Saturday, March 31, 2012

Put on an appy face?

Tangerine Tango is the new beige!
Because I'm lucky enough to have three techies in the family, I can usually get first aid with whatever computer-related issue is driving me berserk. There's a price to pay, however, which is the derision conveyed by my sons when I ask about something that every eight-year-old can do while simultaneously talking, eating, reading, and watching tv. Recently, for instance, I asked them how to download photos from the I- phone to my computer. The eldest replied, via email, "Momma, you torment me."

I have no ego invested in this, you may well believe.

I try to keep my tech needs simple, avoiding unnecessary frippery. Hence my Fear of Apps. What is more aggravating than downloading an app?  The Ipad or I-phone is always rejecting my password because I can't seem to type it correctly (do you know anyone who can type accurately on a virtual keyboard?) or I misremember it, and then if I muff it more than three times I have to reset the password.  Totally not worth the trouble. The few apps I've managed to download seem to have arrived from the ether-world in spite of my fumbling.

This is all a prelude to a brief discussion of two knitting apps I've recently played with. The first, Yarn U, was a freebie (it normally costs $2.99) from its creator who asked me to review it. When I emailed her with some questions that arose after I looked at it for awhile, no answers were forthcoming. Here's what I don't understand about this app, and possibly some of you, gentle knitters, have insights to share that would diminish my puzzlement.

  • What are the selection criteria for the yarns in the sizable, but by no means inclusive, array?
  • Who writes the cheerleader copy attached to each demo skein? Why should I believe the cheerleader's honeyed recommendations? What are her knitting credentials?
  • Why are most of these yarns listed for sale mainly at (a mere 2,493 miles from my New England abode, as Yarn U's mileage indicator cheerily informs me)? 

Ex post facto I read through some of the reviews at the I-Tunes Store, and two at the top caught my eye:  "Not comprehensive enough to be useful," and "Pretty, but not very useful."  To which I say: "Yes."


Then, last week I was in Florida for some leisurely knitting accompanied by swimming, and decided to try out another app, Yarn Store GPS ($2.99).  I like the idea of this app, inasmuch as traveling is, for me,  a way to explore local yarn suppliers.  How nifty to have a gizmo on my phone that would take me to the closest LYS, no matter where in the world I was!

So here's the thing:  I activated Yarn Store GPS as I was being shuttled from the Fort Lauderdale airport to Boca Raton. The app indicated that there was indeed a yarn store in Boca, and showed me exactly where it was in relation to the moving vehicle in which I sat--about six miles away. I was impressed by the concise information, GPS map, and other nifty graphics. The app took me to the website of Great Balls of Yarn, which seemed to be a place worth visiting. What I discovered, however, when I Googled "yarn stores Boca Raton West Palm Beach Florida"on my Ipad, is that there are approximately four or five other LYS in the Boca vicinity, and these weren't listed on Yarn Store GPS.

More questions arise:

  • How does Yarn Store GPS decide on its listings? 
  • Do yarn stores pay to be included? 

As with Yarn U, I began to sense that the assortment offered as definitive was hardly an unbiased overview.

If apps like Yarn U and Yarn Store GPS (both sold by Sutro Media, by the way, though I didn't realize this at first download) state up front that their listings are partial and/or selective, that's fine. Honesty is always the best policy. But since they don't, the unsuspecting knitter who spends her hard-earned money on these babies is either going to be manipulated or annoyed.  Or both.

In conclusion: put the $6 you will save by not buying these apps towards knitting supplies.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Guts and glory

The quilt-inspired Log Cabin Afghan is nearing completion.

The closest I've been to mathematics since barely squeaking by trigonometry in high school, is knitting. (Music employs counting, not math.) Honestly, I love the geometry of knitted textiles, and discovering Kaffe Fassett's Glorious Knits book in 1985 was mind-expanding (not that I made any of its lyrical, geometric patterns. At that point, with two small kids and multiple teaching jobs, I hadn't time to fact, I gave it up for nearly twenty years).

But the thing about a great knitting book is that you don't have to follow its instructions. You can enjoy its inspirational qualities--images, ideas, and designs that are springboards to future projects. During The Years of Knitting Withdrawal there was a lot of unconscious processing. I returned to my needles about twelve years ago with a stronger sense of color and design. Naturally I was thrilled when a review copy of KF's latest book, Knitting With the Color Guys:  Inspiration, Ideas, and Projects from the Kaffe Fassett Studio (co-authored with Brandon Mably, published by Sixth and Spring Books), recently appeared in the mail.

In the score of years between Glorious Knits and The Color Guys, Fassett and Mably produced a wealth of design books focused on decor, quilting, and needlepoint, as well as knitting. Throughout, though, there's been a consistent reiteration and incremental development of colorwork and geometric themes, most inspired by historic or classic patterns and/or decorative arts. Thus it was interesting to compare the bookends, as it were.

To cite only one example, a classic quilting pattern, "Tumbling Blocks," appears as a sweater design in Glorious Knits, while in The Color Guys it has been distilled into a rectangular "Trapezoidal Throw." It's about as close as you can come to painting in knitting, I think.

But once you start seeing artful geometry in knitting, it's everywhere. (What is it about textiles that makes us love their patterned repetitions?) My estimable friend Neuroknitter dropped by yesterday with a package of the world's greatest Girl Scout Cookies (chocolate thin mints, of course) and several examples of her stunning hand-dyed yarn in the form of socks and a clapotis shawl-in-process whose patterning depends on a rhythmically raveled stripe. What a treat!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

One thing leads to another...

Perhaps you saw the Flavorwire piece by Emily Temple on The Twenty Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World that's been making Internet rounds. I forwarded it to the several folks I know who still buy actual books with actual money. One of them--a rising star in the world of standup comedy who happens also to be a blood relative--offered to take me to The Last Bookstore, a Los Angeles biblio-temple noted in the article, when I went west last week. Thus I found myself trolling its aisles on Thursday, the first of March.

The bibliophile-comedian browses.

Notice the floating quasi-sculptural panels in the background.  These are assembled from deconstructed books.
So, the appealing features of The Last Bookstore are its funky Atheneum-like furniture, the mosaic tile floor, the lofty, coffered ceiling, the decorative floating wall panels evoking ecclesiastical murals, and the stately columns. A cashier told me the building was, in a prior incarnation, a bank. That was obviously when banks were Temples of Mammon rather than drive-thru ATMs.

Oh, and all the books for sale at The Last Bookstore are used and quite reasonably priced.

Naturally, I checked out the Knitting section.  This is what I found:

Knit Knit:  Profiles and Projects from Knitting's New Wave, by Sabrina Gschwandtner (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2007).  (A signed copy, no less!) This is what I read on the plane as I returned to Rhode Island.

What you won't find in Knit Knit are conventional knitting patterns for clothing. You'll find patterns for a giant teddy bear knitted from fiberglass strips, for a large, loose sweater that's knitted into a wall, for a knitted banner that proclaims "I'm So Angry," and for "Mini-Sweater Earrings," to mention only several.

The wearable clothing featured is, to say the least, edgy, and even if you can't see yourself knitting up one of these patterns, they are all, from a design perspective, thought-provoking and inspirational. For me, the book is great not just because it links the featured patterns to their creators, some of whose names will be familiar to you (e.g. Norah Gaughan, Annie Modesitt). It's great because it shows you how designers who are truly original see and think about knitting. People who are artists--no matter what the medium--view life in a way that those who aren't cannot. By gathering and presenting these profiles and patterns, Knit Knit offers an exuberant discourse on creativity, original thinking, and what it means to be an artistic soul.

I hope there's a Knit Knit sequel forthcoming.