Saturday, April 12, 2014

Miniature Entry: Life at Sea


At present I am aboard the Cunard liner Queen Victoria, sailing from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale via the Panama Canal.

If you've been reading for a long time you know I love Cunard ships, past and present. I am supposed to be having (on doctor's orders) a complete rest from work but of course you know I wasn’t going to climb aboard without any knitting.

So I've taken to doing a little in the Winter Garden, in the mornings. As you would expect, it's a surefire conversation starter. The passengers are in the main fairly elderly. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of them knew Queen Victoria personally. When she was a little girl. I couldn't be happier–this is my crowd. We tend to like the same music and the same movies.

I was clicking away a few mornings ago as we headed for Costa Rica and a flurry of tropical print hove into view. The person in the print stopped, then dropped into the next chair. She was English, ambiguously eighty-ish, artfully preserved.

"That," she said, pointing at my knitting, "is very impressive work. My father was a knitter, so I know."

Whereupon we started chatting.

She is doing the World Cruise, Southampton to Southampton. This is something like her forty-fourth Cunard voyage. (The brand breeds loyalty.)

"Of course my favorite is and forever shall be the QE2," she said. "They'll never build another like her."

I nodded. I never sailed in her, mind you. I only saw her, once, back when I was on the Minerva II and she docked beside us in Malta. I remember that seeing C-U-N-A-R-D on the side of ship for the first time gave me chills.

"But may I say something? I'm going to say something."

She leant toward me and through her dark round sunglasses I could feel her glare. "You young* people," she said firmly, "have absolutely no stamina and no idea how to have a good time. No. Idea."

I raised my eyebrows.

She pointed towards the windows above us, which belong to Hemispheres–the ship's disco. "They will close that bar tonight at one o'clock and you will all go to sleep. Ridiculous. Ridiculous! On the QE2 we never dreamt of bed before sunrise. A party every night. Until sunrise. We knew how to have a good time. You young people, I don't know what's wrong with you."

"Well," I said, "the seventies were different, weren’t they? All that cocaine would keep anybody awake."

This time her eyebrows went up. She leant even closer.

"You'd better believe it, kid," she whispered. "You'd better believe it."

 *Yes, on this ship I'm young. I'm quite possibly the youngest person aboard not scrubbing pots or being looked after by the Cunard nannies.

Note: The lady in the photograph is not the lady in the story. She's another lady, with whom I danced rather madly one evening.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


You may not know that the chief residents of our little household are all on Twitter. I am @franklinhabit. Dolores is @doloresvanh. Harry is @yarnpoetharry.

That was how I found out about our newest resident. She's still here.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Miniature Entry: Other String

I'm in Madison, Wisconsin. This weekend was the local (enormous) guild's annual Knit-In, and they asked me to come up and do a bunch of fun stuff. On Friday I gave a talk. It was all very prim, as is my wont, but they made it sound dirty.


For the record, a night with me ends at about nine. Party down.

I leave for home in just a wee while but wanted to show a bit of progress with the tatting. When I remembered that dear, old Weldon's Practical Needlework had offered tatting numbers of course I had to pull them out and see if they were any good. Turns out they were.

Working in odd moments between furious, deadline-driven labor I've crept along to two-thread tatting (Some folks call it continuous tatting or tatting from the ball.) This is a Weldon's two-thread edging.


The thread (some old crochet cotton I had lying around) is really too coarse for the work and my tension is all over the place; but hey, I'm having a good time.

When I showed the first shots of my tatting I got a couple of comments–some quite concerned–that this must signal the end of my engagement with knitting. Really? Really? How? Why?

Are you afraid I'll be unable to resist the pull of the tatting market, and the legions of tatting enthusiasts who flock in their thousands to the glamorous international tatting circuit? Are you certain that within a year I'll have been put under contract to appear exclusively on one of the several tatting television series that ornament the airwaves?

This happens every time I mention a craft other than knitting.

So, to clarify.

If I write about a flirtation with crochet, tatting, weaving, embroidery, quilting, sewing, or any other fiber-y fabric-y gerund, it doesn't mean I'm jumping off the knitting ship. It means I'm looking to find out what else string can do for you. I find it refreshing. I find it inspiring. I don't believe in craft monogamy or textile purity. I'm all about seeing how techniques combine and complement.

I wrote a piece for Lion Brand Yarns about my desire to see knitting and crochet returned to their former unity. With John Mullarkey I've been mixing knitting and weaving in projects like our Ligeia Stole. And when a Madison student brought this in to show me, my heart skipped a beat:


She found it rolled up in her grandmother's sewing machine. On the right is a tatted chain. On the left is what the chain looks like when you complete the edging pattern with...crochet.

Mix it up. Mix. It. Up.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Miniature Entry: Intern

I decided that before one of this week's finished pieces goes to its forever home, it needs a little extra love. Pride in your finishing isn't everything, but it's almost everything.

I brought it with me here, to the coffee shop where I do so much work that we call it my field office. Between bouts of pattern writing I ripped out the imperfect seam and started sewing a new one.

A nice little girl, maybe six years old, came in with her mother for a hot chocolate. I liked her immediately, as you often do take to a person whose drink of choice is also yours.

As they sipped and chatted, it was pretty obvious the girl was curious about my work. The mother quietly told her to stop staring, but I asked if she'd like a closer look.

She stood at my shoulder and I showed her what I was doing with the needle. I chanted a little bit for her, the way I always do in my head when I sew by hand. Up, around, down, through. Up, around, down, through.

"Oh!" she said, after about six stitches. "I get it. You have to do it the same way, in the same places, all the way to the end. And that's how you win."

Kid, you're hired.


Monday, March 03, 2014

Miniature Entry: On Pattern Writing

When you design knitting patterns for multiple clients, part of the deal is sending in your finished patterns using each client's house style.

This can become confusing when three patterns for three clients all reach the finish line simultaneously.

One client insists that "inches" always be written out in full; one insists you must always use the double apostrophe (non-curly!) and never the word; the third will only accept the abbreviation "in" (no period!).

You pause in your writing, and remember a very nice student asking, "Why don't we have one standard for knitting patterns? Don't you think that would be a good idea?" and you laugh quietly and reach for the rum bottle.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Tat

This month I was out in Tacoma, Washington for one of the grooviest fiber gatherings you'll ever encounter–the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat. I was enjoying a rare morning off when I found a bunch of tatting shuttles for sale at the Carolina Homespun booth in the marketplace.

Tatting shuttles are used for making tatted lace. Tatted lace is very pretty. I did not know how to make tatted lace. All I knew about making tatted lace is that many, many of my friends have tried to make it, and have failed spectacularly.

So I bought two shuttles (silver, brass). I also bought cotton thread to go with the shuttles (white, ecru). I very nearly bought a third shuttle (bone); but buying three would have been silly.

That morning was my only free time for the whole of the festival, so it wasn't until I headed home that I got a chance to unwrap the shuttles and fiddle with them. My first flight out of Seattle was canceled, so I spent five hours in the Alaska Airlines Board Room drinking fruit juice and watching "Tatting for Beginners" videos on YouTube.

This is where I began.


This is where I ended, five hours later.


To give you an idea of how small that loop is, if I inhale deeply it will disappear right up my nose.

Perhaps you are entirely unfamiliar with tatting and would like to know how it works. Here is a brief overview.

Tatted lace is really just a series of simple knots tied one after the other into a piece of string. You begin by winding the string onto shuttle, as shown above.

Then you pull a little string off the shuttle and wrap a loop of it around your left hand. Then it's sort of like your left hand is doing cat's cradle, and your right hand is tying sailor knots, and meanwhile you are having a sneezing fit.

Tatting is something that gets mentioned all the time in those 19th century books I read. Usually it's the daily occupation of a frustrated maiden aunt with dim eyesight. She sits in her room all day, embalmed in black bombazine, morosely tossing the shuttle from hand to hand. You think knitting has a reputation for being stuffy? Honey, compared to tatting, knitting is a drug-happy orgy being thrown by a Playboy bunny in the zero-gravity Jacuzzi of a rocket ship headed for Jupiter. Tatting is for people who are afraid to try lace knitting because they think it will make them look slutty.

Needless to say, I find the appeal irresistible.

Back at home, as a break from the deadlines that are the reason this is the only post for February, kept at it. At great length, I made a ring almost (but not quite) the size of half a dime.

Then for about a week I just kept making rings, which are formed by a series of double stitches. Part of the fun of tatting is that the very first thing you learn, the thing you must learn before you can do anything else, is the double stitch. But the double stitch is, so far as I can tell, the hardest thing to do in all of tatting. So once you scale that wall, you're in good shape. But it's a very tall wall, crumbly, without a lot of good footholds; and there are gargoyles at the top who keep pooping on you.

Anyway, to practice my double stitches I just kept making them, and turning them into rings.


They're not difficult, really; but you have to do them all perfectly or your chain will freeze and won't close into a ring. If you mess up even one, the only thing you can do is get a pin and a magnifying glass and unpick all the way back to that stitch, one knot at a time, and do it over.

I will never complain about ripping back my knitting ever again.

Once I had something of a grip on rings I moved on to picots, which look like little mouse ears.


Here's my current chef d'oeuvre: two rings of the same size with picots that are pretty much the same size if you step well back and squint.


I don't need to learn tatting, you know. It's not like my life lacks for diversion. But I spend a great deal of each day knitting, and sometimes I find it fascinating to see what else string can do for you.

P.S. Before you mention it, I already know that there is such a thing as needle tatting and needle tatting has a reputation for being faster to learn. However, needle tatting does not give you an excuse to buy pretty shuttles. Nor am I much interested in going faster. Slow and painstaking suits me fine, thanks.

On the Horizon

On the calendar, may I please draw your attention to a few noteworthy additions you may find interesting?

March 29-30, I'll be at a shop I've been hoping to visit for years–the inimitable A Verb for Keeping Warm in Oakland, California. There will be both classes and the lecture I think I may need to re-title "The One with the Victorian Bathing Drawers."

April 25ish-26ish, I'll be at dear, old Yarn Over in Minneapolis, and also doing some classes (to be announced) at StevenBe. At the Yarn Over dinner, I'll be debuting my new talk for this year, "Five Women, Five Shawls." There will be history, as ever–but this time most of the history will be personal.

And May 3-6, one of the things I'm looking forward to most this year: the North Light Fibers Retreat on Block Island. A quiet, beautiful island off the coast of Rhode Island, in May, headquartered in a couple of handsome Victorian hotels? Plus knitting? And run by a small luxury fiber company? Do you see why I said yes? Four seconds after they asked?

My life is rough. Come share it.