Friday, September 29, 2006

Various and sundry

The winner is:

Miranda H., who bought a skein of Berripalooza sock yarn. She will receive an official Black Bunny tote bag. (The drawing was done by able assistant, J., who didn't peek one bit. I added the names of people who'd asked for special orders that I haven't finished yet, just to be fair.)

Thanks to everyone who participated in the drawing! We'll do another one before the holidays.


Doing a blog is fascinating for a lot of reasons. One of them is the little snapshot of human nature you get from reader feedback. I am regularly gratified and surprised at the intelligent and downright nice commenters I have. I learn stuff, I see things in a different way, I chuckle at your anecdotes, I appreciate your encouragement and support.

Of course, there is a flip side to this. One of the quirks that you are quickly introduced to is the willingness of readers to take offense. My previous post apparently offended one such anonymous commenter, who found my description of Martingale models as "midwestern" to be, well, offensive. I've noticed this before, here and elsewhere, that no matter what one writes, eventually someone is going to find something to seize upon and be offended at. And my knee jerk response is to roll my eyes and think "Just read what I actually said! You're projecting!"

Wouldn't it be a more productive dialogue if the commenter had said simply "What do you mean when you describe the models as 'midwestern'?" Instead of heaving an annoyed sigh, my response would have been "Well, some of it is tangible, like the fact that they are predominantly white women of Western European or Scandinavian descent, shown in decidedly non-urban settings. Some of it is intangible, like the studiously classic styling a la Talbots." I might have even gone on to wonder whether describing Vogue as "very Manhattan" would offend New Yorkers, or saying that Rowan's models are "English country waifs" would offend slight Englishwomen who live in the country. Maybe I would have wondered whether I do, in fact, have some stereotypical notions of what midwestern women look like.

But she didn't. So I didn't.

On Book Reviews

This takes me to book reviews. I enjoy writing them, and as I've said before, I like to think I'm helping people get a better feel for whether a book is right for them before investing in it. FYI, here are some of the things I think about in reviewing a knitting book (in no particular order):

  • Production quality: is it nice paper? interesting or well-done photography? all black and white or color photos (the latter show garment details more clearly)? drawings and explanatory material?
  • Is it predominantly a pattern book, or an instructional book, or a mix, or essays?
  • Style: floaty, or classic, ethnic inspired, folk, formal or casual, etc.
  • Patterns: if I've made any of them, were they well-written? are schematics included? good photographs that show you what the finished garment looks like and any special features?
  • Number of patterns included and for what kinds of garments, and for whom
  • Easy, medium, hard patterns, or a mix? special techniques used, like colorwork or lace? are they fitted or flowy? boxy or shaped? Are they practical? Are they expensive to make using the specified yarn, or any suitable yarn?
  • Does the book contain basic how-to-knit instructions? or does it assume the reader knows the basics? does it elaborate on any special techniques?
  • Are they new patterns? or is it possible you already have some or all of them in your knitting library?
  • What is the size ranges for the patterns provided?

If there are other things you would be interested in me adding to book reviews, drop me a comment.

On sizes and hostility

One of things I often comment upon about a book is the size range of the patterns that it contains. I think that knowing whether the patterns are likely to fit you can be an important thing for many potential purchasers to consider. If you've got a limited budget for knitting books, and you like to follow patterns instead of designing your own, why buy a book filled with patterns that won't fit you?

When I mention limited size ranges, I invariably get two types of comments or emails. One is "why should a publisher have to provide sizes for everyone in the world?" I don't think every book needs to have patterns that fit every person on this planet: that would be impossible, and expensive. But I do think it's odd when a book has an extremely limited size range. It seems to me that if you are publishing a book, you'd want to attract as many purchasers as possible. Excluding a significant proportion of sizes makes it less likely that you'll attract people who fall outside your size range, and therefore constricts the pool of potential purchasers. (Maybe your book is such wonderful eye candy it won't matter, or contains instructional techniques that go beyond the patterns. Maybe not.) And if a particular size is, statistically, the most common one among American women*, then it strikes me as odd that a book would stop short of this size.

The second type of remark was typifed by the commenter (Anonymous, of course. I'm really getting to hate that bitch Anonymous. She's always stirring up trouble.) who basically said that Americans are fat and eat too much, so tough crap if they can't fit into patterns. First of all, this assumes too much. Not all women who wear above a size 10 are overweight. They may be tall, or have a larger-than-average frame (what my mother calls "big-boned"), or they may have very muscular or broad shoulders, or God (or the local plastic surgeon) may have bestowed them with big tits.

But what is even more fascinating about this kind of comment is the hostility that underlies it. There seems to be an almost vindictive attitude: if you're fat, you have no business knitting these patterns. If you're overweight, you should be at the gym or puking in the toilet instead of sitting on your fat ass knitting. Plump people don't deserve to wear floaty romantic Rowan patterns: let them wear boxy sacks instead. Whassup widdat?

Feel free to discuss. And make sure you tell me if I've offended you.

*And, Brits, too. My Google search uncovered an extensive survey of UK women showing that their average bust size is 38.5 inches, with 40.5 inch hips.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

No-Bull Book Review: Romantic Style

Rowan-aphiles will be familiar with Jennie Atkinson, author/compiler of Romantic Style: Knits and Crochet to Wear or Display (Martingale & Co.).

Atkinson is a frequent contributor to recent Rowan magazines, one of the newer faces in the current crop of designers favored by the British yarn manufacturer. Rowan fans will no doubt also recognize some of the other designers who've contributed to Romantic Style: Kim Hargreaves and Martin Storey, to name two. As you might expect, Romantic Style is very much in the style of current Rowan knits: floaty, ruffly, feminine, and, I suppose, romantic. There's a reason for that, which I'll go into later.

Romantic Style is the nicest book to come out of Martingale in quite some time. Instead of featuring those midwestern lady models and not-quite-contemporary-feeling photography, Romantic Style has the look and feel of a Rowan publication. More stylized photography, less Miss-America-ish models, even the layout is more sophisticated and fresh than most Martingale books I've seen. The book has lots of color photos, schematics for the sweaters, and the little photographic digest in the front showing miniphotos of all of the designs contained in the book. So far, so good.

As for content, the book is divided into three sections containing patterns (the first two knit, the third mostly crochet), and one containing techniques. The techniques section is not, however, a how-to-knit section; perhaps recognizing that many of the designs are pretty advanced for beginners, this section skips the basics, and is devoted to more specialized topics like how to crochet in rounds, different crocheted motifs and edgings, and how to follow patterns. Good stuff, all of it.

As for the patterns? The first section is called Out and About, and features seven patterns: a camisole, a beaded cape, a sheer dress, two lace sweaters, a beaded jacket and beaded shrug with hood. The second section is Home Comforts, including home dec items like a throw, two pillow covers (one square, one tubular), hanger covers, bed socks, a quaint bed jacket and a floor-length dressing gown/robe. The last section, Little Extras, includes jewelry, belts, shawls (one knit, one crochet), a cap, and two bags. For those of you who strongly prefer either knit or crochet, that amounts to sixteen knit patterns and seven crochet ones.

Whether you like the patterns or not is largely a matter of taste, but rest assured these are not boxy bulky sweaters made from rectangles. Lots of stitch patterns and lace are used, several designs are beaded, there are edgings and ruffles galore, and the shapes are generally hugging and body-conscious. There are not tons of items that I personally would wear, but again, this is more a matter of taste than anything else. As is always the case with predominantly pattern-based books, let the buyer beware by checking out the patterns beforehand.

A few things will, however, stop me from giving the book a vigorous thumbs-up.

First is the relative impracticality of most of the designs. A floor-length bathrobe made from nearly 20 balls of worsted weight yarn will be pretty heavy, will cost you close to $200, and, since the specified yarn is a wool/mohair blend, is likely to make you sweat. The hanger covers are elegant, but at 7.75 sts per inch in an intricate pattern, is there anyone out there with the time (or desire) to make more than one knowing you're only going to cover them up by hanging clothes on them? The lace bed socks are lovely, but you better not expect to wear them when you're actually intending to walk around on a floor. As a suburban, time-crunched soccer mom, many of these designs just aren't gonna cut it for me, but again, this is largely a matter of taste. If you have a less wash-n-wear style, and regularly attend tea parties in boudoirs, then you may not care.

Second, and a bigger stumbling block for most of us, is the ugly reality of the sizing. Yep, you guessed it, this is a book with an extremely stingy range of sizes. The dressing gown has exactly two sizes, an "extra-small/small" and a "medium/large." Or to put it more accurately, "teeny" and "slightly less small." For the smaller size is for a 32 to 34-inch bust, and the other is for a 36 to 38-inch bust -- hardly "large." (Especially in this brave new world of breast implants.) Other garments only go as high as a 40-inch bust (with two inches of ease). If you are more amply figured, then you'll either have to modify or give up the sweaters in this book.

The last drawback to this book is the recycling factor. I'm all for recycling when it comes to aluminum cans and newspapers; I'm not so big on recyling when it comes to knitting pattern books. Astute Rowan fans will note that many of these patterns have already been published in Rowan Magazine. To wit:

  • Butterfly Dress appeared as "Butterfly" in Rowan 37;
  • Crochet Motif Bag appeared as "Heirloom Bag" in Rowan 37;
  • Rose Button Cushion appeared as "Rosetta" and the Buttoned Flower Bloster as "Elsie" in (you guessed it) Rowan 37;
  • Chevron Lace Top looks awfully like "Prue" in Rowan 35;

and I lost patience there, since that's already something like 25% of the patterns that I easily identified as having been recycled. Shame on Martingale and Rowan for not disclosing this, even in small type on one of the introductory pages. Why take the chance of tricking your loyal fans into buying patterns they already have?

To sum up, if you are a petite Rowan-loving woman who doesn't mind dumping $200 for a bathrobe that won't soak up bathwater, and you don't already have all of these patterns in your extensive Rowan collection, then by all means take a look at this book. If, however, like me, you already have most of them, and they won't fit you even if you make them, and even if you made them, you'd probably never wear them, then just go and buy some sock yarn with that twenty bucks instead.

You know what today is.....

the birthday of a very special bun-bun:

Happy 1st birthday, Charcoal!
And many happy returns carrots.

UPDATE: Apparently, Google is also celebrating Charcoal's birthday. Check out the logo.

Monday, September 25, 2006

We all have our dirty little secrets.

I mentioned last week that one of my projects, now that everyone's back in school, would be sorting through some closets and spending some time culling through my stash. Lookie what I found:

A simple little vest, finished except for the ribbing around the neck and arms, originally intended for J., but if I hurry, it might still fit N. Oh the drama one finds in a messy closet! The heartbreak, the shattered expectations, the nagging sense of shame at the unfinished project which has languished amongst stinky sneakers and dustballs.

Behold the instrument of my torture.

The dreaded plastic recorder, a staple of third-grade music education. J.'s class received theirs a week ago, and we've have been listening to the tootles and stepped-on-pig noises ever since. (On the bright side, I have a call in to Donald Rumsfeld to tell him I've found a surefire method of coercing information from terrorists that is fully consistent with the Geneva Convention.) Of course, J., being J., was immediately able to figure out such classics as "Jingle Bells."

Can the jazz flute

be far behind?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

No-Bull Book Review: Knitting for Peace

I have to confess that I wasn't quite sure what "knitting for peace" was before reading Knitting for Peace, by Betty Christiansen (Stewart Tabori & Chang). Was it making afghans with intarsia peace symbols? Knitting protest signs with slogans added in duplicate stitch? Was it simply a serene state of mind?

No, no and no. The knitting in Knitting for Peace is what most knitters I know call "charity knitting" -- knitting for groups that distribute the items to people who are in need of them. I suppose some people aren't crazy about the phrase "charity knitting," since "charity" seems to have developed a not-entirely-nice context, a ring of condescension or "let them eat cake Red Heart." Whatever the reason, this book chooses to call it "knitting for peace."

Now I know that there are knitters out there who just don't like the whole "knitting for charity/peace" movement. Some of them resist the notion that anyone who knits or crochets has some kind of moral obligation to craft for others, particular others they don't know. (Do stamp collectors have groups where they, um, donate stamps to charity? Do scrappers make homeless people albums so they can remember all the warm fuzzy times in the shelter?) Some don't mind the idea of knitting for charitable organizations but they dislike talking about it, feeling that good works are best done quietly and anonymously. Still others question the utility of such groups; "I'd be more inclined to knit for a charity," one knitter told me, "if I was sure the recipients really wanted the stuff they were given."* But obviously there are many other knitters who enjoy the fellowship that these groups provide, who get motivated by sharing patterns and talking with others and playing "show and tell" with finished items. So recognizing that people in the first three categories might not be interested in the subject matter of this book, and recognizing that people in the last category will, let's talk turkey.

My first impression of Knitting for Peace was how the size (about 8 1/2 inches square) and the feel of the binding reminded me of a photo album or journal. Probably this was deliberately done to evoke a rosy, intimate glow. The second thing I noticed -- and this is a very tough one to overcome -- is that from a typeface standpoint, Knitting for Peace is one of the most difficult knitting books I've ever tried to read. The print is, to put it bluntly, microscopic.

Check out that footnote: I defy anyone except Superman to read that sucker without a magnifying glass or the zoom function on their monitor. It makes the words on the penny look big.

Unfortunately, two stylistic choices make reading the teeny text even more challenging: the ink isn't black but rather a lighter shade of gray, and many of the pages are not white but are colored. (Heavens, do I mean "pages of color"?) I have decent vision and don't regularly wear glasses, but I struggled to read this book in the evening, sitting right next to a good reading lamp. This is a real shame, because I think a lot of readers are going to find the optometric strain an insurmountable challenge to this book.

On to content.

The first chapter of the book, called "Peace and War," is devoted to wartime knitting, beginning with an historical overview of American knitters contributing to various war efforts. The author then highlights several organizations whose knitting mission is loosely themed around war: organizations that provide knitted socks for soldiers stationed overseas, a woman who uses tiny knit sweaters to create an installation piece memorializing the number of American casualties in Iraq, even a group which stages knit-ins to protest globalization. The chapter ends with a pattern for a felted messenger bag; though it's a perfectly serviceable pattern, it seems a bit out of place since there isn't any logical connection between knitting a bag for oneself and knitting for peace (at least not that I could discern).

The second chapter is called "Knitting on Earth," and looks at organizations that try to benefit needy or impoverished citizens across the world. It was an interesting choice to include two knitting-related businesses, Peace Fleece and Lantern Moon, due to their outreach-oriented business philosophies. (Peace Fleece sells yarn that is made by blending American wool with Russian wool, as well buttons and knitting needles produced by overseas artisans. Lantern Moon seeks to provide economic opportunities for Vietnamese women and their families by selling handmade needles, baskets and other accessories.) In addition, organizations like Afghans for Afghans, which provides warm clothing for Afghani citizens, and RwandaKnits, which seeks to create economic opportunities for African women by teaching them knitting skills, are profiled. Patterns for an Afghans for Afghans approved vest and a pair of socks made from Peace Fleece are included, as well as contact information and requirements for these organizations.

"Peace at Home" profiles such diverse organizations as prison-knitting programs, knitting chemo caps, knitting for native american elders, prayer shawl ministries, knitting snuggles for shelter animals and knitting for the homeless. Appropriate patterns, e.g., a prayer shawl, an afghan, a chemo cap, are included.

The next chapter is "Peace for Kids" -- highlighting, you guessed it, organizations that benefit children, such as preemie knitting and Caps for Kids. You can see where this is going, I'm sure.

The last chapter is "Knit for Peace," and provides some tips for finding charitable knitting groups either via Internet or locally. A basic mitten pattern and rolled-brim cap pattern are provided in this chapter. And I am pleased to say that there is no how-to-knit section in this book (at last!).

This is a perfectly nice book, and it is devoted to a topic that is near and dear to many (but not all) knitter's hearts. It is very much designed to whet the knitter's appetite for charity knitting and to provide some basic tips for how to get started. That's fine as far as it goes. You wouldn't buy this book for the patterns (and I mean no disrespect to the author); the patterns presented are extremely basic and a quick internet search would yield you free versions (in some cases, identical versions) of them. While the historical background of charity knitting is interesting and nicely written, reading No Idle Hands and a few on-line or magazine articles about charity knitting would net you most of the same information. And when it comes to specifications for the charities themselves, a conscientious charity knitter would want to check the organization's website anyway, to make sure that (s)he is following the most up-to-date requirements for the group, in case needs change. Perhaps the best result of the book is that some worthwhile organizations will get some publicity and some donations to further their work. Is that enough to convince you to buy the book? You'll have to decide.

*A propos of this, I can tell you that some charitable groups who collect knitted and crocheted items are regularly given items that do not comply with their specified guidelines, like scores of lacy pink hats for (mostly male) soldiers, or lightweight cotton caps that won't help in an extremely cold climate where all-wool items are requested. To add insult to injury, the donors sometimes say things like "Well, beggars can't be choosers," or "they should be happy with anything we give them." Real charitable, huh?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


To: Dubya
From: A Concerned Citizen

Dear Mr. President:

I know you aren't a big one for book larnin', but as someone who is, and who's been trained professionally in the legal system -- not to mention my prestigious poly sci degree, har, har -- I feel compelled to write to you to share my perspective.

You see, I've been watching your recent comments about your "terrorism" programs, and as an attorney, I've grown deeply concerned about some of the rules you are asking -- no, badgering -- Congress to enact. You are stubbornly insisting that Congress enact legislation that would allow our government to do things that, quite frankly, I find shocking and disturbing: allow US interrogators to coerce information from defendants (is that a nice way to say "torture"?) and use coerced confessions in prosecutions, and try defendants without allowing them or their lawyers to see what the evidence is against them.

There are so many reasons why this is wrong, but to give you a sense for how truly appalling this is, imagine one day you are sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom and federal marshals wake you up and carry you to jail. You are held indefinitely and not given a chance to go to court to learn what you're being accused of. (Drunken driving? Treason? Cocaine possession? Lying under oath?) You are subject to torture and coercion by interrogators. In response to this torture, you confess to anything and everything, including things you didn't do and know nothing about. You are then taken to court and tried on mystery charges, and found guilty -- and sentenced to death or the rest of your life in prison -- without even knowing what proof the government has against you.

Scary, innit?

But just as troubling to me is how you are handling these terrorism "initiatives." You just don't seem to understand the way our government works, the division of powers among the three branches of government and their respective duties. You see, Mr. President, your job is as the Executive. You aren't empowered to make laws or to interpret them: merely to carry them out, and, I might add, you swore on the Bible, the book you claim is Holy, that you would "to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." That pesky Constitution that limits your powers to carrying out the laws, not enacting them or giving them legal interpretation.

That means it's the job of Congress to make the laws, not you. Did you get that? Congress doesn't have to answer to you; in fact, the whole notion of separation of powers means that the Constitution vests in Congress the right to thumb their nose at you if a majority of them thinks that's right.

It's the job of judges, the federal judiciary, to interpret the laws, not you. Got it? You can't sign a law into effect, doodling in the margins or plugging in some bullshit preamble that says "I don't care what you say; this is how I'm going to interpret this law." Not your job.

So when I hear you bullying Congress to pass the laws that you say you need, threatening them with dire consequences -- "we're saving lives," you say, as if anyone, anywhere in this country wants to see fellow citizens die at the hands of terrorists -- I get really ticked off. Congress doesn't have to do what you say, and in fact it's their job not to. I believe it's their sacred duty not to, when the legislation you request would blatantly violate our Constitution. Not to mention some of the international treaties that we've signed.

(By the way, I'm getting awfully sick of the "people will die if you don't do exactly what I tell you" business. For your information, people have already died -- thousands of them -- to establish the Constitution and Bill of Rights (including the right to a trial without secret evidence). It's called the Revolutionary War. I guess you were drunk absent that day in school. Plus, with your track record -- nonexistent WMDs, misleading claims that Iraq was involved in 9/11, Abu Ghraib, an Iraq in civil war and Afghanistan on the verge of slipping away, Iran and North Korea nuking up -- you'll have to forgive me if I don't feel like trusting you.)

Please don't dismiss what I say as partisan, or "liberal" or "Democrat." There are plenty of Republicans who are equally concerned about these issues, who think any benefit we might get from your plan isn't worth the cost to our Constitution and our values.

I guess that's all for now. Thanks for listening. I'm sure you'll be hearing from me again.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Tell it to the hand

Sometimes I wonder if I've crossed that invisible line between hobby and madness. To wit,

the faux Depression Glass hand. I scored it on Ebay for about $5, figuring it'd be swell to display mittens or gloves at the shop. Does anyone remember the "Odd Couple" episode where Felix tries to redecorate the apartment? He comes home with black leather chairs shaped like hands that look very much like this objet d'crap. T.'s reaction was to repeatedly ask me "You are taking that into the shop the next time you go, aren't you?"

And just in case you wondered, it displays gloves, mittens and gauntlets quite nicely, thank you.


The Hop-along is going full force, and I'm gratified and excited to see all the wonderful things that people are making with Black Bunny yarns and roving. For those who haven't checked out the Bunny Hop website, this

is my Hop-along project, a cabled vest for N. in superwash DK (available only thru Rosie's). It's a great yarn, with a nice tight twist, showing stitch definition well. It is quite yummy to knit with. I'm a sucker for a yarn with good crisp stitch definition.

Post-surgical Report

G. is feeling better and better; her eyes continue to look a little bloodshot but she is pretty much back to her normal self. She was quite a little trooper and I'm sure if I had eye surgery on Friday, I'd still be laying in bed expecting people to bring me ice cream while I pressed cool compresses to my clammy forehead.

G. got a very lovely package in the mail Saturday from reader and knitter extraordinaire Mindy, who sent these

adorable socks (knit in Black Bunny yarn!!) for G. They are a perfect fit. Included in the package was chocolate for Mommy (which also was a perfect fit.)

G. feels so well, in fact, that she is accompanying brother N. to the first day of nursery school.

Have A Nosh(i)

In the meantime, if you are a pointy-headed freak like me, you might be interested in The Noshi Knitting Monograph series. I just ordered Lisa Myers' article on stockinette stitch; other monographs should be coming soon. If you feel the desire to read or write something about knitting that may be a "personal manifesto ... [or] myopic, meditative digression" -- Noshi wants you. Details for purchasing monographs and contributing on the website.

A very special birthday is coming up

The black bunny himself, Charcoal, will be celebrating his first birthday a week from Wednesday. In honor of this superlative bun-bun's birth,

I will be giving away a free Black Bunny tote bag. Anyone who purchases an item from my Etsy shop beginning now until midnight, September 27th, will get their name entered in a random drawing for the bag.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Resting comfortably.

G. is snuggled up on the couch, her Nana in attendance, and is doing fine. She was very brave and the surgery went quickly and routinely. She hasn't even needed tylenol yet, and except for slightly bloodshot eyes, it's difficult to tell she had anything done. Thanks again for your support and good wishes. Full post coming this weekend.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Adowable pet stowy awert: Tom taught Charcoal a new trick. When you put your head down by his pen and say "Gimme a kiss," he will come over and lick your nose. (Charcoal, not Tom.) It just doesn't get any cuter than that.

In the meantime, G.'s surgery is tomorrow at 11 a.m., so you probably won't hear from me until the weekend. Thank you for all your good thoughts.

Monday, September 11, 2006

In Memoriam

Sometimes, even someone who loves to opine as much as I do can't find the right words. I watched on TV as the Twin Towers fell on a gloriously sunny day five years ago. I fretted about my husband's cousin, who works at the Pentagon, and I got goosebumps along with the rest of the world when I realized what had happened in the sky above a desolate field in rural Pennsylvania. There simply aren't words to express the grief, the anger, the shock of that terrible day. And I was lucky enough not to lose a close one or to experience first-hand any of the devastation.

I read in the paper last week that President Bush is asking Congress to pass legislation which would provide that terror suspects can be tried based on secret evidence -- evidence that the defendant and his counsel would be prohibited from seeing. I was going to write an indignant post, lamenting that we could even think of behaving in such a manner, citing the Constitution and the principles of justice and due process entrenched in our government structure. I was going to point to all the repressive regimes -- ironically, like Sadam Hussein's -- that tried people for their lives in secret courts with secret evidence. I vacillated, wondering if it would be tacky to do so on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11.

As I thought about it, I realized, however, that in our heartache and confusion and bitterness, in our quest to find some kind of justice, to seek some kind of resolution (however illusory), we dishonor the memory of those who died when we abandon our core values. Clinging to our ideals, our notions of justice and fair play, treating the scum of the world better than they treat us, and yes, observing the spirit and letter of our Constitution and Bill of Rights -- these are right and just ways to honor the memories of those innocent souls who were lost on that day.

Remember. Mourn. And fight to make sure those 3,000 lives were not sacrificed in vain.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Publishing trends

Recently, someone sent me a link to an article in Publisher's Weekly about knitting books. Titled "The End of the Yarn," the article questions whether the trend of publishing knitting books has legs:

In the hobbies and crafts category, knitting began to take hold about six years ago; no one knows why. But in a post-9/11 world, the activity has continued to increase in popularity. Publishers, of course, have responded with books and more books. But now comes the challenging part. Is knitting on the verge of becoming a widely established American hobby (like, say, gardening) or is it headed for the fate of philately*?

The article notes that while knitting books are still being published, and many are focusing on younger knitters, knitting-book sales have already peaked. Publishers, afraid that the new knitters and younger knitters will lose interest and move on to another fad, or that this segment of the market is already saturated with books, are now looking to a broader audience. Apparently, one way to address this change in the market is to target books for intermediate, rather than beginner, knitters. Or as one editor quipped: "You can knit only so many beer cozies and then it's time to move on."

Another interesting development noted in the article is the "cult of personality" that has attached to knitting. Publisher's Weekly credits this to Stitch N Bitch, Deb Stoller's extraordinarily popular book, noting that she is photographed on the cover, and pointing out that subsequent knitting books continued to feature a particular writer and her personality (citing, among others, the Yarn Harlot). The article concludes that the reasons people have taken up knitting are complex, and so it's difficult to predict exactly how that will impact the market. (Don't you love these "conclusions"? It's like those studies showing that people who take taxicabs frequently are less likely to own a car, or that children in dysfunctional homes are more at risk. Duh.)

I found it interesting that this article appeared right around the time that you, gentle readers, were yourselves raising some of the very same points in the comments to my blog. Yes, you are Faith Popcorns, all of you, and I think it bears pointing out that the little snitfest that just concluded in the comments section ultimately raised some interesting issues about knitting books, issues which were touched upon in the above article. To wit:

  • the sheer quantity of new knitting books that are being released. Is it too much? Is the knitter getting simultaneously overwhelmed (by numbers) and underwhelmed (by quality)? Or does the increased quantity create more variety, more of a chance that someone, no matter what their taste or skill level, will find a new book to get excited about?
  • Others bemoaned the focus on young knitters, or what the market apparently perceives as young or new knitters. Think about it: how many books either directly -- "young," "girl/girls/grrlz" -- or indirectly -- "funky," "hip," "fun" -- market themselves to a younger generation? And let's not even mention the dreaded (and, as Lisa Myers likes to point out, insulting) phrase "it's not your grandmother's knitting." Is the market focusing on new knitters at the expense of those with more experience or advanced skills? Is the market neglecting knitters older than, say, age 30? In this regard, note that there is a book being released this fall that is aiming for an older demographic: Never Too Old To Knit: Beautiful Basics for Baby Boomers (the same cover photo of which appears, oddly, on another Amazon listing titled -- I kid you not -- AARP Beginner's Guide to Knitting).
  • Still others lamented the speed and/or simplicity factor, ostensibly marketing books to beginners, but resulting in a dreadful same-iness, both in titles ("quick," "easy," "fast," "simple") and in projects (scarves, rolled-brim caps, anything made of quadrilaterals sewn together). I know that a book which features more complex patterns or focuses on a particular skill (e.g., felting, fair isle, cables) is more appealing to me, but I'm an experienced knitter and I enjoy doing my own thing with projects. Not everyone is or does.

Trisha Malcolm, Vogue Knitting's editor, is quoted in the article saying that VK is trying to focus less on patterns, which can go out of style and look dated quickly, and more toward books like the Vogue Stitchionary series, which catalogue stitch patterns. This is great for adventurous knitters and those who like to design their own items, but there's also a population of knitters who enjoy following patterns that someone else has figured out. There's a great deal of trial and error in designing, and these knitters would rather let someone else do the trying and erring. I can relate: sometimes I just feel like following a pattern and letting my brain take a breather.

I have no grand answers for you about the future of publishing knitting books. I love books, though, and I love knitting, so it stands to reason that I love knitting books -- or at least, good knitting books. And if for every couple of "Quik 'N' Dummed Down Knitting for Funki Hipster Chix" book that is released, there is one really good, innovative book, well, then, that's a balance I can live with.


But behave yourselves, please.

* Also known as stamp collecting.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Food for thought

A dear friend sent me an email after reading my earlier blog post. She very kindly and tactfully suggested that I think about whether to continue posting photos of my kids, especially the older one, and their names. One concern is the creeps in the world; the other, however, involves the possibility that my kids, especially the eldest, might be subject to teasing should his classmates somehow stumble upon references to him on the internet. I have thought about this, and I think she is right. So from here on out, I'll start referring to my kids simply by their first initials, and I'll drastically minimize the photos of my eldest, and, to a lesser extent since they're younger, my youngest two. I love my kids more than anything, and that includes being more respectful of their privacy. I consider myself chastened.

And thanks to the friend -- she knows who she is...

Moving on

Before I move on, I must again ask that you respect my wishes when it comes to the comments. I've had to delete 2 comments (plus 1 that was a duplicate) in which I felt the vicious (yes, vicious) tone and the singling out of another commenter crossed the line. I also deleted some comments that kept going on and on about the subject after I declared it closed. Those were my calls and if you are unhappy with that, then as I've already suggested, go bitch and moan about it elsewhere.

But not in my comments.

Let's get back to yarn. Today: a fall preview of Nashua Handknits.

Nashua Handknits

Nashua Handknits has been an exciting company to watch. Only two years old, Nashua is run by Linda Pratt (who, among other things, is a former LYS owner) and is part of Westminster Fibers, the distributor of Rowan and Jaeger. We've had the Creative Focus Worsted at Rosie's since it came out, and it's a very popular, soft and well-priced wool/alpaca blend that comes in lots of good colors. Here's what to look for this fall from Nashua:

New yarns for Fall 2006:

  • Creative Focus Kid Mohair is 75% kid mohair/20% wool/5% nylon, and MSRP is $8.95 per 50g/93 yd skein. Looks like an equivalent for Classic Elite's La Gran, but with a less extensive palette (about 26 colors).
  • Creative Focus Superwash is a worsted weight superwash wool in about 38 or so colors; each 100g/218-yd skein retails for ten bucks. (I have a sample skein of this but haven't cracked it yet; feels pretty nice and will compete with Cascade 220 Superwash and the like.)
  • Creative Focus Brushed Alpaca is 100% alpaca, 50g/192 yds and retails for $8.95, in 11 colors. A box of this just arrived at Rosie's and I can't decide what I think of it yet. Some of the colors are lovely and they all have a sort of hazy look to them. It's not fluffy like a fun fur, but it's got texture and a halo. It's lighter than I would have guessed.
  • Creative Focus Ribbon is an all-nylon ribbon in 13 colors, well-priced at ten bucks a 50g/147-yd skein.
  • Ivy is 50% alpaca/45% merino/5% Estellina (I'm sorry, I don't know what that is -- some kind of nylon or lycra? or shiny?) and again, hits the 8.95 price point for 50g/110 yds, 11 colors.
  • Vignette is 100% superwash wool, 50g/93 yds and $8.95 a ball, and looks to be variegated colors.

One of Nashua's particular strengths is its stable of designers: they get top-notch folks like Kristin Nicholas as regulars and other "guest designers" whose names you'll recognize if you pore over knitting magazines the way I do. Having excellent pattern support makes a lot of sense for a yarn manufacturer, because it gets people excited about using the yarns and it takes the angst out of yarn substitution for timid customers. Nashua is releasing six new pattern books to accompany their yarns --

  • North American Collection #3, which is the flagship collection; here's a classic Kristin Nicholas colorwork design from it:

and here's a cool felted bag from Melissa Mitchell, who is giving Nicky Epstein a run for her money as the Queen of Felted Bags:

  • Ski has a winter theme, featuring thicker sweaters, a Norwegian style colorwork sweater, some yoke sweaters, and winter accessories;
  • Study has a school-ish theme, with 2 kids sweaters; the rest are women's, and I suppose are supposed to be shooting for a younger crowd, like this close-fitting, cropped vest:

  • Holiday, as the name suggests, includes more dressy, festive numbers;
  • Stripes is devoted to the self-striping yarns; mostly women's sweaters with a throw or two and a wrap; and
  • Mohair, mainly sweaters for women with a girl's sweater and a handbag, using the Kid Mohair.

Arriving soon at a LYS near you.

Kid Update

Tuesday was the first day of third grade for J. and all went well.

Several of you have asked about G.'s surgery. It's scheduled for a week from today. I'll keep you updated, so send G. good thoughts.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Enough already.

The subject of Naughty Needles is hereby closed. We've heard from both sides, I've said all I have to say on the subject, and I'm getting sick of it. I have a delete comments button, and I'm not afraid to use it. When the book comes out, I'll review it if I can find a copy in the library or bookshop. If you want to talk about it more, go do it somewhere else. You guys are harshing my mellow.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Further to yesterday's post & sweater update

In my last post, I described a batch of new knitting-related books coming this fall and winter from PotterCraft. One of the books, "Naughty Needles," stirred up a tiny brouhaha in the comments. The book is described by the publisher as "half instruction book, half peep show" and features a cheesecake photo on the cover. I think it is perfectly legitimate -- and not ad hominem -- to discuss some of the implications of this book, namely: is it necessary, or desirable, to use sex to sell a knitting book? is it necessary, or desirable, to use a cheesecake, 50s movie star pose on the cover of a knitting book? who is the target audience: real knitters or the men in their lives who might want to view the "peep show"? what is the sensibility and viewpoint of the author, given that she blogs as "Disgruntled Housewife" and how might that affect the content of the book? Is there anything truly "naughty" about the patterns in it, or is this just a publicity ploy to get attention and sell books? In fairness, some of these issues -- but not all -- can't be resolved until the book is actually out there to be seen. There are also legitimate feminist issues raised by this (ooh, I said the "f" word), like the longtime debate between hard-core feminists, who don't think it is possible to empower oneself by adopting patriarchical constructs of female beauty and/or sexiness, and a newer generation of feminists who believe that it's possible to take back their sexuality in whatever form they choose. Given that this is primarily a knitting blog, I would refer anyone interested in this latter debate to look at I Blame the Patriarchy and other blogs that cover this issue better than I ever could.

A lot of knitters don't live near a great LYS that carries a wide selection of knitting books. Many don't even have a chain bookstore nearby that carries lots of craft books. So they're forced to buy books on-line, sight unseen. Sad, innit? I'm really spoiled by the fact that Rosie's carries an excellent selection of knitting books so one can browse through them before one purchases. But for less fortunate readers, the more information that a person can find about a book before buying it, sight unseen, the more likely they are to be pleased with the book, rather than have to return it to an on-line seller. This is one reason why I like to review books on my blog. I encourage real discussions about books rather than sunshine-and-hearts "don't say anything negative" discussions because I find real and fair discussions of the merits of a book helpful and interesting. I hope you do, too.

Tie-Dyed Sweater

Aided by the able tie-dyer James, I finished Grace's cotton sweater and we proceeded to tie-dye it. I think it came out quite nicely:

Today I shall sew a button on the shoulder (what can I say? my kids have big pumpkin heads) and then hope that Grace will wear it. The yarn is Inca Cotton and I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed knitting with it. Sometimes cottons feel harsh in the knitting, or the lack of spring hurts my hands, but this stuff is extremely soft and pleasant to work with. It would make wonderful baby items and I definitely would use it again.

Happy Labor Day to all my American and Canadian (thanks, Mamaloo) readers!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Fall book preview: PotterCraft

PotterCraft is a relatively new imprint, with its first crop of books having appeared earlier this year. Editor Rosy Ngo has been trying to create a strong rival to Interweave and Stewart Tabori & Chang, with high production values and a strong sense of style. (See, Rosy? Even though you totally blew me off, I don't hold a grudge. So feel free to email me and we'll talk about a handpainted yarns book.) Here's what you can look forward to this fall:

Cables Untangled, by Melissa Leapman: Subtitled "An Exploration of Cable Knitting," this book promises 30 patterns for sweaters and accessories, plus a collection of 100 cable patterns.

[I apologize for the slightly lopsided photos.] The book also states that it features many clear photographs, charts for the cables, and tips for designing your own cabled patterns. (Regular readers will recall that this is the book I waited in a long line for at TNNA, only to be told that they ran out. But if Melissa Leapman is reading, feel free to email me and I'll send you my address.)

Home Knits, by Suss Cousins: The ubiquitous Suss releases her third book, containing 30 projects for the home.

This book is aimed to be "a home design book" as well as a "knitting guide," looking to help the knitter "create a beautiful, relaxed environment in the home." The palette is subdued and the focus is on texture.

NatureBabies, by Tara Jon Manning: The knitter who brought you "mindful knitting" offers a collection of knitting, sewing and felting projects, all featuring organic and natural fibers and yarns.

Projects are designed to be both environmentally sound and safe for young children.

Amazing Crochet Lace, by Doris Chan: Chan provides 20 designs, which "update[] traditional lace patterns into wearable art by applying favorite motifs to create chic crocheted attire." Chunkier yarns are used instead of fine ones (sorry, Kath) and patterns are designed from the top down, to minimize finishing and piecing together.

The Natural Knitter: How to Choose, Use and Knit Natural Fibers from Alpaca to Yak, by Barbara Albright: The late Barbara Albright's last book contains designs showcasing natural fibers, including cashmere, alpaca, yak (!) and others.

The book promises to provide an explanation of types of fibers, explores plant-based dyeing and focuses on products which are "nontoxic and earthfriendly."

Naughty Needles: Sexy, Saucy Knits for the Bedroom and Beyond, by Nikol Lohr:

This book is described as "half instruction book, half peep show." 'Nuff said.

Look for them this fall at a LYS or bookshop near you.
Or not, as the case may be.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bookworm report: August

1. My Latest Grievance, by Elinor Lipman. Charming, light, fun read. I'm a big fan of Elinor Lipman. This one may not be her best (although it's good) but it's light-years ahead of most of the dreck that passes for "women's fiction" nowadays.

2. The End of Iraq, by Peter W. Galbraith. Blistering critique of US performance in the invasion of Iraq. Doesn't revisit the question of whether we were justified in invading (although the chilling discussions of Hussein's human rights violations indicate the author believes there was at least a case for invading) but focuses instead on how lack of preparation and willful ignorance has created the on-going mess over there. It's a shame Dubya doesn't read it. Oh yeah, he, uh, takes the entire month of August off. Well, hey, it's not like he's got an important job, right?

3. The Lost Painting, by Jonathan Harr. Art history meets detective story in this quick-reading nonfiction book about the search for a lost Caravaggio masterpiece. Enjoyable. Recommended by my pal Pat, who liked it so much, that when she lost her copy on vacation, she bought the book-on-tape to listen to in the car so she could find out how it ended.

4. Blood from a Stone, by Donna Leon. The latest installment in the Guido Brunetti mystery series, which takes place in Venice. Literate mysteries set against a gorgeous and complex backdrop.

Friday, September 01, 2006

One of the best gifts I've received. Ever.

Every once in a while, someone surprises you with a gift. These

were handknit by my dear friend Ed. Ed and I work together on Saturdays at Rosie's and we have so much fun (along with the third stooge, Tina) that sometimes I feel almost guilty about being paid. (Almost, Lisa.)

Anyway, one day, Ed and I had a rather strange conversation in which he tried to elicit my shoe size. His face dropped when I said "9 wide." Finally, he confessed that he was making me a pair of socks. These lovely ones.

I was touched beyond words.

As Lisa Myers says, "No one knits for the knitter." But Ed did. And I will always cherish these socks, not simply because they are beautifully made, by hand, and fit my feet so well, but because they came from Ed.