Friday, September 29, 2006

Extra Rows, And A Disappointed Cat

A couple of folks swore up and down they could not find the extra rows that I complained about the other day in my post, "A Naked Lady, and A Dilemma."

So there they are. Circled in yellow are the cable sections wherein reside the extra rows of lore. Sort of circled anyway. I am much better at knitting than I am at drawing circles with a mouse. The one on the left is partly obscured by a blade of monkey grass, but it's there.

But it's enough to give you the general idea. Contained within the circles lie the extra rows, and since I wrote that post, I have decided to keep the extra rows and let life roll along. Both sleeves are the same length, and the cable pattern stops at the same point on the top of each sleeve. Life is good.

Now I am at the point of joining Sleeves with Body.

I have always felt that there should be some sort of ceremony for this event. Music, even. A Union of Fibers ... a Yarnfasting ... some secret ritual that my grandmother should have handed down to me ... something held within the pages of a dusty, leatherbound book, handwritten in Gaelic ... a chant by candlelight perhaps, offered on a rocky beach at high tide under a new moon, as sleeves and body Become One. This Union of Three Tubes does have a certain mystic quality to it. It's almost magic.

Xeres from Oz wants to know when we get to wear sweaters here in Louisiana.

Xeres, I suspect that we have mutually distorted views of each other's climates. You must imagine that it's hotter and more tropical here all the time, and that winter of any sort never arrives. Never having visited your lovely homeland, I imagine Australia as one vast and beautiful, yet scorching, desert, full of magnificent, yet venomous, creatures, a desert almost never visited with any sort of merciful coolness and only the rarest of rain. After all, I've never seen Steve in anything but khaki shorts, and Steve knew everything. (Okay, I have seen him in a wetsuit, but he was playing with whales).

Now I do know that my impression of Australia is not entirely correct. I just don't know exactly in what way it is incorrect. I don't know if your winter is mild and rainy like Florida, or bitter and dry, like the high deserts of the American west. I do know that when it's July and August here, that it must be deliciously cold somewhere Down Under?

We do get "winter" here in Louisiana. We definitely don't get the deep freeze for months on end like folks in the Dakotas, and it doesn't stay very cold for long periods of time. When it freezes, it usually does so only at night, and warms to above-freezing during the day. When we get winter precipitation, it rarely accumulates, and we are seldom visitied with anything more than occasional flurries of snow each winter. We are more likely to have day-long drizzles of sleety rain. Winter precipitation here is like rain in California -- if there is any accumulation of white stuff, everybody gets all excited, and the TV weather people advise people to stay off the roads if they can.

The Southern United States experiences winter weather much in the same way that a beach experiences tides. Every few days, we get a cold front, so we often swing from ten degrees below freezing to 20 degrees above over the course of a few days, and back again. So we wear all those sweaters mostly between Christmas and St. Patrick's Day.

But we do get a fair bit of that "almost cold enough for snow" weather -- damp and deeply chilly. What my Dad used to call "see-your-breath weather." The thing to remember in Louisiana is that it is always, always damp. Even the weather we consider "dry," which only happens in winter, is considered "humid" in other places. So our cold is not deep and bitter, but it is damp and penetrating. We do get a fair bit off sweater weather. What we don't get a lot of is coat-and-sweater weather.

A wool pullover is not usually worn all day, and not next to the skin. Unless we are having a spell when it's quite cold, a sweater is worn over a turtleneck or simlar garment, and it is removed once indoors, unless (like me) you prefer to underheat your home or office, or you mostly work outdoors. Most Southerners tend to overheat their living and working spaces, so cardigans get a lot of use here as outerwear. Most of the time, you put on your sweater before you go out and take it off when you come back in.

A bonus is that a wool sweater will shed rain.

I would much rather wear a sweater indoors, save on the utility bill, and have an excuse to knit.

I get the most use out of double-knitting or sport weight wool, especially for pullovers, and rarely have need for bulky weight. I have a bulky weight poncho and a couple of bulky weight cardigans but they really serve primarily as light coats. I don't have a bulky-weight pullover.

So yes, Xeres, we do wear sweaters down here, only not for as long as our friends in New Hampshire, Maine or Idaho get to wear them.

And now ... about that disappointed cat ....

Jigsaw is disappointed at the apparent lack of interest in the Halloween Costume Contest. She is very much looking forward to being a judge. Jigsaw is a very discerning feline with excellent taste, and, as you can see, she takes this sort of thing very seriously. I tried to explain to her that there are probably dozens of you at work on Halloween costumes for her to judge, and that not everyone comments on posts, and that you simply hadn't posted about your intent in the Comments section. But Jigsaw remains skeptical:

Jigsaw urges you to give some thought to your Halloween costume entry. Don't let her down. By the way, she wants me to tell you that she is not above accepting bribes of catnip or canned cat food (salmon or tuna, please) , and that she is a Capricorn, and she prefers soft, natural wool.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mambocat's Halloween Costume Challenge

It's almost Halloween! I was reminded of this fact by a ...

Floral news update... from my friend Judith, who read my post from the 19th (A Naked Lady, and A Dilemma). She advised me by phone that her Grandma used to say that hurricane lilies are called "naked ladies" because "all you have is a bare stem with a flower on top, like a naked lady wearing nothing but a big fancy red hat."


So now I can hear Randy Newman in the soundtrack in my head...."take off your dress ... yes, yes, yes .... but you can leave your hat on ... you can leave your hat on...."

Hats, naturally, make me think of costumes. And costumes make me think of Halloween.

Okay, I can't help it. I'm forty-five years old and, each year, as October approaches, I still turn into a six-year-old.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. It involves three of my favorite things:

1. chocolate.
2. costumes.
3. scary movies.

Being a Louisianian, I am fortunate to have two costuming occasions each year, what with Mardi Gras and all.

This Halloween, I thought it would be fun, in the spirit of costume dedication, to offer

Mambocat's Halloween Costume Challenge


1. You must design and knit a Halloween costume or Halloween wig for either a pet or for a completely inanimate object -- a toaster, birdfeeder, or mailbox, for example.

2. The main body of the item must be knitted. Crochet, embroidery or other needle-art techniques may be used for embellishment or edgings.

3. If the costume is made for a pet or for a small child's toy (such as a Teddy bear), safety must be taken into consideration -- it must not contain items such as wiggle eyes, which can be easily chewed off and swallowed or choked upon.

4. You may enter as many costumes as you like.

5. Your choice of theme -- whimisical, ghoulish, funky, camp.... it's up to you! Size does not matter. Knit a tiny, yet scary toilet tissue cozy if you want ... or an enormous and funny costume for your mastiff.

6. Each item must be photographed individually, and must be displayed upon the pet or object for which it was designed. Each photo must be accompanied by a relatively brief e-mail text detailing materials used. You may also include instructions for your pattern if you so desire, but this is not necessary. Each costume may have a name or title, but this is not required. Send each entry to:

7. No attempt whatsoever at impartiality will be made. Winner will be chosen based solely and entirely on which costume makes Mambocat laugh the loudest. Extra points will be awarded for originality, absurdity, satire and/or use of unusual knitting materials. Even more points will be awarded if your entry makes Mambocat blow diet root beer out of her nose. If there is a flat-out tie, Mambocat will flip a coin, or she will ask her husband to cast the tiebreaker vote.

8. Winning photo and top three runners-up will be posted on this blog.

9. Winner will receive a couple of skeins of ghoulishly festive yarn, a Louisiana treat, and other Trick-or-Treat goody-bag items, to be revealed when the winner is announced. Runners up will each receive a couple of free original patterns from the Knitting Asylum.

(Editorial note: please imagine, in this exact location, a photo of festive yarn and Halloween prizes. Blogger is being snotty, I was lucky to upload one picture today).

10. DEADLINE: All entries must be submitted by 12:00 noon, Central Standard Time (USA) on October 25th, 2006, so the winner may receive his/her Knitting Trick or Treat Bag in time for the holiday..

Don't just sit there -- get to work! You surely must be able to come up with something better than a pumpkin hat for a pink flamingo, hmm?


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Splicing Ladder Yarn

So I go to the Dollar Tree for shampoo and toothpaste and stuff, and I walk past a pile of boxes in the aisle where they keep the gift wrap and ribbon. The boxes are still taped shut, but I am like a Coast Guard drug dog.

There is yarn in one of those boxes.

The box in question is upside down, and therefore the word "yarn," which is in six-point type on the shipping label, is upside down, and the box is on the bottom of the pile, but I smell yarn. I come to a halt and cajole a clerk into opening the box, where I find two different colorways of Paton's "Evita." It is soft and drapey and fuzzy and fun.

The colorway in shades of forest, lime, and gold wants to be a big pillow for the futon in Mom's spare room, which is in shades of green and yellow. The colorway in brown, black, white and grey wants to be a quick-knit poncho for me. It sort of matches my hair.

Besides, I need two new UFO's.

So I take it all home and re-wind a few balls, grab a size 8 circular, pop a movie into the DVD player, and launch into an Idiot's Delight Poncho.

That was quick! Hm, I like the fabric. The movie is over. I've run out of yarn and now I need to join a new ball, but I hate weaving in ends. What to do?

Why don't you try this with me? Hint: to get a larger, and therefore better, view of the details, click on the lower right hand corner of each picture.

Do you still have your latch hook from the '70s when you made that purple mushroom throw rug for your dorm room? The one with the ladybug on the mushroom?

Good. Run and find it -- the latch hook, not the mushroom rug. I know the rug is in your dog's crate.

Weren't born yet? Don't sweat -- borrow your Mom's latch hook ... or run over to the LYS. You can also usually find a handful of vintage latch hooks in almost every thrift store, too. I'll wait.

You're back? Good.

Here we go: pointing the business end of Ye Groovy Old Latch Hook toward the cut end of the old yarn, weave it snugly in and out of the ladders for a few inches:

Now grab the cut end of the new ball with the little hook, and push the latch closed over the loose end, like this:

Now, holding the tip of the old yarn with your free hand, gently pull the new end through the old end until the ladders interlock smoothly over the space of a few inches:

Ta-da! I left the last 1/4 inch of the ends showing so you could see, but later I gave the yarn a little, tiny tug, and those ends disappeared. If you line up the ends of this join using matching color segments, the join vanishes entirely.

You can actually do this faster than you can read the last few sentences.

Now go ahead and knit.

Oh, the pattern:

Mambocat's "Idiot's Delight Poncho:"

Find some textured yarn that you like, and make a swatch in stocking stitch, starting with the needle size suggested on the ball band. Change needle sizes every few rows until you you like the look and drape of the resulting fabric.

Figure out how many stitches per inch that works out to, and cast on enough stitches to go loosely over your head. You need to have a number divisible by four, so add a few stitches if necessary. Don't cast on fewer stitches to arrive at a number divisible by four -- it's better a tad too loose going over the head, than too tight.

Join ends and purl the first round, placing a stitch marker every time you've knit one-fourth of the cast-on stiches -- so if you cast on 100 stitches, place a marker every 25th stitch. Use a different color marker for the beginning of the round.

Knit round and round in stocking stitch, alternating these two rounds:

Round 1: Knit around
Round 2: **Knit to marker, slip marker. Make one, knit one, make one. Knit to next marker. Repeat from ** three more times.

Keep going until it's big enough ... or until you are almost out of yarn. Knit the last couple of rounds in garter stitch or seed stitch to prevent rolling, then cast off loosely. I-cord cast off is good too.

Go back to the neckline, pick up the original number of stitches, and cast off using your favorite method. This gives support to the garment, and eliminates the roll of stocking stitch. Or, you could pick up a row or two of single crochet around the neck for the same effect.

This poncho is a premium TV or movie project, or last-minute gift poncho. It will knit itself.

Pop it on, run out and enjoy the fall weather.


Saturday, September 23, 2006


Mambocat apologizes -- she originally wrote this on the 21st, intending to post it today, and accidentally rescheduled the Equinox by posting it the moment she finished writing it. Here is the post on its proper day. My sincere apologies to gardeners, grape harvesters and Druids worldwide.


Technically, it's autumn. I looked into it:

  • The date is September 23rd.
  • Baton Rouge in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The university students have recovered from their back-to-school hangovers and are actually attending classes
  • Small farmers in the surrounding area have cut and rolled their hay
  • From any point within 20 miles of Baton Rouge, you can find due west on Saturday nights by looking for the lights over Tiger Stadium.
  • There are Naked Ladies in our front yard (see previous post)
  • I saw a flight of ducks this morning
  • The shelves at the stores are throbbing with a strange brew of witch costumes, pumpkins, bagged candy, and Christmas merchandise... and, most importantly ...
  • The sun came up in the correct position this morning at Stonehenge

By all indicators, it should be Fall out there.

Perhaps it is autumn where you are reading this: you look up from your computer to see the first vibrant colors in the trees outside your window. You feel a bit of chill at night, and wonder if it's worth firing up the furnace, or perhaps the woodstove. Leaves are falling, and the trees are beginning to change color. You step outside in the morning, and are refreshed and invigorated by the cool, crisp air.

Here in Louisiana, the arrival of autumn is a lot more subtle. It is subtle in exactly the same way that the last ten minutes of a Friday the 13th movie are subtle: we keep thinking summer is gone, but it just won't die. Just when you think you've had the last really hot day, here comes another one.

In Louisiana, summer hangs on with the tenacity of a Hollywood bad guy clinging by his fingertips to the roof of a tall building. It slips a little, regains its grip, slips again, scrambles desperately for a hold, raises its head one last time, and finally slides off, screaming at the top of its lungs all the way down.

We do get some clues that Fall is in the neighborhood somewhere, circling the block and looking for a parking place. The cicadas, having practiced since early August, start chorusing in earnest, and migratory birds from colder climes stop at our feeders. The autumn-blooming green things flower, and, here and there, brown leaves drift to the ground. The humidity drops a bit, the air starts to get restless, and at night, temperatures dip into the 60s.

Some people call this "Indian Summer." Maybe, where you live, Indian Summer evokes visions of the Land-O-Lakes girl, smiling sweetly as she hands you a basket of corn, with the sunset behind her illuminating a golden field.

Not here, dudes. I call this time of year "Apache-On-The-Warpath-Summer." It is tenacious, and it just will not stand down.

We eagerly await the first cool front, the first morning when the air is crisp and moving with a purpose. This will happen sometime in October, Louisiana's most glorious month.

This is the time of year when I feel most like spinning. I find it hard to work up a head of fiber-steam in the peak of the summer, but not because the wool is too warm to touch -- I do spin indoors where the air conditioning is.

The problem is simply that dyeing it makes for one hot spinner (and I do not mean "hot" in the flattering way) and when you're done, it just takes too dang long for skeins of wool to air-dry when the humidity is above 80%. Yes, I know, I could spin now and set or dye the yarn later, but ... as good as I am at having lots and lots of knitting UFOs laying around, I really need to finish a batch of spinning once I start it.

Then I can cast on the waistband for a sweater with it, and shove it in a closet, and it can be a UFO.

Why? If I start a knitted garment, it will be finished, sooner or later. But if I spin a skein of yarn and do not set and/or dye it immediately, it will never happen. It's a momentum thing.

Spinning is also different than knitting in that it is not something you can pick up and put down gracefully when a client arrives for an appointment, or the dryer beeps, or a cat vomits.

By "gracefully," I mean "without screwing something up," not "with a smooth, fluid and ballerina-like gesture."

I can stop knitting and then resume my momentum, but not so with spinning. I get into a zone that is sometimes difficult to recreate, not unlike what happens to a writer when a Perfect Paragraph is on its way out of her head and onto the keyboard, and the phone rings exactly at that moment, and it's a carpet-cleaning telemarketer, and the writer politely explains that she has wood flloors, thank you very much ... and the Perfect Paragraph is lost forever.

So, when I'm spinning, I have to finish a segment of it at a time: a bobbinful? Good, now off it comes, and onto the niddy-noddy. Back to the wheel, fill another bobbin, and repeat until entire fleece is spun or enough yarn is completed for project. Now it must be plied, if desired, and then dyed or wet-set immediately, and then, when completely dry, it's onto the swift, and wound on the ball-winder, and then set aside until needed.

And part of this whole compulsion to see a spinning project through to the end is the fact that you have a wheel and a Lazy Kate and a bag of fleece on the dining room floor ... and a bunch of bobbins, and a swift, and a ball winder, and a pile of skeins, all occupying the dining room table ... and that's just for keeping the stuff under control, before you even think about washing or dyeing ... and you really, really need to get all that crap off the dining room table so it can go back to its normal use as a mail landfill.

Strangely, I can see all you spinners out there nodding in agreement. Yes ... must ... finish ... making ... yarn. Must ... finish....

It's really a shame that the humidity here is such a problem, because otherwise, spinning would be the perfect thing to do on those evenings when it's so muggy and your body is so full of retained heat from the day that you can't stand knitting a lapful of wool sweater, even if you are sitting directly under an air conditioning vent. With spinning, you are dealing with only a handful of wool at a time, and I don't find that uncomfortable.

It's the finishing, not the actual spinning, that's ill-suited for the summer. At least for me.

But it's Not Hot today.


This is the time of year when I think about what to do with the Jacob's fleece that's waiting for my attention, and what plants I should experiment with for dyeing, and whether or not I will be able to find any usable feral indigo plants along Bayou Duplantier.

Before the Civil War, many of the plantations in our part of Louisiana grew indigo plants for the dye trade. The variety of indigo used for dyeing likes our climate very much, what with it being not so terribly different (at least in the summer) from its native India. Just like other introduced species, dye indigo escaped the plantations, and grows wild in some places. The fact that we do have some semblance of winter keeps it from taking over. If the summer weather has been nice to the indigo, and has rained on it enough, you can find little clumps of it scattered through the woods and creeksides throughout our area. But it's often hard to find enough indigo to dye more than about a pound of wool. You need an insane amount of the stuff, like three garbage bags full, to make enough dye for a sweater.

There is also a "weed" variety of indigo which is native to the US, but the dye quality is nowhere near as good.

So. What does Mambocat plan to do with the First Day of (at least technically) Autumn?

Mambocat has to look for an affordable office space, pay bills, and work on an article for an animal-sheltering publication.

But this evening, I plan to clean and lubricate my spinning wheel, which has languished in a corner all summer. I'll warm it up for the fall and winter with the last of some periwinkle-blue ready-dyed roving I have, and then it's on to four ounces of mohair I dyed in shades of cinnamon, rust and maize.

Sounds better than "muddy red, muddy brown and muddy yellow," anyway.

On to knitting. The second sleeve for the fisherman's sweater is underway, while I decide what to do about the first one. For the curious, I promise to point out the surplus rows soon.

I am looking wistfully at our woodpile. It will be cold enough for a fire when I can see my breath.

Not quite yet.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Naked Lady, and A Dilemma.

Look! A Naked Lady!

Get yer mind out of the gutter. Also called "Hurricane Lilies," these flowers pop up at the first possible hint of autumn. The name "Naked Lady" derives from the fact that a completely bare and unadorned stem just leaps out of the ground with no apparent foliage to herald the event.

And that's exactly what they do. You can almost hear them go, "BOOOIIIING!"

Yesterday, no flower.

Today, flower.

Like mushrooms, they just explode overnight when it's time for them to make their entrance.

There is an old saying hereabouts that when the Naked Ladies come out, it means that we've had the last hurricane for the year, thus the other name, "Hurricane Lilies."

I hope the old saying is true. Thanks to El Nino, we got off easy this year, and we are grateful. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast just can't take another heavy blow right now, and us peeps here inland aren't too excited about Mother Nature playing another round of Water Oak Bowling, either.

The appearance of Naked Ladies in one's yard is also supposed to herald the arrival of fall. If so, this is one well-coordinated flower, because I woke up this morning feeling like Something Is Right and when I went outside it was mild, overcast, and, while not Actively Cool, it was definitely Not Hot.

I don't know how long this will last -- summer in Louisiana does not go gently into that dark, cool night -- but I am ecstatic while it's here. If we are lucky, today will be the first day of high temperatures under 80 or in the low 80s..

So of course I am thinking of sweaters. Even though it is nowhere near chilly enough for them yet, the simple fact that is Not Hot today is enough to cause sweatery thoughts to erupt from my head.

And thus, my dilemma.

Naked ladies almost always seem to present dilemmas, don't they?

In the hottest part of summer (mainly the part between mid-June and Mid-September) it is simply too humid to have largish animal-fiber items on one's lap. Even indoors where the air conditioning is on the "Jasper, Alberta" setting, it's still uncomfortable having wooly type things in direct contact with human skin. As a result, the large, body-parts of sweaters don't get worked on, so I do sleeves. And socks and hats and such.

If you go back to my 9-11 post, you'll see a pair of socks executed on autopilot while dealing with the original numbing shock of 9-11. The result of my distraction was a set of coordinating, but not matching socks. The color repeats are off kilter because in my robotic state of mind that day, I apparently did not rewind the skein for the second ball before I began to knit the second sock.

Something similar happened last week. I was working on the sleeve of a fisherman's sweater for myself when I heard that Steve Irwin died.

Everybody loves Steve, but his death hit me hard. I am a humane advocate, wildlife advocate and herpetologist, so Steve Irwin represents far more to me than the average popular TV-show host. I was, and still am, quite upset by his death. Losing someone like him in the community of animal advocates is like losing a relative, and a relative you like, at that.

So, it was only last night, when I was about done with the sleeve (of course), that I noticed an extra row on two different cable rounds in the general elbow region.

Once again, the product of knitting on autopilot while transifxed before the TV, absorbing bad news.

I honestly can't decide on a course of action, so here is the errant section of sleeve for your inspection (yes, unblocked, as usual). It is deployed on the bed of Monkey Grass in our yard, near the Naked Lady. I love Monkey Grass. It's just so .... lush.

And here is the sleeve with a newspaper rolled up inside it to give the approximate effect of blocking:

Hm...maybe the approximate effect of a little too much blocking.

Can you find the extra rounds? My husband claims that 99.9% of people, including himself, will not notice it. EVER. But I know that I notice it.

My dilemma, of course, is To Rip Half A Sleeve, or Not To Rip Half A Sleeve.

Part of me wants to leave the sleeve as it is, as a weird sort of memorial. And part of me wants to rip and re-knit.

Yes, I know if I leave it as is, I will, in all likelihood, need to insert a couple of extra rows in the same locations on the other sleeve on purpose. This is an option I am willing to consider.

I didn't rip and re-knit my second 9-11 sock. I decided that the off-kilter color sequencing was interesting.

So I am stuck.

Please vote:

___Even in its scrunchy, unblocked state, those extra rounds are jumping out and screaming at me! It's so obvious, Mambocat might as well have knitted those rounds in Safety Orange.

___Extra rounds? What extra rounds?

___Mambocat should stick to hats and socks until it dips into the 60s, Fifties, even. Nobody can knit cables, even easy ones, if it's over 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It's just too ... wintery. The body needs time to adjust. Christmas merchandise shouldn't be put out before Halloween, swimsuits shouldn't apear in shop windows until May, and nobody, but nobody, should work on sweaters until after the World Series, unless they live in Jasper, Alberta.

___I am a cable knitter, too, and on close scrutiny I can tell you which pattern repeats contain an extra round, but this should be less obvious when blocked, and only Mambocat, state fair judges, and any mean-spirited, eagle-eyed and hypercritical knitters which Mambocat may encounter will know they are there.

___Mambocat should go eat a big honking piece of chocolate and she will not care about the extra rounds.

___Mambocat should leave them there in memory of Steve-O -- he loved the randomness of nature.

___Somebody should call the folks at the psychiatric ward right this freaking minute, because there is a woman wearing an LSU Raptor Rehab T-shirt and surf baggies standing in her front yard taking pictures of a knitted sleeve with a newspaper rolled up inside of it. Bring extra Thorazine, please.

You decide.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tying One On at the Quarter Stitch

The Quarter Stitch lies just between the cholesterol-clogged heart and the cirrhotic liver of the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Call it "The City that Care Forgot." Call it "The Crescent City." You can even call it "The Big Easy" if you promise to remember that people from Hollywood came up with that moniker, and they didn't get any of the local accents right.

Whatever you choose to call it, New Orleans is a city whose entire economy thrives on self-indulgence, excess, glitz and a complete lack of self-restraint.

A lot of New Orleanians have swum home since Katrina, fixed up their homes and businesses, and are trying to get back to something resembling "normal." Many are still working on their homes and businesses, in hopes of renewal. And a lot of unfortunate souls have simply had to close up shop. We are hoping for the rest of the world to remember that, and start visiting us again, and resume having conventions and suchlike, so we can get our economy back up and running.

Our economy counts on people from all over America and the rest of the world to come on down, tie one on, eat like a pig, walk around the Quarter exploring the marvelous old buildings, let their hair down, and go home and tell all their friends how fabulous it was. In fact, because most of the French Quarter didn't flood at all and primarily had to recover from wind damage and looting, it was back up and running in a reasonable amount of time, ready to distract both natives and visitors from the utter devastation in the surrounding areas.

The bars are open, the restaurants are open, the shops are open, and at this point only a native can cruise the Quarter (festive adult beverage in hand, of course) and point out anything that has changed significantly since Katrina. You can go to the French Quarter right this very minute, indulge yourself in everything it has to offer, unwind, and be as excessive as you can allow yourself to be.

And this is precisely why it is very, very dangerous to locate a yarn store in the French Quarter, because you are already steeped in the romance of the old New Orleans, and you're a little dizzy from the summer heat combined with drinks they don't make back home in Minnesota, and your lungs are full of the intoxicating olfactory brew which is a combination of the living scent of the Mississippi River, the heady aroma of coffee being roasted at the French Market, and the aura of spilled beer, human urine, and Dumpster leachate which tells you in no uncertain terms what city you are in.

As you weave your way down the ancient, narrow streets, you suddenly see a wee, narrow sidewalk kiosk, meekly proclaiming the presence of "needlepoint," "yarn" and "knitting."

Then you open a door that is at least 200 years old, and you stumble into a yarn brothel:

Yes, that is the Bad Yarn Fairy screaming into one of your ears, while reaching around the back of your head to sucker-punch the Good Yarn Fairy before he reminds you about the balance on your credit card.

Remember, you're in New Orleans. You are supposed to sin.

Back to the Bad Yarn Fairy, who is singing, "please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste..."

The Bad Yarn Fairy is beckoning you deeper into the heart of the Quarter Stitch. He bears a striking resemblance to Mick Jagger, and he wears a red mohair Lily Chin suit, complete with a smart little red devil-tail by Nicki Epstien.

You follow, tripping over the Good Yarn Fairy, who is lying unconscious on the floor with a black eye.

And this is what you see:

At this point, the Good Yarn Fairy has pulled himself up off the floor and run outside to round up a sidewalk preacher to help make his case before you get in too much trouble here.


There are many reasons that sidewalk preachers don't have much luck in New Orleans, among them being:

-- you can't scare Southerners with heat. Honey, we just went through Katrina. New Orleans was flooded and on fire at the same time. Fire and brimstone? I think that's a drink at the Shim-Sham.

-- you can't scare is with locusts, either. We have roaches the size of a lumberjack's thumb, and they fly.

-- we need to resolve this business about Jesus, wine and grape juice for once and for all. There's a good reason that most native New Orleanians are either Catholic or Jewish.

-- virgins, wise or foolish, are in short supply here

-- so what if the Bible says the streets of Heaven are paved with gold? Gold, schmold. We want a place to park.

-- if you think a beast with seven heads and ten horns is scary, you have obviously never been to Mardi Gras.

Nah, none of that stuff works on us.

But ... "excuse me, Mr. Sidewalk Preacher ... what was that you just said about a coat of many colors?"

The Quarter Stitch is the place to find the yarn for it. My favorites from their selection -- Inca Alpaca (Classic Elite) in a wide variety of colors ... Noro Kureyon ... and a wide variety of Koigu KPPPPM, which is Mambocat's favorite yarn in the entire charted universe. They also have Brown Sheep, lots of Trendsetter yarns, and many other products, including Addi Turbos, and Lantern Moon needles and baskets, and a wide variety of hard-to-find luxury yarns, if that's the shiny, happy creek you paddle on.

If you're also into needlepoint, this shop is a treasure trove. I'm afraid that I am a horribly useless needlepoint-shop critic in that I learned to execute the stitches once, in 1970-something, and I made a little bitty picture of an owl, and I decided that I didn't like needlepoint because it isn't knitting. But whoever the Koigu's and Trendsetter's and Brown Sheep's are of the needlepoint world, I'm certain the Quarter Stitch has them, because the canvases are lovely and abundant.

Another bonus is that the shop has oodles of brilliantly executed sample garments, something in every type of yarn, so you can pick them up and make the appropriate purring noises, and realistically imagine what YOUR garment would look like in that yarn. There are also other completed projects to admire -- felted hats and purses ... knitted scarves, hats, and novelty items -- done in some of the yarns that are hard to imagine knitted up. It does so much more for your imagination to see a whole garment knitted at the proper gauge and drape, instead of just a swatch.

The Quarter Stitch is also one of those delightful walk-in-and cry-for-help places that new knitters can rejoice in. I can't tell you how many times I've been in there when a French Quarter denizen has rushed in, needles in hand, screeching, "OHMYGAWD I CROSSED A CABLE WRONG SIX INCHES DOWN!" Naturally, the distressed knitter will have to wait until there's a lull in retail actvity, but when there is, he or she will have a staff member's full attention to help solve the problem.

It's also a very cool place to just hang out for awhile and watch the customers: here comes a guy working on a part of his 2007 Mardi Gras costume in glitzy yarn ... a college student working on her very first scarf (a Doctor Who scarf) for her boyfriend's Christmas gift ... a local bartender popping in on her break to get help with a lace snafu and to buy another skein of "Dune" ... and a gaggle of tourists from Nebraska looking for the Koigu they heard about from a friend (the Quarter Stitch bills itself as "the Baskin-Robbins of Koigu.").

Bonus: they have a shop dog. And they've added a shop conure, complete with a cute little red flannel birdy-diaper so he doesn't do birdy stuff on the yarn.

Anyplace that has shop pets rocks.

The downside to the Quarter Stitch is that, while the natural, undyed fibers they carry are absolutely luscious, you could probably put the entire stock of undyed, natural sheep/alpaca/etc. into one shopping bag. This is a shop to indulge your inner magpie, people ... not your inner Granola Girl.

I have always been amazed at the variety of yarns the Quarter Stitch manages to squeeze into two wee and ancient rooms. Bette Bornside also accomplshes the same feat, and we'll visit her shop on a future excursion, along with a trip to Garden District Needlework. Happily, all three shops escaped the floodwaters and suffered minimal damage from Katrina, but all three shopowners report that business is down. What with half the population gone and the tourism industry seriously gutted, that's no surprise, but we need to do something to help remedy this.

Folks, all these shops do mail order. I'll post links later here, but for now just Google for any of them and you'll get their information.

Meow for now,


Monday, September 11, 2006

9-11 Socks

On the morning of 9-11, I was in my office at the animal shelter, trying to explain the laws regarding nuisance barking to a woman on the other end of the phone who was upset about the nocturnal vocalizations of the Labrador Retriever next door.

I was listening patiently as she detailed her lack of sleep and how it was affecting her life and her blood pressure, when something else began to compete for my attention.

I usually have the radio news turned on at low volume in my office, and I could hear alarming snippets of talk on National Public Radio: "plane crashed into the World Trade Center" .... "tower on fire" ... and so forth.

Just enough to distract me from the woman's litany of canine complaints.

I wondered what the news item was about. It was far, far too bizarre to register immediately as something that was actually happening. For about half a minute, I suspected that it must be a review of an upcoming Die Hard movie -- a plane crashes into the World Trade Center, a lot of stuff blows up, a bunch of bad guys get shot, and Bruce Willis saves the day, thanks to a ready supply of ammunition and undershirts.

Something like that.

It had to be.

Wasn't it?

My attention vacillated between the woman on the phone and the NPR broadcast, and within a few moments, I began to focus much more closely on the radio than on the woman's complaint.

Wait a minute ... I thought ... that doesn't sound like a movie review ... is this for real...?

Then someone down the hall shouted, "EVERYBODY COME SEE THIS!"

Someone had turned on the TV in the conference room. I heard the cashier cry out, "Oh my God!"

And I realized, this is for real.

I told the lady on the phone to call back later about the barking dog, to turn on her TV, that something terrible had happened ... and I hung up.

I ran into the conference room where everyone had gathered around the TV.

And we watched.

We watched as the second plane flew into the WTC and another plane hit the Pentagon. We watched the reports of a fourth plane crashing into a field.

My brother-in-law works across the street from the Pentagon. I called home and woke up my husband (he was working nights at the time). I told Dave what happened and asked him to try to reach his brother, Jack.

My boss called a meeting in case we were activated for emergency duties. If this was a terrorist attack, they could have other targets all over the country, including the major refinieries in Baton Rouge. Animal Control is a law enforcement agency, and we could be called to assist with any emergy situation in our city. We stopped taking all calls but animal emergencies, and told our officers to finish their priority calls, come in from the field, and await orders from the Mayor on what our agency should do.

There were a lot of phone calls and emergency meetings that day. But most of that day was spent transfixed before the TV in the conference room. We watched as the firefighters rushed in and the towers fell. I felt my stomach drop -- my grandfather was a fire captain with the New Orleans Fire Department. That's his fire helmet in the picture.

I knew what the firefighters had done, and I knew that they were gone. I thought of an old friend who worked for Morgan Stanley as a Japanese translator, and I thought of the restaurant staff at Windows on the World. I worried about Jack and frantically tried to reach him, but of course all the phone lines to DC were jammed. So I e-mailed Jack at work and at home.

Finally, around four thirty, I got a brief, telegram-style e-mail from Jack: "Got home OK. Took all day. Scotty's safe, too. Try to call tomorrow. Unbelievable."

I called Dave and told him that Jack and his wife were OK.

At five o'clock, we made plans for answering emergency animal calls overnight, and everyone went home. Traffic was slow, and the sky was full of helicopters from the National Guard station. Guard trucks were deployed along the streets accessing Exxon, and from the Interstate, I could see helicopters circling the other chemical plants along the river.

I got home, hugged Dave, and we settled down to watch TV.

I was too stunned to knit for quite awhile but as I felt anxiety mounting within me, I reached for the nylon zipper-bag which held the socks I had in progress -- the socks pictured above. Noro Kureyon, and some leftover soft brown wool for the heels and toes.

I just clutched the socks and stared at the TV for a long time. And then I started knitting.

I had cast on and knitted about two inches of the first sock's cuff the night before.

By the time we finally went to bed on 9/11 -- long after midnight -- I had finished the second sock.

The funny thing is, I don't remember knitting them.

I don't recall a single stitch.

I remember picking them up, holding them, and starting to knit.

Then I remember having two finished socks. Some time after they were finished, I noticed that I had knitted the colorway in reverse on the second sock.

I remember that I rewound the skein when I started the the first sock the previous night, but in my horrified and zombie-like state on 9-11, I must have started the second sock right off the second ball, from the center pull. I didn't remember doing that. I never, ever, start a skein without rewinding it. But that's what I must have done that day.

I decided that I liked the randomness of the color sequence. They are fraternal twins, not identical. I like them, but I don't remember knitting them.

I only remember watching the day unfold on TV. I do remember feeling my hands knitting, but, although I must have glanced at my hands from time to time, I don't remember seeing my hands knitting. My eyes were locked on the TV.

I do not recall paying the least bit of attention to those socks. The socks simply served as a focus for all the random kinetic energy in my body, energy that wanted me to pace up and down, to run away, to pound fists against hard surfaces, to scream, to break things and slam doors, to crawl in a cave and hide.

But instead of doing any of those things, my hands made socks while the rest of me tried to absorb the shock.

My hands made socks, kept me grounded and kept panic at bay on that terrible day. My hands made socks while my mind processed one new realization at a time: thousands of people are dead.... we will never eat dinner at Windows on the World.... They are not finding survivors.... we will never see the view of New York from the top of the WTC.... The world has changed forever.

Of course, these socks have become my "9-11 Socks."

Everybody remembers exactly what they were doing and where they were on the morning of September 11.

But -- those of you who read my blog, I wonder -- what did you do to keep sane that day?

Did you knit? What did you knit? Do you still have the item, and can you ever use it without thinking of 9-11?

Let's all take a few moments today to remember those who died that day.


p.s. -- weeks later, I learned that my old friend no longer worked for Morgan Stanley, and was not in the WTC on 9/11.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Croc Socks for Steve-O

It's difficult for me to describe how hard the loss of Steve Irwin is for those of us working in the animal welfare and wildlife conservation community. Few people have done as much as Steve Irwin to educate the public about wildlife conservation and to capture the public's heart regarding the plight of wildlife worldwide.

As a herpetologist, I think that Steve's most important work has been to help people understand that all living things are important, that every creature has its place in the scheme of things, and that they all deserve protection. Not just the cute and cuddly animals, not just the big dramatic animals, but the ugly ones and the scary ones and the little, bitty, seemingly insignificant ones as well.

Worthy of our vigilant guardianship are not just lions and tigers and bears and whales, but also crocodiles and sharks and snakes and spiders and bats.

Everything counts. Every living thing has a meaning and a purpose, and everything is beautiful if we stop long enough to really have a look at it.

In the above photo you will see my own snake hook, in honor of Steve, and two balls of green Koigu.

To mark Steve's passing, I am designing a pair of Crocodile Socks. Yes, fellow crocophiles, I know that salties are not truly green like this Koigu colorway. But it's what I have in stash today. and I can always work up another pair in a dustier color more authentic to Crocodylus porosus.

If I like them well enough, I will offer the pattern for sale. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Audubon Zoo.

R.I.P., Steve-O. The world is a poorer place without you.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Search Continues...

Timmy Sock is stil missing. So far, the search for Timmy has turned up a considerable number of missing objects, including, but not limited to, the items shown above:
  • several missing (and since replaced) cat collars (only one shown here)
  • a back massager
  • a set of keys I no longer know the purpose for
  • a pencil with a rattlesnake pattern printed on it
  • a letter opener shaped like a marlin
  • a bottle of Excedrin from the 1970's (do not become alarmed -- this was in the rear of a desk drawer, not in a medicine cabinet)
  • one commercially made tennis sock
  • a small red pocketknife
  • a keychain screwdriver
  • an astounding number of cat toys (only two depicted here).
Sigh. At least I have a cleaner house now. Timmy remains missing, but all non-knitting related locations have been searched, even unlikely locations such as the Dark Pit Behind The Stereo Cabinet, and The Land of Doom Behind the Dryer.

I have contacted the milk carton people but they refuse to put Timmy's picture out. This is very disappointing. Of course, I haven't tried the goat-milk people yet. Perhaps they will consider it, what with Timmy being wool, and sheep and goats being so closely related and all that.


Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: