Friday, August 21, 2009

Three Bags Full

I read recently, that law enforcement agencies in several states were quite upset about the apparently overt use of Craigslist for all manner of debauchery - but specifically for the advertising and solicitation of prostitution.

Now personally, I've always liked Craigslist. Not specifically because of its 21st century approach to the world's oldest profession, but generally because it seems to be a very efficient market and a convenient forum for bringing local buyers and sellers into contact. It was through a Craigslist ad that I found two of my motorcycles. One I bought two summers ago, and then subsequently sold last summer to acquire another I'd found on Craigslist (although I've regretted that second transaction ever since). Also, the site provides an interesting and seemingly anonymous forum for people to speak their minds - occasionally with hysterical results. All in all, I've been a Craigslist fan. But now, I'm starting to think that the apoplectic attorneys general may actually have a point. This is a forum most foul.

Three days ago, I was scanning the free items that were posted in the local Craigslist site. About halfway down the first page, something caught my eye: fleece. Specifically, the raw fleece from eight sheep. According to the posting, the owner simply wanted to get rid of the stuff. This was quite a conundrum.

For several weeks, I'd been considering buying a spinning wheel from my friend S ("SoD") K. She'd bought it some years before, and had lost interest in spinning (although she still knits like a Scandihoovian fiend). The price was good, and I was sorely tempted. I'd even gone so far as to make inquiries of a few local farms as to whether they ever sold their fleece. So far, I'd struck out on those inquiries - but that was OK because it meant I had a good excuse not to get the wheel - thereby hurtling myself headlong into a another series of projects.

But now, with fleece seemingly throwing itself at me like I can only imagine is the case for the ladies (and gentlemen, no doubt) of the evening on a different portion of the site. . . well what was a fellow to do?

I responded to the post. All was not yet lost. "Maybe they'll already be taken."

They weren't already taken. The nice lady who answered my email told me that she'd received a number of inquiries, and was thinking of dividing it up among those who'd responded. She gave me her address, and I told her I'd swing by that evening.

So, the entire TSMK clan piled into the car that night, and made its way out to the farm - which was only about 10 miles from our house. When we arrived, there were piles of plastic bags - the kind you might use to line an enormous trash can - covering most of the front walk. Each bag was stuffed to the brim with fleece.

We chatted briefly, and she told me that there was only one other person who was coming, and that I should take half the bags. A quick scan told me that half the bags on the walk wouldn't all fit in the car. So, we opted for three. Three bags full.

One of the bags is filled with creamy white virgin lambswool. A second is filled with fleece that is almost entirely black. The last has variegated wool ranging from graphite in color to a dark brown. Even raw, greasy from lanolin, reeking of sheep and riddled with all manner of vegetable matter, dirt and unmentionable detritus, this is gorgeous stuff.

Maybe this is the right time to mention that I do not know anything about processing wool or spinning. I plan to pick up the wheel this weekend. In the meantime, I have begun processing the fleece. I picked as much of the plants (etc.) out of about 1/3 of one of the bags, and washed that portion. At the moment, it's drying on Mrs. TSMK's dining room table. She says it looks like the most impressive "Furminator" commercial you could imagine. ( In addition, I've picked up some hand carders and have begun practicing. The Youtube videos make it look very easy. ( They lie. It isn't easy. Still, I think it will come with practice.

Then, of course, there's the actual spinning. I've played a bit with a top whorl drop spindle, with mixed results. Youtube exhibitionists notwithstanding, I'm thinking about taking a lesson. Maybe I can find someone to teach me on Craigslist. . .


Monday, August 17, 2009

Frogging in Public

In my family growing up, "to frog" was a verb, and not a very pleasant one at that. Frogging was something that you wouldn't do in polite company, and certainly never in church. It was the kind of thing that I've been told British people never do, and the kind of thing our family dog seemed to do all the time. She was a Boxer - apparently they're known for it.

In any event, when I first began knitting, I marveled at the number of references to "frogging" a project. What could this mean? If it meant what I thought it meant, how was it even logistically possible? Growing up I'd heard stories of people trying to light these things (never seemed like a good idea to me), but never before heard anything about this mysterious nexus between knitting and flatulence. I was flummoxed.

Later, of course, I learned that "frogging" in the knitting context simply meant to rip something out and start over.

Still, frogging is something I'm loathe to do in public. To me, there's a bit of a feeling of failure involved. If I'm going to admit defeat, I prefer to do that in private. With that in mind, I typically rip things out late at night, when the entire TSMK household is asleep.

All of this is a long way of saying that I've again ripped out the Victorian Lace pattern with the error ( and started over. A few readers suggested that if I didn't do this, my eye would be drawn to the error immediately, every time I looked at the finished piece. Those readers were right, of course. Although I'd secretly hoped that someone in the ether would agree with Mrs. TSMK and tell me that I'd never notice the error once it was finished - not a single person echoed her sentiment.

This time, I'm trying to convince myself to use lifelines. I typically prepare a brief chart that I can use to check off my rows. For lace patterns, I like this approach because it lets me see not only which row I'm on, but also which repeat. For this pattern, I've included a reference to lifelines in the chart. We'll see if I have the discipline to follow my own instructions.

So far, using the lifelines has helped. I'm a few hours into re-knitting the shawl, and so far everything is going according to plan.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Evil Companions

I'm occasionally asked why I started knitting. Most recently, this question came from an incredulous mom who saw me knitting at the pool while my oldest son was taking his swim lesson. In fact, nearly all of the people who've asked the question have had the same vaguely condescending, vaguely accusatory tone.

Typically, I respond to these questions by mumbling something about having friends who knit - occasionally referring to them as "evil companions." Apart perhaps from the adjective, that answer is technically truthful in as far as it goes, but in fairness there is a bit more to the story. The full truth is a bit more involved, but probably worth recounting.

Although not previously discussed on this site, TSMK is a bit of geek (I know this is shocking) when it comes to certain music. The CD collection at home is bereft of most recent musical efforts, but full to the brim with recordings of long-dead blues musicians. I've always enjoyed the blues - a lot - and occasionally loud enough to cause my secretary to get up and shut my office door. This love of the blues doesn't stop with the scratchy recordings of the original artists - I also enjoy slightly more contemporary versions of the genre. So, for example, when Mrs. TSMK is shaking her head as the radio blares Led Zeppelin's Lemon Song while TSMK's children are in the car ("squeeze my lemon, 'til the juice runs down my leg"), I'm less concerned with the meaning than the appreciative of the fact that Plant and the boys are really just paying homage to Robert Johnson's Traveling Riverside Blues of some six decades earlier. Often these interactions end with Mrs. TSMK suggesting that she doesn't really need me to tell her again about how Bonham's squeaky bass drum pedal can only be heard on two tracks, or something along those lines. She's a very patient woman.

Anyway, I digress.

When I was around 14 or so, I was received ZZ Top's Eliminator album for Christmas. As I was already a blues guy by that age, I loved the album. It started in me a lifelong appreciation the band, and in particular for the style, guitar work, and overall mystique of Billy Gibbons a/k/a the Rev. Willie G. I believe that Billy's work is top notch, and I'm not alone in that view. In fact, for the first three years of his life, TSMK's second son has given every indication that his favorite song is not Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or some other age-appropriate number, but rather La Grange. He particularly likes to sing it while playing his guitar after bath. (You'll note TSMK's guitar leaning against the wall on the left - there's often music involved in the boys' baths).

One evening, I turned on the television and noted that a ZZ Top concert would be playing later that night. I set the DVR to record it, so that we could watch it later.

Sure enough, later that week I found myself on the couch with TSMK's oldest and second (then youngest) sons, watching the show. Midway through, the Rev. Willie G. was drawling out the lyrics to one of my favorites: I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide:

Well I'm moving down the road in my V-8 Ford
I had a shine on my boots, I had my sideburns lowered
With my New York brim, and my gold tooth displayed
Nobody gives me trouble, cause they know I've got it made . . .

Just at that moment, I had a revelation. The Rev. Willie G. was wearing an excellent hat. Actually, he was wearing two excellent hats, one on top of the other. The hat on top was a beat up cowboy hat. But it was the hat underneath that had captured my attention. I'd never seen anything like it. It was a kind of beanie, but with small pendulous fingers of fabric hanging off of it. I needed one of those hats.

A few moments later, with the help of the Internet (see for an interview with Gibbons about the hat), I learned that the hat was of African origin. Specifically, it was a traditional hat of the Bamileke tribe from Cameroon in West Africa. To me, this this made perfect sense. Blues music traces its roots to West Africa. Here we have in the Rev. Willie G. a man playing the blues while wearing a West African hat. Genius.

I looked further on the Internet and found dozens of examples. They were made in all styles and colors, but all with the traditional finger-like pieces of fabric on them. Some had small pieces of wood inserted into the fingers to make them stand up. Others allowed the fingers to drape like hair over the hat. All were remarkable.

And, unfortunately, all were in museums or at a price point where you'd feel uncomfortable wearing the hat. If I was going to get one of these hats, it seemed clear that I would need to have it custom made.

The next day, I approached my friend Miss B. I had seen Miss B. knit incredible sweaters, scarves, etc., all during our mutual commute. I shared with Miss B. my desire to have one of these hats, and my dismay at being unable to find one for purchase. I showed her a picture of a stunning Bamileke hat done largely in orange, and offered to pay her handsomely if she would make me a hat. She didn't take the bait. Instead, she offered up ten words that set me down my current path: "You could always learn to knit and make one yourself. . ."

I still don't have my hat, but I will. Oh, yes. I will have my hat.


Monday, August 10, 2009

De-Slouching the Octopus - The Knitter Strikes Back

Last week, I sent an email to Jared Flood, detailing my difficulties in blocking the Hemlock Ring Throw ( This weekend, I got a very nice response from Jared. Frankly, simply getting a response from Jared was exciting, as he's a bit of a Jedi-Master in the knitting world (and he's coming to teach a class at my LYS in the fall - very exciting as well). Master Jared suggested that I should be fairly heavy handed with the throw during the blocking process. In fact, he mentioned blocking it into submission.

Thinking back on my earlier attempts at blocking The Octopus, and considering his advice in the email, I think I was indeed far too tentative with my blocking. I'm used to blocking lightweight lace projects (and typically use blocking wires for those pieces) but The Octopus isn't exactly made with lightweight wool.

So, I decided to attack again. I drowned The Octopus in warm water, making sure that it completely soaked the piece. After pressing out the water (Master Jared actually used the word "wring" although that made me a bit nervous), I set The Octopus onto what would become the site of its comeuppance - a 4X8 sheet of plywood. Armed with a large quantity of nails and a small hammer, I advanced upon the beast. It put up quite a fight, but after the better part of an hour, and 143 nails, I finally got the upper hand.

That was Saturday morning. This morning, The Octopus is still fighting back. It is still damp and refusing to dry fully. Master Jared said I mustn't release it from the blocking until it is "bone dry". At The Octopus' current rate of dessication, that may take a few more days. Hopefully, not too much longer, however, as the plywood-bound Octopus is sitting on Mrs. TSMK's dining room table. - TSMK
The Octopus - shortly after nailing:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

To rip or not to rip?

I read once that Henry Ford said: "Quality is doing it right when no one is looking." I'm pretty sure he wasn't talking about knitting. Still, the point is well taken.

I've recently started (for the fourth time) a very intricate lace pattern. It is the Curved Shawl with Diamond Edging, found in Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby (available here: I'm working the project in some gorgeous two-ply cashmere by the Plucky Knitter in "Mouse of Madrone." The pattern calls for 42 repeats of a four row sequence, with each repeat adding an additional six stitches. Each row has a six-stitch repeat, and the WS repeats are identical. The RS repeats aren't especially tricky, but involve a K3tog which my fingers can't seem to master.

I was knitting along on it yesterday, and realized at the end of one of the RS rows that I had two stitches too many for that particular row. Undaunted, I adjusted the pattern a bit, completed the RS row and then knit the next WS row.

The trouble is, it isn't right. As is, the error will cause three of the O-shaped rings in the shawl to look out of round.

Mrs. TSMK says no one will notice. But I know it is there and I see it every time I look at it. So I'm left with a decision. Do I rip it all out and start over again? Do I live with it? I'm not good at unknitting the K3tog sections, so that isn't an option. Also, I've not historically used lifelines (I also do the crossword puzzle in pen - this is likely a character flaw), and don't have any in the piece at this point.

Do I live with it? Do I listen to Henry Ford or Mrs. TSMK? Here's the piece so far:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Blocking a Slouching Octopus

I recently completed the last round of knitting on Jared Flood's gorgeous Hemlock Ring Throw (pattern here: Like many who've made the throw, I went ahead and knit the extra few rounds past Jared's pattern (suggested by The Rainey Sisters site). I did it in Cascade Yarns Ecowool, and love the feel of the throw. Actually, everyone in the family loves the feel of the throw, from Mrs. TSMK all the way down to Mrs. TSMK's cat.

The trouble is, I can't manage to get it properly blocked. Before blocking, the piece simply looks like a blog. I went after it with warm water, a bunch of towels and every pin I could find. Pinned to within an inch of its life, the blog turned into a lovely throw, taking up essentially all of Mrs. TSMK's bed.

After several hours on the bed the throw was not yet quite dry (although very close), but I needed to remove it. I unpinned it, and did my best to keep it stretched out overnight. In the morning, it looked ~ok~ but not great. Over the next several days, it gradually crept back into the slouching octopus shape shown below.

I brought it into my LYS yesterday and spread it out on the table in all its rumpled glory. At first, we wondered whether I'd missed something in the pattern, causing the outside rows to need to stretch much more than was appropriate in order to get the interior section to lay flat. On re-reviewing the pattern, however, it looks like I actually got it done correctly at the end (although there are a few, ahem, design elements in other portions of the piece). So, I've shot an email off to the designer to see if he might offer a suggestion or two. Hopefully, we can get this whole situation straightened out (pun absolutely intended). - TSMK

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Hat of My Own

Mrs. TSMK is fairly conservative in her dress and, truth be told, would likely dress all in brown every day if given the opportunity. So, when I walk downstairs from our bedroom in the morning sporting one of my favorite (read: obnoxious) Robert Graham paisley shirts, or perhaps mix patterns between tie and shirt, she has been known to flinch. Occasionally audibly.

I like bright colors and patterns, and always have. I've been told it is because I'm from the South. There is seersucker in my closet, so that's certainly possible, but I'm not so sure. In any event, this is one aspect that I do not enjoy about living in the Pacific Northwest. Here in and around Seattle, everyone seems to prefer the invisible pedestrian look. Layers of charcoal and black. The weather is gray enough around here without dressing the part.

Last winter, I began thinking about a new hat. I love hats and have quite the collection, as I prefer wearing hats to carrying (and losing) umbrellas. But although I had made several knit hats for my sons, I didn't have one of my own. I began casting about for ideas. In my LYS, I came upon Folk Hats: 32 Knitting Patterns & Tales From Around the World by Vicki Square (available here:

There are a lot of hats in that book that I would love to own, but I opted for the Peruvian Hut Hat. This was my first experience with intarsia, and frankly I made a bit of a mess of it. Still, with the chicken motif in many bright colors of Lambs Pride bulky, and everything nicely felted, I love it. Now, if only Mrs. TSMK felt the same. -TSMK