Friday, December 3, 2010

The Quarter Stitch: A Dream in the Midst of Abundant Reality

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It has always been a dream of mine to own and operate a little yarn store in New Orleans.  Imagine my surprise, then, when during a recent visit for my 44th birthday, I walked in to the very shop I had been envisioning as my own.  My dream made manifest is a LYS in the French Quarter called The Quarter Stitch Needlepoint. 
New Orleans-2010This tiny shop, tucked in the midst of the largely decadent French Quarter has enough personality to stand up to it's nefarious neighbors. 
IMG_0454No danger of finding school-marmish patrons with knittitude here!  This urban shop attracts the craftiest, most bohemian, and effusive visitors AND locals like a parade draws crowds.
IMG_0453 The space is high-ceilinged and weightless, festooned with trinkets from carnival, fleur-de-lis, and floating ornaments galore.  The owner has operated the shop continuously since 1969 and is as authentically New Orleanian as one can hope to find -simultaneously replete with both gracious manners and exuberant joie-de-vivre
IMG_0455Her yarn choices are insightful and nicely organized along one wall, though the walking space is strewn with  random assortments of glitzy novelty yarns in every color (concentrating on Purple, Green, and Gold - the traditional colors of  Mardi Gras) as though a yarn throwing float had just gone by...enchanting colorful chaos.  Quoting my beloved Mambocat on the subject, " This is a shop to indulge your inner magpie, people ... not your inner Granola Girl."   If you find yourself in the great city of New Orleans, be sure to drop by for a visit:  630 Chartres Street.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A relative in the Knitting History Museum?

Your call...my great grandmother's relative?

My Great grandmother:
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Knitter in the Museum of Cultural History:
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Knitting in Knorway: A Walk through the Cultural History Museum

Knitting is a craft which really hasn't changes significantly over time.  A trip to Scandinavia really drives that point home, as one can see the same craft utilized for survival by the earliest humans inhabiting the cold northern regions as is used to lure shoppers today.  In Bergen, we visited the Cultural History Museum where we found an entire exhibit devoted to the history and regionalism of knitting in Norway.
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IMG_1793.On the first floor, visitors view the university's Viking artifacts...including early weaponry from the bronze and iron ages, as well as early cloth-making tools.  Inside the recreated turf-roofed Viking home, visitors see life-sized models of family cloth makers hard at work.

Upstairs, the more modern traditions of hand knitting are on display.  The first room is devoted to spinning wheels and looms, discussing the early mechanics of making yarns.  Entering the  hand knitting section one encounters a carefully preserved cloth fragment...the very earliest example of knit fabric.  .This section of knitting was excavated in Bergen, Norway, and dates to 1500.  Here is an incredible knit silk tunic which dates to 1600. . .A regional display shows examples from the 18th and 19th century of designs and techniques particular to each area of DSC03951Norway.


DSC03947Walls in this room are decorated with historic photographs documenting village knitting in situ.DSC03920
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Finally, the interactive layout of the final room was designed for children, though was spare, elegant, and inviting for all ages...with areas for carding the dyed wool, and desks for learning the basic steps to knitting and purling stitches.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Iceland- Knitter's Travel Journal Part I


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Iceland, with 120 volcanos and a cool climate, is essentially one vast lava floe.  Between volcanic eruptions, rock has little time to break down into soil...and as soon as things begin to grow, the temperature drops or another volcano erupts thus squelching the accumulation of an organic layer on top of the volcanic rock.  There are very few trees on Iceland, and only occasional grasses and mosses. 
trfpolledewesThe sheep brought to Iceland by the earliest Norwegian settlers 1100 years ago, therefore, had to be hardy...able to survive the harsh climate and dearth of grassland.  Luckily, the Icelanders, also hardy-types, were able to stand even the scratchiest of wool to keep them warm.

As with a glass (Half full versus half-empty), there are two ways of looking at Icelandic wool...versatile and useful for many project types or, scratchier than hell.  The optimists' high regard for this unique wool type goes as follows: 
Regardless of how one chooses to think of Icelandic yarn, a knitters trip to Iceland would be made more complete by a visit to one of the Reykjavik shops run by the Handknitting Association of Iceland. 
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.Inside you will find walls of colorful Icelandic yarns as well as completed projects ready for purchase.  If you wish to get a feel for the wool prior to making the investment, you can take a seat on the bench outside and give it a whirl. 


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Should the prices be too steep, try the second-hand sweater shop on Reykjavik's main drag where you can purchase bags of yarn with abandoned projects for a fraction of the cost of new.  Finally, meandering in and out of the fashionable knit ware boutiques will open your eyes to the NEW fashions emerging from Iceland utilizing the local scratchy/versatile wool, including my my personal favorite: 
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Love it or hate it, Icelandic wool has kept a population of people on a rugged island warm and dry for centuries.  It also keeps Icelandic knitters happily occupied and tourists just as busily purchasing...helping the Icelanders to overcome their economic woes:  a modern challenge rivaling the climatic and volcanic challenges of this country's past.

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Norwegian Lace

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I have recently returned from a trip to Iceland and Scandinavia.  Ostensibly to attend a family reunion in Tonstad, Norway (the birthplace of my father), I had an enviable two weeks to spend in the world's knitting hotbeds.  As I was traveling with my husband and 3 growing boys through countries in which every sandwich (however humble) costs $10.00,  a large slice of our trip for the budget went to food.  With every meal, I saw my yarn budget diminish...and so I rapidly became resourceful about finding cheap eats across Norway.  In Bergen (home of the $9.00 cup of coffee), I discovered a church mission serving up a most delicious and nutritious portion of homemade soup and waffles with strawberry jam for a pittance.  To further my delight, across the street was the mission store (locals donating family heirlooms ...most of which are traditional manufactures...for sale by the church mission to the public.)  in which I discovered this little delight.  While not knitting, I felt I wanted to add it to my blog for the purpose of sharing it with fiberholics as I have found no comparable designs on the web.


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Photo Source:  http://lace.lacefairy.com/Lace/ID/FiletID.html
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IMG_2107This 7" square was made using a technique called Lacis...also variably called Filet Brode, Filet LaceDarned Net, or "nun's work" ( because it was often made in convents).  What is curious about this example is the typically Scandinavian motif of the dragon heads, commonly seen adorning Viking ships to scare off mythical sea creatures.  Lacis has been referenced as early as 1295, and there are multiple examples in the 14th century from Great Britain.  In a book published in London in 1908 entitled, "Lacis (Filet Brode)", by Carita, it was said that even at that time it was difficult to find anyone in London who could give lessons in this ancient technique.

For 28NOK ($4.00 US), I snapped it up and am happy to share it with you here.  It was, without question, the only bargain of the trip!
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Incidentally, as a money-saving trip for knitters traveling in Scandinavia...church stores and second-hand sweater stores often sell bags of half-finished knitting projects (owners deceased?).  You'll be able to purchase yarn at a fraction of the cost of buying it new, and if you're lucky, you'll have a head-start on a project!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pitches and Stitches

Let me preface this blog entry with the confession that I am not an athlete.  I am a knitter...read: geek.  I am also an emergency medicine physician, which means that I have the attention span of a gnat.  I have never sat through 9 innings of a baseball game and if the audience were comprised of people like me, they would have to have a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc-inning stretch in addition to the 7th inning tradition.  My husband is just like me, and for better or worse, that is why we wed. Out of our union was, unfathomably, born an athlete...an athlete who now, at age 10, loves baseball. In contrast to his inborn physical acumen, he was also born with something which his father and I CAN trace back to our gene pool - a peacefulness in situations of great stress.  We are thankful for this as it prevents him from being the obstreperous bullish personality type which often results from unbridled competitiveness in sporty pre-adolescent boys.

I have had to rapidly reflect on the origins of his gifts because it has come upon our family so suddenly.  My son's decision to play baseball this year came as something of a shock, and it came as a still greater shock that his coach suggested that he try pitching.  As my knowledge of baseball is limited at best (I thought Big Papi was the team mascot for the first 2 years of living in Boston), the only help I could offer him was by searching instructional pitching videos on You Tube.  Needless to say, I am not a parent who obsessively pushed my son into pitching, or (knowing of at least two high school pitchers who have suffered nervous break-downs as a result of the pressure) even encouraged it.  Fearing for his joint integrity, I reluctantly accepted that he would have to give pitching a try, if only to scratch that pre-adolescent itch to prove oneself in sports.

During his first game, my son was allowed to pitch after the 2nd pitcher emotionally crumpled on the field. The bases were loaded.  N took the field, with no prior pitching experience and walked his first batter thereby allowing one run.  Kids five years older than him would have been unable to finish under these conditions.  Instead, steely with resolve, I watched my son throw 9 perfect subsequent pitches, thereby closing the inning with only the one run.  Their second game was tied up at the "end", but as there was still enough light in the dusky sky to play (and egged on by the boys who were all so desperate to play), the coaches agreed to a tie-breaking inning.  Again, the coach put N in to pitch.  The first batter hit the ball, which N caught and threw him out at 1st.  Batters 2 and 3 were struck out summarily.  The remaining games of the season were played similarly and my son was voted onto the Minor League All-Star Team. 

NPR did a show this week on a new book entitled, "Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success" by Matthew Syed .  In it, the author uses neuroscience to describe the science behind "choking" under pressure.  In order to become great, he argues, a person must clock in an astronomical number of hours of practice.  The practice trains the muscles and the mind and ultimately creates pathways of automaticity.  Under pressure, the body releases epinephrine...a neurotransmitter which causes the "fight-or-flight" response.  It also, he argues, re-routes certain tasks away from their automated pathways back to analytical/intentional pathways...thereby effectively "erasing" all the hours of practice and rendering the performer a beginner again.

Over the past couple of days, as [cough] fascinating as I find baseball, what I learned most from our experience is that our son is not a choker.   Now, regarding this "choke" phenomenon as not merely an unfortunate confluence of a case of the nerves with fate, I looked at my son's apparent calm in the eye of the storm differently...as something (like athletic prowess) he was simply born with.  And while my husband and I are still perplexed about the origins of his athleticism, I identify with his apparent ease with stress and chaos.  It is in an environment of chaos that I have always felt most at home...large parties, noisy households, the streets in India, and the Emergency Department.  When my environment is spinning around me, that is when I feel most centered, most focused, an most at peace.  Place me in a quiet office cubicle and I'll be climbing the walls in seconds, desperate to find a radio or something to provide enough background noise to allow my mind to settle.  So, while I may not be able to contribute much in the way of coaching, I have found a point of contact...a way to connect to my son as he goes through this American rite-of-passage.

One minor league season does not a life-time of achievement make...and this may be the end of my son's hobby just as easily as it may be the beginning.  While I rejoice in my son's success this season, I am not invested in any particular outcome...I am not envisioning him taking the mound for the Red Sox...or even for his High School team.  Still, as I passed Mother's Day sitting on the edge of the Diamond watching him play another game, I realized that I need not understand or enjoy the game, not do I need to be invested in the outcome...but rather, my role is to 1) understand and appreciate HIS love of the game and 2) be there.  For the first, I am happy to have a good neuroscience book...and for the second I am thankful for my knitting to make it through all 6 innings.

p.s.- Maybe if I join a Stitch n' Pitch, watching will be more enjoyable than a hangnail...read this great "weird news" article about the connections between knitting and baseball by clicking HERE !

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bumperboy

Any of you who are raising boys know that cute masculine imaginative play toys are hard to find...most transform into weapons of mass-destruction, or require that one then spend a small fortune on matching Japanese trading cards...where, oh where has Ken gone!

So it was with great joy that I came across a book in our local library entitled, "BUMPERBOY, and the Loud, Loud Mountain."  The story was, admittedly, strange...in an exciting and childlike way.  Bumperboy is a young boy who has adventures with his Bumperpup (who speaks Pictonese) by passing through space utilizing bubbles which allow them to pass through hidden Borp holes on their planet, Bubtopia.  Amidst their awesome adventures with strangely intriguing creatures such as talking mountains and tiny deaf tree stewards, Bumperboy and Bumperpup pass on important lessons such as how to utilize public libraries, the interconnectedness of creatures within an ecosystem, and why it's unhealthy to drink sugary softdrinks.  Bumperboy's author, Debbie Huey, illustrates her graphic novels with pared-down simplicity reminiscent of Japanese anime characters, and peppers the sparse text with witty kid-friendly slang and colloquialisms.

To my happy surprise, my then 4-year-old (now a 6-year-old-fan) could not get enough of Bumperboy.  Finding only one book at the library, I searched the web and found the authors website where I purchased a pamphlet on riding a bike and his (now well-worn) Bumperboy T-shirt.  Still not satisfied, I began combing the Author's blog in search of more material with which top satisfy my son's appetite for this character... and to my delight, she passed on instructions on how to craft your very own felted Bumperboy and Bumperpup!!!!!!!!!!!!

I had never needle felted anything before and was reluctant to take on the project...but so insistant was my son, than I eventually gave it a go and am sharing the result with you here.  Overall, the project took me only 2 hours!  Having spent countless hours perfecting my knitting stitches and techniques, it was almost insulting to learn that wool will hold form by holding onto other wool fibers encouraged only by poking it with a sharp needle....no special technique needed.

If you are interested in purchasing Bumperboy books or merchandise, follow this LINK to the author's webpage.  To purchase any of her books you can proceed directly to the Merchandise Page.  For her instructions on how to create your very own Bumperpup like the one she created here (with yellow faces), go HERE.  Happy Borping!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

FIG

In the Book of Genesis in the Bible, Adam and Eve clad themselves with fig leaves after eating the "forbidden fruit" from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It has become custom for depictions of fig leaves to cover the genitals of nude figures in painting and sculpture. Interestingly, although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig fruit is actually the flower of the tree, known as an inflorescence (an arrangement of multiple flowers - a false fruit or multiple fruit. In this inflorescence (love this term!), the flowers and seeds grow together to form a single mass. Since the flower is invisible, in India (where Ficus bengalensis is the National Tree of India), there is an idiom which goes, "tumi jeno dumurer phool hoe gele", or "you have become (invisible like) the demur flower."

So, as in human culture,  in my life figs have developed a history.

During my paripatetic 20's, I travelled fairly extensively in India.  And although previously my life experiences were limited by growing up in small-town Maine, and my travel experiences were only as exotic as Europe, my first foray to the East rung remarkably familiar.  The assault on the senses that so many visitors find unnerving to me felt, somehow, calming... Oddly,  while in India, though their national tree is the fig,  I never had a fig...never even SAW one.

After medical school, marriage, and Target "life styling" our world, figs became suddenly simultaneouly unavoidable and elusive.  The color of the first suit my husband bought me was described by the designer as "fig."  The first perfume I purchased for my husband from my favorite perfumerie in NYC is a scent of fig.  Though fig had become an adjective in our new world together, fig is, technically neither a color nor a fragrance...but a thing.  My husband and I decided to expand the trend of misusing the word, and soon "fig"  became our metaphorical code word for "true love." "Fig" represented for us the incomprehensible, the expression of love in the ether...beyond mortal expression of such simple things as color and scent. It was the "42" of the Hitchhiker's Guide, the answer that says, "beyond."  My life until then had been motivated by the fig of the "forbidden fruit" variety, but with marriage I discovered the complex inflorescence of the more lovely, and mysteriously fragrant notes of love.

In New Orleans, I had my first experience with real figs.  Living there, my husband and I enjoyed a garden full of subtropical flora. In our small garden, I grew heirloom roses, night-blooming jasmine which perfumed the air which blew in through our bedroom window, merliton vines, and the largest passion-flower vine in all of uptown. Pecans and figs littered our lawn, buried by a blanket of large magnolia leaves. It was in Louisiana, one of the few American regions capable of growing magnificent figs, that I cultivated both a horticultural and a culinary taste for figs.

   This Christmas, my sister-in-law unwittingly gave me a gift more meaningful than she could have imagined. She is a foodie and she, knowing my love for figs (but not knowing the significance of figs in my life), gifted these handmade succulent wine-poached figs.  Ironically, her gift of figs to me was reflected by my knit gift to her. Using the simplest of patterns (CO 50, knit in garter stitch using US 17 needles), I knit her a scarf.  I purchased a skein of Karabella Gossamer in Mulberry because I loved the color combination of red and orange. I initially purchased it because I though it would be a great Christmas red, but when we got together we had a "You put your chocolate in my peanut-butter, no you put your peanut-butter on my chocolate" moment...it was FIG!
Rich and crimson with golden glistening interior highlights reminiscent of the tiny orange seeds which fleck the fig's moist rosy interior.

So, all that leads up to this:  The simplest pattern with the most beautiful yarn in the right recipient hands becomes (in all its wonderful layered meanings)..."Fig"

RECIPE for POACHED FIGS in WINE

1 1/2 cups dry red wine
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
6 dried Calimyrna figs (about 1/4 pound), halved lengthwise


Preparation:  In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan combine all ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer figs, covered, until tender, about 30 minutes.

Transfer figs with a slotted spoon to a bowl and boil syrup until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Strain syrup through a fine sieve into another bowl. Add syrup to figs and cool to warm.