Monday, April 30, 2007


Yesterday we took the kids to Chanticleer. Chanticleer is a gorgeous botanical garden very close to our house -- but it seems as though not many local people know it's there. Originally, Chanticleer was an estate owned by a wealthy pharmaceutical executive; his son left it to the public to be enjoyed as a garden.

We got there just in time for the last wave of daffodils. Chanticleer has fields and fields of them, along with tulips and other bulbs. For Liz, here are some

Virginia bluebells (I think).

There are lots of adirondack chairs all over, many of them painted whimsically, which makes the garden a great place to sit and think (or knit). The boys found this glider:

There are all sorts of vistas, little bridges running over streams, a paddle wheel, terraced beds like these along a hillside

and a lovely Ruin Garden (it was the site of a house built in the twenties, which was dismantled. Some of the original foundation was left intact but most was taken down and reassembled to create a picturesque -- and non-hazardous -- ruin).

Tom found a stone couch (complete with stone remote control, on the sofa arm at left)

while Little Miss obligingly smiled for the camera.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I must be feeling a little better

because look at my socks! I finished the second one last night when I should have been knitting part of a sweater for the book. (You might remember that some astute commenter saw my photo of the first sock and asked where its mate was...)

Pattern: none; my usual cuff-down wing-it socks.
Yarn: Black Bunny Fibers Superwash Merino Sock Yarn
Needles: Size US2/2.75mm

Maryland Sheep & Wool

Maryland is only six days away. I'm planning on looking mainly for undyed yarns that I can then dye and put in the Etsy shop. Although the fun thing about Maryland is that you never know what you're going to stumble across. I do plan to avoid all mass-frenzy scenes (e.g., the Koigu booth and the Socks That Rock booth). Does anyone know if there's going to be a blogger meet-up like there was last year?


I'll be updating the Etsy shop tomorrow sometime in the morning (after 10 am). Here's a sneak preview of some of the wool/nylon skeins I've got

and here's a preview of some of the merino/silk skeins:

I'm hoping to get another book review in before the weekend, but we'll see.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Runway Knits, by Berta Karapetyan

Because I love Allison so much, today's book review is Runway Knits: 30 Fashion-Forward Designs by Berta Karapetyan.

Karapetyan founded The Karabella Company in 1993, and developed knit collections for clients including Donna Karan, Banana Republic and Ralph Lauren. She later established her own wholesale yarn line, Karabella Yarns, and is the owner of School Products, a knitting shop in Manhattan.

Runway Knits is a good-sized hardback, 176 pages, with a MSRP of $32.50 (get it for $21.45 as of today's date by clicking on the above link). It contains thirty patterns and lots of glossy photographs. The book is published by PotterCraft, and shows the usual PotterCraft production values: lots of color photos, interesting layout, sturdy glossy pages. My forty-two-year-old eyes found some of the type on the small side but I'm all for cramming as much into a book as one reasonably can, so I was perfectly happy to put on my Peepers.

The book begins with a brief, personal introduction, describing Karapetyan's life -- she emigrated to the US from Russia in the late 1980s -- and touching on her design philosophy. In particular, she states that her designs ought not "overwhelm your body; the garment should flatter you"; and she strives to embody a sense of adventure, interesting details and elegance in her garments. Because Karapetyan believes that what one wears reflects one's personality or mood, she divides the patterns into four sections based on the mood they reflect: Spirited, Playful, Demure and Driven (or Determined; it's called on thing in the intro and table of contents, and another on the chapter heading).

Chapter 1 contains six designs, all intended to personify "spiritedness." The Flamingo "capelet" looks like a shrug to me, or a cropped cardigan, with a tie front:

It features good schematics and an interesting stitch pattern, and is styled more like a sweater rather than usual shrug (i.e. a rectangle with the ends sewn together for sleeves). Two of the designs in this section feature ruffles: a black cardigan with a mohair ruffle, and a sleeveless top with a prominent ruffle around a scoop neck (not my favorite design in the book). The mesh shawl

is pretty, but don't look for lace -- or laceweight yarn; it's knit in Karabella Aurora Bulky with a gauge of 2.5 sts per inch in a dropped-stitch pattern. The dress in this chapter is sleeveless, done in cotton in a Barbara Walker stitch pattern. The last pattern in this section is also called a shrug (maybe because shrugs were all the rage when this book was in production?) but could easily be called a "cardigan" as well; it features one-piece construction with clever shaping and a wide collar.

Here's a shot of the back to give you another sense of the shaping and construction.

Chapter 2 is "Playful," and features a cable-knit hat and scarf set; another shrug or cropped cardigan with wide lapels; a hot little black dress with lace trim;

a cap-sleeve turtleneck with a moss diamond stitch pattern; and a sleeveless cotton sweater with lacy leaves going up the front and sides, to form a turtleneck. Again, clever construction and interesting use of stitch patterns (if personally unwearable for me).

Last in this section is a long-sleeved top with what Karapetyan calls "pleats" but which look like rows of picot edging to me.

The third section is "Demure," and includes a cable-stitch sweater with v-neck, a cabled cardigan knit with curved shaping to form the front; a simple pleated skirt (very schoolgirl uniform-ish); a seed-stitch cropped cardigan; a sweater with built-in neck tie; a turtleneck knit in a wavy ribbon-type stitch; a mohair scarf with huge ruffles at the bottom; a silk sleeveless turtleneck knit in a lace pattern; and another bulky cropped cardigan/shrug knit in one piece.

Last is "Determined," a.k.a. "Driven," with a Russian-style faux fur hat and scarf; a simple turtleneck with corded detailing; a red basketweave sweater, also a turtleneck;

a "trellis shawl" knit in simple mesh stitch with two yarns held together; an a-line jacket with huge (I mean HUGE) buttons;

a button-front sweater with a deep v-neck and cropped front; and a chartreuse sweater, using a wavy pattern stitch, with a leaf-shaped motif hitting at the bottom front (like an arrow pointing to your hoo-ha).

For those of you who weren't keeping track, that's approximately 4 cropped cardigans/shrugs; 4 cardigans; 5 sleeveless sweaters; 2 shawls; 1 cap-sleeve sweater; 7 long-sleeved sweaters; 2 dresses; 1 skirt; 2 hat/scarf sets; and 1 additional scarf.

I give high marks for the interesting shaping used in many of these designs; the extensive use of stitch patterns, including cables, lacy patterns and other textured stitches; a mix of fitted and slightly boxy designs; a variety of yarn gauges; and an overall sense of stylishness. Karapetyan obviously is intrigued by circular shaping in jackets; wide collars and lapels; turtlenecks; and ruffles, and there was a slight repetitiveness to some of these elements, particularly in the cropped cardi/shrug category. The book includes good schematics (necessary for many of the patterns featuring untraditional construction) and charts. My brief skim of the instructions suggested that they were well-written, but not having made any of the garments, I suppose time (and my readers) will tell. The patterns (excluding one-size-fits-most designs, like shawls) tend to be written for four sizes, either XS/S/M/L or S/M/L/XL, with finished size ranges generally written for 32, 35, 38, 41 inches. (Curiously, a garment with a 32-inch finished bust is called "XS" in one pattern and "S" in another.) Gauges are all over the map, and all the yarns shown are, of course, Karabella (although it wouldn't be difficult to substitute for many of them). Garment styles seem to run the gamut, including some set-in sleeves, some raglans, and so on, with an emphasis on turtlenecks.

Most of these would be challenging knits for rank beginners, although I personally feel that anyone can knit anything if they really want to. As with all pattern books, you'll have to decide if you like the designs enough to want to purchase the book and if you think they will flatter your body type and/or work with your wardrobe. But in a publishing world filled with the fast, the easy, the do-it-in-a-weekend, I say good for PotterCraft and Karapetyan for creating a book with interesting, complex designs that show a decided sense of style.

In honor of the late Boris Yeltsin, I say


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

MIA: One Tooth Fairy

My kid was very, very brave. The dentists got together and decided to callously spend even more of our hard-earned money avoid future dental crowding by pulling three teeth instead of one. One of the teeth was fused to the jawbone, and you can figure out for yourself what that meant in terms of the extraction. But we are feeling a bit better today and are sure to go to school tomorrow.

Shockingly, although two teeth were left under the pillow (one was retained for showing in school), the Tooth Fairy failed to take them and leave some cold hard cash in exchange. Such callous cruelty! (The Tooth Fairy was exhausted and sound asleep herself, relieved all was well with her eldest child.)

We decided that perhaps more than one tooth would be too heavy for such a wisp of a thing to carry. We are going to try again tonight, one at a time.

In the meantime, I leave you with a shot of some spinning I did over the last week or so. It's a batch of Black Bunny (blue-faced leicester)

that didn't make it through my stringent quality control process.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Monday catch-up

Let's start out the week with an excellent piece of good news: VĂ©ronik Avery, one of my favorite designers, has a book coming out this fall. When I say that I am going straight to Amazon to pre-order Knitting Classic Style: 35 Modern Designs Inspired by Fashion's Archives, I am not kidding. The book is scheduled for release this fall.

As my elegant grandmother would have said, I am about as happy as a pig in shit.

The Indifferent Outfielder

Saturday was opening day for my oldest kid's Little League. Here, the indifferent outfielder ("was I supposed to chase after that?") gets ready to bat.

There was, however, an outfielder more apathetic than my kid:

Tomorrow, the poor kid gets dental surgery to remove a baby tooth that never came in. The orthodontist said that in 30 years of practicing, he'd only seen 2 other cases like this one. Batten down the hatches and Atavan for everyone! (especially me)

Fun Brunch

Sunday, I met up with Joe, Marilyn, Marilyn's bad-ass granddaughter Liz,

and blogless crochet goddess Kathy for brunch in Stockton, NJ. Much fun was had.

Sadly, I had to crop Kathy out of that photo because my poor photographic skills could not adequately capture her beauty.

Joe was working on a kick-ass rendition of the Boteh Scarf, featured in this month's Interweave Crochet and designed by Kathy.

Just for M-H

At least the twins' preschool is part of the global community. Last week was devoted to studying countries around the world. Friday, in particular, introduced our Aussie friends.

However, I do not believe the picky eaters consumed any Vegamite. G'day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Reader (e)mail

Yesterday's post hit a nerve with some people, and that's a shame, for I didn't intend to insult anyone or rub salt in what are fresh and raw wounds. For someone who expressed a similar sentiment but in perhaps more eloquent terms, see here. In any event, out of respect for the victims, I've shut down the comments for that post so we can move on and let the grieving and investigatory processes take their course.

In the meantime, I have two reader questions. Maybe you will have some ideas in addition to those that I thought of. Elizabeth asks

I’m a new spinner (got my wheel in November) and I just dyed up some Wensleydale roving (pics on my blog). It’s SOOO pretty and shiny and I want to knit a lace shawl out of it but almost everything I’ve read says that Wensleydale is best used for outer wear, weaving, even rugs! Is it possible, do you think, to spin Wensleydale smooth enough to where it isn’t prickly? I sampled a little on my spindle and yes, it has a halo much like mohair. I’m going to try spinning it from the fold on a low ratio and see if that produces a less hairy yarn. Would you have any other suggestions to offer?

I am stumped for other suggestions, and wonder if there's really anything one can do to fight against the essential nature of Wensleydale, which is to have relatively long fibers. Any of you more experienced spinners out there want to take a crack at it?

CCR wrote:

I found out that a good friend is pregnant, after years of hoping, and with twins! Having just seen a fellow knitter complete Elizabeth Zimmermann's Baby Surprise Jacket, I am encouraged to think I can do that, twice, but I'm not sure what yarn to use. I want it to be soft (for the babies as well as for me as I knit) but sturdy (so they last a little while), and machine wash and dry (for the sake of the parents), and not too expensive for the sake of the budget. What would you recommend?

I tried to email you personally, CCR, but for some reason the email got bounced. I think that the hardest part is finding a yarn that can be machine dried. A lot of yarns are superwash but not a lot of yarn manufacturers recommend machine drying. The only two possibilities I can think of (and please, for the love of God, don't mention R** H***t -- I think it's way scratchy for babies and will make them sweat) are (1) Plymouth Encore, which is 75% acrylic/25% wool, comes in lots of colors, is reasonably priced (between five and six bucks for a 200-yd skein) and is sold a lot of place, including my beloved Rosie's. and (2) Gems Merino, which is the only other yarn I can think of that specifically says you can machine dry it. Gems is 100% merino wool, comes in fingering weight and a dk-weight, pretty colors, and is also around $6 for a skein, at least for the fingering weight. (Also available at Rosie's.) Both of these are soft enough for babies and relatively easy care.

Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The rent-a-cops have got to go.

Yesterday's tragedy at Virginia Tech is almost too much to take in. The horror, the loss of life, the senselessness of it, the age of the victims -- it's unbearable.

We can't restore the dead to life. We can't say much to comfort grieving family and friends. We can't erase the memories of the survivors. But one thing we can do is provide at least a few answers.

Why did the shooter snap? Did anyone have any inkling that he might be planning a bloodbath? Where did he get the weapons? Was anyone else involved? Was the response of college authorities appropriate? What needs to be done to prevent incidents like this or provide better warnings to students if such massacres can't be stopped?

The survivors and loved ones of the victims deserve answers to these questions. And after watching the head of the campus police at a press conference last night, I couldn't believe that campus security was still in charge of this investigation.

I went to college and although my encounters with campus security were rare, these encounters were hardly confidence-inspiring. Twenty-year-olds whose voices were still cracking with youth, retired guys who could barely strap their walkie-talkies around their beer bellies, carrying a heavy resentment toward students along with their billy clubs. Maybe my view of campus police is skewed. But when we consider the enormity of this massacre, can we honestly say that campus police are the best people for the job?

There have already been serious questions raised about the university's response and the on-going investigation of the campus police. They still haven't said whether there were one or two gunmen (if there was one, say so to alleviate the fears of students; if there were two, why isn't there a massive manhunt underway?). They didn't identify the student to the public until sometime early this morning. They dismissed the first shooting as merely a "domestic"* and didn't implement wide-scale warnings to students until after most were on their way to morning classes.

Now is not the time for Cletus Farkel or Wendell Finchum or whoever the hell he is to play cops and robbers with a staff accustomed to dealing with drunk students and minor vandalism. Let's get the best law enforcement officers in the country on this case. Let's get some answers.

*And don't even get me started on what this may say about the campus police's attitude toward violence against women: "It was just his girlfriend - he's not gonna shoot anybody else"? "The bitch probably deserved it"?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Oh my.

We saw this

when we woke up this morning. After a day of steady rain - and a week full of "nor'easter" hysteria -- we thought we were golden. Sunday night, the rain turned to icy snow and the wind picked up. Big time.

I guess I'll be dyeing lots of yarn in the coming days. Tree guys are expensive.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A brilliant idea

The other night I caught two interesting episodes of "Frontline." The first, about soldiers fighting insurgents in Afghanistan, was pretty disheartening. But the second episode was unexpectedly uplifting.

It's about a nonprofit organization called Kiva. Kiva does "microfinancing" -- lending to small businesses, very small businesses, in developing countries. Kiva works with partners in countries around the world, like Kenya, Ukraine and Haiti, to find entrepreneurs in need of loans. When I say these are small businesses, I do mean small: individuals mostly, trying to carve out a better life for themselves by working hard to create a business and making it turn some sort of profit. One of the entrepreneurs featured on Frontline started her own peanut-butter-making business and her loan, a relatively small amount by business standards, helped her expand and sell more peanut butter. The loan amounts range from as small as $100 to a few thousand.

The really fascinating part is how Kiva has harnessed the unique power of the internet to bring individuals together. Anybody can go to the Kiva website and use a credit card or Paypal to make a loan to one of these entrepreneurs. You don't need connections to some kind of banking industry, or a large portfolio to invest in these hard-working folks; just a credit card or Paypal account and a desire to help. You don't have to fund the whole amount of the loan; you can contribute, say, $25, and a bunch of other people can do the same thing to reach the total amount needed. You can even communicate with your borrower and get updates from them on how their business is doing. And they can get to communicate directly with the person who is helping them out. The brilliance of this is astonishing. Allowing people to directly connect with one another, to see how their money is making a direct difference in helping someone become financially self-sufficient, takes advantage of the best qualities the internet has to offer.

Now, most of you who read this blog are knitters. One of the cool things about the website is how it lets you sift through the profiles of entrepreneurs to find someone you feel a connection to. How about Beatrice, who runs a knitting and spinning shop in Nairobi? Or Rita, who is supporting five kids and makes knitted sweaters to sell to schools? She wants to finance an industrial knitting machine so she can ramp up her production. Love your local yarn shop? Take a look at Veselina's, in a market in Bulgaria.

The more hard-headed among you may be interested to know that as of now, no one has defaulted on any of the loans and no one is behind in their payments. You don't earn interest on your loan, so you don't accrue any income that is taxable.

I'm not trying to be pushy. People have to decide for themselves whether and how they like to help others. But Kiva is a cool organization -- innovative, creative and well thought-out. I'm throwing it out there for those of you who've never heard of it. Right now, response to the Frontline episode was so overwhelming that all of their current entrepreneurs are funded, but the website promises more profiles seeking loans soon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A very surreal anniversary

It was about a year ago this month that I was bit by the tick that gave me Lyme Disease (and possibly a second parasitic infection). Even though I've had plenty of time to process it, I still can't believe I got this disease, particularly from a teeny weeny bug barely big enough to see that bit me in my own backyard.

Having this experience has been surreal in so many ways. I have always been fortunate in having good health, and my experiences with the medical system had, for the most part, been sporadic -- isolated things, like strep throat, that could be dealt with quickly. But Lyme Disease has eroded my faith in the medical establishment. The medical establishment told me my symptoms would clear up in a month with a low dose of doxycycline, and they didn't. My internist wouldn't even give me a follow-up appointment to discuss the fact that I, a 41-yr-old person with no other medical conditions, still had characteristic symptoms of Lyme, like shooting joint pain, that I had never had before. Perhaps I was naive, raised on Marcus Welby and Medical Center, but the fact that so many doctors could turn their backs on so many patients, that they could say "it's all in your head" and refuse to treat people in obvious suffering has been disillusioning.

It's not just feeling disappointed in people who were supposed to help me but refused to. It's also feeling at sea, not knowing where to go for real information or sensible advice. I know what I feel, and I don't feel like I did, but after a year of feeling crappy, I'm starting to forget what it was like to feel like me. I think I'm pursuing a sensible course of treatment with a good doctor who knows a lot about tick-borne diseases, but a little part of me is bugged by the fact that so many other doctors, considered "experts" in infectious diseases, pooh-pooh what I'm going through and suggest that the treatment is unnecessary. Maybe I'm just getting old fast. Maybe I'm doing more harm than good taking antibiotics. Maybe it is all in my head.

And then there is the fringe of Lyme patients (I'll admit it; I think of them as the "lyme nuts"). People who turn to remedies that strike me as bizarre, like $3000 machines that supposedly beam certain radio frequencies that kill the spirochetes or who have way-out conspiracy theories (e.g. Lyme was created by evil scientists working for our government who released the germs to harm us all). Do I need to remove all dental fillings made of amalgam and replace them with pure gold? What about coffee enemas? (Nope, I didn't make that one up. Didn't try it, either. I have a fondness for hazelnut coffee, and I don't think my ass should smell like praline.) The concept of the "herx", or Jarisch-Herkheimer reaction, a phenomenon well-documented in other spirochetal illness and sworn to by many Lyme patients. Is herxing for real? Or is it a quasireligious concept, almost a hazing ritual, the fictional notion that you have to suffer in order to feel better? And how can I tell the difference between the fringe and the genuine anecdotal experience of fellow patients?

I saw my doctor last week and he decided to shift course a little. He's always wondered if I had a second tick-borne infection that is co-existing with the Lyme, and we decided it's time to try treating that. I think he may be on to something, but I guess we'll have to see. The new meds are knocking me on my ass, though, so if I seem dopey, or absent, or absent-minded, hang with me. I'm hoping that I won't be observing this anniversary ever again.

Monday, April 09, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Fitted Knits, by Stefanie Japel

I've had several requests for a review of Fitted Knits: 25 Designs for the Fashionable Knitter by Stefanie Japel, also known by her nom de blog, Glampyre of Glampyre Knits fame. I am pleased to oblige.

Let's start out with the obvious: this is a book about fitted knits. Yes, I know it's called that, but I also know someone is going to order this book and then complain that all of the garments inside are too clingy, or too close-fitting, or some such other thing. Pretty much everything in this book is made to fit closely, to mold to your curves. Some people like boxy; some people like fitted. If you like sweaters with lots of ease, if you prefer boxy and swingy, then think closely before you buy this book, because everything is fitted like this vest:

The book is paperback, just under 150 pages, with lots of beautiful color photography. It comes from North Light Books, an imprint of F&W Publications (a company which publishes books and magazines in the craft and hobby fields). The MSRP is $22.99, and the book contains 25 or so designs, all garments for women. The chapters are divided by type of garment: warm weather sweaters (tube tops, tanks, sleeveless); cardigans, wraps and shrugs; vests and sweaters; dressy outfits (a dress and a jacket/skirt combo). The breakdown goes something like this:
  • 2 sleeveless tops;
  • 1 shrug;
  • 2 short-sleeved tops;
  • 1 true vest (shown above);
  • 1 thing which is called a vest but is more of a turtleneck halter top (shown below in purple);
  • 1 tube top (gulp; also shown below);
  • 4 cropped cardigans;
  • 2 short-sleeved cardigans;
  • 1 long-sleeved cardigan;
  • 2 sweater-jackets;
  • 5 long-sleeved sweaters;
  • 1 dress;
  • and 1 suit consisting of matching skirt and jacket.
Right away you can see that if you are looking for lots of tunics, or swing coats, or cardigans that will extend below your pupik, you're outta luck. (Actually, there is one tunic, but it's a FITTED tunic.) But if you're looking for body-hugging, sexy knits, with lots of peekaboo cutouts, cropped lengths and plunging necklines, you're in the right place. (Again, I don't mean to sound dismissive of either fashion extreme: just know what you like and what you're likely to find.)

The book begins with some good information about how to make garments fit. There's a section on how to take your measurements, and how to tweak the patterns to fit your particular body. One nice touch is a concrete example of a hypothetical knitter; measurements are given and Japel walks you through exactly what this hypothetical knitter would do to improve the fit of her garments. At the end of the book you'll find additional technical information: a yarn chart listing various weights, notes on substituting yarn, info about finishing, how to clean and store knitted garments, and references both in book form and on the web.

Fitted Knits is an attractive book, with high production values. The layout is nice and there are interesting woodcut-type graphics interspersed with photos to make the pages more decorative. Some of the hair and makeup is a little 80s looking for my taste, but wow -- if that's the worst thing I can say about this book, well, we're doing pretty good, no?

The patterns themselves are written in multiple sizes -- four, even five size ranges -- and they span a wide range. For example, one garment contains sizing for bust measurements of 30, 34, 38, 42, 46, 50 and 54. Holy crap! That's a lot of sizing and since I'm always complaining about books that don't include a wide size range, I'm going to give major props to Japel for all that work. Patterns include good, clear schematics. Another thoughtful touch are boxes labeled "Notes", found along with each pattern, containing abbreviations and other special stitches or techniques used in that pattern. It's only a minor inconvenience to flip to a back glossary, but when you see the Notes included as part of the pattern itself, you wonder why it isn't always done like that. Patterns are classified as supereasy, intermediate or advanced to assist knitters in deciding what kind of project they are embarking upon.

Of course, whether you like any particular batch of patterns ends up a matter of personal taste. These patterns are interesting and body-caressing.

Many of them -- most of them? -- are made in one-piece to avoid seaming. There are lots of eyelets and keyholes; strapless and sleeveless; clingy; with nice details. I like the way the book includes plenty of close-up photographs of some of the design details, like these shots of the purple sweater shown above:

If your tastes are very traditional, or you don't like clingy, close-fitting garments, or you (ahem) have body issues, then look before you leap. Not everyone wants to make a knitted tube top:

That's fine. Not everyone has to. But if you like Glampyre's design sensibility, or if you're looking for shapely designs that show some skin , you'll want to take a look.

UPDATE: Julie B. asks if all the designs in the book are raglan sweaters, and after doing a quick count, she is correct: nearly all the designs do feature raglan sleeves, even some of the short-sleeved garments. I would say less than five of the sweater designs do not have raglan shaping. Thanks, Julie B, I can't believe I didn't notice that!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter preparations

Perceptive reader Mel notes that I have sold my 666th item on the Black Bunny Etsy shop. Just in time for Easter, eh, Mel? I may have to do some devilish color names in my next update... *

Speaking of Easter, a couple of days ago, we did the annual Easter egg-dyeing extravaganza.

The kids had a blast, as you can see.

Although I felt a great deal of pressure this year to turn out some spectacular eggs, being a hand-dyer and all, this was the best I could do:

In the meantime, Charcoal worked on redecorating his pen. He feels very strongly that he is entitled to his own bay window. His pen starts out looking like this:

and by the end of the day, he has completed the renovation.

It's quite funny; if we have the temerity to push the pen back in, a little while later you will hear clunking noises and when you return to the kitchen, he's got the bay window back again.

A most superlative bunny, who wishes you and yours a Happy Easter, Blessed Passover or enjoyable whatever else you do or don't celebrate!

*Religious readers may rest assured that I am a perfectly harmless, non-Devil-worshipping Episcopalian.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Make mine chocolate

I have the feeling I don't have to mention this to my readers -- your comments suggest that you are definitely on the animals-are-family-members part of the spectrum -- but since it's nearly Easter, it's worth bringing up. Please, please don't give live animals, like bunnies or chicks, on Easter. Little cute animals have this habit of growing up into adult animals who need lots of care, and sadly, many animal shelters find that they are inundated with teenaged bunnies and hens in the weeks and months following Easter. People also dump half-grown animals into the wild, where the bunnies are not prepared to cope with the challenges and often meet a nasty end. If you are thinking about adopting a bun, then stop by the Make Mine Chocolate website for some practical information about owning a bun.

No live animals -- only chocolate ones this Easter!

Birthday wishes

Two of my favorite guys in the whole world are born in the first few days of April. My dear husband celebrated his birthday yesterday, and the blogosphere's own Queer Joe celebrates his today. My beloved husband doesn't have a blog you can visit, but make sure you go to Joe's and wish him happy birthday. He's a hits ho. (And tell him I said he needs to study the color wheel, too.)

Philly area knitters

Did you know there's a Yahoo group devoted to knitting in Philadelphia? It's been slow lately, and some members have expressed a desire to turn the list into a more active place. So join, post, add links and whatnot. There is certainly a vibrant enough fiber community around here to support some whatnot, don't you think?

Black Bunny mailing list/group

And last, I've started a Yahoo group to serve as a sort of newsletter to inform knitters and spinners (and crocheters, too) of updates as they are scheduled. If you want me to add you, please email me (contact info is in sidebar). No spam, no constant questions that could be answered by a quick Google search, just reminder emails about coming updates.

Monday, April 02, 2007

No-Bull Book Review: Punk Knits by Share Ross

Last fall, when I saw that not one, but two major publishers were putting out books devoted to punk-themed knitting, I was bemused. Are punk knitters a demographic that is terribly underserved by the knitting pattern industry? I wondered. Or is this merely a coy marketing ploy aimed at a harder-edged crowd, those who aren’t keen on the post-feminist-but-I-like-Hello-Kitty offerings we’ve seen in the past few years from "hip" or "edgy" designers.

But these thoughts quickly gave way to the major conundrum that a punk knitting pattern book presents: If the punk movement was all about iconoclasm, individuality, thumbing one’s nose at the mainstream, rage against the corporate machine, then exactly how can you reconcile a mainstream book put out by a large multimillion-dollar publishing entity containing cookie-cutter patterns for thousands of knitters to copy?
I still haven’t figured out the answer to that one, but I’m sure my esteemed readers – some of whom, unlike goody-two-shoes me, were actually part of the punk movement – will have some ideas.
In the meantime, I now turn to Punk Knits: 26 Hot New Designs for Anarchistic Souls and Independent Spirits by Share Ross, the first of the two punk knitting books to be released. The book is published by Stewart Tabori & Chang, and contains 26 patterns for the nascent (or do I mean nostalgic?) knitter of punk accoutrements. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say “knitter of faux-punk accoutrements,” for in all honesty I can’t believe anyone who is steeped in the philosophy or lifestyle of true punkitude is going to read this book, let alone make anything from it.
It pains me to say that, because we all know about my publishing crush on Melanie Falick. Yes, former editor of IK, editor of ST & C’s craft line, who brought us such lovelies as Handknit Holidays and Weekend Knitting. But after reading Punk Knits I must wonder whether Ms. Falick received a damaging cosh on the head while body-surfing through a mosh pit. In other words, what on earth were you thinking, Melanie?

I know, I know, you’ve heard me gush over the last couple books I reviewed, and you know I’ve never met a Melanie Falick book I didn’t like. So now you’re probably wondering what could possibly have sent me over the edge when it comes to this little volume. Paperback, spiralbound (I love the spiral binding!), 26 designs, color photos, MSRP of $19.95, sounds okay so far.
Well, let’s start with the hokey music-themed puns sprinkled throughout the book. No boring old middle-America “Introduction” here; nope, we have “The Rehearsal.” Instead of a section with the oh-so-conventional title of “Patterns,” we have “The Gig.” And the last section, containing useful information, credits and such is “Back-Up.” It's all so contrived -- the opposite of the spontaneous, live in the moment gestalt of punk.

Likewise, a simple beginner/intermediate/advanced difficulty rating is eschewed in favor of a more complicated 5-tier system: Garage, Coffeehouse, Nightclub, Theater and Arena (going from easiest to hardest skill level). Apart from the fact that this confused me (I could never remember whether Coffeehouse was the next to easiest or next to hardest), there is something inherently anti-punk, at least in spirit, to classifying patterns as easy or hard and then expecting the bad-ass, break-the-rules punk knitter to fall in line with those classifications.
We’ve got little text boxes sprinkled throughout reminding us of important factoids, like that Keith Moon of The Who (can there be a bigger sell-out, multimedia corporation in the music biz than the frickin’ Who?) wore fingerless gloves in Tommy, or homages to various inspirational punk rockers like Marilyn Manson, or Woodstock, or John Lennon, or Lenny Kravitz.... huh?
We've got dopey models, milling about like extras from the club scenes of "My So-Called Life," or aging hipsters dressed for a VH1 "I Love the 80s" taping.

But putting all the superficialities aside, the worst part about this book is that the patterns are boring.
Here are the patterns that you’ll find in this book: 3 sweaters, all of them pretty much the same except one is striped, one has holes in it and one doesn’t have holes in it; 2 mini skirts, pretty much the same except one is knit in mohair and one in something lumpy; fun fur scarves (you know, cast on 12 stitches, knit until you almost run out of yarn, cast off); a man’s necktie; 3 or 4 fingerless glove patterns (remember, that dead guy from The Who wore them); a pillow; 2 hats; a choker ; a short furry vest; a long furry vest; a halter kind of top “sewed” together with safety pins (actually piercing your flesh with them is so 1982);

a guitar strap; sleeves knitted into a jean jacket; mesh-y leggings; a kilt with a skull on it; and some kind of furry Doc Marten spats. Maybe I’m forgetting something but you get the idea. Oh yeah, fake pigtails made from $44 worth of Colinette Point 5 (a criminal use of expensive hand-dyed yarn, IMHO, but I guess a mohawk presented too much of a design challenge).

Nothing in the book is particular new or interesting; in fact, vigorous Googling will net you free copies of pretty much everything in there, and when you take Knitty and MagKnits and the bounty of bloggers into account, you can generally find more interesting versions. Even the supposedly transgressive stuff has been done before: guitar strap? Knitty did it in 2003. Knitting sleeves onto a jean jacket? Lion Brand did it. Knitted men’s tie? Grace Ennis did kick-ass argyle ones in the 1940s. Find them on Ebay and then decide if you want to knit the one in the book. Huggy Bear giant hat?

The BBC's Dipsy, 1998.
Maybe trying to translate a movement like punk into knitting is doomed from the start. The internet allows the truly cutting-edge to keep up with fashion trends nearly instantaneously, while the publishing process takes a year or more to go from concept to finished book. Any subversive subculture can find fellow members anonymously on-line without resort to books. And maybe there’s just no getting around the inherent contradiction in providing slickly-packaged instructions for the masses, based on counterculture trends.
I’m a complete whore for knitting books. My knitting library would probably fill you with shock and awe. (Ask my husband.) It’s not very often that I buy a knitting book and don’t keep it. But this one is going back tomorrow.
In the meantime, I wanna be sedated.