Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ordinary Sweaters: Meet the Jarrets

Source: Paramount Pictures

Where's Bud?

These sweaters fit so perfectly. Or do they? Cashmere casuals obscure fragile human flaws in the movie "Ordinary People" (1980). Say hello to the Jarret family, from left to right: Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), Conrad (Timothy Hutton), and Calvin (Donald Sutherland). After the untimely drowning of Bud, the oldest boy, and Conrad's suicide attempt, the Jarrets try to cope with everyday life after loss. But their sanity hangs by a thread. It's Fall, the movie seduces you with bucolic New England vistas and a high school choir singing Pachelbel's Canon. Then it takes a turn down an uncharted bumpy road.

"Ordinary People" was based on the book by Judith Guest and was directed by Robert Redford. This movie introduced Americans to words such as grief counselor, dysfunctional,  enabler, crew neck, shawl collar, and cardigan. Take a look at the family portrait above, you can drive a car between Beth and Conrad. Poor Calvin, he doesn't realize that camel doesn't go with everything and his family is falling apart! Do something Calvin!

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

Keeping Tabs

Thanks Giving Day was unseasonably warm, about 68° for most of the day. I had an early dinner with a good friend. We caught the #4 to have Punjabi food at Pongol. She’s been seeing someone new —a nice Long Island boy who works in construction. To my surprise they found each other through CL Personals. Typically you can find a stolen laptop, used furniture, and an STD on Craig’s List. She told me that he wants to learn how to knit “Would you mind teaching him?” Maybe there are some gems out there amidst the dirt.

The appetizer arrived. It was a dish made of puffed rice with fried onion, tomato, cucumber, and tamarind. I asked her about a friend who’s in the middle of a divorce. "He’s coming back around — new apartment, better outlook on life, he’s eating better, losing weight." I know a quite few people going through something this Winter. Maybe it’s just the season. Maybe the Specter of Middle Age has come round pointing a boney finger at the conjugally involved and career minded. I’ve never been married. She asked “So, have you seen her? Has she called you lately?” I scooped the last of the Bhel Puri. “No, not really. Not lately.” Its actually been over six weeks. “Well, maybe she’s moving on?” “Maybe she has.” The dosas arrived shortly. I changed the topic. "My mom seems to be coming around too, she sounded better last night." Her family reunion trip to Virginia did her much good. I couldn't make it there, but my cousin Rose sent me pictures. "How can you tell, isn't your mom... humorless." "Yeah, but she laughed when I teased her about her Karaoke photos." She and her sisters looked like the Pink Lady reunion tour at a V.A. hall.

Dosas are paper thin Indian crêpes. They're rolled into a giant crispy cone served with potato stuffing and little savory dishes of dipping stuff. I also ate some of hers — waste not, you know. We had hot Chai tea for desert. After dinner we walked through Madison Square Park to the 2/3 stop on 14th street passing the other Thanks Giving stragglers and homeless people.

The fallen maple leaves blew around us in the dark like little bronze tornados. She asked why I brought a sweater. “I thought it might get cold later.” I made a gray raglan from the merino/silk that I got from School Products and Stitch Therapy. It's rather plain except for the detail under the arms and down the sides. The collar is lined with black Karabella Yak. I stitched a small tab into the neck so I can tell which side is the back — its practical, this sweater. I'm never sure if I'm insulted when some one says "It looks like you got that at a department store." Am I practical to a fault? My friend Joe says I'm a pair of house slippers short of being an old man. I remember to keep an umbrella in my bag but at the same time I always forget where I last put my cell phone.

She mentioned a small medical scare. Her doctor said she had to take another CA scan, but then called later to say it was only a clerical error. She’s tested negative for cancer for three years now — knock wood. I remember the first time she went for a biopsy. There were delays, I sat in the waiting room for hours, then the nurse finally called me in to take her home. She was coming out of anesthesia, still wearing the blue paper cap and surgury gown — very delirious and upset. I held her hand and she cried “I don’t want cancer.” She was worried about chemo. I made a joke, “No one does, they just want the little ski cap.” She couldn’t laugh, but neither could I. That was a winter of many mishaps, two days later I left on the first plane to Guam to bury my father. She didn't need chemotherapy, but I made her a soft green cotton cap in sheppard stitch. It has a row of small God's Eyes at the crown and a tab on the back. I always think I’m keeping tabs on her, but I think she thinks she’s keeping tabs on me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Elvish Has Left the Building

I don’t usually name anything I make, but it seems fit for this hat to be called “Dol Sindar” (Tolkein’s Grey Elves), which best describes my friend XXX and his new cable hat. I swore on my life to keep his identity a secret.

Here's a description from L.L. Bean's Unearthed Aracana-logue:

"Dol Sindar", the Level-12 Theif''s Kufi, will keep your head warm like dragons breath on a cold night of adventure. Light and strong like mithril, it resists moisture, magical arrows, and bladed attacks yet it folds neatly into a stealthy daggar sheath — it' s perfect for back-stabbing as one never expects to be killed with such a nice hat. Dol Sindar is trimmed with silken gold, just what every Theif desires. No air freight deliveries availabile to Outer Middle Earth, Hawaii, St. Thomas /U.S Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Saipan and Guam.

It can be worn high on the head like a crazed Ranger's helmet or pulled down like an unsuspecting Cleric's cap. There is no particluar way to wear it, but I prefer the wide cable worn up the front. This is James, the morning barista from Prospect Perk. He was kind enough to lend his head while on his cigarette break. Although James resemebles an Elvish soldier, he is actually a second-year medical student. That's good to know because if you're choking at the café... well, there's James to the rescue. These headshots were taken by Dan Sagarin.

This hat is made from two balls of Reynold's Rapture "Charcoal". This highly-spun merino/silk blend gives it a soft gun-metal sheen, it also makes for sproingy cables. It’s trimmed in I-chord with Reynold’s Rapture “Gold”. Ram’s horn cables emerge and cleave their way between columns of ribs that twist like Elvish rope. They turn under and into each other in a dangerous dance and meet at a runic Evenstar at the crown. Dol Sindar is not available in Quenya sizes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Knit PH at Freddy's Oct. 18

I sat and listened to the Karl Walter Jr. Tio after the group left — very smooth experimental jazz. Cool stuff, I felt like I was in a Jarmush movie about knitting. I’m marking them down on my calendar.

Jane, Penelope, Jennifer, and Frank came out on a cold wet night for beer and balls. Randy and Marian are new to the group. Randy was getting the hang of casting-on and basic knit. Learning is a good thing to do with a group. It beats watching Channel 13 documentaries while eating cereal out of the box.

Penelope just got back from her Midwestern trip. Filipinos are from the Midwest? Don’t they usually come from Queens? I'm glad to have Jane and Penelope on board, they don’t mind lending a hand to the newbies. Jane is looking at colleges (Stony Brook). Penelope rolled her eyes and quipped “For what, medicine?” Jane is from Long Island, which means she’ll probably follow the ancient Chinese tradition of Science, Math or Legal professions. I went towards the arts, I’d make a terrible doctor — sick people totally gross me out. Marian worked on her neck warmer, she learned to knit but never learned to cast-on. Her mother always did that part for her. Knitting has inherent co-dependant qualities, this group encourages independence.

Jane finished one sock from "Favorite Socks, 25 Timeless Designs" (Interweave Press) — a beautiful lace pattern knit top-down. She tried it on and showed the group. Frank peeked over his orange ribbed hat and said “I want to make something like that.” With time Frank, get through that hat first. I asked about what everyone thought about Yuni Jang, the new 20-something ME at Interweave Magazine. The consensus was luke-warm. Former ME, Pam Allen seemed to have more progressive ideas. Yuni Jang is more traditional and more technically challenging. I leafed through a winter issue the other day and noted there’s less focus on men’s stuff. I'm not sure what the new visions is for Interweave. Jane preferred Knit Simple.

Jennifer’s cable hat was reaching it’s end, she got up to swift a skein for a new project. Randy did well for a beginner, he made 3" of garter. By 10:00 the band showed up, some of us stuck around to listen but it was a school night. Penelope packed her bag, she teaches in Westchester. Everyone seems to have these incredible knitting bags. I have a duffle bag that I used for RCA plugs and mike chords, and a fine selection of plastic zip bags. I admit I’m a bit jealous.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Knit PH at Perk: Nov 15

Dammit! I kept making the same mistakes — twisted spines, wrong stitch count, cables traveling in the wrong direction. Usually I correct these same mistake when I teach at Stitch Therapy. Maria said it was good to see the teacher mess up now and then. Jennifer worked on her first cable hat. Edna plopped down her Organic Chemistry textbook and pulled out her baby sweater. Archie started another "Koolhass" hat. Eliza worked on her cardigan with the ruffled edge. Maria brought her friend Jackie along with their loot of Koigu and Tahki “Ghost”. Kate abandoned the Louet Sales “Euroflax” tunic and started a new blue pullover. It was a brisk evening, but it was warm at Prospect Perk.

I like the Perk, it feels a bit like home, but much cleaner — it's cozy and warm. It’s become integral to our neighborhood corner. The owner, Murat, keeps the café open until 9:00 for Thursday night knitting.

Emily finished her fingerless cashmerino mittens but they were a bit loose. She let them sit in warm water but there was no visible difference. Since they were only 50% wool I suggested boiling (but not felting) for 40 minutes. Emily made a test swatch to boil. Good thinkin’ Lincoln, there is no going back after that.

Edna found a yarn spinning service. She plans on spinning yarn from her cat — to make it a small blanket. Is she serious? She’s studying to be a vet, I guess that’s OK.

VIP Fibers, Inc. in Morgan Hill, CA will spin your precious pet into luxurious yarn. LOT #1581D is made of pure Newfoundland. LOT #1580D German Shepherd and Main Coon Cat. With the proper care instructions you can keep your pet "Fur-Ever™". It's the harvesting that breaks your heart. We laughed about other exotic yarns you can have spun, like dog hair/dryer lint — imagine a Puggle/Persian sweater. I also found Blackberry Ridge, a family owned spinnery in Vermont, WI. They will spin anything as long as you have a minimum of 50 pounds. A treasure waits in every vacuum cleaner. Jackie bought some very soft bison/yak yarn upstate, but said it was very expensive. I assume that “Buffalo Shaver” is a high-mortality profession. There is one spinner in our group, Toko. She bought a small wheel in Rhinebeck at the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival — the woolen version of "Burning Man".

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Never Look Back in Angora

"I can't go there, I get so angoraphobic." I couldn't see her face, but I admired the back of her long cabled coat. Did I hear correctly? How could a woman with such a smart coat say something... well... so stupid? She paid for her coffee and turned to leave — her face blocked by her cell phone clad hand. How did she look? I wasn't willing to lose my place in the coffee line to ask "Are you really afraid of long-haired rabbits?" Angora is a fiber of great antiquity, it's noted for it's light-weight warmth and soft silkiness. Named after the Turkish capital of Ankara, it's popularity came about during the Ottoman Empire (13th century). It's made from the fur of the long-haired Angora Rabbit.

ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association) recognizes four breeds of this luxury Lapin: English, French, Satin, and Giant — each varying in cuteness and productivity. Weighing in at 10 pounds, the Giant Angora Rabbit is the most popular. But this big-ass bunny is prized for its its ability to produce three types of wool from it's fur. Underwool, Awn Fluff, and Awn vary in paramount degrees of flufferocity. The Giant breed is also albino which makes it ideal for dying. 100% Angora Rabbit yarn is hand-spun due to its "slick" quality. It requires almost no tension to the wheel and a skilled hand. Commercially, it is spun with up to 30% merino wool, or run with nylon or cotton chord to give it tensile strength.

Gimme Mo' Hair

The word "mohair" comes from "mukhayyar", a type of head covering worn by the Arab men woven from the fine fibers of the Turkish Angora Goat. The use of Mohair precedes the use of rabbit fur. Mohair fibers increase in diameter with the Angora Goat's age. The younger goats yeild a finer quality fabric, and the thicker hair from older animals are used to weave fine carpets and heavy fabrics. Despite the suave quality, mohair can be irritating to the skin.

Angora and Mohair conjure glamorous images of the1950's sweater girl or starlets like Lana Turner. But during WWII, the U.S. Government subsidized wool and mohair farmers in an agreement to outfit our military. The Angora/Mohair/Wool blends were used to make blankets, uniforms, bomber jackets and socks. This blend had a "wicking" property that carriesd moisture away from the skin of the wearer. It kept our troupes fabulously warm and dry. B-movie maven Ed Wood would agree.

The Turks also bred a variety of domestic cat also known as the Angora. This fuzzy feline is not used for fiber, but I'm certian that somewhere out there there's a crazy old lady who has made an entire winter wardrobe from a few generations of these lazy lap creatures.

Wide Open Spaces

Agoraphobia is a serious anxiety disorder brought on by public places where one might not feel safe. An agoraphobic might have an episode in a stadium, a bar, or an East Village poetry slam. Drug company research has found it might be linked to Serotonin Deficiency Syndrome (SDS). On the other hand Claustrophobia is an irrational fear of confined places such as a an elevator, a car trunk, an airshaft— almost anything a shifty realtor would sell as a "cozy" one-bedroom.

Angora Anxiety Disorder (Angoraphobia) is brought about by "sticker shock". Rowan Kid Silk Haze goes for about $14.00 per 25g ball. Treatment may be found in taking incrimental steps — such as wearing mohair blends or baby alpaca, or perhaps visiting the rabbit pen at a petting zoo. But most anxiety disorders can be managed with regular therapy and same the SSRI medication used to treat chronic or mild depression.

There is no cure for Shifty Realtor Syndrome (SRS).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Knit PH at Maha's: November 7

Every time a plastic snow-flake light blings, a realtor get's his or her wings. The Flatbush Development Corporation had already hung the Holiday illuminations to remind us that a Brooklyn Renaissance is happening. It's as if Unitarian elves snuck in and did their deed while I was watching the news. I wondered what was hanging over the streets of Redhook. I paused at the corner to light my cigarette when someone waved at me and crossed the avenue. “Pappi, how you doin’?” It was no one that I knew. “Look, I just got out of Federal, and I just need some money.” He held out his leathery hand, I shook my head no and gave him a cigarette that he put it in his pocket. “You got any money, pappi…”

Meanwhile down the street a renaissance has already been happening — Wednesday night knitting at Maha’s Café. Tawni was already there, I introduced myself and we both got something to eat. Eliza showed up, but said she had to leave early, then walked in Jane, Emily and Archie. Tawni works in the food service industry, Eliza designs for the theatre. Emily is an industrial designer.

Archie finished one of those beautiful "Koolhaas" BrooklynTweed hats and then started the next one, he teaches Trig. Emily finished her baby hats “but anther friend is having a baby.” She’s working on her first pair of mittens. Eliza was working on a very petite plum colored cardigan with a delicate ruffled edge. I was working on a swatch and my chicken dinner. I think Jane is in school, but she teaches knitting at a swank UWS yarn shoppe. She made the heather pink sweater that she was wearing. She lives in the new China Town near Bayridge.

The conversation revolved around different yarns, new patterns, classic patterns, work, the weather, family, and the Holidays. Tawni started knitting about a year ago but gave up. She felt a group would help to inspire her. I showed her a better cast-on method (the long-tail) and then guided her through the basics to make a small garter stitch scarf. But over the course of the evening it grew from a square to a triangle. Emily took a look and pointed out that Tawni was knitting the last loops on each end twice. Then Jane showed her where a few stitches were dropped, then I pointed out that some of the stitches were taken from the row below, then Archie reached over to correct the dropped stitch on the end. Jane asked her if she wanted to learn how to purl. I don’t think this is what is meant by word “knitting group” — Tawni was a real trouper. She said she'd eventually wanted to learn style of holding that Jane and I were using: Continental.

Making Our "Standards" More Standard

Some knitting terms are inherantly confusing. The rice stitch is the moss stitch is the seed stitch, which is not the tick stitch. Cable instructions vary by author — C4R, C4B and T2B all describe a four-stitch cable that leans to the right, 2 over 2. There is no top or bottom selvage, the word only describes left or right margins. Let's just call them edges.

Styles of holding a needle don't describe technique, instead they evoke countries of origin: Contintental, English, German, Finnish, Greek/Peruvian, and the American "throw-over". I always thought they needed more demonstrative names like the Drunken Monkey, Windmill Tiger, Dragon Fingers of Steel, Death Lock, and Blind Monk. Some knitting terms are just arcane and confusing, for instance rows describe the width across (left to right) and rounds describe height by the number of rows (botton to top). Then some refer to width by stitches and height by rows. Why aren't they called columns and rows? People often ask "Do you mean rows left or rows up?"

The word "worsted" describes both a type of yarn and a unit of measure. Worsted-Weight Yarns vary in thickness depending on the brand and material, but fall under the "medium weight" category. A Worsted Yarn is made from longer, straight strands of wool that have been combed and twisted tightly. Brown Sheep and Lopi are typical brands of worsted yarn. The word "worsted" actually is named for the town of Worsthead, England, which produced a stiff, tightly-twist yarn suitable for weaving thick fabrics.

Maha brought out some cookies for us to share and finally took a break to sit with us. It was a busy night for Middle Eastern home cooking. I do like her falafel though. Eliza was the first to leave — prior dinner engagement. Then at around 9:00, I called time and we all packed our things. It’s a good group we got here in Prospect Heights.

On my way back up the street a familiar voice called out from the dark “Hey pappi, how you doin’, my son just died and I’m trying to bury him…” Now that's old-school.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Wrath of Raglan

War: a necessary evil — but in its wake necessity gives birth to innovation. Canned food kept French troops alive during the Napoleonic Wars (1795). The Pacific War (1945) gave us Japanese transistor radio technology. And of course The Vietnam War (1975) gave us Vietnamese restaurants.

FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, the 1st Baron Raglan (September 30, 1788 – June 28, 1855) was a promising young soldier who rose through the ranks to become an infamous British General. As a younger man Baron Raglan lost his right arm at the Battle of Waterloo, after which he assumed a long secretarial career with the military. Later in his career he was promoted to Field Marshal, but his promotion would become his great undoing. In 1852 Lord Raglan was appointed to lead England through a winter campaign in the Crimea, he was 64. He was a well respected man but It soon became obvious to his comrades that he lacked the ability to coherently command his troops.

As the campaign progressed camp conditions grew unsanitary and food rations ran low. Although Lord Raglan fought well at Alma and Inkerman he is notably blamed for his tragic failure in the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava. Lord Raglan's lack of tactical skill brought certain defeat on his weary British soldiers as they charged into the Russians. This legendary blunder made a bitter enemy of his long-time friend Lieutenant-General James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan. But that’s another sweater story. In the summer of 1855 Lord Raglan succumed to dysentery at the age of 67 while at battle.

From Dirty Ashes Arose a Smokin' Sweater

After loosing his right arm at Waterloo, Lord Raglan's tailor created a new style of over coat. The innovative sleeves taper from the body and converged diagonally at 45 degrees towards the neck. The shoulderless construction of his coat made dressing much easier for a less-able man. A thought, shouldn't his tailor have designed a one-armed coat? Lord Raglan later outfitted his own troops with pullover sweaters that used the same signature sleeve design.
Raglan sweaters have an easy-going appeal that I like. I find the raglan construction is easier to design and it takes less time to make than other traditional men's sweaters. They can be knit down from the collar, knit upwards and joined at the sleeves or made as separate components to be sewn together. The raglan sweater has a few variations: Square-back, Half-raglan, and Saddle Shoulder to name a few. I don’t care much for its homely stepchild the Yoke Neck Sweater (inset right, from the film “Ordinary People”).

I made this raglan from different left over yarns. I’m never really sure if I like this one. It rides on the border of being a Bill Cosby sweater, but it’s a good exploration of texture, color and different gauges. I made it with a selection of left over yarns in varying weights: Reynolds Rapture, bronze (silk/wool) and Brown Sheep, walnut, charcoal, brown heather (cashmere/wool). I actually thought I had more Rapture yarn until I was about a third way down the sweater. I called the distributor in Boston, but they didn’t have the same dye-lot number, and someone on E-bay only had two skeins of bronze to sell. End of story, I frogged another sweater to make up the difference. Overall I think the colors go well together.

Here’s my buddy Tyler showing off with his bass. The thumb holes on the sleeves make playing out on a cold night a warm experience, especially when your audience consists of two people texting each other. omg rufkm :-( rotflmao oao

This sweater is knit from the collar down on #4 circular needles, then switched to #8 for the upper body keeping the "scale" pattern that runs down the neck into the shoulder seams. The wide mock-turtle collar is turned for more stability. I started the ribbing high on the body on a #6 needle for a better fit to the body and arms. These photos were taken by Doug Todd in Freddy’s Backroom here in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Simple Gift

"Konichiwa Yasua-san. Kono yarunu wa Mia-chan ni." "Hai, arigato." My Japanese is not great, but Yasua graciously took my bag of yarn for his daughter.

My neighbor Mia is in recovery, she was in a hit and run incident while biking home one night. Mia didn't make headline news but she made the police blotter. About a month ago her mother, Meryl, told me the police found Mia unconscious in the middle of Pacific and Underhill. She sustained serious injuries and will be in for a long-haul of rehabilitation. It's heart-breaking to think about. Mia is very athletic, she used to drum in a Taiko troupe. Now she's practically learning to walk again.

Both Mia and her sister Erica knit and crochet and I figured that I have a lot of stash and it was time to let it go. I got over my separation anxiety, went through the yarn bins and found some pleasing colors, — warm yellow, deep orange, soft pinks, ochre, walnut, chestnut. These are all left over from old projects and gifts. Silk/wool, wool/alpaca, cashmere/wool, 100% Australian merino, worsted, chunky, etc., — why do I hang on to these things? It's almost like a smaller ring of Dante's hell, The Hoarding. I have lots of grey — cool, warm, charcoal, heathered black. I added them to the pile. I swifted and re-wound three freezer bags worth of wool into a tidy presentation.

Just last week Meryl told me that Mia was absolutely thrilled with all the yarn "She's making a scarf while she's on the mend." I was so glad to hear the excitement in Meryl's voice. A reflexologist once told me that excercising the hands and feet help in recovery after nerve damage — it rewires the brain. Sometimes the simple steps are the most important. Sometimes the smallest things turn out to be the bigger ones, like peeling an orange, walking, or just sitting up and taking a deep solid breath. But usually we don't notice these things, and much like house keys we only look for them when they are not in plain sight. Meryl went in to the house and returned and handed me a hunter green sweater — beautiful, simple, turned crew neck, double moss pattern. "Yasua's mother made this long ago but it didn't fit any of us." It was a sweater I couldn't refuse. I thanked her and took it home and as luck would have it fit me well.

Long ago, my father bought me a black cardigan before I went off to college. It was too big, he said "You'll grow into it." Boy-howdy was he right about that, it's a bit tight and shop worn now but I still wear it and think about him. Sweaters never made sense to me growing up in the tropics, but I always regard them with much sentiment.

I'm copying some stitch patterns for Mia to try.