24 July 2008

Origin of an Avatar

Since I'm using the same picture as my avatar both here on the blog and on Ravelry, I thought it would be fun to share the picture in context. It was taken by a dear friend last year during Dragon*Con, which is in downtown Atlanta during Labor Day weekend.

The sculpture behind me is Ballet Olympia, which is in the SunTrust Plaza. The SunTrust building is on a triangular lot formed by Peachtree St NE, Baker St NE, and Peachtree Center Ave NE. This is the spot where Peachtree St NW jogs right, becomes NE, and leads from downtown towards midtown. It is on the block immediately north of the Hyatt Regency, which is one of the main hotels for Dragon*Con. According to a quick internet search, the sculptures were designed by architect John Portman in 1991-1992. There are also fountains as well in this sunken plaza. In terms of urban landscape design, the setting is pretty nice.

As the title suggests, I'm sure the sculptures were part of the maniacal renovations of the city for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. It is hard to believe that was twelve years ago. Sydney and Athens have already hosted, and in another month the Beijing games will be a matter of record. When my graduate adviser, Dr. Craig Zabel, was in town in 2005 for an art history conference, his comment about the still Olympic-themed interior decoration in the Marriott Marquis was that it seemed "a monument to a faded jubilee year." Perhaps someone overheard him, as the Marriott was under renovations last year and I expect it to look completely different for this year's Dragon*Con. Atlanta still has bits here and there -- shrapnel? detritus? artistic confetti? -- that can be discovered by the tourist willing to walk about. What always struck me about the Marriott's decor was that the central lobby listed every city to host the modern summer games. It is a list of the great cities of the world, and amongst it is Atlanta, brash and daring, a nouveau-riche Southern belle so sure of herself she doesn't realize she maybe doesn't belong at this particular party. In another century, will it make sense for Atlanta to be on the same list with Paris, Rome, London, Moscow, Seoul, and Tokyo, or will she look just as out of place as St. Louis?

As for my attire in the picture, my in-laws traveled to India in late 2006. As someone with a passion for textiles, I asked if they would bring me a sari or at least a pretty piece of fabric. They very kindly brought back a couple outfits. One of the great things about Dragon*Con is that you can wear pretty much anything you dang well please during the four-day convention. Well, maybe there are fewer costumes on the last day. So I could not help but seize the opportunity to drape myself in this beautiful swath of mallard blue silk. I try to imagine India, a country full of beautiful, elegant, dark-eyed, brown-skinned women wrapped in fabulous colors; and I have no trouble imagining why the country is so populous.

18 July 2008

Knitting on faith or madness?

I know that I tend to knit the more idiosyncratic items. I've done an ouroborus sweater, a labyrinth sweater, a mobius scarf, a jester tentacles bag. I know I am, in fact, outside of the mainstream of knitters.

I've been editing my stash into Ravelry. And since I moved the whole stash around a month ago, I was well-reminded of intended projects just waiting to be cast on. The South Cobb Arts Alliance member show just went up, and I didn't have a thing to put in it this year. That's a testament to how much of my knitting has been for other things -- two baby sweaters for the NGKG presentation, scarves for the nieces and nephews, samples for the classes I'm teaching at the shop. I decided I really, really needed to knit something for myself. And I might as well post it on Ravelry.

So there are over 150,000 people on Ravelry right now. I decided to see what other people have done with this pattern. Hmmm. There aren't any other people who have posted this project. The book, Two Sticks and a String, is in there -- several people have knit the Aran Pullover, and it is a very nice one indeed. But nobody has knit the Puzzlemaker Jacket. I had to add it myself.

Now, I write that I am knitting this on faith for a number of reasons. One is that the pattern is written for a 46-inch chest. I believe I have mentioned in previous posts, I'm a 32A chest on my very best days. I'm changing the gauge significantly in the hopes that the final product will fit. And that's the other thing -- will it fit? Not in the sense of "fit me" but in the sense of "fit on a human form." The photograph in the book shows the model garment lying flat, rather than on a modeling form.

The sweater is worked in sections, all triangular. It is very dramatic and graphic, but it also might be one of those garments that wears you, rather than you wearing it. How much this will be a functional jacket and how much this will be art attacking the wearer remains to be discovered.

The original pattern was written for dark charcoal grey and terra cotta. Of course, I changed it to electric blue borders with a variegated yarn replacing the terra cotta and purple replacing the "interior" charcoal grey. I originally planned to use light purple in place of the dark purple, but the result didn't have a high enough contrast. My friends in the Wednesday morning knit lit group kindly helped me pick out a better choice.

At present, I'm on triangle D. The pattern goes to M. Not only is this thing modular, but it is intarsia as well. There are even a few rows of fair isle -- notice the stripes of checkerboard on the far left triangle in my picture at top. The contrasting stockinette stitch is puckering a little in the midst of the garter stitch, although I am hoping all this cotton yarn will gladly block out with a steam iron in the end. I'm beginning to understand why people aren't flocking to make this design. This may be a total triumph or a complete disaster.

Check back . . . if you dare.

13 July 2008

Don't Judge an Animal by Its Hide

One of my very favorite places in the whole world is ZooAtlanta. I was a volunteer docent there for four years in the early '00s. Even now, a day at the zoo is, for me, a great way to relax. I am a panda fanatic, so Lun Lun, Yang Yang, and Mei Lan are always a major draw for me. But I've also learned over the years to love some of the other animals, too. And I've learned that standing and quietly watching can be very much worth the time.

I needed to relax on Friday, so I made it a point to go visit. This spring the zoo welcomed several baby critters, including Argus pheasants, black-&-white-ruffed lemurs, a red kangaroo, and three African lions. But the one I really went to see was the baby warthog, who has already been named Georgia P. I don't know if the "P" is short for "peach" or "pig" or something else entirely.

Her parents are Verne and Shirley, and they arrived at the zoo just last year. The names are easy to remember -- either think of Laverne and Shirley from the old '70s sitcom or, if you live in Atlanta, think of Dekalb CEO Vernon Jones and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. I once heard that the Zoo considered naming a gorilla in her honor, but she declined. I don't know how she feels about the warthog instead. In all fairness, I think the pair actually came already named to Atlanta.

When I attended the sneak preview for warthogs and meerkats in June 2007, I was really surprised by Verne and Shirley. Although they are not conventionally beautiful, their interactions with each other can be quite tender and charming. They rub snouts and foreheads. They play together. They enjoy a good mud hole together. In the spring, I saw Verne cantor about the yard and even sort of jump. It was almost as if he were some warthog Fred Astaire, dancing about to impress his sweetie. In the picture of Shirley (right), you can see how warthogs seem to be walking in high heels. Although their bodies are a bit unwieldy, they can appear almost elegant through the legs.

The picture at top shows Verne and Georgia P taking a morning nap. I arrived at the zoo before 9:30 AM, and hung out at the warthog exhibit for about half an hour. Friday was a cool overcast morning that gave way to searing sun in the afternoon. So the animals were still pretty happy and active before 10 AM. There were a couple branches with leaves on them that must either be part of the warthog diet or maybe just enrichment. Georgia P would pick up a branch in her mouth and shake it about. And she'd trot over to her daddy and try to get him to play with her and the branch. Eventually, Verne decided to settle himself down in the mud. (There is no grass in their yard anymore. It is only dirt and mud, depending on how much water is available. I'd guess the warthogs like their home that way very much.) Georgia P put down the branch and came over. She rubbed against Verne and snuggled up against him, and then settled herself down next to him. The interaction was all the more tender because of the size difference between the two of them.

So, just because somebody is covered in mud, has tusks, bony protuberances on the face, and wiry stiff hair do not think that a warm, wonderful heart isn't beating below. Sometimes going to the zoo requires time to observe the behaviors, rather than just the aesthetics.

05 July 2008

Happy Accident

Artists talk about
"happy accidents" -- art projects that don't go exactly the way the artist expects, but they still turn out very well.

My most recent foray turned out that way. I teach at The Whole Nine Yarns in Woodstock. The shop is hosting its annual Christmas in July event later this month. For that event, I needed to come up with a free pattern. Something quick. And simple.

Okay. If you've been reading this blog, you know that quick and simple is rarely my approach to knitting. So this was a real design challenge for me. I poked around in my folder of patterns and came across some old yarn ball patterns. These are patterns where you knit a ball by making a series of short-row wedges. Each section is similar in shape to the skin of an orange or lemon wedge. I looked around the shop and picked out a skein of Arucania Limarí multicolor (color 556). It's a bulky weight yarn. This colorway is turquoise with dabs of rusty red.

I knit up the ball shape, closed one end, and grafted the side seam. At this point, the unstuffed ball was less than round -- more squat shaped. And with the turquoise colorway, it looked very much like some little pot from somewhere in the American Southwest. So I rewrote the project by adding a row of crab stitch around the lip. And I felted the whole thing at the end. It turned out very cute. I should add that if you do felt Arucania Limarí, be aware that it felts well but it does get very fuzzy. I gave my little bowl a good trim to bring out the vertical ridge texture from the garter stitch.

Update: the pattern for this little bowl will be available at the shop for awhile. There are leftover folders of Christmas in July patterns available. After that, it might continue as a free pattern with purchase.