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

August 30, 2012

The Back To School Book Giveaway Begins

Dear Ann,

I know back-to-school is old news in Nashville, but up here in lazy town, we are still milking summer for all it's worth. The kids go back to school next week. It's been so long they need a refresher on What Is This "School" Of Which You Speak, And Why Do I Need A Haircut For It?

Good news, Joseph's Back to School Sweater is done! Yes, I started it for Back to School 2009. Shut up.


Luckily, Cristina Bernardi Shiffman's wonderful Mr. Boy pullover is knit from the top down, so it was easy to add length to the sleeves and body, and the deep slip-stitch rib expands and contracts to accommodate pretty much any boyish frame. It fits! He promised to let me take pictures of it on him. We'll see how that goes. The yarn is Rowan All Seasons Cotton, which I love as much as ever. I cannot think of any other yarn with acrylic in it that is truly worth the knitting time, but ASC is a pleasure.

And in other news, beautiful books have been piling up around here. So, it's time to give some away. Contest! I.e., random drawing!

First up is a charming little book, Sasha's Sweet 16 Secrets to Long Life.


I have known Tina Ravitz since 1981 (we were infants). Tina is an animal lover and professional pet photographer. In 2009, when Tina's beloved cat Sasha turned 16, Tina threw her a party. (As you do.) (It was her Cat Mitzvah.) (Sorry.) As a party favor, Tina handed out Sasha's secrets of longevity, and afterwards people kept asking her for more copies. Sasha, it seems, was the long-lost feline child of Jane Fonda and Dr. Nicholas Perricone. When Tina told me she had turned Sasha's tips into an illustrated book, I startled everyone in the coffee shop by screaming, "KNITTERS LOVE CATS! YOU HAVE TO LET ME GIVE ONE AWAY!" It's a sweet, sweet book. If you don't win a copy, you can get one from Tina.

I'm hoping Tina's next title is THERE'S SOMEONE AT THE DOOR: Top 10 Seemingly Harmless Things Terriers Must Destroy Before They Kill Us All, by Olive Bergmann as told to Everybody, All the Time.

Next we have two copies of Bead Crochet Jewelry, by Bert Rachel Freed and Dana Elizabeth Freed.


With the help of my enthusiastic and multi-craftual knitting buddy Sara Sprung, I've actually tested this one out, and was amazed at how quickly a beautiful rope of crocheted beads can come together, and at all the gorgeous things it is possible to make. When Sara came by to teach me, she brought "a few beads":


Sara just started with the bead crochet. I'm scared to think about her yarn stash. People reading this who know Sara, can I get a what-what? Sara has converted more nonknitters to knitting, and more non-beaders to beaders, than anybody else on the island of Manhattan. Of this I am certain. If you are dropping your kid off at the camp bus, Sara is the mom whose MadTosh poncho matches her dog Meringue's coat. At 7:30 in the morning.

Third, our first knitting e-book giveaway, just in time for Scarf Season 2012:

Reversible Scarves: Curing the Wrong Side Blues, by Audrey Knight.

This is the one that I really have to make: Woven Dots. Doesn't that look like the perfect unisex scarf for the Red Scarf Project? Or for your own neck?


(This book is a PDF; the winner can opt to receive via Ravelry library or email.)


And finally (for today), a book that is sure to be a cult classic in the rarified world of knitting botanically correct flowers: Noni Flowers, by Nora J. Bellows. The flowers are mind-bogglingly real. If you're looking for reliable instructions for knitting up a bouquet of asmina triloba (Pawpaw Blossom, duh!), this is your resource. It's also a stunning book to look at, exquisitely photographed. The knitterly urge to figure out how to knit anything and everything never ceases to surprise and delight me. What next, Noni Fungi? I am not even kidding; it would be cool.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment to this post, with a tip for longevity. It can be serious, or you can just make it up. I'll close down the comments at noon (New York Time) on Monday, September 3, crank up ye old random generator to pick winners, and announce them here on Tuesday, September 4.

Happy holiday to those in the Labor Day zone, and happy weekend to all!


Posted by Kay at 02:27 PM | Comments (498)

August 27, 2012

Bowling Avenue Outselling Fifty Shades of Grey. (In Nashville.) (On the West Side.)


Dear Kay,

Just wanted to give a quick update on my novel. This has been such a great summer, getting to be in touch with everybody who's been stopping in on Bowling Avenue. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read it, tell a friend about it, review it online. You know what the Department of Homeland Security says: "If you read something, say something."

By the Numbers

Days since June 6 publication date: 80.

Days since June 6 publication date until book broke even: 6.

Percentage of sales that are print edition: 50

Percentage of sales that are ebook: 50

Number of books in a carton: 30

Number of trees saved due to ebook purchases: Absolutely no clue, but here's an interesting article about trees and books.

Percentage of sales out of the back of my car: .5%.

Forbes articles that are excellent overviews of what's happening in indie publishing: 1 (Here.)

Articles I've written about my indie publishing experience: 2 (Here and here.)

Sales rank all summer at Parnassus Books, Nashville: 1.

Boatloads of appreciation going out toward Parnassus Books: 3.

Number of 16' x 16' bookstores carrying Bowling Avenue: 1. (That would be East Side Story, a new bookstore run by this cheerful pair. Just opened its door a few weeks ago. You can read about it here.) This is the most unusual bookstore I have ever seen. It is certainly the most cheerful place I've ever seen. Chuck emails me with news about my sales, about what's going on in the shop. His goal is to focus on local authors, and judging by his first weeks, he is doing a bang-up job of that.

Number of people who have said they know "exactly who every character in the book really is": 2.

Exact location of Bowling Avenue: Right between George Bernard Shaw and Sidney Sheldon. (At the Monteagle Assembly Library.)

Price of print edition on Amazon: $11.30. The Algorithm Keeper hath delivered unto us a recession-friendly 33% lower price, right here. The $5.65 you save can easily go toward yarn. Or chocolate. Or another book.

Southern Festivals of Books I'll be attending: 1 (Friday, Oct. 12 at the Authors in the Round dinner, and a reading on Saturday, Oct. 13)

Days until the audio edition is available: 90. (November 15? Maybe sooner. The good news in all this is that the audio edition will be a co-venture with The Rockethouse, the superclassie production company run by a great friend, Matt Thompson. And former Nashvillian Landy Pupo-Thompson will be involved, which pegs the meter on fun. They're in Scotland; I'm in Nashville. It's long-distance locavore publishing, I guess.

Again, thanks so much for all the support and good cheer. I wish I knew how to repay it!


Posted by Ann at 10:26 AM | Comments (51)

August 23, 2012

I Am The Rose of Sharon Quilt


Dear Ann,

Welcome home from your eastward travels. It must be painful to look upon the place where Venus rightfully stood. Although it's a lovely thing to see when in Paris.

In addition to lots of unblogged knitting, I've got unblogged quilting. Quilts are such a process; once you've made one, you understand why there are so many orphaned blocks and unquilted tops for sale on Etsy and eBay. Even compared to knitting, there are a lot of places where a quilt can simply disappear, never to be seen again. These places are known as the Bermuda Half-Square Triangles. (Har har! My first quilting joke!)

I pieced the cross blocks at New Year 2012, over a couple of days (nights), using the Modern Crosses pattern from Modern Log Cabin Quilting. This was the quilt that inspired the Mitered Crosses Blanket (which, by the way, has raised $19,000 for Mercy Corps; the pattern is still selling, and people are still knitting amazing versions of it).

Our lovely mutual friend Polly had given me my very first "jelly roll"--a roll of 2 1/2 inch wide strips of fabric from a single collection. I treated the jelly roll like a skein of Noro Silk Garden, piecing the crosses from strips drawn in order as they came off the jelly roll--no "design" to it on my part. I used a white-on-white fabric for the background. I wanted to make a small throw for my goddaughter, Rose. Since she is an upstanding member of the Episcopal church, the cross motif seemed å propos. Rose has the white kid-bound Bible my own godmothers gave to me; a cross quilt would fit right in to her collection of Stuff Kay Gave Me For Posterity.

When the top was finished, I did not love it. Although I liked the colors, there was something too matchy about the fabrics, to my eccentricity-loving eye. It is an article of faith with me that we were not put on this earth to color-coordinate. As soothing and self-confidence instilling as a jelly roll is, I am not, it seems, a jelly-roll quilter. In future I will take the risk of making an ugly quilt, to avoid making a tame one. I should have stirred those lovely jelly roll strips into the stash!

The same weekend, I had made a single block of 4 pieced letters (using this book as a how-to manual) to contribute to a group project by my most admired quilter. While doing that fiddly job, the thought occurred that I could brighten up (or mess up) the crosses quilt with text borders pieced from bits of my non-jelly roll stash.

I knew exactly which text. My goddaughter's name is Rose. My favorite verse from Song of Solomon is the one that starts, "I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley," which I sang, scores of times, as a first alto for the North High Madrigal Singers, resplendent in vaguely quattrocento gowns in the team colors of the North High Vikings.

Digression: here is the song, very well sung, despite lack of blue and gold polyester gowns. Stay with it, it gets very snappy at the end, and overall it's one of the most joyful bits of the Bible.

The part of the verse that seemed most relevant, to this braggadocious godmother anyway, is the part that goes:

As the Lily among the Thorns
So is my love among the daughters.

Perfect, right? And so much classier than my first draft: "Those other girls are OK, but Rosie is the best!"

I then embarked on a very tedious phase of my life: learning how to piece letters into words. Mostly by learning how not to piece letters into words. I will do better next time. But I got them done, over Memorial Day and July 4 sessions at the sewing machine, ignoring hungry people.. I even pieced letters for the back--as you know, I like to push the word count. I pieced my fingers to the bone. At the end of July I sent the quilt sandwich fixings to my favorite machine quilter, Gayle Karol of Tillie Studio, who quilted it in an all-over pattern of roses (squee!). Gayle kindly, and with great sensitivity to the feelings of a junior quilter, dove into her stash to fix one of the edges where I hadn't put a white strip on top of the letters--true customer service.

I sewed down the binding during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, and it was done. Here it is:



I have no tips to offer other than to say that when you put lettered borders on a quilt, make sure to put a plain strip on the outside on all four edges, so that the binding doesn't obscure the letters. They are hard enough to read to begin with.


Yours in lifelong learning and diligent godparenting,


Posted by Kay at 01:27 PM | Comments (47)

August 21, 2012

Milos, minus Venus de Milo


Dear Kay,

We stood at the edge of this lunar landscape for a very long time, doing nothing but staring at the waves as they crashed around our feet. This is probably my most vivid memory of the trip.

This is Milos, a little island south of Athens. It's famous for not having the Venus de Milo statue anymore. We saw the gully from which it was taken in 1821 by French sailors who were shot at as they lugged the thing to their ship. When you see the Venus de Milo standing there in the Louvre, remember that it came from this little place.


Posted by Ann at 05:19 PM | Comments (28)

August 20, 2012

A Very Sorry Tale


Dear Kay,

I'm not going to lie: I have been avoiding writing you, because for the past two weeks I have been in the deepest knitting mourning.

I haven't knitted since I got back from our family trip to Greece and Turkey. August 5. It's not because there hasn't been knitting available around the house. You know that there are drifts of it amid the wreckage of this neglected place. Entire sweaters, scarves, baby garments, bales of yarn--all piled up like so much insulation.

The reason I haven't knitted anything is because I have been bereft without the project I had lovingly, carefully, tenderly cooked up as my Aegean Trip Souvenir.

It was the yarn that made this project so special. It involved the handspun yarn given to you by Juliet Bernard, the one-woman dynamo who edited The Knitter during our tenure as columnists.

Handspun alpaca. Three dense little skeins I stole from you, with no apology. I realize this was sort of tacky, but I also knew that handspun alpaca was something that I could nudge along to a fine destiny.

That destiny was to be a bit of vacation knitting using Veera Välimäki's Different Lines, surely one of the greatest recent patterns that hits the sweet spot of simple and cool. If you haven't made one of these yet, I don't know what is wrong with you. Garter stitch, short rows, a peculiar sail-shaped scarf. It's so great.

I wound the first skein of Juliet's Unique and Special Yarn in the Nashville airport. By the time we left Toronto, I was knitting away, delighted at the way these two very different alpaca yarns were complementing each other. Blue Sky Alpaca Silk--the silkiest twine you ever saw, in the most beautiful buff color, alongside Juliet's rustic, natural-colored alpaca.

Wheels Up

We arrived in Athens, on time and under budget, ready to give Greece a big economic HUG and wishes for a speedy recovery from whatever economic bad meal they've been served.

We had dinner while gazing at the Acropolis. We devoured our allotment of Greek cheese. We saw signs that looked like sorority names. There is something great that happens when you first walk around a new city: the combination of jet lag and cultural disorientation left me feeling like the Curiosity rover, plopped down. So conspicuous, so illiterate.

That night, we hunkered down to watch the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics in the country of the ORIGINAL Olympics. I had my Different Lines right there with me in Clif's bed, even though Athens is two hours later than London which meant the first glimpse of the Opening Ceremonies came at 11 pm. I knitted through a complete mental delirium. The boys puzzled over the green hills erupting in the middle of the stadium. I began to think I was hallucinating, what with Kenneth Branagh turning up in Victorian garb, and smokestacks sprouting from the hillsides, all of it so dreamy and weird that I concluded that jet lag had got the best of me. I konked out, glad to be so far from home, glad to have Juliet's alpaca yarn in tow.

The Nashville of the Aegean

The next day we met Jon's Athenian friend Georgios, who honest to God can match Jon for conversation on any topic under the sun. I'm happy that, at long last, after twenty-two years of marriage, I have found someone who can do this. We had breakfast while gazing upon the Acropolis, got within a foot of the Parthenon, felt blissed out to breathe this dusty air, so great. A swim in the rooftop pool, snipsnap packed it all up, and off to the ship for our trip to Istanbul.

Anchor Aweigh

It was only the next day when I realized that Kenneth Branagh had somehow led me to leave behind my Different Lines scarf. And Juliet's Unique and Special Yarn. My last moment with that knitting was in Clif's bed. I tore apart my luggage, searching even in the lining as if I had been trying to SMUGGLE MY KNITTING ONTO THE SHIP. Nowhere to be found. Not in the boys' luggage. Gone.

I contacted the hotel. Supergracious reply, but regrets that that no knitting had been found in the room. I tried to play it cool, but I spent most of the day feeling very, very low.

I figured that somebody had scooped up Clif's bedsheets containing my knitting, chucked the whole pile into the hotel laundry, and the felted, ruined mess was dumped in the trash after coming out of the spin cycle. Not everybody can recognize handspun alpaca, never mind a clever Finnish knitting pattern.

An eleven-day trip with no knitting is something I have not experienced in more than a decade. I read two and a half books. I lolled. We saw many superfamous things. We have a new collection of Shaynes Squinting In Front of Landmarks. I ate so much that I gained five pounds in one week. It was great. But every day, I was haunted by the fact that Juliet's yarn was lost in such a profound and irretrievable way. Most of all, it made me genuinely queasy to think that the one time I took truly irreplaceable yarn on a trip, it disappeared.

The only reason I am able to confess this hideous tale is that yesterday, the doorbell rang, and the mail guy handed me this:


I don't think I have ever literally hugged a package before. I took the package as if it were a baby. It was so . . . hellenic. The "a" in Shayne was written as an alpha.


Basic rule of travel: never take yarn on a trip when it has a label that looks like this:


Greece, you are the greatest country ever. I love your beautiful statues and buildings and cheese and postage stamps with jellyfish on them. And to CHRISTINA AIVALIKLI, EXECUTIVE HOUSEKEEPER, I send profound thanks for whatever archaeological excavation was required to find that yarn.


Posted by Ann at 10:46 PM | Comments (74)

August 08, 2012

Postcard from Istanbul


Dear Kay,

That's me up there, on the last day of our trip to the eastern Mediterranean. Really embraced local culture this time.

So much to write! Rugged re-entry . . .


Posted by Ann at 09:26 AM | Comments (19)

August 06, 2012

Take Me With You When You Go

Dear Ann,

Guess who's playing the Omaha Music Hall tonight? Mr. Wonderful.

Guess who by sheer coincidence is dutifully visiting her Old Folks at Home in that very city?

Fairly excited.

Welcome home!


Posted by Kay at 04:44 PM | Comments (14)

August 02, 2012

Jump Back In


Dear Ann,

We hate posts that start with a litany of reasons why the blogger ain't been bloggin'. So I won't do that. Life has been chock full o' distractions. But many of the distractions have been of a crafty nature. Help me, Ann--I've come over all multi-craftual!

For months now, I've been deep into all things Alabama Chanin. This is a long-percolating love. I had pored over each of Natalie Chanin's books as they came out. They were Right Up My Alley. I love handsewing. I love recycled fabric, and cotton jersey. I love the photography, styling and spirit of these books. But something was always in the way of actually starting a project. The handwork skills are elemental-- the basic sewing, embroidery and beading than many of us learned in Home Ec and Camp Fire Girls--but the materials require preparation. There are t-shirts to be hacked up, there is stenciling. Something like cutting out a pattern or figuring out the straight grain of a piece of cloth can blow me off course; basically, I never got it together.


Then, one day this past spring, a knitting pupil/pal started testifying about Alabama Chanin. She showed me her beloved collection of Alabama Chanin clothing and her own DIY project, and I began to covet like crazy. I fell into a hole reminiscent of my first glimpse into a Rowan Magazine back in the early 90s. I was all "MUST MAKE THIS NOW"--trembling to cast on. And to my delight, I learned that nowadays I don't have to do my own t-shirt processing or stenciling. Alabama Chanin sells kits for many of the designs. You can make your own bespoke Alabama Chanin wardrobe for the price of handknits (albeit the handknits of a fiber snob; I'm looking at you, everybody). You can look like Rosanne Cash in this amazing video, which is Made In America, down to the Alabama Chanin jacket she's wearing.


What I want to shout to the rooftops of the knitting world is that this type of sewing-- piece by piece, by hand, in your lap--pushes the same buttons as knitting. It's mindful, centering, and satisfying. And the clothes are great. That's my beaded swing skirt up there under the book--can you dig it? ME--Miss I Know It's Not The 80s But I Still Wear A Lot of Black-- in a beaded anything? It fits and looks great and was very fun to do. Bonus is that the painted stencil is so nicely done that you can wear the thing before it's technically finished. I'm still pondering how to deal with the stems on my floral stencil. More beads? French knots? Cross-stitch? I love the fact that every stitch of the garment--including all the seams, and the elastic waistband--is by hand, yet it's not fragile. It blows my mind that I flat-felled the seams BY HAND.

Lesson Learned (Again)


This is my second Alabama Chanin project, the corset top. I made it for Carrie, who modeled it dutifully but has not worn it in Real Life. Luckily it also fits niece Kristin, who has worn it willingly and fetchingly. But when am I going to learn?


Here are the steps to follow to get a teen to wear something you've made by hand:

1. Make it for yourself.
2. Say out loud, as casually as you can muster: "This is mine. I love it and do not particularly want to share it."
3. Reluctantly, let her borrow it, or better yet, steal it.


This is the only method that has ever worked for me. Clip 'n save, knitting and sewing mothers of teenage girls. (Note: also works with purchased clothing, especially favorite jackets, scarves and accessories, and anything you still own from 1987; in fact, if you want to hang on to them for yourself, first try to give them to Teen.)

Next Alabama Chanin project for me: a blanket. Of course. Of my own design, sort of.

I'm going to be back again soon, as I have GREAT BOOKS TO GIVE AWAY. So bear with, and stay tuned.


Posted by Kay at 04:57 PM | Comments (49)
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