Sunday, June 28, 2009

The fascination of the abomination

Some years ago, when I was laboring in the satanic mills of academia, an element of my survival strategy was, as one of my fave poets aptly wrote, to catch the joy as it flies. This meant that I deliberately sought random forms of cheap entertainment as a way to tune out the noisome atmosphere of the workplace. (Note: I still do this, but now rely on different rationales to justify my habit.) One principal diversion was an extremely hilarious blog--alas, defunct since 2006--called "You Knit What?" ( On arriving at my office, I'd boot up the computer and, even before listening to officious voicemails, printing out my class plan, or scanning the crap retrieved from the faculty mailbox in the department lobby, immediately pull up "You Knit What?" anticipating a merriment injection strong enough to override the day's onslaught of neurotic encounters with my so-called colleagues.

Seldom was this blog disappointing. Its creators had a knack for finding pattern-book photos of hideous and demented-looking knitted articles that some very odd people, somewhere, had taken time to make. Commentary on these items, provided by the bloggers as well as readers, was usually as amusing as the items themselves, sometimes more so. Frequently I laughed so raucously that other faculty members on my floor noted the disturbance and made inquiries.

As the world has been bereft of "You Knit What?" for three years, I've rarely since had the opportunity to see a pattern as hideous as most of those featured on the blog. Except I suddenly find myself in the strange position of knitting something which, if not de facto hideous, is so weird that it's difficult to believe I'm actually continuing to work on this thing. But frankly, it's as if I'm spellbound. As I continue to knit, the thing in question becomes ever stranger, and I need to finish in order to find out exactly how strange it will be. The fascination of the abomination indeed.

Since you're now intensely curious to know what the abominable thing in question is, I shall confess: it is a set of "partner mittens" ( This is a free download from a German yarn company, Schackenmayr, and I should have known it was problematic when the instructions, horribly translated, made little or no sense and required two trips to Mystic River Yarns for consults with Gale McGee, who finally penetrated the mystery of the idiosyncratic language and helped me to continue.

Why am I doing this? Obviously it's not just about being enthralled by the weirdness of it all. It's because I'm making these mittens as a gift. But who would want a gift that looks as weird as this?

My dear friends B and F are perhaps the world's cutest couple d'un certain age. A few years ago they found each other--or re-found each other, since they'd been friends since college--while rehabilitating from painfully-terminated marriages. But now they have each other, are living together (very beautifully!), creating a life filled with joy and mutual respect. They are sometimes prone to PDAs, and as a way of supporting that inclination, I thought, "Why not make them a set of partner mittens?" The only pattern I could find online at the time of inquiry was that which I'm mashing my way through.

I'm just about finished with the partner mitten, a misshapen lump with two cuffs, that allows lovers to hold hands warmly. I made the man's left hand and the woman's right hand, realizing that some of the work would have to be ripped out and redone, since the measurements for thumb and finger length specified by the pattern are all wrong. But there you have it. I'm forging ahead. How will my dear friends respond to this gift? Should I even give it to them once it's completed? And so this tale is to be continued.

Coda: I just found this pattern online for "lovers' mittens," aka partner mittens: It seems really sane. And so a new element enters the mix.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where sheep may safely graze (sort of)

In case you're not up on the latest thrilling news about the weather in New England, this spring hasn't been optimal in terms of sun and fun. Think rain along the lines of Noah's fludde for most of the past two months (or maybe it just seems that way). H and most other gardeners are beyond frustrated because little is germinating, lengthening, or otherwise doing as it should at this time of year, save for the grass, which grows apace and has to be cut as soon as the rain ceases--which it does intermittently--to keep a roaring prairie from overtaking the areas surrounding our house.

Yesterday the sun made a rare appearance and we began the protracted celebration of our summer solstice wedding anniversary (#11!) by driving to Beaver Brook Farm, in Lyme, Connecticut. ( to commune with sheep, cows, fiber, and cheese.

Several kinds of sheep are raised at Beaver Brook, including (if I remember correctly) Corriedale, Romney, Friesians, and Dorsets. Their fleece is varied in color and texture. The yarn for sale is high in lanolin and fairly coarse. It's well priced at $14 for a two-ply 240 yard skein. Colors are varied shades of natural (I bought two creamy white ones), including marled brown and white, and some appealingly vegetable-dyed shades of cadet blue, Nantucket red, and sage green. My guess is that the wool softens a lot after washing, but since it's lanolin-enriched, it's ideal for heavy-duty outerwear. The farm's shop also sells yarn wound onto cones, and it's priced by the pound--that comes out a bit cheaper than per skein, so would make sense to purchase for large projects.

The farm sells dairy products made from cow and sheep milk--it was quite interesting to watch the sheep in their milking stanchions. (They were not wholly placated by the blue buckets of feed placed before them.) The farm sells meat as well, and at Beaver Brook, perhaps more so than at less bucolic establishments, one is confronted with the cognitive dissonance of contented cows and sheep and gamboling lambs (who are insanely cute, very tame and friendly, and freely roam the farmyard), and their ultimate disposition.

We concluded the trip by having lunch in Niantic, and walking along the shore, where Niantic Bay flows into Long Island Sound. It was a lovely excursion, and today it's raining again. Supposed to continue until the middle of next week. What is so rare as a day in June? A day without rain?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fiber is good for you.

We came, we sat, we knitted. Three staunch members of the Langworthy Library Knitting Association celebrated World Wide Knit in Public day (WWKIP), June 13th, in Wilcox Park, Westerly. A passerby told us that we "looked like a picture," whereupon I whipped out my camera and asked if she'd mind photographing us. After almost two hours, we declared our demonstration a success and adjourned to Bruna's Table, a lovely bistro on Canal Street, for lunch. Inspired by the positive energy of our actions, we began laying plans for a more comprehensive celebration next year.

Friday, June 12, 2009

All we like sheep...

Yet another sheep-shearing demo, this time using modern implements (electric razor) in contradistinction to the historically-correct blades wielded by the shearing re-enactor at Coggeshall Farm (see post of 18 May 2009).  Site of depilation was Swiss Village Farm in Newport, RI (, a foundation dedicated to the salvation of rare and endangered breeds of farm animals, open to the public once a year (6 June 2009).  Sheep pictured were Tunis.  Note the noble border collie resting to the right of sheep pen; he was quite amazing in action.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Day to Remember

Saturday, June 13th is World-Wide Knit in Public Day.  I'll be at Wilcox Park in Westerly, by the fountain, at 10 a.m., with others from the Langworthy Library Knitting Association. Here's a preview of what we'll be doing. (Photo taken outside the Hopkinton City post office, today at 4.30 p.m.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

...the race is not to the swift...

I would have to say that time and chance verily played their role in my recent acquisition of a yarn swift (viz. also, while we're in quote mode,  L. Pasteur, below). It was scarcely ten days ago that an email from drifted into the Inbox, advertising a wooden umbrella-style swift at a surprisingly reasonable price (plus free shipping, the clincher) and I knew the moment had arrived.  

I had wanted one of these babies for years, not just because they alleviate the tedium and messy frustration of hand-winding a skein into a ball, but because the yarn swift fulfills several other requirements essential to the smooth delivery of knitting joy--notably, its ancient lineage (the design hasn't changed since the 17th century, perhaps earlier), its goofily practical mechanics, and by extension, the sense of play it brings to a necessary task.  

It was a long time coming, insofar as yarn swifts are usually big-ticket items, and for years I could never quite bring myself to justify the expenditure when a chair-back or someone's (he knows who he is) outstretched hands could be requisitioned. But finally the time and price were right.  Is my life better now that I've finally acquired this nifty toy?


Because...I was able to assemble the thing on my own (it doesn't come with instructions, implying that what you need to do is obvious, except of course for mechanically-impaired people comme moi.  In the end I had to call Knitpicks, and the voice at the other end said there was a how-to video on the website.  That was the key to my success.); and especially because it winds the skeins into beautiful firm balls of yarn, far nicer than the hand-rolled kind.  (I want to make a bunch and display them in a basket, they're so lovely!)  And in the act of winding, one paradoxically unwinds; the process unfolds at a meditative pace, conducive to serenity.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.  Ecclesiastes 9:11.