . . ."

Ah, but enough of the On the Waterfront nostalgia--those days are but a tender memory. When I haven't been at the superb Dr. Allen's office getting antibiotic shots in my rear area, or chasing children around the house with barfy buckets, I have been chugging my way through Eunny's Print o' the Wave thingie. It's not really a shawl, or a scarf, or an antimacassar. It just is.

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There are 34 repeats of the waves, and I've got 7 to go. Dying to move on to the grafting and edging portion of this little project. Thinking that a floatier yarn would be divine in this, though I'm kind of liking the shimmery mercerized cotton deal.

I know we could debate this endlessly, but I do believe that tennis is the finest of sports to watch while knitting. You can stop at the spicy bits, then cruise through those mid-set doldrums. I watched every moment of Andre Agassi's final three matches, in a bleary way. What a guy! What an achy back he's going to have!

I've got some tasty Mason-Dixon Mailbag mail to share with you, which will have to wait a day, alas.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 09:48 AM | Comments (33)
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