Friday, July 28, 2006

Fiberology 101: The Origin of Yarn

I am not sure if I have a yarn stash or a yarn infestation.

But I do have a working theory as to where yarn comes from.


Yarn is actually garment larvae. I can prove this with these never-before seen photos of actual wool garments in full mating display. In the following photo, we can see the colorful male garment showing off his size and prowess while the less brightly plumaged female exhibits her willingness to copulate by lounging seductively and emitting wool pheromones:

In the second photo, the pair has been captured in the act of mating:

During gestation, the female hides in a dark closet until the eggs are ready to be laid, when she will seek out a suitable nesting site. The following photo shows a green-skinned subspecies in the egg-laying stage. She everts her highly elastic cloaca to allow a new skein of mauve-colored yarn to enter the world:

In selecting a nesting site, females tend to prefer empty plastic bags, boxes, bins, dresser drawers or baskets, with Rubbermaid tubs being preferred above all other nesting materials. However, in a pinch, females have been known to deposit eggs in coffee cans, backpacks, unused punchbowls, and luggage. In short, anyplace dark and quiet which isn't disturbed very often makes a good nesting spot.

Sometimes the same nest will contain eggs, larvae and pupae in several stages of development. My research team believes that the females, who are constantly in heat and who remain continuously fertile, return repeatedly to the same nesting spot over a period of time.

In the following photo, you will see a new "skein" -- the earliest developmental stage -- of bright green wool , freshly laid directly on top of several larvae in the "ball" stage. Apparently this female has mated with several different males, as determined by the variety of colors in this clutch:

Migrating females often select retail shops to deposit large clutches of eggs. Just as many birds often share the same nesting grounds, fiberologists believe that multiple nests of varied garment subspecies help assure the overall survival of the genus.

The female will lay anywhere from a single egg to hundreds. Eggs may closely resemble the adults of their species both in color and in texture, or they may vary wildly. The eggs can incubate anywhere from a few hours to several years before they enter the pupal stage and begin to make their chorus of faint, monotonous, but unmistakable maturity calls, which sound like:

"...nit-meee, nit-meee, nit-meee ..."

The persistent, low call attracts the species Lana knitterati, otherwise known as the common knitter, a species found in most parts of the world, who assist the garment larvae out of the pupal stage and through the metamorphosis into an adult garment. Most fiberologists believe that the repetitive motion of the knitter's hands actually plays a vital role in the metamorphosis from larvae to adult.

Lana knitterati are commonly found wherever sheep, llamas, silkworms, cotton, or garment larvae are present. The species originated in Central Asia, but due to human imperialism and the opening of trade routes and shipping lanes, these creatures have invaded every part of the planet, much in the same manner as domestic cats, the common house sparrow and Rattus rattus.

Subspecies include L. knitterati norvegicus, known for its striking geometric color patterns and L. knitterati gaelicus, a subspecies containing two major races: L. k. gaelicus aranii, easily recognized by the bold texture if its skin, and L. k. gaelicus fairisleii, which, although bearing strong color markings, can be distinguised from the norvegicus subspecies by repetitive X- and O-shaped markings within prominent color bands encircling the torso. Like most isolated island species with a common ancestor, several other races of L. k. gaelicus have developed, including the races of ganseyii and faroeseii.

May other subspecies exist throughout the world: a color-patterned variety known as intarsius, many races of laceii, and highly prolific strains of sockus, mittenus, and scarfus, which are considered invasive species in most parts of their range.

Among the laceii races, most fiberologists consider the sighting or capture of the rare orenbergus to be the field experience of a lifetime.

Many questions in the natural history of yarn remain unanswered by science -- especially the mysterious, and alarmingly frequent, tendency of garment pupae to simply stop development partly through the metamorphic process and to remain in stasis for indefinite periods of time. Sometimes, adult garment development spontaneously resumes after many weeks or years of stasis, but in many sad cases, development ceases entirely. Sometimes, the common knitter becomes involved at this stage -- in a magnificent display of Nature's abhorrence of waste, scavenging knitters actually unravel the partly-developed pupae. We continue to study this phenomenon.

These remarkable photographs remind us again of the interdependence of all species. Just as certain rainforest flowers have evolved so that they can only be pollinated by a single species of hummingbird ... yarn larvae could never develop into adult garments without the assitance of Lana knitterati, the common knitter.

-- Dr. Mambocat, PhD, BsFD, KD

Note to class: the next time Fiberology 101 meets, we will futher discuss the interdependence of yarn and garments with other species.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cheap Thrills ...

Look over there under the column of archives. Scroll down.

All the way to the bottom.

See? I now have a cat-with-yarn hit counter from

Best of all, it was free.

So now I will know how many people have visited this site since today. I am easily entertained, so I am very excited about this.

I'm sort of a Luddite (in exactly the same way that Neil Young is sort of a musician), so it took me two years of blogging to figure out how to add little features like this for your entertainment purposes.

I'd better stick to knitting.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Midnight Confession

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last yarn confession was about eleven minutes ago. I've broken my vows, Father. I fell off the wagon. I bought more yarn. But I couldn't help it, it was just lying there seductively when I went into Hobby Lobby to buy some paintbrushes."

"No, Father, it wasn't blocking the entrance."

"Yes, Father, I know. I should have avoided the Near Occasion of Sin by not going into Hobby Lobby in the first place, even though all I wanted to do was buy a few inexpensive art brushes, for detail work, for painting my Mom's house. And I especially should not have gone over there near the yarn aisles, much less walked down them. But I am human. The spirit is weak and the flesh is even weaker and this yarn was just lying there, just flaunting itself at me, wagging its bum in my face. And it was in New Orleans colors, which I have a weakness for these days, and it was soft. So soft. And it was this new yarn, good yarn, yummy yarn. Exotic. Alluring. Romantic, even. Not the sort of stuff you usually see in Hobby Lobby."

"I know I am not supposed to covet my neighbors' goods, but Hobby Lobby is not exactly my neighbor, technically... I mean, there is a four-lane highway, a PIzza Hut, a McDonald's, an Exxon station, railroad tracks, a wide creek, two strip malls, a Mexican restaurant, a Blockbuster, a Goodwill store and a bank between our house and Hobby Lobby. And also, whether or not they technically count as a neighbor, I think the whole idea of retail is that you are supposed to covet their goods, and covet them mightily."

"So there was this yarn, and I was seduced, but look at it. You'd be tempted too...."

"I'm sorry, Father... I'll put the yarn away... And then there were these rosewood needles. So pretty .... I couldn't help that either. I am so ashamed to have so little control over myself."

"Oh, and a few more things ... I have used the Lord's name in vain a couple of times, but only when I was ripping back mohair lace ... and I was watching "Deadliest Catch" on TV last night, and I caught myself having impure thoughts regarding Captain Sig ... and there's been a bit of gluttony ... I got into the chocolate, and also the ice cream, but it was just one Klondike bar. Does that count?"


Friday, July 14, 2006

Jury Duty

I tried to console myself. I really tried to think noble thoughts about my solemn duty as a citizen. I tried to think of Stephen Biko, beaten to death in a South African prison ... of women in the Middle East getting stoned to death for adultery, or beaten if they make accidental eye contact with a man to whom they are not related ... of the Disappeared in South America ... all people who dearly wish they lived in a nation where they could have some semblance of a fair trial.

But in reality, I was thinking of only three things:

1. How far behind I would get with work...

2. Being subjected to profoundly bad coffee** and being crammed into a room with 152 people and 96 hard plastic chairs...

3. Thoughts of hours of uninterrupted knitting prior to being called into the courtroom for voir dire.

**(The three worst places to find coffee in the United States are: the Nashville airport, the Texaco station in Snow, Oklahoma and the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge)

So, I brought my summons, parked in the big concrete garage, and presented myself for duty. There was a slightly befuddled young sheriff's deputy who had never seen knitting before, but no problem with the plastic needles at security. I even brought my own coffee. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, instead of contending for orange plastic chairs in the Hideous 1970s Waiting Room From Hell, jurors can now wait to be called in the public library immediately adjacent to the courthouse, a much more pleasant prospect than my previous experiences with the jury pool. Life looked good.

But, after three whole days of knitting in the jury pool, and not getting called, all I accomplished was about three square feet of a simple Old Shale stole. Here's a peek at the unblocked fabric:

Yarn consumed: about four skiens of vintage Unger Plantation Cotton generously given to me by Diann Lippman. When she gave me this yarn, she of course did not know that I made a "hippie shawl" out of Plantation Cotton many aeons ago in a very similar color, so this is a fun deja shawl experience for me. Thanks, Diann!

Working with cotton sometimes makes my hands ache, so I also cast on for a pair of socks.

This round of jury duty has taught me not to bring an interesting-looking knitted object into a situation with a high density of non-knitters who haven't brought anything to read or otherwise occupy themselves and who, desperate for conversation, want to regale you with all kinds of questions about why you would knit something you could buy at WalMart.

Best of all, they think they are clever, and that they are the first person ever to confront you with the fact (get ready for a shock) that ready-made socks and sweaters are commonly available in retail stores.

(((***... IF ONLY I'D KNOWN ... ***)))

This I promise to myself -- next time I have jury duty, I won't shower or comb my hair, and I will wear my ratty old Aqualung raincoat, and bring socks to mend. Smelly ones, even. That'll keep 'em at arm's length. That will be way too weird to even ask about. In fact, it might even get me out of jury duty for good..

On the bright side, I found myself filling the role of "yarn magnet" quite nicely. As I sat in the library waiting for my name to be called by Der Jurymeister, I soon found myself accompanied by a crocheter, who asked "may I sit with you? It's great to sit with someone else doing needlework." She was soon followed by a seasoned knitter working on a cabled scarf and then by a brand-new collegiate knitter who was floundering in deep water because her mother's friend had decided to teach her how to knit socks on two circular needles as her very first project (at least she had a copy of Cat Bordhi's book).

This made for a total of four public knitters out of a group of about 200 potential jurors. This means that two percent of the pool was emotionally comfortable enough to do needlework in public. A few other people admitted that they wished they had brought their needlework, and there were probably a few more silent knitters out there in the pool, wishing they had brought their WIP, but who had left it at home, perhaps out of fear of having their work snatched away by a sheriff's deputy.

Here is what I learned from the non-needlework, non-book-reading jury pool members:

I was reminded -- as I often am -- that non-knitters rarely consider bringing along something to occupy their hands and minds on those occasions when they are certain to spend a good deal of time waiting for their name to be called.

I was reminded -- as I often am -- that the vast majority of such people will make every effort to quantify the degree of the boredom they are enduring, and to relay this infomation to the person seated closest to them.

I was reminded -- as, once more, I often am -- that the real Alphas of this group, the most vociferous of the Truly Bored, are unable to comprehend that, in these situations, one is powerless to do anything except wait. It is entirely out of our hands. We no more know when our name will be called at the dentist, the gastroenterologist or at jury duty, than we know when our name will be called when the Great Night Clerk In The Sky decides that it's check-out time for us at Hotel Earth.

Your name being called is a matter of Fate. This is a cosmic thing. A Zen thing. And it requires calm, focused meditation and simple acceptance.


So, I have concluded the following....

If you know you're going to be cooling your heels all day and you don't bring a book, magazine or even the morning paper to read, you don't have enough sense to be on a jury.

If, after being told by the Official Juror Wrangler, that you are allowed to wait in the library across the plaza from the courthouse for your group to be called, and you go hang around in the library but still don't even pick up a book, you don't have enough sense to be on a jury.

If you get upset because you didn't bring anything to do, refuse to pick up a book, and spend the entire day pacing back and forth along the plaza, smoking and cussing about how hot it is and how bored you are, you don't belong on a jury.

If you ask for, but cannot comprehend, a slow, simple explanation of the difference between knitting and crochet -- just the basic principle that one involves a single hook and results in a firm fabric, while the other involves a minimum of two needles and results in an elastic fabric -- then you most certainly will not understand mitochondrial DNA in a murder case, and therefore have no business on a jury.

If, after denying yourself books and ruining all attempts at small talk with your fellow jurors, you continue to talk at people who clearly would prefer to discuss something besides the magnitude of your boredom, you don't belong on a jury.

In short, if I were the defendant, I would rather haul in three winos from the alley behind the courthouse and allow them to decide my fate over a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors than have you on a jury.

On the bright side, if you are such a person, you are almost certainly not reading this blog.

Or any other knitting blog.

Or any book reviews, either.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006


In honor of the Fourth of July, I am knitting a sock on a set of four needles, American style:

This is how I learned to knit socks, and even though I sometimes knit with sets of five DPNs, and know how to knit socks on two circulars and even one, this is the method I always return to. I like it. Partly because I am a purist and like to do old-fashioned things the old-fashioned way, and partly because this is just my automatic, default mode of knitting socks.

Have you ever taken a moment to consider how critical a pair of socks might have been during the Revolutionary War? As non-knitters often remind us (just in case we hadn't noticed that giant Wal-Mart where a neighborhood park and school used to be), we can buy socks anywhere today, for next to nothing.

But this was not the case during the Revolutionary War. If you dig around inside your brain and dust off the box labeled "American History," you will find a certain scrap of information handed out to every schoolkid, the bit about how cold it was during the Revolutionary War, and how many soldiers suffered from lack of proper shoes and warm stockings, often resorting to wrapping rags around their bloodied feet in order to keep pressing on against the British.

One Mary Frazier of Pennsylvania made a personal mission out of providing warm clothing and hand-knit stockings for the troops at Valley Forge, frequently loading her horse's saddlebags with needed items. She would find her way to the various camps by following the marks of bloody footprints in the snow.

Imagine. For the simple want of socks and shoes. So can you imagine how critical knitting was at the time?

I have a guess as to why Americans usually knit on sets of four double-pointed needles, instead of five. And I imagine it started during Colonial times, when needles, like shoes and readymade stockings, were in short supply, due to various shortages and boycotts against British goods.

I like to imagine a group of say, two dozen or so Colonial women, gathered in some farmhouse one cold winter afternoon, cranking out socks in a hurry for Washington's troops. Everyone in the village who owns a set of sock needles has gathered together in this place to share the work, enjoy each other's company, and perhaps hear a bit of news about the war.

Those without needles help by winding yarn into balls, carding fleece, and spinning. Needles click and the knitters discuss which one is having a troublesome pregnancy and which one is casting her eyes at that handsome young farmer down the road. One complains that her hens won't lay. Another makes a pot of hot cider.

Suddenly, one of the knitters recalls how she once "made do" when she had temporarily misplaced one of her sock needles. She had rearranged the stitches and worked on four needles. That stocking had turned out just fine.

She pauses for a moment, and looks about the room, regarding each of the knitters busily wielding a set of five needles. She does a little calculation in her head and she proclaims, "there are twenty knitters in this room. If each of us knits with only four needles instead of five, we shall have twenty spare needles -- five more sets of needles with which to make stockings. Let me show you how it's done..."

Everyone considers this for a minute. One by one, they begin to rearrange the stitches on their needles, fiddle a bit with their arithmetic, and employ some bright thread scraps for stitch markers.

Someone gathers up the surplus needles, and sets of four are handed out around the room.

Soon there are twenty-five people knitting. By the end of the evening, there will be twenty-five more socks for Washington's troops, five more than would have been possible when the sun came up that morning.

One of the women at this gathering happens to operate a drygoods store along with her husband. She returns to the shop the next day, divides her needles into sets of four, and sells the sets for a slightly smaller price than the drygoods shop down the street, giving herself a competitive edge.

Word spreads. It becomes a local habit, this business of knitting with only four needles. Needle merchants pick up this bit of marketing savvy and pass it on to other colonial towns, where it catches on.

And so, to this day, most Americans knit socks with four needles.

Hey, it could have happened that way. I like to think that it did. I like to think that necessity encouraged some bright woman long ago to "unvent" something truly ingenious, at a time when something as simple as a pair of wool socks may well have saved the day to keep a Revolutionary soldier warm, functioning and focused on the enemy instead of his frostbitten toes.

One woman's quick thinking may very well have provided 20% more socks to the Revolutionary Army. For all I know, more warm feet may have helped turn the tide of the war.

While that story is pure speculation, the following story is true.

There was a Pennsylvania woman named "Old Mom Rinker" whose village inn was invaded by the British, and whose family had the detestable duty of pouring ale and serving stew to the Redcoats. Because Old Mom Rinker was "only a woman," and a humble innkeeper at that, the British officers arrogantly assumed her to be stupid, unable to comprehend military strategy, and unworthy of consideration.

So each night, as her family waited on the Brits, they kept the ale flowing and kept their ears open. Rinker devised her own way to convey what they learned about British troop movements to the Revolutionary army.

Each morning, after breakfast was served, she would carry her kntting basket to a steep bluff overlooking the road, and would sit on a rock at the edge of the bluff and knit. Imagine how quaint she appeared ... how invisible she would have been to the British officers ... an old woman, sitting on a rock and knitting in the morning sun.

What the British officers did not know was that Old Mom Rinker had written down everything she heard them say on a slip of paper. And she had folded that paper around a small stone, and used this little package as the core around which she wound her ball of yarn.

They also did not know that she watched for a rider on the road below, and that when he appeared, she would oh-so-casually nudge the ball of yarn over the edge of the bluff, and let the ball drop down, unwinding as it went, to finally run out of yarn. The weight of the stone then carried the note to the ground, where it was secured by the rider, who would trot off into the forest with critical news for General Washington.

Then, ever so casually, she would wind the yarn up again, and go on her way.

Who knows how important those messages were to the outcome of the Revolutionary War?

Every year, on the Fourth of July, I contemplate what I like and dislike about the America of today. I wonder what the founders of our nation would think about the way the nation they midwifed into existence has grown up.

I also wonder how many other Americans stop for a moment on the Fourth of July, not to be jingoistic about the America of the present, but rather to reflect on the America of the past, and to ask ourselves if we are living up to the challenge set out for us 230 years ago.

I like to think about where we came from. Whether or not the founders of this nation might have reconsidered a few things if they could see us today ... whether they would have handled some things differently ... what they would think of our mistakes ... and how pleased they would be on the things we've done well.

I like to fly our own American Flag all year long, but I especially enjoy it on the Fourth of July:

I can see you scratching your head with that size four DPN.

You're saying, "wait a minute, that's not an American Flag. That's a yellow flag with a snake on it."

You are quite correct in the latter observation. It is indeed a flag with a snake on it.

It is also the very first American flag. It is called the Gadsden Flag, named so for Colonel Christopher Gadsden who led the Sons of Liberty in South Carolina beginning in 1765 and who later served in in the Continental Army. In 1775, he represented South Carolina in the Continental Congress.

Like American Indian tribes who revered Rattlesnake for her vigilance, for standing her ground, and for her ability to reserve her venom until needed, Benjamin Franklin was duly impressed with the rattlesnake and considered the animal as a mascot for the new nation:

"She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders. She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. She never wounds until she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her."

Colonial folk held the superstitious belief that snakes, having been chopped up, could somehow re-assemble themselves and crawl away. Biologically impossible as this may be, the superstition had fantastic value as a cultural icon. In 1754, Ben Franklin designed, carved and published a woodcut of a rattlesnake cut up into thirteen sections, each section labeled with the name of a colony. The picture was entitled, "Join or Die." It was the first political cartoon published in an American newspaper.

The rattlesnake symbol became immensely popular amongst the Revolutionaries. The image was picked up by Gadsden, who placed his version of it on the flag of the Sons of LIberty. This flag (the flag on our house) depicts a intact rattlesnake, coiled in a state of vigilance, captioned with the warning: DONT TREAD ON ME.

The Virginia Minutemen added the phrase, LIBERTY OR DEATH to their version of the Gadsden flag.

A modified version of DONT TREAD ON ME depicts a rattlesnake crawling diagonally across a field of thirteen red and white stripes.

Starting to sound familiar?

This last was the first flag ever flown on an American military ship. To this day it is called the Navy Jack.

The lack of an apostrophe in the "DONT" is not an accident. Standards for abbreviation were inconsistent at the time.

We fly this flag at our house to remember that the nation founded 230 years ago was a nation founded by dissidents, by people who were unhappy with the status quo. It was not founded by British Loyalists.

It was founded as a living nation, with a living Constitution. Living things grow and change. This nation was founded by men considered to be enlightened by many people of their time, and traitorous by others. They drafted and signed a Constitution knowing full well that they might be hung for treason. They also had their flaws -- they created a nation with "liberty for all," yet owned slaves and scoffed at the notion of women voting and participating in politics.

And these flawed, yet forward-thinking people did something remarkable: they created a brand-new nation with the intent that this nation could, and would change. With the intent that those who disagree with it should -- make that must -- unite and change things when this nation goes wrong. Not only is it not unpatriotic for an American citizen to voice diagreement with government -- it is our solemn duty to do so. It is the very reason this nation was created, so that a static and tyrannical government would not maintain power over the people.

I doubt very, very much that Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin would have taken to the notion, "My country, right or wrong."

They would have wanted it to be right. And, if it wasn't, they would have changed it.

When you think about it, it's a lot like knitting. You make something. If it doesn't fit, or it didn't work out the way you planned it, you have a choice: you can go ahead and wear it anyway, and endure the imperfection. I am sure there are knitters out there who proclaim, "my sweater, mistakes and all" -- and you have the right to do that -- or, you can rip it out and start over.

Either way, you have every right to take pride in being a knitter.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Canada Day!

In my ongoing efforts to enlighten and educate, I thought I would mention that today is Canada's birthday.

I like a lot of things about Canada.

First, Canada has produced all kinds of knitting prodigies, most lately, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Not to mention yarns from Paton's, Bernat, Spinrite, and ... drool drool drool ... Koigu.

Canada makes great beer, too.

Canada has the Canadian Rockies and the Boundary Waters and Niagra Falls. Okay, we share the last two, but still.

Canada has Mounties. Yes, I know the uniform is only a dress uniform, but don't ruin this for me, okay? If we had anything like Mounties in America, a speeding ticket would hurt a lot less. If they wore the uniforms.

Canadians don't assume that the rest of the world considers Canada to be the center of the Universe.

Canada has given the world many wonderful musicians ... Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, k.d. lang and many others, as well as the Montreal Jazz Fest.

And speaking of music ... a patriotic Candian with a normal, untrained voice can actually sing "O, Canada."

Excellent knitterly weather: Sweater weather for the majority of the year, real seasons, and very rare hurricanes.

Canadians, although sometimes armed, seem to understand that it's not really necessary to shoot each other on a regular basis.

Canada gave us Newfoundlands and Labrador Retrievers. Even some obscure breeds. How cool is that?

Peter Jennings.

Canada is a peaceful nation.

Canadians get health care for everyone and dignity for gay folk. I am assuming dignity for everyone else as well.

Barenaked Ladies.

A seriously groovy flag.

Canadians tend to think of a second language as a benefit rather than a threat to national security.

Canada has given Americans refuge in times of conflict, whether Americans were in need of a place to get away from Vietnam or in need of being smuggled out of Iran in 1979.

Canadians say, "eh" just like Cajuns.

And of course, Canada gave us Cajuns. If Canada hadn't exiled them, Louisiana would just seem like more of Texas.

Okay, I admit, Canada has Celine Dion, but can't we forgive this? Can Americans really pick on Canada for Celine Dion when we gave the world Britney Spears? I mean, you can take the girl out of Tangipahoa Parish, but you can't take ...

ahem. I digress.

Happy Birthday, Canada. Live long and prosper.


Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: