Monday, July 27, 2009

Beautiful wool

The English language has the benefit of being the source of many words widely known in other languages, which in English sometimes have both the original and the current meaning. One of those little words is shop, which alludes to a place of storage, trade or manufacturing of goods. In extension, it also means selling point and as a verb, it means either to select and or to buy. An atelier is a place where people work, e.g., a workshop. The Henry Ford factory published a book titled Shop theory which I had in my hands, and no, it's not about going shopping.

Shop is the best word I can think of to describe Bella Lana, a small store not far from my home. Since January I've taken some of the classes they offer, and I'll proceed to share my thoughts and pictures of my projects.

The first class was New Knitters. I already had some notions but it became obvious that I had plenty of basic information to learn. I learned two different ways to cast the stitches in the needle, I refreshed the basic knit and purl stitches, and also how to cast off. The most interesting part was to learn to read the materials tags, and try needles of different materials. I really liked the ones made of bamboo, but I could also try of steel, aluminum, wood and plastic.

In this first class I knitted a scarf in Ella Rae Classic wool, from Romania, in two shades of green, and for the termination I used crochet (I had started the second class). I used bamboo needles number 7, of 4.5 mm of diameter. The buttons were Federico's idea, and the width of the scarf is the length of his neck. When Federico wears the scarf he winds it around his neck and fastens both buttons (I say it looks like a cataplasm but he finds it very comfortable); when I wear it I prefer fastening the buttons to the coat and fastening the coat's to the scarf's eyelets - it stays in place and it doesn't squeeze my neck.

The second class, Crochet, was really hard. The other students flew by and I could hardly cast a stitch after the other. It somehow makes sense because I've never been too attracted to crochety lace, so I understand it wouldn't worry me that I didn't manage. But it was almost a revelation to discover the virtues of the simple crochet fabric, and the versatility of the technique. The instructor used wool, thread, pearls, wire and other elements and it dazed me.

In this class I knitted a little bag in lilac Cascade wool, from Peru, and I used an aluminum hook number 6, G, of 4.25 mm. I afterwards knitted another one in acrylic yarn. First a foundation chain is cast and then half double crochet is knitted in circles, until taste, common sense or the end of the yarn dictate it should finish.

I also learned to join pieces using crochet, which along the termination techniques were the most practical thing about the class.

The most ambitious project I undertook so far was a sweater. I also enrolled in a class, My First Sweater, which was a good idea taking into account all the difficulties I came across and all the help I needed. I used Ella Rae again, and I used needles number 8 for the ribbing and number 7 for the rest of the body. The neck was knitted with a round needle number 7. I joined the front and the back using three needles on the shoulders and crochet (with my faithful green hook) on the sides. I began the sleeves by the ribbing, and I joined them to the body using three needles on the last row and crochet on the rest. The neck was the last thing I did: with the rest of the sweater ready I picked the stitches from the base and I knitted a ribbing identical to the one on the bottom.

It took me a great deal of hard work to finish the sweater and I'm not totally happy. As a matter of fact the original pattern was OK, but I didn't like the shoulders so the instructor searched for another pattern shoulders (which I did like) and altered mine, creating an hybrid.

I still haven't worn it. I was planning on having it ready for my birthday, but that couldn't be.

The reckless adventure called me and I decided to tackle a project on my own, following a pattern's instructions. I went to the Library and I checked out thousands of books (maybe not that many, but quite a few anyway).

Among these I selected a crochet scarf. Not hyper difficult, but with a little flavor of its own. I'm using Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift in Blue Danube and Clyde Blue, and a bamboo crochet hook of 2.75 mm.

While I carry my experiment as independent knitter, I'm also learning a technique I never saw anyone using in Uruguay (maybe I'm with my head in the clouds or maybe nobody uses it): it's double pointed needles. The goal is to be able to knit small things in tube shapes, in which the seam would be very uncomfortable or unsightly (hats, gloves and socks). With the same yarn I'm using for the scarf, I'm knitting a pair of mittens, with bamboo needles number 4, of 3.5 mm. The design is a little heavy (it aims to use a lot of yarn so it's warmer), which I tried a little ago in two needles. It's difficult, but not impossible.

I've just begun the ribbing of the first mitten, so it's not easy to see how it goes. These needles remind me of Mikado pieces, and an extra needle is used to knit the stitches. Once the initial surprise is overcame, it's a lot like knitting in two needles.


Knitting is a curious activity. A lot of people insist it's relaxing, but in me it has the opposite effect, like revving an engine. Almost self hypnotic, after knitting for a while my ideas are in order and I get energized to face the tasks I like the least. I can't imagine this activity as practical or economical (its original purposes, right?), but I'm amazed by its expressivity and also, the tactile feeling of the physical result of the many hours spent in work.

Federico insisted for a long time that he wanted something knitted by me. Now he has it (one scarf among many), he wears it and says it makes him happy. The instructors at Bella Lana (owners too), Cornelia and Karin, say there's nothing like the satisfaction and feeling of achievement of wearing garments made by oneself. I'm not sure about that, but I enjoy knitting and I plan on doing it for a while. It seems like a forgiving, non judgmental lifelong companion, which can be picked up time and time again and holds no hard feelings.

For now, I gather materials, ideas and knowledge.

We'll see what happens then.


This post was originally written in Spanish, in

Monday, July 20, 2009

True indeed

(...) Whatever else the peacetime service is good for, it can provide an excellent introduction to the structure of society at large. It becomes evident even to a young mind that often unacknowledged divisions in civilian life find clear and immediate expression in the military distinction between "officers" and "men". One makes the amazing discovery that grown adults walking around with college educations, wearing khaki and brass and charged with heavy-duty responsibilities, can in fact be idiots. And that working-class white hats, while in theory capable of idiocy, are much more apt to display competence, courage, humanity, wisdom, and other virtues associated, by the educated classes, with themselves. (...)

Thomas Pynchon, 1984

From Slow Learner (anthology), Introduction.


Maybe it was because I've never been in the military that I have witnessed idiocy and greatness indistinctly in higher and lower classes. Or maybe it was because I haven't really mingled with what Pynchon must have alluded to as working and educated classes, or maybe I just have too much education around -- around, not inside.

I shared the feeling of "amazing discovery" of something so rampantly obvious, though. In my case it was with some disappointment (I hoped education to save me irrevocably from stupidity), I don't know what Pynchon thought of it at the time.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Michael... who?

Michael Jackson's death seems to be the only news of the season and everyone is trying to make a point on his legacy to popular culture, unable to avoid the scandals that surrounded him in the last 15 years. Add to it that it's summer and nothing else is going on, and you have a recipe for disaster.

To denounce the tsunami of bad taste that's making company to Jackson in his path to the beyond, I'll just quote a comment from a KSTP journalist: "and here, while his brothers take his coffin to the stage, we witness the last time that Jackson Five will ever share a stage". Oh boy! that was just creepy.

But I would like to mention some other 50 year old guy, also deceased during the last week of june, whose work and notice have been unfairly overshadowed. The joe in question was Billy Mays and he was the undisputed king of the infomercials, the late night tv stars.

I am the first to admit that I found Mays annoying as a bumblebee the first time I paid any attention to his commercials. Maybe the fifth time I saw him singing praises to OxiClean, and after a very clumsy spanish speaking piece (he was OBVIOUSLY speaking phonetic spanish and didn't seem to have a clue of what he was saying) I got to think that this man was embodying the american dream. Maybe not that perfect picture from the 50's, but an updated and slightly perturbed version. Of a fix for every problem, self-help addicted, bulletproof good mood, a little neurotic. And that's how I started paying some attention to his tv appearances.

While it is true that I never felt the faintest inclination to buy anything he was offering, the naivete of the situations made me laugh. That's like fairy tales for grown ups, I always thought, you buy that soap and your life will be better. But Mays won me with two pieces, one even more absurd than the other, that you can watch by clicking here and here.

The office add gave me the clue that Mays had sarcasm in his vocabulary. And the bearded family one, that he could laugh at anything starting with himself. Beat that, Michael Jackson, beat that or... beat it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Oniric journal

One day I decided to keep a journal of my dreams and that night I couldn't sleep.