Sunday, March 23, 2008

For This, I Purchased
Terrorist-Proof Ziplock Bags,
And Also Sat Next To A Large Man
Who Did Not Smell Good.

...although he probably thought he was one hot potat, what with taking a bath in his cologne and all. But for this? For this I endured bad coffee in Styrofoam cups, hermetically sealed bags of airline peanuts which can't be opened without the Swiss Army knife I'm not allowed to carry on the plane, and sitting next to Mr. Musk Ox for three hours in airline steerage. For this, I tolerated padding around the American Airlines terminal in my socks while my carry-on bag was hand-inspected for a suspicious and treacherous empty water bottle:

Freeform Knitting with Debbie New at Stitches West.

If you knew how completely in awe I am of Debbie New, Lily Chin, and a whole lot of other people, you would understand my stoic tolerance of the conditions of discount air travel in the United States these days in order to attend Stitches. But I bet you do know my level of awe, and, in fact, I bet that you share it, don't you?

I have wanted to meet Debbie New ever since XRX published "Socks, Socks, Socks" in 1999 and I saw the pattern for her design -- the socks on the cover of the book -- and I said, "this is not a knitting pattern. This is a Vulcan star chart."

Know also that Debbie has knitted a boat. A coracle, to be exact, a sort of boat that has enchanted me since childhood, and here is someone who has knitted one.

If you can imagine taking jazz lessons from Ornette Coleman, then you're close to having an idea what taking a knitting class from Debbie New is like.

After Freeform Knitting, there was Cellular Automaton Knitting, which is difficult to describe in a pithy manner but I think it can be most closely explained as a technique which utilizes the basic principles of fractal mathematics to create a color and/or texture pattern based on what is happening in the row below the one you're working on. You start with a row of randomly alternating knit and purl stitches (or randomly alternating Color A and Color B) and in the following row, the number of stitches in knit or purl (or A or B) is determined by what sort of a stitch it appears above. The result is a highly organic-looking pattern which involves no charts at all, just an improvised-yet-deliberate design which literally grows out of the first row. You set up your first pattern row, and you set up a very few of your own rules for pattern repeats, and you stick to them.

If you do, an un-pattern magically emerges:

This is sheer witchery at first blush, but once you have your moment under Debbie's particularly colorful little Bodhi tree, and you wrap your brain around the basic principles involved, you'll find yourself swatching madly with ideas of your own for color and texture.

What I liked best about taking classes from Debbie is that her designs are exactly the kind of thing that I truly love to knit -- structured improvisations which end up looking considerably more difficult to execute than they actually are.

But, I can't spoil this by revealing any further detail. Debbie needs to earn her living just like the rest of us, so if you want to learn more, track her down through her books, articles and classes.

And here we are at Inspiration Central. Here's Lily Chin (which I think is Chinese for "Knitting Goddess") teaching her Bias Knitting class, an eight-hour study in bias structure, designing with bias, and combinations of techniques to make your own bias-knitting designs. Like Debbie New and Elizabeth Zimmermann, Lily Chin is one of those rare people who can teach applied mathematical principles in art and design in such a manner that her students are inspired, rather than intimidated, by the prospect of dusting off that big cardboard box marked "Geometry" which most of us keep stashed away in that dark and cobwebby room in the back of our brains.

See that amazing sweater on the table? Click on the picture and make it larger. Though some of the students looked skeptical at the time this photo was taken, that design (or something similar of one's own) is easily approachable by any student in the class.

After class, on to the Market to meet with old friends and put faces with new names. Here I am (center) with Lisa Louie of Maui (left) and Tommie Tank (right), also known as the Doily Fairy, from whom I received (again!) the amazing gift of one of her hand-knit doilies. I am clutching a large skein (enough for a vest) of LaLana's new "Skunk" colorway, which is drawn from a carefully carded blend of black and white merino wool for a magnificent streaky effect.

I'm afraid that I caused the staff of LaLana to be besieged with requests for the "Skunk" colorway, due to a misunderstanding on my part. At some point while I was asking about the yarn, someone in my immediate vicinity said something about fiber from pet skunks being spun into the yarn, and I got it in my head that the yarn included actual combings from pet skunks. And, because de-scented and neutered skunks make charming pets, I did not think this the least bit odd -- especially having spun yarn from angora bunnies and chinchillas sitting right on my own lap, not to mention dog hair, australian possum, and persian cat hair -- this just seemed to make perfect sense. So when I reported about my visit to Stitches on KnitU I crowed that I had scored some Skunk yarn including hair from actual skunks, and poor Luisa Gelenter, the rightful Mistress and Commander of LaLana Wools, was beseiged with requests for it. So I had to run back and post on KnitU that I had rather gloriously screwed up.

But either way, I'm still thrilled with the yarn, as the streaky effect is fabulous. And of course every visit to the LaLana booth is a bona fide religious experience in the Church of Fiber.

Lisa was my roommate at Stitches, and she also volunteered to be a garment model. In fact, a great many of several different people's available knitted objects were deployed in the feat of keeping Lisa's Maui-acclimated blood warm in the damp, rainy weather which presided over Stitches West this year. Living in Maui, Lisa has linen, silk and cotton knitted items galore, but that doesn't exactly cut it in the damp, chilly stuff. I'm really amused at this photo showing different people's attire for the prevailing conditions. Lisa, arriving from balmy Maui, is wearing about eleven layers of sweaters and shawls. Me? I left 40 degrees and rain in Baton Rouge, only to find 40 degrees and rain in Santa Clara, so I'm wearing a cotton turtleneck and a sockweight wool shawl. Tommie, who probably had to tunnel out of her igloo and hitch a ride with an ice road trucker in order to get to the airport ... she's cozy in a cotton T-shirt.

Note the delirious expressions. Let this photo be a warning to wayward youth: you can get high on wool fumes. Very, very high. Which causes silliness, and perhaps an excessive amount of wool purchasing.

Oh, yeah. In addition to the people at the Market, there was a reason for them to show up, that being the stuff in the Market. Waterfalls of color:

Pigpens full of yarn. Entire 18-wheeler loads of wool, confined in yarn stalls to keep it from running amok:

... and still more carefully fenced-in yarn, once again by the bagful ...

..and that's only the part of it, and only the first day.

I feel a bit remiss, and I owe you loyal readers an apology. The news from Stitches is a bit stale, and I don't know precisely what has kept me from posting until today. I've been feeling a bit of "writer's drought" lately, but it hasn't been any one particular thing, just a matter of being nibbled to death by ducks. At first, I had to have some maintenance work done on my computer, which delayed both blogging and pattern-writing, so I satisfied myself with wasting time being a middle-aged delinquent hanging around in the dark alleys over at Ravelry, which is a remarkable site but a major time-suck, especially when one is both artistically uninspired and in work-avoidance mode.

In addition, my regular work has been erratic, I've been vexed in the matter of putting a new pattern onto paper, and I've had to tackle the a formidable mountain of self-employment paperwork in order to prepare taxes. And in the same period of time, a close friend died, our eldest cat is quite ill, and we have had to make some necessary household repairs, not the least of which is a great, positive thing: our back porch is now repaired and firmly screened in with heavy-duty screen wire, to keep cats in and raccoons out.

So please bear with me while I hitch myself up and try to catch you all up on more stories from Stitches West and the other goings-on down here in my neck of the woods. More later ...

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At 7:31 PM, Blogger Barbara-Kay said...

ah, you've been missed! Good vibes for your sick cat. Hope the spring breezes will cheer all of you.

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"once you have your moment under Debbie's particularly colorful little Bodhi tree..." --if you haven't copyrighted that expression i'm going to use something like it first chance i get.

welcome back -- wuz gettin worrisome....loox like u had a mighty good time


At 3:05 PM, Blogger Sonya said...


At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI found your site through ravelry. Interested in your thoughts on flying. I understand the writers thing- check my almost remiss blog for folks visiting New York City at


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