Sunday, April 26, 2009

Eater of Stitchwork

It looks so harmless just sitting there, doesn't it?

Needing a knitting project to while away the idle hours on my Parisian flight, I turned to some expendable yarn. I once saw, in the KnitPicks catalog, a sock yarn called Dancing, each bright, summery colorway cutely named for a different type of dance. It was a cotton-wool blend, with a bit of elastic added. It was clearance-priced. There must have been a photo of a finished sock that showed it off nicely, as well. Some deep bargain-hunting instinct must have kicked in at that point. I think I ordered it in five different colorways.

Since then, I've been knitting all those socks in their relentlessly cheerful colorways for what seems like forever. I was finally down to the last colorway. Well, I needed something to keep me occupied on the trip, and I didn't want to take one of my serious projects. They're not that portable, and there's always the remote chance that I'll lose something important and not be able to replace it.

So the last of the Dancing it was to be. I packed it up. I'd flipped through some sock books, but nothing had jumped out at me. The short, sharp color changes of the yarn pose a challenge. Adding to the fun, the yarn is marled, with a contrasting white ply wrapped around the bright colors.With so much going on, the yarn would be well suited for a plain and simple sock, but I wanted something more entertaining to knit. I'd brought along some hasty notes of stitch patterns that I thought I'd like to play with and that I hoped wouldn't be completely obscured by such an assertive colorway. Sitting in the airport, I worked out a design and got going.

As it turned out, I stayed so busy that I didn't get all that much done on the trip, maybe half of the first sock. So I still had a lot yet to do when I got home. But I was determined to get them done. Not only would I be able to finally say "bon voyage" to the KnitPicks Dancing yarn, but the socks would forever be a reminder of my trip. I'd never forget where I did some of the knitting.

I showed sock number two in progress to a friend. She was at a loss for words at the pink and purple and green and yellow and orangeness of it all. Well, I can't say I blame her, really. But I wasn't making it as elegant haberdashery; it's destined to wear with blue jeans on sunny days.

I actually rather liked the sock design I'd come up with. It has lace and cables and meandering ribs and some straight lines in the back to tamp down all the commotion. Really, it's a bit of a wild melange like the colorway itself.

But how did all that fancy stitching work out? Mostly swallowed up, as one might have expected. When the light is right, the cables down the sides stand out pretty well, but the lace pattern on the front mostly just looks like chaos.

I had a more high-falutin' name in mind for the pattern, but I think that will have to wait. Maybe one of these days I'll knit it again with a yarn that's a better partner for it. Then it will seem right to give it a fancier name. Until then, I'll just call this version by pretty much what it looks like: Fruit Salad.

That's OK. By now I'm actually rather fond of these silly, frivolous socks.

Fruit Salad it is. It'll do.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Where Wanderlust, Unchecked, Can Lead

To Paris!

Yes, to gilded, beautiful, Paris, France. We had something of a big family occasion that needed celebrating, so economy be darned, we girded ourselves and went.

For me, it was a week of much gawking and taking in the major sights -- the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Versailles. I also had ample chances to take my schoolgirl French out for a spin. It was once reasonably respectable but is now, after years of neglect, rather rusted out. (I once knew verb conjugations other than the present tense. Sigh.)

No matter, the people I tried to communicate with were commendably tolerant of my lapses, and often ridiculously helpful.

I stayed too busy sightseeing to do much shopping, and so I have something of a consequent dearth of fiber-related news to report (this despite the temptation offered by one guidebook that for mysterious reasons takes the trouble to point out a shop where whatever wool one might need can be had).

I will say, though, that among three women in our party who embarked on the airplane, there were five handknit garments being worn. Not a bad showing.

And, based on my observation, Parisian women do wear scarves with unmatched style. They make it look so good, it's really inspiring to try it out at home. I may have to think about adding a light-weight scarf somewhere not too far down in the knitting queue.

And of course I had to have a small portable knitting project for the trip. I did have a couple of books for the plane, but it's nice to be able to switch between reading and knitting at whim. So I also carried along some yarn from home.

I was reading Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, about his years in Paris, so that I could catch references to places that we might see. But honestly I am no great fan of Hemingway. Those stark, stripped-down sentences that he strives for -- searching self-consciously for "one true sentence" -- don't paint much of a picture for me. And his descriptions of other writers seem rather cruel. I wonder what they thought of this arrogant newcomer.

So now I have a very well-traveled sock-in-progress.

You'll have to take my word for it that these are the stones of the pavement beneath the Arc de Triomphe.

They are.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Magic Carpet of Another Kind

I'm having quite a bout of armchair travel.

So many people seem to be on Spring Break this week; I've been roaming without leaving my seat. But I'm back now from mentally flying around the streets of exotic destinations in a Google-winged Barcalounger. I've found travel daydreams nearer to home.

While loitering in a bookstore the other day (world's-most-patient-husband being elsewhere in the shopping center on another mission) I came upon this wonderful book. I really should not be loitering in bookstores. It leads to nothing but trouble. :)

Truth be told, the title didn't sound that exciting to me. But the pictures on the cover beckoned, "come inside, come inside." Those colorful skeins of yarn! That row of sheep weathervanes! And the subtitle touched all the right bases: knitting, spinning, and festivals.

Opening it up, the first thing I saw was the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival. OK. Done. Sold.

It really wasn't fair. It's almost time for Maryland Sheep and Wool, the kick-off of the festival season, and I've been trying to damp down my excitement. Not enough to skip it entirely, mind you, but just to go and soak up the scene, and keep the acquisitive urges to a minimum. With all the supplies in my house as yet unknit or unspun, what I really need is to bank the fires, and just let the hot coals burn down for a while.

That was the plan. And then I opened the book, and its pages fanned the flames back to life. What the book does is profile the major fiber festivals around the country, starting with my familiar and beloved Maryland Sheep and Wool and moving on to the festivals I have only read and daydreamed about -- Rhinebeck, the Black Sheep Gathering, the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair. On and on. Photos and descriptions of each one and what makes it different and special. What it looks like, smells like, what you can find there. Oh, my.

Never yet have I traveled farther than a few hours in a car for a knitting or spinning-related event, but if I manage to hold out for another year, it will be no thanks to Ms. Joanne Seiff, the author of this insidious book. Nope, she's no help at all. Imagine, though, the dream assignment she got in creating this book. Go to all the fiber festivals. Seek out and enjoy the most wonderful things about them. Talk to the exhibitors and customers. Capture some trophies to bring back. And write about it all afterwards and savor the memories.

The book offers more, though, than just the festivals. It has short sections on lots of topics related to enjoying the fiber arts: the food of the festivals; improvising your own knitting and spinning tools; spinning for speed; hooking a rug from wool scraps; multicolored yarn dyeing; helping on shearing day. And it has a number of very appealing patterns for knitting and crocheting. I'm finding myself particularly drawn to the Fishtail Vest, a restrained design with a lace pattern decoration representing the salmon of the Pacific Northwest. The vest design is by Terri Shea, the author of the book on the Norwegian Selbuvotter mitten tradition, and quite a few other talented designers have contributed.

In my mind, I'm now swooping from one corner of the United States to another, visiting all these events, taking it all in, riding on a flying carpet of dreams called Fiber Gathering.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Magic Carpet Ride

Lately, we here in the Yarnstruck household have been thinking yearningly of distant parts. World's-most-patient-husband and I like to travel and it's been a while since our last vacation. So we've been wondering about destinations. Or maybe I should say wandering about destinations. Because travel planning in the modern world is a whole new experience.

It used to be that to find a hotel in a faraway city, much depended on luck. You could rely on a travel agent (hoping you'd picked a good one), you could choose one of the very few hotels (among the city's very many) lucky enough to be listed in a guidebook, you could consult friends and family, if you were lucky enough to have any who knew the place well or -- hitting the jackpot -- lived there and could give you a place to stay. Or you could arrive at an airport or railway station and trust to your luck with the local tourist information office or the last-minute hotel discount touts. I've tried just about all of these options, with reasonable success. The one thing I never have done is to go the backpack-and-hostel route. I like my comforts.

Now, I can conjure up hotel websites, look at photos of the reception areas and bedrooms, check booking sites to see how many rooms are available at what rates, and look at a slew of chatty reviews by recent guests, greatly reducing the uncertainty about whether the hotel will live up to its carefully chosen description and pictures.

And then, what about the environs? Is it on a busy road, or is it leafy and cafe-lined? Well, to top it all off, I can take a magic carpet ride and see for myself. With the Streetview feature of Google Maps. My magic carpet. What an amazing tool it is. Oh, I've used it before when I'm driving to an unfamiliar address, and I've looked at the streetscape ahead of time so I can recognize the building when I get to it. That's amazing in itself, of course, but in a mundane, workaday-ish sort of way.

Flying my Streetview carpet to a hotel destination is a whole different kind of transport. I float along up and down the street to locate the address. I peer around, looking at the adjacent buildings, craning my disembodied eye up to the rooftops and back down again to the street. Eerily, I fly onward, hovering just above the road. I follow the nearby streets looking at the nearby neighborhoods and businesses, getting a feel for the area. It seems kind of quiet; oh, maybe it's early morning -- there's a street cleaner and the light is still pale and gray. And all this is endless miles from where I sit.

What an astonishing world it's become.

(Try it! Look up a hotel somewhere in London or Rome or New York. Or perhaps in Tacoma Washington, the Hotel Murano, remarkable for its art glass collection, that just recently played host to the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.)