Thursday, June 28, 2007

Knitting for Compassion comes to the Knitche

Save the evenings of Thursday, September 13th and Thursday, October 11th to meet at the Knitche in Downers Grove, Illinois (a suburb west of Chicago, for you out-of-towners) where the owner has generously offered to sponsor two evenings devoted to knitting scarves for the worthy clients of Housing Opportunities for Women.

We'll be knitting, gabbing, playing with new yarn for fall, drinking the world's best root beer and doing something good for others. How can you resist?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Project: Kiri
Designer: Polly Outhwaite, All Tangled Up
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Alpaca Silk DK, 4 1/4 skeins
Color: 61544
Needles: Size 9 Addi Turbo 24" and 40" circulars
Size after blocking: bigger than I'd expected, with 10 repeats of Chart 2 done

Here, reclining on a bench at my outdoor mall. Close-up of the leafy lace. One of the best aspects of this pattern is that, if you stick with it for more than ten minutes of knitting, you will embed the pattern into your mind and make far fewer mistakes than seem to happen on more complicated lace structures. And it's beautiful, which is the best part.

Here, a detail of the lace:

And here, the recipient doing a bit of modeling. What you can't see is our little stream, which is right outside the back door of the store. Ducks and red-winged blackbirds hang out, adding lovely bird calls and the gurgle of the stream to my lunch hour, when I open the back door, stick a folding chair outside, and enjoy nature for a few minutes. Ah, the Midwest and its glories.
A silly picture. Did I suggest something about flying?
If I Had It to Do Over Again: I love this yarn. Easy to work with, feels great against your hands (due to the silk), has nice resilience (due to the alpaca), and the color is perfect: just the right blue. The only drawback is that I've noticed that my Shetland Triangle shawl, made from the same yarn, has started to show signs of aging: a slight blurriness at the surface, not pills so much as haziness and a bit of decomposition of the fiber. (You can read more in Clara Parkes' review of the Alpaca Silk line, including her helpful suggestions.) But I urged the recipient to wear it and not to save it for special occasions, and when it wears out, it wears out.

The only other thought: there's something mysterious about sizing this shawl. It looks small at eight or nine repeats of the main lace chart, and then grows enormously as you complete the tenth repeat. Very deceptive. And then you block it, and it gets even bigger. Next time I'd do eight repeats, and then possibly be able to complete the shawl with 4 instead of 5 skeins of yarn.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Knitting for Compassion Update

Marcia; Molly; Jan; Wendy; colleagues from several stores; the knitting group that one of the salespeople at one of the stores belongs to; the education director of the temple that we used to belong to, who heard about it from Wendy, who came to my yoga class with a friend who has been my student for a few years; and two charity nights of knitting at my local yarn shop.

Phew. I'll post more details tomorrow. Now all we have to do is start knitting.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Everyday Acts of Kindness

It feels a bit Romper Room to name names, but I'm so pleased: Shelly and Joyce and Linda and my mom (who's going to pass the word along to the women in Sisterhood at her temple) and Laura Jane and Wendy (who might be able to do an article) and most, if not my entire staff, who I guilted, I mean asked, to give a scarf a try.

Here's my pitch: what if we tried, everyday, without fanfare, to do something for someone else? Instead of random acts of kindness, how about everyday acts? Keep it simple, doable, attainable, so that we build it into the fabric of ordinary life. Start it and finish it, in a manageable amount of time. I like the toothbrushing analogy: compassionate behavior that is as undramatic but regular as brushing your teeth.

My part, beside beating you to death with my excitement, is to design the patterns. I promise: will be done by July 1. But don't wait for me if you have a plan~

Two down, some to go

Thank you, Joan, aka FairyGodknitter, and Christine, for joining in. Anyone else out there? I'm thinking Knitalong, maybe, if we get a group of five or so.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Knitting for Compassion

One sign that we're not going off the deep end entirely as a culture is the growing movement in the knitting world to use our craft as a way to help others. So, for all those times when your reaction to the news was "what can I do?" - here's a proposal:

Will you help me collect scarves for some very worthy women who are clients of a Chicago non-profit called Housing Opportunities for Women? HOW (go here to read more) is an amazing organization that helps women and children find transition from the shelter system to more permanent housing.

The ultimate goal is 300 scarves by the end of October 2007: a scarf for every family in the program to give to their mom for the holidays in December. The scarves can be knitted, crocheted, sewn, quilted, or purchased - whatever strikes your fancy.

I'll be providing a very easy pattern for a garter stitch scarf: think big needles, affordable yarn, maybe 2 or 3 hours of your time (the length of So You Think You Can Dance plus a smidgen of the results show, but maybe that's just me). I'll have the pattern up on the blog by July 1, 2007. If you are a crocheter, if that's the right word, or some other type of handy-person and want to propose a pattern, just let me know.

Again, the point here is easy, fast, manageable. Not only will we be doing something good for someone else, but maybe the experience will show us that doing something compassionate is more like brushing your teeth than inventing the wheel. What if, every day, as regularly as brushing our teeth, we did something for someone else? In Judiasm, we call it Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world. Not dramatic, not parting of the seas, but small, quotidienne, ordinary, more like fixing a broken vacumn cleaner than creating world peace. It's no accident that everywhere I turn these days, I come across the very wonderful quote from Gandhi to "be the change that you want to see in the world."

But I wander. If you want to contribute or ask me more about the project, just email me at And let's make this into a bit of a chain. If you know a friend or relative or neighbor who might want to help, send them a link to this post. Go team!!

RIP Cicadas

It is quiet.

I can hear planes flying overhead.

Wednesday night, as I was lying in bed, I could hear the pond gurgling in the backyard.

The dog is eating her dinner again.

See you again in 2024.

Monday, June 18, 2007

What I'm Working On

  • much more of the Kiri Shawl from a few months ago. Sitting, waiting for the doctor to arrive for your 9:15 am appointment, then being ushered back to the exam room at 11 am as he has called in to his nurse to say that he's in the car and on the way, is conducive to knitting lace. I don't mean to whine: this is a great doctor, and knowing him, he was probably up all night in surgery. If not, at least the wait made me sit quietly for more than ten minutes and knit.

  • the last rows of the Bianca's Jacket. I'm ready to bind off, but am in a holding pattern, deciding whether to make loops for buttons or add hooks and eyes or just pin the neckline closed with some interesting sort of jewelry. The knitting store had a limited choice of buttons: a brown earthenware button with a cream-colored maple leaf, which just said Canada a bit too much; a small brass-colored button with quirky decorations; a beautiful sage green and brown button that was bigger than the pattern calls for and would limit what I can wear it with.

Here I am, once again frustrated that there are no good fabric stores around anymore. They've been driven away by video stores and quickie marts and upscale coffee places. I'm tabling the sweater for now, thinking about making a trip into the city to go to a great button store called Tender Buttons.

  • no mitered squares. After a momentary sense of getting a grasp on the color theory thing, I'm back to indecision and doubt. The latest square followed the principle set out in my last post. But analysis does not necessarily produce good art. Dark red and pale yellow are not pretty together, unless you're Harry Potter or a fan of Harry Potter.

I went back and studied Cara's Madness posts about her Mitered Square blanket and realized that she sticks with one background color, while changing the stripes on some or all of the four squares that make up the one larger square. I grabbed the bright orange squares that I had laying about on my weaving bench, waiting for a destination. This is the color that has given me the most problems: it's neon bright, very strong, and orange. So assertive that it calls for special lighting and a better camera to reproduce it in a blog. Here's a sense of it.

One picture shows the contrast; the other gives an idea of the colors at play. The contrasting stripes were pink, dark red, yellow, and lavender. I laid them out together, and this is the new plan. Or not. I'm going to let it brew for a while, because anxiety about what colors to knit into a square is definitely counterproductive to the reason to be knitting in the first place.
  • scarves, scarves, scarves. I'll post more about it in a day or two. Think big needles, easy pattern, all garter stitch, and a good cause.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Plan for the Mitered Square Blanket

The reason that I labeled the post below this one "A Man A Plan A Canal Panama" is because I was thinking about rules that govern order, and how they can deviate from symmetry, or work backwards, or repeat, but still make sense.

A Man A Plan A Canal Panama is a palindrome: same words read from left to right as from right to left (or backwards, for English-speakers). If you're not a visual learner, try writing the phrase down, starting with the last a in Panama and working your way to the A before Man. Same thing, right? But a palindrome hides its order, its plan, if you will, and that's what I'd like to do with my mitered square blanket. Not too obvious an order, lots of different colors and shades and tints and tones. At the same time, a regularity, some underlying order at work, including both surprising combinations as well as places, as my quilting colleague puts it, for the eye to rest.

Tall order. But then we're talking about a knitter with high expectations and a very strong competitive edge. Here's the latest version of the plan: each square, made up of four smaller mitered squares, will consist of four colors. Two dominant colors and two quieter colors. Each dominant will be knitted up into two squares, one each with the quieter colors. When I sew them together, I'll place the same dominant squares at diagonals.

Now you'll understand why I had to diagram this out in my knitting notebook. Or you will if you learn in any other fashion than reading for comprehension. Years ago, a friend who is a teacher told me about this new approach in teaching, which directs the teacher to use lots of different methods of instruction, because a class full of kids will have multiple ways of learning. I didn't get it until recently, when I noticed that I absolutely have to write something down (typing works too) in order to grasp and remember it. So I took out my notebook, drew a four-square for each square that worked, labeled the colors A through D, and then labeled each smaller square within the whole with its color-letters. Then I got fancy on the computer, with some help, and labeled pictures of the squares that work and those that don't bounce.

Here's my favorite square:
A is lilac, B is lime green, C is dark purple and D is forest green. What works here is the dominant colors of lime and lilac at diagonals from one another, and each dominant playing off of the more subdued colors of dark purple and forest green. Here's another, with colors off because of the computer and my flash, but still illustrative of the plan:
In person, the dark stripes that are D are a dark charcoal grey, and the stripes that are C are the same lilac as in the square above, instead of what looks like pink. Here again, dominants at a diagonal. Better still, this square has four different colors meeting at the center and, my most favorite effect, different colors stripes meeting at the edge of each small square.

If you're still sticking with me, here's a square that doesn't work:

No pleasant diagonal movement of color and eye. Too much contrast: the subdued is dull and the dominant clashes. (The actual colors are a beet red, a beige, a purple and a very bright orange.) No color-wheel relationship. But that's a whole 'nother post. Time for dinner: risotto with saffron, green beans, bread, salad maybe, white wine.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Man A Plan A Canal Panama

A man a plan a canal Panama.

This was in my head as I puzzled out the title for this post. I've been studying what's working and what's not in the blanket squares, along with help from a colleague who quilts with batik fabrics and unusual color choices. Her quilts are not symmetrical, yet there's an order and a rhythm that is very satisfying to the eye. First she brought her quilts in to show me. We laid them out on the carpet in our sitting area and analyzed the designs, the movement of the colors across the quilts, the subtle patterns in the background fabrics that created texture without interfering with the dominant patterns. Then I brought my squares in. Same process: laying them out on the carpet and investigating. A whole new way to see them. Until now, each square has been autonomous, beautiful on its own. But massed together, a completely different experience.

Here's a square that we liked:

Here's a square that doesn't work:
The color's way off here: it's a vibrant orange and blood red, with beige and lavender that are close to the real thing. But the contrast rings true to what the square looks like in person.

Here are four squares together that work:

Here are three orphan squares that don't work:

Any ideas about what the rules are for the squares that we like? Or what's off about the squares that are struggling? And why did I choose A Man A Plan A Canal Panama as the title? (Hint: it's more of an inspiration than it is a definite rule for the squares that we like.)

And though I didn't watch the finale of The Sopranos, I predict, based on what little I know of the last few minutes, that the episode will become an icon for unsatisfactory endings. So let me tell you that if you're hanging onto the edge of your chair waiting for the revelation of the rules behind the good squares, that answers will appear tomorrow, accompanied by illustrations that use diagrams and letters and maybe even arrows, if I get fancy, to explain. More likely, though, you're heading to the kitchen for ice cream or a beer.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Cicada Chronicles

Today, as I was sitting at my desk, chanting yoga sutras in Sanskrit on the phone with my teacher in San Francisco, I was looking out the window at small birds flying by periodically.

No, not birds, but cicadas. Large enough to be mistaken for birds. Flying with a sense of purpose, just like a bird. A wing span of signifcant breadth and a body shaped like a small torpedo. Zooming from left to right across my view.

As if chanting Sanskrit long-distance wasn't odd enough.

(By the way, thanks to Joan for giving a title to these posts.)

Postcript: a frightening moment as a flying object just peered in the window. Relief: it was just a moth.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Progress on Bianca's Jacket

While I'm waiting for the dog to come in for the night, a quick post.

Last heard from, I'd been planning a lace border, picked up along the lower hem of Bianca's jacket to even out the back and fronts and make it more of a cardigan, less of a shrug/bolero. I picked up stitches along the back. And then began to rethink the concept. With the fronts sloping at an angle, I wasn't sure where to end the border. Should I knit the back, then separately pick up the fronts, then seam the pieces together? Should I pick up along the back and continue until the angle of the fronts begins to turn into the vertical front edges? I was tempted to just bull ahead and be a self-sufficient, can-do, teach-myself knitter.

Nah. My yoga therapy training is based on a mentor system, a lineage in which you participate in a tradition of teacher-to-student learning. Unlike graduate school, my yoga teachers began this process by actually giving each of us a mentor. No wooing, no politicking, no romancing a series of teachers until you find one who believes in you enough to commit. I am amazed by this system. It makes so much sense.

Off, then, to my LYS, where I tried the sweater on for my knitting teacher. She gave the back a small tug, readjusted the yoke at the shoulders, and huzzah: even hem all around. Also, a concentrated lesson picking up stitches, which I'll now be doing from left edge at the neckline all around the sweater to the right edge of the neckline. Three rows of garter stitch, and maybe some loops for buttons, unless I go with the simple Plan B of pinning the top closed with a brooch.

Here's the lesson. Take the first section that you'll be picking up on. Mark each end with a stitch marker. Fold it gently in half, mark the center point (I used those large stitch markers that resemble big plastic safety pins). Fold each half in half again, without stretching the fabric, and mark those points. Now you have your first section divided into quarters. Take the number of stitches to be picked up, divide that by 4. The result, as you've probably foreseen, is the number of stitches to be picked up in each of the 4 sections you've marked. The purpose: to evenly distribute the picked up stitches, and avoid that moment when you have only an inch of sweater edge left and 50 stitches remaining to pick up.

The dog is in. Tonight she came in voluntarily. Yesterday I went out with flashlight in hand, searching the backyard for her. She was way back in the garden, eating cicadas. There, see how I slipped that in? Didn't even see it coming, did you? Want to know more about cicadas? I could have mentioned above that my knitting teacher was the lead in yesterday's Chicago Tribune story about cicadas, and she was on two radio shows after the Tribune came out. Did you know that cicadas' song can reach a decibel level of over 90 decibels? That's louder than a bulldozer and causes deafness after exposure of more than an hour to the sound.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Glass is Half-full Addendum

Okay, I just tried my sweater on, and it has some very good things going for it:

  1. the color of the yarn is beautiful: butterscotch and undertones of reds and pinks in a silk tweed yarn

  2. there's a great place in the back where it flares out just so

  3. the sleeves are the right length

  4. the lacework on the yoke and sleeves is the right balance of openness and bumpiness

  5. the sleeves bell at the cuff - a detail that I love in sweaters

  6. I think that if I take the time and plan a border and a placket to broaden the front of the sweater that I'll have a very nice piece of work here

Beginning to Finish Bianca's Jacket

I spilled some olive oil from lunch on my knitting bag, which ended up on a square for the mitered blanket. I have a tendency to just blow off stuff like that: it'll wash out when I wash the whole thing, don't feel like pausing to do handiwork, it'll be fine. Then I saw it in my mind's eye: the whole beautiful blanket, with the olive oil stain on the orange and yellow square, screaming out at me every time that I look at it: should have been more careful, should have slowed down, should have been more patient and taken the time to try to clean the spot off.

So I did what any reasonable person would do. I put the project aside and I picked up the Bianca's Jacket, which has been languishing as two sleeves, fronts and back and yoke completed, but not seamed, in its knitting bag.

Two hours of So You Think You can Dance equals almost finished seams. An agonizing viewing of Pirate Master (must faux pirates mumble so that you have to turn the volume Way Up to hear the extremely uninteresting dialogue? are these rejects from Survivor?) and part of the results show of So You Think equals all but a small triangle under the arm finished.

The result: even with a gauge swatch, even with a private lesson with a knitting teacher who helped me select the size to knit, it is very very bolero. Perhaps it's standing in for the Cabled Bolero that ended up much too large, in some sort of balancing out of the knitting universe. My plan is to come up with a lace border that I'll either pick up and knit downwards from the lower hem, or tack on, similar to the finishing of my Calmer cardigan, called Cloud. I may need, also, to come up with a way to broaden the front of the sweater, but I can't tell much yet but that it is much tinier all around than I'd anticipated.

What is Pirate for an occasion like this?

Monday, June 04, 2007

One very small seatbelt needed

I drove a cicada eighty miles round trip today.

Not by invitation, though he was a good passenger. Quiet, didn't complain when I was practicing chanting yoga sutras, and rarely fidgeted. In fact, I didn't discover him until I pulled into the garage, turned off the engine, and the heater or carburetor or something mechanical continued whirring. I jiggled the gear shift, looked under the pile of books on the floor, and finally turned the engine on again to see if the mysterious rattle would stop when I turned it off.

Then I saw him. Sitting in the cup holder, upside down, rattling his wings. I grabbed the very long supermarket receipt, the closest piece of paper I could find to place a barrier between me and the cicada, and lifted him out of the cup holder. As quickly as I could, before he could bite or attack, I pushed him out the door. Horrifying.

I'd promised myself that I wouldn't write one more post about cicadas. But it'll probably be another 17 years before I take a road trip with a cicada, and it seemed a moment to commemorate. I promise I'll try to stop now.

If you're here for the knitting, I've sewn together the seventh and eighth squares and started knitting Number Nine: bright pink and bright orange with butter yellow and a soft peach color. Pictures to come next week. And I managed to chant sutras 1 through 3, Book I, fairly on key and close to the proper accent.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Day Off with Cicadas

This is true: the mating call of the cicadas -- a constant whirring, like grasshoppers but pitched deeper and more insistent -- is so loud today that I am inside, on my day off, with all of the windows closed. I can imagine for the first time how effective sound is as an instrument of torture.

I laid on the hammock for a while, reading a book. Got tired enough that I went upstairs to take a nap. In the tree beside my bedroom window, cicada upon cicada stationed vertically along the trunk, singing his mating call. Went back downstairs and fell asleep on the couch. There are no trees close enough to the living room windows to cause fear.

I know that I was trying not to jump on the cicada bandwagon. But it's insidious. Looking at them can be avoided, listening not so much. I'm just glad that the camera is in Canada with my husband so that I can't post a picture of the parade formation in the tree outside my bedroom. But if this keeps up, I know that I'll linking to a picture. Fair warning will be given.

Friday, June 01, 2007

As the Rain drowns out the song of the Cicadas

Ah, rain. For a moment, the sound of the cicadas is drowned out.

If you live in Illinois, you've had it up to here with Cicada News. Outside of the state, you may not be able to imagine the horror: hundreds of discarded shells stuck to tree trunks and fences, mysterious pencil-sized holes in the earth where the newly hatched cicadas climbed out from tunnel to land, the red eyes and the large fibrous wings. And the dog crunching on them. One of the few things that will accelerate her from a very slooow mosey to a rocking-horse kind of canter is the sight of a cicada waiting to be snatched up. Full of protein, I'm sure, and if I was starving, I would eat one or two. I could link you to a picture, but if you really want to see one, I'm betting that there's something on YouTube to ponder.

Dinner tonight: much better than cicada. Stir-fried watercress with garlic and olive oil, roasted beets with oranges, baguette spread with goat cheese, Tsing-tao beer.