Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Calling All Triumphant Holiday Knitters

Show us your stuff!

Send us pictures of your finished items. We'll post blocking pictures, knitting-in-the-car-on-the-way-to-Mom's pictures, sis-wriggling-toes-in-her-new-socks pictures, you name it.

Come on -- you know you want to!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Floors by Max Lent

Here's what we did the week before last:

Remember this?


On Monday afternoon, we took almost all the yarn off the shelves in the West Wing and put it in bags.


This ran a little behind schedule, so everyone pitched in.



We put the bags in the dressing room.



On Monday night, Max worked his magic, and then we spent some time on Tuesday trying to put the yarn back.

Lots of time, in fact. It's obvious that putting yarn back is going to be slower than throwing yarn into bags, but it's not obvious how much slower--in part because it's not so easy to remember where everything used to be, and then you wonder whether that's really the best place for it, and wouldn't it be better over there? But then you'd have to find a new place for the stuff that used to be over there . . . .

Later on Tuesday, we pretty much gave up on that, and took all the yarn off every fixture in the East Wing,


and put it in bags (or not) and put it in the dressing room.

When I say "The dressing room was full of yarn," I do not mean "There was a lot of yarn in the dressing room" (although there was). I mean, "We stopped putting yarn in the dressing room when we reached the ceiling." Then we removed some, because yarn in contact with light fixtures seemed like a bad idea.

We put yarn pretty much everywhere. This is the furnace room, where the chairs are kept:


We took all the books off the bookshelves and stashed them somewhere in back:


Then, after the Tuesday night class was over, Max worked his magic again. There was an additional delay when he decided that the desk/register area would best be handled by removing the entire thing and installing under it. This meant that, on Wednesday morning, we began by sorting out which phone belonged in which jack, and which jack got the credit card terminal, and which phone had the answering machine, and many more things of that nature. But the floor looked lovely:



Then we put away some more yarn. But not the books, because it turned out that the floor in that area was too uneven for laminate flooring. Max spent part of Wednesday finding a carpet remnant instead, and Wednesday night installing it. Meanwhile, we tried to sell yarn, given that all the books in the backstock area seemed somehow to have wound up in front of everything, and we couldn't move those back yet, and Max had left some pretty big equipment back there, and no one knew where anything was anyway.

But now we have beautiful new floors, and I'm told the green dust goes away after awhile, and we didn't close even one day for it.

(In case you're wondering, we didn't choose a more, um, sane week for this project because Max is a full-time student, so we had to wait for his winter break.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Birth of a Knitter

By now, you all know that Diana (who will be 7 next month) knits. This week, she finished a project that featured a remarkable number of quintessential knitting experiences. Sorry that there aren't illustrations (see #10 below), but here's the story:

1. She wasn't finished her previous project. Although she had a scarf (in Cascade Fixation) and a hat (in Lolita, which is kind of a plush) on needles, she was suddenly overcome by the urge to cast on. The reasons were classic: She didn't have her knitting with her, and The yarn just spoke to her. The yarn in question, by the way, is Alpaca Seta.

2. The deadline was perhaps a little unrealistic. She started more than a month ago, with the idea of knitting her friend Isaac a scarf for Christmas. Now, Isaac is Diana's age, so his scarf doesn't need to be very long; and Diana prudently cast on a small number of stitches (8, if I recall). But she doesn't knit very fast.

3. There was a mistake. After about 8 rows, the scarf was about 15 stitches wide. Faced with the dilemma of ripping back vs. modifying the original plan, Diana cleverly decided to taper the other end of the scarf to match.

4. Progress stalled. She's six. She gets distracted. Knitting is kind of, you know, slow.

5. Then she got motivated again and tried to do everything in a rush. She had an unusually long afternoon at the shop (hate those noon-dismissal days!) and began to make some serious headway. Inspired by the visible evidence of her achievement, she pressed on, in a near frenzy.

6. With the end in sight, her measurements began to get, er, optimistic. This is the first thing she's made that involved a tape measure. No one had shown her how to use one. There may have been some stretching involved.

7. She became unable to hear advice that contradicted her desire to finish. I was in the other room, but I heard Judy say, "But don't you want him to be able to wear it for a long time before he outgrows it? Why not make it a bit longer?" I tried with "Christmas is still more than a week away; you've got plenty of time. You're making such great progress, another day is all it would take." Nothing doing.

8. She stayed up past her bedtime to finish. We've all been there--though not necessarily at 8 p.m.

9. There were tears of frustration. Though, again, I don't know that all of us remember the last time we actually threw a project on the floor. Or were threatened with a timeout for doing so. (She couldn't remember how to bind off and couldn't wait 30 seconds for me to finish loading the dishwasher before I could show her.)

Then came a step or two that maybe aren't so universal: she agreed to let me cut the fringe strands after she'd gone to bed, so that she could attach them in the morning. She bounded out of bed and got dressed immediately and went downstairs and got to work, while I was still getting dressed and organizing Eva (Suzanne was in Seattle).

10. She couldn't wait a minute longer than absolutely necessary to get it packed up. This is why there aren't any pictures: I had thought, since she was binding off a Christmas present on the night of December 15th, that there would be plenty of opportunity to get a picture of her with the completed scarf before she wrapped it. I was wrong. By the time I got down to the kitchen, she'd not only finished the fringe, she'd wrapped it all up. And, being Diana, she flatly refused to unwrap it. (She used notebook paper for wrapping paper, because that was all she could find on short notice. Rewrapping would not have been a big deal.)

11. Or to give it. Maybe it's because we don't celebrate Christmas that the whole under-the-tree, Christmas-morning thing was irrelevant to her. For whatever reason, she had to take it to school with her on Friday morning, and Isaac had to unwrap it on the spot. She did make him promise to have his parents take a picture of him wearing it, though.

So young, and already so experienced. (This is only the second project she's finished. The first was a swatch.) She also reports that knitting with Alpaca Seta was more pleasant than knitting with Fixation, although she wasn't in a mood to discuss why or how.

Now, the big question: does finishing a project entitle her to begin another, or must she return to one of her UFO's? (Don't ask me. She buys her own yarn now, with money from the Tooth Fairy, at the standard employee discount, so she has some autonomy in these matters. I do lend her needles, though.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bah, Humbug: Part 2

Time was, the yarn business got eerily quiet in the last couple weeks before Christmas: anyone who was knitting gifts had to have them well underway, and was at home feverishly working on them; anyone not knitting gifts was at the mall. We'd see people who wanted an "insurance skein" at the last minute, and some non-knitters buying gift certificates (why are non-knitters always afraid to buy us yarn?), but the cellar certainly didn't look like, say, Tower Records.

Sigh. With Big Wool (and Blizzard, and Point Five, and Ribbon Twist, and Turmalin, and . . . ), you can knit a gift in an hour or two. You can make a hat while you're waiting for your flight to board; you can make a scarf while someone else is driving over the river and through the woods.

Not that I'm complaining. Frankly, as a non-Christmas-celebrating person, I find it kind of entertaining to watch everyone running around like chickens without their heads as the clock ticks down. But it sure is tiring.

Hey, any of you old heads out there want to shout out and say, "These newbies don't know what real Christmas knitting is -- back in my day, we knit sweaters for the whole family every year! On size 3 needles! With color patterns! You started on the Fourth of July, if you knew what was good for you! You young 'uns don't know how easy you have it"?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Post Script: Ten Things Sine Quibus Non

The last of the "Top Ten" lists (at least for now): These are the things that make my shop possible. I mean that in the most basic sense, and without exaggeration: change any one of these, and I’m pretty sure the whole house of cards would come crashing down. There aren’t ten of them, because I’m not going to stretch to fill a quota. These are bedrock, these are fundamental, and I’ll bet they’re not the things you’d have guessed.

1. Low rent Think I don’t wish Rosie had more space, higher ceilings, natural light, street-level access for strollers and wheelchairs, and a back room that didn’t flood? Think again. But other locations I’ve investigated would cost literally four times what the rent is here—which would make it impossible to provide enough knowledgeable staff to help everyone, or to take a chance on a strange new yarn that might be a hit or might wind up in the sale basket.

2. My memory Not because I remember customers’ names from year to year (though that’s nice), and not because you can show me a strange instruction and I’ll remember where I saw the technique mentioned ages ago (though that’s convenient, too). I’m talking about remembering suppliers’ phone numbers by heart, remembering all the Manos color numbers and names, remembering how many yards there used to be in a skein of Rowan Designer DK, even though it was discontinued years ago. These are all things that one could look up in a book if one had to—but knowing them off the top of my head saves me time, and makes it possible for me to call in an order from my cell phone while I’m on my way to pick up Diana after school, or pull the skeins for an afghan while I’m answering someone else’s question about where to find a pattern for a baby hat, or calculate how many skeins of Provence you’ll need to knit a sweater from Rowan 18 without having to dig through ancient color cards. If I can’t do all these things fast, I can’t help enough customers in a day to stay afloat.

3. Staff willing to work for nothing The wages at Rosie’s are better than what they might make at McDonald’s (at least, I’m pretty sure they are), but not by much. The people who do the job are not burger-flippers: they’re intelligent, creative, patient, helpful, resourceful, cheerful, and willing to do it all day after day for the pleasure of being near yarn and knitters. It’s one thing for me to decide it’s worthwhile to have a shop, even though I’ll never get rich. It’s quite another for people who don’t own the place. Next time one of them goes outside in the rain to climb through a window into a dirty unfinished basement to dig for one more skein of your first-choice color, thank them for it.

4. Suzanne Almost anyone will tell you that, in a modern, egalitarian marriage, both partners should of course have fulfilling work they love to do. And almost anyone will tell you that, in a modern, egalitarian marriage, neither partner should automatically bear the responsibility for household chores or childcare; nor should the partner making less money be considered to have the less important job. But you don’t see all that many marriages where it actually plays out that way. I’ve got one. Even when I’m barely covering our childcare expenses, Suzanne does more than her share of the house stuff and the kid stuff, and she doesn’t seem to think that’s unfair. She also lets me run the business however I see fit, despite her financial stake in it, and the only thing she’s ever asked is that I should, for the love of Pete, get a business manager. (Speaking of which, Rosie needs a business manager. Anyone qualified should please get in touch. I hope you know who you are, because I really don’t know what the job entails.)

5. Suzanne’s job All Suzanne’s good intentions (see above) wouldn’t go for much if she didn’t have a job that pays the mortgage, and provides us all with health insurance, too.

6. Ed Rendell I’m not kidding. In the fall of 1990 or so, I was mugged at 23rd and Pine at 9:30 on a Thursday evening—and I was with a friend. By late 1995, it didn’t seem crazy to open a business in the neighborhood—even a business with an overwhelmingly female clientele, plenty of evening hours, and limited nearby parking. Our location must be pedestrian-safe for women after dark, and it always has been. When I walk home alone at 10:30 at night, and feel perfectly safe, I think, “If you can do this, thank Mayor Rendell.” He turned it all around.

7. Customers Duh. But seriously, you guys keep it interesting. While there are nights when everyone on the staff goes home wanting not to measure another gauge swatch or figure out wear to store one more bag of Kureyon, what makes it all worthwhile is seeing people do new things, or old things in new ways. And watching a new knitter get it--whether “it” is how short-rows really shape a heel, or what “foll 6 alt rows” means, or that a purl stitch is actually a knit stitch seen from the other side—is really worth more than you can imagine.

8. Camille Spinale She’s our lawyer. It’s not that we get sued so often. But trust me, we wouldn’t be here without her.

8. Jennifer Carpenter Despite our fundamental incompatibility as business partners, I don’t think either of us would be in the yarn business without the other. I wanted to open a shop, but I knew I couldn’t do it by myself, and she was there to take a chance with me. For that, I’ll always be grateful.

Another Quickie

A while back, a woman came into the shop with her mother. Mom used to knit like a demon, but it's been a while (15 years? 30?), and they wanted to arrange some private lessons.

Terrific. Mom jumped right back in, mom and daughter both bowled over by the new styles and textures of yarn available.

When they were in the shop together recently (choosing yarn for project after project, Mom to knit and Daughter to wear), Daughter took me aside to say, "This is working out great, it's just what I had in mind: it gets her out of the house, gives her something to do, gives her a chance to spend some time with young people."

Welcome to the new world of knitting: where you sign your 75-year-old mother up for knitting lessons so she can meet some young people.

Tidbit of yarn gossip

From the Knitty blog:

CNS Yarns announced today that it has licensed the exclusive rights to distribute Mission Falls yarns. CNS is bringing back the celebrated 1824 Cotton, an Aran weight 100% cotton, easy care yarn, which had been discontinued. They will also distribute the 1824 Wool yarn—a 100% superwash merino, and all the pattern books and buttons under the brand, Mission Falls. Designer Mags Kandis, whose eclectic vision has made Mission Falls yarns, and both adult and children’s clothing designs international favorites, will continue to design for the brand. Mags will design new 1824 Cotton patterns for Spring 2006, and a new 1824 Wool line for Fall 2006.

We'll keep you posted...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ten Astonishing Things

Sorry this one's late, but between the snow and the annual RYC Holiday Party, the last couple days were a little less productive than I'd hoped.

O.k., the ten most astonishing shop-related things: we’ll pass by global events.

We all know that Philly is the world’s largest small town; once you’ve lived here for more than a year or two, you stop meeting anyone new—everyone turns out to be your sister-in-law’s mechanic or your father’s officemate’s daughter or something. Nonetheless, some coincidences still overwhelm me.


1. A couple weeks ago, a woman came into the shop who’d never been here before. She turned out to be visiting her sister here; she lives in Washington State. How’d she hear about us? She had a stopover in Denver, and while she was waiting in the airport, she met a knitter from Manhattan, who told her that we were the shop to visit in Philadelpia.

Then when she got into town, we turned out to be her sister’s LYS, anyway.

2. This one is from about 1997. A customer named Hannah knit a baby set as a shower gift for a coworker. The day of the shower, she had it with her on her lunchbreak when she went to buy a gift bag. Somewhere between the card shop and the office, she lost the whole thing—bag, sweater, hat, and all.

Months later, a stranger came into the shop and gave us a bag with a handknit baby set in it: he’d found it on a bench on Market Street, it had no identification with it, he figured we might know something to do with it. We did: we gave it back to Hannah.

3. Another one from ‘way back: a customer named Stacy came in with a half-finished baby sweater. She explained that her grandmother had been knitting it for her when Stacy was a baby, but then Grandma got distracted or delayed, and it became clear that Stacy was going to outgrow the sweater before it was finished, and so the project got tucked away somewhere. (Sound familiar?)

But now that Stacy herself was expecting her first child, Grandma pulled out the old sweater and thought she’d finish it. Unfortunately, in the twenty-some-year hiatus, the pattern book (which was already tattered from considerable use for Stacy and her siblings and cousins) had fallen apart and the pages had been separated. Stacy had the first part of the instructions, but everything after “Continued on p. 43” was missing. Could we, from the extant part of the sweater and instructions, re-design the rest?

We could do better than that: from the pages Stacy had, I recognized the booklet as one of those ancient Spinnerin classics that everyone’s grandmother had—including mine. I went into the back room, dug around in the vintage pattern archives, and found my grandmother’s copy of the same book. Dated 1963, mind you.

4. I live about 4 blocks from the shop. In early September, one of my neighbors stopped me in our shared courtyard and asked if I’d seen her cat, Orlando. He wasn’t the kind of cat to come and go on his own; he was a totally indoor cat, and old. I hadn’t.

Pictures of Orlando went up around the courtyard and on poles in the neighborhood. Days passed.

Then one morning, as I was getting my coffee at Tuscany, I ran into Amber. We walked over to the shop together, and just in front of the door, we encountered her friend Robbie, a fairly new knitter who lives nearby. Amber asked him what had happened to the cat—he and Sal had found a stray over Labor Day weekend, and had taken it to a shelter. Robbie said it would probably be put down, since it was clearly sick, but the vet hadn’t made the rounds yet (because of the holiday weekend).

He went on his way, and as I was unlocking the shop door, Amber was telling me that this stray had resembled Bill the Cat from Bloom County. That’s when the penny dropped: Orlando!

Run back home. Find one of the “Lost Cat” signs. Run back to the shop. Meanwhile, Amber has called Ben to get Sal’s cell number to find out which shelter. Leave voicemail for Susan everywhere with the shelter’s number. Leave voicemail at the shelter that they should hold onto the cat, if it’s not too late.

Wait several hours.

Victory! Rejoicing! Susan (and her 17-year-old daughter Sarah, who can’t remember life without 14-year-old Orlando) are reunited with the cat. The shelter worker says that, in her 3 years working there, this is only the fifth reunion she’s seen.

5. This one’s just silly: Knitting Circle regular Rhonda comes in one day and gets into a conversation with customer Renee about Renee’s knitted coat. Watching them, I know something seems funny, but it takes a moment to figure out what: Rhonda has a sister named Renee. Renee has a twin named—-you guessed it.

6. Classic Elite Yarns is located in Lowell, MA, which was a major hub of 19th-century textile production. The “mill girls” of Lowell were usually from farm families throughout New England, and they lived in dormitories while earning cash to send home. (They also published their own literary magazine.) When Classic Elite moved production of La Gran overseas in the late 1990’s, they sent some of the ancient, industrial-size wooden bobbins from the mill to their customers. We’ve got two of them hiding away in the back room. My sense of wonder at living with an artifact from this footnote in the history of women’s work and women’s writing never goes away.

7. Leo Brookman from Discover Many of you may recall that this shop used to have a different name. A few years ago, when the name changed to Rosie's, I spent a lot of time on the phone with various vendors and service providers. The guy on the other end of the line at Discover (our credit-card approval system) passed the time chatting while we waited for the system to update. He asked what kind of business this was, and then told me that he'd once been in the yarn business--back in the 1980's, he was the U.S. distributor for a French yarn company. I remembered that company, and we had a pleasant conversation. He changed the name on our account, and we hung up.

A few weeks later, the phone rings, and it's Leo Brookman: he's been thinking about yarn since our last conversation, and where do I think the handknitting market is going? And do I think there might be a market for a line of yarns like such-and-such, or like this, or like that? Well, I had to say I thought the handknitting market was doing pretty well. We chatted, he thanked me, we hung up.

Months pass. Next thing I know, one of my sales reps is showing me a new line of yarn he's just picked up--French company, just started distributing in the U.S.--you guessed it, Leo's back in the yarn business.

I'm glad he's having fun (I hope he's having fun), but I feel so . . . responsible. There are days in any business, I suppose, when anyone wishes they'd chosen something else--anything else--to pay the rent. But I feel like, when Leo Brookman has those days, it's going to be my fault. So, Leo, if you're reading: I'm happy to have helped . . . and on the other days, I'm sorry.

8. You never know who you'll meet in a class. The first night of a sweater class is always mayhem, as everyone tries to choose a project and find yarn and check gauge all at once. But by the second or third night, things settle down, and people have a chance to get to know one another. "Where do you live?" "What do you do?" A few years back, a student named Jennifer answered that she worked for Running Press, and that, as a matter of fact, they were planning to do a knitting book, though they hadn't found an author yet, and did any of us know anyone? (That's how Running Press is: pick a marketable topic, then go find someone to provide content.)

I couldn't resist: I confessed to my former life as an academic. The eternal phrase was uttered--"Let's have lunch"--and thus was The Joy of Knitting born.


9. At Stitches East one year, on the morning of the first full day of the show, I realized that the cashbox wasn't on my dining room table, where I'd dropped all my stuff when I came in the night before. Hmmm. I must have left it at the shop when I dropped some stuff there. Stopped by the shop on the way out to Valley Forge--hmmm, not there, either. When I picked Jen up, I asked if she'd taken it with her when she got out of the truck the night before--nope, nothing doing. Well, we figured we must have left it in the booth; it was late, we were all exhausted. Nothing to worry about; security on the show floor is always excellent.

Got to the booth--you guessed it, no cashbox. We wracked out brains: what could have happened? The best guess was that someone could have seen it on the front seat of the truck while we were unloading at the shop the night before, and reached right in, since the doors were unlocked. Pain and agony: not just because the day's take was in there, but because so much other stuff was, too--change, pens, boxcutters, screwdrivers, and our copies of all the transactions from the night before--including many customer credit card numbers.

Wasn't much to be done, except keep wondering if there was any other place it could possibly be. And when we thought of anything--somewhere else in my dining room, somewhere at the (trashed) shop we'd overlooked--there wasn't anything we could do to check. (This was back in the day, before "identity theft" was such a buzzword; if it happened today, I'd probably just slit my wrists.)

Late in the day, another terrible possibility crossed my mind: what if I'd left it in the rental truck when I returned it the night before? Parked on the street at 12th and Washington. We called the U-Haul place, and they said they were open until 7:00. The show closed at 6, we hauled . . . ourselves . . . back into town as quickly as possible, drove up to the office, went in and asked if anyone had found, um, anything in a truck returned the day before. The guy at the counter called another guy, who took me back into an office, and there was our cashbox (which looks, it may be time to mention, like a cheap plastic toolbox). "This yours?" he asked. "Look inside," he said.

It was all there. Every penny (or I assume; we didn't know exactly how much cash should be there, but we knew close enough--and who'd steal $1 if they were going to leave the rest?), every screwdriver, every customer receipt (still in their rubber bands), and the good boxcutter.

And I will never forget our customer Norma, who'd seen me nearly out of my mind the day before, and who came back to the show the next day carrying a new set of boxcutters for us. I doubt boxcutters have ever been such a sweet or thoughtful gift.

10. I've been in the yarn business for ten years. Here are some other numbers that surprise me: In that time, I've only seen 5 bounced checks. Only 2 people have come in to steal sample garments. (Or maybe only two have gotten away with it. But still.) The total number of people who've worked at the shop is over 30. There are at least 7 former customers who now own yarnshops of their own. Two of them still shop with us, at least from time to time. We're on our second cash register (soon to be replaced again), our fifth (at least) vacuum cleaner, probably our tenth and eleventh phones--and yet the original stapler, from Day One, is still seeing heavy use every day without complaint.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Just Say No

Here are ten things no knitter should do.

1. Drop shoulders

They're flattering on, like, no one. Sure, they're easy to knit, but so what? It's easier to buy a sweater than to knit one; if you're going to knit one, make it fit.
2. Chenille

Cotton, wool, acrylic, rayon--I don't care what it's made of; it won't be pleasant to knit, and it's unlikely to look good for very long, if at all. If you want chenille, buy it.
3. Elaborate floral intarsia that looks like wallpaper

This is the kind of thing that needlepoint does very well, and that tortures a knitter with completely unpredictable charts and millions of yarn ends to weave in. Don't fight the medium.
4. Self-Argyling sweaters An old gimmick from the early '90's, and (in retrospect) a precursor of the self-patterning sock yarns: these were huge hanks of space-dyed yarn which, when knitted at a precise gauge and on the exact right number of stitches, produced sweaters with a large-scale diamond-shaped pattern.
5. Knitted thongs

In fact, maybe all knitted underwear falls into this category: there are some places I just don't want my knitting to go.
6. Toilet-seat covers

If you can't find anything better to do with your time, just speak up, and I'll make some recommendations. [Note from Carol: I did win a prize of some lovely Schaefer yarn for this, so who's the fool?]
7. Elvis wig

Honestly, it's not that I don't have a sense of humor. I just think this would be funnier if they were more, y'know, realistic.
8. Bleach-etched sweaters


Two versions, both troubling: One is the Rowan Denim sweater that's spattered and potato-stamped with bleach after assembly. The other involves a synthetic Trendsetter yarn called Sunshine, and a tube of bleaching gel which one applies in abstract patterns to the finished garment, then rinses off. The longer the gel sits, the paler the color gets. My objection in both cases is the same: the model garment may look improvisational, freeform, and lovely, but the odds of Jane Knitter completely ruining many hours of work are just too high.
9. Fulled Kureyon baby blanket It's going to get stiff, and it still won't be machine-washable, so what's the point?
10. Knit anything after the second drink Remember, friends don't let friends knit drunk.


P.S. Got Noro? Sorry this post is so late, but UPS buried us in Noro this morning, and we spent the rest of the day digging out.
And tomorrow, when it's snowing? You know we're still open. Stop by if you get the day off from work and start to get cabin fever.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ten Things I Learned At Knitting Circle

1. There’s a beefcake calendar called “Men of Science Fiction” that features actors from Star Trek series and movies.

2. Four Sisters is a good place to get a pedicure.

3. The Vanished Child, by Sarah Smith, which is seriously one of the 5 best books I read in the last 10 years.

4. How to cook sweet potatoes, and a good recipe for cranberries.

5. The names of a good bankruptcy lawyer (may you never need one!), a good public defender (may you never need one!), and a good child psychiatrist (may you never need one!).

6. Who actually watches all those reality t.v. shows.

7. The phrase “schgutz with benefits.” Everyone should have one.

8. Other things Knitting Circle knows but hasn’t taught me yet: how to fly-fish, how to tie those fancy ribbon bows that florists use, how to give a dog a massage.

9. Things I could ask Knitting Circle if I needed to know: where to stay in London, Vancouver, Toronto, Sydney, Geneva, Paris, Las Vegas, Palm Beach, and most major American cities; and where the local yarn shops are once you get there.

10. All the major treatment approaches for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Ten Changes In the Neighborhood

The landscape in this area may look generally the same, but some things around Rittenhouse Square have changed in the last ten years--not all for the better. Here are some of the ones that have affected our lives most. (And yes, I do note how many of them are food-related. You don't think anyone in my house cooks anymore, do you?)

1. The IHOP on Walnut Street is now Cosi. Who benefits from this? When Diana was born (in 1999), there was someplace we could take her that was centrally located, had highchairs, and was noisy enough that we weren't embarrassed. By the time Eva was born, there wasn't. And I bet the 16-to-20-yr-olds are pretty cranky about not having anyplace to go that's cheap and open late. On top of which, the coffee at Cosi is so bad.

2. The Diner on the Square (19th and Spruce) is now Marathon on the Square. See above. Remember meeting people for brunch there on Sunday morning? At 10:45, you had your choice of tables. At 11:00, you'd wait 45 minutes to be seated at all. There used to be complaints that the food was overpriced--but it was still a real diner.

3. Del Colle Italian Grocer appeared in the 222 W. Rittenhouse building, and then disappeared about a year ago. The sandwiches were great, and now there's no takeout prepared food to be had between Rittenhouse Grocer (18th and Spruce) and Bacchus (23rd and Spruce).

4. Rago's is gone. Joe Rago had a cheese, produce, and abuse shop on 20th between Spruce and Locust (the location is now part of D'Angelo's). The quality of the food you bought depended on whether Joe liked you or not, but he sure packed a lot in there. The Kims across the street at Maxx's are trying to pick up the slack.

5. The General Store is gone. After 40 years in the same place.

6. William H. Allen Bookseller isn't on Walnut Street anymore. After Mr. Allen died, the employees moved the shop out to Sharon Hill. Still one of the best sources for used, rare, and antiquarian scholarly books; just harder to browse.

7. Betsy Johnson becomes Rindelaub's becomes American Pie becomes the Pad Thai Shack. Now here's one that's a big improvement, in my opinion. Fast, fresh, delicious food on 18th Street: while I'm at it, let's hear it for Le Bus and Paninoteca as well. But on the opposite side of the street, it's a different story: because those buildings are slated for demolition, Rindelaub's lost its lease and then couldn't survive in its new location; Lombardi's closed its only non-New York location; Perry Milou's gallery moved around the corner and then went . . . does anyone know where Perry Milou's gallery went?

8. Everything on the 20XX block of Locust stays the same, except where it doesn't. Niederkorn, the silver shop, is still in its spot to our east; Moennig, the violinmaker, is still to the west, with Julius Scissor; we still look out across the street at Dr. Balderston, the dentist. On the other hand, the Sande Webster Gallery had to relocate to Walnut Street when the owners of the building decided to retool it as a single-family home, Anita’s Touch became Pooch, and the travel agency on the corner at 21st gave way to Hello, World--which in turn became Doggie Style, just this week.

9. On 20th, the Woolsack becomes Santa Fe Burrito Co. becomes Caffe Costa Diva. Bring back the burritos, please.

10. Chestnut Street. Somewhere in the last two years, Chestnut Street went from being a place that I thought was too iffy to consider moving, to a place I couldn't possibly afford. Casual Corner becomes the Continental?? Who could have imagined?

I'm told that the average new business fails within the first three years. Almost none of these were that new. I'm as pleased as anyone else with all the cool new places (not that I ever get to most of them), but let's take a moment to acknowledge that change has a cost.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Ten Knitters Who Inspire Me

The sequence is alphabetical.

1. Nicky Epstein

Because the sheer abundance of her imagination is awe-inspiring.

2. Kaffe Fassett


Maybe just because his work came along at a formative moment in my development as a knitter, but in 1986, no one had done anything like his free-form, improvisational, exuberantly multi-multi-color work.

3. Lucy Neatby

For her ability to combine many techniques and elements into one project.

4. Debbie New She knit a boat. Enough said.

5. Eve R. Plotnick My maternal grandmother, who taught me to knit. She knit custom suits on commission when she was a teenager in the 1920’s; in the ‘50’s, she made a black cardigan at a gauge so small that she had to work the bobbles on toothpicks—while sitting on the beach.

6. Grace Anna Robbins


Because her designs are consistently both good to wear and interesting to knit, which is a rare combination.

7. Nadia Severns



Terrific use of color and technique, with a great sense of balance: Nadia knows how to make the bands on a patterned jacket interesting without being too busy.

8. Dorlynn Starn




Because anything worth doing is worth doing right. Possibly several times.

9. Amber Dorko Stopper

(Photo: Adrian Seward)
A bust of Edmund Bacon? A mobius afghan? Amber knits to the beat of her own drummer. She’s not afraid of how long anything takes—but she’s also much more able to embrace the free-form, the irregular, and the organic than I’ll ever be.

10. Anna Zilboorg Because the patterns in her Turkish sock book are a great resource, and her uses of them—in Magnificent Mittens, 45 Fine and Fanciful Hats, and Socks for Sandals and Clogs—are an inspiration.

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Congratulations to Kim S., yesterday's doorprize winner, who won a Lantern Moon basket (the tabletop kind with the ceramic token in the lid), and to Cecelia O., today's winner, who wins a copy of The Art of Knitting. More good stuff tomorrow.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ten Yarns RIP

Gone but not forgotten: these are yarns which have stopped manufacture since 1995. Some, like Cotton 100, were old standbys; some, like Mistral, just never caught on, or were ahead of their time.

1. Mission Falls 1824 Cotton Machine-wash, tumble-dry, worsted-weight, nubbly texture cotton.

2. Classic Elite Waterspun “Pre-felted” wool singles, 5 sts per inch, in a warm ethnic palette. Fantastic stitch definition for knit/purl or cable patterns.

3. Rowan Linen Drape DK-weight linen/viscose blend that had exactly that: drape.

4. Rowan Polar Alpaca blend at 3 sts per inch, shed a bit but you couldn’t ask for a softer, warmer, cushier yarn.

5. Berroco Europa Multicolor wool plied with a slubby cotton/rayon—and yet not a flashy novelty yarn. Great for kids and bulky socks.

6. Baruffa Cash Silk Disappeared when Lane Borgosesia changed distributors; may still be available in Italy. A sport-weight cashmere/silk blend with a spiral spin.

7. Classic Elite Mistral Apparently the knitting world wasn’t ready for a cotton/alpaca blend. Good drape, nice dry hand.

8. Classic Elite Tapestry If you had any of their Ethnic Knitting Kits, you had Tapestry. Wool/mohair blend at 5 sts per inch—incredibly durable, and incredibly lustrous colors.

9. Classic Elite Tapestry 2-Ply The same as the above, in a sport weight. Before socknitting became a craze, before there were any sock yarns from American manufacturers, there was Tapestry 2-Ply.

10. Berroco Cotton 100 You may know it as Conshohocken Cotton or Softball—roving bound with a tiny thread; soft and lofty; easy-care; worsted weight; lots of colors.

Honorable mention: Berroco Mohair Classic. Unlike most of these others, it doesn’t leave an unfillable gap (Classic Elite’s La Gran is pretty much the same); but it was a great yarn, in a wide palette, that was around for a long time; and it’s still a type of yarn that sells well, so it’s hard to figure why it’s gone.

Add yours in comments . . .

And by the way, congratulations to Eliza C., winner of the Bagsmith Project Tote from Friday's doorprize drawing, and Jon G., winner of "The Little Box of Scarves" from yesterday's.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ten Favorite Yarns

This is the fairly unscientific result of polling the staff. There was a lot of consensus, especially at the top of the list, though not necessarily about the exact sequence. Honorable mention: Plymouth Encore, not because we love it but because there are times when it serves a knitter’s purpose better than anything else; Nashua Creative Focus Worsted, which is too new to have proven itself yet.

1. Manos del Uruguay For color selection, hand, versatility, and the good feeling that comes from knowing the money you pay goes to people who really need it, nothing beats it. It’s the best of both worlds: the textural and color variations camouflage a beginner’s unevenness of tension, and also add a level of subtlety to any experienced knitter’s project. Also, many of us like a yarn that looks like people made it, not machines.

2. Koigu Premium Painter’s Palette Merino Because it’s never the same twice. Because it works on needle sizes from 1 to 15. Because, if you see a color you really really dislike, you can be pretty sure it’ll be someone else’s favorite color ever.

3. Schaefer Yarns, Anne Here, it’s not exactly a matter of versatility; socks, scarves, and shawls pretty much cover its uses. (People talk about using it for sweaters, but I have yet to see one—perhaps because it’s almost impossible to come up with three skeins that match closely enough.) But the fiber blend (superwash merino, mohair, nylon) produces a yarn of remarkable luster and durability; it has enough mohair-y-ness to hold the fabric together at loose gauges, but it never sheds or produces the familiar mohair haze. And of course, Cheryl Schaefer is an incredibly talented dyer.

4. Rowan, Kid Silk Haze Because everything you add it to—from eyelash to sock yarn to Point Five—gets better. Because it’s light as air yet very strong, hazy yet shiny, the star of the show or an invisible carry-along.

5. Noro, Kureyon This yarn was born to make plain sweaters interesting, but it took years before knitters and designers really began to work with its characteristics rather than struggling against them. Now, there’s a ton of great pattern support, and more coming all the time, that use the yarn to emphasize what interesting knitting can do.

6. Jagger Yarns, Zephyr Affordable luxury, in about 60 colors. If you could only have one shawl yarn, you’d want it to be this. Nice in sweaters, too, if you have the patience.

7. Rowan, Calmer We had to put one cotton on the list, and this one’s the best, in terms of both the knitting experience (good “bounce”) and the wearing experience (dry and light, with good resilience).

8. Classic Elite, Inca Alpaca The drape, softness, and warmth we expect from alpaca, in a stunning array of colors suitable for conservative scarves or funky color patterns.

9. Prism, Wild Stuff This one’s all mine; it didn’t appear on anyone else’s list. But long before the novelty-yarn scarf craze, Wild Stuff was out there. I never get tired of watching to see what yarn is coming up next, and Laura Bryant’s color sense leaves all the imitators in the dust.

10. Joseph Galler, Peruvian Tweed For scarves, shawls, or sweaters, the yarn provides enough interest on its own to sustain very plain work; but it also flatters simple stitch textures and openwork. Popular for both men and women. All the versatility of neutral colors, but never boring.

Do you disagree? E-mail us. We’ll collate and report.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ten Hall-of-Fame Designs

These are the designs that, over the years, “everyone” had to make. Looking back at them now, I’m surprised at how well they’ve aged: except for the drop shoulders on Reykjavik, none of them would look out of place now. In fact, one of the earliest—the Fruit Cap pattern—is still a bestseller.

What do they have in common? There’s a high level of bang for your buck (that is, though they’re not all really quick, they do reward well whatever time and effort you put in). They’re also (with the possible exception of the Koigu bag and the Elaine baby jacket) designs that lend themselves to a wide variety of yarns.

How many of them have you made?

1. Button, Button

Designer: Jil Eaton. For awhile, I was baffled when we had to reorder this Minnowknits pattern: I couldn’t believe there was a knitter in Philadelphia who didn’t already own a copy.

2. Reykjavik

Designer: Susan Mills. Back in the early ‘90’s, when almost all sweaters had drop shoulders, this was the best possible combination: it had the world’s simplest pullover and cardigan, in two lengths, plus something with a cable for those who wanted to branch out.

3. Wildflower Baby Blanket

Designer: Judith Shangold. I think the record number knit by one person is seven. You could find a color combination to match every possible taste or d├ęcor (and people did); you could obsess for hours over which colors would appear next to each other in the stripe sequence (and people did); you could throw together the first seven colors you saw or the last seven colors we had in stock (and people did)—and it always looked great.

4. Block-a-Month Afghan

Designer: Anne Simpson. Perfect in so many ways: spreads the expense of making an afghan out of Manos over a year; introduces inexperienced knitters to a wide variety of stitch patterns, but in manageable bites; because each block isn’t very large, there’s no chance to get bored with a stitch, or stalled on one you don’t love.

5. Koigu Beaded Bag

Designer: Holly Webb A perfectly contained introduction to knitting with beads—no intimidating charts, no big investment in time or materials.

6. Landscape Shawl

Designer: Evelyn Clark. Looks complicated but knits almost mindlessly, once you’re in the groove. Works in yarns from gossamer-weight silk to hefty tweeds, to produce a shawl that can be dressy or everyday, large or small. Not just a great project for a first shawl to knit; a great shawl if you’re not sure you’re the kind of person who’d wear a shawl.

7. Half-Pi Shawl

Designers: Courtney A. Kelley and Grace Anna Robbins. A tutorial in shawl shaping and geometry, and a great gift, to boot.

8. Allison Scarf

Designer: Grace Anna Robbins. No measuring, no counting, and it shows off any space-dyed yarn beautifully.

9. Elaine Hooded Jacket

Designer: Schaefer Yarn Co. A baby gift that can be ready in a weekend, always looks adorable, and provides an introduction to top-down sweater construction.

10. Fruit Caps

Designer: Ann Norling. Just ridiculously cute. Has prompted some odd meditations on gender in America: why is fruit feminine, but vegetables masculine? (You can’t make a strawberry hat for a baby boy—or so I’m told—but you can make him a tomato. Huh?)


Meanwhile . . .

Congratulations to Melissa P., our first doorprize winner. Melissa has won an autographed copy of Loop-d-Loop by Teva Durham. Today's doorprize will be drawn late this afternoon, and it will be a Bagsmith Project Tote, in the winner's choice of black or natural. Put your name in the vase whenever you drop in-for instance, at 11 this morning for the quick demo on Winding a Butterfly.

Ten Books No Knitter Should Be Without

It's December 1, our anniversary. As part of the celebration, we've compiled a list of books we think no knitter should be without, and they're all on sale for 10% off today through December 10. Come into the shop, or click here to see them online.

1. Scarf Style, by Pam Allen Because it's more than we ever thought could be done with them.

2. The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, by Ann Budd Because you'll have instructions for all the basic sweaters, in many sizes, in many gauges.

3. Colorworks, by Deb Menz Because it includes so many examples and such great tools.

4. The Joy of Knitting, by Lisa R. Myers Because Allison told me I had to include it.

5. Folk Shawls, by Cheryl Oberle Because most knitters who buy it make at least 3 or 4 of the designs, and intend to make more.

6. Socks Socks Socks, edited by Elaine Rowley Because the 70 patterns include much more variety than any single-designer sock book ever could.

7. The Knitter’s Companion, by Vicki Square Because it's everything you reach for again and again, in a format that you can keep in your knitting bag.

8. Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book Because everyone should have one giant encyclopedia.

9. A Treasury of Knitting Patterns, by Barbara Walker, vol. 1-4 The original and still the best.

10. The Opinionated Knitter, by Elizabeth Zimmermann The logical complement to #2: a book that will help you think outside the box.



In Case of Shipwreck
These are my personal “desert-island” picks: ten books that, together, could keep me busy for the rest of my life. Alphabetical by title.

1. Alice Starmore, The Art of Fair Isle Knitting The color-theory section isn’t as good as Ann Feitelson’s, but for that I have Colorworks; Starmore’s stitch dictionary is unrivaled.
2. ---, Aran Knitting A brilliant, developmental examination of cable patterns and techniques. The sweaters aren’t bad, either.
3. Uberlieferte Strickmuster aus dem Steirischen Ennstal A 3-volume compendium of stitch patterns, mostly traveling-stitch work, from the Steyr region of the Enns River valley in Austria. Plus garment patterns for vests, jackets, and many, many elaborate stockings. In German, of course.
4. Debbie Bliss, Classic Knits for Kids or Bright Knits for Kids Casual, easy-to-wear stuff for real kids, several in sizes that would fit adults.
5. Deb Menz, Colorworks Hands-on color theory for those who work with fiber, including examples of all the major color harmonies (triadic, complementary, etc.) in spinning, knitting, weaving, patchwork, beadwork, embroidery, more.
6. Dalebarn Book 89 My favorite Baby Ull book of all time—includes the ladybug set, the Tyrolean ensemble, and the classic Setesdal sweater.
7. Vicki Square, Folk Bags Most of them would need to be tweaked at least a little—they’re not very sturdy—but the interpretations of a wide array of traditional containers are wonderful.
8. Meg Swansen, A Gathering of Lace I can do without the hats and gloves, but there are enough stunning shawls here to keep me busy for many years.
9. Kaffe Fassett’s Pattern Library Kaffe’s garment shapes are never the most interesting part of his work; this has just the charts (and color photos of swatches) for hundreds of his designs.
10. Nicky Epstein, Knitted Embellishments Her edging books seem kind of repetitive to me, but this one is endlessly inventive, and includes thought-provoking sketches of design possibilities for many of the techniques.



Reminder: Today's free lesson is on paired, symmetrical increases (M1R and M1L), and it's at 11 a.m.