The glory days of the sweater

Photo from BTM Vintage on Etsy

Those of us who remember shoulder pads fondly (and the big hair and earrings) will also recall the sweaters: Exuberant, embellished knits that didn't fade into the wallpaper but rather announced themselves in all their intarsiaed, glittery glory.

Over the holiday I had the pleasure of meeting one of the icons of the industry. Knowing my interest in textiles, my MIL set up a visit at the home of Estelle Gracer, one of her mah jong pals. Inside I immediately fell upon a colorful hand-crocheted table cover. On the far living room wall hung a dramatic piece of fiber art, ribbons cascading gracefully. Beautiful throws and beribboned throw pillows lay across chairs and sofas. Chair pads and custom upholstery and lampshades--the house is a testament to an incredibly creative life.

Photo from Ebay store Shopping with Gina

In the late 1970s, Estelle began crocheting more seriously after reading a book on creative crochet she received from her daughter. Frustrated by the yarns available at the time, she began ripping apart old sheets and crocheting up the strips. She liked the effect, which was new at the time, and before long was having fabric machine cut for her in New York on an industrial scale. The vests and jackets she created were both luxurious and bohemian and her business took off. At its height, she employed 350 crocheters who produced 1,500 jackets a month in the United States, and she said, she and her husband paid good wages. (The business is now called Cici Bianca and is owned by Cindy White.)

Celebrities like Linda Evans wore her pieces; she designed for Bill Atkinson, Jay Jacks and Anne Crimmons. One jacket was pictured on the wife of Florida's governor at the time with the Queen of England and Prince Phillip, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Gerald and Betty Ford and other luminaries.

Today Estelle has only a handful of examples in her house--a gorgeous fabric and chenille bolero, a bright red evening jacket, among others. They look remarkably contemporary and wearable, ideal for date night with a pair of naughty high heels.

Estelle, herself, is a treasure, full of stories about the fashion industry and the vagaries of running a successful cottage industry after the sudden death of her husband. She even pressed yarn on me--custom-dyed chenille she had used in her business. We were impressed, charmed and dazzled by our morning with a fiber pioneer and courageous female entrepreneur. A big kiss to my MIL for making this happen!

Evening sweaters...gentlemen and ladies, don't you think it's a time for a comeback?

Getting ready to teach the Color Affection Shawl

On Tuesday evenings in January I'll be teaching the much-loved, much-Raved Color Affection Shawl by Vera Välimäki of Rain Knitwear Designs. Since it is helpful to do before teaching, the knitting of the aforementioned piece is about to commence (in concert with the viewing of Craftsy's free Knitting Short Rows just to be sure all those short rows in my past were performed correctly--and if not, oh well).

Do take a moment to view the parade of shawls in endless color combinations on Ravelry. Kaleidoscopic in variety, you really should look. But I couldn't resist the natural colors of Thirteen Mile Farm's wool. This yarn is about as virtuous as you can get: organic, predator friendly (with only dogs and llamas guarding the livestock) and spun in a largely solar-powered mill. It also hails from Montana, which makes a neighbor if not local.

I feel righteous just writing about it.

Anyway can hardly wait to start and look forward to seeing the color combos my students cook up.


Making ponchos in a post-poncho world

It started with this: Martha looking tan, rested and trim after five months in Alderson prison and wearing a hand-crocheted poncho.

Lisa circa 2005: I'm starting to think I want a poncho.

Me: You don't want a poncho.

Lisa (whining): Make me one!

Me: You don't wear your own hand knits. I'm not making you a poncho.

Lisa: But you're a better knitter.

Me: I'll spend six weeks knitting a poncho and by then it will be out of style. I'm not knitting you a poncho.

Time passes. Say five years.

Lisa: I'm still thinking I want a grey poncho.

Me: Go for it.

Lisa: You make it for me.

Me: Uh huh. There's no way in hell I'm knitting you a poncho.

More years pass. Suddenly a big birthday looms. A really big birthday. The one I commemorate with the gift of a shawl. There was nothing for it but to knit the much-desired thing.

Churchmouse Yarn and Teas provided the perfect pattern. Three skeins of Berroco Ultra Alpaca in Charcoal Mix accomplished the task.

This design elevates the poncho to something more timeless and less lumpen than the one pictured above.

Thanks to my lovely neighbor Kim for the modeling. And to Lisa, here's to many, many more! Birthdays, not ponchos.

Some frivolous things about which to be thankful

1. A late-autumn pedicure. Got the best end of a trade yesterday when I fixed a friend's sweater (she's a manicurist). Purple, people. Purple. Toenails! (She's mobile. Ping me if you want her number.)

2. The Borgias. Sex, wine and Jeremy Irons. Stunning!

3. Crazy Sexy Kitchen. The Madeira Peppercorn Tempeh is insane!

4. Anna Karenina. Vibrating to see it.

5. Colorado makers like Denim & Pearl and Sleep Season Yarn.

6. Argo. It's everything a Hollywood movie should be: Thrilling, funny, nationalistic and well-told in broad, beautifully executed strokes.

7. Finally! The perfect project for sari silk ribbon.

8. An e-book version of the Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook.You don't have to be gluten-free to love the little fat bombs that are the chocolate chip scones.

9. Tea. Have gone round-the-bend over Montana Tea (the website, however, leaves something to be desired). Try Night on Glaciar Bay or Evening in Missoula.

10. Looking forward to reading Flight Behavior.

Gobble, gobble?

A recent walk at the Plains Conservation Center brought the omnivore's dilemma into sharp relief. Located at the far edge of Aurora, the center represents 1,100 acres of preserved prairie (a second site near Strasburg protects nearly 8,000 acres). To the south and west countless putty-and-beige houses break the horizon but north and east--mostly clear, wan sky and mile-after-mile of tea-colored grass.

It's a delightful place to ramble; the center has replicated the Laura-Ingalls-Wilder experience by constructing a series of furnished sod buildings that include two homes, a school house, blacksmith shop and barn. There's also a working heirloom garden and chicken coop, where we met the flock pictured above.

We were completely charmed, especially when Tom, obviously a bird with strong preferences in textiles, began aggressively pecking the Garlic Queen's crocheted purse.

Which brings us to the dilemma and the impending holiday. When we approached the center's small clutch of chickens and turkeys, they ran to us like we were made of popped corn then followed us throughout the homestead certain our pockets were filled with good things to eat. We stooped down to talk a little turkey and they clucked and barked and showed us their beautiful feathers, which in the sunlight gleamed torquoise and bronze.

Because this is a working farm, occasionally a member of the flock is harvested and served to visitors in the large soddy--with dumplings.

Somehow I managed to gobble down turkey and chicken and beef for 50 years without question. Today, in spite of our omnivorous ancestery and need for protein, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to justify that these lives lived in the Colorado, California or Kansas sunshine are being ended for mine.

Not sure I'm there yet, but getting really close to saying, "Pass, the Field Roast, please..."

Photo by Susan Permut



The Petraeus Scandal: A good yarn

Why do we care? Apart from issues of national security and the possible breach thereof, why do we care that a highly regarded former general has some tarnished brass in the closet?

We care, because it's a good story and we're a story-telling species. Great man+hubris+cosmic smackdown=tragedy. Why, it's downright archetypal.

If we're honest with ourselves, however, isn't our fascination partly schedenfreude? Two extreme high achievers brought low by vanity, boredom and lust? All that striving and what end? Aren't we just a little delighted by all this?

But as the Pentagon turns and more players enter the drama, several families are in crisis. As savory as these bits are to chew, they represent the failings of real people with spouses and children and loved ones gobsmacked by the news--bystanders whose lives are unraveling in the media.

So we feel pity, another essential element of tragedy. And read some more.




Wear wool in Wovember!

Completely enraptured by the idea of Wovember.

Whether or not you're down with the climate-change thing, you must agree that energy conservation is a good thing. So as the temperature drops, do as Brenda Dayne does, put on a sweater. (Thank you to the Cast-On hostess for mentioning Wovember in her most recent podcast.)

The brainchild of Kate Davies and Felicity Ford, Wovember encourages wool fans to celebrate and promote the fiber by wearing as much of the lovely stuff as possible in November. Like we need another excuse to buy yarn. Or sweaters.

Today, I'm wearing a wool-blend skirt--made in Canada--I picked up on our honeymoon. Yes, it still fits. Just barely. (Think epic zipper battle.)

There are many wooly tempations in the retailverse. Anthropologie has gone completely sweater-happy with many wool and wool-blend beauties on offer.

Or drag out an old handknit you haven't displayed in a while. And turn down the temp.

10 Things to Do While Awaiting the Returns

1. Vote. If you haven't.

2. Finish that sweater moldering in the "done" pile. Then, win or lose, you'll have something fresh to wear or give.

3. Support the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort.

4. Reach out to someone who disagrees with you and listen respectfully to his or her point of view.

5. Open your mind to an unfamiliar idea. Or ideas.

6. Read something delightful. And beside the point.

7. Prepare something lovely to eat.

8. And for dessert...

9. To manage any post-election woes...

10. Or existential crises...

Blocking Wires: A Sonnet

Blocking Wires: A Sonnet

How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.
I loathe thee to the length and breadth and height
My shawl can reach, when feeling out of sorts
For the ends of weaving and ideal lace.

I loathe thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet knit, by sun and Ott light.

I loathe thee freely, as I insert Right;
I loathe thee purely, as I pin Crazed.

I loathe with a passion put to use
In my old steeks, and with my many mistakes.
I loathe thee with loathing I seemed to fuse
With my dropped stitches, I loathe thee rending
Sweaters, socks, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but loathe thee better after bending.


Book Giveaway: Super-Scary Mochimochi

Just in time for Halloween, the Super-Scary Mochimochi Nake-id giveaway!

In this clever freak fest, you'll find Ghost Toaster, Sarcophocat, a goblin with gastic issues, conjoined lab rats, bitty witches and much more. There is so much perverse adorableness contained herein, you're likely to knit up your own zombie apocalypse.

Though the campaign has been its own horror show, to enter: Simply leave a comment indicating you've voted, or are commited to, by midnight on Wednesday, Oct. 31. (This contest is strictly party preference will be granted.)

Good luck!