Sunday, April 30, 2006

Middletown Multi-Modal

[Blogger problems. The usual.]

Saturday I had a meeting in Middletown (Exit 114), an 80+ mile roundtrip. Instead of driving, I decided to go by train and bicycle. I thought it would be a fun exercise in multi-modal transportation. Instead, it turned into a lesson on the barriers faced by persons in wheelchairs.

Bike on board NJ Transit train

NJ Transit treats bicyclists with standard frame bikes pretty much like wheelchair passengers: no additional fare or permit is needed. But access to trains leaves much to be desired. Forget the standard of barrier-free access – only 40% of the train stations are even minimally accessible. The majority of train stations (including the big terminus in Hoboken!) do not have raised platforms. That's a giant step up from ground level to the train for an able passenger, a big hoist with much loud grunting for a bicyclist (hey, it works for tennis players), and pretty much an impossible proposition for a wheelchair passenger. For that matter, most young children, women great with child, and seniors can't step that high. For shame!

Once on the train, bicyclists use the same space as wheelchair passengers. Wheelchair passengers have priority, but since they basically can't board at most stations, I had the space to myself. The seats fold up easily and there are tie downs to secure the bike with bungee cords (bring your own).

At Secaucus Junction, the transfer station for 10 NJ Transit lines and Amtrak, I provided some early morning entertainment for the security guy, who watched quizzically as I carried the bike downstairs to the wrong platform [sigh], then back upstairs and down again to the right platform. It turns out discreet signs point to the elevators at the far, far end of the platforms. Well, now I know.

The ride was pleasant enough = I got a little knitting done. A while ago my excellent SP6 pal, Yarn Pirate, sent me one skein of Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock in colorway Jungle Stripe, which makes skinny stripes in vivid tones of parrot green and heliotrope. I cast on for a cuff down anklet.

Jungle Stripe sock

The challenge is to make to make two socks from the one skein. But not any old self-striped st st anklets will do – such a singular yarn calls for something different. The stitch pattern, #6 from Knitting Lace by Susanna E. Lewis (sadly OP), rises to the occasion admirably. Worked in a demure laceweight, it's a traditional Shetland lace pattern.* Here, it not only gives the wild stripe a little swing but also has a bit of openwork to help increase the mileage. I'm planning an afterthought heel and toe, possibly in contrasting colors.

Happily, the Middletown train station has a platform and a ramp, and the meeting went well. Now I'm pondering my next trip, to MDS&W (via the Modern Yarn carpool)! We'll be there Sunday – hope to see y'all.

* ETA: To see the stitch pattern in its traditional guise, properly blocked and everything, see Jackie E-S's article in IK Summer 2006. On p. 68, the A in LACE is superimposed on the same stitch pattern.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Four Is

I is for iris gardens.I is for iris gardens Among iris fanciers, the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Montclair (Exit 151) are known internationally as a living library of over 2,000 iris species and cultivars, particularly Iris germanica. It's a little early for iris flowers, so here's a photo of the big sign with the little basket o' I prizes. Click for a closer view and also see here and here for some of the display beds. Judging from the size of the fans, peak bloom will be late this year.

Bloom time, late April to early June, is an annual free spectacle that draws thousands of visitors to the modest grounds. But it's been a tough year for the gardens. Last summer, vandals hacked and uprooted over 150 plants in the display beds, some of them rare and historic specimens dating to the 1500s. The display beds were refurbished with other varieties and the damaged plants carefully replanted in nursery beds, only to be snacked on by hungry deer this winter (deer usually leave irises alone). As bloom time 2006 approaches, anxious eyes are on the gardens!

I is for impermanence. The paradox of constant change and the poignancy of fleeting beauty are often identified as Eastern or Buddhist concepts, illustrated by the familiar trope of cherry blossoms on the tree and petals on the ground.

Cherry blossoms on tree   Petals on ground

Yet the "fathers" of Western thought, the ancient Greeks, believed the immortal gods envied the freshness of mortal beauty. The search for the Apples of Youth or the Fountain of Youth has occupied many Western scholars and explorers and continues to this day.

I is for initial. I had two friends, a married couple, who referred to each other by first initial ("M. read a good book" or "C. planted the flowers"). Somehow that doesn't work quite right when DH and I do that.

And I is for Ingeo, a synthetic fiber derived from corn. Spinners are just beginning to explore the possibilities of the fiber, so the chance to knit it can't be very far behind.

See the rest of my ABCs.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

An Unfinished Object

Sorrowful news: last week DH's father passed away peacefully after a difficult illness. One of his few requests was to have an unfinished needlepoint chair cushion placed in his casket. DH's mother had been working on it when she died some years ago and of course I had saved the UFO.

Unfinished needlepoint chair cushion

So far as I can tell, MIL had no pattern, but was reproducing freehand a design she had seen somewhere. She stitched the flowers first, then the background, all in half cross stitch, using heavy tapestry wool on a double needlepoint canvas more usually used for petit point. The resulting fabric is sturdy, heavy, and only slightly biased. The stitched area tapers slightly from the top (the back of the chair seat) to the bottom (the front of the seat).

FIL's request surprised and moved me. He was never a sentimental person. He discarded the chair; had the cushion been completed, I imagine it would have been discarded too. I got to keep it only because it was unfinished. Interesting he thought of it at the end of his life.

Sometimes it seems there are more UFOs buzzing roundabout Exit 151 than around Area 51. It can be a nuisance. But quite unexpectedly one of them has provided an opportunity for generosity and reconciliation beyond words, at the time when love and necessity meet in silence.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

It's the ABC-along "I" Contest!

Eight letters into the ABC-along, it would seem many knitters are suffering from spring blahs. It's time for a contest to keep things interesting for letter nine (I).

The average abecedary entry for the letter "I" tends to be rather uninspired, if not downright insipid. To provide incentive for ingenuity, I'm offering prizes for the three best "I" entries in the ABC-along, as announced on March 1.

The prize for first place is two skeins of Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock in colorway Iris Garden. The prizes for second place and third place are Clover I-cord makers with two interchangeable plates. Prizes will be mailed to the finalists.

First prize   Second and third prizes

To enter the "I" Contest:
  1. Post your ABC-along "I" photoessay on your blog between April 23 and May 6. Photo(s) must be your own work, naturally.

  2. Send an email to abcalong [at] gmail [dot] com by May 6 indicating your interest in participating in the contest and listing your blog name and the permalink of your entry.

Finalists will be chosen in two steps:
  1. Anne and I will select three finalists.

  2. ABC-alongers will vote for their favorite among the finalists. The finalist with the most votes will win first place, the finalist with the second number of votes will win second place, and the finalist with the third number of votes will win third place.

Eligibility: The ABC-along "I" Contest is open to participants in the ABC-along. Anne and I are not eligible for prizes, of course.

That's all there is to it. So get busy with those "I" posts. Good luck to all!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Three Hs

H is for Holiday Sox.H is for Holiday Sox and Yarn Harlot On the one hand, they were very very very late; on the other hand, they got to meet the Yarn Harlot at the Rutherford Public Library (Exit 153). It was quite a wonderful evening and incontrovertible proof public libraries and librarians rock; I can't ordinarily show socks quite such a good time. Kindly see here for more of the story.

H is for Hadrosaurus foulkii, the New Jersey State Dinosaur. It's a kind of duckbill dinosaur. The first specimen was unearthed in 1858 – before the U.S. Civil War – in Haddonfield, NJ (NJT Exit 4), which has various monuments downtown and at the historic site, an old marl pit. It was the first nearly complete dinosaur skeleton ever discovered and is still on display at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. A peaceable old plant-eater, it sparked the "Bone Wars" among rival museums and fossil collectors. I once got to hold a fossilized partial lower jaw, which was beautifully detailed (the skin and dental batteries were perfect) and very heavy.

And H is for hemp. An excellent rope fiber, but those who pretend it rivals flax linen for garments probably have been smoking rather than knitting it.

See the rest of my ABCs.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Yarn Harlotry in NJ

This is a New Jersey tale of serendipity, two socks, and the singular Yarn Harlot.

Today I finished a pair of socks, my first finished in 2006 (although started last year!). They were meant to be a holiday gift for Anastacia and so they shall be – er, just not at the holiday originally intended. Roundabout Exit 151, progress often is neither linear nor sequential... it's more, well, roundabout.

Diamond Patch Socks

The socks are Heartland Knits Diamond Patch Socks by Vicki Sever. With its modules and afterthought heel and toe (with characteristic bullseye pattern), the pattern is perfectly suited to variegated yarn. Here it's worked in Diakeito Diamusée Fine, colorway 113, a Shetland-like 2-ply yarn. Both plies are variegated, which yields an utterly beguiling über-marled effect. I love the possibilities of the yarn and want to try it in some traditional Fair Isle patterns next.

[ETA: Diamond Patch Socks also appear in posts dated (eek) December 2, November 22, November 16, and November 9.]

Every sock ought to have an adventure,Yarn Harlot poster so I took these to the Rutherford Public Library (Exit 153) for a Yarn Harlot reading and book signing. Libraries (and savvy librarians) have great style – the poster was worthy of the hippest, most happening boîte in The Village. The turnout likewise – the library trustees had to quit their usual meeting room to make room for all the knitters! So apropos, given the title of the latest bookbookbook.

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee was brilliantly funny. I'd heard her speak before, at the celebrated Lord & Taylor event last spring (pity that was BB, before blog). One year, three best-selling books, and the Knitting Olympics have only served to confirm her place in the affections of knitters. She showed off her socks and her Olympics project, Hardangervidda, and demonstrated cottage knitting. People brought her gifties of Easter candy and small knit items, and some (ahem) shamelessly made her pose with their work. She seemed to like the Diamond Patch Sock.

Yarn Harlot and Diamond Patch Sock

The hospitable and prudent Enchanting Juno, who is camera shy, offered Tricoteuses Sans Frontières [Knitters Without Borders] pins for a donation to Médecins Sans Frontières [Doctors Without Borders], a thrice-worthy cause. I got a handful to give as RAOKs.

To think I almost missed all the fun. Serendipitously, Julsey let me know about the event. We connected in cyber-space thanks to cherry blossoms and my Sockapaloooza sock. Things like that don't happen every day (at least not to me, perhaps to others), so of course I had to try to meet-up in person. Here's Karen and Julsey with my beaded rib with beads sock.

Karen, Julsey, and Sockapaloooza sock

Julsey had the excellent idea of having Stephanie sign her Knitting Olympics certificate (notice gifties and Hardangervidda on the table). The two of them took pix of each other taking pix of each other. That's Kathleen in the background.


Equally serendipitously, I bumped into Lynn, the owner of Needlecraftique (Exit 151), who had her fabby Prudence Mapstone handbag. Also my pals Gloria, Kim, and Alice, who do Shawl Ministry in River Edge (Exit 165). None of us saw anything particularly incongruous about turning out for the Yarn Harlot during Holy Week.

Gloria, Kim, and Alice

[ETA: Also in the house were Stacey with friends Gail and Cathy. Stacey will be a first-time vendor at MDS&W (Barn 3, Space 14)! I was drawn like a müth to her beauteous handspun – if that weren't enough, her dad will be sharpening scissors, an unheard-of service these days.

Then there was the elegantly Clapotis-clad, well-prepared, and perfectly placed Mary Beth Temple, with her Dulaan cardi in progress, straight needles, and copy of One Skein.

And Trek, Calling on Kahlo, Margaret, and Annie Modesitt!]

Imagine – a public library, hip knitters, heretic knitters, progressive church ladies, The Yarn Harlot – all in Rutherford, NJ this aye night.


Friday, April 7, 2006

Mason-Dixon Knitting in the Knitty City

Yesterday I played hooky from SnB (sorry) in order to show a sock a good time at the Mason-Dixon Knitting book signing at Knitty City. I pondered taking the (heavy) SLR also, but ended up taking the (slow) digicam, with certain predictable results – lots of blurry pix – and one unexpected one.

Here's knitbloggers and co-authors Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne with the Mason-Dixon After Dark Nightie, and me and my beaded rib with beads sock (I'm camera shy). See? Kay and Ann smile exactly as shown on the dust jacket of their book. Also, the wall o' yarn at Knitty City is pretty fabulous.

Mason-Dixon knitbloggers, nightie, sock, and shy

Knitty City owner Pearl Chin was not able to attend, but the shop was in good hands. The stylish Phyliss of Knitting & Howe! (and hostess of the Afghanalong sew-up at which Kay and Ann finally met in person) offered words of greeting.

Knit book signings have a wonderful energy all their own. Here's Phyliss modeling her colorwork Nina Shawl from the book and Cara of January One showing off her beauteous sock and shoe. (Later in the evening, the shoe was gone entirely and two other Jaywalkers in various states of progress plus a Sockapaloooza sock in progress made an appearance.)

Phyliss models Nina Shawl   Cara's sock and shoe

Apart from getting to meet the authors and other crafty folk, one gets to hear more about the creative process. For example, Ann imparted the valuable secret of the nice lingerie straps (teehee). And Kay explained the fine points of the felted boxes (felted squares, not rounds!). Here she holds a before-felting example in her hands and the after-felting boxes under her arm.

Kay explains felted boxes

I have severe pilopoiiaphobia [fear of felting] and keep hoping desensitization will help.

Book signings also have their more pensive moments, as here with Ann. Notice, too, the infamous Moses basket in the corner, Mitred Squares Blanket covering the table, and flowers for the author, wine, books, Scribble Lace, felted boxes, tissues, etc on the table, and various shop samples in the background.

Ann and samples from the book

Incidentally, while Ann and Kay were most gracious with shutterbugs, with a slow digicam it was just about impossible to get a decent action shot. I mean of both of them signing books at once. Just as one might expect of compatible knitblogger co-authors, when one was looking up, the other was doing something else.

Mason-Dixon knitbloggers   Mason-Dixon knitbloggers

Perhaps that's a metaphor for their knitblogging, and friendship. Not Janus, the ever-vigilant and self-sufficient gatekeeper, two heads on one body facing in opposite directions, but two women, two heads, two bodies, facing in the same direction with distinct voices and vulnerabilities and points of view, engaged in a dance as intricate and cooperative as the play of knitting needles.

Now that's something to ponder while knitting during centering prayer, in the knitty city or elsewhere.


Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Five Gs

G is for garden. New Jersey is the Garden State and good things do indeed grow here. Pat, my gardening guru, manages to grow food in her backyard even through the hungry gap. She's still harvesting kale and has already planted peas and broccoli (ETA: despite this morning's spring snowfall). Me?... I'm doing prep work on a new vegetable bed. The soil roundabout Exit 151 is Jersey clay, a heavy red soil rich in iron. It benefits from double-digging, compost, sand, a handful of lime... I'm still breaking ground so, alas, no pictures of green glory.

G is for Great Falls of the Passaic River (Exit 159). I don't have a good photo of the Great Falls either; this one is by Andy Szymczak.G is for Great Falls.  Photo by Andy Szymczak. New Jersey is not generally known for its waterfalls, yet the Great Falls are second in the Eastern U.S. only to mighty Niagara. When in full flow, they are spectacular. The river makes a sharp Z-bend, dropping 80 feet (24 m) in free fall through a narrow gorge of dark rock before continuing in its original direction. A slender footbridge spans the top of the gorge (not for those afraid of heights!), but the best view is from the bottom of the gorge, as in this photo. I've looked for the path down and haven't found it yet.

G is for gauge swatch. This one is the swatch for my mini-Birch, worked in Filatura di Crosa College. I love knitting swatches.G is for gauge swatch Apart from their pure entertainment value, I use them to get gauge, to try stitch patterns, and, as here, to test how a yarn will respond to blocking. Heretical Annie Modesitt suggests another use: handing them to people as a surrogate for letting them pet a wip and inadvertently soil it, an occupational hazard for someone who knits in public for a living. (Another hazard: the current grudge match between Annie and a certain LYS.)

G is for Garden State Parkway, which runs 173 miles from Cape May (Exit 1) to Montvale (Exit 172), with exits approximately one mile apart. "What exit?" is a frequently asked Jersey question – Jersey people orient themselves by means of GSP exits. Really quite a sensible system.

And G is for guanaco, yet another South American fiber-producing camelid. Just as the Great Falls are second to Niagara, so guanaco fleece is said to be second only to vicuña. Oh, for the chance to try it someday!

See the rest of my ABCs.

Monday, April 3, 2006

Bean Counting

Back to the quotidian and bean counting. With help, I carefully investigated the box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans from Good Girl Purl and discovered that it contained every flavor listed but one. (In the course of photography, a few cherry, green apple, and buttered popcorn beans magically disappeared, but you get the idea.)

Almost every flavor of bean

Top row: Bacon, Black Pepper, Blueberry, Booger, Buttered Popcorn
2nd row: Cherry, Cinnamon, Dirt, Earthworm, Earwax
3rd row: Grape Jelly, Grass, Green Apple, Lemon Drop, Rotten Egg
4th row: Sardine, Soap, Toasted Marshmallow, no Tutti-Frutti, Vomit

No one has been brave enough to try the more unusual flavors.

The beans gave me a brain wave. A couple years ago, I did a favor for a Japanese colleague and she did the obvious (to her, anyway): she gave me a narrow length of unhemmed cotton cloth. Although machine-made, it's a traditional handloom size, about 34 cm (13.5 in) wide and 90 cm (35.5 in) long, with neat selvedges and a charming edamame (soybean) print. I finally know what to do with it: while others have been busy deciphering the mysteries of the Ferragamo bag, I knit up a SoHo Sling*. The bean print will make perfect trim and pockets. And the flower pin from Good Girl Purl is the perfect spring accessory for it.

Soho Sling in process

The pattern appears in Bags: A Knitter's Dozen, but I got it as a freebie at Knit Out New York. Basically, the bag is a knit tube as tall as it is wide, with the top zipper rotated 90 degrees from the bottom seam (which forms a tetrahedron, if you must know).

Knitting the tube was basically mindless. I used a jumbo ball of crochet cotton that had been languishing in stash, Aunt Lydia's Denim, tweaking the pattern to make a bigger bag in a smaller gauge than specified, casting on 140 stitches. The crochet cotton made a somewhat coarse fabric with a soft drape – a strange combination of characteristics that would be horrible for a sweater, but is just right for a sling bag.

There will be a brief pause in assembly whilst I find the right zipper, lining, interlining, and findings. The bag in the pattern is not lined, but bean-counter that I am, I prefer a more finished turnout.

* For those who don't know New York City, SoHo stands for South of Houston Street, Houston being pronounced house-ton, not hyus-ton. It's one of the trendy parts of the city. The fabulous Purl and its new sister store, Purl Patchwork, are in SoHo.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Flash Your Stash Day 2006

It's April 1 – Flash Your Stash Day – and I begin to suspect I have a boring life. Here's the flash in my stash. It's actually somewhat scarey.

Flash your stash

Meanwhile, others – well, words fail. Just see for yourself (notice cocktail and pink toe thingie).