Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Spinning on All Hallows

There are some forces on this earth far older than written language, far older than any religion, older than mankind's ability to reckon by the stars and tell tales by the fire, older even than the first creatures to mate and migrate according to these ancient rhythmns.

The ebb and flow of the seasons is something acknowledged at the primordial level within each of us, regardless of our conscious beliefs. Long before human beings were able to measure the year by the length of days and the progress of the sun, the dying back of green things and the onset of cold weather must have been an ominous thing indeed. A time of death and ending -- certainly it marked the end of the year.

Imagine youself in a place far away, deep in the past, wrapped in animal skins and sleeping close to the fire at night in a cave or some other makeshift shelter. You are so far back in the past that there are no humans yet in places like Australia and the Americas. Your people are newcomers in the northern lands. You must live by your wits, following the herds you hunt for sustenance, and supplementing your diet with the seasonal bounty you find along the way -- fresh greens in springtime, fruit in the summer, nuts in autumn and roots in the bitter depths of winter. Imagine how miraculous the appearance of each of these things must seem to you, an early hunter and gatherer. Imagine how sacred a fern-clad spring must seem -- life-giving water bursting forth from the ground, water that doesn't make you sick from the intestinal parasites passed along by the mammoth and reindeer who graze along the banks of rivers.

The mammoth and mountain sheep leave other things behind -- tufts of their coats snag on twigs and branches when they rub against the bushes in the spring. You collect these fibers, make padding out of them, and save them for warmth in the winter.

The females of your people bleed in harmony with the changes in the moon, yet magically do not become weak or die, and babies erupt from the place where this mystical bleeding occurs. The women feed their babies with nutrients that spring forth from their own breasts. You do not understand how these things happen, but they happen only to women, and you suspect that being female is a very powerful thing.

The males of your tribe avoid you when the mysterious bleeding is going on, but when you give birth, you are given special status for awhile, and the tribe celebrates. Females seduce the males of other tribes and by doing so, bring fresh genetic material into the bloodline of your small group. Perhaps the males of the other tribe offer a hide, a flint blade, or some meat in appreciation of this mating opportunity.

Lineage is traced through the female, because everyone knows who their own mother is.

You do not know of the tilt of the earth being responsible for the change of the seasons. You simply know that there is a rhythmn that brings forth bounty at some times and dearth at others. When autumn comes, the leaves fall, and the last fruit disappears, you have no way of knowing for certain that spring will come again. You know only that as the days get shorter and the nights get colder, death creeps in from all sides. The onset of cold weather, from your point of view, is a very bad thing, fraught with ill omens and evil spirits.

By daylight, death is real and tangible, and sometimes visits in the form of wolves or cave bears. By night, the wolves who watch from the shadows seem far more mysterious than they do in daylight, and their eyes glow when they dare to come within reach of the firelight. Your own eyes do not do this. Perhaps the wolves have a special power that you lack. Perhaps the spirits of the dead can shape-shift into wolflike form. It is easy to imagine these things in the dancing shadows cast by the fire.

Huddled around the fire at night, your people begin to tell tales of death and the underworld as the leaves fall around you and the cold fingers of frost tease at the mouth of your cave. Your shaman dons skins and a fearsome animal skull, and dances to frighten Death away.

Now imagine yourself in another life, thousands of years in the future. Your people no longer hunt and gather. Instead, they have learned to plant crops along the banks of rivers, in time with the seasons, to take advantage of the fertile soil deposited by the spring floods. Goats and sheep graze in verdant pastures along the riverbank, and your people eat their meat, drink their milk and make cheese from it.

Somewhere along the way, your people have learned that the hair from the backs of sheep and goats can be twisted and wrought into thread, and this in turn can be woven into cloth. The same is true of some of the reeds that grow near the river as, also in time with the seasons, they grow, fall, and rot, to reveal the fibrous material hidden within their stalks.

We do not know who first twisted a lock of wool into a thread, but I like to think it was a young girl, bored silly as she tended the sheep, who found a tuft of wool clinging to a twig and who began to twist that twig and to pull on the resulting strand of yarn, using the same idle gesture with which she twirled her long hair to relieve the dullness of sheep-tending. I like to imagine her running home through the fields, to show her mother what she has made. She has no idea that she has just changed the history of the entire human race.

By now, the language of your people has become far more complex, and the changes of the seasons have names. The forces that cause these changes are still not understood, but now these forces carry the names of gods and goddesses who rule over them and who protect fertility, the harvest, the wind and the rain. And these gods and goddesses seem responsive to the rituals that have grown up around the changes of the seasons, the harvesting of crops and the birth of children.

A goddess also rules over the ancient, sacred spring in the valley, and she must be appeased with offerings of flowers and wine when fresh water is taken, lest the source dry up.

Women have learned new powers. By twirling a stick and flicking our fingers, we turn a handful of fluff into fine thread, and this we turn into cloth. These actions of creating clothing to cover and warm ourselves has become so terribly important that trade with other tribes revolves largely around these things, and a whole host of goddesses and spirits must be appeased at each stage in the spinning of fiber and the creation of cloth.

Skilled dyers grind dried insects and plant roots and create color in the depth of winter when no flower blooms. The making of color, the transformation of wool into thread and then into cloth -- these things are no less than magic, and the tools of the spinner, weaver and dyer become infused with the power of those who wield them.

Someone in your tribe has made the association with the whirling of a spindle, the turning of the stars above, and the cycle of the seasons. Your potters and artisans begin to draw circles and spirals, and to make these important marks upon vessels, perhaps even upon your own skin. This is done in acknowledgement of the importance of cycles -- the cycles of the moon, the pivoting sky, the waxing and waning moon, and the change of the seasons.

People sit around the fire in a circle in which everyone has equal status, and some tribes make their huts in the shape of a circle as well. Your people begin to place stones in a circle, to mark the spot where the sun rises during the course of the year. Inside these circles, creation myths are told, and in many of these myths, this world and the cosmos were spun into existence by a spinning goddess.

But there is change in the wind. This new, agrarian society requires that your tribe stay in one place most of the time, and this place must be defended against invaders from less verdant valleys, invaders who would raid it for the bounty of its rivers, fields and flocks and for the fertility and skills of its women. For the first time, specific weapons are forged, not for hunting boar, but for killing men.

Inevitably, someone has discovered that brute force and weapons also hold another power -- the power to keep women in check, the power to supress those who, for so long, have been surrounded by a mixture of awe and tabu. Control over when and with whom they will mate is taken away from the females, to assure the continuation of the leading warriors' and landholders' genetic material. Matriarchal lineage is supressed, and male lineage is imposed in its place.

Patriarchal lineage requires absolute control over every aspect of the behavior of women, lest someone else's blood creep into the ruler's line. Women become the property of their husbands, fathers and brothers. Women are compelled to cover their hair and disguise their figures, constraints are put upon their daily activities, and they are largely removed from political power. Even a queen has little real power except for her ability to being forth sons, raise them to be royalty and to manipulate politics favorably to ensure the prosperity of her offspring.

The need for weapons and organized defense of the valley also requires the development of new deities to rule over this developing business of war and power, and these deities are given male form. In the worship of the male-warrior-deities, it becomes important to view the simple powers of women, not as life-giving and beneficial, but as something to be deeply feared.

One day, a leader of warriors notices that, after a night of bedding down with women -- perhaps after a seasonal celebration in honor of the fertility goddess -- his men are too fatigued to perform well in battle with a maruading tribe. He decides that women somehow steal power from men through the act of sex, and declares that frequent mating must be avoided if the marauders are to be kept at bay.

Generations later, when written language emerges, these behavioral prohibitions are written into law and inscribed into the texts of holy books. By then a story of its own has grown up around the origin of these behavioral controls, and they have become, not the code of men, but the word of God.

Sexual sin has been invented, and women have been placed in charge of it.

Now imagine yourself much closer to the present, in a dark and unforgiving time. It has been a few thousand years since your womanhood was revered and respected; instead, you are feared and despised. The men who enforce their own interpretation of the rules of a male god are now in charge of the land, and a high council of this church's leaders has given you a soul by the margin of a single vote.

These men have made it a crime to honor the old ways, but still, they cannot avoid them. Instead, they impose upon the old celebrations the rites of the new male deity, but these rites are still tied to the seasons -- the new rites are simply superimposed upon the old days of the calendar.

The saints of this new religion are conveniently assigned patronage over spinning, weaving, farming, sheepherding, and other aspects of daily life previously guided by local gods and goddesses. There is constant and dramatic struggle for control over land and people, a struggle ostensibly for the salvation of souls but actually for the centralization of power.

The greatest crime is to display any power that may, even in the smallest way, rival the power of the male deity, his priests, and, by extension, the king or emperor. As a woman, you are feared for the simple magic of home and hearth, for the magic of dye, spinning, weaving and herbal healing. If you are young and pretty, you are feared for your ability to seduce men, and other women become jealous, and accuse you of using evil spells and consorting with spiritual enemies of the male deity. If you are old or unappealing, or if you have a gentle way with animals or a special touch at brewing ale, you are feared for this magic, and are accused of unspeakable acts.

The same accusations fly if you are a man perceived as being "different." If you step outside the boundaries of your assigned social role, you can be disposed of as well.

A whole host of superstitions now surrounds women who are skilled at the business of making yarn or fabric, and, in fact, except for the act of spinning and providing homespun fabric for the family, the fiber arts now are largely forbidden to us, with these valuable activites having been usurped by men, and the powerful guilds they forge to retain control over the lucrative businesses of dyeing, weaving fine cloth, felting, fulling ... and a new, profitable way of making fabric called "knitting."

If you are a woman, and you upset anyone, you are easily disposed of. All anyone has to do is to cry out, "witch!"

By now, the new religions have trodden down and taken firm hold over the old ways, but certain undercurrents are too powerful to remain supressed. In the rural places, the peasants still light fires and drink ale to mark the changes of the seasons, and young couples still tryst in the old places of fertility. Tales are still told 'round the fire, but now the fire is in a stone hearth, and the spinner of yarn tells the tales passed on to her from many generations of grandmothers. As she speaks, the turning of the drop spindle holds magic of its own, and many people also believe that the turning of the newly invented spinning wheel enchants the spinner, placing her into a trance through which she can see visions of things to come.

And now bring yourself back to the present. Maybe you are Catholic, Methodist, Jewish or agnostic, but your life still hangs on the turning of the seasons, whether you dwell in the city or on the land. Several times during the course of the coming year, you will prepare special foods, light candles, and make lighthearted purchases of holiday lights and decorations, because your insistent subconscious mind is reminding you that it is Time. Time to acknowledge the change in the season and the slant of the light.

Halloween, the Eve of All Saints, or, under its old name, Samhain ... this is one of the oldest holidays in human history. Like the ancient belief that this is the night when the dead walk the earth on their way to the other side, the Christianization of this holiday -- All Soul's Day -- also honors all who have died during the year (saints are honored the following day, November 1st).

But the old traditions still remain, and rightly so -- it's important to remember our roots, regardless of what you believe or practice in your workaday life.

Our current celebration is not so different from the practices of days gone by. People in days of old carved a crude lantern from a turnip or gourd and left it at the doorstep to light the dead on their way to the other side on this night, and offerings of ale and sweets were left on the stoop to keep the dead from entering the home in search of refreshment. Noisemaking and merriment were believed to keep the terrifying spirits of the dead at bay.

I always spin on Halloween, to honor the countless generations of women who spun by the fireside, women who passed down the old stories from one generation to the next -- it's where we get the term to "tell a yarn."

Celebrating Halloween is an important way to honor my Irish ancestry -- Ireland was, and still is, one of the few holdouts of the old ways, and the Celts were the last among Western peoples to succumb to the patriarchial and expansionist supression of their cultural roots, a culture in which the affairs of women were of prime importance.

I also spin to remember the women who burned at the stake, not because they were evil, but because others were jealous of their arts and skills, or simply because they were different, or unpopular. They need to be remembered.

Finally, I always spin a bit on this ancient day to connect myself to the countless generations who have held a bit of wool in one hand while a whirling stick dangled from the other. It isn't so hard to imagine an endless thread tying generation to generation, a thread disappearing far into the shadows of time, passing from the hands of one woman to another, all the way back to the first woman, the woman who spun the sky.

Happy Halloween.

Many thanks to all who sent warm thoughts about my cousin. I am working on the chemo hat pattern, and will post it in two or three parts during the course of the next week or so.

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pink is for Healthy

I've started, and deleted, this post half a dozen times -- and there's just no easy way to begin.

My cousin Pam has been diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. Although she has complained of extreme fatigue and upset stomach for some months, her doctor attributed those symptoms to general stress. She's a busy woman, what with her landscaping work and helping to manage a grandchild while her daughter finishes her degree, and the doctor didn't bother to look any further than "stress," which angers me to no end -- if I were a doctor, and had a middle-aged patient complaining of exhaustion, coughing, and constant stomach ailments, and if I also knew that patient was a smoker, I certainly would have done a routine chest X-ray months ago. There is no such thing as "just stress."

Two weeks ago, she went to the emergency room, feeling terrible with a sudden infection, and after only a few tests they diagnosed extensive lung cancer, which has already metastasized into the surrounding bone and into the liver. I'm not an oncologist, but I simply don't see how it advanced so fast when she's been to the doctor several times in the past few years.

Anyway, they started chemo immediately, and after four doses, she's gone home until the next round. She has chemo scheduled every couple of weeks until Christmas. She is sick, she is in pain, she is weak, and her beautiful cedar-colored hair will fall out.

I am beside myself, proundly sad and profoundly angry at once. Partly angry at her doctor for failing to use basic diagnostic tools ... partly angry at cancer in general ... very, very angry at cigarettes in particular ... and angry at the government for continuing to coddle the tobacco industry. I'm also, perhaps irrationally, angry at my cousin. Why didn't she quit smoking? I quit, twice. I was hard, but I did it, and now I am a non-smoker. She's often talked about quitting, but said she didn't think she could ever find the willpower. But that particular anger visits infrequently, and leaves quickly. I can't stay angry at her for not quitting. I have to be angry at the cancer instead.

I find myself far more angry at the cigarette culture we both grew up in, the cigarette culture that started sucking us in as small children -- otherwise why would I still remember a TV announcer intoning "This is Marlboro Country" forty years after the commercial aired? Why do I clearly remember men who would "walk a mile for a Camel" or who would "rather fight than quit?" Those commercials aired during Batman and Lassie and during westerns like Bonanza and Gunsmoke -- shows watched by millions of American kids. And while the cigarette companies always argue that their TV ads were not aimed at little kids, little kids internalized them nonetheless, and then when we hit the rebellious teen years, we already knew what brand we wanted to try. Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should! You've come a long way, baby! Taste me, taste me ... come on and taste me!

But although being angry is a normal stage in the grieving process, anger doesn't help, and it sure as hell doesn't cure cancer. I need to feel this anger, experience it, and let it pass out of my system, but anger won't cure the cancer, and feeling angry while knitting a chemo cap defnitely does not infuse it with love and healing energy.

So I called up Ray at Knitivity and chose the cherry colored Down Home Cotton Fleece, both because Pam will look as vibrant as possible in that color and also because I am envisioning clean, healthy, pink lungs with each stitch I knit. I also have some Koigu for a second hat.

I think it's important to set a proper mood when knitting things intended for loved ones recovering from an illness or a rough time in life. I like to set aside special time when I can be uninterrupted, so I can concentrate on the person for whom the gift is intended. Lighting a candle helps. I knit, focus my thoughts, and meditate on clear mental images of that person healing, smiling, dancing, running and enjoying stellar health. If there is a particular body part in question, I like to envision that body part as clean, healthy and strong. I hold those images firmly in my mind as I work on the item, and when I stop knitting, I blow out the candle and set the knitting aside.

If I have the luxury of a little additional time and fine weather, I carry the knitting with me to sit beside a lake or stream, to be around vibrant green and growing things, flowing water, flowers and other symbols of the life force.

I keep some lavender in the bag with these projects, for calming and restfulness for the recipient, and, if possible, a picture of the person for whom I'm knitting the item.

The chemo hat I am making for Pam will be a beret with a deep, soft headband. I will choose some traditional gansey textured patterns for the crown, patterns symbolic of life and abundance. And I'll take the cap out on a bright October day when a cool breeze is blowing, symbolic of clean, fresh air going into healthy lungs. I have also set aside a tote bag just for this project -- everything I can do to focus positive energy specifically on Pam.

I can't cure the cancer, but I can knit a hat, and offer moral support. I want to suggest that she shave her own head before the hair starts falling out in clumps. Deciding when and where to become bald is one of the few acts of control that a chemo patient has. "Don't let the cancer take your hair away," I will say. "Take it off yourself, all at once, under your own terms, and save it in a special place."

It seems like a small thing, but I have seen how empowering this single act has been to other cancer patients.

This will be a new chemo hat pattern, and I will share it as I work on the design. If you have someone in your own life for whom you need to make a chemo hat, perhaps, together, we can make this a knit-along project.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Mystery Wheel

I stopped at an estate sale one day this fine weekend and what did I see for sale but this -- click on the picture to make it larger and see the details:

This is a spinning wheel of considerable vintage. Likely pre-Victorian. It came from the estate of a couple who collected antiques from Europe and the British Isles.
The estate sale managers were trying to sell the wheel itself and the alternate flywheel separately, describing it as an "extra wheel," and speculating that someone might buy it as a decoration. I urged them to sell the wheel and the alternate flywheel together, because they are a set, and it's bad enough that the treadle and footman are missing, along with some other parts, but to sell the alternate flywheel separately would completely degrade any remaining value on the wheel. It was priced a bit out of my range for speculative purchases, but no one else bought it, and the seller is warehousing it for at least a few weeks. That will give me time to consider whether it is worth purchasing, with a goal of restoration in mind.
According to the references I have inside my head, in books at hand, and what I could find on the Internet, I think this is likely a Northern European wheel.
Let's see what components we have at hand:
Spindles, treadles and footman are missing.
However, there are two flywheels, and they are easily interchangable, turning smoothly once inserted into position. One flywheel is heavier than the other by at least eight ounces. having a stouter rim, a larger hub, and stouter spokes. So my guess is that this wheel was likely used both for linen and woolen production, and the flywheels interchanged as needed.
Each flywheel has an iron axle on one end that sets into the frame, and on the other end, the axle rests in a slot on the frame, with the crank (a curved piece of wrought iron) extending beyond the frame to meet the footman. If the footman were there, that is.

In all likelihood this was originally a spindle wheel, and not a flyer wheel.

Although at first glance the upper mother-of-all sits perpendicular to the frame, if you click on the picture to make it larger you can see that it easily rotates to the right or left, because it actually screws onto a vertical wooden screw shaft. It rotates easily in this position. The screw mount is raised and lowered by a carved thumb nut, which sits directly atop the wheel frame. This upper mother-of-all may have sported a flyer at some time.

What puzzles me is that there seems to be no means to firmly secure the upper mother-of-all in a position perpendicular to the wheel. Is a part missing, or was it secured in some other manner?

There is a second mother-of all mounted lower down, in the form of a horizontal wooden bar that rests within grooves above the flywheel inside the frame, and the maidens sprout from this bar, pointing toward the spinner. This bar is attached to the vertical wooden screw shaft, and is raised and lowered by means of the thumb nut atop the frame. The screw shaft continues upward, and the upper mother-of-all screws directly onto it.

The lower maidens appear to be set up for use with a spindle. It looks like it held a spindle with a very small whorl -- I think that is called a "bat's head" whorl. It rests in such a position that a spindle could have been extended out to the right, using this mount, while the upper mother-of-all was positioned with the working end to the left, and two people could have sat on a bench next to one another, spinning simultaneously.

One side of the frame base is shorter than the other, which also puzzles me, unless it was made that way deliberately so someone's foot could rest there -- either the right foot of a spinner treadling with her left, or the feet of someone sitting next to her, spinning off the lower spindle.

It also occurs to me that the upper mother-of-all could have been added later as an update, to support a now-missing flyer. That does seem to be the case -- the upper assembly is a different type of construction and a different wood has been used. Some clever person may have designed this to screw directly onto the existing screw shaft.

Overall, this wheel is in fairly good condition, however, the wood is so old it is actually somewhat soft in places. There is no apparent insect damage. Just age.

I was a bit frustrated because somewhere in the past I had seen a reference to a very old castle-style wheel, similar to this one and also with interchangeable flywheels, described as a "weaver's wheel," but for the life of me I couldn't recall the reference.

While Googling for information on this particular wheel configuration, I stumbled across a public domain photo of a painting by Victorian artist Marianne Stokes, a native of Austria. The painting is entitled, "St. Elizabeth of Hungary Spinning for the Poor."

The wheel in the painting is strikingly similar to the wheel I ran across. Considerably larger, but very similar:

I learned that St. Elizabeth lived in the 1200s, and for about eleven seconds I got all excited and said, "holy cow, an 800-year-old spinning wheel!" But almost immediately I realized that a Victorian painter likely would have used a spinning wheel readily at hand for a prop, rather than try to obtain an authentic six-hundred-year-old wheel to add authenticity to the painting. Most young women at the time would have been reasonably competent spinners, so the artist could simply have seated a young woman in medieval costume and hairstyle at the nearest wheel and told her to spin. No doubt a good way to make the model sit still for awhile, too.

So. Almost certainly not a medieval wheel, but it's likely to be circa 1850 or perhaps a lot earlier.

The painting clearly depicts a spindle wheel, with an interesting distaff attached to the top, but the construction is very similar to the wheel I found. I suspect that the artist painted the wheel in still life before seating her model and putting her to work making yarn.

I told the seller of this wheel that I was interested but it was more than I wanted to pay for a wheel missing critical parts, and he said he would consider a lower price. I think it would be a real thrill to obtain and restore a truly antique wheel.

So that's the extent of my sleuthing. Ideas or input, anyone? Surely there must be someone -- probably several people -- among my readers with a firmer knowledge of spinning wheel history than my own.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Early Bird Gets To Frog.

Y'all, I am a day person and all that, but this business of garage sales, of getting up at 4:30am so you can be fully caffeinated and have all your battered paperback novels, old clothes and other craptastic junk laid out in time for the early birds who descend upon your merchandise at Moslem dawn (the moment a black thread can be distinguished from a white one, when the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer) ...

...well, it's for the birds. The early birds.

Although I suspect that the American Orthodox Bargainhunter interpretation of Garage Sale Dawn is determined, not by the visibility of contrasting threads, but by that point in the process of daybreak at which the garage sale merchandise can be discerned from the surrounding shadows. That exact moment is the time when, according to the Ancient and Secret Doctrine of Garage Sales, you are officially open for business.

The time you want your own garage sale to be open -- say, eight o'clock or some other halfway civilized hour -- is irrelevant. Higher forces are at work here, and if your merchandise is not on display and ready to be purchased at first light, the faithful hordes will pound on your door until you accommodate them on their crusade.

So it behooves you to be up at half-past-crazy, fortified with copious amounts of caffeine.

Which is what I did. Coffee in hand, I ventured outside to arrange my offerings, early enough for disgruntled bluejays to throw things at me for waking them up.

If you put out your junk, they will come.

And they did.

Items that people were actually looking for, which, of course, I did not have:

  • Antique corkscrews
  • Old bottle openers, either hand-held models with advertising printed on the handle, or the wall-mounted kind
  • Beer steins

  • Retro ashtrays. So far, we seem to have a theme going, but then it changes to ...

  • Salt and pepper shakers

  • Antique shoehorns (people collect shoehorns?)

  • Tinware

  • Commemorative plates

  • Beanie babies (people are still into that?)

  • Coca-cola merchandise

  • Retro clothes (sought not by early birds, but by college students, those enviable creatures who rolled out of bed considerably later in the morning)

Note to knitters: Those of you who do not have a stash-tolerant housemate might want to arm yourself with the above information. And here is why:

After the ashtrays-and-Coca-Cola guy went away, I considered that if he collects ashtrays and Coke merchandise with enough enthusiasm to drive around pawing through other people's junk at six o'clock in the morning, then it is entirely probable that he needs at least as many cubic feet of storage space as the average knitter devotes to yarn stash, except ...

The Coca-Cola signs and ashtrays are not stored. They are, no doubt, all over the house. On display. Everywhere. This means that there are entire houses in my city -- and yours, too -- with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ashtrays, shoehorns, beer steins, commemorative plates and pressed-tin Coca-Cola signs mounted on every wall and laid out on every level surface.

So stand firm, look your yarn-intolerant housemate straight in the eye and say, "It is yarn. At least it is not Coca-Cola signs. Or shoehorns."

Items not for sale, each of which I could have sold ten times over:

  • A can of WD-40, which I had used to lubricate the rowing machine that was frozen into the upstroke from disuse (although it did make one dandy hanger for dirty clothes) ...

  • The two folding tables displaying books and oddments

  • The write-on, wipe-off whiteboard easel I'd written prices on

  • The comfy folding chair I was sitting in, to which I even had the foresight to tape an index card marked NOT FOR SALE with a bold red marker ...

Item most definitely not for sale, which I could have sold once:

  • The tote bag containing a gansey-in-progress, which is very nearly done

The actual events leading up to this last offer went as follows:

I had a little flurry of customers all at once, so I tucked my knitting bag under my chair when I got up to answer a question about an item. The moment I was finished with that individual, a tall and breathless woman thrust my own knitting bag under my nose and wagged it at me.

"How much?"

Offering an appropriately pleasant look, I said, "Oh, that's not for sale. That's my knitting bag. I put it under my chair ... the one marked NOT FOR SALE."

I reached for the bag. She hesitated.

"Are you sure you don't want to sell it? My sister always wants yarn."

"No, I'm sure. It's not for sale. I'm working on a sweater ... see?" I grabbed one handle of the bag and tugged a corner of the garment into view. See? Sweater! Evidence that I am actually using this item! The needles are still warm!

"I'll give you two dollars for all of it. I can unravel it. She doesn't mind unraveled yarn. She makes rugs."

"No." I clutched the bag, politely but firmly. This was quite a situation.

First, this woman did not seem to understand that my own personal knitting was not for sale.

Second, she offered me two dollars for it. Two dollars! I felt like a Klingon whose honor has been called into question. I struggled against thoughts of grabbing the nearest bat'leth, shouting "Qa'pla'!!" and commiting some serious mayhem upon this person.

"Three?" Persistent wench, she.

"I. Said. No. " I pulled the bag away.

The woman shrugged. "Your loss," she said.

I think not. There is 90% completed gansey in Inca Alpaca in that tote bag. But even if it were knitted up in the cheapest, bleakest yarn money can buy, it most certainly would not be my loss.

I put the bag on my shoulder and clamped onto it with my elbow until Crazy Garage Sale Lady scooped up a small wire basket and a Tom Clancy book and went on her way.

As soon as there was a lull, I popped into the house to stash my gansey away.

Close call. That was scary!

So I found the most simple, most basic sock I have in progress, precisely because it would fit into the little belt-bag I was wearing to hold the envelope with the garage sale money.

Or at least I picked up what I thought was the most simple, basic sock I had in progress. It is a mindless, all-over, mini-cable ribbed pattern. And?

It is my own original pattern. A pattern I have knitted dozens of times. It lives in my head. To make it, I cast on 72 stitches to make socks for my husband, and 64 to make socks for me. It is my default pattern. It is the pattern I knit when someone is in the hospital and my brain won't work for anything else.

This particular pair of socks is intended for my husband. So I knitted along uneventfully ... a round here, a round there, in between customers after the sunrise stampede had dispersed a little, my knitting safely in my belt-bag where no one else can snatch it up. Then I divided in half for the heel, and worked away on a 32-stitch heel flap a few rows at a time.

When the flap was finished, it came time to turn the heel.

And that is when I noticed that I had just knit a 32-stitch heel flap.

On a 72-stitch sock.

No matter how hard I stared at the heel flap, no amount of algebra, geometry or trig would convert "thirty-two" into "half of seventy-two."

I promise, I can count. Quite well, thank you. I can even do math in my head, except for long division. But, when forced to face a bargain-hungry mob at an hour when any sensible person would still be in bed, or at least fishing ... that is, if the fish were out of bed ...

... apparently, by mid-morning, I am unable to tell whether I am making a sock for my husband, or for me.

Frogged the heel furiously, counted off 36 stitches properly, and put all knitting projects away for the rest of the day, being fearful of knitting a third sleeve, a flipper or maybe a beak onto the gansey.

You understand.

P.S. Jigsaw sincerely thanks you all for all your kind thoughts. She's holding steady ... and sleeping a lot.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, October 06, 2007

This ...

...is Jigsaw, and this is why I was carrying on about finishitis and shawls the other night, because she had to spend the night at the vet after having a tumor removed from her back, and a long-overdue blog update was the best possible way to distract me from climbing the walls for awhile.

I found a lump on Jigsaw's back last week. She was scheduled for surgery the other day. We are awaiting the lab results on the excised tissue.

At least Dave and I are awaiting the lab results. Jigsaw is simply wondering why I have to keep shoving analgesics and antibiotics down her throat. I had to follow the poor dear to her hiding place to take this picture.

Our vet thinks we caught it in time. I hope so. Until we get the test results, I will be resuming my normal duties as a professional worrier. Jigs is one of our older cats, and I will be chewing my nails until I see the results.

Pouring coffee into myself at the moment. I am not up at 4:30am for funzies. We are having that garage sale today.

Folks, today would be a good time to check your own pets for lumps, bumps and other anomalies. Gently palpate your pet all over, especially between the shoulder blades. This was the most common site for vaccines until recent years, and some varieties of rabies vaccine are strongly associated with this type of tumor. Jigsaw's tumor felt like it was about the size of a lentil, and it moved freely because it wasn't yet attached to other tissue. Attached lumps don't move as easily. If you find anything out of the ordinary, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007


One of the side effects of startitis is that eventually, I do have an attack of finishitis. In between, I may not have a whole lot of knitting to report, except maybe for the occasional pair of socks or a hat. But then all of a sudden a whole bunch of things start lining themselves up to be finished and present themselves for admiration, more or less at once.
Still, I don't seem to make a lot of progress in the middle, and overcoming inertia is particularly problematic in the late summer, because even if I set myself up directly beneath the air conditioner and venture outside only to earn money for cat food, yarn, tea and peanut butter (note my priorities), it is just too damn hot to work up my best effort for major knitting projects.
But when the first hint of anything remotely autumn-like begins to happen -- and that can be something as simple as the the first suicidal leaf, the merest hint of a breeze and a ten-percent drop in the humidity, even if the actual daytime temperature barely drops into the eighties -- the motivation finally kicks in to finish up some big things, so they can actually be worn this fall or winter.
This fine October morning dawned mild, dry and breezy, and the light was good, so I thought ahead for lunchtime today, and visited one of my favorite local haunts for a quick photo shoot.
This autumn, the first object to fall off my needles in a finished state is:

...the final version of my Voodoo Shawl pattern done in Koigu KPPPM. I have knitted this shawl four times, in four other yarns, while developing the pattern, three of which were gifts for friends, and one which will soon be auctioned off for a fundraiser (watch this blog for details!).

Of course, it does not really swoop up at the center back like that. I just used the convenient points on the cast-iron fence for display. The photo below shows the way the neckline truly sits. This shawl, finally, is for me. Me, me, me, me, me:

Here it is, draped on the headstone of a lady who died almost two hundred years ago. I bet she hasn't been close to a pretty piece of lace in a long, long time, so I didn't think she'd mind a visit from the shawl.

My venue for today's photo shoot was Highland Cemtery, the oldest registered cemetery in Baton Rouge. I couldn't think of a better place to display the Voodoo Shawl than a genuine Louisiana graveyard, with the dead of 1812 resting peacefully beneath the oak and crepe myrtle trees. Highland Cemetery is a tiny and well-tended burial ground, just half a block outside the south gate of the LSU campus. Long ago, I lived in some student apartments across the street, and in nice weather, I spent a lot of time studying in this peaceful spot. Today, condos have been built right up to the edge of the ancient cast iron fence:

I love old cemeteries, and I'm so glad this one is so well maintained by the historical society.

I'm pleased with the final version of the shawl, and soon Lisa Louie will test-knit one from the beta pattern. After that, and perhaps after a bit of editing, the pattern will be offered for sale.
Stay tuned.

Of course, the moment I had this shawl blocked, I immediately cast on another one in the laceweight Carina Nebula colorway from Knitivity. It's a Christmas gift for my Mom:

All together now ... "aaaaaaawww, ain't it so cute and little?"

Do not laugh. I know Christmas is only 82 days away.

But I am a Saints fan. And also a Cubs fan.

I believe anything is possible.

Besides hanging around in graveyards and taking pictures of knitting, the first hint of fall also spurs me each year to go on a frenzy of housecleaning. Most other people do their big, annual cleaning in the spring, but I consider autumn cleaning as a means to shake the debris of the opressive summer out of my life and welcome the new year with a super-clean and de-cluttered house.

Yes, I said "new year. " It's in my DNA. I observe and respect the old Celtic tradition of all Hallow's Eve marking the beginning of the New Year, and, in fact, that's where you'll find the roots of our modern Halloween festivities.

The ancient Celts believed the dead could cross over to the other side only on the last day of the year. Throughout each year, the souls of the departed remained in this realm, wandering from place to place, looking in on those they'd known in this life, awaiting their time to move on. But on the last night of the year, all of the dead were believed to take to the road in one mass-migration to the other side.

Naturally, the prospect of parading spirits generated fear among the citizenry, who left cakes and ale on their doorsteps to sustain the dead on their journey, much in the same way that footrace fans today hand out Gatorade to runners in the Boston Marathon -- "here, have a gulp and run along, quick!" The offering was, in effect, a bribe for the departed to have a sip and a bite, and hurry on their way.

No one wanted the migrating dead to linger too long in any one place, lest they wander indoors to be trapped for another year, and most people believed that folks who were foolish enough to neglect to leave an offering would be visited with some form of otherworldly retribution. So the doors were shut tight, and candles were placed outside along with the food, to help light the spirits along their journey.

It didn't take too many generations for young people to figure out that those who were brave enough to venture outside on that night would be rewarded with all the ale and sweetcakes they could consume -- and that it wasn't too hard to carry on, and to fake supernatural outrage at the homes of those who failed to set out some sustenance.

And thus we have the early origins of "trick or treat."

Autumn is a good time to mark a new year, because it gives us a clean slate: the big work of the year has been accomplished, the harvest is done, the fields are clear, and now we have the business of settling down by the hearth to prepare for the winter months, a time in which to repair tools, make garments, preserve meats, spin yarn, make babies to be born in the bounty of the upcoming summer, and tell the stories and legends that help create cultural continuity. Thus the origins of "to tell a yarn," because the spinner was often the family historian as well as the keeper and teller of ancient legends.

Winter was also the premium time for travelling bards to earn their bread and board reciting the current news and events, and recounting heroic tales, while members of the household gathered round the hearth to spin yarn, knit socks and sharpen their farming implements.

Either way, stories were told while yarn was spun, and a particularly good story no doubt took enough time for the spinner to fill an entire spindle, and then wind off a hank of yarn. And thus today, we "tell a yarn," particularly if the story is prolonged, exciting and perhaps more than a bit exaggerated.

So I guess it's the Irish in me that spurs me to fling open our closets every autumn and purge those things no longer worn or used, to make the house fit for the refreshment of winter, visiting guests, and the news they bring.

And so, in the ancient and venerable tradition of the American South, we are having a garage sale this weekend.

It amazes me, the crap we accumulate over a period of less than a decade.

Particularly amazing are the clothes we hang onto in the vain hope that their eventual reappearance as retro fashion items will coincide with the mystical reappearance of our college physiques. And since my 1978 body most definitely did not come back into style like my 70s clothes ... out go the clothes, and we'll take care of the '80s while we are at it as well.

Best forgotten, the '80s, methinks.

Don't panic -- I am saving a few very sentimental things. My blue suede poncho, a paisley shirt, the disco-days prom dress which caused my mother to swoon before she even saw the actual garment, when she saw how small the bag was when I brought it home -- the poor lady no doubt had visions of me swathed in a grand, femme and fluffy creation like her own prom gown, the amazing sort of garment which somehow manages to present you as identifiably female, while completely diguising, padding and blocking any view of, or access to, all the important parts.

Instead, she got a daughter wrapped in a yard of shimmery, stretch Qiana.

And yes, my date had a powder-blue tuxedo, a ruffled shirt and John Travolta hair. We had a good time at the prom, pointing at the ceiling while we danced and drank spiked punch. He is now in law enforcement, and I have every intention of using that photo as my get-out-of-jail pass, should I ever Martha-Stewart myself into any sort of trouble involving insider trading on Koigu and Noro futures.

But I digress.

Onward through the strata of junk.

There will be unwanted books, and strange kitchen oddments, unidentifable tools and random pieces of mismatched furniture. There will be surplus office junk and some random computer components. There will be surplus cages, aquariums, shoes and clothes. You'll find Christmas things, and art supplies, and music that we have grown tired of. Also, I am a costume junkie, so I decided to part with a few costumes in time for someone who is still a size 6 to enjoy them at Halloween. I have to be realistic. If I lose about 15 pounds, I could easily be back in a size 8. But I haven't seen size six since Ronald Reagan was in office, and I need room in my closet.

Note to area knitters: y'all are welcome to come by and sit and knit, but I am not destashing.

Some of the clearing out involves throwing away things that are too shabby to offer for sale or for donation. Among the things I'll be needing to toss out are my summer PJs, which are ratty beyond belief. So I need to buy new ones.

And with this being the end of summer (according to the calendar, if not the temperature), you would think that the retailers would have some summer PJs on deep discount, for me to buy now, save money and squirrel them away for next year.

But apparently, I am asking too much. All I want are some simple, cotton pajamas. Pajamas exactly like the ones I had in college, please: boxer-type drawstring bottoms without the boy's fly, and a collarless short-sleeved top cut like an old-fashioned baseball shirt in a simple, woven cotton fabric. Not a solid, wan pastel, please ... just a cheerful print or maybe some cute stripes.

Is it just me? Because I cannot find women's summer pajamas to suit me, on sale or otherwise.

I can find lacy things, frilly things, leopard-print things with black feathers around the breastal area, nylon lace spiderwebs, and stretchy things that glow in the dark. I can also find granny gowns and ruffle-edged short sets in a pastel pink cotton-poly blend. And this time of year in our student-saturated neck of the city, I can also find untold numbers of knee-length dorm shirts bearing the local universities' logos.

But I cannot find pajamas.

I do not want a nightgown, a sleep shirt, a teddy or a negligee. I do not want a camisole top paired with stretchy micro-shorts or capri pants. Nor do I want a handful of ribbon and lace to deploy strategically upon my nether regions. I want pajamas that were intended to be slept in, and not some tiny scrap of frill intended to remain upon my person during my most private moments. If I want to be that private, the PJs come off. I'm pretty straightforward about most things in life, including private moments. PJs are for sleeping in, and non-sleeping activities do not require gift wrap.

My college warm-weather PJs were the best pajamas ever. I wish I'd had the budget and the foresight to fill a bunker with them, and I also wish I'd had the foresight to stockpile them in a variety of sizes while I was at it. One turquoise-colored set sported a Hawaiian print with tiny surfboards, palm trees and hibiscus flowers. The other set had super-thin stripes in white, hot pink and indigo. I could hang around the dorm in those PJs and not be embarrassed in the least if I was stretched out with a textbook, catching the breeze on the big, wide windowsill in the common room and the maintenance man happened to walk by with his toolbox, or some giggling girl dashed past me, towing the boyfriend she was sneaking into her room (in which case I was soon joined in the common room by a grumpy and temporarily evicted roommate).

Before I got married I made it clear to my husband that I was not a Victoria's Secret kind of gal (to this day, I adamantly maintain that the real secret is that Victoria herself wears nothing but holey grey sweats, eats Cherry Garcia ice cream all day long, and never leaves her apartment except to dump off sketches of the new torture-bra designs that pay her tabs at Starbucks and Takee Outee)....

Huh? Sorry, I got temporarily derailed in a recurring fantasy which involves living in New York City and subsisting entriely on coffee, ice cream and Chinese delivery...

...anyway, I most deifnitely do not sleep in anything scratchy, ruffly, or with wings attached.

I just want some pajamas, and I have learned a cold, hard fact

Nobody seems to make simple, presentable, warm-weather pajamas for grown-up women anymore.

Looking online and in the stores today, if I was ten years old, I could have summer pajamas with poison dart frogs, fish, planets, turtles, bluebirds, or retro-hippie daisies. And if I were a grown-up guy, I could have boxer shorts with sharks.

Sharks! Cool!

Me? I would snatch up some guy-jammies with sharks on them in a second, but apparently the Fashion Facists have decided that guys no longer need pajama tops. I think the idea is to sell the pajama bottoms for the same price as a whole set of pajamas -- great for the ol' profit margin --but this presumes that either the guy is either so smokin' hot that he doesn't need a top, or that a less pumped-up dude will provide his own ratty t-shirt to somplete the ensemble. This fashion industry decision was made sometime around 1988. Guys can even get long flannel bottoms for winter. But just try finding a top. I dare you.


Pajamas. Plain, simple, loose, cotton, US size 10. Also, not pastel. Any leads?

Labels: , , , , ,

Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: