Friday, November 21, 2014

Magic

I've been taking a multi-week course in bookbinding.

This will surprise absolutely nobody who knows me well and has therefore heard me pine wistfully for a press and a bindery to call my own.

I'm enjoying it. The teacher is excellent, the fee is reasonable, and my first efforts are imperfect but promising. Last time we did Japanese stab bindings:

three-bindings

The studio itself has taken getting used to.

I'm usually surrounded by fiber arts folks. Here's the thing about fiber arts folks: they're humble. Doesn't matter who they are or what they've done, you'll have to look hard to find a knitter who will throw attitude at you because she's got four decades of professional experience and has written a string of classic books.

This is probably due at least in part to the greater world's general sniffing disdain for textile arts, especially knitting and crochet. These are (so they say) unserious, unimportant, practiced by the sad and the shut-in. They're wrong and stupid about that; but on the positive side it does tend to keep us grounded.

Snobs there are, yes, and those whose folies de grandeur make for fun industry gossip. But they're a distinct minority.

So it was a bit of a cold bath to be reminded when I walked into the print studio for the first time what a room full of extreme self-importance feels like. Absolutely everyone in sight (except me) was a Serious Artist to Be Taken Seriously.

I heard more theorizing, posturing, and pronouncing in five minutes than in all the previous year. I heard an early-twentysomething who was silkscreening a cartoon owl onto a t-shirt refer un-ironically to "my earlier body of work."

I don't do very well in situations like this. I get scared and I shrink. I mumble. I took my bone folder and awl and sat in a corner and tried to disappear.

Last week I went into the room where the paper guillotine* lives, and just as I was getting ready to chop the head of my little perfect-bound book, one of the Serious Artists looked up from her bench–she was scrutinizing a very gorgeous letterpress poster–and asked me about my scarf. This scarf, which was made of leftovers from Longer on the Inside:

wove-scarf

"I love those colors," she said. "Where did you get it?"

"I made it," I said.

She was taken aback.

"You mean you...what? You sewed it or something?"

"No, I made it. I wove it."

"You wove it? You mean you made the actual fabric?"

"Yes. On a loom."

"You made fabric?"

"Yes."

"Oh my god," she said. "That's incredible. You actually made fabric? From scratch? Can I touch it? Would it be okay if I touched it?"

I let her touch it.

"I just can't believe you made fabric," she said. "That's like...magic."

Good to hear. Good to be reminded that what we do can startle even Very Serious Artists.

We're magic.

*Ohhhhh, the paper guillotine. It's so beautiful. Cast iron, almost five feet high, easily a century old. Can slice tiny slivers off the edge of stack of telephone books. Enormous, graceful curving lever to lower the blade. The paper guillotine. Mmmmmmm.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

All About That Lace

I am nothing if not easily distracted. What's below is the kind of thing that creeps into my notebooks when I am supposed to be doing serious work.

If Meghan Trainor's bouncy ode to the curvaceous posterior, "All About That Bass",


can spawn a Star Wars version, a high school literacy version, and a forties jazz  version, et al., I see no reason why we knitters should not have a version of our own. 

I sing like a screech owl and haven't got the time to make a video (perhaps the Mason-Dixon ladies will oblige?), but here's my contribution to the boom boom on the dance floor.


Because you know
I’m all about that lace, 'bout that lace,
No cables.

I’m all about that lace, 'bout that lace,
No cables.

I’m all about that lace, 'bout that lace,
No cables.

I’m all about that lace,
'Bout that lace, lace, lace.

Yeah, it’s pretty clear
I need a size 2.
'Cause I been swatching, swatching,
Like I’m supposed to do.
'Cause I know what you need to make it all lace–
All the right holes in all the right places.

The knitting magazines down at the local shop,
You want a pretty shawl? They got a bumper crop.
Yarn over, knit together, and never stop
'Til every inch of it is perfect
From the bottom to the top.

You know my mama she told me don’t worry about the size,
She said a shawl can be tiny or cover you to the thighs.
You know I won’t knit your sweater for Christmas like Santa’s elf.
So if that’s what you want you can knit it your own damn self.

Because you know
I’m all about that lace, 'bout that lace,
No cables.

I’m all about that lace, 'bout that lace,
No cables.

I’m all about that lace, 'bout that lace,
No cables.


Hey!

I’m using silk and yak,
I like the way my little needles clack,
I maybe wish I hadn’t chosen black–
But I won’t give up
'Til every inch of it is perfect
From the bottom to the top.

You know my mama she told me don’t worry about the size,
She said a shawl can be tiny or cover you to the thighs.
You know I won’t knit your sweater for Christmas like Santa’s elf.
So if that’s what you want you can knit it your own damn self.

Because you know
I’m all about that lace, 'bout that lace,
No cables.

I’m all about that lace, 'bout that lace,
No cables.

I’m all about that lace, 'bout that lace,
No cables.

I’m all about that lace, 'bout that lace,
No cables.

I’m all about that lace,
'Bout that lace.

Hey, hey, ohh.

You know you like this lace.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Strongly Disagree

I taught at Vogue Knitting LIVE! Chicago once again this year, and it's always kind of a kick to do a gig in my own town. No jet lag, no airport security lines, and I already know where to get lunch.

I also get to say hello to a fair number of friends who live in various places around the Midwest and travel in for the big shows or events. One of them–I'll call her Martha–decided to sign up for my class on the gorgeous traveling stitch patterns (the stitches travel, not the patterns) commonly known to English-speaking knitters as Bavarian Twisted Stitch. You may also know it as Austrian Twisted Stitch, or (if you speak German) you may know it as one of the many forms of Strickmüster, or knitting patterns.

You may not know it at all, in which case please allow me to recommend my class. (My calendar is always here–did you know I'm sailing to Alaska in July?)

Anyhow, Martha showed up a bit early to chitchat and catch up. We went to Meg Swansen's Knitting Camp together a couple times, but don't get to see each other much. She asked how the show was going. Dandy, I said. Good students, happy classes.

"I'm sure your classes are always happy," she said.

Well, I try. I try my damnedest. My classes take about a year of preparation to début; and ever after they are subject to constant fine-tuning. It's not enough to know how to do something in order to teach it. You have to–this is my opinion, anyhow–know it well enough to explain it at least five different ways. Not everyone learns in the same way, or at the same pace. You must be able to adjust your teaching to suit the students who walk through the door, and anybody can walk through the door.

Even so, you can't please everyone. Sometimes your feedback forms come back with disgruntled comments. I've had marks taken off for
  • the font I used in a handout ("Sans serif faces are unprofessional"),
  • wearing a bow tie ("so pretentious"),
  • not keeping the room warm enough (we were in a barn at a fiber festival),
  • talking too much (I was, you know–teaching),
  • being too gay,
  • being too unattractive, and
  • not making it clear in advance that a class on lace charting would require the students to use lace charts.
Martha sat in the back of the classroom with the other bad seeds. At the conclusion, though I clearly asked the students to please place their feedback forms on the chair by the door,  she insisted on handing hers to me.

I wish to share with you select excerpts from Martha's comments on my teaching.

Would you take another class with this teacher?

I don't know. Will there be wine?

Would you suggest this class to a friend?

Only if they want to learn something.

Additional comments and/or suggestions.

Although instructor wore hat, nevertheless appeared to be unable to bilocate. Only in one part of room at any given time.

Was unaware that knitting is prerequisite for this class.

Purl stitches do not travel? This seems discriminatory.

Cannot decide whether these German-style charts prevent Alzheimer's or promote it.

Instructor's bow tie did not light up.


EDITED TO ADD: I must not be coming across quite clearly to all. Martha is (as I wrote) a good friend.  Her lampooned feedback form, as quoted above, made me laugh. The other comments, from other classes at other events, aren't posted as a cry of pain–I thought they were funny. What can person do in the face of such absurdity but roll his eyes? Outrage would be an overreaction.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

That's What Friends Are For

I was in Seattle, enjoying a weekend of lectures and classes at Makers' Mercantile, when a long-time reader came forward with a magnificent gift.

She remembered that I am (in a very small way) a print collector, and gave me this.

Spinnerin (detail)

It's called Die Spinnerin, engraved in the nineteenth century after a painting by the 17th-century Dutch artist Caspar Netscher. It made my dark little heart go thumpitta-thumpitta-thumpitta-boom.

The folio sheet (21 by 28) hasn't been cut. The tones and textures, which defy capture by my cut-rate phone camera, are pure velvet.

Then there's the subject matter, of course, with all the lovingly rendered details: the niddy-noddy, the hank of flax,

Spinnerin (detail)

the little hand-cranked* (!) wheel. (Single drive? Curious. I would love to hear from anyone who might know whether this is accurate, or whether the artist goofed. All the rest is captured in such fine detail that it seems odd he would leave out an entire loop of the drive band, if it were actually there.)

Spinnerin (detail)

This isn't the sort of thing you fold up and stuff in a suitcase, so I asked my good buddy Chuck at Skacel if he could please hand it over to their shipping department and have it sent home to me.

I got a message from Chuck a few days later saying that (as you might imagine would happen at a yarn company) the print had caused quite a stir and everybody had wanted to run away with it.

In due course, a sturdy tube arrived from Skacel. Inside was the sweet spinning lady, looking as beautiful as ever.

Spinnerin

Thanks, Chuck! You're the best!

*Edited to add: Mind you, there is a footman, which suggests there is also a treadle hidden under the skirts. So, hand-cranked and foot-powered? The more I look at this the more fascinated I get.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Miniature Entry: Cheat Sheet from the Past

A dear friend recently gave me a magnificent present that deserves (and will get) its own entry. But tucked inside this gift was a piece of paper, the survival of which amazes me.

It's a sheet of the slick, translucent typing paper that some of us remember was called onionskin.

Yellowed, battered, and containing...

ktichener-full

typed instructions for Kitchener stitch.

Below the typed copy is a spidery line of manuscript that reads...

ME spiral narrow at 19" narrow quickly

Somebody was making socks, I bet. Knee socks, maybe? If you were to knit a 19-inch tube, quick spiral decreases would give you a toe at the right point for a short woman's knee sock.

Or, possibly, "spiral" applies to "ME" and the socks were akin to the spiral stockings (knit without heel shaping) in Mary Thomas's Knitting Book.

I can't say with any certainty what "ME" means. Make Even? Possibly, though it's not a usage I have run across before.

In the upper right corner is a name and address:

kitchener-close

Alice Maynard
558 Madison Avenue, N Y City

I wondered who she was, what sort of apartment she would have had on Madison Avenue in the East Fifties, and why she was typing instructions for Kitchener stitch for one of my friend's relatives. The miracle of the Internet gave me an answer in seconds:

Expert Guidance Offered to Knitter and Crocheter (New York Times, August 18, 1964)

Knitting help at Macy's,* Gimbel's, and Bloomingdale's. The mind boggles.

If any of you have memories of knitting at Macy's, Gimbel's, or Bloomingdale's; or of shopping at Alice Maynard, I would love to hear about it in the comments.

*Although Macy's "has no time for anyone who has not mastered the basic stitches." Love it.



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Miniature Entry: Advice That Made a Difference

My favorite quote by the late Maya Angelou isn't from one of her poems, and in fact there's not even a trace of it (that I can find) online.

It came from an answer to a college student's question about changing the world. She told the student that if you want to change the world, start by making your bed every day.

Why?

Because if you haven't got sufficient will and dedication to do that one simple thing, you might want to reconsider whether you have what it takes to reach your more ambitious goals.

You don't have to agree with her about this. But I do. And it's one of the only pieces of Advice from a Sage Thinker that has made any damn difference in what I do with my day.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Miniature Entry: On the Loss of a Great Writer

I wish I had something poetic to say about the wonderful Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, who has just died; but I don't.

Instead, I can tell you that in my freshman expository writing/fiction writing class at Harvard, which I hated, I once said in a discussion that I saw great similarities between the plots of "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" and Auntie Mame.

I did this just to provoke an aneurysm in a snooty bitch classmate from Miss Porter's. She always spoke in a breathy voice redolent of italics of her desire to "explode the confines of linear fiction," and she openly loathed me for turning in assignments that were funny. Every time one of my stories got a laugh, she would shake her Annie Hall bob in disgust and bite the end of her pen.*

It worked. She actually did get so angry she left the room. I've always been grateful to Mr. Márquez for that. And, of course, to Patrick Dennis.

This will probably be the only Márquez tribute that mentions them both.

RIP, Gabe.

Now I have to go finish roasting a chicken.

*She was also an avowed Freudian.