31 July 2009

Door County

Bio-mom suggested visiting Door County, and even made reservations for us all at a sweet little motel in Fish Creek. The screen shot above from the Garmin illustrates how Door County is the peninsula that separates Green Bay from Lake Michigan. It is a popular summer vacation spot for people who live in Wisconsin or Chicago. It is full of charming little towns, interesting shops, seasonal artist galleries, locally-owned restaurants, farms, and natural beauty.

On the drive up we stopped at Renard's cheese shop. (See picture of Cuddly Hubby and me with the giant mouse.) This was an opportunity to acquire some local cuisine. After all, Wisconsin is known for cheese! Later on the trip we found another place that had smoked salmon. I should also mention that there was lots of fresh corn on the cob during our trip. And beer -- I think I've already mentioned the good beer. So all in all, Wisconsin is respectable when it comes to food.

We stopped at a place along the Lake Michigan shore called Cave Point. It is an area where the Niagara Escarpment is exposed. This is a section of dolomite rock that 435 million years ago was a coral reef. This was back in the days when North America was closer to the equator and much of it was covered with water. There is something amazing and wonderful about the idea that those tiny little critters over 400 million years ago did something that can still be seen and felt today. And why is it called the Niagara Escarpment? Because that coral reef ran all the way over to Niagara, New York. And why is this place Cave Point? Because the action of the lake water has carved out some of the rock in the area. We had a lot of fun walking around and enjoying the rugged beach. There were also people in canoes out on the lake. I think they probably got a better view of the caves and erosion features than we did.

As we were wandering the countryside, looking for our next point of interest, we came across a marker for 45° north latitude. In other words, this is a marker for halfway from the equator to the north pole. Of course, Cuddly Hubby and I had to pose for a picture. I think this is a rather good picture of him, too.

Just south of Baileys Harbor we searched for and found Björklunden. This is a retreat owned by Lawrence University. We searched it out because the site includes a chapel built in the style of a Norwegian stavkirke. The chapel truly is charming. It only has six pews, so it may seat 40 people at most. But the careful work of human hands is evident in both the architecture and decoration. The end pieces of each pew have carved motifs on both sides, and each pew is different. Murals are painted on the walls, including the Annunciation along one wall and the Four Evangelists in the corners. I've included here a detail of the carved surround inside the door. The decoration includes leafy motifs, but also tools. (Notice not just the artist's palette in the center, but also the axe at top.) And below is a detail of the needlepointed kneeler at the front alter. This was a long kneeler and was covered from one end to the other in an ever-changing sampler of patterns.I also mention Björklunden because the lodge is lovely. Again, the architecture and decoration are meant to recall Scandinavian traditions. The facility seemed to be quite nice and the views of the lake and surrounding wooded landscape were pleasing. The brochure I picked up indicates that the prices are quite reasonable. I think this would be a fabulous location for a knitting retreat. Just saying.

That evening, we attended a fish boil. This is a method for cooking a whole lot of food for a whole lot of people. A large kettle of salted boiling water is on an open fire. A basket of red potatoes is lowered into the pot. Onions are sometimes added, too. That cooks for awhile. Then another basket is placed on top. This one is full of fresh fish. The water boils some more. Then kerosene is added at the last minute to make the salted water boil up and over the rim. The boil over carries the oils and heavy flavors over the edge, resulting in a cleaner, fresher-tasting fish. The picture here, of course, is from the moment of maximum pyromania.

Afterward, we and half the population of Fish Creek walked to the end of the main street to watch the sunset over the bay. The way people were gathering to watch this simple joy, you would have thought a rock star had just agreed to give a free concert in the park.

The following day, we ate brunch at Al Johnson's Swedish restaurant in Sister Bay. In addition to a restaurant with Swedish food -- I had the pancakes and we all split a cheese plate -- there is also a rather nice gift shop. I didn't take any pictures, but there were real Dale of Norway sweaters, Icelandic mittens, and other Northern European knitwear. The architecture of the building is based on authentic Norwegian traditions, including a sod-covered roof. Alas, as there was a chance of rain that day, the goats were not out grazing on the roof.

From there we drove up to Gills Rock, which is at the northern tip of Door County. The beach there is very interesting. From a distance, it looks to be white sand. But when you get up to it and actually walk on it, you discover that it is shells! I haven't tried to do the math, but there must be millions of them.Gills Rock is also the location of the ferry that travels to Washington Island. We didn't go out to Washington Island, but it is a location worth knowing. The Sievers School of Fiber Arts is located out there. A quick look at their course offerings reveals opportunities to learn basketry, woodcarving, paper making, knitting, spinning, dyeing, felting, quilting, stitchery, beading, and weaving.

Our tour of Door County included jumbo-sized ice cream cones that could replace lunch, charming art galleries, and beautiful scenery. I enjoyed the shopping, as the prices were very reasonable compared to what I see here in Atlanta. We also found a couple yarn shops, but I'll write about those in another post. When we headed back to Green Bay on Friday, we stopped at Whitefish Dunes. Having been to the beaches in Florida, it is enlightening to see the beaches in Wisconsin. In the picture, you can just barely see the beach behind me and the people frolicking. There is a narrow strip of beach, then some tall grasses, and then the woods. If your vacation goal is to get away from it all, Door County may be your destination.

27 July 2009

The Sacred Tundra of Lambeau Field

Cuddly Hubby and Bio-mom are both football fans. I thoroughly enjoy football, too. So that first full day in Green Bay, we took a tour of Lambeau Field.

I have not yet had the pleasure of touring St. Peter's basilica in Rome, so I can't be sure how they compare. Make no mistake, Lambeau Field is football sacred ground. Large bronze statues of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi tower above visitors. The hour-long tour includes a look inside a luxury box, a walk through the home team tunnel, and a visit inside the stadium where 72,928 people endure Wisconsin winters for the pleasure of watching great football. We were fortunate that Paul Hornung's Heisman Trophy was on loan at the time and, therefore, also part of the tour.

At left is a rather fuzzy picture of me touching the sacred concrete. A few years ago, Lambeau Field was renovated and updated. The changes included relocating the home team tunnel. Thus, concrete from the old tunnel was removed, preserved, and installed in the new tunnel. A plaque nearby proclaims, "Proud generations of Green Bay Packers Players, World Champions a record 12 times, have run over this very concrete to Greatness." No pressure, guys.

Afterward, we sampled some of the local fare in the on-site restaurant. I have no trouble understanding why the Packers play so well. This is real football. It is played outdoors on real turf. It is played in the elements -- as both teams are playing in the same weather conditions, no one has an advantage over the other, do they? Each season ticket holder is entitled to a precious 18 inches of cool metal bleacher. The food is real food -- dark beer, cheese curds, red meat. If Tolkien's dwarves had a franchise, it might be the Green Bay Packers. No wonder my local Atlanta Falcons have yet to post back-to-back winning seasons. They just don't have the proper environment for success.

And if the Packers need more motivation, there is a fair amount of on-site triumphal bling. The Packers Hall of Fame -- a separate area with a separate entrance fee -- is worth the look. Exhibits tell the story of this storied franchise. One whole section celebrates the fans -- banners, license plates, costumes. There is a Hall of Fame with individual lockers honoring specific players and coaches -- the saints of Green Bay and their enshrined relics. Some of the footwear still has dried sod in the cleats. There is an area where visitors can practice the Lambeau Leap and messaging to instruct children in the physics behind it. And at the end is a room that looks much like the Intersect room from Chuck. Pictures of great Packers cover the concave walls. At the far end of the room, Lombardi trophies and rings from Super Bowls I, II, and XXXI are enshrined in Plexiglas cases. They sparkle with the lure of mithril. The Holy Grails of the NFL.

At the end of the week, we returned to watch the first day of Packers training camp at Nitschke Field. About 3000 - 5000 people gather just to watch the players practice. Then again, depending on your appreciation for both athletic skill and a well-tuned body, the view isn't bad.Take a good whiff of the air. Football season is almost here.

26 July 2009

Visit Beautiful, Exciting Wisconsin

The Cuddly Hubby and I took a two-week vacation to Wisconsin. Yes, that Wisconsin. The one at the top of the map of the United States. I know Wisconsin does not sound like the most interesting or exciting place to visit, but it turned out to be a really grand time. Also, major kudos to the Cuddly Hubby who did all the planning for this trip. He made all the reservations, printed the maps, and researched what might be interesting to see. He rocks!

We left on Saturday the 25th, the day after Bruce's funeral. We packed a picnic lunch and found a fine rest area on an island in Nickajack lake off I-24 in Tennessee. Credit to Tennessee's Department of Transportation or tourism or whoever is in charge of rest areas. This was a lovely location with picnic benches and shade trees.

We drove to Columbus, Indiana that first night. We had initially planned to get a room closer to Indianapolis, but the Brickyard 400 was that weekend. Columbus was a good stopping point, anyway. So good that we parked next to another vehicle with a Cobb County, Georgia license tag. (For those of you in other states, Georgia includes county information along the bottom edge the license plate.) For the next two weeks, that would be the last Georgia tag we saw.

The following day we drove the rest of the way to Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Cuddly Hubby and his bio-mom talked a couple times on the cell phone, as we gave her our estimated time to arrival. I think they were both a bit nervous in a charming sort of way.

Note: Go around Chicago. Even on a Sunday afternoon, just give in and pay the dang tolls. The last time I was so delighted to have something in my rear view mirror, I was crossing the Delaware River into Pennsylvania and leaving New York City and the New Jersey turnpike behind. The drivers in Georgia may be semi-crazy -- after all, they've learned to drive by watching Nascar. On the other hand, the interstate highways in Georgia are free, have plenty of lanes, few potholes, and the speed limits are unenforced excepting the most egregious violations. Any place where I have to pay to move freely about the roadways is not civilization, whether it is the toll authority or armed bandits who are picking my pockets every ten miles.

After much delay in Illinois and a deserved respite of fine local pizza in Wisconsin, we arrived in Green Bay about 8:30 PM local time. This isn't a great picture, but here is the grand prize. The first hug between the Cuddly Hubby and the nice lady who put him up for adoption more than four decades ago.

22 July 2009

Bruce/Scenter 1960-2009

Photo credit to XRX, Inc. from Tracy Petersen's 100 favorite images of STITCHES South 2009.

I know it is quickly getting out across Ravelry and the local knitting community that we have lost a shining star. Or as I described him -- Bruce was a stellated dodecahedron in a world populated mostly with circles and squares. I met him last year, probably in March or April when I first started teaching at The Whole Nine Yarns and attending the Tuesday knit nights. I don't recall clearly how we initially met. At some point, I noticed his car with bumper stickers about dragons and magic and fantasy. I must have said something at knit night about the Cuddly Hubby being busy or away on a trip or something. The next thing I knew, Bruce invited me to join him, his sister, and his niece on their outing to the Georgia Renaissance Festival.

At the time, Bruce had a dog named Lee who was fighting cancer. I had Copernicus, who was fighting extreme old age. Lee took a bad turn and had to be euthanized the morning of the Renaissance Festival. I remember observing Bruce and learning from him. I knew I would be facing a similar day soon myself. And Bruce and I appreciated that the other understood the lengths we went to for our pets.

Over the course of the year, we bonded over a variety of shared interests. Dragon*Con. Japanese culture. Extreme knitting. Math. Gaming. As many people have stated over on Ravelry -- his call sign was Scenter -- he was very knowledgeable about the topics that interested him. And he could tell you about them without making you feel inferior. He helped many knitters on many knit nights with socks or lace. And he taught several classes at the shop. I saw him some at Dragon*Con. He attended a couple game nights at my house.

I cheered him on when he decided to quite smoking. Work was stressful, and the temptation to smoke intense. But on 23 March, he had his last cigarette. I was glad because I wanted to keep him around.

We attended the spring garden show together -- Bruce, his sister, his niece, and I. That was a treat. Bruce not only knew about gardens, but as a fragrance chemist he knew about the scents of various shrubs. I knew very little, but thoroughly enjoyed the education. He bought an orange-barked maple, which was little more than a bright orange twig. We wondered what the leaves would look like in the spring.

And I saw him much at STITCHES South. For me, Bruce being discovered was a true highlight of the weekend. He was a kind and stable friend who helped me navigate the extreme emotions of that weekend. I remember walking into the ballroom in my Alice costume. I knew my assigned seat would be at one of the head tables. But I passed the table with Bruce and Betty Salpekar and some other local knitters. And I remember thinking that next year, that was the table where I wanted to sit.

I remember lunch together this spring -- after STITCHES but before June. We were both at the shop and needed to eat and we went over to Roly Poly. We talked math. And we talked about the nature of the Universe. Bruce said that as a mathematician, he could easily imagine multiple dimensions in which many things were possible. But of course, what happens after we die could not be proven.

Our last knit night together was 2 June. I don't remember if that was the one or not, but there was one where he gave me the run down on the classes he took at STITCHES and what he had learned. I told him what I learned. Also, the air conditioning in his car had just broken and he was trying to decide if he should fix it or drive it three more weeks and buy a new car. (Georgia ad valorem tax is due on your birthday. If you buy a car within 60 days of your birthday, you don't have to pay it twice in one year.) I was teasing that he would have to drive shirtless for three weeks. Then on Saturday, he joined the Cuddly Hubby and I for a gaming afternoon at our friends' home in Dacula. At one point in the afternoon, Bruce, the friend, and the Cuddly Hubby were all gathered around a computer so they could share sites with silly music. That was 11 days before his first heart attack and the last time I saw him outside of the ICU.

My last conversations with him were on the 16th and 17th. He called on the 16th to say he would miss knit night and that his sister was driving him to the hospital. On the afternoon of the 17th, he called to say he was bored. I believe he had just sent his sister out to get some knitting supplies. Why he didn't have knitting with him, I don't know. Between those two conversations, we talked about a variety of things. How diabetes and heart disease ran in his family and had taken both his father and his brother. But we also talked about fun things, like pickles. And knitting. And the chemistry of fragrances. And that his 50th birthday would be next summer.

When he woke up on June 20th and rallied, he asked for his sister to bring his glasses. And when she was there, he asked if I could visit. But I didn't get there before his next series of heart attacks, which happened only 20 minutes after his sister called me. Dang distances in metro Atlanta.

I'm not sure why he asked for me. I'm not even sure what he saw in me or why he wanted me as a friend. I could understand some of his math. Maybe it was that I wasn't afraid of the hard knitting or the hard thinking. Maybe it was because I laughed at his wonderful, terrible, clever puns. Maybe it was that part of the appeal of knit night was seeing what Bruce was doing next. If I had some extreme knitting, I was always curious what solution he might devise. He was my collaborator. He was also my muse.

During the five weeks he was in the hospital, most of it in the ICU, I visited three or four times a week. Some days I think he heard me. Some days not. A couple weeks in, his sister asked if I could foster his cats. So I'd go visit and give him the knitting news and the update on what everyone was doing. On Friday, he was having a very good day and I thought he had finally turned the corner after so much hardship. I told him about the video I'd just shot for the blog and how excited I was about the knitting. But on Sunday he was less good. Still, I had already seen him much worse. I told him to keep dreaming and healing. And to take his time and not rush. I reminded him this is like knitting lace. Sometimes the important thing is to do just one good row a day and no more.

When my cell phone rang on Tuesday, I knew it wasn't good. Right now, there are only eight contacts in my cell phone. I don't use it much and I don't like to be bothered when I am out and about. In other words, if I am willing to drop everything I am doing for you, you can have my cell phone number. Several people on the list are people for whom I've done extreme favors -- driven long distances or taken on long tasks. Right now, the list includes an aerospace friend, the friend who took my avatar photo, two friends whose blogs are linked on this site, the Cuddly Hubby, the Bard, Bruce, and recently Bruce's sister. At some point, I will have to erase the contact for Bruce. But not today.

I can still hear clearly his voice when I would arrive at knit night, "Bonjour, Jolie."

Au revoir, Bruce.

For those of you interested in attending his funeral service, the link is here. I believe the picture on that site is from a holiday party. The pretty lady is his sister.

17 July 2009

Net Pattern simplified -- with video!

This net stitch, which can be worked in one color or two, is the sort of stitch pattern that makes you want to drop whatever you are already knitting just so you can try it. That is, until you attempt to read the instructions. Merike Saarniit did provide Estonian-style directions in the Estonian Patent stitch class at STITCHES South 2009. She called the stitch "Net Patent." A little quick research in my home knitting library uncovered what I think is the same stitch in several other resources. Katharina Buss Big Book of Knitting (New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Co. 2001) page 129 calls it "Brioche Stitch" and includes it in a section on "Shaker Knitting." Thérèse de Dillmont The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework, third edition (Philadelphia PA: Running Press 1996) page 248 calls it "Double English Knitting." Barbara G. Walker A Treasury of Knitting Patterns (Pittsville, WI: Schoolhouse Press 1998) page 157 calls it "Double Brioche or Three-Dimensional Honeycomb."

Some things to consider: If you work the pattern in two colors, so that one is a ground and the other the net, then you'll work the right side twice before turning the swatch and working the wrong side twice. This is very similar to how to produce the "Column Pattern" in Elise Duvekot Knit One Below (Sioux Falls SD: XRX Inc. 2008) page IV. In fact, if you aren't already familiar with the knit one below stitch, then grab the book, double-pointed or circular needles, and two balls of yarn. If you take some time to become familiar with the column pattern, the video for the net pattern ought to be easier to understand.

When casting on for this pattern, obviously you can't knit one more below on the first row. Try casting on in the ground color and knitting across on the wrong side in the net color before beginning your first knit one more below row.

In the video, I introduce what are new stitches to me. The first one I call "knit one more below." XRX uses a downward arrow in their charts to indicate a knit one below. In the chart at left, I've added an extra "v" to the downward arrow to indicate a knit one more below stitch. Rows 1 & 2 are right side, 3 & 4 are wrong side, hence the position of the numerals relative to the chart. The knit one more below (k1mb) stitch is worked similarly to knit one below (k1b), but it produces a new stitch in between the stitch on the needle and the one below it. This is done by ducking the right needle under the running thread and then knitting into the stitch below. On the wrong-side rows, you'll need to "purl one more below" (p1mb). In this case, purl into the stitch below, but then poke the tip of the right needle in between the left side of the stitch and the running thread. Both of these methods will produce a stitch in the ground color (rows 1 & 3) with a yarn over in the net color (rows 2 & 4) lying across it.

For me, the big advantage to this odd technique is that the yarn forming the net stitch is purled across on the right side and knit across on the wrong side. This makes it very easy to use novelty yarns, ribbons, and the like to create the net pattern. Also, the net yarn could be used as a stash buster. Every row of the net could be a different piece of yarn with the ends left hanging as fringe. Indeed, the whole pattern could be further embellished by weaving threads through the net matrix afterward. And I have no doubt that this thick fabric would produce nearly weatherproof cloth when felted. Let your creativity loose!

16 July 2009

Knit One Below or Estonian Patent?

In the gap since my last post, I have been catching up around the house and around my life. I've found some time to get back to the projects and classes I took in April at STITCHES South. One of the classes was Merike Saarniit's Estonian Patent stitch class. Of course, you also remember that my Think Outside the Sox contest socks were in the column pattern from Elise Duvekot's Knit One Below book. So I've been playing around with both ways of making stitches.

What I have noticed is that both Knit One Below and Estonian Patent stitches make the same structural change to the fabric. They cause the yarn in a row of knitting to be carried and interlocked across more than one row. When you work these stitches, you'll discover that many stitches are linking two rows of knitting instead of just one. These changes tend to produce fabrics that are thick and warm and sometimes also very elastic. But what's been really interesting for me is discovering that the Estonian Patent stitches I learned in class can be made using the knit one below technique. And in some cases, I think it may be faster and easier using knit one below.

I'm not going to get into too much detail about Estonian Patent stitches because I believe Merike Saarniit is working on a book which will hopefully be out in 2011. So, first up, everybody go buy her book when it comes out because she is a wonderful teacher and I am sure her book will have great stuff in it. If you get a chance to take her class at STITCHES, do! Also, Nancy Marchant has a brioche stitch book scheduled for January 2010. And I don't know if Elise Duvekot will write another book about knit one below stitches, but I do know there is a great deal of unexplored territory. Her initial offering is worthwhile, but it really merely grants you passage through a gateway arch into a wide area waiting to be discovered. Some of what I'm writing about here might be covered by these other ladies.

Today I'll write about Pearl Patent stitch. In most of the patent stitches I learned in class, there is a row of alternating (yarn over, slip 1) knit 1. The yarn over is formed so that it lies across, above, or on top of (pick your descriptive term) the slipped stitch, rather than before or after the stitch as in either lace knitting or a plain yarn-over increase. On subsequent rows, the yarn-over and the slip stitch are either knitted or purled together. It is these two loops together that form a patent stitch. So in the Estonian way of doing things, it takes two rows to complete a patent stitch. The first row sets it up by forming the yarn-overs, and the return row works the yarn-overs together with their "mates." The picture at top is Pearl Patent stitch worked in the Estonian method.

Knit one below accomplishes the same thing but in one movement -- the movement of poking the needle into the stitch below and knitting (or purling) into the middle of it. So, if you want to translate some of the simple Estonian patterns into knit one below, you substitute knit one below for where the yarn-overs and mates are worked together. The (yarn over, slip 1) knit 1 set-up row can be worked as plain knitting. Much easier. Much faster. Same result. Glee!

In this swatch, the bottom part is, I think, exactly the same as the Estonian Pearl Patent stitch. I also believe this may be the pattern used in the Parisienne jacket on page 25 of Elise's book. It is a little hard to tell because I couldn't find a close-up view of the fabric. My swatch was worked as alternating knit 1, knit 1 below on right side; knit all on wrong side. So rows 1 & 2 used the dark yarn. For rows 3 & 4 I changed to the lighter yarn and alternated knit 1 below, knit 1 on the right side (i.e. staggered placement from the previous RS row); and knit all on the wrong side. The upper part of the swatch was worked the same way, except I purled across on the wrong side rows instead of knitting them. I haven't included a chart for it because I like the greater texture of the garter-based fabric rather than the stockinette-based.

And for fun, I tried working the same pattern in the 2-color mode. Work both right side rows, then turn and work both wrong side rows. You'll need to use either a pair of long double-pointed needles or a circular needle. Written out, the pattern is:
Row 1 (RS) dark yarn: alternate knit 1, knit 1 below
Slide stitches to other end of needle
Row 2 (RS) light yarn: purl
Turn work
Row 3 (WS) dark yarn: alternate knit 1 below, knit 1 (staggered placement)
Slide stitches to other end of needle
Row 4 (WS) light yarn: knit
Notice how the exact same arrangement of stitches produces a small net pattern instead, simply by changing the color of two rows!

15 July 2009

Math, Global Warming, & Women's Crafts

Margaret Wertheim talks about knitting coral reefs over at TED.

I was struck by her presentation on several levels.
Firstly, the interest in math and hyberbolic space. I stumbled upon fractals and Mandelbrot's classic work The Fractal Geometry of Nature about 15 years ago in graduate school. I wasn't taking a class in it. I don't even recall clearly how I came upon it. But it opened my eyes. I believe I may need to go spend some time exploring hyperbolic space.

Secondly, the group art project. The variety of forms and the coming together of many people on one project reminds me very much of Atlanta Knitting Guild's recent flower project.

Thirdly, the participation by women in a craft that is seen as "women's work." The feminist in me is pleased to see this work being accepted as art and being taken so seriously.

Finally, I am encouraged by the political nature of the work. Some art is meant to transform by being beautiful. This transforms thought by raising awareness. A crocheted coral reef that can be easily transported and visited can "speak" for an imperiled reef in the far off seas that is rarely visited by humans.

As this is supposedly a knitting blog, I'll leave you to ponder a knitted item. I've only knitted one hyperbolic shape -- the ruffle on this bag. This Tilli Tomas black silk bag with blue outer was a shop sample made by someone else at Purly Gates. When the shop went out of business, this was one of the items still for sale on the last day. I bought it and a ball of Plymouth Odyssey Glitz, color 796, for a very reasonable price -- well below the cost of one skein of the Tilli Tomas yarn, if I recall correctly. The plain bag really needed something, and the ruffle was just the thing to liven it up and make it a successful project.

And a completely tangential post script -- I love the clover in the background of the photo. It is beginning to take over my front yard and as I like the texture and suspect it won't have to be mowed, I'm not sure I'm at all inclined to stop it.