Tswim with the Tsharks at Rhinebeck 2013

October 10th, 2013

(Oh yes, I know - it’s been a long time. There are reasons, and they’re good reasons… if you interpret “good” according to that little-known definition that is universally translated as “bad.” Some things need to be explained and/or apologized for; others are best not mentioned at all. But this isn’t the time or place for that. Not with RHINEBECK coming up!)

Long story short: RHINEBECK. It’s NEXT WEEK. And after that, NEFF. And after that, Stitches East.

If THAT is astonishing to you as it is to me (in a where-did-the-time-go sort of way), it is less so than this:

In spite of the fact that we are carrying some 30 times more stock this year than ever before… and in spite of a couple of epic reversals experienced over the summer… we are very nearly ready. In fact, we’ve already got about 1/4 of the new inventory loaded in the trailer. Thanks to indescribable awesomeness on the part of Team Dye and the Tsock Tstaff, thanks to long hours and long days and long nights and long weeks - well, if I weren’t superstitious about jinxing things I would be bragging about being slightly ahead of schedule. But I am, so I won’t.

Anyway, that probably isn’t what you really want to hear about right now.

This is.

As promised in this space and others so long ago, the time has come at last for the public release of SHARK WEEK. Right on schedule, no less. That’s right, do not adjust your monitor; I really did say RIGHT ON SCHEDULE. And I meant it. We will have the first kits at Rhinebeck, and as long as dye and stamina hold out we will keep on producing more - for NEFF and then for Stitches and then for on-line sales.

Not only that - to mitigate the Saturday morning rush, we are making a limited number of kits available for PRE-ORDER and PICK-UP at Rhinebeck; that is, buy now and pick up at the booth any time on Saturday. If this works well at Rhinebeck we will do the same thing at subsequent shows. If it doesn’t - we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it. Hey, we’re figuring this out as we go along.

For full details on who/what/where/when/how, please see announcement HERE.

Sigh. Would love to stick around and chat - so MUCH to catch up on - but I’ve got to get back to assembling kits. See you at the shows!

Garden of Bright Images

March 19th, 2013

     When the bowl was empty she continued for a space to regard it silently, as though exploring the many-sided recesses of her mind.
      “You have claimed to be a story-teller and have indeed made a boast that there is no arising emergency for which you are unprepared,” she said at length. “It now befalls that you may be put to a speedy test. Is the nature of this imagined scene”—thus she indicated the embellishment of the bowl—”familiar to your eyes?”
      “It is that known as ‘The Willow,’” replied Kai Lung. “There is a story—”
      “There is a story!” exclaimed the maiden, loosening from her brow the overhanging look of care. “Thus and thus. Frequently have I importuned him before whom you will appear to explain to me the meaning of the scene. When you are called upon to plead your cause, see to it well that your knowledge of such a tale is clearly shown. He before whom you kneel, craftily plied meanwhile by my unceasing petulance, will then desire to hear it from your lips… At the striking of the fourth gong the day is done. What lies between rests with your discriminating wit.”

Ernest Bramah,
Kai Lung’s Golden Hours

 
 

There was a time when it did not occur to anyone in this pure and enlightened Empire to question the settled and existing order of affairs. Indeed, it is now no unheard-of thing for an ordinary person to suggest that customs which have been established for centuries might with advantage be changed — a form of impiety which is in no degree removed from declaring oneself to be wiser or more profound than one’s ancestors! How narrow is the space dividing such delinquency from the actual crimes of overturning images, counselling rebellion, joining in insurrection and resorting to indiscriminate piracy and bloodshed.

Blue Willow PlateAs the wise philosopher Ning-hy was wont to say: “Where the road divides, there stand two Ning-hys.” Indeed, thus and thus it is with the origins of the famed Willow Pattern composition, as depicted on porcelain bowls for many cycles past.

But who attempts to eat an orange without first disposing of the peel, or what manner of a dwelling could be erected unless an adequate foundation be first provided?

That which in justice requires the amplitude of a full-sized cask shall be pressed down into the confines of an inadequate vessel.

A well-known fable there is, purporting to explain the meaning of this thought-out design; an imagined tale, framed by the makers of porcelain to entice the credulous; and herein does its falseness cry aloud. Though frequently exalted in poetry, or delicately enhanced with music, by many meritorious purveyors of high-minded entertainment, the tragic romance of the maiden Koong-Tse and the secretary Chang is entirely without substance, a pure invention of those native to the Isle of Sceptres; for truly may it be said that the Willow Pattern is precisely as authentically Chinese as Kai Lung himself.

Willow Ware Pattern CoverUnrolling her threadbare mat in tribute to the latter incomparable relater of imagined tales, this wholly inadequate person now raises her distressing voice, and wields her disreputable needles, to recount in textile form the Story of Wong Ts’in, that which is known as “The Legend of the Willow Plate Embellishment.” This story is that of the scene widely depicted on plates and earthenware; the true and authentic legend as first related by the eminent Tso-yi.

 
Sock from RightHow cunningly imagined is the device by which objects so varied in size as an orange and an island can be depicted within the narrow compass of a porcelain plate without the larger one completely obliterating the smaller or the smaller becoming actually invisible by comparison with the other! This engaging display, combining simplicity with picturesque effect, might indeed be a scene having an actual existence at no great space away.

 
Sock from LeftIn its transmutation from porcelain ornamentation into whole cloth, not only has the embellishment suffered no real detriment, but there has been imparted to the higher lights — doubtless owing to the nature of the subtly shaded colorway used to delineate them — a certain nebulous quality that adds greatly to the successful effect of the various tones.

Thus and thus, and by the opportune agency of their own incomparable skill and dexterity, may this striking embellishment be transferred from its former disposition on select pieces of porcelain to a covering for the sumptuous feet of the esteemed if bewildered auditors of this tale.

For the rest, let the shadow move as the sun directs.
Birds

- with apologies to Ernest Bramah,
whose infinitely meritorious retelling of
the true and authentic Willow Pattern story
may be found in the second chapter of
Kai Lung’s Golden Hours

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Know, then, O most revered, that - oh, never mind. For the sake of everyone’s sanity - or what’s left of it - let’s fall back into the vernacular, yes? (If we can. It turns out that imitating Kai Lung is a little bit like reading “The Song of Hiawatha” - once you fall into either idiom it can be difficult to fall back out.)

This, then, is Willow Ware; Tsock #6 of 2012, the Tsock Club season-and-then-some that is coming to a close at last.

Did you eat off these plates when you were a kid? I did, and they are as familiar to me as my own face. I didn’t come to know Kai Lung until much later, but the rightness of that association leaped out at me long before I realized, to my infinite delight, that the latter actually had his own version of the Willow Pattern story.

The Willow Ware tsock is All Colorwork All The Time. It is not by any means the first knitted interpretation of these images, but it is more nuanced than any other version I’ve seen - as Fa Fai says in the Story of Wong Ts’in it has “a certain nebulous quality that adds greatly to the successful effect of the various tones.” BoatThis is due entirely to the varied depths of the Blue Willow colorway, which ranges from light to dark, emulating the illusion of tonal shading that is the result of changing line thickness in the original. (So the shading is a little more random than it would be with exact pixel-for-pixel color mapping, but it still works, I think, and it makes the knitting a lot easier. Ask me how I know.)

Willow Ware is worked cuff-down, beginning with a two-color braided cast-on that I verily believe I have actually invented. I know, I know, it looks a lot like the conventional braided cast-ons, but the process is very different - it’s worked a bit like a crochet chain, with the colors interlocked but never twisted, so that with a little practice it is possible to make it quite loose and stretchy.

The cuff itself is worked in two stages; first a decorative foldover band that echoes the borders of the plates, then (after a turning sequence that incorporates a contrary-motion braid and a change of knitting direction) a hidden foundation of 1×1 rib, supplying the elasticity that is necessarily lacking in the slip-stitch overlay.

Ming Quilting

Border

French Weave

And then the colorwork begins in earnest. It’s mostly festive intarsia, though really it behaves a lot more like stranded colorwork.

The Pagoda occupies the back of the ankle,

Pagoda

its ground floor making up the entire heel flap.

Heel Flap

The two Love-Birds appear on the front of the ankle,

Birds

flying above the branches of the Willow Tree.

Willow Tree

The Boat…

Boat

… sails over the right gusset -

Right Gusset

- while the Bridge, with its three Buddhas or Union Agitators (depending on which version of the story you endorse), is depicted on the foot.

Bridge

The Crooked Fence occupies the toe.

Fence

Other details are added with embroidery - some of it optional, though you wouldn’t want to omit the Willow Fronds and the Apples.

Willow Fronds

Apples

Fungus

Roof Peak

Roof Outline

Putting the packages together for this kit was nearly as much fun as knitting the tsock itself - but that is a story for another time.

Willow Ware went into the mail on Friday and Saturday, and has already landed in a number of mailboxes.

For the rest, let the shadow move as the sun directs….

Cookie

February 21st, 2013

Fire Island, 1938

Fire Island 1938

Fire Island 1938

Fire Island 1938

Fire Island 1938

New Year’s Eve, New York, 1984

New Year's Eve 1984

Gilgo, 1994

Gilgo 1994

 
Anne Chotzinoff Grossman
February 21, 1930 - November 5, 2002

2007       2008       2009       2010       2011       2012

Atsockalypse Not

January 29th, 2013

Remember back in 2012 when everyone was on about the Mayan Apocalypse? that is, the end of the world, which the ancient Mayans had supposedly forecast to coincide with the solstice on December 21?

At first blush, this seemed an enticing tsubject for a tsock.

It didn’t take much more than superficial investigation, however, to determine that the ancient Mayans, in developing their extraordinarily rich and complex calendar system, had forecast no such thing; that in fact what they had predicted was merely (hmmm - perhaps “merely” is not exactly the mot juste here) the transition from one great age to another, the end of the 13th Baktun and the beginning of the 14th.

At first blush, this seemed an enticing tsubject for a tsock.

But wait - there’s more. It turns out that the iconic image usually associated with the Mayan Calendar - you know the one I mean, yes? - is neither.

Calendar Stone

That is… it is neither Mayan nor Calendar.

It’s not entirely unrelated, however.

It is, in fact, the Aztec Sun Stone.

Now there is an enticing tsubject for a tsock!

Sun Stone Cover

Though not exactly a calendar, as such, the Aztec Sun Stone does feature symbols that represent the various time-keeping entities common to both cultures, and the deities and creatures that govern them.

Central among these, and decidedly more Aztec than Mayan in the fierceness of its implacable expression, is the face of Tonatiuh, god of the Sun.

Tonatiuh Stone

Like the Aztec Sun Stone, the tsock begins with the Face of Tonatiuh; a disk worked flat - though in fact it is anything but flat. It is heavily textured, with a protruding tongue shaped like tecpetl - the flint knife traditionally used for human sacrifice - and beads and ornaments and ears and hair worked in relief.

Surrounding the Face of Tonatiuh, picked up in its selvedges and worked around it medallion-style, is Tonalmitl - the Rays of the Sun (in Nahuatl, tona = sun; mitl = arrows; literally, then, Sun-Arrows).

Sun Medallion
Guess who forgot - thrice - to pin out and photograph the Sun Medallion before continuing to work the tsock? Yeah, that’d be me. Then again, behold proof that I actually knitted TWO complete tsocks. Almost three, in fact.

Where a conventional medallion would be flat, however, the octagonal Sun Medallion has an exaggerated increase ratio, making it gently hyperbolic, so that it conforms to the top of the foot, with Tonatiuh supplying ease for the instep.

Gently Hyperbolic

The structure of the sock is then built around the Sun Medallion, beginning slightly above it and working downward, using several different attach techniques for picking up stitches in selvedges. The two widest rays of Tonalmitl point directly toward the heel;

Heel Ray

… the two succeeding facets form the edges of the sole, and the shallow curve of the last two facets blends smoothly into the toe.

Edge by Toe

Atop all this - where of course it belongs - is Ilhuicatl, the Heavens.

Ilhuicatl appears around the border of the Sun Stone itself, and is composed of three main elements. At the top, a row of stars shines from the night sky; below this, the symbol of the planet Venus, illuminating the daytime sky, alternates with flint knives that represent the beams of the sun.

Side of Sun Stone

Venus

The knitted version of Ilhuicatl is part of the cuff; it folds over a foundation of twisted ribbing to crown the sock.

Ilhuicatl

So this -

Sock from Right

- is Tsock #5 of…

Sock from Front Against Sky

… of…

Sock from Back

…yes, well… 2012. I am reminded of Douglas Adams subtitling Mostly Harmless “The fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Trilogy.”

Sock from Front

And of a friend of mine who is fond of pointing out that I have an anxiety-prone tendency to experience, in terrified anticipation, “ten out of every three” crises. (The inside of my head is NOT an easy place to live, I can tell you.)

Sock From Outside

There is no getting around it: New year or no new year, in my calendar it’s still 2012. It appears I could learn a thing or three from the ancient Mayans, or indeed the ancient Aztecs.

(End of the WORLD? Hah. Not even end of the YEAR.)

I was right about one thing, though. I predicted the 2012 season would be one hell of a roller-coaster ride. And there I’d have to say… naming calls. It sure has been that, beyond anything I could have imagined.

Chichen Itza with Tsock

And it ain’t over yet.

“Sun Stone” is in the mail now, I am happy to say.

And I have plunged straight into Tsock #6. Because even in my wacked-out Groundhog-Day world… 2012 can’t last forever.

St. Distaff and the Shark

January 7th, 2013

Today I picked up the phone and called Stringtopia Fiber Arts Studio, where the Remote Batt Bar was open all afternoon in honor of Roc Day, and I commissioned a little something-something.

We’ll have to wait until a little later in the week to see how it turns out.

I had e-mailed ahead of time so they’d have some idea what to expect; when I finally got through (that phone was BUSY today!) Shelly told me that Abby “has something in mind for you,” and I did not need to hear the giggle in her voice to know that devilment was afoot. Abby her ownself was slaving over a hot drum carder while this conversation was going on, but the whole time Shelly and I were on the phone I could hear her hurling the usual torrent of very audible invective at me from across the room, and I could just SEE the evil glint in her eye. Especially when Shelly said “She does know you pretty well, after all,” and I had to admit “Yeah, I’m afraid so.”

Something wicked this way comes, I am sure of it.

So here is the plan.

Remember I said the Shark Week fund-raiser for hurricane relief would run about a week?

Today is the last day of that week, and I’m still in some danger of getting choked up over the generous outpouring. It’s just started to taper off now, but at this writing the total is well over $19,000. So in amazed and thankful hindsight I’m setting a goal: If we haven’t reached $20,000 by midnight tonight I’m going to extend the period a little longer - long enough to reach that nice round milestone. At the rate things have been going, I’m betting it won’t take long.

Once that’s done, the logistics of moving money will take a few days, and while that’s going on I will figure out a clever way to do the random drawing thing I mentioned the other day. With a twist. I’m still going to be giving away three full shark kits, as promised, but now there’s another layer of cool randomness: A couple of lucky spinners will receive special shark-themed sock batts made by Abby Franquemont. What exactly these will consist of, or look like, I don’t know. The mandate was simply this: “Make something tsocky and tsharky for me, plz kthx.” How she interprets this is entirely up to her. I’m afraid I even told her to have fun with it.

Do I look worried?

Do I look afraid, very afraid?

Yeah, like I said - the woman knows me well.

Seriously… I can’t wait to see what she’s dreaming up. I am confident that it will be entirely awesome - as awesome as the recipients.

And that, my friends, is saying something.

The Utter Awesomeness of You

January 1st, 2013

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand;
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

Edna St. Vincent Millay,
“A Few Figs from Thistles”

 
 
 

Happy New Year!

So far it is exactly that for me, I can tell you.

Also, today is my seventh blogiversary - and never have I had occasion to celebrate either with such a bang.

We’re 24 hours into the Shark Week fund-raiser, and already the fund is well over the 10 grand mark.

I am not sure what I expected, exactly - as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve never done this before, and I was diffident enough about it that I couldn’t even imagine how to set a goal. So what that goal would have been, even in my most secretest of secret hearts I honestly don’t know. What I DO know is that it has been surpassed. Like nobody’s business. I could shut this thing down TODAY (not to worry, I won’t; just a thought experiment) and be completely thrilled with what it has achieved.

It is not news to me that knitters are generous and awesome. But it’s one thing to know that and to see it, and it’s quite another to be on the receiving end - or even to be the conduit to the real receiving end - and to experience the full blast of it.

I am not generally known for running short of words - you may have noticed this, yes? - but I have to tell you, I do NOT have the words for how this makes me feel. Thankful. Awed. Hugely moved. But those are just words, and they don’t begin to describe the emotional reality of this thing. The wonder.

“Thank you” is laughably inadequate.

So instead… let me tell you a little hurricane story. I have LOTS of them, and some of them are kind of funny, in a black humor sort of way. This one is not mine, though. It belongs to the previous generations of my family; it’s the hurricane story I grew up hearing all my life.

For most of the 1930s my grandparents had a summer house on Fire Island.

On the bright, sunny morning of September 21, 1938, my mother and uncle - aged 8 and 11, respectively - wandered down the beach past the bait shack. The little old man who ran the bait shack was tapping his nose and telling anyone who would listen “Big blow a-comin’ - I can smell it.” Nobody believed him.

A little later that day, my uncle was riding his bike on the boardwalk, and he fell and cut his chin. It was a nasty cut, and it needed stitches. This meant taking the ferry to the mainland and the nearest hospital. Since my grandmother was already packing up, getting ready to close the house for the season, she made the executive decision that the whole family might as well just load up and go.

So they piled onto the ferry.

Which later turned out to have been the last boat to leave the island before all hell broke loose.

By evening their house was gone, swept out to sea with many of its neighbors. Just gone.

To this day, the 1938 Hurricane remains one of the benchmarks for storm devastation - even to those of us who have seen and/or experienced the ravages of Katrina or Sandy, or any part of the fallout from same.

My uncle carried that scar on his chin to the end of his days, and no one in the family could ever forget what it stood for.

Just one of those freak pieces of dumb luck, you know? the kind of randomness that can determine whether or not the next generation will even exist.

Hurricanes. Life is weird.

And surviving is good.

 
And “thank you” still just does not even begin to cover it.