Monday, June 30, 2008

Is It Just My Imagination?

Or is an awful lot of the really creative design and knitting being done now in cyberspace, instead of in paper publications? Now, I'm a dedicated book person who is never going to give up books--I'm hooked on reading and looking at the pictures and using them for reference--but I'm amazed at how much creativity is available in new forms.

Right now, I subscribe to four knitting magazines (Knitter's, Vogue Knitting, Cast-On, Interweave Knits) and one spinning magazine (Spin-Off). (Okay, I know I don't technically know how to spin, but it's like reading Weight Watchers magazine...maybe if I read about it, I won't have to actually count points. Of course, let's look at the record...can't spin, not losing weight. The theory may have a few yarnovers.) I often read Knitting, and sometimes Simply Knitting, both British mags, and occasionally Creative Knitting. That's a lot of knitting magazines!

But ...

I can't tell you the last time I knit something from one of the first three mags. I'm actually embarrassed for the editors sometimes when I look at the patterns. What in the world were they thinking, I say to myself? You can't beat Cast-On for technical information, especially if you, like I, think longingly of completing the Master Knitter Program, but the magazine's patterns usually leave me cold. My current toe-up sock is a variation on Ann Budd's On Your Toes pattern from IK, and I'm actually thinking of making the Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer scarf on the cover of the most recent Spin-Off, so I won't say I don't get inspired reading them. But the reality is that most of the knitting that inspires me is from my computer.

Ravelry. OMG...there are a million young designers publishing on the net in one form or another and most of them are showing their patterns on Ravelry. Who didn't make Kiri, for instance? Or Jaywalker Socks? Romi's Muir? Clapotis? Or Monkey or Ponatomous Socks? (Well, actually I didn't make the last four, but I wanted to, and that should count for something. See note above about counting points.)

In fact, if there's a trend here, I think all those patterns came from Knitty, although I could be wrong about the Jaywalkers. But they're definitely net-based, and were a huge cult project a couple of years. But back to Knitty: Knitty is an incredible resource--I am notoriously NOT a baby stuff knitter but I've got yarn for a couple of recent projects in my stash for the lovely Ruby.

And all the really fun lace knitting right now is happening on the Yahoo knitalongs: Casablanca, Mystery Shawl, the Goddess shawls, the Bad Cat Designs sampler, the Mystic series shawls. All my friends are knitting lace and all those patterns are coming off the internet, most at no cost, but some with a nominal cost. The last two I actually completed were Mystery Stole 3 and Hanami--both from the same designer, Melanie Gibbons. And I have a number of lace patterns in my mental queue, meaning that I've bought or downloaded the patterns but haven't done anything with them yet (see note above about counting points), but in this case I might actually knit them one day. And they're all from the internet: Anne Hanson's Irtfa'a and The Veil of Isis, Luna Moth, Seascape.

So, what's the deal with the traditional publishers? I have the utmost respect for Knitter's because I've been a happy Stitches attendee in years past, but most of the designs in the recent issues seem to come from "the Knitter's Design Team." Where are the designers I want to see? Even the more traditional ones are MIA. VK has always been somewhat "out there," but we read it for the same reason we read Vogue--to see trends. Only IK has made a successful transition to cyberspace, publishing IK Daily and releasing some print patterns to download for a nominal fee. (Frankly, I'd rather pay $5 for a pattern I might actually use than the same $5 for a magazine of stuff that's just laughable.)

Well, here's my theory. First, I think the magazines are so tied to the yarn manufacturers who advertise that they're publishing what the manufacturers want, not what we want. And there's nothing wrong with keeping your advertisers happy--it's just that seeing a truly fugly piece of knitting doesn't make me want to rush out and buy the yarn. And most of the designers doing really innovative work aren't tied to specific yarns or manufacturers. Many of them are using indy yarn or spinning their own. (Hats off to Jackie E-S for that scarf in Spin-Off, called Morning Surf, and hats off to Spin-Off for demonstrating that it looks wonderful, and different, in many different yarns.)

Second, I think most of the magazines are like the monkeys with their hands hands firmly over their eyes, their ears, and their mouths, pretending that Ravelry and internet designs aren't happening. They're hoping that their "loyal" subscribers won't notice either. It all reminds me of the Vonage commercials--the phone company dude saying "the only thing we've changed is our prices," and the young, hip Vonage chick pushing him off the screen.

It reminds me of the other ugly secret: we're buying yarn from the internet, too, and from fiber shows. Now, no one loves her bricks-and-mortar stores better than I, and I am a big supporter of the LYS, but let's face it--we're buying independent yarns from folks who don't sell to the shops. I have a personal rule that says I don't buy something online I could get from a local shop--I'm not about to go online to buy Rowan Kidsilk Haze or Cascade 220--but I'm loving some of the yarns I can't get from them--Miss Babs and Tess, to name two.

I also think that many designers today aren't willing to sign away the rights to their designs--they can see the future and realize that they'll be able to make a lot more money, and get their patterns into the hands of a lot more knitters, by selling their patterns via download than they'll ever realize from the fee they got from the magazine.

We gotta find a happy medium. Because right now, I'm counting pennies and nickels and looking hard at money for magazine renewals. It's nice to have that old issue of Knitter's with the article on short-rowing, but is it worth $5 when I can go to the blogosphere or to YouTube to see 25 videos on short-rowing? I'm definitely considering all the alternatives.

Anyway, I know it's a whine, but just askin'. Ya know what I mean?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Attitude of Gratitude

Sad news this past week, as we learned that a friend had lost her husband to a heart attack. Two weeks ago, my sister's friend suffered an aneurysm and passed away. My favorite all-time audiobook narrator, Frank Muller, died earlier this month as a result of injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in 2001. Tim Russert, George Carlin...the deaths of these two strangers who felt like friends shock us as if we had known them personally. I actually did meet Frank Muller a couple of times, several years ago when I lived in the DC area, and had a brief ongoing correspondence about audiobooks, and I'm so sad for his wife and children and for all the people who loved to hear him bring printed books to life in our cars and as we traveled. In fact, it it is so sad to see these "normal" events affect our friends and family, and even strangers. (I saw a sign outside a local chiropractic clinic about Tim Russert--a tribute in a space normally allocated to advertising the clinic's services. Amazing.)

So I am feeling very appreciative today for Mr. Pug, my family, my canine babies, and, of course, my friends. We have been extremely lucky that we haven't had any major tragedies in many years. Both of my parents are gone, as well as my Aunt Lib who was probably one of the most important people in my formative years. Other losses, but all many years ago. Right now, we are all healthy and reasonably happy.

So let's celebrate life. Here's some of what makes it all worthwhile today:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I keep taking pictures of my hibiscus flowers--they're so darned pretty I cannot resist them. If Georgia O'Keefe had lived in the East when she was painting flowers, she'd have painted this hibiscus!

Fish--see the fishies? Well, we're not exactly in the "Finding Nemo" category yet, but some of our fish are actually living, for a change. Despairing of our ability to raise Koi, since every one we'd put in our pond had died or disappeared, we put a bunch of small goldfish in about two weeks ago. Two miracles: (1) most of them are still living and (2) two of the Koi from last year have reappeared--they have very distinctive markings and are quite a bit larger than the newbies. I have no idea where they've been, or what they've been eating, since we stopped feeding them since we thought they were dead or MIA, but they look healthy and are zipping around with their new friends.

Next, Lucy. I don't know why her eyes look so much like hunks of turquoise in this picture, but she does have very distinctive eyes and maybe this is the best representation after all. Lucy is the quietest and most seemingly mature of the two girls, but every so often she'll clean Buddy's clock just to remind him who's boss.

Finally, friends. Just in this one week, I went to the Noble Knitters meeting at Barnes & Noble and that was just as nice as usual--dinner with some of the NKs beforehand and then an hour or so of sharing and knitting. Then lunch with Debra on Friday--it was her birthday and we used that as an excuse to sit and schmooze for a little longer than we might otherwise. (Fine! It was a LOT longer--sue me!) Then, yesterday I went on a mini-yarn crawl with Nancy, Ellen, Pat, and Marian. We had a sinfully good time visiting Knitch and Needle Nook and then stopping for a sweet treat (a berry scone in my case) at Harvest Breads. By the time I got home, I was positively warm with the friendship I had experienced. Who could want anything more?

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I had a wonderful conversation on the phone yesterday with a friend from high school--well, she was my best friend in high school. We haven't seen each other or communicated in about 30 years. How does that happen? I guess people just go in different directions, with family, career, and such.

Anyway, it was nice to reconnect and hear what she's doing. And it turns out that she's just as passionate about dogs as I am, but in a totally different direction. She's an obedience judge and listening to her explanation about how dogs compete in obedience and agility trials was fascinating--a piece of the whole dog world that I know nothing about at all.

But ...

Pugs are not obedient. I don't mean they're incapable of obedience. I'm sure that some of them are obedient. But, in my 15 or 16 years of experience with the breed, from experiencing Deirdre's pugs, from having my own 5.5 pugs (counting Buddy as .5 pug), and from attending dozens of pug events--picnics, shows, parades, and the like--I haven't seen a lot of evidence of obedience. Or agility, for that matter.

Pugs simply don't care. They don't seem to understand why you care. Pugs simply ... are. Asking if a pug is obedient is like asking a British citizen whether Queen Elizabeth is obedient. Who cares? She's the queen!

Not that a pug won't come to you when you call...she will, especially if you're holding a Chicken Tender in your hand. If you've got one of those really cool 3-calorie puffy things, guaranteed to be a healthful alternative to the Chicken Tender, it's optional. A pug is not going to run to your side for 3 calories. Or just because you asked. Not gonna happen!

Now, outside the judging ring, it's really important that dogs be obedience trained so you can get them to come inside the house when some jerk has thoughtlessly opened the front door for the UPS man, who's probably delivering yarn anyway. And, of course, if you have a dog that bites, I suppose it's important to be able to get them to stop. My pugs don't bite humans, but that may be just us. In fact, when the UPS guy shows up, our guys bark, then they roll over onto their backs to be petted. They know the importance of yarn and its safe delivery.

Oddly, a lot of doggy things don't seem to apply to pugs. First of all, your basic pug is too lazy to chase the UPS driver or his truck too far. Of course, I can't be too smartalecky about this, since Bertie chased a car once and it led to his death. And the Woofgang pugs do occasionally stray out of the fence or out into the front yard.

So, here's the second thing about training pugs. It's really important that the owner be trained. Here's how training works with that front door example. On those occasions, we use the time-tested car method.

Here it is: Open the car door. Say, "Oh, hey, Lucy, nice to see you. How ya doin'? Want to go for a ride?" The pug jumps into the vehicle, you reverse out of the driveway and do a quick once-around the culdesac, maybe down to the next street if you're feeling magnanimous, and then back home. At home, say, "Lucy, who wants a treat?" Then go inside (with the pug) and do the right thing--give her one of those good treats, not the puffy things.

Socks and Friends

All right, tell the truth now. Who would NOT be excited about this sock? All right, I get that you're not as personally invested in it as I am, but, speaking purely as a purist and without any biases at all, I have to say I love it. There, I've said it. I love it.

Now, mind you, my friends are getting tired of hearing about the sock. And it's not much of an accomplishment when you get right down to it. But my knitting these days is taking a back seat to other things like working and trying to figure out how to live in these days of ga$ prices and such. And it's so nice to have something work out just the way you hope, using your own combination of patterns and techniques from real experts, the first time. So here's sock #1. Sock #2 is about 3" today--just about where the first one was the last time I showed a photo--so there's no point in showing that.

To Debbie, and no one else will care, woo hoo! I think I'm going to have a nearly identical pair, not by strategy but by accident. Apparently two repeats of Opal Rendez-vous equal (magically) one sock for a big-footed type such as myself. Life is good. Now, I need to put the sock down and do some of the other things I should be doing.

And before my head gets too big, here's what keeps me humble:

This is a small part of Pat's Dem Fischer shawl, made of Zephyr in the Basil shade. It's worn here by new friend Anita--well, she's Whit's friend but I'm adopting her because she's so nice. For the record, Anita is small and Dem Fischer is large so you may not get the whole magnificence thing but then again, maybe you do. And, on the one hand, DF, on the other hand ... one sock. Oh, well. If you want to know what I had to do with this project, well, first, I cheerled (is that the past tense of cheerlead?), and the value of that can't be underestimated. Second, I have NOT stuffed it in my own knitting bag and run off, though I've had several opportunities. So I feel like I have a real stake in the whole thing.

Actually, I'm not above thinking about snatching the shawl, moving to another city, and wearing it, saying in a modest tone, "why, yes, it IS handknit. Why do you ask?" I probably wouldn't actually do it, but I definitely think about it.

And here's a picture of the hill in our back yard, including the fish pond (in the front). We've just stocked the pond again, this time with anonymous fish. Maybe ONE of them will live to to tell the tale. But the hill looks nice, especially given that we're still in drought conditions here and can't water. And I can't take any credit or blame for this--it's all Mr. Pug, with supervision from the dogs.

Finally, speaking of dogs, here's the dog so ridiculous looking that we've almost started to think it's normal. Buddy. Mr. P and I went to PetSmart yesterday and checked out all the dogs for adoption, and they all looked less silly and more doglike and dignified than Buddy, even the beagle mixes and the chihuahua mixes and you get the point. He's absurd. And if you could see him in action, standing on his hind legs and wiggling like a kielbasa with Parkinsons, you'd really wonder if we'd lost our minds. And the answer is probably yes.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Did You KIP?

Well, sort of. I meant to, and I actually got a few stitches in while finishing lunch with a friend (hi, Joyce!), but KIP? Really? Nah.

We meant to. We had good intentions, but you know how those things are. Joyce and I were on our way to KIP with some folks at Cast On Cottage but by the time we got there, the threatened rain had come to pass and we sat in our respective cars for over 20 minutes, KIA'ing. (That would be knitting in our automobiles for those of you who aren't acronym-savvy.)

But what in the heck is the point of Knitting in Public Day anyway? For me, it's sort of pointless. There are very few days that I don't KIP. It's something that many knitters do on a daily basis. That's because knitting is part of our lives, and of course, we do it wherever we are. We don't need a special venue. We knit in the line while we wait at the bank, some of us knit while we wait in traffic, we knit when we finish a meal or wait to be called for our table at a restaurant. I knit in the car today while Mr. Pug and I went for an early breakfast at IHOP to celebrate Father's Day. We do it because we're Knitters.

And when Debra and I went to the Decatur Library on Thursday to hear an author (Jeffrey Deaver!) speak, we knit at the table after dinner, knit through the author's presentation, and then sat quietly and knit after everyone else had left the auditorium. Knitting was the perfect dessert, it helped us pass the time before Mr. Deaver spoke, it helped us concentrate while he spoke, and then it seemed natural to keep knitting while we caught up on our lives at the end of the day.

So Knitting in Public Day, while sort of interesting, always confuses me. It makes knitting something odd or strange, like being a nudist for a day. (Which seemed more interesting to me when there was less of me, and it was less wrinkled.) People do it every day, we just don't see them do it. But knitting's different. Knitting is not an odd pastime, limited to a few weirdos--it's a Part of Life, Normal, Not Strange.

More of us are knitting all the time, or maybe we're just more visible. Sometimes it amazes me that Ravelry has over 130,000 members (139,040 as of today), and in another way, I'm not surprised at all. Many of the people I know (friends, sisters) knit. The Atlanta Knitting Guild has over 325 members. No big deal. And if 130,000+ of us are registered on one social networking site, how many more are knitting in shops or at home or in public and just aren't joiners? You gotta believe there are lots!

And the benefits are huge. I've been knitting since I was 10 or 11 (and we won't discuss how many years that has been!). I've been largely a solitary knitter, originally taught by my grandmother but really mostly self-taught from books and magazines and old tattered Red Heart pamphlets. That means I've learned a lot of things I probably shouldn't have learned over the years. Being around other knitters has helped unlearn some of those things.

Yesterday I attended a mini-workshop put on by the guild. Five of us learned some "tricks of the trade" from one of our much more experienced and more polished knitters (thanks, Jean!), and it was wonderful to sit with friends, knit together, and pick up a tip or two that will make life easier. Here's one of Jean's tips that's so simple you'll wonder why you haven't been doing it all along: When you're doing a series of increases or decreases, count out coilless pins or markers in the same number as the number of decreases. Pin them to another part of your work. When you complete the increase or decrease, add the coilless pin to the increase/decrease place. When you run out of markers, you're done. Now why is that so much simpler than just pulling out one pin after another and counting or marking tics on a piece of paper and then trying to keep track of the paper? I don't know, but it is!

So what am I knitting these days? I'll just start by saying, in a moment of embarrassed honesty, Not Much! I'm in one of those periods when I just don't seem to get much done, knitting or otherwise, and certainly nothing completed. But I do have some things OTN and a few things IMME (In My Mind's Eye) and it's as good a time as any to mention them.

First, I need to say that I've been working away on a pair of socks for a month or so. I love the yarn (J Knits from The Yarn Grove) and have been playing with the whole concept of toe-up socks--trying all the cast-ons and heels and trying to figure out which one I really love. I finally found the right combination for me, I think, though I just got my copy of Lucy Neatby's Cool Socks Warm Feet and she has some good ideas there, too. Anyway, I was working away on Sock #2 when disaster struck, in the form of two dogs that I was dogsitting over Memorial Day. Actually I went to Charlotte to babysit but ended up with two dogs, too. So here's the score: Kids 0, Dogs 2.

So this picture is actually three projects, because when I put what I am now calling the Memorial Day Disaster into my knitting bag, the two destroyed projects actually became entangled with a third project which is now caught up in the whole MDD thing. So, from top to bottom, 1-2/3 socks, now in the process of being detangled and rewound. The red and black thing is a multidirectional scarf which is the Innocent Victim of the group. Finally, at the bottom is a Noro cabled bag. The main part of the bag is complete and the strap is on needles (at the very bottom). I guess that someday I'll go back there and figure it all out, but for today it looks bleak for three projects.

Then, of course, I continue to plug away at my Tess diagonal vest. I love this project but I've just reached the point where I've made all the diamonds the pattern calls for and, oddly, the darned thing doesn't fit around me. Two things--first, I knew that I was knitting the diamonds at a slightly smaller gauge than called for (using 7's instead of 8's), but I liked the fabric much better so I just kept on keeping on. Not the designer's fault. Second, my body seems to be larger than I remembered. Again, can't blame this on anyone but me (and maybe McDonald's). Luckily, it's a modular pattern and I'll just add another row (or two or three) and eventually it'll circle the globe, to coin a rather unfortunate metaphor.

Next, the new Toe-Up Sock of the Day. I seem to be suddenly rather poor, but I couldn't resist this Opal Rendez-Vous from The Yarn Grove. Love those girls! And it's really Jane's fault for bringing the darned stuff to the Noble Knitters group one Wednesday night right after the MDD. I cast on Thursday, sitting with Debra, tore it all back down yesterday after I figured out that 68 stitches was going to be too big (why are my feet normal size and the rest of me so, Not?). So back down to 64 and it's going to fit much better. And I love this yarn!!!!!! It fits with my new focus on green.

So, speaking of green ... Jelly. All of my friends are making really complex shawls. They bring them to knitting gatherings and I'm suitably impressed but can't compete in this arena at the moment. My brain in its current configuration just won't handle this. But this new pattern from Knitty, called Seascape, looked do-able. Of course, it calls for the dreaded Rowan Kid Silk Haze, which I have sworn never to use again, but ... Jelly. 'Nuff said. Jelly. From Cast On Cottage, where a valiant group of knitters sat out in the sunshine yesterday and KIPped, but without Joyce and me. Not OTN, yet.

And, finally, another Knitty pattern, Helena. And the rather sublime, er, Sublime yarn, for the not-yet-met-but-sublime-by-every-report Ruby, my new grandniece. The Sublime, which is machine wash but lay out to dry, seemed to be a reasonable choice for a new mother--sort of a PITA but not entirely. At least it can go in the machine. The Sublime is from Needle Nook.

Finally, a note of another sort. If you're going to put something really cool on your cellphone as music to be heard while the caller is on hold, don't choose "Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday" by the Rolling Stones, just because your new granddaughter's name is Ruby. This just makes the callers a little nuts when they realize that all that is going through their small, empty minds for the next few months is "Goodbye Ruby Tuesday, who could hang a name on you?" (I suppose it's marginally better than "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" but not by much.) Thanks a lot, Deirdre. And Mick!