Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Diamonds are Forever

About 6 months ago, my mother visited Bassett Hall, a Rockefeller house at Colonial Williamsburg. There, in one of the bedrooms, she saw a knitted coverlet that she fell in love with. (Go to this page, click on the lower picture in the master bedroom, and you will see a small picture of it.) She asked about it, and it turned out that another knitter had figured out the cabled pattern and had written out her instructions for any tourist to have.

My mother took home those instructions, and started thinking about it. She was at a point where she was ready for a new project.

She decided to swim that ocean.

Now, before you decide to jump in too, let me tell you a little about what you'll need to do to knit it.

The coverlet is knit into long strips with crochet thread. My mother used #10 crochet cotton. She is using Maxi, which is a gorgeous thread made in Austria that you can only get at a Local Yarn Shop. (She has a good source for it, however.) To make the coverlet, we figured she needed somewhere around 40 skeins of the Maxi. Each skein has 600 yards.

Each strip takes 2 skeins of yarn, or 1200 yards of thread. To put it in perspective, for each strip she makes, my mother is working on the equivalent of knitting one medium-sized sweater in worsted-weight yarn.

But it is not worsted weight. She is on a size 0 needle. (She calls it 2 mm, because millimeter sizing is more precise. My mother steadfastly refuses to talk in American knitting needle sizes. If you are going to make this coverlet, you need to have this frame of mind too.)

Each strip has 19 repeats of a diamond-shaped motif. She plans to make roughly 14 strips. (If you've done the math, you know that she will need around 28 skeins for the strips, not the 40 we got her. We got her 40 skeins of yarn because there is also an enormous amount of fringe, fringe eats yarn, and neither my mother nor I wanted to take any risks on yardage.)

She told me that she cannot ever think of the whole project because it's too overwhelming. She thinks of one diamond at a time. Each day, her goals is to knit a half a diamond. She works on it about 3+ hours a day, and at that rate, it takes her about 40 days to make a single strip.

So far, she has 3 strips and is well up the fourth. This is the one strip that is blocked so far:

So that the strips are joined perfectly at the same spot, Mom has tied on little pieces of red thread between motifs:

Extreme closeup:

She will join the strips by matching up where the thread is. (She's been experimenting with different ways of joining, so I cannot yet give details on that.)

Now that you know about all the work that goes into it, do you know how much the Rockefellers paid for their coverlet in what we suspect was 1930s? About $15.00.

Lest you think that this was a lot of money back then, I ran this amount through an inflation calculator. (Isn't the Internet a wonderful place?) If you were to buy this at the Rockefellers' cost today, you would spend about $225--approximately half the cost of the yarn alone.

And people wonder why knitters don't sell their work!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Nature at the Shop

Here in Happy Valley, we all live among a great deal of incredible Nature.

On account of how our job is what you might call the inverse of "Forest Ranger," Kim and I spend most of our time indoors. But occasionally, on the way back and forth from our cars, we have do an encounter or two with the Nature that Surrounds Us.

This week, I have seen quite a bit. It started with a bird's nest that had apparently been finished with and dropped out of a tree:

Whoever made that one was quite an architect and builder.

I also saw this strong little ant carrying a dead moth on the sidewalk. As a yarn lover, I never much mind if I see a dead moth, even though I realize that moths are probably an important part of the Nature that Surrounds Us:

Go on, sweet little ant. Gather your provisions and get ready for winter!

And then today, this little guy came in with one of our customers who does animal rescue, looking for a home:

He's probably about 6 weeks old, no name yet (though when Kim tried out names, he clearly preferred "Max" to "Spats"). He needs a kind, loving home with plenty of Kitten Chow available. We have the information if you're interested.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Falling into Yarn

Every Fall, we order too much yarn. We have been open 5 years, and this pattern has not changed--ever. It is mostly my fault, I admit; I always find yarn that we need. But I'll blame Kim for maybe 25 percent of it. She says that hey, when we're ordering and I get yarn I want, she should be able to get yarn she wants.

Our rationales, as compelling as they are, do not solve the underlying problem of where we are going to put the yarn when it arrives.

Last week, we got our first fall delivery. We got 6 very huge boxes. I was out when they arrived, and Kim reacted by telling me that she had put all the boxes under the table, and I could deal with them by myself when I got back. She always says that. I wasn't a bit scared.

I got back. We started by pulling out all the yarn and piling it on the back table, since the boxes had random mixtures of different types of yarn:

We had piles like this in a lot of places. To give you a sense for just how bad it was, my mother came into the shop when we were in the thick of these piles, said hi, looked around, and then, before we could put her to work, ran out of there as fast as an Olympic gold medalist.

The whole shop had to be moved around. It's fall: The bulky yarn that had been in the back needed to move out front. The cottons had to go from the front to the back. This kind of moving is like switching around whole rooms of stuff in a house. As this completely unposed photo demonstrates, I was tearing my hair out:

And as we kept working, I got very, very tired:

(Don't you think I look like an angel when I'm asleep?)

Fortunately, I didn't do it all alone. Kim put on her serious work shoes to help get the job done:

(Seriously, I can never resist teasing Kim about her shoes, but I have never in my life seen anyone else who can plow through so much work while wearing flip-flops.)

We kept moving yarn around, and around, and by the end of the week, the front area looked like this:

And when Kirsten worked on Saturday, she and I were able to finish things up, get all the yarn off the floor--and even leave some shelf space:

Which we need. Because we know that over the next few months, more yarn is on its way. Enough to fill at least 8 times this much space.

But I'm not a bit scared.

You're getting sleeeeepy.... you're getting sleeeeeeepy.... you neeeeeeed to buy yaaaaaaarn.....

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Congratulations to my Brother

Whenever I go on a long trip, I take my knitting. In fact, I tend to take more knitting than clothing most of the time. This is how I packed for my most recent trip:

Who knows what project you're going to need?

I have just returned from that trip, a long but satisfying drive, for my brother Alex's graduation. He got his Ph.D. from Auburn.

Among the three of us children, he is the one who got the most "what are you going to do with that" undergrad degree--history--without even the education option fall-back plan. And among all us, he is the one who has been the most steadily employed, at the same place, for the longest period of time. He works here.

In case you're wondering, my other brother, Todd, works here. He is the coolest of the three of us:
(That is little Mickey the dog in his backpack.)


Kevin and I didn't have a lot of extra time for this trip, so we drove down and back to Auburn in the space of 5 days.

The night before graduation, my dad treated us all to a wonderful dinner at a restaurant called the Warehouse Bistro. There, I was able to give my brother his presents.

It was a quiet, dignified restaurant, so I decided that this was the best place to give him a loud, dancing, stuffed chicken. As you can see from the low-quality video I took, it's very hard for Ph.D.s, with their "theoretical knowledge," to understand how to work a stuffed chicken. (That is my mother's hand reaching in to show him how to turn on the chicken.)

Since he reads this blog, I have not been able to show you this quilt that I made for him until now. I admit that I didn't plan for it to be his up front. I did it to make a sample for our braids workshop--but when I had finished it, I realized that it was perfect for my brother. He likes fancy stuff.

So my ecstatic parents got him all graduated....

He finally learned how to work the chicken....

And Kevin and I drove home. And drove. And drove some more.

It's hard for me to quilt in the car, even hand stitching (I can't do anything that I really have to look at, or I get carsick), but whenever we go away, and it's not my turn to drive, I get a lot of knitting done. I have trained myself to knit while looking up.

Although I took 6 projects along, I decided to work mainly on a 1950s-style sweater called "Breakfast at Tiffany's" out of Cherry Tree Hill's Oceania. It was one of those projects that had been sitting around for over a year.

My mother wouldn't let me knit during graduation on account of wanting to keep our family's dignified demeanor during such an occasion. (Yes, I am 49 years old, and my mother still will "not let me" do stuff.) With all the knitting I did in the car, I finished the back of the sweater. The fabric so far looks like this:


If you think about it, graduation is all about completing something that you'd been working on for a long time in little bits and pieces. You get rewards along the way: Classwork finished--check. Comps--check. Dissertation--all done.

Working on a sweater is easier than getting a Ph.D. But in my mind, they're different only in scale. The idea of "gradual" underlies the tasks in much of life. There are always roadblocks, and the secret is to persist on through them until you graduate. Some of the roadblocks are tougher than others. In this case, the roadblock was a simple one: starting the sweater. I'm not done with it yet, but now it's coming along. I'll keep working on it, and when it's finished, I'll graduate to the next project. In the meantime, getting a little subgoal done sure feels good.

What project are you making little bits of progress on?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Changing of the Seasons, Month by Month

I don't normally compliment her too much in case her head swells, but now that I have taken over the blog, she'll never see it. It'll be our little secret: I think that Kim is a total genius.

The reason I think this is that every month, she comes up with beautiful blocks for our Block of the Month quilt.

Now, you should know that most quilt shops buy commercial patterns to do their block clubs. But Kim loves to design, so our blocks of the month are unique to our shop. And they are so wonderful!

When you join our block of the month, you have to take a bit of a risk. Kim sketches the quilt out, but then she always changes the design as she goes. Hey, that is the nature of being an Artist. And it always makes the quilt better.

But it doesn't stop with the design. Ideas are nothing without action. Each month, we have to do the down-and-gritty work. I will show you what happens behind the scenes, so that you can fully appreciate those magic packets you get every month.

The first thing Kim does is figure out a block she likes, keeping in mind the general colors she is planning to use. And then she has to write the instructions. See this picture--a picture that is on each instruction?

See all those little lines and letters? Yup. Drawn in one by one, by hand. Well, by computer. But you get the idea.

This year, she is also finding an excerpt from a poem that applies to each month. I have the instructions right in front of me, so I'll give you a sneak preview for August:

Whilst August yet wears her golden crown,
Ripening fields lush-bright with promise;
Summer waxes long, then wanes, quietly passing
Her fading green glory on to riotous Autumn.
--Michelle L. Thieme, August's Crown

Here is some insider information for you. I know a lot about Kim, and one of the things I know is that the word "riotous" is one of her favorite words--so I bet that's why she chose that excerpt. But please don't tell her I told you that. She might think I'm teasing her a little, which of course I would never do. And she really, seriously likes that word. If she were reading this, she would turn to me and say, "What's your problem with riotous??" Then I would scramble and tell her that I like that word too--that it is very descriptive.

Where was I? Ah, yes. Color. After she drafts the instructions, she has to choose the fabrics. This month, for August, she wanted the colors of deep summer. Here's what she chose:

Aren't they gorgeous?

Keep in mind that she isn't choosing the colors in isolation. This year's quilt has a block for each month's color, from the icy colors of winter, through the pale colors of spring--and now we're getting toward the deeper shades. In August, don't you see the little hints here and there that fall is coming?

Most people have trouble picking out 4 or 5 different fabrics to make a quilt. Can you imagine picking out 12 combinations, a different combination each month--but combinations that still all work together?

Don't tell Kim I said this on account of her head--her precious head--but look at how stunning her colors are when they flow next to each other. From January through July, read from right to left:

This is what you would call "strong visual coherence." (One of my favorite words is coherence. I totally love that word. It's a solid word. A practical word.)

The August block, the 8th block in this series, will look like this (Please. don't tell her that I showed it to you. She likes to keep it a surprise until she shows it at Block of the Month):

I can sneak it to you because I have inside information: I test-sewed it yesterday.

Which brings me to the next stage of the process: test sewing. It's important to test blocks. Sometimes there is a typo, and when there is, we get 70 people telling us about it. Have you ever made a little mistake in your job--like accidentally making the number 8 into the number 6--that causes SEVENTY people to tell you you did something wrong? It is never fun. So if you catch a mistake sometime, be sure to be super-gentle and extra-nice when you tell us!

I did catch one little typo yesterday. Do not panic, gentle quilters! It has been fixed! I'm not even going to tell you what it was.

Today, my job will be to cut all the fabric and put it into packets. Please pray for me that I do the math right when I cut for all those packets. There was one time when 70 people told us that I didn't give them enough fabric.

Kim was nice and kept it a secret from me.

Now that you know what we have to do, be sure to thank Kim for her good work, and hug those packets with appreciation when you get them. Aren't we lucky?