Monday, October 30, 2006

Onward to ... Stitches East

I've barely gotten caught up after last weekend's trip to Rhinebeck, and now the last of my Yarn Trifecta weekends beckons: Stitches East. For the first time, Stitches East will be held in Baltimore. I'm looking forward to the change: even though it's less convenient (it was entirely possible to go back and forth to Atlantic City from Philadelphia in the same day), Atlantic City just wasn't my cup of tea. I'm not a gambler, and casinos don't do anything for me, so holding Stitches there was not particularly desirable from my viewpoint.

I've spent most of the past few weeks dyeing up a storm. I'll be bringing some batches of Black Bunny Yarn to the Rosie's Yarn Cellar booth. I've got laceweight, I've got DK weight and I've got some bulky -- and if all goes well, I'll have some roving batches, too. I'll be at the Rosie's booth Friday through Sunday, so if you're going to Stitches, please stop by and introduce yourself. I love to meet you guys. Lisa always brings Koigu and Anne and other goodies, and I think some new RosieKnits patterns will be debuting.

In other news, Halloween is nearly here. Friday, the twins' preschool went to visit a nursing home to have a little party for the residents. Here're the twins in their costumes:

The Little Mermaid and a Nascar driver (Jeff Gordon, to be precise, but N. doesn't know individual drivers; he's more into the cars than anything else). It's tough cropping out their adorable faces, but you get the idea...

My oldest wants to be....Charcoal. Since he's tall for his age, I'm finishing up a rather large black bunny costume. Black pompom on the butt, anyone? And let's keep our fingers crossed the other third-graders -- dressed as Eagles quarterbacks and superheroes and Darth Vader -- don't beat the crap out of him at recess.

Inspired by Marilyn, I spun up a small (3 ounce) batch of roving that I picked up at Rhinebeck from Tintagel Farm. It's half wool and half mohair.

I'm a sucker for blues like this (which didn't reproduce well at all in my photo: they are much brighter, turquoise-y with some green and some purple), and it spun up quickly and pretty easily. I'd never done mohair before, and while it's a bit clumpy, the blend was pretty much pre-drafted and ready to spin. After watching Marilyn's technique at Rhinebeck, I felt a bit more confident in my spinning. (I'm a self-taught spinner.) Marilyn gave me some of the best advice I've ever gotten about spinning: she said to spin a little every day, no matter what, and the quality of my yarn was bound to improve. She's right. Oddly, I also find that if I temporarily stop spinning for a while (weeks or even months), when I pick it up again, I seem to find it easier. Maybe my brain is processing the motor skills, but it does seem to work that way. I should be able to use this yarn as singles rather than having to ply to even out the variations in thickness.

My last few posts took a lot out of me, so I may be on the quiet side for the next week or so. Although photography is forbidden at Stitches, I'll be sure to fill you in on all the dirt when I get back.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The conclusion of the hypothetical and alleged saga

Let’s start with a brief overview of antitrust law. (Yeah, I know, I thought it was boring in law school, too. I'll be quick.)

Antitrust law is designed to protect competition and the free market by outlawing agreements and other activities that are bad for competition and the free market. Sounds simple enough. But antitrust is one of those areas that’s very intricate and specialized; it’s also one of those areas where theory doesn’t always mesh with reality.

One of the ways that antitrust law tries to protect the free market is by outlawing price restraints, or practices and agreements that artificially set or preserve prices. The idea is that the free market should determine price. Normally there’s a bit of up and down in pricing: this store sells milk for $5 a gallon, then the store across the street charges $4.75 and makes up the difference by attracting more customers, then the guy across town charges $4.50 but marks up the price of his bread, while the guy who has the only store for fifty miles around can get away with charging $5.50. That’s competition and the market at work. Imagine what would happen if all the supermarkets of the world agreed to sell milk for exactly $5 a gallon, instead of the market determining what people are willing to pay. Once the supermarkets agree to set an artificial price, nobody can get the milk for less than $5, no matter where they are or where they shop. Competition over the price of milk has been eliminated.

Price-fixing is good for the seller: the seller gets a higher price for the goods than the free market necessarily would produce, and the seller knows that the buyer can’t shop around for a better deal elsewhere. Some sellers may not like price-fixing, however; if they are able to offer a product for less, they want to be able to price it lower and recoup the difference in volume.

Price-fixing is primarily bad for the consumer, and you can see why: the consumer is paying more. Depending on circumstances, maybe a lot more.

This kind of agreement among sellers is called horizontal price-fixing, because it involves an agreement to fix prices among people at the same level of the market.

In this diagram, the “horizontal” agreement is between the sellers -- the red line. All the people participating in the agreement – the stores -- are at the same level of the selling chain. Horizontal price-fixing might involve all the makers of a product colluding to agree on price, or all the distributors agreeing on price, and so on. It’s well-established that horizontal price-fixing is bad for competition and therefore illegal under antitrust law.

There’s another kind of price fixing: vertical price-fixing. Vertical price-fixing involves actors who are at different levels of the selling chain colluding to determine price. The Milli Morris example (allegedly! allegedly!) would be analyzed under the law concerning vertical price-fixing: Milli Morris is the maker, and Yolanda's Yarns is the store in my diagram (here, there isn't a distributor; the maker sells directly to shops). Milli and Yolanda are at different levels of the retail food chain, so the alleged price-fixing is vertical.

At first blush, you might think that vertical price-fixing is illegal too, and that it’s all bad for the customer. Not so fast.

Have you ever noticed that no matter where you go to buy a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt (what can I say? my husband is a Skippy with expensive taste), the price is the same everywhere? Exactly the same? You may hit a once-yearly sale, or see remainders from last season marked down a bit, but otherwise Ralph Lauren Polo shirts are always exactly the same price. Coincidence?

You’ve probably seen tons of other products that have a manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP, on them. Cars, magazines, Tastykakes, whatever. These prices are even printed onto the product or its packaging by the maker. How can that be? Isn’t that vertical price-fixing, an agreement between the maker and the shop to set a price? Here’s where it gets bizarre. It is generally true that vertical price restraints – the maker and the seller agree to charge X amount for the item – are illegal, just like horizontal price restraints are.

But my brief foray into antitrust research suggests that MSRPs are not, by themselves, illegal. The Federal Trade Commission says:

The antitrust laws, however, give a manufacturer latitude to adopt a policy regarding a desired level of resale prices and to deal only with retailers who independently decide to follow that policy. A manufacturer also is permitted to stop dealing with a retailer who breaches the manufacturer’s resale price maintenance policy. That is, the manufacturer can adopt the policy on a "take it or leave it" basis.

So a manufacturer, including a yarn company, can decide it has a "policy" of only selling to shops that abide by the MSRP. It can decide that it won't sell to such shops if they don't consistently charge the MSRP. The legal distinction that's being made, I suppose, is that the maker has the right to decide who it will do business with, and as long as the maker and the seller aren't meeting in a smoke-filled room to come to an express agreement, this is considered lawful. I can't speak to whether this makes sense or not; this concept of permitting MSRPs has been subject to criticism but like it or not, agree with it or not, the FTC says it's okay.

As someone who loves to score yarn cheaply, this grieves me. Everyone feels pinched with their money and everyone would like to get the maximum yarnage for their knitting buck. And the less you pay per skein, the more skeins you can buy with your knitting budget. Required minimum prices, whether they are considered MSRPs or vertical price restraints, tend to raise the cost of yarn by prohibiting discounters. There are other rationales for why we shouldn't permit vertical price restraints: for example, one might argue that by lowering prices, the knitting purchaser gets to try yarns she might otherwise not be able to buy, thereby getting hooked on them and becoming willing to buy them again, even if not discounted. Or that the more knitting people do, and the more they enjoy the process and the finished result (presumably the knitter would enjoy working with nicer yarn more than with lower quality yarn, assuming higher price means better quality), the more they’ll want to continue knitting and the greater the likelihood they’ll turn into hard-core, long-term knitters, thus buying more over the long haul.

But it’s never that simple, is it? While vertical price restraints may seem like a no-brainer, if you look a little deeper, you may see waters that are murkier than you thought.

Imagine a high-end, high quality yarn; I’ll call it Yummy Yarn. Suppose that Yummy Yarn costs $5 a skein wholesale and sells for $10 a skein retail (under a keystone pricing model). Then one day, bursts onto the scene. The dot-com sells Yummy Yarn for $6 per skein, undercutting all the other retailers who sell it for $10 a skein.

How can this be bad, you say? Isn’t cheaper yarn an unqualified good?Well, maybe not if you’re Yummy Yarns. If one internet retailer starts offering Yummy Yarn for only a smidgen above wholesale, a lot of other retailers are going to be unable to sell Yummy Yarn, whether at their shop or on-line. They may have an occasional customer who doesn’t shop on-line, and therefore doesn't have access to the discounted price, but overall, sales of Yummy Yarn everywhere but the dot-com discounter are going to dry up as consumers purchase there. When a great many retailers can’t sell their Yummy Yarn inventory, or their costs are such that they just can’t charge only $6 and still make a profit, they won’t order it anymore. Yummy Yarns is going to lose business. Yummy Yarns might even go out of business. No more Yummy Yarns.

Let’s consider another, similar hypothetical. Selling yarn isn’t the same as selling, say, socks. Everyone in the world knows how to use socks. Everyone in the world knows how socks work and people don’t walk around with serious questions about their socks. But yarn is different. Yarn is used for knitting and crocheting, and learning how to knit and crochet are skills that often require a lot of technical assistance. A large part of my job at my LYS is helping customers with questions and problems about their projects. Easy questions, like what’s a yarn over, and harder questions, like what went wrong with my cable pattern? And selecting the right yarn for the right project can also require assistance from a knowledgeable salesperson: is the gauge right? will it drape? does it have good stitch definition? will the mohair's halo obscure your lace pattern? will it sag? and so on.

Joe’s Sock Emporium doesn’t need to hire salespeople with a whole body of knowledge about how to put on socks. Jane’s Knitting Palace, on the other hand, needs to hire knowledgeable, experienced sales clerks who not only can sell yarn, but can sell the right yarn, and help customers with their technical questions.

And there’s the rub. A good, service-oriented bricks-and-mortar yarn shop needs to pay those knowledgeable and experienced salesclerks. They also need to pay rent, electricity, keep their shop clean and painted and the rugs shampooed, and a myriad of other expenses to keep their physical plant up and running. An internet discounter doesn’t. An internet-only seller can fill orders out of her basement, or out of some cruddy cheap-ass warehouse in a bad part of town, and no one will know the difference. And if you have a question about your project, it's highly unlikely that you could, um, email the shop and expect a prompt and correct answer. (Can you see the email correspondence? “Attached is a JPEG showing my lace scarf. Please tell me what I did wrong.”) Even if the internet seller is tops in service and responsiveness, the costs are not the same as the yarn shop's.

This is what is sometimes known as a “free rider” problem. The reputable bricks and mortar shops provide the free one-on-one assistance, they allow you to sit in their comfy chairs and yak while knitting, they give you a place to feel and touch the yarns, to see what colors it comes in, maybe to handle a swatch. They may give you free patterns or freely give of their experience and advice. And then you go and order the product from an internet discounter, who provides none of these things (and therefore doesn't have to pay the costs associated with them). The internet discounter is free-riding off the services and amenities that the LYS provides. If retailers want to prevent free riders, then, one way to do it is to set a minimum price for all retailers to follow.

Finally, there’s the prestige factor. Those of you who are, ahem, my contemporaries may remember when expensive perfumes like Giorgio and Obsession were only available at high-end department stores. The fragrances were distinctive and if you knew someone who reeked smelled of Obsession, you knew they’d paid a pretty penny for it at Bloomingdale's or Nordstrom's. Nowadays, you can find the same perfumes at CVS, or at Marshall’s or other places, being discounted. The snob appeal is gone. The products, though cheaper, are, in a weird way, less desirable.

Some people -- even yarn manufacturers -- believe it’s important to maintain this exclusivity, this high price, the prestige as part of their market niche. They don’t want to see their yarns sold at a deep discount on Ebay, or available at a big box craft store; they want to maintain a high-end cachet. I'm not saying whether this is wrong or right: it just is. And some yarn manufacturers don't give a rat's ass about the prestige, but they know that people who buy their yarn will benefit from the skills and services that the full-service yarn shop can offer. If Patsy Purl makes a project out of an unsuitable yarn and hates the finished garment, she may blame it on the yarn manufacturer. ("I'm never making a sweater out of Yummy Yarn again!") If, on the other hand, a knowledgeable salesperson deters her from an unsuitable choice and helps her pick a better one, Patsy Purl may be hooked on Yummy Yarn for life.

I point all this out so you can appreciate the complexity of some of these issues. You don’t want your favorite yarn shop to go out of business or stop carrying your favorite yarns, and you don’t want your favorite yarn manufacturer to stop making yarn either. Cheap yarn is nice, but it’s also good to take a broader view. Internet sellers who don't have a bricks-and-mortar presence don't always think about the broader effect they are having on the market.

Now regardless of all of these rationales, the fact remains that vertical price restraints, actual agreements between the distributor, say, and the LYS about price, are illegal. There are other ways that makers address some of these problems:

  • Adopt a MSRP policy as described above.
  • Require that sellers have a traditional physical yarn shop -- not just an internet site -- as a prerequisite to sales. That way the maker knows that all sellers are all on a level playing field when it comes to overhead, free riders, providing technical assistance and such.
  • Some yarn companies have geographic limitations or territories, and they only permit one authorized retailer within a certain number of miles.
  • Maintain the traditional distinction between sales to yarn shops and sales to large national craft chains, selling to the former and not the latter. (Large chains buy in quantity, they can use items as loss leaders in a way that small shops can’t, they run discounts and offer coupons, all leading to the undercutting of price. Craft stores tend not to have salespeople with the same level of expertise in knitting. There’s also an exclusivity element: if you go into a yarn shop, you expect to see things that the craft stores don’t carry, and seeing the same yarns available at both places devalues those yarns, at least in some folks' eyes.)
  • Have a minimum advertised price: the seller agrees to advertise a price no less than a specific minimum, so that the impact on other sellers is reduced.
  • Other secret arrangements, that may or may not be illegal, like selling at a lower wholesale price to sellers who abide by the MSRP policy, or rewarding sellers who stick to the MSRP by giving them "bonuses" of cash or merchandise or other freebies, or taking your own sweet time to fill the orders of the discounters while promptly shipping product to the MSRP-honoring sellers.

I don't know what the ultimate answer is. Maybe there isn't one. But I urge you to think about some of the issues I've raised and at least appreciate that things aren't always as cut-and-dried as they first seem.

Okay, go on, have at it. Just remember to play nice.

More (alleged) dirt from the seamy underbelly of the (hypothetical) yarn world

Oh, my innocent little pretties, did you think we had exhausted the dirty laundry of the yarn industry? Not yet, my dears, not yet. Special thanks to Valerie and reader V. for tipping me off to the following hypothetical (of course) story. (And if I’d been keeping up with my blog reading, I’d have seen it on Jenna’s blog.)

Once upon a time, there was a manufacturer of fancy yarns who I’ll call Milli Morris. Milli sold high-end yarns, in luxury fibers, and wanted her yarns to be upscale, to have a certain cache. One day, Yolanda's Yarns decided that it wanted to carry Milli Morris yarns. Yolanda started an account with Milli Morris. She received Milli Morris yarns and sold them to her knitting and crocheting customers.

One day, however, Milli Morris contacted Yolanda's Yarns, stated that Milli Morris was implementing a keystone pricing policy and asked Yolanda to comply with it.

What's "keystone pricing," you ask?

Well, apparently "keystone pricing" is a standard term in the retail industry, and refers to a policy or practice whereby a retailer (here, the yarn seller) consistently sells a product for double the wholesale price (i.e., two times its actual cost). So if Milli Morris was selling a skein to Yolanda's Yarns for a wholesale price of $10, it was requiring henceforth that Yolanda sell that very same skein of yarn for $20 to the consumer. And not a penny less.

It sounds like an appalling markup from the consumer's standpoint, but it's pretty standard in many segments of the retail market. (Since my retail experience is limited, readers can chime in here to back me up or contradict me.)

Here’s the backstory: It had come to pass that Yolanda's Yarns thought it could sell Milli Morris yarn cheaper and still make enough profit. (One critical piece of the puzzle that I haven't figured out is whether Yolanda's Yarns is an internet-only business, a discounter that provides minimal customer service and technical assistance at an actual storefront, or whether it also has a full-service, bricks-and-mortar yarn shop.) In any event, Yolanda's Yarns had been selling Milli Morris yarns for an amount less than twice the wholesale price; using the example above, say $17 a skein instead of $20. The customer was happy: s/he could get Milli Morris yarns a few dollars cheaper from Yolanda's Yarns than anywhere else. Yolanda was happy: she was selling lots of Milli Morris yarn, and still making $7 per skein.

But guess who wasn't happy? Other yarn shops. They had been abiding by the $20 keystone price and now Yolanda's Yarns was undercutting them on price. Let's face it: if given a choice, why would a knitter pay $20 a skein if she could pay $17? And the beauty of the internet is that you can order without leaving your desk chair, and they'll ship your stuff to your house, even if you live at the other end of the country, sometimes for free.

So the other yarn shops notified Milli Morris that Yolanda's Yarns was selling her yarn for less than the $20 suggested retail price. Milli Morris subsequently contacted Yolanda's Yarns (in writing, no less! don’t these people have lawyers? or at least some common sense? Free legal tip of the day: If you must allegedly engage in conduct which looks like price-fixing, which I strongly advise against, please do not leave a paper trail.) and insisted that it comply with a keystone pricing policy.

The owner of Yolanda's Yarns was mad now. She worked hard to run her business in as cost-effective a way as possible, and she wanted the right to price her merchandise however she wanted. She didn’t want to raise the price of the Milli Morris yarn. It then came to pass that the next time Yolanda tried to place an order for Milli Morris yarns, Milli said no. Milli refused to sell Yolanda's Yarns any more Milli Morris yarns based on its failure to comply with the keystone pricing policy.

Now ordinarily, this might have just been an unfortunate footnote in Yolanda's Yarn's business. However, Yolanda herself happened to know a little bit about antitrust law. Some correspondence was exchanged, and the phrases "antitrust violation" and "price-fixing” were invoked. Ultimately, Milli Morris informed Yolanda that it was suspending the keystone pricing policy. Yolanda's Yarns would like to continue selling Milli Morris yarns, but it isn’t clear whether Milli will continue to sell to Yolanda or not – Milli Morris yarns are no longer on Yolanda's website.

What’s going on here? Who’s right and who’s wrong? I’m no antitrust expert – and I don’t even play one on TV – but I’m willing to tackle some of these issues. Tune in next time.

Monday, October 23, 2006

From the offbeat files

More images from the weekend:

And sure enough:

I mean, how often in your daily life do you see a parade of alpacas walking down the street?

Those of you who celebrate Christmas may want to look into a purple metallic tree with felted ornaments of your own:

It's the other white meat.

Please note the socks on this patient carder/spinner:

I do have a penchant for encountering frightening, Cabbage-Patch-like felted objets d'art:

Here's the hurdy-gurdy man, who was about one-fifth as annoying as the magician-slash-comedian who was terrorizing entertaining the children:

In case you're wondering about the food -- Marilyn wasn't joking about the fried pickles:

But don't worry, there were other choices:

Dolores, this one's for you.

Ewe go girl!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Feast your eyes

I'm tired, I'm achy, I'm sunburned and I'm a bit poorer, but I'm also very happy. Rhinebeck was wonderful and I'm thankful I was able to go. Tonight, before I collapse into my bed, I'll leave you with this set of photos. One of the overwhelming things about a festival like Rhinebeck is the constant barrage of input to your senses. It's inspiring but also exhausting. This will give you a flavor of the kinds of images that one sees and remembers.

Close-up of angora sweater by Jamie Harmon.

Lace shawl.

Handmade baskets.

Prize-winning entrelac scarf.

Section of chullo.

Lace sampler.

Woven cloth.

Camel-silk blend roving from Spirit Trail Fiberworks.


Prize-winning handspun.

More Spirit-Trail yarns.

Behold: the gaint pumpkin!

Friday, October 20, 2006


I'm going to pack a back full of Black Bunny yarns that are ready to go. So if you're interested, find me. I'll open my raincoat and let you have a look. (Wait a minute, maybe I better rephrase that....)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Pre-Rhinebeck Post

Okay, I think I mentioned before that I'm going to be a square for Rhinebeck Blogger Bingo. For those of you who don't know me, I am about 5' 6", chin-length dirty blond hair and a big round Polish moon face. I will probably be carrying a large LL Bean tote bag with my initials in red (CJS). I will also try to remember to wear my Lyme Disease vinyl bracelet - it's lime/lyme green, har, har. I will probably have a Canon camera around my neck. I am highly likely to be in the company of other bloggers, particularly The Knitting Curmudgeon, KnitterGuy, NorskyBear, and QueerJoe. Please say hi. I am always so surprised and happy when people who read my blog introduce themselves. (Of course, at Maryland Sheep & Wool, I had the very humbling experience of going to the blogger meetup, and every time I told someone what my blog was, they looked puzzled and said "I've never heard of it.")

Finished the languishing red vest project and although it's quite simple, I'm very pleased with it.

Good thing, too, because it won't fit N. much longer.

I'm also working on 2 little kid sweaters for Dulaan or Afghans 4 Afghans. This vest is done in Nashua Wooly Stripes; it's a free pattern that is knit sideways.

There were a few things about the pattern I didn't like; the angled fronts of the vest curl, and the pattern suggests a crocheted edging, which I wasn't crazy about and ripped out. (May be more my lame-ass crocheting than anything else.) But I am in love with Wooly Stripes. It would substitute very well for Noro's Kureyon, as it's a 100% wool, loosely spun, self-striping yarn at around the same gauge. However, it has some distinct advantages over Kureyon (which, p.s. I'm not denigrating because I'll always love Kureyon -- those color runs!), namely it's uniformly spun (no stretches that trickle out to a thread, then get slubby a few yards later); the color ranges only span 3 or 4 colors, instead of the 8+ colors you can get with Kureyon (easier to match stripes and easier to tell what the finished color will look like); and it's softer than Kureyon. And I found no knots in any of the skeins.

The second is with Nashua Julia, a worsted-weight wool/alpaca/mohair blend. This is a very nice worsted weight yarn. It has a slight halo but shows great stitch definition and comes in lots of good, rich colors. I picked up the Julia at a long-ago Stitches and figured I'd play with it since I liked the Wooly Stripes so much.

Also a free pattern recommended by the Dulaan Project: it's a T-shirt-styled sweater. I knit the bottom in the round up to the armpits, then cast on stitches on either side for the sleeves. Very simple and quick to knit; also very warm.

I am working on another juicy post about the seamy underbelly of the yarn world, but I doubt it'll be ready 'til next week. In the meantime, you can be sure I'll take many photos this weekend so that those of you who can't make it to Rhinebeck will feel like you did.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Shannon Okey again (we'd met earlier this year) and of meeting Kim Werker. Shannon and Kim are, collectively and individually, writers of knitting, crochet and/or spinning titles like KnitGrrl and Teach Yourself Visually Crochet and some others (having messed up who wrote which with whom once before, I'm gonna let you figure it out). Kim and Shannon were finishing up a book-signing tour, promoting Shannon's Spin To Knit, from Interweave Press, and Kim's Get Hooked, from Watson-Guptill.

In addition to getting a lovely dedication in my personal copy of the book, we got to see Shannon's Ashford Joy, which was amazingly portable and adorable, and we got to see Shannon spin on the Joy,

barefoot (you'll be happy to know she reports no problems with fungus),

and we even got to see Kim spin on the Joy

(for only her second time ever spinning, she did amazingly well!).

There was a nice assortment of Rosie's customers who stopped to meet Shannon and Kim and get their books signed, including Sherry, who is knitting with some Black Bunny merino in this photo:

and who already knit up one of the patterns from Spin to Knit, called Orangina (and available on

And we got to watch and listen as Wendy interviewed Shannon and Kim for Knitty D and the City's podcast.

Silent Auction Win

As promised, here's a photo of the quilted block I won at the silent auction last weekend.

Now I'm wondering whether, before hanging it, we really ought to get around to repainting the hallway like we've been meaning to do for quite some time. (Due to some mishaps with a child gate, we've had to spackle and patch a few large holes in the wall, and eight years of kids and their grubby fingers has also taken a toll.) Yeah, like I need another project....

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Happy National Coming Out Day!

It was called to my attention this morning that today is National Coming Out Day. This day is part of an "on-going campaign to empower gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and allied Americans to live openly and honestly about their lives."

I always feel a little bit goofy getting on my soapbox about the need for respect and equality for GLBT folks in this country and world, mainly because I'm a soccer mom, suburban-living heterosexual and I don't want to come across as a poseur. But I strongly believe that the fight for GLBT rights is the civil rights struggle of my generation (well, okay, we need more work on civil rights, too but today people generally give at least lip service to racial equality, and it's enshrined in our laws).

So to my gay, lesbian, transgendered and/or bisexual friends and readers, I say "Rock on." This heterosexual, suburb-dwelling soccer mom is behind you 150%.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Field trips

Today's theme is field trips. I took one this weekend, attending a quilting show in northeastern Pennsylvania, close to where I grew up, to sell knitting wares on behalf of Rosie's. I'll wait until I have photos to give you the full flavor of my weekend, but the quilting ladies were incredibly sweet to me. I had the unexpected pleasure of winning a silent auction bid for a quilted piece which I'll use as a wall hanging of some sort (question for the quilters out there: how should I hang this on my wall?). I was told that the pattern is modeled after an Amish crib quilt that the maker saw in a magazine. It was a gorgeous weekend for leaf-peeping in the Poconos, too.

This morning was my second field trip. The twins' preschool went to visit the firehouse in honor of Fire Prevention Week. It was a hoot to see all these four- and five-year-olds completely discombobulating the firemen simply by asking them questions like "What do you do if this firehouse catches on fire?" and "What if my house is on fire and I scream out the window but you don't hear me?"

Tomorrow's field trip is to my Lyme doctor in Jersey, about an hour's drive but well worth it to know that I've got a doc who knows what he's doing. I've had some recurrence of symptoms which has greatly concerned me.

And the next big field trip, in a week and a half: Rhinebeck! I can hardly believe it's so soon. It'll do my heart good to hang with my knitting pals, fondle fiber, visit some sheep and hopefully score some undyed yarn and rovings for Black Bunny Fibers. And for those of you who'll be playing Rhinebeck Blogger Bingo, I am a square on Saturday and Sunday. I'll have a Black Bunny Fibers tote bag with me, or you can comb through the archives for photos of my big round moon face.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

How does it offend me? Let me count the ways.

It's just so darn hard to figure out what is the most disgusting and offensive aspect of the Mark Foley/Congressional page scandal. But what the heck, I'll give it a try.

  1. Congressman sends icky, sexual emails and IMs to underage kids working as Congressional pages.
  2. Congressman claims he was drunk during all the email and IMs sent. I was curious about this and checked the time stamps (some were blacked out, some were not): one message was sent in the middle of the day, and another shortly after a war appropriations vote that Foley participated in. This suggests to me that either he's lying or he's pretty much spent the last five years in a constant state of intoxication. Guess which one I think it is?
  3. Congressman also happens to be head of committee in charge of missing and exploited children. (I guess it's a great way to score free child porn. "Honestly, Officer, it's research!")
  4. Republican pundits repeatedly invoking Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, when Lewinsky was 22 years old, well over the age of consent.
  5. Republican pundits equating homosexuality with pedophilia. In fact, statistics show that most pedophiles are heterosexual.
  6. Republican leaders and at least one newspaper were made aware of these messages but did nothing.
  7. Republican pundits blame Democrats for timing and "orchestration" of the scandal, when ABC News, which broke the story, has said Republican sources disclosed the emails.
  8. Dennis Hastert refuses to resign, and continues to deny his role in overlooking the scandal, even though evidence is rapidly mounting that he was, in fact, told of it and did nothing.
  9. President Bush defends Hastert.
  10. Repeated characterization of emails as merely "friendly," despite explicit talk of orgasm, etc.
  11. Right-wing pundits blame the victim, saying the page "wasn't coerced" and "egged" Foley on (e.g., Matt Drudge, Michael Savage).
  12. Republican pundits blame "tolerance and diversity" for fostering pedophilia (See CNN Situation Room broadcast) and claim that if they had disclosed the emails and taken action against Foley, they'd be accused of "gay-bashing." (See No. 5 above)
  13. UPDATE: After reading today's paper, I had to add Dennis Hastert's comments Tuesday, that forcing his resignation would aid Islamist terrorists. ("We are the insulation to protect this country, and if they get to me it looks like they could affect our election as well.")

It's an embarassment of riches, it is.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I'm hypnotized by the Koigu Log Cabin project. The colors, the butteryness of the yarn, the frequent changing of colors (perfect when you have a short attention span)....

In other news, if you live near me, best beware of the great "Doo-rag" bandit:

Oh yeah, the September book report:

1. The Restless Sleep: Inside New York's Cold Case Squad, by Stacy Horn. Insider look at a real cold case squad -- which, of course, is nothing like TV but compelling nonetheless.

2. The Epicure's Lament, by Kate Christenson. I lost interest in this about fifty or sixty pages in; my guiding rule is that when I start to think "oh, I really ought to read more since I started it" -- it's time to move on. The book is written from the first-person point of view of a 40s-ish wastrel with a terminal disease, and instead of finding his rambling funny and eccentric, I found it simply boring. So I moved on. (I should have known better, since I disliked In the Drink.)

3. Breakfast with Tiffany, by Edwin Wintle: I heard the author on NPR and thought the book sounded charming. It is and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Describes the culture shock of a forty-something, single man in NYC who agrees to become guardian to his fourteen-year-old niece. Omigod, I know, right?

4. The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell. Collection of essays about history and politics that makes you laugh but also has great resonance.

5. Take the Cannoli, by Sarah Vowell. Liked the previous one so much I read this next. Several priceless, read-out-loud-to-husband parts, although not quite as good as no. 4.

Monday, October 02, 2006

No-Bull Book Review: Modern Classics

I had the great pleasure of meeting Louisa Harding at TNNA in June. My first reaction was how young she seemed: I mean, this woman has already had an illustrious design career at Rowan, has her own yarn line, and is putting out two books this year. My second reaction was how charming and personable she was. She radiated enthusiasm for her yarns and seemed thrilled to be following her own creative muse, designing yarns that would exactly match her mind's eye view of garments knit in them.

Hot off the presses (from our old friend Martingale, no less) is Modern Classics (Martingale MSRP$31.95 but the current Amazon price is $21.09*).

I quite like this book and I have the feeling I'll be making many of the patterns over the course of the next few mon years.

First, let me get this out of my system: I absolutely loathe this model:

Okay, now that the petty is out of my system, I feel better. Overall, the book is stylish and nicely put together: lots of color photos, good schematics, photographs that let you get a pretty good idea of what the finished garment is supposed to look like. I might have chosen a slightly darker ink (the patterns are printed in a taupe color that might require a good reading lamp for some) but this is a minor quibble. There is a brief how-to-knit section but it doesn't monopolize the book, and since many of these patterns are user-friendly for beginner knitters, this seems appropriate. There are also brief sections on finishing, how to read charts and other skills beyond knitting and purling which will help a newer knitter achieve more professional results.

On to the patterns. The patterns are organized into three sections, by yarn weight. The first set of patterns use DK-weight yarn (5.5 sts to the inch), the second worsted (5 to the inch), and the third use aran-weight yarn (4.5 to the inch). All the designs in the book are shown in Louisa Harding's yarns, several of which I've seen at Rosie's and look to be quite nice. But since these are probably the three most popular weights of yarn, substitution should be very easy and I'd be surprised if you couldn't find at least one pattern that you could readily make from your stash. I never really thought about categorizing designs by weight but I like it. It saves you the bother of flipping through each section trying to remember which pattern might match the gauge on which yarn.

The patterns are indeed classic in the sense that they don't feature excessively trendy design elements. These are the kinds of basic sweaters that may not be the most challenging knitting, and may not have the masterpiece cachet of an Alice Starmore fair isle or an intricate lace shawl, but I suspect they will be the garments you reach for time and time again, the old faithfuls. I see armholes that are nipped in, some patterns with body shaping while others are straight, and design touches that will add some interest to the knitting while not requiring superhuman powers of concentration, such as a single cable that runs down the front of a sweater, or a band of stranded colorwork (especially lovely) that runs across the bottom hem and sleeve cuffs like so:

The size ranges are excellent: Harding gives a whopping six sizes for each pattern, to fit bust size 32 through 42 (even numbers). Rock on, Louisa. The patterns are rated on a scale of 1 to 3 for difficulty, which will also help newer knitters select a suitable pattern.

Another feature that I like about this book, and which will increase its utility, is that different variations are given for some of the patterns. For example, a fairly simple fitted sweater is shown in three versions: turtleneck in a mohair blend multicolor, a V-neck in a multicolor angora blend, and a short-sleeve version with a scoop neck in a merino/cashmere solid-color blend. Even some of the patterns that don't feature variations in the neckline or length are shown in two different yarns, e.g., one solid and one multi. This creates a bit of extra work for the designer and her staff, requiring the knitting of a second version of the sweater for photographing, but is a nice touch for knitters who have trouble envisioning what a garment will look like in a different style of yarn.

If these sweaters are not especially cutting-edge, if they don't push the boundaries of knitting like, say, Teva Durham's Loop-d-Loop or Norah Gaughan's Knitting Nature, well, that's okay with me. These aren't meant to be boundary-busting garments; they're meant to be user-friendly, versatile patterns that you can make over and over, in different variations and with different yarns. Seasoned knitters who like designing their own stuff may want to check out the book before purchasing to see if it's worthwhile for them, or if they feel that they could whip up their own similar garments without a pattern. Knitters interested in extremely trendy looks or who want challenging garments to test their knitting mettle will also be advised to look before purchasing. But if you're like me, and sometimes you just want to turn your brain off, watch "Law and Order" and knit along with someone else's pattern, you may find this book a useful addition to your knitting library.

*Okay, what's with the MSRP of thirty-two bucks for a paperback book with twenty patterns? Hmm? Luckily, you can find it way cheaper if you look around. Don't piss me off, Martingale.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Really Rosie's

The weather was weird yesterday -- sunny one minute, cloudy the next, then drizzly -- so it was a good day to be at Rosie's fondling the yarn. It was a particularly fun day for me. Several of my favorite customers came in; working with Ed and Tina is always fun; and Tina & I did the window display in a Halloween motif. We love doing window displays. It's amazing how much fun we manage to have with ten bucks of seasonal crap from Target. We had really hoped to do a kind of installation piece including a small TV screen running an endless loop of "The Life and Death of a Pumpkin" (search for it on YouTube; it's hilarious) but we thought that might scare away too many customers. "Free-e-e-e-do-o-o-o-m!"

I got sneak peeks at two new knitting books, both by male knitters, that the shop had been sent as part of promotional materials. One is Brandon Mably's new book and the other is Tricky Tricot's Knitting with Balls. Both should be out in a few weeks and each looks quite promising in its own way.

I also had the pleasure of meeting a fellow Philly-area blogger, Purlewe, who I'd not met before in person. I knew Purlewe from Knitter's Review's forums, many moons ago, and will always love her for dropping off an extremely kind note for me at the shop right after my dear kitty died. Purlewe stopped by yesterday, wearing a cool sweater knit in Noro Yoroi, and I learned something else fun: she has had her photographs featured in Interweave's KnitScene magazine. Yep, the last issue features some of her knitter-on-the-street photos, taking shots of people in Philadelphia wearing handknit garments. She was taking some more photos for the next issue, so of course all the Rosie's regulars had to show off their stuff. (We are shameless muggers.) Even Ed consented to have his gorgeous legs photographed in their handknit socks.

Also in the shop were the inimitable Knitty D and the City, podcasters extraordinaire, who've developed quite a following in a very short time. They are moving to their own URL and planning lots of fun, on-the-spot reportage, like broadcasts from Rhinebeck and Stitches. I've been really lame about updating my sidebar links, but I'll have to do it soon to add some of these faves.

In knitting news, I've been chugging away on the Hopalong vest for Nick

finished the neckband on the poor abandoned vest (which I believe is knit in a wool/cotton blend from Goddess Yarns that I bought at Stitches a while back)

almost finished a very basic rollbrim baby hat for a new baby boy (Artful Yarns Serenade, my new baby cap yarn of choice because it's so damn soft and snuggly)

and began a completely fun modular project using up some of the teeny skeins of Koigu I scored at Maryland Sheep & Wool two years ago.

It's essentially the Log Cabin style knitting that is discussed in Mason-Dixon Knitting. I'm not sure if it will end up as a scarf or a shawl or a throw; I'm going to see where it takes me and go from there. I've only finished the first piece and the next ball I'm going to use is shown in the photo.

It's funny; I'd hoped when the kids were back in school every day I'd get more done, but it seems that merely recovering from the chaos of the summer -- overflowing messy closets, kids' outgrown clothes and toys that need to be weeded out and passed on, some overdue gardening projects (like the shrubs that didn't make it and need to be replaced) -- is eating up that extra time.

Not to mention dipping my toe in the water of school volunteering. While being "trained" how to word-process "books" written by the kids at my eldest's school (it's really sweet; the kids write a story and we print it out for them on nice paper, like book pages; they illustrate it; then we bind the pages into a little book for them & their parents as a keepsake), I was introduced to the wacky world of PTO moms. Hoo-boy, some of these ladies drink coffee just to mellow out. (I think I stole that line from someone but I can't remember who.) My meeting was with a woman that I hated on sight (mainly because she was wearing a complete Lily Pulitzer ensemble, in hot pink and kelly green no less, from head to toe, including matching bag with embroidery that matched the skirt. The logistics of color-coordinating one's entire outfit, down to changing handbags every day, still has me reeling.) but who turned out to be quite nice (okay, my bad, judging someone on the overweening preppitude of their clothing). The PTO does great work for the school and they sponsor a lot of activities that are really fun for the kids, but some of these Alpha Moms scare the crap out of me.

Coming this week: Louisa Harding's new book reviewed, and maybe a ribbing primer (didn't somebody ask for that a long time ago?)