"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, 2004

Scarf in a Day

Dear Kay,

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OK. I know. It's a garter stitch scarf. It is what it is. But I'm telling you, it's the most satisfying act of creation I've had since giving life to our Sea-Monkeys last summer.

I was on the phone yesterday, idly staring at the many, many balls of yarn that have somehow mysteriously accreted on my desk. Shouldn't somebody knit something out of this stuff?

I noticed a combination that seemed kind of likely: see? Before I knew it, mid-phone call, I grabbed hold of the ol' number 15s, cast on, and was cranking away on a combination of Euroflax Sport Weight Linen in Autumn and Fiesta Yarns mohair Heaven in Burnished Red.

I know you think I should be spending my precious knitting time on something more . . . dignified . . . something that is actual knitting.

Meanwhile, Out Back

There are at least a few signs of life in our screened porch project. It's a roof! Sort of . . .

It isn't like Jude Law is up there raising the barn, but then again, I'm no Nicole Kidman.

Love,

Ann

Posted by Ann at 05:05 PM | Comments (14)

September 28, 2004

Breaking News, An Apology, and Jupiter

Dear Kay,

First of all: Everybody pack your bags for TORONTO. There's going to be a north-of-the-border Afghans for Afghans sew-up party Sunday, November 7, at the ridiculously tidy home of Stephanie, aka everybody's favorite Yarn Harlot. We are SO THRILLED that she's hosting a plonk-enhanced, cherry-upside-down-cake-filled event. Go stop by Harlotville if you'd like details.

Almost Tender Moment

Apologies for the lack of postage from my end--last night the power went out, just as I was calculating the minutes until the small fry would be asleep so I could get some time to myself and write about my knitting adventures.

Oh, it was a pioneer moment, lemme tell you: the candles glowed, Hubbo tenderly helped David with the grammar lesson, Clif and I fought a ferocious game of Sorry. As the fella whipped my sorry behind, I contemplated the utter perfection of this quiet moment.

And then I remembered: hey, my blogphone still works.

Surfing by candlelight. Pathetic.

Benchapalooza

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[Free bonus look at Jupiter as Interpreted by David.]

I'm finished with Side 1 of the Big Daddy Piano Bench Cushion, and it is in the midst of a heroic, multi-day blocking. It is so curly that as I sat poolside knitting while the fellas whacked each other with PoolNoodles, somebody at the YMCA thought I was holding a snake.

The Big Dot pattern opens up pretty well under the hurricane force of a zillion pins. Still holding up Euroflax as the Yarn of the Future. Did you know they used this stuff on the space shuttle?

Midway through this little projeck, I am wondering if I should just punt on the backside of the cushion. What if I made a labyrinth knitting flange to attach to the edge of the cushion, which would drape decoratively over the edge of the piano bench? (What if a genie climbed out of my fax machine?) Then I could get all Gee's Bend about it and back the cushion with some leftover corduroy or dungaree legs.

Ah, just kidding about the leftover dungaree legs. But some polite fabric backing would give a little structure to this cushion. And, uh, save me another 540 square inches of knitting that would mostly be unseen except by Platinum Access viewers of this cushion.

Or should I soldier on with my original, two-sided plan? You know, the stonecarvers at Chartres cathedral had these kinds of issues: Do I finish the little decorative flower thingies even though they're waaaay up here in the back staircase behind the altar?

If you ever find yourself climbing around the backside of Chartres, you'll discover that the little decorative flower thingies are all there. Every single one of 'em.

I'm looking around this place, and I'm thinking, this ain't no Chartres cathedral.

I'm going to blog every day this week, just you watch. I'm in a fever, and the only cure is . . . more blogging.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 10:18 PM | Comments (16)

September 24, 2004

We've Got Mail

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Dear Ann,

Here's something I wonder about, almost every day: Why do we do this? Knitting, I mean. Handknitting in the Age of J. Crew. Today, for my Why Do We Do This file, Carolyn sent me the image above and the following note:

"My great, great grandmother (1821-1904) knit lace using tiny steel knitting needles. She kept her ball of cotton thread in a large pocket of a long black skirt [Ed. Note: Carolyn is not that old! She must know about the long black skirt from pictures and/or family lore.] She created a variety of patterns and intricate designs to be used for decorative edgings for bureau scarves [Ed. Note: Remember bureau scarves?! At what point in the 1960s did everybody in the country agree, 'OK, we're done with the bureau scarf thing.'], hand towels, pillow cases, and underwear garments (all the while raising 5 children and managing a dairy farm and doing 'charity' work!). The lace was always removed and saved. About 10 years ago, my mother carefully stitched sections to black velvet, and framed these masterpieces for relatives. It is one of my treasured heirlooms. xox Carolyn"

[Note to Carolyn: Ann is having a Major Covetous Moment right now. Ann trolls the Tailgate Antiques Show for 'mending samplers'. Just imagine, if you will, how a framed set of hand-knit lace samples -- removed from 19th century undergarments, even--would send her absolutely out of her everlovin' gourd. Send smelling salts.]

Thanks, Carolyn. As always you made my day.

More Mail With Good Gossip

Lookie here---another Cindy afghan!

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Apparently those lil' ol' Florida hurricanes did not bother Cindy one bit. She kept on a-sewing, in any event. She also sent this. It's a wonderful aran pullover Cindy made for her daughter's fiance, who subsequently became an ex-fiance. Good get to repossess the handknits, Cindy! Cindy generously sent it (it's a bit warm for Florida apparently) with the request that I find a good home for it. In light of its rugged beauty and toasty warmth, I have selected it a good home in Afghanistan. It is a bit large for a child, but a teenage boy or girl could surely use it.

Thanks so much Cindy!

And now I must go shopping for a long black skirt! Happy weekend, y'all.

Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 10:27 AM | Comments (13)

September 21, 2004

Alert The Media

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Dear Ann,

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. Recently I found myself in the unaccustomed position of having Finished Something. A sweater, no less. Small, to be sure, but a sweater.

I have had completion problems lately. (Perhaps you've noticed that, while waiting almost a year for that wonderfully morose Olive cardi I'm meant to be finishing up for you. You can wear it on overcast days that are a touch too chilly for your fab--and I note, FINISHED--new jacket from Habu Textiles.)

But babies will be born, and they must be knit for. This is Scamp, from Rowan's Pipsqueaks book. It is for the first grandchild of a dear friend in North Carolina (let's just pass over the fact that I HAVE A FRIEND WHO IS NOT THAT MUCH OLDER THAN ME WHO IS A GRANDMOTHER--shriek!). This baby arrived in July 2003. He has been biding his time, sweater-wise. Growing into that perfect sweater age.

Scamp has a tortured history. Which I will reveal to you now.

Textured knit-and-purl stitch patterns were meant for Rowan Denim. After a few washings, the higher terrain gets whiter than the lowlands, to beautiful effect (an effect that I have great difficulty capturing on the KayCam).

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For some reason, I have a horrendous time with these simple, charted patterns. They cannot really be memorized. A purl is either one stitch to the right or the left of where the purl was on the row below, and there is no way of telling except by looking at the chart. In this particular pattern, in the center of every row, the zigs and zags suddenly reverse direction, for a mirror-image effect. (Oy! Like I needed THAT?) Of course, I don't need to tell you (but I WANT to tell you) that on the wrong side all the knits are purls and all the purls are knits. This is easy to understand, but for me, hard to execute. Especially hard to execute in dim light while watching a reunion of folksingers on PBS that was exactly like the film A Mighty Wind, except they weren't, you know, kidding. (The Smothers Brothers! Glenn Yarborough! Green, green, it's green they say.....)

What is the solution to this difficulty? For me, there are two options: quit, or cheat. On Scamp, I did both. I put it aside for months after starting it, and then when I finally finished it, I cheated. Do I have to spell it out for you? When I finally arrived, exhausted, at the little sleeves, I subtracted the zig-zags and just did the furrows of moss stitch. Hey--the kid is a year old. He's gonna notice?

See how the pocket flap has 4 buttons, instead of the 2 shown on the pattern? I did that on purpose, because I didn't like the pattern's use of velcro to keep the pocket from gaping open. (I think I deserve extra credit for making twice as many button holes.) And see how the pocket flap is the dark 'Nashville' shade of Rowan Denim, and the rest of the sweater is the softer 'Memphis' shade? That was on purpose, too. Just 'cause I felt like it.

I had to sew the buttons on twice. The first time around, I used a shiny blue, vintage set from Grandma Mabel's Great Depression Button Box. They faded to murky yellow-gray when I (compulsively) washed the sweater one last time. See how yucky?

This turned out to be good news, because I found perfect, pre-faded blue ones at the sewing/notions department at Hildreth's, America's Oldest Department Store of the Founding Fathers on Main Street (where else) in Southampton, New York. I sewed them on, threw Scamp in a box with a 'Congratulations on Your (Sort of) New Baby' card, and ran to the post office. Goodbye! Get out of here! Go wear yourself out getting drooled on!

I promise you I am almost done getting the Sew-Up Afghans ready for their close-up.

Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 03:55 PM | Comments (15)

September 18, 2004

A Trip to Oz

Dear everybody,

One of the highlights of my visit to New York was our pilgrimage to Habu Textiles, one of the most serene places in all Manhattan. You come down West 30th Street, pass through a crowd of people standing in front of a doorway looking like they're waiting for somebody to hand them money, take a freight elevator up eight floors, and suddenly you're in a pale room with what surely must be bamboo floors. It's empty except for three lengths of very beautiful cloth hanging from poles on the wall. Anybody home?

A small and lovely woman comes through a doorway and says, "You here for yarn? This way," and she leads us to the yarn store: a space four feet wide and fifteen feet long. It is the smallest yarn store in the world, but it is the most fantastic collection of yarns I have ever seen.

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The yarns are shown in sample skeins threaded through long poles, at least a hundred different varieties. Lumpy silk that looks like dreadlocks, impossibly thin silk, sheeny eggplant bamboo, crimped cotton that looks like packing material. Ruffled yarn, yarn that has already been knitted into strips, linen that looks like paper, paper that looks like raffia.

Lis and Polly meet Kay and me there. We lose Polly for a while in a pile of linen, and I worry about Lis once she discovers the rack of garments for sale which were made with these fantastic yarns. It is clear that one particular cardigan needs to be adopted, and it is clear that I have the lowest resistance of the group, so I make off with this airy, glum item made from teeny weeny linen. I'm looking forward to finding the perfect dress to continue the distressed drabitude.

One yarn they don't advertise enough is the Yarn Too Difficult to Knit. This Tussar Knitted Silk (it's a knitted cord) has a lush drape to it, but unless I get out the number 2s, it will not behave. It doesn't matter; it's like a pair of party shoes.

Other delights: red linen-that-looks-like-raffia doubled with what may be burlap. Lace-weight denim in five shades of indigo.

While the lovely woman winds our yarn into skeins, we peek into the workroom. Three women work silently, winding yarn, packing boxes to take to the Stitches show in Atlantic City, all amid spinning swifts, shelves stuffed with yarn, and boxes filled surely with treasure. You want to stay there a day or two. Amid the careless stacks of cones, we see the sole discordant note: a small bag of riotous Koigu. Somebody there has hit the limit on quiet, peaceful yarns.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 10:00 AM | Comments (22)

September 14, 2004

The End of Virtually Everything?

Dear y'all,

We're really sorry for the long radio silence, but the fact is, Kay and I finally met and it was RILLY RILLY AWFUL.

I thought I could stand it until we were trying to drive somewhere and kind of ended up in the Bronx and all she had was a map that showed the entire Interstate system of the United States AS IF it could reveal whether the Cross Bronx Expressway connects to the New York Thruway. She's all "Don't they have paved roads in Tennessee?" and I'm all "Who wants to drive in this hellhole place anyway?" and it all went downhill from there.

Ah, just kidding--we've been yakking and shopping and eating so much that neither of us had the time to write until I left town this afternoon. It's hard to blog about something while you're doing it.

So here's the yucky proof that we are actually two people:

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(Although this photo looks like an alien-abduction photo in the Star, it has not been retouched. Kay was holding the camera. Ann was standing behind her. Rilly! Swear to God! Where was our stylist? Dude, where's my HAIR?)

It was a freaky, fabulous trip, and it all started on Sunday when I arrived in New York on the 7:30 milk run from Nashville. I would like to say that I was rilly nervous and freaked out at the prospect of meeting a pen pal I'd corresponded with for over two years. But the fact is, when you've cranked 4,922 emails with somebody, there's just not that much left to wonder about.

Except what a person is actually like. So now we know. We had a ton of fun.

* * *

Dear y'all, Kay here. Ann and I have been having so much fun pallin' around The Greater New York Metropolitan Area together, taking in the Bronx, the Catskills, Habu Textiles, you name it, that there has scarcely been a moment to blab on the blog. This in-person blabbing--whatta concept! But we didn't want to delay any longer in sharing pictures of Sunday's fantastic sew-up party, so here goes, without the customary blabby commentary you know and love, or at least have come to expect. Grazie Mille to all who came and sewed*, and most especially to Phyllis and Richard, who opened their home to us for an entire afternoon. They are probably still picking yarn and tapestry needles out of the rugs.

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More to come once the dust settles.

Tons of love to everybody,

Ann and Kay

*Ben, Polly, Elisabeth, Mary Neal, Katherine, Allison, Amber, Heather, Pat, Tish, Phyllis (our hostess!), Jenny, AND WHO AM I FORGETTING??????

P.S. By popular demand, here is the only photo I happen to have of the All-Noro Blanket, on the lap of Jenny, who just kept sewing, and sewing, and sewing on it until it was done:

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Kinda great, no?

Posted by Kay at 02:30 PM | Comments (18)

September 11, 2004

Anniversary

Dear Ann,

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Another gorgeous September day, almost exactly like that day. I saw this hand-made sign this morning on the door of a shop.

Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 02:43 PM | Comments (16)

September 08, 2004

Pedicure: Special Victims Unit

Dear Ann,

After three weeks in flip-flops, I am back, all in one piece. A chipped, snaggly piece, but whole. Fear not, Ann, I will tidy up the hoof-sprouting extremities before Sunday.

And while I was away, there you went breaking the sacred rules of our blog. For example, remember what we agreed about Burt Bacharach? How we were only going to speak of him with reverence and awe, and never ever make fun of anything he was wearing in the 70s or early 80s, even if it was an especially girly Patricia Roberts sweater? Consider yourself t.v.-grounded for two weeks. No more That 70s Show for you, Missy.

Some things went wrong in the world while I was out. Julia Child died. Like many of her devotees I'm sure, I had the strange experience of mourning someone I didn't actually know. I thought about her a lot, and made her fabulous Stovetop Anna that Saturday night. (Not an original impulse on my part: I read in the New York Times that grocery stores in New York were running out of potatoes.) Here's a great thing about Julia Child, though: We never have to wonder What Would Julia Do, because she's told us, in painstaking and clear detail. Follow instructions, people! Taste and adjust seasoning! Cut little x's on the bottom of onions for no reason I could ever understand! It's going to be OK!

Welcome To The Coven

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One of the highlights of my summer vacation was watching my 8-year-old niece Maggie knit her little heart out. At one point, while swimming, she asked her mom, 'Can I get out now....and knit?' My heart skipped a beat. Come to me, my pretty! I made her a tannis root milkshake and we were off to the races.

Naturally, I plied the girl with yarn. Quicker than she could say 'poncho', I dug out the Classic Elite Weekend Cotton, and taught Maggie how to do a drop-stitch row. Two days later we sewed a seam, and wala:
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It's a bit droopy at the shoulder, but that is not such a big problem. Maggie also designed a baby sweater with yarn she got on a trip to Nova Scotia. Her next project is a waffley 'dishrag' rug to match her bedroom decor (the kid watches HGTV and TLC almost as much as you do). No kidding! Go Maggie!

Olympic Knitting

As a former synchronized swimmer myself (making the team, and becoming a member of the Tribe of the Green Hair was my only athletic achievement in junior high school, or come to think of it, ever), naturally I watched the Olympics with great interest. So many sports, so little time. All that sweating and striving inspired me to finally get motivated on my daring plan to make a border for my mitered-square blanket using Debbie New's labyrinth knitting technique.

Here's the blanket, awaiting 3 long seams and a death-defying border:

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Here's the basic recipe for labyrinth knitting. You cast on a lot of stitches. Thousands of them. You put markers in two colors. One color tells you to increase one stitch on either side of it. The other color tells you to decrease on either side of it. This robotic action creates miters that turn the strip of knitting this way and that. Debbie New, being a mad genius, has made puzzle sweaters that consist of a single strip of labyrinth knitting. When you lay it out properly, it looks like a sweater, and all you have to do is sew up all the little seams. ("ALL" you have to do?) A very Debbie Newish sweater: boxy but ever so interesting to figure out.

If Evel Knievel were a knitter, he'd be making labyrinth sweaters. When you have to special-order a circular to get enough cable, that's stunt knitting. Jumping over school buses on your mo-ped is a fair comparison.

I had something much more simple in mind. I wanted to make a strip of labyrinth knitting that looked like a Greek Key pattern. Meaning, it went in and out, and had delicious nooks and crannies, but maintained an even width -- so it could be used to border a blanket. A nice, straight line. Newish, but Kayish.

First I tried the Mock Apple Pie of labyrinth knitting; I tried to create the same effect by knitting single miters, and then picking up stitches along the edges and adding more miters in other directions to create the labyrinth effect. This was a total failure. See?

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See again?

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The problem is, you can't pick up the stitches on the side you need to. And even if you could, you create so many dangling ends and wobbly pick-ups that you finally mutter something rude and just cast on the dang 2000 stitches. I gave in. I figured out where to put my increases and decreases to get the thing to do a Greek Key, cast on a modest 396 stitches, and whaddaya know--it worked!

Here's how it looks on the needles:

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At the cast-off (you're such a voyeur!):

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And after it was pushed and prodded into a 27-inch strip of border:

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It was fiddly as hell, but easy! Only 9 rows, but there's no counting or fussing once you've figured out where to put the markers. It came out perfectly the first time. I could make 2 or 3 of these for each side of the blanket, and fill it in with some stripes.

The problem is: I think it looks bad. Too busy (I know, Cristina! You were right!). So I'm going to do a striped border, garter stitch, with 4 mitered corners, and be done with it. I'll save my new-found labyrinth technique for another project. The effort was not wasted, because I feel like such a stud to have knit anything from Debbie New's book.

And with that, I've used up my word allotment for who knows how long.

See you on Sunday!

Love, Kay

Posted by Kay at 03:38 PM | Comments (21)

September 03, 2004

With the Right Tools You Can Do Anything

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Dear Kay,

You know how I am about the blocking. I love the blocking. I may start taking in the blocking as piecework.

I was at Sheila's Yarn Shack the other day to pick up an item she had ordered for me way back before her shoppe even opened. I'm telling you, it was like Christmas.

Like a mason working without a trowel (OK like Michelangelo without his scaffold) I have been blocking stuff on my giant cardboard box covered in gingham. I felt so environmentally responsible. The only problem was, after endless pleasant days of pinning stuff down, my box began to return to nature, to sag in a biodegrading way that meant nothing I pinned to my box would stay flat.

Ah, whatever. This new fancy blocking board has everything except an Internet connection. As my sainted mother used to say, with the right tools you can do anything. (Most of the unnecessary yet awesomely cool things in my life are the result of this aphorism. Thanks, Mom!)

So I'm pleased that my inaugural project is something that so desperately needs a good long turn under the pins: the prodigal Asta, that wandering project that I lost for a month or so. I'm going to leave this pinned for a few days for some extreme blocking. I'm concerned that it is somehow small, even though the measurements look right. Or maybe I'm concerned that I am somehow big.

Is it just me, or does summer seem somehow long gone? David started third grade almost two weeks ago. Back in the bus driver's seat, back in the routine of the Really Friendly Phone Call. "Hi! This is David'sMomAnn! Would you mind coming to help move the third grade building about ten feet to the left? Great! It's going to be fun!"

Love,
Ann

PS Here's another favorite way to justify just about anything, from Rowanette Jill: "I never regret my luxuries, only my economies."

Posted by Ann at 09:26 AM | Comments (17)
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