Friday, September 30, 2005


I’ve been knitting like a crazy person, calculating and re-calculating how many repeats I must knit per day to finish Kate’s Backyard Leaves by the end of September. I’ve been falling short over and over, and now it’s the end of the month and I’m only half-way done. However, it turns out the deadline is the end of October, and the end of September was only my personal deadline, the kind of deadline just made to be broken.

Oh, don’t you love it when you manage to trick yourself? It’s a thrill: like finding money in the pocket of something you haven’t worn in a while. Or that dream in which you find that your house has an extra room or a whole new wing that for some strange reason you hadn’t noticed before. Only this time, it’s real.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The New Look

Last September, I found myself at Brimfield, arguably the pre-eminent antique/flea market in the United States. I say I found myself there, but a lot more calculation was involved than this suggests. I’d always wanted to go, preferably with a U-Haul and a whole lotta cash. Instead, I was driving through on my way back to Cleveland, and circumstances required that I restrict my purchases to items both small and preferably cheap. Normally, my flea market strategy involves a quick, intense once-over of the whole market. This way, I’m sure to find anything perfect that might otherwise be snapped up by someone else. If I don’t find anything on this first run-through, I can relax and begin a more leisurely, comprehensive browse, during which a hidden gem may or may not appear. I don’t need to be alone, but I need to be with someone who understands and respects this system [Hello Ingrid!], otherwise I get anxious and my scouting radar gets all out-of-whack. I was lucky at Brimfield. I quickly found a button merchant who gave me a handy map of all the other button and notions stands at the market. You see, Brimfield isn’t just any flea market: it’s a whole town, overrun twice a year by an inter-connected web of individual markets. A once-over of the whole market might take three days: without this kind of time, new strategies are required. The map allowed me to experience a Brimfield within Brimfield, one in which I could wander from field to field, targeting all the button ladies on the way. Certainly, I missed treasures, and regrettably, a migraine quickly developed. But despite the headache and a slight sunburn, I came away with a wonderful haul.

This book started me thinking about a knitting blog along the lines of the Julie/Julia Project. At this time, I was aware of blogging as a phenomenon, but it still took a New York Times article to alert me to Julie’s project. [For the record, one is not cool if, as I have, one discovers a new band/writer/blog by reading about him/her/it in the Times. Or for that matter, one learns about something by hearing about it on NPR (or in Australia, the ABC.) This is, unfortunately, where I make most of my “discoveries.”]

My idea was to blog about the knitting of one of these impossibly complicated dresses. It’s pattern books like these that make you realize how far we’ve regressed as knitters, or craftspeople in general. You couldn’t sell a pattern like this these days: almost no-one would have the time nor the skill to actually complete it. This book is from 1949, and I’m imagining it offered women the chance to whip up something similar to dresses they saw in magazines or on the catwalks of the New Look period. A typical pattern, Manhattan say, takes 32 skeins of yarn, uses No. 2 needles, and begins "Cast on 456 stitches…"

The models pout. They smoke. They are impossibly glamorous.

My thought was, knit one of these, and who knows: in the process, might I discover glamour? Fame? My waist? I decided however, against the plan. Julie’s project took a year; mine, I decided, might take the rest of my life. Years from now, you might log on to Show & Tell to discover that I’m another inch along on the skirt, and might hit the waist before mid-century. And what, if by some miracle, I actually completed a dress, and like many a knitted item before, discovered that the neckline was all wrong, the sleeves too tight and that the pencil skirt sagged in the butt after the first wear? How would I feel after ten straight years of evenings spent in front of the TV knitting stockinette on No. 2 needles? I decided I’d rather not find out.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

If You Have a Fat Upper Arm

For Melbourne crafters, a chance to step back in time:

The Button Shop
181 Glenferrie Rd Malvern VIC 3144
ph: (03) 9509 7077

The yarns are somewhat uninspiring, but there's a wall of 1980's patterns (if that's your thing.) My favourite, however, is the rack of zippers in almost any shade you can imagine, in their original 1960's packaging. And, of course, as the name suggests, there's a wall of buttons, arranged by shade and shape.

I found the perfect "How To" book here for my Back-tack II partner, and the tool required for her obscure must-try craft. I'm holding out, however, for the chance I might find one in wood or tortoiseshell, but it's good to know that I have a fall-back option in reliable plastic, just in case.

[More about the book pictured above in a future post. But in the meantime, Are You a 'Stylish Stout'?]

Saturday, September 17, 2005

To Do List

Do Buddhists keep To Do lists? The wicked pleasure in crossing something off a list suggests to me that this isn’t exactly what’s meant by “living in the present.” Sometimes it’s more a thank-God-that’s-in-the-past kind of moment, before girding oneself for tasks looming ahead.

Nichola loves the cross-off. Caterina wrote once about her father-in-law, who at some point crossed everything off his list, and for a brief moment in time had no-one to call, no bill to pay, nothing to attend to and nothing left undone. She linked to this site, an exhaustive To Do list guaranteed to change one’s life for the better.

Somewhat less daunting is the wonderful 43 Things. And 52 Projects transforms the To List list into an artform.

You’ll notice that I’ve added Get A Job to my To Do list, simply for the pleasure of crossing it off. There was a moment last week when I was holding my breath hoping to Get A Job before Diana’s lovely Box Bag #3 sold. For a while, it looked to be within my grasp, but alas, somebody else must have Gotten A Job before I did.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

101 Things


Like Erin, I wasn’t able to quite keep to the letter of this assignment, hence 101 things I like (in no particular order.)

1. Turtleneck sweaters 2. The sparkle of mica in a footpath 3. Painted toenails 4. Red shoes 5. Fragrant trees 6. Mechanical pencils 7. Wooden toys 8. Typewriters 9. A well-made bed 10. Receiving a handwritten letter 11. Photobooth strips 12. Notebooks with elastic closures 13. Small books (but not miniature) 14. Swimming naked 15. Freesias 16. Flea markets 17. The light diffused through Japanese paper lamps 18. Hilly cities 19. Trams 20. Making soup 21. Having my expectations exceeded 22. A good haircut 23. Passing someone in the street who shares a distinctive smell with someone who is (or was) important to you 24. Light-filled rooms 25. Wood stoves 26. Burritos 27. Japanese craft books 28. Curly hair 29. When a man touches you on the small of your back as he leans in to listen 30. Sleeping on the beach (in the shade) 31. Flake chocolate bars 32. Reading in bed 33. Isaac’s dressing gown 34. Line-dried clothes & towels 35. Swing dancing 36. Radio documentaries 37. Bibimbop & beer 38. Platform sandals 39. Birthday surprises 40. Finding that a film you really want to see is playing on your flight 41. Skinny mirrors 42. Lobster rolls 43. Christmas Day 44. Hankerchiefs 45. White sheets & towels 46. Early 1970’s Dodge Darts 47. Hobbyists 48. Cats who behave like dogs 49. Lollies that come in tins 50. Men with hobbies 51. Unexpected mail 52. Mother-of-pearl buttons 53. Open fires 54. Giant bonfires 55. Harvest moons 56. Polite children (and cheeky ones too) 57. Waking before the alarm rings 58. Bond’s girls’ singlets 59. Flying dreams 60. Letterpress stationery 61. Christmas tree lights 62. Thermal underwear 63. Sliced cucumber in iced water 64. Refectory tables 65. Iced plum tea 66. Stripey socks 67. Brightly-coloured coat linings 68. Daylight savings 69. The extra hour when daylight savings ends 70. Clothes cut on the bias 71. Passionfruit 72. Things that smell like grapefruit 73. The feeling after a teeth cleaning 74. When someone clearly loves a gift 75. Crossing everything off a To Do list 76. Finding money on the pocket of something you haven’t worn in a while 77. A gap between someone’s two front teeth 78. The way Grenadine sinks & diffuses in a drink 79. Lightning 80. Fireflies 81. Streets over which trees have formed a canopy 82. Wild hedges 83. Looking into lit rooms from the outside at night 84. The string machine used to tie up cake boxes in bakeries 85. Dreams in which I can still perform gymnastic feats 86. Bamboo knitting needles 87. Cold leftovers (not all, but most.) 88. Finding something you thought lost 89. Riding a bike 90. The number seven 91. Matte book jackets 92. The birdcall of the currawong 93. A perfectly-sized wallet/purse/bag (not too big, not too small) 94. Grosgrain ribbon 95. The remnants of painted signs on brick walls 96. The blue wave of flame when you light the broiler 97. Larkin desks 98. Eavesdropping 99. The feeling you have walking in regular shoes after iceskating 100. Long train trips 101. Fiat Cinquecentos.

For Miranda July fans: her blog.

Monday, September 12, 2005

ISBN 4-529-03300-7

Kinokuniya, San Francisco, 1999.

Back then, I erroneously believed I was the only non-Japanese crafter interested in such books. This was my first. To this day, I haven’t made a single thing out of it, however, I regularly imagine myself doing so.

I’ve conducted some preliminary research. In 2000, I tried to convince a professor of Japanese at the prestigious liberal arts college in my town that we ought to co-teach Japanese for Knitting. She would teach the Japanese required to read patterns, I would teach the students to knit. Assessment would be based on the completion of a garment from this book. Needless to say, my idea never made it to Faculty Council.

Sometime later, I bartered some custom letterpress stationery for translations by a Japanese friend. Unfortunately, said friend is not a knitter, and the text is annotated with translations such as “rubbery knitting” and “try not to bent at the center or fall them apart.”

In 2004, I completed “Reading a Knit Pattern – Without Words” at Habu Textiles in New York City. Again, much was lost in translation. It became clear early on that the successful interpretation of Japanese charts involves a level of math skill rare in the Western world. There was some productive miming of short row technique by the wonderful Setsuko Torii, and I left inspired to forge ahead, newly cognizant of the vast terrain of information embedded in those impenetrable symbols and marks.

2005: Still no progress. I am, however, gearing up to undertake the Habu Textiles Linen Paper & Silk Mohair Jacket kit, currently a misleading #2 on my To Do List. This will be my trial run, a Japanese chart with English instructions, before I dive headlong into the free-form, right-brain, devil-may-care interpretation required by the beauties above.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Help Desk

One of my motivations in setting up a blog was to develop a readership who might help me remember where I heard/read/saw things that I’ve forgotten/lost/misattributed. So far, I imagine my readership could easily sit down together for Sunday Yum Cha [Dim Sum, for the American contingent] but I’m going to reach out and ask anyway. If you notice in a week or so that there’s still zero comments, please leave one. I don’t care if you’ve nothing informative to contribute, it’ll help me feel less a blog outcast than I actually am.

So, here goes:

About a year ago, in the wonderful Bank News on Clark Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, I came across a Canadian magazine. Well produced (more than a ‘zine, not quite Nest), it might have been somewhat literary, and possibly had a double-barrelled French title. Perhaps it was more oriented toward social commentary? I remember lots of text, and although the interior was single colour, the cover was a four-colour full-bleed. It was in English, I think. If you are in Cleveland, and happen to be in Bank News, it was on the lowest shelf of the upper rack of foreign magazines, opposite the art/graphic design/high-brow porn. Any ideas?

Again, sometime last year, I read a blog in which the writer questioned whether eccentricity is being lost in the move toward globalisation. Are people less individual, less eccentric, more the same than they once were? I’d like to read this again. Any chance anyone remembers who wrote this, and how to find it?

Thanks in advance. Prizes (non-redeemable for cash) will be awarded to the first readers who point me in the right direction.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I bribed myself last Friday. If I finished the “financials.xls” worksheets for my small business course, I could head down to the Stitches & Craft Show at the Caufield Racetrack. At the March show, I saw some lovely Japanese bag handles and I was hoping to find them again. (Advance planning for Back-Tack II.) This show however was a shadow of the March one, and there were no handles to be found. But on the top level, right at the back, was the Button Lady. She had one card left of the Boilproof Plastic Buttons I remembered from the March show, and a stash of war-time era Barbour linen thread, the ne plus ultra of Irish linen bookbinding thread. I didn’t have any cash on me, a necessary preventative measure for these kinds of outings. No, they didn’t take cards, informed one of her reluctant male helpers. Meekly, I approached the Button Lady to ask if she’d be at the Camberwell Market this coming weekend, and whether there was any chance she could put the thread and buttons aside until then. “No,” she said. “Take them.” I demurred, she insisted. “I know you’ll come back, so don’t fret. We need to trust people.”