Category Archives: Yarn is my friend

Howdy from back-from-the-mountains

For the last couple of years, if a band I like is playing somewhere interesting, I’ll pick up a ticket and plan a cheap vacation around it. Airfare is easy if you pack light, and distances seem short when you’re from California, a state that takes days to drive across. So that’s how I ended up in Laramie, Wyoming last month to see Iron & Wine and Gregory Alan Isakov.

I spent a few days first in Fort Collins, Colorado, nursing a cold before I headed up to Laramie. On the way back down toward Denver, I swung by Gypsy Wools in Boulder, which carries print copies of Flatirons, and saw their store sample on display.

Flatirons at Gypsy Wools
Flatirons store sample at Gypsy Wools – See it on Ravelry!

The last time I’d been in the store, it was still in progress, but this time it was hanging right there in the store, next to one of the print version of the pattern. I *think* I managed not to hop from foot to foot with excitement when I saw it, but I was definitely glowing when the owner, Barb, shook my hand and told me they’d sold out of the pattern. I’ve really got to work on my habit of getting squeaky-excited and holding both hands to my mouth when cool stuff like that happens.

I left with a light step and a slightly lighter wallet, thanks to my “I don’t buy souvenirs, but local things I can’t get at home don’t count” policy. That’s why I underpack my luggage by a few pounds on the way in, and make up the difference in yarn, whiskey and local beer on my way back.

It’s hard to resist yarn when I’m out there. I keep finding yarns from Colorado, Wyoming and thereabouts with muted, deep colorways clearly inspired by the colors of the landscape, and they really speak to me. Please, someone make yarn that looks just like a storm rolling up over the prairie:

On this return trip, loaded down with yarn from Palouse YarnsMJ Yarns, Mountain Meadow, Your Daily Fiber and Gypsy Wools, not to mention a handle of bourbon from Dancing Pines, I came in just half a pound under the limit at the airport:

(Fifty pounds seems like an incredible amount of luggage to me. I usually fly with a tiny carry-on bag that fits under the airplane seat in front of me,   but on this trip I’d brought gear for several days of camping in potentially snowy winter weather. Only once I got there did I learn I can cheaply and easily rent camping gear all over notoriously outdoorsy Colorado. Whoops.)

Yarn is my friend


Photographing my stash for Ravelry is the most ridiculous pastime I’ve indulged in lately. I have a big glass fishbowl full of completed handknits that don’t have photos, and my project page is all gap-toothed and filled with grainy cell phone placeholder images, but my stash page: gorgeous. To my eyes, anyway.

I could justify it by saying that having an accurate, illustrated stash helps me plan out handknits and samples, and paging through yarn photos in my stash stays the impulse to stock up on more skeins, but that would be beside the point.

It’s more about how easy it is to shoot yarn (lay it on the wooden chest by the window; shoot; move to the couch and upload photos) than knit projects (clear an area to shoot in; locate or be a model; shoot a zillion photos that make the handknits look good and the model look even better; if I’m taking photos of me, lose the camera remote down a sleeve or in a pocket and have to stop everything to find it; apologize a zillion times that I insist on shooting at wide-open apertures on an old manual lens so an embarrassingly large percentage of photos end up missing “gorgeous and atmospheric” and land squarely at “hopelessly out of focus”; get the photos off the camera; marvel at how many goofy expressions people make when they try to look model-serious, especially myself; upload photos).

Yarn sits. Yarn looks pretty and full of possibilities. Yarn doesn’t complain about getting the sun in its eyes. Yarn is my friend.

So dreamy!

You know you are bad off crush-wise when you pick out a yarn because it matches a guy’s eyes.

And plan out an entire hat of 1×1 ribbing.

And have been silently noting the color and raglan decreases on the machine-knit hat he wears all the time.

And haven’t even asked him if he needs a hat, you just plan to stick it in his backpack when he’s not looking once it’s done.

But seriously, the “Rainwater” colorway of tosh sock perfectly matches his SUPER DREAMY blue-gray eyes! And he knows how much effort goes into handknits because, get this, in his own words he “can knit a little,” and I’ve seen an in-progress project of his with my own eyes, so what else can I do?


Everyone’s got their breaking point
For me it’s spiders
For you, it’s me
— The Tragically Hip, “Spiders”

Spiders are a fact of living in a Victorian house. They may not appreciate the natural light as much as the lease-holders do, but they do love the high ceilings, poor weatherproofing, natural building materials and strange architectural nooks. If you live in a Victorian, it helps to cultivate a mild interest in them as pleasantly silent and unobtrusive roommates — roommates who occasionally, for their own quiet and many-legged reasons, crawl into your hallway to die.

One of those strange architectural nooks, a doorless, foot-deep half-closet in a tiny half-bedroom, is where I keep my yarn — along with all the other stuff I can’t easily fit in my apartment’s minimal closets. What with being crap at sleep lately thanks to stress and situational depression and late working hours, I start a lot of projects late at night. Thanks to those same factors, there’s quite a bit of clutter in the way of my yarn stash. This means a lot of leaning over toward the yarn bins and clawing through them to pull up bags of yarn. Most of them are sorted by weight, type and intention, but every once in awhile I pull up a bag of gorgeous skeins that have nothing in common with each other. I guessed that there was some interior logic to them, but it took me awhile to realize what they were: yarn from when my mom was dying.

I visited a lot when she was sick, but there’s only so much you can take of waiting on someone who’s dying. Hell, Mom couldn’t even take it herself; the last time I saw her, she split halfway through the day on her scooter. I bumped into her in the driveway. She said, looking embarrassed and a little defiant, she was sorry, but she got cabin fever and couldn’t stay trapped in the house all day. I told her no, of course, I completely understood and didn’t want her cooped up for my sake, and I watched her scooter grumble away over the pavement.

Whenever I got my own panicky itch, I’d strike out for the local yarn store. It was only a few blocks away, carried natural fibers, and was relatively quiet for a busy weekend shopping district. I’d go there half blind with restlessness and foreshadowing, and paw through bins until I found something I liked. I’d buy a couple skeins of something interesting with no plan for what to make, stuff them in my bag and throw them in my yarn stash when I got home. I never really remembered what I’d bought because I wasn’t buying yarn, I was buying ten, twenty minutes of my mom not dying.

I miss her. It’s more yarn than I realized. I haven’t pulled it all out and sorted it yet because while the piles of candy-apple red yarn I’d earmarked for making things for Mom don’t bother me, these skeins are a little history of my own grief, and I’m a little afraid of how big the pile will be.

History of a yarn: Navy blue sock wool

Sometimes you buy yarn. And sometimes it turns up on your doorstep like the wayward stray pit bulls with smiling eyes and lolling tongues that turn up all over my town, Oakland, and you just can’t say no to it. And since I love anything with a story, I’m telling the stories of just how parts of my stash turned up with their tails wagging.

A couple years ago my aunt Arlette, the one I’m named after, packed up to move to Switzerland for a few months. Then after that, who knows? “Chile, maybe?” she would say in the months before she left. “Your mother said Argentina but I don’t just want to go shopping like she does. I want to travel.”

My aunt had been tied down by a demanding job and an even more demanding cat for several years, and you could tell she was getting tired of being boring. “I feel like an old lady,” she would say, with a look that was half disgust and half confusion. Somehow in just a few years she had gone from a nationally ranked salsa dancer and troublemaker to, as she saw it, a frustrated, bored nobody. She wore sweaters with big appliqués of kittens on them and nursed a bad knee and a Babeli, the neediest cat you ever saw, and she brooded about getting old and fat and boring.

A couple years ago, after moping for months about feeling burned out and frustrated, she quit her job. “You know that song ‘Take This Job and Shove It’?” she said, cackling loudly. “Boy, I wish I could have told them that. That would’ve been great, eh?”

Her long search for a suitable home for her cat ended when Babeli got sick and had to be put down. Tante Arlette was distraught, but as she wiped smeared tears from her face, you could tell she was a little relieved to have one less thing tying her down.

Before she left, I asked her more about her colorful history one night when she and my dad and some of my friends were over for fondue. Wine was flowing freely, along with kirsch and my late uncle’s homemade plum brandy — handmade, someone would remind me every time the bottle was unstoppered, since he had squeezed the plums in his fists to get out the juice.

This is a woman who joined the circus as a young woman to tour Europe as a dancer, and in the off seasons learned to be a trapeze artist and a gymnast. She was also the knife-thrower’s assistant — you know, the one he throws knives at.

“He was a drunk,” she said. “I had holes in my clothes because he would throw the knives too close to me and they would pin my clothes to the board. Sometimes they would catch and it was hard to get away, which was bad, because for the final part of the act he was supposed to throw the last knife right at my heart, and I would step out of the way at the last second. Finally I told them he was a drunk, no way in hell would I do it anymore. So he started using his kids instead.”

She’s a riot with a history, a bullet scar up one arm, a Corvette — and double-pointed needles. She and my mom, long before they left Switzerland for the States, were both sent to a finishing school.

“We learned needlepoint, embroidery, sewing,” my mom says. “You had to know how to fry an egg, change a diaper and knit a sock.”

After a lifetime of it, my aunt decided she was sick of knitting socks and handed me the last of her stash: an untouched skein of rough blue sock wool, a kinked-from-frogging second skein and an index card with her notes for a sock pattern. Her patterns look a lot like her recipes: minimal, verging on incomprehensible. She’s very particular, so once she finds the secret of the sock or fondue or salad she likes, she makes it the same way every time. She doesn’t need recipes, just prompts to remind her how much cheese or how many decreases to add in the right places. They’re beautiful, economical little things with precise, boarding-school penmanship.

It’s been two years, and she’s moved back to the states. She’s quieter, less pissed off, less restless. I’m not sure what to think of it, any more than I know quite what to do with the yarn. I just know I like having them around.

Sock yarn and pattern

Night owl

I live in an apartment by myself now. I have room for both of my army surplus six-foot steel worktables (one is in the living room!) and when I turn on all the lights at 1 a.m. to take pictures of yarn, I don’t have to explain it to anyone but my pets.

Noro Retro in color Ruby
Lookit all that red!
More Noro.


Smoke and chocolate

Knitter, blogger and urban gardening adventurer Crazy Aunt Purl has something radical to say about saving money:

I have found over and over again the number one way to increase the amount of money you have in the bank is to just stop spending it.

More than once, I’ve thought about doing just that — the way I think about, say, climbing Everest on a package tour; or getting my back and shoulders and arms tattooed like a Japanese gangster’s, all covered in secret ink under my clothes; or throwing out all my clutter and painting my floors and walls white like in a chic Swedish apartment; or what it would feel like to walk on the moon and whether it’d feel crunchy under my feet; or the first thing I’d do if I became President.

Continue reading Smoke and chocolate