Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hippie Holidays

The official Winter Solstice was on Dec. 22, 2007 at 1:08 am (EST). Roughly around that time a neighbor called the fire department on Matt and Adrianne's annual Christmas party — four fire engines! Equipment in hand, they ran through the hallway towards the backdoor to investigate. Someone yelled "Adrianne, where'd you get the strippers?" They made their official report calling the fire in queation "one of those Home Depot chimney things" and left. That beat out last year's police raid and the previous year's egg-pelting incident from Park Slope's finest neighbors. I'm sure our fire department has more dangerous incidents to attend. Over-entitlement is a deadly evil when one uses 311 for the wrong reasons.

Children's hats are good one-ball projects, I made hats for Jyothi and Moli, Muk and Hillary's kids. I simplified a pattern that we use in class. I told Jyothi that I made her a pink hat, she said "I hate pink!" Then I said I might have to give it to her sister. Then she said "I like pink." I hope this doesn't spell out a life long pattern. Jyothi's pink hat (above) has mouse ears (Classic Elite "Basic Wool Superwash", 65 yds.) at the top, Moli's gold hat has cat ears (Elsebeth Lavold "ClassicAL", 109 yds.). I'm looking for that pack of googly eyes so I can sew them onto the front. Moli is just starting to walk, kids grow so quickly. I'm always amazed at how wide a child's head is, an average of 18 to 19 inches in circumference. The average woman's head is about 20 to 21 inches — and men, 21 to 23.

I'm making a few hats as late Christmas presents. My sister Mary wants a red one. Despite what my nephews think, Kai and Corey are also getting hats. On Christmas eve, Eleanor and I went to the candlelight cantata at The First Unitarian Church. It was a beautiful service with a choir and horn section, but the sermons carefully excluded the word God, unless cited from other text. We had Vietnamese food right after. She gave me a book: "Look Me in The eye" by John Elder Robison. She's getting a hat. I tried not to cough during the service, I'm still getting over a chest cold. I've been using this post-hippie device called a Jala Neti to avoid another sinus infection. It's a small tea pot that you fill with a warm salt water solution. Breathing through your mouth, you flush water in one nostril and out the other — repeat process through the other nostril. I can only describe it as "water boarding" but I feel less congested and my hearing is better.

I will not make a Neti cozy.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Meanwhile... Is There a Doctoroff in the House?

December has been surprisingly cold for this time of the year. I made Freddy's bar owner, Frank, a braided double-knit scarf. It's made from olive merino and trimmed with bronze silk braids. Of all the people who are being rolled in the Atlantic Yard fiasco, Frank Yost has taken the hardest hit. According to the arena's architectural model Freddy's bar is the future entrance to the parking lot. The Brooklyn Paper reports that in addition the the arena's centerpiece Ms. Brooklyn, "Ratner’s ‘Mr Brooklyn’ Deal Gets Sweeter" (Dec. 22, 07). This sickens me to my core to think about what is allowed in a backroom deal bewteen wealthy men. But this seems to be where we are as a nation, and then a neighborhood. People turn a blind eye until they find out the problem is actually in their front yards. What have we all allowed?

Atlantic Yards: Brooklyn's alleged new symbol of civilization. What's so civilized about stealing land from people to build ill-conceived buildings that smell like pee, Milk Duds, and hot dogs? As we knit in the foot print of an evil real estate titan, the proposed arena is still being crammed down our throats. The Brooklyn Paper recently reported that departing Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Dan Doctoroff, finally admitted that Atlantic Yards was pushed through hastily without due proccess (article: "Now, He Tells Us!", Dec. 15, 07). The New York Observer (article: "The Education of Daniel Doctoroff", Dec. 11, 07) also speaks of Doctoroff's mea culpa. The New York Times, a Forest City Ratner partner, mentioned nothing (article: target="_blank"). But even as the Atlantic Yards fiasco is now undergoing great scrutiny, upstate cronies are still married to a secret backroom deal that promised private and public property to their wealthy friends — it's as creepy and suspicious as a private MySpace page. Knit PH is actually one man's odd-ball mission (me) to make people aware that Prospect Heights is alive, well, and not blighted. How can you declare a neighborhood blighted or uncivilized when it has knitting circles?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Knit PH at Freddy's: Dec. 16, 07

Monday: I just paid off $20 in late library fines again. Similar to how Sub-prime Mortgages prey upon desperate first-time home buyers, the Public Library preys on the absent minded. As I walked back around Grand Army Plaza I was smacked by a bone-chilling gust of wind that blew through my thermals right into my marrow.

The DDDB Christmas party just ended as I set up the swift. We had a small attendance for Knit PH at Freddy's this past Sunday. Many folks went to the Sit'n'Knit New York holiday party that evening. But mostly it was just un-Godly cold! Each time I stepped out to smoke I had to carefully peel my lips from my cigarette. Some new folks showed up, all PH locals who live in walking distance. Randy brought a sock pattern, tiny needles, and sock-weight yarn. Hanna was making the mate for her skull and cross-bones mitten. She lives in manhattan, but showed up with her boyfriend Nathan who lives around the corner. He was making another watchman's cap since he lost the last one.

Tracey started a scarf from "One Skein: 30 Quick Projects to Knit and Crochet" by Leigh Radford (Interweave Press). I like this book, it has solid short-term projects for the train and it easily fits in a bag. I wound 8 skeins of Debbie Bliss silk and a few other loose skeins of wool. Conversation was good as usual. Tracey works in the field of Library Science. Hannah is getting her Docterate in the field of medicine from Mt. Sinai (Microbiology?), her studies involve mapping the migration of cells within tissue. Randy does web design at an ad agency. I forget what Nathan does. Knitters are generally interesting people I find.

I stuck around afterwards to listen to Jessica Bates and Mauricio Alexander but ended up playing sound man, which meant making Jessica louder and attending to a mic stand that was afflicted with erectile disfunction. It was a stripped down set of original music — piano, guitar, soft voices, a very nice way to end the evening.

Meanwhile... Are More Men Knitting?

From the Knitters Protection Program: Me, Bhindi the cat, and Mark

Last Sunday I had lunch with Eleanor and Mark. He made these excellent steamed spring rolls with cabbage and ginger, Eleanor made a cous cous dish, I brought grapes and a Corean Apple for desert. I also brought some yarn and needles along for Mark, he wanted to learn to knit. Mark works in construction, he's got a great sense of detail and accuracy. He did well picking up the long tail cast-on, knit, and purl in about 20 minutes without any prior experience. That cat scarf will be ready in no time. Back in June a producer from CBS called about men's knitting circles. She asked me "on average how many men knit?" I'm not the expert. "Well, there's me, Doug, Frank, the other Frank, some guy named Tom... that makes five so far." But Maxcine tells me that more men stop into her yarn shop. I hope this isn't one of those hipster yarn collecting fads.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Knit PH at Prospect Perk: Dec. 13, 07

I registered on today. I'm oficially # 70,517 on the waiting list. I'll have great things to share by summer 2009! The day started off with a Noreaster front it seemed to calm down the around 6:00. A few braves souls came out to knit. Eliza was already there having a bite to eat, I grabbed an egg salad sandwhich and joined her. I said "It's probably just us tonight." But soon after we were joined by new-comer Tim. He just got off from work in lower manhattan. Randy arrived, then Emily.

I ripped out the cuffs and hem of my grey sweater. Despite the wash n' block swatch, it grew about two inches in length. Maybe I should also test for "hang time" on a larger swatch? What do I make with 72 yards that look like grey Ramen? This time around I used a rolled edge instead of a folded hem. I switched from #8 to #3 on the ribbed hem. The five "rolled" rows are plain stockinete bound-off purlwise with a #8. It looks less "Sears Catalogue" this way.

Randy finished his first hat. He did a great job, all stitches were even and consistent. It's a simple stockinette cap with a rolled brim. I helped him close the top, he dropped a row of stitches down one side of the crown. His next project will be a pair of socks. Tim brought a set of #2 DPN and sock yarn to make wrist warmers. "Wouldn't gloves keep your hands warmer?" I asked. "That's what pockets are for." That made sense to me, I've never made a pair of gloves or mittens.

Eliza said she was thinking of buying Jane's spinning wheel. Her husband agreed that as long as it had re-sale value it was fine. Eliza said that it was very modern and beautifully crafted, made with Birch ply, but when not in use it quickly becomes a white elephant. My aunt Lili played the harp, she had a harp room. She married well they say — she had servant quarters, a pool, and two España raised ponds stocked with yellow angels and carp. Emily shared some thoughts on spinning.

One of my (many) white elephants was a Makita table saw that I got on sale for $600. Years later I sold it at a stoop sale for $75. The only thing I didn't make with it was lunch. I made benches, shelves, cabinets, flat files, a book binding press... more benches, benches shaped like cows, 8 foot benches, 4 foot benches, dove-tailed shaker benches... etc., the blue ones are still in use at the Community Garden on Union Street. Would it hurt to paint them now and then? Tim is a fan of Makita products, he works as an engineer. "Have you seen the demonstration of the touch-sensitive table saw?" Demonstrated with a raw hotdog, the blade comes to a dead halt if it encounters anything softer that pine. I blocked out that image all night. Makita also makes excellent routers too, I have an Eagle plunge router with a laser-guide.

April walked in and introduced herself. We all said hello AA style.
April: "Hi, my names April."
Group: "Hello April."
She brought a blanket pattern. Feather and Fan Eliza pointed out. April started casting on. "It's not for Christmas" she said. Yep, the season is upon us.

Eliza was working on a two-color Brioche scarf for her father. Briohce is also known as the Shaker Rib and the Beef Rib. Brioche is a spongy French pastry similar in flavor and texture to Challah bread. Although the word is French, I was told the stitch is British in origin — named for that deep spongy quality. Then again I was told this by a Brit, so go figure. Shakers were an industrious Chritian sect that left a legacy of inventive chairs, benches, and farmsteading systems, but they literally died off. Their religious beliefs excluded carnal relations. Is this why the dinosaurs died?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's Knot What It Seams

Mariama's class was ending as I arrived, the table was packed with crochet people. My Basic Knitting students were waiting for seats. A voice clammered "Hey, Monkey!" It was another Freddy's patron, Juliette. I said I hadn't seen her at the bar in quite a while. Someone asked "You two know each other from a bar?" People are always surprised when two different worlds meet out of context. One time in the Time for Kids coffee line, the ME and I were talking about her husband's band "Life in a Blender" and a band that I was in "Piñata Land". We played the night before at CB's. The woman ahead of us commented with a thick Long Island accent "Oh my Gewd, it's like you two'z got secret liiiives." She sipped her Sankachino and exited the line, Martha whispered to me "No, we just have lives."

This is my second winter teaching at Stitch Therapy, I enjoy the challenge. A perennial puzzle is sewing panels together — the formal term is "weaving" seams. I always recommend "The Knitter's Book of Finishing Techniques" by Nancie M. Wiseman (Martingale & Co.). The diagrams, photos, and instructions are all clear and concise. Making someone better at their craft gives one indepencence and confidence. I'm not sure what an imcomplete Doctorate gives you, but Lordy Lord it can't be good.

I teach a Modified Mattress Stitch for weaving seams together. Instead of sewing bars between loops, its woven through the sides of stitches. For work done on #4 needles and smaller, it's more durable than the standard Mattress Stitch. This can be slow methodical work, but it has advantages over the running stitch and three needle bind-off.
• It works with any pattern as long as you create selvage.
• Seams are flat and almost invisible.
• Seams are very elastic.

The Modified Mattress Stitch

What seam?
Instead of the usual matress stitch try this, it's easier to manage.

Cut a length of yarn that is three time the length of the seam to be woven. On the right facing side of the garment, you will sew the from second stitches in from each seam, through the sides of the loops.

Match edges from two panels and start from the middle of the seam's length. This method of sewing emulates a series of knitted loop as the needle leaves one panel and enters another to create a seam. Weave in one direction (north) and then the other (south).

You go in one side, then out the other, then in again, and out, and then in, call your sister "Happy Birthday, would it hurt to return a call?", then out and then in, Chinese food arrives, tip the guy — you get the picture. The seam should be woven about 1 to 2 inches at a time then adjusted for tension as you work.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Knit PH at Maha's: Dec. 5

It's cold! The snow has barely stuck to the ground and the streets are lined with Christmas trees for sale. As the sun set over Grand Army Plaza the Mitzvah Tanks raced their way onto Flatbush Ave like a fleet of Kosher Mr. Softy trucks. The tinny recording of "L'Chaim" battled the thumping Reggae version of "Do You Hear What I Hear". Why do Hassids use the same warped recording every year? In light of digital technology, there must be an orthodox sound engineer in Williamsburg or Borough Park. I was called a racist over a smart remark about Williamsburg. The Billyburgenites — are trustfund hipsters now a race or an overentitled breed? The end of the year is always a bit nuts, although last week seemed to settle by Thursday in a civil manner. A packaging deadline moved up by one week methodically changing titles in French and English (three times) then color, identity, and bar code. Pain Citrouille Épicée is en route to Hong Kong. I assume that all went well, Ça va? No one understands 4-color anymore.

Maha's Cafe had a small knitting group this week. It was just me, Jennifer and Archie. Maha made us a special dinner — a braised chicken dish spiced with ginger and corrainder served over rice pilaf. Mmmm, it was delicious! I went back for seconds. It's been busy at the cafe, but she made time to sit with us and make a scarf. As 2007 comes to an end, Jennifer is working on a new cable hat from Vogue Knitting (On the Go) "Caps & Hats", and she's also looking for her own place. I don't know which is more twisted, that cabled tam or New York real estate. Even as the housing market is allegedly weakening, rent is still ridiculously overpriced — average 1br $1,8oo - $2,200 /mo. in this area alone. Jennifer, a native Mississippian digs Prospect Heights. Dont' we all? Maha told her she might have some apartment leads. What's the arab word for Yenta? I have a rent stabalized pre-war apartment (with pre-war wiring). I never knock it, it's like having gold these days.

Archie is working on Chirstmas gifts: an argyle vest for his dad. He does very nice, tight work. I think he found the pattern on, Archie and Jane always remind me to join. It's an online knitting commuity that's great for exchanging patterns, yarn, and ideas. Recently Archie left teaching to counsel adults with autism. Sounds heavy duty but I'm sure he's good at it — one who is willing to do intarsia argyle with duplate stitching is very patient. And if that's not enough he's taken over the Park Slope knitting MeetUp group. He's got his work cut out for him.

I'm working on another sweater. Actually, I'm ripping out the saddle raglan (Karabella SuperYak) that I started last month. I don't know how this happened, but I couldn't get my head through the collar. As I tried to squeeze past the neckline I realized that this is probably what midwives usually see. I swatched, I calculated the ribs from shoudler to cuff, I patterned, etc. — it fit like winter gear from the husky boys department. Frogging Tip: After ripping wool, hand wind yarn loosely into hanks, soak in cold water, air dry and let it rest for a two days to regain elasticity. If wool has lost much elasticity soak hank in warm bath of unflavored gelatin. So as I give this project a shameful rest, I'm winding 1,500 yards of rediscovered treasure — I found a bag of orange cashmere that I bought two years ago. Now there's an incentive to clean!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ordinary Sweaters: Lord Cardigan

Bold, understated authority — that's what the Cardigan is all about. "Uh hm, I'm listening. We have 10 more minutes. Go on." Meet Dr. Tyrone C. Berger, Conrad Jarret's sympathetic psychiatrist. The Cardigan sweater has a buttoned-down bookish appeal. But on a darker note it was originally intended as British military garb worn in the bloody battle of the Crimea (1853-1856). The killing fields of Balaclava looked like a Mensa massacre.

Named after Gen. James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, the worsted knit Cardigan Jacket found it's way to the front during the Charge of the Light Brigade. Although British Army officers were valiantly outfitted, the Crimean War went fabulously wrong. Fashion designer Coco Channel revived the Cardigan's popularity with a soft women's two-piece ensemble (circa 1925) but it was children's TV host Fred Rogers who influenced Generation Text — one button at a time. He convinced them that they were special by just being them, so they now have no real goals other than being themselves. The cardigan is a 20-somethings unisex symbol of comfort, and short term employment. Nice going Fred, you SOB. You were a terrible liar.
Cardigan (above left) J Pick & Sons Ltd, c.1915; Fred Rogers (lower right)

Look out, we've got a jumper! Check out Dr. Burger’s open-faced jumper made of 50/50 steel gray wool and acrylic. In this scene Dr. Burger shoulders the burden of Calvin Jarret who wanted to discuss Conrad’s disintegrating relationship with his mother, Beth. In doing so Calvin found he was there for himself — all in the first 10 minutes. Now that’s good a therapist! This over-sized shawl collar Cardigan is great for softening broad shoulders or obscuring a vein-popping, sobbing neck. It’s as cool and as reliable as Dr. Berger himself.

The open face of a Cardigan begs for one to be truthful and sincere — or at least look that way. Thats why you rarely see one worn in Civil Court. In this scene Conrad has just received notice that fellow patient, Karen, had abruptly ended her life after previous attempts — this time it was for real. But he did not mourn for Karen, he mourned for a part of himself that died so long ago, a part that was over shadowed by the death of his older brother Bud. Exhausted from his epiphany he finally collapses into the supportive kindness of this warm taupe single-cable arms of Dr. Burger.

Conrad has realized that after enduring all this guilt, Bud’s untimely death was not his fault — despite what his mother said. As their Sunfish capsized on that dark and stormy night, Bud could no longer hold on to Conrad's hand. He lost his grip slipping into the raging surf and drowned. "You were the stronger one Conrad. Now let go of me, you're hurting my spine."

A new dawn arrived for everyone. With his collar up, Calvin greeted the day in his cream saddle shoulder Cardigan. "The yard looks so small without the leaves" "Dad, wheres mom?" "I dont know Conney... maybe at her mothers?" In the wee hours of the morning Calvin tearfully confessed to Beth that he wasn’t sure if he loved her anymore — that she had become ineffectual, cold, and uncaring. As the sun peaked over their tree lined driveway Beth climbed into a cab. The future seemed uncertain, but very fashionable. Conrad warmly embraced his father just as 2 X 2 ribs decrease and meet at seam. "Conney... you can let go of me now, you're hurting my spine." It must be that Cardigan. Fini.

Source: Paramount Pictures

Ordinary Sweaters Part 1: Meet the Jarrets
Ordinary Sweaters Part 2: Laying Cable
Ordinary Sweaters Part 3: The Yokes on Her
Ordinary Sweaters Part 4: Lord Cardigan

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ordinary Sweaters: The Yokes on Her

"Please, let's take a trip together. Conrad will be alright" Wearing a fall inspired Yoke Collar Sweater, Beth Jarret begs her husband Calvin to get away from it all. "We can stay with my brother." Their son Conrad has just returned home after 8 months in a mental institution — he attempted suicide. The concentric geometric designs bring out the worried expression in her face. Beth has tried so hard to be the well dressed martyr but, her cashmere pullover only conceals her devastating flaws.

The Yoke Collar sweater was popular in late 1960's. It conjured images of ski slopes in Aspen or a second home in Maine. It's related to the Raglan Sweater, but with multiple decreases from the chest to the neckline. "The Opinionated Knitter" (Schoolhouse Press) is a collection of Elizabeth Zimmerman's newsletters and notes. Zimmerman demystifies the Yoke Collar (and others) and embellishes with smart Fairisle patterns. She actually makes this sweater less icky. This is definitely on a knitter's must-have list.

Jeannine Pratt (Elizabeth McGovern) and Conrad sing in the high school choir. As Conrad's relationship with his mother disintegrates like a moth-eaten scarf, he reaches out to Jeannine. In French, juane means yellow but it also means happy. Jeannine, in her favorite crayon yellow sweater resembles a young Beth Jarret, who was once bubbly, adventurous, funny, and caring. With her sleeves pushed up, Jeanine said yes to a date with Conrad.

"Calvin, are you alright?" A concerned Beth asked a loaded question sporting a subdued harlequin argyle jumper, but this is no joke. The Jarrets are about to split apart at the seams — their family life now thread-barren and worn from trauma.

Source: Paramount Pictures

Ordinary Sweaters Part 1: Meet the Jarrets
Ordinary Sweaters Part 2: Laying Cable
Ordinary Sweaters Part 3: The Yokes on Her
Ordinary Sweaters Part 4: Lord Cardigan

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ordinary Sweaters: Laying Cable

Nothing complements a flat affect like a crew neck pullover. As you can see from these photos, it can be worn casually with denim, or tucked neatly under a blazer — it's perfect for any occasion. Conrad Jarret's timeless tog has been to tree trimming parties, Holiday get-togethers, a first date, therapy, and a rush trip to the ER.

The crew neck collar has a shy boyish appeal, it almost smiles at you saying "hug me... oh never mind, I'll just hug myself... I mean... leave me alone!" but that could be the lobotomy talking.

The quintessential crewneck pullover might be the only sweater a guy will ever need. In fact Conrad has a few in pleasing yet regressive colors: beige, dove grey, charcoal and brown.

The collar, cuffs and waistband are finished in a 1 X 1 rib for a snug fit. The wide waistband was popular in the late '70s. Although it had a "puffy" look at the lower torso, it stopped the band from riding up onto the body, especially when raising an angry arm at an enabling father like Calvin Jarret.

"Calvin, you're always taking his side!" The alternating cable-rib pattern and drop sleeves are very understated. This sweater almost blends into the wall, which is what Conrad does whenever his mother walks into the room. Conrad demonstrates the smooth merino drape of his sweater by giving Beth his back. For comfort, versatility, and anonymity you can't beat a stone gray crew neck. Good choice Conrad!

Source: Paramount Pictures

This is a great gift to give avid knitters — so they can make you a sweater. "Never Knit Your Man a Sweater (Unless You've Got the Ring)" by Judith Durant (Storey Books): all the projects are nice and very well thought out, the instructions are clear, the patterns are errata free. Among the vests, hats, and socks there's a classic cotton crew neck (p. 129) that every guy will want. But guys, beware. This subversive gift may only retail for $19.95 but the ring might set you back.

Ordinary Sweaters Part 1: Meet the Jarrets
Ordinary Sweaters Part 2: Laying Cable
Ordinary Sweaters Part 3: The Yokes on Her
Ordinary Sweaters Part 4: Lord Cardigan