PentaYoke

In which we mess around with Norah Gaughan’s Swirled Pentagon Pullover

Note from Steph: I’m almost done, I swear it. This is the last of That Laurie’s phenomenally interesting guest blogs, and it will (almost) coincide with me running out of time to write the book. If anyone cares, the “writing” part is definitively done, and I’m onto all of the revisions and re-reading and organizing…and writing the introduction, which for reasons I have never been able to reconcile, I always do last. (Dumbass, but true.) I’ll be back soon. Perhaps a hollow shell of my former self…but back.

My sincerest thanks to That Laurie for the blog rescue mission. Those of us who blog can guess at how long it took her to put these together…and I’m very grateful.

By now you may be tired of spirals, You may not even be interested in moving onto swirled pentagons, even though the construction is really quite different. This sweater design appears in Norah Gaughan’s delectable book, Knitting Nature. There are several projects in this book that I have in my sights, but my absolute favorite is the swirled pentagon yoke sweater. I found this pullover even more appealing when Grumperina knit one without the turtleneck, and I realized that the yoke all by itself looked pretty cool.

So once again I was knitting a yoke, but this time I wanted to have my color ranges WITHIN the six individual pentagons. Off to do more dyeing, but this time I did it by space dyeing relatively small rovings, 1.5 to 2 ounces. And I even spun and swatched to see if I was getting the color array I wanted:

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Once I was SURE that the pentagons would look the way I wanted, I spun up all my little skeins and began knitting them sequentially onto each other:


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And here is my completed yoke:

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One of the nice things about working this way (top-down) is that you really get to take a good look at what the crucial section of the sweater around your neck and head. And, of course, you can manipulate the shaping to fit your body as snugly or loosely as you wish as you knit your way down the body!

However, from here I had to do some moderately challenging things in order to knit DOWN from the yoke. I used three-ply yarn from roving dyed the same color as the Myrtle Green in the pentagons. And I used Barbara Walker’s book shamelessly, taking a lot of her advice to make the top-down set-in sleeves.

My first step was to use short rows in order to knit down on both the front and back edges to the depth of sleeve listed for my size. Please note: I did the back first and then, trickster that I am, rechecked my gauge to make sure that the total stitches I was planning for the body would really, truly fit my particular shape well before knitting the front down the same way.

Then, at each edge of the front side and back side, I cast on the same number as the original pattern indicated for the bind-off for the sleeves. I joined the front and back and knit a couple of inches so I would have a totally stable sleeve opening before the challenges of a top-down set-in sleeve.

At the upper edge of each sleeve I picked up, relatively closely together, the same number of stitches that Gaughan lists as the bind-off AT THE TOP of her sleeves in my size. I centered these around the “shoulder seam.” Then I placed a marker so I would know where the top stitches of the sleeve were. Then I took note of the total number of stitches her sleeve reached BEFORE the first bind-offs as the knitting moved UP the sleeve. That number was my target for picking up the stitches around the sleeve opening. When I reached the place where I had started picking up, I put another marker. That set of stitches at the top of the sleeve served as the center stitches for my shortrowing. Basically I knit short rows all the way down the sleeve cap, picking up one more stitch with every row until I reached the stitches that I had cast on when knitting down the front and back. Those I picked up all together.

I actually picked up the stitches around the sleeve opening for BOTH sleeves before starting to knit either sleeve. Then I began to knit down on both of them simultaneously so I could match and check shaping. That way I could try it on!

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PLEASE forgive the extraordinarily smug expression; it is actually a grimace because my husband takes pictures while offering a running commentary about how strange it is that I want pictures of things before they are completed!

To finish the project off, I reiterated the shirttail hem from the Quiggle sweater…. And here you go:

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I hope my explanation of top-down set-in sleeves was not too confusing; it really does make sense when you try it!

Just to answer a few of the questions that have come up over the last few days, I offer the following information.

The Charlotte Quiggle pattern uses the shirttail hem and gives a nice description of how to achieve it with shortrowing. You can manage the same effect in knitting on the way down by beginning short rows once you reach the sweater length where you want your shirttail to begin. By that point you have a really good sense of your row and stitch gauge! Sally Melville has a super, detailed description of how to get the exact curve you want in Great Knits: Texture and Color Techniques (82-85). This essay also appeared in Threads 47 (June 1993): 34-37. The book is a wonderful collections of Threads articles, but it is now, alas, out of print. You can usually find it via interlibrary loan.The basic principle is easy–you want steeper shortrows in the upper third of your shirttail hem, achieved with single stitches between turns, and you want less steep–that is wider spacing– between short rows in the lower parts of your shirttail hem.

On the raglan issue and yokes for narrow shoulders, I have some suggestions. Raglans look dreadful on my narrow shoulders because of the strong diagonal line of the increases (or decreases as you knit UP the sweater); however, I can significantly counter that effect by creating some kind of strong color contrast in a stripe that falls at or near my shoulder width. If you are knitting the raglan in the round, this strategy is particularly easy. The stripe then makes a square (or rectangle) that actually emphasizes my shoulders and makes them look wider. Along the same lines, if I place my yoke design so that the color work (whatever it is) ends at or near the edge of my shoulders, the design makes the most of the limited space I have from shoulder edge to shoulder edge and makes that area look larger.

To do the offset spinning, I arrayed my colors (roughly) as follows for the different plies:

ply #1 — .5 oz. purple, 1.5 oz raspberry, 1.5 oz. aztec gold, 1.5 oz. golden ochre, 1.5 oz. aztec gold, 1.5 oz raspberry, 1.5 oz. purple

ply #2 — 1 oz. purple, 1.5 oz. raspberry, 1.5 oz. aztec gold, 1.5 oz. golden ochre, 1.5 oz. aztec gold, 1.5 oz raspberry, 1 oz. purple

ply #3 — 1.5 oz. purple, 1.5 oz. raspberry, 1.5 oz. aztec gold, 1.5 oz. golden ochre, 1.5 oz. aztec gold, 1.5 oz raspberry, .5 oz. purple

This array makes .5 oz pure purple, 5. oz rasp/purp/purp, . 5 oz rasp/rasp/purp, .5 oz rasp/rasp/rasp — and so forth.

Yoking Around, or Quiggling the Spiral

Note from Steph: Unbelievably, as the deadline approacheth…I have been able to pull my head up enough to remember that there are other things in the world besides me and my deadline, and recall that today is a most auspicious day. It is the birthday of my esteemed guest blogger and excellent friend, That Laurie. Please take a moment to wish her well in the comments…will you? She’s a fine knitter and a good person and I haven’t seen her in months and months. I miss her. (…and Laurie? Don’t blame your lovely husband. He can confirm that I was way ahead of him when he called, though he did call, his love for you being big, wide and unstoppable. Give him a kiss. He’s a dear.)

Happy Birthday That Laurie!

(And thanks again for the guest blogging.)



I am not the only one who has been tempted to knit a variation on the Spiral Yoke Sweater. Given how intriguing I have (obviously) found this design, you will not be surprised to hear that I was instantly drawn to a sweater called “Ribbing is no Yoke,” designed by Charlotte Quiggle. In fact, I have wanted to knit this pullover since it was published in 2000 (Knitters Magazine, issue # 60). Quiggle uses a shirttail hem (which you can tell that I favor in the other variations of the SYS), and her design uses ribbing in the yoke rather than traveling stitches. All very appealing.

Given all these attractions, you might ask why I waited six long years after seeing the pattern before giving it a whirl, as it were. I even had a suitable commercial yarn in my stash for the project! The answer is that I was waiting for inspiration; I wanted the perfect handspun for the sweater. My interest in the Quiggle design was renewed by a new strategy for spinning a slowly variegated yarn. I wanted to try a three-ply where one ply at a time shifted from one color to the next, along the lines of Trekking sock yarn.

The first choice I had to make was the fleece, which I purchased from Lindy Gallop at the Maine Fiber Frolic. It was a fine-crimp Romney-corrie cross fleece with a VERY nice hand; as a result, the roving was pure pleasure to spin and spun up fine enough for three-ply. Also, though it was only a six and a half pound fleece, I managed to get enough yarn from it for both this sweater and the next one in this little series. My next choices were colors: Jacquard purple, Country Classics Raspberry, Jaquard Aztec Gold (a coppery orange) and Golden Ochre.

However, to get the array I wanted, I couldn’t rely on spacedyeing the roving. Instead I did a batch of each color in my crockpot. Basically I set up the roving (about 4 ounces each) as if I were going to paint it and then submerged my pantyhose packages in the crockpot, dosed with a single color. Here is the result:

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My plan for the three-ply yarn meant that I had design singles with color changes at offset intervals. My singles are reasonably even—and three-ply does even things out– so I managed this feat by weigh everything very carefully and staggering the weights, as you see in picture above. The resulting yarn looked like this:

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With my yarn for the yoke in hand, I then went on and dyed the yarn for the body with a combination of purple and raspberry, matching the yoke. You can get a better sense of how this yarn experiment worked in this picture taken as I finished knitting down the yoke. I simply started from the top edge stitch number and then transformed the decreases in the Quiggle pattern into increases, always noting the number of total stitches after each series of increases. And this is what I got:

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Here you can really see that the color changes did work, although there was more orange than I had envisioned. At this point in the knitting, in fact, I was overwhelmed by that orange and more than a little depressed. However, as a friend kept reminding me, the bulk of the sweater in purple would offset that appearance of excessive orange. Even as I got down to the waist and made the decreases there, I could tell she had been right:

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And here is the final product, suitably photographed in Maine’s autumnal light:

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While I think one of the commercial yarns with long color repeats could also work with this version of the SYS, I am glad I tried the plying experiment. Reliable sources suggest that FOUR-ply would work even better!

Next time: In which we mess around with about Nora Gaughan’s Swirled Pentagon sweater using color variations within her pentagons.

The Yoke’s on Me

Note from Steph: I am an idiot. After very carefully sorting the guest blogs from That Laurie, I then equally carefully posted them in the wrong damn order. That Laurie is to gracious to say anything about this, so I am just copping to it. Today I bring you the second of That Laurie’s guest blogs, which is actually the first of That Laurie’s guest blogs except that I posted the second one first instead of the first one first. Please go back and read the second one after the first one so that things make more sense and so that you can have the full effect of the genius that is That Laurie. My apologies. I’m a little brain dead. I promise to try harder.

Today we celebrate the yoke sweater, which I often knit from the top down. Basically, I will extoll the joys of yoke knitting and its eminent suitability for many body types, while I stealthily lure you in thinking that top-down construction is worth the effort that goes into the calculations. After all, my very first all-handspun sweater made of all handspun was a top-down, yoke sweater!

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And, just for fun, here’s a better look at the all-important yoke. It is less complicated than it looks because I used Mosaic stitches rather than two-color knitting:

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Before we proceed, an admission: I am a pear. Among the body types that Maggie Righetti explores in her very useful book Sweater Design in Plain English I am a classic Anjou, perhaps a Barlett, with my upperworks smaller that my ample backside. And the pearness of me is more noticeable because I have narrow shoulders as well. In Chapter 6, Righetti’s book identifies the different possible body shapes and explains in detail how to get the pertinent measurements; Chapter 11, “Choosing the Most Flattering Design for the Wearer,” addresses what particular uses of light and dark colors, stripes AND, most key, what sweater designs work best for which shapes.*

Unless you are an hourglass (and therefore can wear practically anything, darn you!), you can get useful ideas from this chapter. And, if you are a pear like me, you will read and read only to discover that the one real piece of advice she gives is that the typical Icelandic yoke sweater and the “Bottom-Heavy Hourglass Figure” (I prefer “pear”) are “a natural, made-for-each other combination” (128). Later, when explaining how to design an Icelandic yoke sweater, she makes the statement still more general: “the whole family of Icelandic designs with their radiating, overlapping, and concentric diamonds is flattering to almost all types of figures” (328).

Now, you might think from this introduction that I will regale you with stories of spinning and knitting Icelandic Yoke sweaters. But, no! For all matters Icelandic, visit Cassie at Too Much Wool. I am sure I will get to Icelandic patterns, but I haven’t yet. As some of you already know, I have a SLIGHT tendency to take information, patterns, fiber in a different direction than intended. What I take from Righetti’s analysis is that, whatever yoke inspires me, I should gravitate toward it. As long as I keep my narrow shoulders in mind!

One of my favorites is Meg Swansen’s Spiral Yoke sweater, shown below in “conventional” form.

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You can tell that the shape works on me. However, you cannot SEE the yoke detail unless you look more closely because it develops very cleverly from traveling stitches:

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I wasn’t TOTALLY conventional in knitting this sweater even though I chose the adult sweater design in Handknitting with Meg Swansen (pp. 24-35). I started on a provisional cast-on from the waist and knit UP, knitting and joining the sleeves before the yoke, so I could work through the way the spiral sections were formed. Then I knit down from the waist! The handspun originated as a Shetland moorit fleece from Joe Miller here in Maine, and I did not have a lot of it. The fact that I sometimes am not sure whether I have enough of my handspun to finish up a sweater as I would wish—one HUGE factor in my tendency to knit from the yoke down!

Tomorrow: (Or yesterday, if the blog mistress is a raging idiot) The Rainbow Spiral: Wherein I worship at the altar of Meg again but play with dyeing, spinning, and the two-color version.

*Lily Chin also has a useful article on “Fits that Flatter” in the most recent Vogue (Fall 2007, p 46+).

The Rainbow Spiral

Note from Stephanie: Dudes, it has become traditional, as I fall toward a book deadline and am reduced to singlular focus on that goal, for my good friend That Laurie to step up and guest blog. That Laurie is sadly, blogless (sorry Rachel H. …I mean “blog-free”) and these guest blogs are an opportunity for us to learn from her genius. That Laurie’s handspun, hand knit sweaters are always the darling of every fibre ball, and anyone who knows her knows that her answer to questions about how she comes up with this stuff is usually “I’ll do a guest blog and tell you”. Here you go. I couldn’t be more grateful for her timing. Please give a warm welcome to my friend and yours…That Laurie.

Before we spiral into spinning for a rainbow yoke, please note that Meg Swansen’s Spiral Yoke sweater is actually designed from the bottom up. Moreover, I freely acknowledge the appeal of that upward knitting trajectory. After all, knitting UP holds out the promise of the “exciting knitting” to get you through miles and miles of stockinette; perhaps as a result, knitting from the bottom up is by far the more common direction in sweater designs. In fact, most of the patterns I will mention here are written from the bottom up.

So why do I, perversely, insist on descending down the bodies of my yoke sweaters, perilously anchored on mathematical calculations that I could avoid? Top-down knitting is really the refuge of those, like me, who want to make shaping adjustments and check them by trying on the work in progress:

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(consider this a teaser for NEXT post!)

That’s the high-minded reason. But, basically, I have serious issues with sheer indecisiveness and yarn quantities. I always have trouble deciding about the bottom of the sweater: how long do I want it? What edging do I want? Will ribbing draw too much attention where I do not want it to go? Do I want a shirttail hem? Moreover, when I am using my handspun, I am never 100% sure how much I will need for a given sweater. I would rather run out as I barrel toward the bottom of the thing than just as I reach the upper parts of the yoke.

I may even have a VERY limited amount of something delicious that I have spun up. I know there is not enough for a sweater, but it will be enough for the yoke, as long as I knit from the top down.

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For this one, I had only four ounces of a precious, handdyed, shiny Icelandic roving, but I had a lot of black Galway in my stash! For both this sweater and the one featured in the previous post, I used mosaic stitches from Barbara Walker’s Mosaic Knitting for some rounds, increased the yoke, using EZ’s percentage system on the NON patterned rows, and changed the stitch pattern, if necessary, to accommodate the new number of stitches. Another good resource is Roxanne Barlett’s Slip Stitch Knitting”Slip-Stitch Knitting: Color Pattern the Easy Way” (Roxana Bartlett). It sounds more complicated than it is.

This strategy has appeared recently in Shannon Okey’s Spin to Knit; however, the use of handspun delights as yoke accents comes up in Spin-Off and in Lee Raven’s Hands on Spinning.

The decision between top-down or bottom-up is a very personal one, and, frankly, top-down sweaters pose unusual challenges. Folks who WANT to work from the top down but face a pattern with the other orientation have a few things to consider and some resources. The first question is whether your stitch pattern in the sweater looks the same from the bottom up as from the top down. Some do: stockinette, seed/moss stitch, ribbing of all kinds, and so on. If the stitch pattern DOESN’T look the same, well, you may want to rethink. Second is the vexing question of sleeve construction. Some, like set-in sleeves, require careful thought and work best in simultaneous sleeve-knitting.

The best resource for these matters that I know is Barbara Walker’s Knitting From The Top. Basically, she tells you how to convert ANY bottom-up sweater pattern into a top-down version. Raglan? Piece of cake! Fairisle or Icelandic Yoke sweater? No problem. Even set-in sleeves (as we shall see when I start mixing it up with Nora Gaughan.)

Where, you ask, is the rainbow spiral and what has it to do all this stuff about top down knitting? I am glad you asked! Since that sweater is basically stockinette, the straight knitting sections will look the same either way. The yoke, I thought, could be negotiated, but first I tested one of the variations on the spiral yoke sweater Meg Swansen offers:

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As you can see, this version gives you a two-color spiral, and it inspired me to imagine what I could do by using some of my handdyed roving with the slow color changes. (See the previous guest blogs on dyeing roving). Basically, I dyed my roving in a rainbow of colors, spun it and then navajo-plied it to keep the colors together. Then I went about knitting the Spiral yoke from the top down. To get the effect I wanted, I combined the two versions of the pattern: the stitches travel AND the two-color knitting introduces the rainbow.

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I even started from a provisional cast one so I could decide later how to treat the neck—I wasn’t so sure about how ribbing would work. Here is a closer look at the color changes:

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I admit to fudging JUST a little when it looked as if the gold section was going to be too dominant. And I miscalculated so that I had some colors left over from my rainbow spinning. So I used them for the cuffs. An excuse for a final picture:

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My bet is that this variation on the SYS (Spiral Yoke Sweater) would work just as well, though to slightly different effect, with a Noro yarn, perhaps Silk Garden Lite, which would match more closely the worsted commercial yarns you might want as a contrast.

Next time. Quiggling the Spiral: In which we explore yet another variation on the spiral yoke, this time using ribbing and color gradations produced in another way!

A woman on the edge

1. Ever since I came back from my trip and found this book in the bathroom:

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I have had an impending sense of doom and spotty internet service. Joe has “tweaked” the router into absolute uselessness. (He has also asked me for my “system disks” so that he can “improve” something on my laptop. I’m no idiot. He’s not touching anything until the book is done.) Just when I am about to beat it to a thousand tiny pieces with the blunt end of a hockey stick, the thing springs to life, delivers mail and blogs for mere moments before doing the electronic version of fainting dead away.

2. This is making me insane.

3. I have mere days to finish the book, and am alternately cackling that I am so close to the end, and sobbing that I still have so far to go. I have no idea how it always comes down to this. I am a bright, reasonable woman who has been down this path before. How do I manage to let the whole thing come down to such a wild place that I am yelling “do you want another piece of crazy pie? Just keep it up!” at my family.

4. Knitting socks is keeping me from slipping away into absolute senselessness.

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Finished. The Wollmeise socks ( yarn from the Loopy Ewe, but I don’t think she has any right now. She’s sneaky though.) I think it’s “spice market” that I had.

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My basic sock recipe, 2.25mm needles. Very pleased. Very pleased indeed.

5. I started another pair. I don’t know how I think knitting works, but it is entirely possible that my fixation with finishing the book is leading to fixations with finishing other things, and when these were not instantly finished…

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I thought about snipping them up with a sharp pair of pinking shears for daring to take a reasonable amount of time.

(They are too pretty though. Yarn is from Hazel Knits, with the very clever name “Sailors Delight“. Pattern is the ubiquitous monkeys. (Except I added a picot edge)

6. The house is trashed, but someone who is not writing a book needs to clean it up.

7. There is nobody who agrees with me that the house is trashed who is not writing a book. I have no idea how you can not see that this place is trashed, but this family has dirt immunity or something.

8. This is making me insane.

9. The garter stitch jacket is almost done. I still love it, but am harbouring some resentment that it is not finished as well. Maybe I only like finished things right now. (Maybe that explains why the kids are driving me wild.)

10. This may be a theme until the book is finished. Must go drink coffee now. Book waiting.

PS. For reasons I don’t understand at all (because when I load my own blog, I see pretty red monkey socks) some of you are saying you see tattooed ladies. I don’t know why. I choose to blame the router. I’m going to place the picture here again…….

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Better? I swear. Doesn’t technology save us SO MUCH TIME.

Last stop on the train

You know how when you travel, all you can think about is home and everyone there and how much you miss them, then you walk through the door and the kids are fighting and the house is a mess and you think “This is what I was missing? Was I out of my mind?” Not this time. Sure, the house is trashed and the daughters are engaged in a perennial argument about clothing possession, and I can’t tell you how badly we need a trip to the grocery store (I suspect that if the Wanigan box were not delivered without anyone doing anything, they would all be dead) and I don’t know what they have against the vacuum (you could make a whole new cat out of the dust buffalo roaming the dining room) …but for the most part, I am still so glad to see them…and near as I can tell, although with teenagers it’s tremendously complex…I think they missed me. I certainly feel appreciated by Joe. I’m hoping the general gratitude they all have lasts long enough for me to finish the book before the spell breaks.

Now, imagine if you will, that I am not home, that I am back in Virginia, and that I am still doing that part of my job.

I made my way from Atlanta, Georgia to Bailey’s Crossroads, Virginia, which is right smack next door to Washington DC. (That’s the Federal City, sort of like Vatican City. It’s it’s own whole place. ) My hotel was close to the event, rather than DC, but I had an interview there so I got to have a bit of a poke around. (Especially since I was lost, briefly.) It’s a beautiful city, and there is something spectacular everywhere you look, but it’s very hard to get close to all the really interesting stuff. (Like the White House, or the President. Pity. There are some questions I would like to ask him. ) Many, many things have fancy eagles on them:

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(This is another city where I have to be extra aware of poles and trees because the architecture you are looking “up” at puts you at risk of a nasty bonking.) I also saw the Pentagon, though it’s really hard to get at too.

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In real life it is bigger. Much bigger. Huge in fact. (Interesting facts I learned from my cab driver (I checked. He’s right about this stuff.) 23 000 people work there, it was built on a swamp/dump/wasteland in only 16 months, and it has twice as many bathrooms and drinking fountains as it needs because when it was built in 1941, Virginia required separated facilities for “coloured” and “white” personnel.)

That evening, after rewashing my hair to get the alarming amount of hairspray out of it, I turned up at the Borders and what should I find?

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Knitters. The place was filthy with ‘em. (The staff was right freaked.) Knitters in general, and knitters in specific.

Felicia and Brooklyn

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Laverne knit my Tiptoe socks

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The first sock brigade: Meghan, Laverne, Susan, Dale, Jaclyn, Lori, Becca, Jeni, Lee, Mazhalai, Meghan (another one) and finally Jo, with her 1st socks, version 3.0.

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Sharon outdid herself in the Bad First Sock Department:

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Seriously, the worst first sock ever. Sharon is competing at the Olympic level. Luckily, she recovered on the second pair, demonstrating that no matter how badly that first pair went,

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You can totally live to knit another day.

Speaking of competing at the Olympic level, Johann knit this in just about 16 days for the olympics.

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Amanda made a Virginia Washcloth, Gillian came up with “Virginia is for knitters” and Jane knit me one with a crab on it to be Maryland. (Maryland is not crab shaped. It’s another symbolic thing.)

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This is Mum Tamara, her baby Annabelle and her 3 and a half year old son Edison.

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Brace yourselves….

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Edison brought his knitting. (All together now… Awwww…)

Betsy and Ken were celebrating their 32 years of marriage.

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This is Crazy Lanae. (I’m pretty flipped out to meet her.) She brought me Black Sheep Ale, and conquered sock modelling right there.

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and I completed my set of Rainey sister meetings, since this is Sally.

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Michael turned up, Author of Knitting With Balls

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Dawn rocked it out with her yarn based tattoo

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Marseille knits tiny, tiny things…

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Our Esteemed hat lady, Claire.

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and finally, Daniel, who ran the gig for Borders, and I think everyone there will agree was totally Captain Charisma.

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When all was said and done I went to grab a pint with Eunny, MamaE and a few others, where, after the fantastic evening, I swear to you that I think I managed to Kinnear Barry Gibb.

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What he was doing in that place, I cannot say, but I have witnesses.

Atlanta charm

I’m writing from a cab, headed for the airport to go home, so even though my heart just leaps thinking that I’ve survived and tonight I sleep in my own bed, pretend I’m still on the road..I’ve got two more events to tell you about.

I arrived in Atlanta totally wiped out an a smidge on the cranky side. I found the bathroom and teetered in. I was standing there, waiting for my turn and all I could think was “Who does this? Who lives this way? I have got to be the only human being in the world this tired and worn out from travelling in the name of knit” when the door to the stall in front of me opened, and I just started to laugh.

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Vicky Howell. Seriously. What are the odds? If I hadn’t gone to the bathroom right then, if she hadn’t gone right then, if the person in the next stall had been a little quicker…totally bizarre. We stood and laughed about how crazy this whole flying around for knitting thing is, we confused the living daylights out of some poor women by photographing each other right there, and we parted. She for North Carolina and then Webs, and me for Atlanta and then Virginia.

It was a bizarre moment. Totally. If I didn’t have this picture I would think that I had hallucinated it.

Leaving Vicky and the airport, I staggered up to the hotel and met this fine gentleman.

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Anthony. Anthony should be, if he is not yet, the poster dude for the famous Southern Hospitality, which is really saying something, because the south OWNs hospitality. Don’t let his work face fool you either. This is the real Anthony.

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He was charming, gracious, welcoming and restored my faith in all of humanity, which is quite a feat, considering that I have been in so many airports, which really seems to bring out the worst in people. The ladies from Knitch who dropped by the hotel were just as entirely smitten with him. He defines elegant charm my friends…defines it. Restored by Anthony’s existence…I meant to blog but fell asleep, and when I woke up, it was time to wash airport off me, and go to Knitch.

I can’t say enough about this store. Kim, the owner is a lovely gal, who’s sensible and kind nature is only topped by her organizational skills and good thinking. Knitch went whole hog on this bad boy, and were rewarded with the attendance of 700 or so of their knitterly kin, and while their are few people who can handle that with grace (Steve and Kathy over at Webs managed too) it’s a big job keeping that many knitters rolling along, and she did a grand job.

Behold. The knitters of Atlanta! (and surrounding areas.)

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Terrifying. En masse they flipped me right out, but individually? Well. They flipped me out, but in a good way.

Adding to the general madness was the fact that it was International Talk Like a Pirate day, which I did, but only briefly. (It’s hard to maintain. I don’t know how the pirates did it.)

Heather and Arden. (You know my fondness for very young pre-knitters.)

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Angie, Jill, Marsha. Sara,

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and Cindy (sporting her 1st sock version 5.0), Holly, with a particularly sad first sock (that poor little white thing), Nina, Samira (her first three..none finished) and Michelle,

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In the “go big or go home” department, Deborah knit these knee highs.

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Aimee, ARRRRR.

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Jane and JP and were celebrating their birthdays,

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and Jane even wore the scarf she made out of my handspun that she won in Claudia’s auction. Very snazzy.

Courtney, who designed and screened me a tee shirt that Joe is going to laugh about for weeks.

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It says “Squirrel Killa”

Ashley, ARRRR!

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Mary and Lydia, with washcloths.

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(I am going to have one weird collection when we are done.

Gracious hat lady and wonderful hats.

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Meagan ARRRR!

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and finally, the whole team of staff and volunteers who kept the whole thing from going off the rails. If you’re ever in town, give them a visit. Knitch has a zen corner you can sit in. You wanna go.

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For now…dudes. I’m home. I am so happy.

Putting one sock in front of the other

I think the last time I was this tired, I had a newborn. You will have to forgive me for being a bad blogger and not keeping it together on the posting front, but every time I get more than 20 minutes in one place where I don’t have a job to do, I opt for sleep or food. (Mostly sleep.) Opportunities to blog present themselves in 10 minute intervals (like now, I have 10 minutes before I need to go do an interview) and while I ususally find time to blog in airports while I wait for planes, this morning something came over me and I just ….knit. It was grand. I had a whole hour (you can’t really sleep in an airport) and I watched “Boston Legal” on my laptop and knit. Very restorative, though I have developed a disturbing crush on William Shatner. (It’s probably the exhaustion talking.)

The last time I wrote I had left New Orleans and gotten on a plane or two and headed for Texas. Houston, to be exact, and upon my arrival I (slept) and then staggered off to a spectacular event put together by Eve and Shelley, the fine owners of Twisted Yarns, which is in my humble opinion, a very, very nice yarn shop.

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(I bought yarn. I have developed very high resistance to yarn shops – largely promoted by the knowledge that anything I buy I will have to carry for days in a suitcase that’s plenty heavy already. Even so, when that rare beast, a yarn shop that seems to be stocked according to my personal taste appears…I am helpless.) On my way to the yarn shop, having squandered all 2 of my precious sightseeing hours on sleep and basic hygiene, I saw these guys.

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Freaky, eh? Who are these little guys? I tried to get a sock picture with them, but they startle easily and are very quick, and I think they were slightly alarmed by all of the sock brandishing. “Slightly alarmed” also describes the hotel staff, watching me sneak ever so quietly and slowly around their garden, camera and sock aloft. I’ve never seen anything like them. The bottom guy had a big red thing that he could blow up under his neck. Totally weird, and worth the trip just to see them.

(Whoops. My 10 minutes are up. I’ll try again when I get back.

Ok. I’m back. Quick but terrifying tv interview where I was attacked wholesale in a makeup booth by a woman who put scary tv makeup on me and then sighed and said ” and WHAT will we do with your HAIR!” and then came at me with aerosol hairspray out of freakin’ nowhere. There was no time to defend myself at all. My hair is immobile now, and sadly, still frizzy. I could have told her there was no point if she had given me time. )

Where was I? Right. Houston.

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The event was in a high school next to the store and I had a pretty good time, once I settled in. I had a seriously good time back at the store after the time of my trial. This is Gus and Hannah.

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Gus is a serious baby, and is almost unique in the world in that my considerable baby charming skills meant nothing to him. He was totally immune. He liked me, he looked at me intently, but nothing i did…not “ahhh – boo!” (which is very funny to most babies) nor my exceedingly baby amusing fish imitation…nor the big gun…pretending to eat his leg, coaxed a smile out of him. Stoneface. Dude should take up poker. (You know. When he can hold cards.) Witnesses will agree that I went to tremendous lengths, but he is immune.

I found the youngest knitter of the evening,

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Tonie, 10 years old and a perfectly competent knitter. We should all be so solid.

Dolores may have had some trouble with gauge:

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but prefers to say that “everything is bigger in Texas”. (I love that knitterly denial let her make a pair.)

Zari is knitting an anatomically correct fair isle cuttlefish, which she, naturally is calling “the cuddlefish”. He still needs a siphon and some tentacles.

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(No. I didn’t ask her why. Sometimes it’s better not to. )

Teri wants to help me get over my spider thing:

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so she made a spider washcloth. (Also soap with plastic spiders imbedded in it. I know where she’s going with it, but even the thought of rubbing pretend spiders on my skin gives me the heebies. Much inner work to be done, apparently.

Freida went the traditional state shape direction….

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while Lynn ann made me one with the lone star, and no, I didn’t tell her it was a tremendous co-incidence that Texas was shaped like a star. (I had already gotten the tip off from Freida.)

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Cheasty represented for the non-knitters who like me even though they don’t really get all the jokes…

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David represented for the male knitters wearing utilikilts and hand knit hose.

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(There are more of them than you think)

Amanda proved that my sock recipe works. This is her first sock.

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Sara was no end of interesting.

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See her hat? She wanted to make a hat with a firm round brim, so she disected an idea organizer and got the plastic ring out if it. Good thinking, eh? She’s also wearing a pretty nifty lace bolero. Now, me and lace boleros are pretty heavy with the “not so much” but I loved the way that the pattern she used handled colour changes.

The thing is knit with three strands of laceweight, and the colours shift by swapping out one of those strands at a time. The first section would be purple/purple/purple, then purple/purple/red, then purple/red/ red……see how that would create the shift? Very cool. The bolero is the The bolero is the Merging Colors Feather & Fan Bolero, in the Caribbean Sunset colorway, from Candace Eisner Strick. (There are tons of cool things on that link) and if you hang out at Sara’s blog, (which I really suggest, should you enjoy tech stuff about knitting) I bet you’ll see the hat pattern up as a freebee sometime soon.

Finally, last but certainly not least,

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our Houston hat lady, Emily. (She sells European sock yarn here. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.)

All in all, a very good time in Texas, I’d love to go back, especially with more time to investigate, though those strange little lizard guys were a high point. There’s nothing like that at home.

PS. I know someone will ask. The yarn I fell for was Jojoland’s Harmony. It’s a laceweight. A very nice all wool effort that changes colour in long swathes…like Noro or the Kauni yarn.

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I love it but have no idea what I’ll do with it, maybe this, but really, for this price for 800m/880 yards?

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Who cares.

A trip to New Orleans

I’ve struggled a lot with how to write about New Orleans. I feel like Katrina defines so much of what is there now, but it’s such an old and spectacular city that I somehow don’t want it to be defined only by that awful thing. I keep starting to write, and finding that I want to be weeping and wailing and gnashing my teeth, feeling mournful for what this city lost without even understanding what they lost…since I’m not even from here, and pretending that I could have any real sense of it gained in an afternoon feels like it would be demeaning to them. Then I delete everything I write and try to just write about how stunningly beautiful, and interesting and wildly enthralling the place is, and then I realize I’m gushing and delete all of that. The mind numbing thing about New Orleans right now, is that it is both. Sad and happy, devastating and uplifting, thrilling and crushing. Right next to each other will be something repaired and beautiful and old and fantastic right down to its very molecules, and right next to that will be something just as ruined and sad and….it’s almost impossible to take ten steps in the city without goggling at one wonder or another while simultaneously having your heart broken. As much as I watch the news and read the papers, I don’t think that I had any real sense of what had happened, or the enormous scope of it. In the complete absence of the ability to sort out my reaction to it, and what the right thing to say is,

I’ve decided just to let it roll. My tour of New Orleans was graciously given by Dez, who also makes an absolutely Kick Ass veggie gumbo.

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The French Quarter was stunning beyond all. There was wrought and cast iron everywhere. Buildings with Spanish style architecture are everywhere (which struck me as sort of odd, considering that it’s the French Quarter) but of course:

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I need to remember what little history I know. Mardi Gras beads hang year round from some of the balconies and trees, and it’s like coming upon little sparkling treasures everywhere you look.

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We walked (and ate) our way through the streets, hot and steamy with my hair huge and ships going by on the wide Mississippi while we went. I saw a band, made up only of a man with a tuba and a man with an upright bass, playing fantastic jazz while a tarot card reader sorted out peoples destinies feet away. I looked for good sock pictures.

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(This is an Alligator, not a crocodile and if you make that mistake you are quickly corrected by every person within earshot.) I laughed and laughed as I came upon balconies dripping with enormous plants that are wee potted things in Toronto.

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It’s like everything green in New Orleans is on steroids. We went to a very beautiful yarn/ needlepoint shop in the French Quarter, (The Quarter Stitch) and the place was like a jewel box.

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Despite the way they wrap up the yarn that you buy like it’s your birthday and how tempted I was to buy something just so that I would get a pretty bag, only Dez had a falling down and my virtue remained intact. Nevertheless, that can all really take it out of a girl, and I recovered the best way I ever have.

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Coffee and beignets at the Cafe du Monde, out in the open air with ceiling fans spinning in the heat above us and live street jazz and people laughing and just beside us, the river with boats and ferrys going along. The menu at Cafe du Monde is printed on the side of the napkin box and I’m pretty sure all you can order is Café au lait or black coffee with chickory, and the only question about the beignets is how many. They take your order and bring you your things in about 2 minutes, and the whole shebang cost $7 for the two of us, with a tip.

It was one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had. Ever, and I don’t say that lightly. I almost laughed myself stupid when Dez deliberately sweetened her café au lait by tipping some of the sugar from her beignet into it. Very efficient. Cafe du Monde is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but took 2 months to reopen after Katrina.

Then we drove through some other parts of the city. The French Quarter and much of the old city are on high (comparatively) ground and they sustained some minor flooding and significant wind damage. With the occasional exception of a building where the owners didn’t have insurance, the insurance hasn’t paid out or there is some other big issue,

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most of the stuff there is fixed up. I think you can see that the French Quarter is beautiful. As you begin to drive out of the Quarter, the ground begins to slope, ever so slightly, and the amount of damage you see begins to be significant. There are whole communities where they have lost their schools, their stores…all the places that support a community and make it possible for people to live there.

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It’s a catch 22 for them. The people can’t come back (HALF of the population of New Orleans is gone.) if there aren’t things like stores, but the stores can’t rebuild (even if they have the money) if they aren’t going to have any customers.

By the time you get into the 9th ward, where the water was very deep, it starts to look like a third world country.

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The incredible thing is that people are living here. These are their homes and they can’t afford to move. Most of them didn’t have insurance, and if they did, some of them got screwed. Some of them can’t afford the repairs so they are doing it themselves, slowly..as the find the money. Many of them don’t have jobs any more, because their places of employment are in the same condition. Beside most of these houses there is a small white FEMA trailer. That’s where they are still living, two years later. It’s easy to be angry. Two years later thousands of citizens of a superpower country are living like this? I know it’s expensive, but it makes you wonder why they aren’t cancelling all the gala’s at the White House to divert money to these communities until its fixed. I doubt anyone would complain. It’s also easy to be impressed…since I cannot believe what enormous work has happened in the last two years to get trucks out of trees and boats out of of roads, and move the mud and the garbage in the streets and put the power and gas back on….and the huge amount of engineering repair that has happened to just get and keep the city dry is impressive alone. Somebody has seriously busted a move in this place. It just seems….stalled.

I found it incredible the way the consequences of the hurricane are viciously unbalanced. Compare these two schools two years after Katrina. The first is a public school in the 9th ward, the second, a private Catholic school in the old part of the city.

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Admittedly, the old part took mostly only wind damage and not wind and extensive flooding, but still…the consequences and the way they are divided are unbelievable. To paint it with broad strokes, all the people who are least equipped to cope in this disaster are the ones with the most to cope with. On our way to the bookstore, we saw some of the old and beautiful homes in the garden district. These sit on higher ground and suffered terrible wind damage, but not as much flooding. The wind damage shouldn’t be underestimated though, it’s tremendous. One old church had its entire spire ripped off. Almost everyone had their roof trashed and their windows blown out. In some cases trees falling did a lot of damage.

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For the sake of history it’s a lovely thing that these homes weren’t taken out, and that the people living in them are affluent enough to have adequate insurance to bring them back. It’s stunning through this part of the city. I love the “live oak” trees.

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I would find it incredible that there would be an old an beautiful live oak next to a smashed up house. The things are built to last.

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Dez pointed out that they grow in a slightly twisted, spiral growth pattern. I didn’t get it at first, but she asked me what happens in spinning when you twist fibres. “They get stronger,” I said. “Oh….I get it. Holy Crap Dez, are you saying the trees are PLIED?” She was. Nature is a smart cookie. We journeyed on, arriving at the bookstore at almost the last minute (everyone needs a little adrenaline now and then) and I met the Knitters of New Orleans….

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Er…sorry about that. I have no idea why, but my camera didn’t take the pictures of the crowd. Some weird New Orleans voodoo. It apparently perked up later, and I got a few fantastic ones. (I think I figured out what goes wrong actually, there’s a little wheel with settings on the back and if it’s between settings…er, that’s what you get. I think the wheel gets turned while it’s kicking around in my bag. I’m onto it now. I hope the knitters can forgive me this time.) It was a small but thoroughly charming crowd. thoroughly. Evidence? You bet.

This is Allie and her brand spanking new knitting tattoo. So new it’s still pink.

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This is Christina and her knitting tattoo.

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This is Christina and Allie laughing because they both thought they would be the only ones with knitting tattoos.

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This is Debbie B, saying hi to Ms Too Much Wool.

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and this is Sarah, knitting tiny, tiny, teeny tiny socks for preemies.

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This is Martha, blaming me for enabling her right into a Kauni Cardigan of her own…

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(I’m not sorry either.)

Ashpags!

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She brought me a little of the fabulous Cafe du monde coffee to make in hotel rooms. I may love her entirely and forever.

This is Dez with a wee New Orleans gift for me.

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A squirrel voodoo doll. (I am armed so many ways now. Do not speak to Lime and Violet about this.)

Finally, Dez, fulfilling her role as hat lady,

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seen here with the charming Vanessa who gave me a ride back to the hotel, which was incredibly fortunate, since as we were driving along…we saw this. Vanessa was beside herself, saying that these are rare and wondrous.

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It’s a bottle tree. They are an African idea, transported to the American south with the slaves, and it’s a remarkable and beautiful thing. It’s in the front yard of an ordinary house in an middle class neighbourhood. Some of the houses are repaired, some are still trashed, stalled without insurance to fix their homes. Some of the people got their insurance money but are waiting to see if the community comes back before they rebuild. Many people, moved out of their modern 3 and 4 bedroom homes are living in tiny trailers next to their homes. These people are. You can see their unused home on the left of the bottle tree and the trailer on the right.

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Here they are, living in a trashed neighbourhood with their trashed house and this crude little trailer and half of the people they know have moved away and things sort of suck, and what do they do? A bottle tree. Bottles are hung in a dead tree, along with other sparklies. Bad spirits and luck are attracted to the bottles, go in, and can’t get out. When the wind blows across the bottle tops you can hear them, but they are stuck. It’s meant to improve things for you.

It’s hopefulness, and I think it’s really something remarkable that people who lost everything two years ago and don’t have it back yet, would come out of this cruddy trailer and make something this beautiful in the hopes of improving their lot. There’s a small sign on the tree that reads “rebirth”.

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I loved it. I wonder if they are knitters?

Catching up

All right. This is going to be a long entry, but at least it will get me back on “real time”. There’s something tremendously weird about writing about cities you left two days ago while flying through other ones…so I’m going to do LA and Wichita and get back on the horse that threw me. I’ll try not to leave too much out.

In Los Angeles….

I think that I can’t be the only one who finds LA a little hard on the ol’ self esteem. There is an alarmingly high ratio of tall, beautiful people compared to us ordinary souls, and it usually doesn’t take long for me, the shabby and usually bra-less to feel out of place. Add into this that I was in a downtown hotel on the eve of the Emmy’s (thus increasing the number of tall beautiful people) and you can see how it might get to you. It didn’t though, because this time when I was in LA…I got to walk among my people. (Not that they aren’t tall and beautiful…but you know what I mean.)

I spoke at the LA public Library in their Auditorium (The next speaker is Alan Alda. I’m feeling sort of flattered about that.) It’s a beautiful space.

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The knitters, as always, were the very best part. A sampling….

Meet Kris and Andrew..representing for the um….Cute pre-knitters and their charming mothers.

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Shirley. Representing for the Wool Pigs.

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She gave me this one. It’s made out of her very own handspun. (It’s a finger puppet, and I have already used it to amuse a baby sitting in front of me on a flight. The baby was as charmed as I was.)

There was the first sock crew, representing for those taking the plunge everywhere. Here’s Robin,

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Kate (her first socks are a Mens size 13.)

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Laura (who also donated some beautiful stuff for Knitters Without Borders)

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Rose’s first socks were her olympic project…

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Anna’s 1st socks were shamelessly shredded by her husband.

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Lynda’s first sock may have had some gauge problems.

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Annette had potomatamus….(I am never going to be able to spell that)

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Collen did just fine too.

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Amanda had a whole pair of first socks…but I am too kind to post her picture. (Sorry Amanda. If you saw it you would thank me. ) Lori made me a washcloth with a golden snitch, and Kristie made me a California one.

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Finally, the lovely and charming Jean, hat lady #1

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and Wendy from the Sand and Sea Knitting Guild who was hat lady #2 . You know you gotta love a city where an abundance of hat ladies turns up.)

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Exhausted by the good times and flurry of first socks, Wendy took me to Little Tokyo where I had a good beer, ate some awesome tempura, window shopped a Japanese dollar store,

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and then returned to the hotel where I was in bed by 8:00 so the early morning rise wouldn’t hurt…which it did anyway. (The irony of missing the Emmys on TV when they are practically next door to you is still funny to me.)

It turns out that the thing about LA? It doesn’t count if you’re a knitter. All knitters are beautiful, and some of them are even short.

Wichita, Kansas.

I think I might be in love with this city, just a little bit. It’s nothing like home, which I always like, (not that I don’t like home, I just appreciate the differences a lot) and it is long and low and flat and a breeze blows all the time. (This is, I think, because there are no trees or hills to break it up.)

The other interesting thing about Wichita, is that it is “The Air Capital of The World” (I read that on a sign) because their have a massive number of airplane building companies and a big Air Force Base. The interesting-est thing about that?

They have a really, really little airport.

They do have really, really a lot of knitters.

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They have Melissa and her entirely cutie-pie baby Ella (shown here simply because I cannot resist her little pixie face.)

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and they have Ingrid.

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Ingrid just finished basic training in the Army, and she had the following fantastic story to tell me. She was knitting during some period of waiting at a hospital, and her Sergeant came in and saw her.

“Are you KNITTING soldier? I have never seen a SOLDIER KNIT.”

Ingrid, without missing a beat, replied:

“Would the Sergeant rather I was wasting my time or being productive, SIR.”

He looked her up and down, thought about it, and replied:

“Carry on Soldier.”

Beth had a Missouri washcloth, which is excellent, since I don’t think I’ve ever been there. (Although I might have…things are a little blurry around my edges.)

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(Beth appears to be a little blurry too. Sorry about that.)

Beverly knit me a Kansas washcloth with a buffalo on it….

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Which I totally missed the point of and remarked on the incredible irony that Kansas, having so many bufffalo was also buffalo shaped! (It isn’t. I’m an idiot. To her credit, Beverly didn’t totally fall down laughing at the dumbass Canadian.) Her shirt reads ” I knit because the voices tell me to….” (I love that.)

Annell knit me a washcloth with the actual right shape of Kansas on it…

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which turns out to be not at all buffalo shaped, but rather rectangular.

There were knitting kids galore, this is Miranda, sporting a “knit” tattoo.

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(It’s not real. It came from Twist, which has such devoted fans that it must be one of the worlds great yarn shops.)

And this is the lovely trio of Avalon, Molly and Elodie.

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Knitters all three.

There was more, much more, but dudes, I have got to get to the end of this. I am in New Orleans, and I have 3 hours free, and as much as I love you, love Kansas and have entire and wholehearted dedication to both, I am not so far gone as a blogger that I can miss a chance to see this place.

I’m going to leave you with this. It came via Carin (filling in as big helper over at Lime and Violet) was made by DragonMadKnitter, and is the brainchild of the aforementioned two podcasting terrors.

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It’s a felted squirrel, and he has a note that reads:

Deer Harlot,

We, the members of the Squirrel Fleece Liberation Front, have your fleece.

If you ever wants to sees it again, leave six pounds of nuts beside the back door.

And No More Trapses!

PSes. Limes and Violets made us write this. They offered us sunflowers seeds and we cant’ resists them. They are going to sell you fleeces on ebays and make moneys to take over the world they says.

I really hope nobody searches my bag at customs. This one is going to be hard to explain.