Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Prognosis: Positive

Today I learned that I have Lyme Disease. Don't worry; this blog isn't going to turn into nor am I going to publish pictures of my bull's-eye rash. [Especially since it covers part of my left breast.] I was bitten by a tick about three weeks ago, but didn't recognize it as such: I thought I was brushing off a fuzzy or piece of dirt. It wasn't until I developed a rash that kept expanding, and didn't respond to ordinary measures like hydrocortisone cream that I made the connection. So I may be taking it a little easy the next few weeks. I've got thirty days of antibiotics and I hope that will take care of this. If I post a little less often, well, I hope y'all will get over it.

In other news... yesterday was the local Memorial Day parade. You may have figured out by now that I have a streak of corny a mile long inside me, and I love these old-fashioned holiday parades. My oldest marched with the Little League,

in between a bus full of [insert current politically correct word for retarded here] Boy Scouts and the local historical society. Check out the covered wagon; pretty cool, eh?

And don't forget the handy-dandy Minuteman, while you're at it.

Of course, after half an hour of standing in the sun waiting to march, my kid's patience was at a low ebb and we bailed a little ways into it, as soon as we saw Tom and the twins and Grandpop at the side of the road.

We sat with them and watched the giant watering can floats (on display, for some inexplicable reason, at a local arboretum)

and admired cute tailless doggies

and the antique cars driven by equally antique veterans. (I bonded with a guy who flew B-17s, proudly telling him my great-uncle flew in one, too.) We snickered meanly at the guy who marched in the parade with a pink CareBears backpack:

I even got to marvel at the attire of some fourteen-year-olds, whose asses were covered, barely, by no more than six inches of fabric in their Daisy Duke shorts. What were their mothers thinking?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Meet Great-Uncle Francis

This is my great-uncle who, like 68.45 percent of the men in my family, is named Francis.

I've never met him, at least not since I was old enough to remember, and although he is the brother of my paternal grandfather (and boy, does he look like my grandfather), my dad hasn't spoken to him in years. I learned about Francis when I started researching my family's genealogy. Nothing like doing a Google search and coming up with a long-lost relative, particularly with an unusual ethnic name like mine, where you don't get a lot of hits.

My great-uncle Francis grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania, son of a coal miner, and ended up in the Army during World War II, like so many men of his generation. A member of the 303rd Bomb Group, he flew missions as part of the crew of a B-17 bomber. My father, who was a child at the time, vividly remembers that the plane's insignia had Bug Bunny on it (which is kind of odd, since I've always loved Bugs Bunny). My dad was right:

This is a photo of the nose art from the plane Francis flew on.

On January 23, 1943, Francis' plane took off on a mission, flying -- along with twenty other B-17s -- from England to an area over France. Their targets were a port at Lorien and the U-boat pens near Brest. Before they could complete the mission, forty-odd enemy fighters appeared and opened fire. At the same time, more American planes, from a different bomb group, appeared over my great-uncle's squad, aiming for the same set of targets at Lorien and Brest. In the confusion and fire, five aircraft went down. My great-uncle's plane, named "Susfu," was one of them.

Two of the Susfu's crew were killed when the plane went down; two evaded capture by the occupying Germans; and the remainder, including my great-uncle, were able to avoid capture temporarily. Family lore says that Francis was sheltered by a local French family, but later someone informed on them. The head of the family was shot and my great-uncle was captured. Francis ended up in a Nazi stalag as a prisoner-of-war until the war ended, two years later.

I know very little about what kind of person my great-uncle is, but I know what it's like to be twenty years old and I can't imagine -- at that age or any age -- stepping up to the plate in a situation like WWII: adjusting to military life, learning how to serve as crew on a bomber jet, going abroad to fly missions over enemy country, the terror and adrenaline that he must have felt when his plane took enemy fire, what thoughts went through his head when he parachuted out over a France occupied by Nazis. I can't imagine surviving on the run, or the guilt he must have felt when the man who sheltered him was shot. I can't imagine being held prisoner in a stalag (although I suspect it wasn't anything like Hogan's Heroes) and then the disbelief and joy of liberation.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day in which we are supposed to remember those men and women who have served our country throughout the years. So even though I've never my great-uncle Francis, and even though my father describes him as a crazy old bastard (his words), I respect Francis for helping to protect our country as he did and I thank him for all the sacrifices he made while doing it.

If you don't have a family member or friend serving in the military, but would like to reach out to a serviceperson stationed abroad, I urge you to visit It's a grass-roots organization that provides contact information for Americans in all branches of the military so that ordinary citizens like you and I can send care packages. The website is cleverly set up to allow the soldiers to make specific requests and to post updates and photographs. You can search the profiles by keyword; I like to send packages to soldiers that share my kids' first names, or who are from the Philadelphia area. The most touching part is the number of soldiers who ask for things not for themselves, or even for those in their platoon or company, but for the impoverished citizens of the countries (particularly Iraq and Afghanistan) in which they are stationed. Please don't think you have to be a gung-ho military person or that you must agree with our government's decision to invade Iraq to participate; God knows I don't but when I look at these photos I am struck by how young these kids are, and how hellish their service must be.

Happy Memorial Day to you all.

Especially you, Francis.

Friday, May 26, 2006

It's up!

My essay is part of this week's Cast-On!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Smells like teen spirit

He's starting to get awfully big and gangly. His room is a mess: toys and bedding strewn all over. He eats constantly but never seems to put on weight. His attitude, quite frankly, is getting more than a little surly. When you hug him, you can almost hear him think, "Leave me alone, already!" And his, erm, odor is starting to get downright pungent.

It's official: he's turning into a teenager before our very eyes.

What's that?

Oh, no, not James! I was talking about Charcoal. Or "A.J. Soprano Bunny," as Tom has taken to calling him.

Fortunately, there is an easy remedy for teenage bunny hormonal overload. In about a week and a half, Charcoal will be making a trip to the vet for a little snip and tuck. I highly recommend that Tony and Carmela do the same.

Farklempt: (Yiddish) choked up; emotionally overwhelmed

The other day, I was farklempt when I received this in the mail:

It's a set of handmade stitch markers that read "Black Bunny Fibers." It came in a lovely envelope with an even lovelier card from the AmpuTeeHee. I have always been secretly envious when bloggers like Joe talk about the cool things their readers send them. I am envious no more! Instead, I am grateful and farklempt.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Save the sheep!

Sheep are common, everyday animals, especially in the lives of knitters. We are inundated with images of sheep and we notice them everywhere. We go to fiber festivals and watch them being sheared and we purchase their yarn and fleece. Even a simple drive on a country road and we look for the sheep who bring us so much pleasure with their wool. So it seems odd to talk about sheep being rare or endangered.

But farming has changed over the last hundred years. Instead of being primarily local, farming has become national and even global. Gone are the days when your wool (or your milk or your apples or your chicken) came from the farmer down the road. Agriculture is dominated by large conglomerations and corporations who have shifted focus to producing a limited number of breeds, breeds designed for maximum production. Other breeds are being left to die out and, possibly, disappear forever.

I found out about rare sheep breeds when Spin-Off magazine did an article a few years back about endangered breeds, and why the loss of fiber from those breeds was a loss for spinners (and knitters) everywhere.* The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve unique livestock breeds -- not only sheep breeds, but also cows and pigs and goats and even bunnies. As the ALBC puts it, these breeds are "part of our national heritage and represent a unique piece of the earth's bio-diversity. The loss of these breeds would impoverish agriculture and diminish the human spirit. We have inherited a rich variety of livestock breeds. For the sake of future generations we must work together to safeguard these treasures." On a more practical level, our food supply is at risk when we narrow our agricultural production to a few breeds: just one germ that is particularly virulent in the cross-bred commercial species could spell disaster.

Among the most critically threatened breeds in North America are CVM/Romeldale, Gulf Coast, Hog Island and Santa Cruz sheep. (See? you probably never heard of at least one of those breeds, did you?) The "threatened" category includes Cotswold, Jacob, Karakul, Leicester Longwool, Navajo-Churro and St. Croix breeds. Dorset Horn, Lincoln, Oxford and Tunis on are the "watch" list, and -- gratifyingly -- several breeds have made it to "recovering" status: Shetland, Clun Forest, Barbados Blackbelly, Katahdin, Shropshire, Black Welsh Mountain, Southdown and Wiltshire Horn.

Spinners have more opportunities to work with different and unusual sheep breeds: in fact, one of the most common questions newbie spinners ask (and I've been there myself) is what kind of wool is good for a beginner to spin with. (In case you, too, are wondering, breeds with longer fibers like Corriedale, Blue-Faced Leicester, Coopworth, Lincoln and Romney are good starter fibers.) For knitters, it can be a little harder to find these yarns already spun and ready to knit, and if you do, they are likely to be undyed. (Berroco used to offer a line of breed-specific yarns -- there was a Wensleydale Longwool and a Blue-Faced Leicester, and you could easily buy a sweater's worth in a selection of colors -- but they've sinced discontinued that line.)

Hearing about these breeds got me interested in knitting different sorts of wool, from breeds of sheep with which I wasn't familiar. When I go to fiber festivals, I look for small farms and vendors producing fiber from these breeds. Now that I'm dyeing a lot, these yarns and rovings are especially fun and sometimes challenging, as their fresh-from-the-sheep nature and unique characteristics make them take dye differently than commercial yarns. While I waited for shipments of the commercial sock yarns you know and love, I had fun playing with these farm yarns, which I will list later today on Etsy:

Clun Forest sheep are now in the "recovering" class, meaning they have made progress and are no longer on the verge of extinction, although still not widespread. They have a fine wool with low luster and short fibers. They produce yarn that is lofty and elastic. These batches gave muted colors, with an almost stonewashed feel to them.

Dorset sheep are on Britain's vulnerable breed list) but are more popular in America. The yarn I used is organic Dorset from Britain. Dorset are one of the only major sheep breeds where both male and female sheep have horns.

Ryeland sheep are, like the Clun Forest, a breed which was more endangered in the past than now. They originate in Hertfordshire in Britain, on land on which rye grass was grown -- hence the name. They are placid sheep, with long-fiber wool that spins well. This yarn, also organic, feels sturdy and unbelievably elastic -- very sproing-y!

Cotswold wool -- on the U.S. endangered list -- has longer fibers, a bit of curl and is lustrous -- it's often used for doll hair. Hundreds of years ago, Cotswold wool was a major export in Britain; after a period in which the breed nearly died out, it's starting to be revived. Cotswold sheep are hardy and easy to herd, and have a gentle nature. This yarn reminded me of mohair a bit: it's sturdier than most commercial wools and has a bit of a halo from the longer hairs. It took the colors nicely and has a great luster.

Perendales are the result of crossing Romney sheep with Cheviots. They are very popular in New Zealand, and are kept to produce wool and meat. Their wool is springy and elastic and holds its shape well. I have read that there are only 5 known Perendale flocks in the U.S. at the present time, which is a shame, because I really liked the feel of this Perendale as I worked with it and it took color beautifully.

If you're looking for a little bit of knitting adventure, or want to help save a piece of our ovine heritage, try one. These yarns may look and feel a little different from some of the processed merinos you're used to -- crunchier, sturdier -- but keep an open mind and be receptive to their unique beauty. In the meantime, a box of sock yarn has arrived chez Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat-Lady and is about to visit the dyepot...

*You can find Deborah Robson's article on Interweave's Save the Sheep project in her article "Rare Wools from Rare Sheep-Part Two: Why endangered sheep matter to spinners," Spin-Off 23, no. 1 (Spring 1999).

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Oh, the painful irony of it all

"My most important job is to defend the homeland, to protect innocent Americans from the deaths of the killers." -- GWB

"First thing that Medicare has done is it says that if you're -- when you join Medicare, you get preventative screenings. Put in Texas terms, in order to solve something, you got to diagnose it." -- GWB

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." -- GWB

"It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way." -- GWB

"And so, in my State of the -- my State of the Union -- or state -- my speech to the -- nation, whatever you wanna call it, speech to the nation -- I asked Americans to give 4,000 years -- 4,000 hours over the next -- of the rest of your life -- of service to America. That's what I asked. I said 2 -- 4,000 hours." -- GWB

"We got an issue in America. Too many good docs are gettin' out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their -- their love with women all across this country." -- GWB

"There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once -- shame on -- shame on you. You fool me, you can't get fooled again." -- GWB

Yesterday George W. Bush expressed his belief that immigrants to the United States ought to speak proper English. "What the president has said all along is that he wants to make sure that people who become American citizens have a command of the English language," Snow said. "It's as simple as that." Bush expressed no opinion on whether there would be an amnesty program for himself.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Needle Primer

A reader asked if I would talk about knitting needles. At first, I wasn't quite sure what there was to say on the subject, but once I thought about it a little while, I was able to come up with something. Let me know if this hits the spot, those of you with needle-related questions.

Applying the analytical approach that so many of you have apparently come to know and love (shucks), it seems to me there are two aspects of needles to talk about. The first is the form of needle: straight, double-pointed, or circular. The second is what they're made of: wood, metal, plastic or something else. But either way, the most important thing about needles is what YOU like.


When you mention knitting needles to the uninitiated, the most common image is that of straight needles: two sticks, each with one pointy end and one end with a stopper of some kind. You can knit most things on straight needles. You knit back and forth, turning the work at the end of a row. The stitches start out on the needle you hold in your left hand, and as you manipulate them, end up on the needle in your right hand; then you turn the work, put it in the left hand, and start again. Because you're working back and forth (imagine a piece of paper), you have a right side (meaning the side that will face out when you wear it) and a wrong side (the side the will go next to your skin and not be seen).

Circular needles and double-pointed needles basically do the same thing: they allow you to knit in a circle instead of back-and-forth in a straight line. Actually, they allow you to knit spirally; imagine the cardboard tube inside the paper towel roll and the way the cardboard spirals around, and you'll have the best vision of how knitting "circularly" works.* You, clever ones, immediately see the advantages: knitting a tube allows you to make things like hats and socks and sleeves without sewing a seam. There are some knitters who firmly believe that since the human body is made up of rounded pieces, like arms and torsos, that garments knit in the round will fit better than garments knit flat and pieced together. But even the most industrious knitter has to acknowledge the beauty of avoiding seam sewing; not only is it faster, but you avoid the ridge that even the most skillfully-sewn seam will produce.

The second advantage is that you are always working the right side of the knitting. If you want to make a hat in stockinette stitch, and you are using straight needles, not only will you have to sew the seam to form the tube, you will also have to knit across the right side and purl back across the wrong side. However, if you are knitting circularly, you will only have to knit; you need never purl to produce stockinette stitch. Purling tends to be a little less intuitive a motion for most people and slower, so many knitters like to eliminate purling as much as possible. If you have inconsistencies in the way you knit, you may find your knit rows are snugger and a slightly tighter gauge than your purl rows, and knitting stockinette stitch circularly eliminates this. [Conversely, to get garter stitch while knitting circularly, you must knit a row then purl a row. But most knitters use stockinette more frequently than garter stitch anyway.] There is an excellent minitutorial on how to convert back-and-forth/straight needle patterns to knitting circularly in one of the Barbara Walker treasuries, in the introductory material. Worth a look.

Knitting circularly is one of those things that just amazes me with its cleverness and ingenuity. If you try to knit in the round with two straight needles, you quickly see how trying to fashion a tube out of two parallel straight lines ain't gonna work.

Double-pointed needles add one or two sides, turning parallel lines into a triangle or square. (Some people knit with 4 dpns, others with 5.) You divide up the stitches amongst your 3 (or 4) dpns, setting one aside to be the working needle. Then you work around the tube by knitting the stitches from one of the legs of the triangle (square) onto the working needle; the working needle becomes a leg of the triangle (square) and you use the newly-empty needle as working needle, on and on, around and around.

Now if you're me, for I'm not terribly adept at dpns, you forget to keep incorporating the newly-empty needle, absent-mindedly dropping it to the floor or in your lap, and pretty quickly you end up with all your stitches, twisted and gasping on two dpns. Pretty easy to fix: just redivide the stitches among 3 (4) dpns and continue.

Dpns have the advantage of being excellent for small circumferences: skinny tubes like sleeve cuffs or preemie hats or socks. They are not so great for large circumferences; while dpns come in various lengths, unless you live in the Shetland Islands, it isn't so easy to find really long ones, so if you're trying to knit a wide tube, you're out of luck unless you keep adding more and more sets, which would get ridiculous fast, especially considering how much circular needles have developed.

Circular needles are all one piece and consist of two pointy needles, a couple of inches long, connected by a cable. The size of the pointy sticks varies just like straight needles and the length of the cable varies, too. That's why you describe circular needles as "size 8 (US) circulars with a 16-inch cable." They're more intuitive to work with: you can see the circle shape right away, and you just keep on going around and around and around, without worrying about incorporating a working needle. It helps greatly to put a marker of some sort at the end/beginning of each round so you know where you've started.

Circular needles have the opposite advantage of dpns: they are good for knitting big wide tubes, but poop out when knitting skinny ones. Most knitters believe that a 16-inch circular needle -- which will knit, roughly, 16 to 24-odd inch circumferences, and if you stretch the stitches a little, you might be able to create a 14- or 15-inch circumference -- is about the smallest size cable one can work comfortably. They do make circular needles with a 12-inch cable, but they are painful to work with. Unless you have hands of steel, you'll probably agree that working more than a few rounds on a 12-inch circular is a one-way ticket to carpal tunnel. Which means that if you want to knit smaller tubes, you have to either switch to dpns or add in a second circular (more on this later). Circulars are great at knitting large circumferences, though; get yourself a long cable -- maybe 40-inch -- and you could knit a very wide tube (how about a knitted sleeping bag?).

The other advantage of circulars is that they help distribute a large number of stitches over a wide cable, making it easier and more comfortable to knit big projects like afghans. Instead of trying to shove 450 stitches onto one 14-inch straight needle and then holding it in your left hand, you can distribute them out over a 36-inch cable and hold only some of them on the needles. Easier on your hands to hold, easier to balance on your lap.

You can knit back-and-forth on either dpns or circulars if you like. With dpns, you just have to be aware that both ends of the needles are pointy, so if you have a lot of stitches they may slide off one end. If you get stuck without one straight needle, you can put a point protector or some other stopper on one end of a dpn and use it like a straight needle. You can knit back and forth on a circular needle, too, basically by pretending the cable isn't there; just turn it at the end of a row like you'd turn straight needles. This is one of those questions that seems to baffle newly-minted knitters; they don't see right away that it's possible to knit back-and-forth on circular needles.

*The fact that you are never completing the circle, but rather working spirally, is why you get a blip when switching colors to knit stripes in the round. This is commonly known as a "jog" and there are various techniques which are supposedly enable you to camouflage it. Google it.


Needles come in all different substances, plain and fancy. There are wood needles (all kinds of wood, too, from bamboo to ebony to rosewood); plastic needles; metal needles; casein needles; and so on. Conventional wisdom attributes certain characteristics to certain kinds of needles. Addi Turbos are plated with nickel to make them very slick and fast. Some beginners find they are too slippery to be comfortable; knitters with a need for speed swear by them as the fastest (maybe Lily Chin, a.k.a. World's Fastest Knitter, will leave a comment giving us her expert opinion on the issue?). Bamboo and other wood needles are reputed to be somewhat slower, the theory being that the fiber sticks a little to the wood or meets a bit of resistance. Plastic is light and middle of the road when it comes to speed. Casein (made of milk protein) has a feel all its own. Regular Inox needles have a Teflon coating that I find is moderate: not too fast, not too sticky. Over time, you may develop strong preferences or you may be one of those knitters who doesn't notice or care.

And this brings me to the critical thing to consider in needles: what you like. There's nothing inherently better about one kind over another so long as it works for you. Try a bunch of kinds out and see what you like.

One thing to consider when looking at needles is how sharp the tip is. Some needle tips are blunter than others. If you knit a lot of lace, or anything involving a lot of decreases, it helps to have a tapered tip to slip under stitches more easily. I've heard the Bryspun needles are good for this. Sometimes wood needles can get worn down at the tip or develop splinters; you can try sandpaper to smooth them out.

Another important consideration is what the cable is made of (plastic can kink if it's not good quality) and how smooth the join -- where the needle ends are joined to the cable -- is. If you are doing something involving a lot of sliding back and forth over the join, like knitting I-cord (if you don't know what that is, Google it), you will find a big difference between Addi Turbos (the smoothest join, IMHO) and cheaper brands; rough joins can catch your yarn or tug on the stitches and make it harder to slide them, substantially raising the aggravation factor.

Fancy stuff

All kind of artisan-like needles are coming on to the market. You can buy very serviceable needles made of plastic or bamboo for under five bucks; if you've got cash to burn, you can splurge on gorgeous Lantern Moon needles in various fancy woods with different shaped tips, for around twenty bucks a pair. One of my favorite needles are a wooden pair I got at a long-ago Stitches; they were made by Peace Fleece and have red painted balls on the end. I've even seen articles about knitting needles that light up so you can knit while you're in the movies. (Nope, I'm not making that up.)

One of the best developments in needle technology is the improvement in the quality of circular needles. Year ago, circular needles were pretty crappy; the cables tended to kink up and get permanent bends in them (you sometimes hear knitters talking about soaking the cables in hot water to smooth out the kinks) and the joins were rough. But with the invention of the Addi Turbo -- with metal cables and super-smooth joins -- circular needles entered a new era. Consequently, enterprising knitters came up with more ways to use the circulars. The most popular is the two-circular needle method, sometimes called the "Socks Soar" method after the booklet "Socks Soar on Circular Needles" by Cat Bordhi. (However, purists will note that this method was described in Interweave Knits before "Socks Soar," and as one might expect with a craft as old as knitting, skills tend to be rediscovered rather than invented.) A tutorial on knitting with two circulars is way beyond what I can do for you, but there are excellent ones out there. The gist of it is dividing your stitches in half, and putting half on one circular needle and half on the other; you then work the needles in turn as you go around. This allows you to do very small circumferences without switching to dpns.

Another popular method is called "the Magic Loop," after a booklet by Bev Galeskas and Sarah Hauschka, and involves using a circular with a really long cable, then pulling a big loop of cable through periodically as you work around. Again, Google this and you'll find tutorials. And again, this is designed to let you work small circumferences, ones that are smaller than the length of your cable, without switching over to dpns. As someone who is a tremendous spazz with dpns, I have benefited greatly from these alternative methods for knitting circularly.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the sets of interchangeable needles, like the Denise sets. The needles and cables are, as the name suggests, interchangeable; you can unscrew the needle tips from the cable. You can screw different sized tips onto different length cables, and thus if you carry the little case around with you, you'll always have the right sized needle. I have friends who swear by these; I've never found them appealing. To each his or her own.

And please

...don't fill up the Comments section with testimonials as to how you prefer one method over another. No one here cares which one you use, so long as you use it happily and well. And we're not going to get into a "I use only double-points" snobbery thing, either. Use what works and what you like, and don't waste any time patting yourself on the back about it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monday Miscellany

We had a quiet Mother's Day. My best present of all was getting to take a nap in the afternoon. And Indian food for dinner. (I'm a cheap date.)

Happy Mother's Day to my mom, the inimitable Shirley:

She doesn't read my blog, having uneven internet access, and she would be appalled -- appalled, I tell you -- that I have such a filthy mouth (and yes, I do kiss her with it), but I would be remiss in not wishing her a happy Mother's Day and telling the world what a kick-ass mom she was and is! Thanks, Mom.

And I'm sorry for everything I did from about age 13 through 23.

We have a winner!

Whilst all the maternal merriment was going on, lo and behold, Courtney of Flagstaff, AZ, bought the one-hundredth item on Black Bunny Fibers. It was this lovely skein, called "Nosegay," which I assure you is even prettier in real life (and last time I checked, there was one of it left on the Etsy shop).

I thank all of you for your support and I thank Courtney, too. She has opted for a skein of sock yarn and informed me of her preferred colors, so we'll see what comes out of the dyepot with her name on it.


In the meantime, this

came out of the dyepot for Dave, of Cabin Cove. I now can reveal that I was his Dye-O-Rama dyeing partner, and since I don't think he reads my blog, I'm probably not spoiling the surprise, although I'm sure he'll get his envelope today or tomorrow. It's sportweight Blue-Faced Leicester in olives and gold (as per his request), along with a catnip mouse for his diva of a kitty.

I've been teasing him a little by sending anonymous emails, and I even sent him a teeny snippet of a JPEG of the finished yarn. His response? "Is this your first time dyeing?"

I love the way you all keep me humble.

Book Review: Vogue On-The-Go Shawls

As my regular readers may remember, I have an ambivalent attitude toward Vogue's On-The-Go Knitting series. While I love the size of the books, the affordability, and the fact that they are each devoted to a single genre, I've found the quality of the patterns to be uneven. A recent installment, Shawls, is no exception.

The good: The cover shawl is wonderful: it uses the self-striping aspect of Noro yarns to great effect, and includes an interesting vertical cable detail.

The bad: If you thought it was the same old deja vu all over again, you're aren't imagining things. C'mon, Trish, we do notice when you recycle old designs. Pam Allen's Dragonfly Shawl appears in Vogue On-The-Go Scarves, as does Shirley Paden's gorgeous Rose Lace Stole. Meg Swansen's lovely Shetland Lace Shawl appeared in Vogue Knitting's Fall 2005 issue (pattern 18). I bet you, clever readers, can spot any that I missed. This much recycling is shameful considering how many talented, eager young designers there are out there -- not to mention talented, established designers.

The ugly:

This abomination from Amy Bahrt (sorry, Amy),

that looks like a flock of rabid, mammary-obsessed sheep are attacking the unfortunate model's tits. No self-respecting sheep would be caught dead on a garment like this (am I right, Dolores?) and certainly no self-respecting woman would be caught dead wearing it. I mean, I'm all for whimsy, but this steps way over the line.

Have Fart Jokes Gone Mainstream?

Especially for Lisa McN, I bring you this delightful advertisement, for baked beans.

Am I alone in thinking that emphasizing the flatus-producing quality of one's product is maybe not the best public relations strategy? Imagine the P.R. firm's pitch: "No, no, let's own it! Why, beans are the musical fruit!"

Hope your Monday isn't stinky.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

It's Blue-Faced Leicester Thursday!

Behold the Blue-Faced Leicester sheep!

Bred in England from longwool sheep, they get their name from their so-called blue face, meaning white hairs on black skin (no, it's not really blue-blue). They grow high-quality yarn, with nice luster and relatively long fibers. Photo credit: Blue-Faced Leicester Sheep Breeders Association of Great Britain.

I'm off to finish listing these Blue-Faced Leicester goodies:

a huge hank of Blue-Faced Leicester in shades of, well, blue, along with two smaller sportweight runs (good for socks and a little thicker than fingering weight so they'll knit up faster) and two batches of spinning top. If you're interested in some aran-weight Blue-Faced Leicester, shoot me an email and give me a sense for how much yardage you'd want. I might be able to order some.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New perspectives

As I process some of what I saw over the weekend, it occurs to me that there were three important things that were different about me affecting how I saw MS&W this year. But first, I feel that I failed you in that I devoted an entire post to MS&W without one cute widdle fuzzy lambykins picture

and without providing you with the obligatory sheep-shearing photo:

There, that's better.


One of the things that was different about me this year is Charcoal. This was my first fiber festival with a bunny in the family. I found myself entranced by Angora and other rabbits all over the festival. Like this one:

and this one:

and even one of those white ones with the freaky pink eyes:

All joking aside, it was amazing how interested I'd suddenly become in rabbits, and how much I wanted to pet all the cute ones I saw along the way. Even the ones that were the size of a pig, instead of Charcoal's demure 4 pounds.


The second thing that's different about me is my newfound love of dyeing yarns. All of a sudden I was not only admiring beautiful handdyed yarns, but also analyzing them, wondering what techniques they used, or what dyes, or what colors. I made all kinds of mental notes about color combinations to try and different yarns to play with. Instead of coming home with a bag full of colors, I came home with a bag full of this:


Finally, this is the first fiber festival I attended since I began my blog. Hard to believe, isn't it? But blogging and getting to know some of you has enriched my perspective. I found myself looking at the festival from a blogger's perspective; thinking about what someone who reads my blog but couldn't go would like to know about, or just trying to remember certain images or impression that I wanted to share with you later. And I did take more photos than in years past.

I also made much more of an effort than in years past to meet other people at the show. One of the first things I did was stop at the Kid Hollow booth, to meet my virtual friend Mindy, a frequent commenter here. It was great to put a face to a name and to feel like I know her a tiny bit better having spoken to her and seen her and given her a big hug.

At 1:30, there was a knitblogging meet-up outside the main stage area. Reader Coleen brought this to my attention (thanks, Coleen! Sorry I didn't meet you there) and so I sidled over to the stage area. I sat, staring out at knots of people, wondering which group was the bloggers. To my surprise, not only were two crowds part of the knitblogging meetup, but the total number there had to have exceeded sixty people. I never expected that many. It was fun to mingle a bit, but I think next year I need to have some identifier -- a shirt or a button -- so that people could more easily find me. It was very fun to meet Amiryam, a Rosie's customer and blog reader, and a few others; and it was very humbling to tell people the name of my blog and hear them say, "Never heard of it."


Looking back over my checklist, I did pretty well in accomplishing most of what was on it. I did, in fact, check out skeinwinders and spoke to Jennifer of Spirit Trail about her druthers -- and I thank her for her helpful words. I did find the Wick yarn I was looking for, and I did pick up some undyed yarns and a bag of roving to play with. I did meet a handful of readers, although I would have liked to meet more of you. (I'm not scary in person, really; ask Mindy!) The only thing I did not accomplish was picking up some random patterns that I was looking for; I could have done better on that score, but decided browsing and mingling and checking stuff out was more important than waiting in line.

P.S. Kudos to my readers for figuring out the name of the spinner/dyer who created the gorgeous Angora blend yarn, and for recognizing the fair isle pattern on the child's vest (but let's ix-nay on saying the name aremore-Stay, shall we?)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

An amusement park for knitters: MS&W overview

We board the Rosie's bus and are on the road to Maryland promptly at 7:30 a.m. Our driver is Karl, a friendly guy (too friendly? you decide: was it necessary for him to share the anecdote that involved him looking down into the car next to his bus, to see the driver getting a blow job from his girlfriend?) who asked us, with great curiosity, just where we were going. So we explained, or tried to explain, Maryland Sheep and Wool to him. He immediately got it: "So this is like an amusement park for knitters?"

We also explained to Karl about our fanatical interest in knitting. He immediately got that, too: "My mother's a knitter." He told us about the blankets and throws she likes to knit and we offered to take her along next year.

My seatmate was Allison, who does lots of great p.r. work for Rosie's.

We laughed the whole way down and the whole way back, so I felt like I hit the bus lottery. We were ersatz bus captains, which required lots of talking on the loudspeaker and some attempt to keep track of who was on our bus. We had received strict instructions to leave on time and wait for no one, and to my chagrin, we did have one rider who was late. We left without her. Moral of the story: Don't fuck with the bus captains. (Fear not, the second Rosie's bus left half an hour later and she was on that one.)

I'll give you some more detail about my take on the festival in my next post. Today I'm going to 'fess up and show you my purchases.

I skipped the Koigu miniskeins booth. I know, but when I saw this,

the donnybrook that had already broken out at the stand before 10:00 a.m., I just couldn't deal. I heard that there was already a line at the booth before 8 a.m. I guess I'm a little spoiled: Rosie's has such a great selection of Koigu that I feel like I don't need to elbow my way through the line.

My personal purchases were actually few and far between this year. I thought about buying some patterns at one of the big retailers' booths, and even went so far as to pick some out, but the line was so long that I just didn't have the patience. I did make a beeline for Spirit Trail, a wonderful dyer who I first encountered as a poster on Knitter's Review, and bought the rose silk-wool blend:

The multicolored yarn, from a different stand, the name of which I forget, is part angora and handspun. I knew my oldest kid would love the rainbow effect -- he's a sucker for multicolors and barber-pole stripes -- and sure enough, he was happy when I showed it to him and offered to make him a hat.

At Tintagel Farm, I bought this wool/mohair roving, called "Lily Pond,"

and a skein of their wool-silk blend (can you tell that half wool/half silk is my all-time favorite fiber?) which I swatched today. I'm going to make wristwarmers, of which I only have a single pair (and I never wove in the ends on that pair).

I did find my soy/polypropylene yarn (the color selection was so-so).

The rest of what I bought is Black Bunny-related: a few skeins of undyed yarn and some roving, from smaller places and different breeds of sheep. Look for some of them on my Etsy shop in coming weeks.

I did investigate the deep-fried Twinkie -- Go Knit In Your Hat leaves no stone unturned for our readers -- and I can tell you that a deep-fried twinkie

basically looks like a corn dog. I was not brave enough to taste one, nor did I indulge in the deep-fried Oreos.

I did a lot of photographing this year, and would have liked to do more, but unfortunately, my camera's memory card filled up before the end of the day. I'm used to deleting photo files on my computer, after I've saved what I want to keep to my hard drive, so I was leery about trying to delete old files in the frenzy that was Maryland. I had visions of accidentally deleting everything on the camera. So my photojournalism stops about halfway through the day.

Luckily, I went through the prize-winners' building early in the day. This is one my favorite parts of the festival. There's always something interesting, beautiful or even a little odd to inspire me. This

is an attempt to get the flavor of a multifiber, multitechnique shawl or capelette; it had some felting, some crochet and God knows what else. Felting, needlefelting and the use of floaty fabrics seemed popular this year in the prizewinner's building. I don't know if there were a lot of winners that used these techniques, or if I just noticed them for the first time.

In the beautiful category, I saw this great fair isle children's vest (I think it's a Dale pattern but an original colorway) and was struck by how lovely both the knitting and the color choices were.

In the offbeat category falls this felted bag (it's a fishbowl! it's a purse! it's both!)

and -- brace yourselves -- this Cabbage-Patch-meets-Chuckie doll that haunted my dreams Saturday night:

Finally, in the inspiring category, some lovely handspun (which my photograph doesn't adequately capture):

These hanks were probably done by some six-year-old Amish girl but I didn't want to depress myself by finding out so I didn't read the tags. More impressions next post (can you tell I experienced sensory overload?) but for now, I leave you with this lovely shot in honor of Ms. Dolores Van Hoofen:

Monday, May 08, 2006

Update coming -- and Black Bunny special news

Hang tight -- I'm still downloading photos and gathering my thoughts on the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival. Update is coming soon.

In the meantime, I am extremely gratified -- and not a little surprised -- to tell you that I'm rapidly closing in on my 100th item sold on my Etsy shop. We're up in the eighties, so I figured I'd tell you all that the purchaser of the 100th item will receive a special freebie: EITHER a skein of sock yarn OR a 100g skein of laceweight OR 4 oz. of roving. (Your choice.)


I am honored and grateful for your support.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Pre-Maryland checklist

Tomorrow I get up at the crack of dawn and head into the city to board one of the Rosie's buses that will take me, and over a hundred other rabid fiberistas, to West Friendship, Maryland. I can't believe Maryland Sheep & Wool is already here. It's one of the benchmarks in the fiber world, a sure sign it's spring.

The Rosie's bus trip is an awesome thing. You don't have to drive -- so you get to knit the whole way down and back -- and you get to interact with a bunch of fun and cool knitters. (Of course, the misanthrope in me is praying to the Trailways gods to ensure that I don't get stuck sitting next to someone with verbal diarrhea.) You get a cute little box breakfast, and a Rosie's tote bag or backpack to put your purchases in. If you think about it, it's a pretty nice thing for a yarn shop owner to arrange a trip that involves bussing over a hundred of her best customers to buy other people's stuff.

My Maryland checklist is pretty short. God knows, there's nothing I really need. Here's what's on it:

1. Check out heavy-duty skeinwinders and compare prices for future purchase.
2. Pick up a skein or two of Wick (soy + polypropylene), for spring socks.
3. Pick up a few sample skeins of farm-produced wool and top for test dyeing for Black Bunny.
4. Look for a few pattern books -- Jo Sharp and Elsebeth Lavold come to mind.
5. Meet Mindy at Kid Hollow booth, and hopefully some other readers other places.

When I return, I'll tell you how I did with my checklist. I also pledge to show you every bloody thing that I buy (well, except the deep-fried Twinkies, which will be long gone). Maybe the potential embarassment of overpurchasing in front of my readers will keep me on-budget.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Fish Tale

At last weekend's Township Day, my oldest kid won a goldfish by throwing a pingpong ball into some sort of small receptacle. The goldfish, promptly named "Goldie" (guess who named it?), took up residence at my in-law's house. This is right and just for a few reasons. First of all, we've already got three kids and a bunny, not to mention a husband who used to be a neat freak but now isn't nearly as tidy as he likes to think he is (shh -- don't tell him that). So taking care of another living creature, even a measly fish, ain't gonna cut it. Second, the one who would ultimately be taking care of it, a.k.a., Me, isn't a big fan of fish for pets. If I'm going to clean up after something else and feed it, it better have fur and be available for a cuddle. (Hence, the husband.) Okay, call me speciesist, but that's how I feel. Pets that don't resemble plush toys need not apply. Finally, and perhaps most delicious to the parents, it's high time the in-laws dealt with the emotional ramifications of something like a goldfish.

Sure enough, by yesterday, poor Goldie had already up and died.


My mother-in-law called Tom in a tizzy. (She doesn't get out much.) She plans to go to the pet shop and buy another goldfish. She is concerned that our oldest will be devastated at the loss of dear Goldie. My mother-in-law simply doesn't appreciate the peculiar hard-heartedness of kids. They can cry for an hour because you threw some crappy plastic Happy Meals toy away, but take the death of the family cat without batting an eyelash. (I, on the other hand, had to be sedated after the loss of my dear kitty and still get misty sometimes when no one is watching.) So I'm not at all convinced that the kid is going to give a rat's ass about the goldfish.

My mother-in-law also forgets the incredible powers of observation and memory that my oldest has. This is the kid who, at the age of four, shut my fretting father up when he was dithering about whether he could find his way from our house to my in-law's for some family get-together: "It's easy, Poppop. You go North on Route 476 -- that's the Blue Route -- for a few miles and get off at exit 19. Go right -- that's east -- on Ridge Pike and then after you pass the high school, make a left on [Blank] St. The house number is XXXX."

Is some spurious stand-in goldfish gonna fool this kid?

My mother-in-law is already thinking about what to tell him if he notices the fish looks different. "If it's a different size, I'll say Goldie grew," she decided. "If it has different stripes or spots, I'll just say it faded."

As Dr. Evil would say, "Ri-i-ight."

But, God, it sure is nice for this to be someone else's problem.

A Bookworm's Progress: April

Geez, this dyeing thing sure is cutting into my reading time.

1. The Bounty, Caroline Alexander. This book got a lot of good press, but maybe I should start getting my book reviews from People magazine instead of the New York Times. Slow, with mind-numbing detail ("Captain McSealegs, who was the son of Elvis McSealegs and his Belgian showgirl wife Nan Tucket, and the grandson of Lord Wellington's third wife's second cousin, Colonel Wobbly McSealegs, was, in an uncanny coincidence, the brother of the nephew of the gardener of Fletcher Christian's brother Edward, who travelled with the woodmaker who turned the masts of the Bounty herself."). Let's just say I skimmed. A whole lot.

2. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. From a soporifically slow historical novel to a contemporary memoir that captures raw grief with painful immediacy.

3. A Death in Belmont, by Sebastian Junger. The author of The Perfect Storm. Thought-provoking analysis of a murder in the Boston suburb where Junger grew up, set against the backdrop of the Boston Strangler serial killings.

4. Blue Blood, by Edward Conlon. Only a chapter in, but enjoying this. Conlon is a Harvard-educated NYC cop. He writes about his experiences (well, at least so far) with skill and power. What say you, Lars?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Book review for Big'Uns

Fall is traditionally the big season for knitting books to come out, but another of the advantages of the current renewed interest in knitting is that knitting-related books come out at all different times of year. This past week, I was able to redeem an Amazon gift certificate that I gratefully received for my birthday and get some new knitting books, which I shall review forthwith. (The only thing I miss about being a lawyer -- other than the paycheck -- is getting to use ridiculous words like "forthwith." Which I really didn't do much anyway, since I was a big "plain English for lawyers" type of gal, but phrases like "inter alia" and "sui generis" stuck in my pointy little head so humor me.) Today's book review is one for which I have a personal connection (and I'm not just talking about my ample ass).

Big Girl Knits

Okay, forget all objectivity: the thrill of seeing my name and pattern in print, in a real live book, eclipses everything. April 18th marked the release of the somewhat painfully-named Big Girl Knits, to which I was a contributor, albeit a small one. So even if this book sucked nine kinds of ass, I would be hard-pressed to say something mean about it. Thankfully, I am spared that ethical dilemma, because it's a good book.

You all know Amy Singer and Jillian Moreno from Knitty: Amy is the editor and Jillian is a frequent contributor and if I'm not mistaken, helped instigate the founding of the influential on-line magazine. Both are what they euphemistically describe as "big girls," and they've written a book devoted to knitting for ampler figures.

The first part of the book is techniques and tips for knitting for a more endowed figure. There's much breathless tittering from reviewers about the "3-B" formula: boobs, butt, belly (perhaps because some aren't used to seeing the word "boobs" in print?) but knitting books that provide instruction on how to adapt patterns for different kinds of figures, especially ampler and/or curvy ones, are long overdue. Even experienced knitters might learn a thing or two about pattern adaptation from this section.

The rest of the book consists of patterns, sized for a wide range of plus sizes. You can take one look at the models and see that we're not talking about coy little size 12s that simply look plus-sized compared to the scrawny, boyish size 0 models we're used to seeing. These are big girl models, which gives the book a sense of legitimacy that other "plus-sized" patterns lack. And for anyone who's looked at a pattern and groaned to see that the size "Large" was for a woman with a 38-inch bust (Vintage Knits, anyone?), you'll be happy to see a size range that extends up -- way up. Of course, patterns are a matter of personal taste, so you'll probably end up loving some and feeling indifferent about others, but still, it's a great selection of patterns ranging from accessories to sweaters and jackets, and a lovely shawl. And my Chinese Menu Handgear pattern, which is a completely customizable pattern for mittens and gloves, is versatile enough for anyone to use. I would like to knit some in a variety of yarns to show you how different the pattern can look depending on what yarn you use (add that to the ever-growing "Knitting To-Do List" -- hah); the constraints of using a nubby tweedy yarn and only having a photo or two to show you means that you can't see some of the detailing in the different cuffs.

In other news

Okay, greenies, here's two batchs of green laceweight:

as well as some Blue-Faced Leicester roving in two palettes of green. Also in the picture are two batches of some organically-grown wool roving from a Montana farm. This stuff is so soft and lofty that I may have to try a batch of it myself.

I've been putting the Black Bunny stuff at the bottom so those of you who are disgusted by shameless cross-promotion and crass commercialism can just skip it.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Monday Miscellany

We had a gorgeous weekend in southeastern Pennsylvania: sunny skies & temperatures in the 60s-70s. If it stayed like this until September, I wouldn't have to hate summer weather.

Maryland S & W

Speaking of weather, I've been trying to figure out what the weather's supposed to be like this weekend, for the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. I will be going, and so if any of you think you see me (I will probably be wearing my yarn-trawling gear of an oversized polo shirt and sneakers, with a Rosie's Yarn Cellar bag of some sort slung over my shoulder, and unless it's really cold, I'll be wearing shorts), please stop me and say hi. There is something electric about being at a major wool festival like this one, or Rhinebeck. It isn't just the shopping (although that doesn't suck); I think it's the sensation of being in the midst of so many other people who are as obsessed with knitting, spinning and yarn as much as me. Anyway, if you're a reader and you think you see me, please stop me and say hi.

My First Swap (God help me)

I am not usually a joiner or knit-along type. I have a streak of contrariness that balks at that, and one or two too many "group project" experiences from my school years that made me crazy. But I will confess to having joined the Dye-o-Rama (not to be confused with a diorama), a sock yarn swap that was organized somewhere in the blogosphere. [Go on, Kath, mock me. There's plenty of room in the Comments section for your remarks about me crossing over to the twee side.] Each person dyes a skein of sock yarn and sends it to their partner and vice versa. Cleverly, the organizers divided people into newbie dyers and experienced dyers to minimize the chances of a a vastly disproportionate swap. Today is the day that the organizers are sending out names and emails of "swap partners" (which isn't nearly as kinky as it may sound to some of you, and you know who you are, Lisa McN) and I await mine with interest. I figured that if nothing else, this would be one way to get some exposure for Black Bunny.

Speaking of Which

I restocked a bit over the weekend and there's a few more all-wool superwash sock skeins coming. I also have a gigunda hank of sportweight Blue Faced Leicester in blues drying; it's my first sweater-quantity hank, and I'm curious to see if there's interest in that or not. Blogger is being temperamental today, so I'm having trouble uploading photos; I'll try again later.

Cutesy-Wutesy Bunny-Wumpkins Anecdote

Charcoal's latest trick: at the end of the day, when Tom comes home from work, he brings Charcoal out of his pen for a little petting time. (I should be so lucky.) Charcoal likes to sit on Tom's lap for a while, then scamper down to the ottoman. The other day, Nick presented Charcoal with one of his Matchbox cars, putting it right next to Charcoal on the ottoman. Charcoal looks at it with disdain, then picks it up by the spoiler using his teeth, leans over the edge of the ottoman, and drops it on the floor. Nick puts another car there; Charcoal does it again. Clearly not your average bun-bun.