Thursday, June 19, 2014


I first heard the term "Schubert's Unfinished Symphony" when I was barely larger than two skeins of super bulky yarn.  My family was about to attend a concert at the old Grant Park Band Shell downtown, across the street from the Field Museum, and this monumental piece of music was on the program.  With the wonderful illogic of a child's mind, I concluded that the symphony had earned its name because it had a very abrupt ending due to the sudden death of Mr. Schubert.  I anticipated that the piece would end right in the middle of a melody and that the conductor and the orchestral musicians would walk somberly off the stage as we, the audience, were left with a sense of unfulfilled longing, wanting nothing more than a satisfying conclusion to the piece we had just heard.  I remember being enraptured by the music, eagerly awaiting the moment when the empty chaos of silence would take over the stage.  While waiting for that moment, I fantasized about what had actually happened to Schubert.  Who or what had stopped him from finishing what, in my mind, was obviously his last composition.  Had his quill written its last note because his house blew up?  Was he poisoned by Beethoven (at the time, the only other classical composer whose name I was familiar with)?  Had he run out of ink and when going out to buy some more, had he been run over by a team of oxen?  I was on the edge of the picnic blanket, an uneaten chicken leg in my hand as I anxiously awaited the dramatic drop of the conductor's baton.  And then  ...  What the heck? ...  The piece ended not in mid phrase but with a very obvious conclusion.  After a dark and foreboding opening, it finished a half hour later with a peaceful and uplifting E major chord.  It was many years later when I finally learned that this magnificent orchestral work was described as unfinished only because Schubert had completed just two of the expected four movements of the symphony.  I also eventually discovered that Beethoven could not have poisoned Schubert as his own death preceded Schubert's by a little over a year.

And now we have our own unfinished opus, our own Unfinished Yarn Symphony.  It is a work that will hopefully be completed by many composers.  A few days ago, Montoya Fiber Studio held a yarn bombing.  Now don't go calling Homeland Security on us.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a yarn bombing is nothing more than an explosion of yarn meant to decorate a specific outdoor area in an artistic manner.  A few friendly customers showed up and helped Cathy decorate the tree and the parking meters directly in front of the store on Prairie Avenue.  Also, a number of the meters on the main drag of Central Street are now smiling as they proudly display a colorful yarn adornment around their previously boring necks.  But we are not finished.  There are still a large number of unadorned meters jealous of the decorated ones and hoping that someone will have the courtesy to decorate their bland nakedness with wild and colorful yarn.  So for those of you who feel suddenly inspired and who would like to participate in this ongoing project, here is your chance.  All you have to do is pick out some colorful remnant yarn that is screaming to be freed from your stash and knit up a rectangle 7.5 inches wide and 12 inches long.  When it's done, bring it in to the store and Cathy will provide the necessary finishing material to add it to our collection of fashionably festooned parking meters.  I myself plan to make two.  One in purple and white to honor that big University down the street and another one in some eye-opening splash of color that has yet to be conceived.  I'll have to see what I have in my own stash.

Curiously, a number of bedazzled onlookers asked Cathy and her yarn bombing cohorts what the purpose of the whole thing was.  What hidden metaphorical meaning was there in this vibrant display of street color?  I was minding the store at the time but I wish I could have been there to instantly invent a deep philosophical reasoning for this artistic demonstration.  But really, yarn bombing does not have to have any particular significance.  Anyone can give it a meaning if they so wish, but that is a personal thing.  I myself prefer to think that, sometimes, fun art is just fun art.


Friday, April 25, 2014


Some customers at Montoya Fiber Studio have been openly wondering about my blog.  Does Fred have writer's block?  Is his computer not working?  Has the blog been shut down by Homeland Security?  These are all questions that have been posed to my wife, Cathy, owner of Montoya Fiber Studio.  Her response?  "Don't know.  You'll have to ask him."  Here then is my official response to these queries.  No, I do not have writer's block.  Only professional writers are allowed to suffer through that indignity.  My computer works fine though I myself still struggle in mastering all its wizardry.  And finally, Homeland Security has informed me that my blog, though offensive to some key people in the Government, will be allowed to continue on its merry way.  What's been causing the delay (around six months) is this:  I have been working on a secret project that will revolutionize the world of yarn.

Like most non-scientists, I have a very slim understanding of the work of Albert Einstein.  Yes, I know that E = mc squared stands for Energy equals Mass times the Speed of Light squared and I know that this formula changed forever the world of science, leading to uses of atomic energy both wonderful and devastating.  I also know that his General Theory of Relativity takes the study of  gravity to a very advanced level and allows for some weird fourth dimension called spacetime.  But do I comprehend the how or the why of Einstein's work?  Of course not.  I'm having enough trouble grasping the concepts of Fair Isle knitting.  But it is Einstein's other work that has been taking up my free time these last six months.  I speak of the groundbreaking work that Einstein did for the SSK, the Society for Sophisticated Knitting.

Apparently, Einstein was a closet knitter and worked feverishly on improving the technique of knitting so that more people would enjoy and benefit from this great craft.  His work on the Raglan sweater is revolutionary.  But his Raglan sweater formulas are only a small percentage of the knitting ideas that he conceptualized.  Scribbled notes exist of mathematical knitting formulas that remain unexplained.  They are kept under lock and key in the SSK vaults in Switzerland.  Due to the deep respect that the Swiss people have for my knitting blog, the SSK was gracious enough to allow me a peek at these undeveloped ideas of Einstein.  One particular formula grabbed my attention.  K1(P2) > YO squared.  Any knitter might theorize that this formula stands for Knit one times Purl two is greater than Yarn Over squared.    Of course, from a knitting perspective, this makes no sense whatsoever.  After several weeks of drinking nothing but cheap Swiss wine, I theorized that what Einstein was trying to create was the perfect synthetic yarn.  A giant mental leap led me to the Periodic Table where I discovered that K, P, Y and O are symbols for chemical elements.  That would be K for Potassium, P for Phosphorus, Y for Yttrium and O for Oxygen.  The numbers refer to isotopes.  Through means both legal and illegal I was able to come up with these elements in their pure forms.  (Let me tell you something.  That Yttrium is not easy to find.)  Four months of experimentation in my home lab has me on the verge of perfecting this most scintillating of synthetic yarns.  The main problem is that it only comes out in Super, Super, Super Bulky yarn, knittable only with size 35 needles.  Also, it can only exist in the color yellow and it does not accept traditional dyes.  Once I manage to iron out these minor kinks, this beautiful yarn will be available for purchase exclusively at Montoya Fiber Studio.  We will also be selling lead lined knitting gloves as knitting with this yarn for more than two continuous hours will make your hands glow.

Speaking of Raglan sweaters, notice the fine detailed work on the one my Einstein doll is wearing in the window of Montoya Fiber Studio.  The pattern for this miniaturized sweater is available for free for anyone able to successfully explain to me what the heck spacetime is or for anyone who buys 35 balls of yarn at one time.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Soon it will not only be sweeping the nation, but also the whole wide world..  I speak of the phenomenon called Slow TV.  I'm not sure who started it, but the Norwegians, bless their sweet Scandinavian souls, have taken it to a new level.  It is practically an art from with them. 

The basic concept is simple enough to grasp.  A TV network chooses an event and televises the entire thing, preferably live, and hopes that a sizeable audience will tune in to watch.  Now when I say event, I'm not talking about a hundred meter dash, or the Kentucky Derby or even a whole baseball game.  These would take around ten seconds, two minutes and two and a half hours, respectively.  None of these are what Slow TV is about.  Slow TV would focus on an event that lasts at least five hours with no limit to the maximum.  You take a camera and you stick it out the window of a train going from Chicago to New York and you televise it live.  That's Slow TV.  Or you put the camera in the front of a canoe and this camera slowly rotates 180 degrees back and forth and someone paddles this canoe from the beginning of the Mississippi River way up in Minnesota to the very end in Louisiana.  That's Extreme Slow TV.  Now I know what you're thinking.  Who the heck is going to watch that?  Well, the Norwegians have done exactly this, only in Norway, of course.  And the audience response was incredible.  Absolutely spectacular ratings.  More than half the country tuned in to watch some of the train and boat rides at some point in the telecast.  They even televised a burning fireplace for five hours and had Christmas Carols playing in the background.  Once again, the Norwegian viewers did not disappoint.  They tuned in to watch in droves.

So why would I write about this radical new concept in television broadcasting in my knitting blog?  What exactly does this have to do with knitting?  Well, isn't it obvious?  Here's my idea.  You take a few sheep that are ready to be sheared.  You shear them.  You clean the wool. You spin the raw wool into yarn.  You dye the yarn,  You let the yarn dry,  You knit  a sweater out of the wool.  There's your show.  I  don't know about you, but I would certainly tune in and watch this.  At least for a little bit.  Except for watching the just-dyed yarn dry, there is always something exciting going on.  The whole concept sounds like it would be absolutely breathtaking.  Well guess what?  THE NORWEGIANS HAVE ALREADY DONE THIS!  HA, HA!!  You heard right.  They recently televised like a nine hour show where, except for the dyeing and drying of the yarn, the audience watched the creation of a sweater from the first clip of the sheep's wool to the very last sewn seam of the completed knit sweater.  The ratings are not in yet.  But I bet they were out of this world.

I will do some research and see if there is a DVD available of this earth-shattering event.  I will then try to convince Cathy to sell copies of this nine hour extravaganza at the store.  I bet these DVD's will sell like hotcakes.  If not, we will sell the edited version which only shows the highlights  This abbreviated DVD will only be five hours long.  Reserve your copy today.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


I've been heavily hinting to Cathy that I should teach a class at the store.  Certainly not something that I am not capable of teaching like Entrelac or Fair Isle or Intarsia.  I'll leave the instruction of those rather advanced techniques to Cathy.  What I want to do is to conduct a class in something unique.  Original knitting designs that no one in the history of the world has ever before attempted.  What do you think of this?  I intend to run a series of classes where you knit a map of the United States, with each state being knit individually.  At the end of this approximately four year project, all those who sign up for my class will have an artistic and distinctive wall hanging.  Or, if you prefer, a very lopsided afghan.

Various design elements have to be considered before even beginning to write the instructions.  There is the problem of scale.  You can't make Rhode Island too big or else your knitted map will take up an entire wall.  And you can't make Texas too small.  If you do, all those northeastern states will be rather tedious to knit.  Let's not even worry about Alaska and Hawaii right now as they present a whole different set of obstacles.  The type of yarn one would use is also a determining factor.  Use lace or sock yarn and you will have a beautiful wall hanging.  Use a bulky yarn and you're going to be the proud owner of a one of a kind afghan.  Then there's color.  Should one use fifty different colors or should one knit a minimum amount of colors so that no two states that share a border use the same color?  Believe it or not, that minimum number is four.  A high ranking Rand McNally executive has confirmed this.  But four would be kind of boring.  I myself would use eight different colors.  But these are the easy problems.  The major dilemmas for a project such as this are the actual patterns for each state.

A grand total of two states would be in the level one category.  Let's call them the easy states.  Colorado and Wyoming.  Basic rectangles.  Level two states are Utah and New Mexico.  More than four sides but still composed of straight lines.  Piece of cake.  Now things get a little harder.  Kansas, Nebraska, the two Dakotas, Pennsylvania and maybe even Tennessee have a minimum amount of irregular borders  A few increases here, a few decreases there and the level three problems are solved.  Most of the rest of the states will require some very tricky designing.  Just consider our home state of Illinois.  That Mississippi River line on the western border looks like a killer, no doubt about it.  But it can be done. Thirty four states fall into this demanding level four category.  But there are six states that go into a level five category of difficulty.  I hate them all.

What do South Carolina, West Virginia, New Jersey and Hawaii have in common?  They have a miniscule amount of straight line borders or in the disturbing case of Hawaii and New Jersey, no straight lines at all.  Think about it.  All knitting projects begin with a cast on.  All cast ons are straight lines.  You see the problem?  Where do you begin with those particular four states?  And then there's Michigan.  It's southern border is indeed a straight line, but that Upper Peninsula looks like a major, major headache.  Texas has a fair amount of straight lines in the north half of the state.  But the southern half dipsy-doodles all over the place.  But have no fear, my future students.  I have consulted with experts in the fields of cartography and knitting and together we have devised a method to conquer this monster of a design problem.  You will have to sign up for the class to see what this method is.

I will now begin to put the instructions on paper and, of course, to actually knit all fifty states.  It shouldn't take more than three years.  I just hope Cathy doesn't retire before then.  So keep an eye out on the Montoya Fiber Studio website to see when this exciting class will be offered.  If you decide to knit the fifty states in fifty different colors, there will be a 10% discount on the yarn purchase.

Friday, July 5, 2013


So I had to finish this sweater for a cousin really fast because her birthday was in three days and I still wasn't finished with the back, nor had I started the sleeves.  I was knitting every chance I got as I didn't want to waste a free moment. Perhaps I took it too far when I decided to see if I could knit while driving.  That's not as bad as it sounds.  I was on the expressway so I didn't have to worry about stop lights.  There was very little traffic and the road was pretty straight, very few curves.  So there I am, steering with my knees while my hands were happily knitting away.  I was able to keep my eyes on the road for the most part because it was just a stockinette stitch, something I can do blindfolded.  I'm almost at my exit when I notice a police car next to me with its lights flashing.  I rolled my window down and I hear the policeman yell, "Pull over!  Pull over!"  I don't know what came over me but I just couldn't resist.  I showed him my sweater as I said, "No, it's a cardigan."

As the policeman without a sense of humor was writing me a ticket, I had an epiphany.  I would become a stand-up comic who told nothing but knitting jokes.  I've been to enough knitting conventions and workshops to realize that they can often be drab affairs.  What they need is someone to liven things up a bit.  That's where me and my new act come in.  Now I just have to write myself some hilarious material.  Half an hour of jokes and funny anecdotes, all related to knitting.  Ha! Easier said than done.  I have a new found respect for stand-up comics.  Writing good jokes is harder than knitting socks in a dark movie theater.  After three weeks, all I have to show for my efforts are a few feeble jokes.  About a minute and a half of mediocre material.  I even went online to steal other people's knitting jokes.  They were all pretty stale, though.  Nothing that would keep a bunch of knitters in stitches.  Wait.  I take that back.  There was one good joke about a woman knitting in church who kept poking her husband with her needles whenever he fell asleep.  But the punch line was rather X rated so I can't repeat it in my G rated blog.  I guess I'll give myself a few more weeks and if nothing brilliant comes out of my efforts, I'll give up this notion of becoming a stand-up knitting comic and go back to my plan of becoming the worlds greatest male knitter between the ages of 50 and 59.  But while I have your attention, listen to this:

I was selling a woman some sock yarn at the store and I told her that one ball would be just enough to make two socks.  She responded, "In that case I'll take two balls as I have to make two and a half socks."  "Huh?" I said as I looked at her questioningly.  "It just so happens," she said, "that my son who just joined the Marines, wrote me a letter from boot camp.  He says that they're feeding him so well that he's grown another half a foot."

It was a slow day at the knit shop the other day.  The good thing about slow days is that I make great progress with whatever it is I'm knitting at the moment.  I was working on a project using Berroco Souffle, a wonderfully soft and airy yarn that, sadly, is going to be discontinued. (Plug for the store: The last of the Berroco Souffle we carry will be available at a discounted price at the upcoming Evanston Sidewalk Sale.)  Suddenly, the door opened and a man wearing a kilt and carrying a bagpipe says, "Allo, Laddie. Do ye have any Shetland wool?"  I answered without dropping a stitch, "Aye, that we do.  But wouldn't ye rather knit with Merino?  Not as itchy and a wee bit more profit for the store."  He must not have liked my Scottish accent because he let out a nasty Ach! and left, slamming the door on his way out.  The noise made me drop my knitting and Berroco Souffle being Berroco Souffle, it never rose again.

A couple of weeks ago, a woman came into the store and asked me if I could knit a wool cover for her husband's nine iron.  We quickly agreed on a price and then I showed her some yarns that would make lovely golf club covers.  She then said, " I don't really care what it looks like.  I just want the yarn to be as thick as possible."  "Why's that?" I asked her.  She answered, "I just want to hurt the cheating bastard, I don't want to kill him."

An atheist was knitting a sweater while driving.  Not surprisingly, he ended up wrapped around a tree.  The next thing he knows, he and his knitting are in front of the pearly gates and a scowling St. Peter is giving him an admonishing look.  "I know, I know." the dead man says.  "You don't have to tell me.  I reckon I won't be going through those gates because I didn't believe."  St. Peter responds, "Oh you're headed downstairs, all right, but not because you turned your back on God.  That's a forgivable sin if you led an honest life.  But just look at that monstrosity," St. Peter says, pointing at the man's larger than necessary knitting project.  "Who are you knitting that for?  Shaquille O'Neal?  You broke the greatest of the Knitter's Ten Commandments.  Thou shalt always knit a gauge swatch before beginning a project."

Four jokes down, about sixty six more to go.  And I suppose I better also write some good comebacks for hecklers, just in case.     

Friday, May 24, 2013


Do you know what would make a great book?  Take all the Peanuts strips that feature Lucy giving Charlie Brown psychiatric advice (for the unbeatable price of 5 cents) and put them in a handsomely printed cofee-table edition.  The only place you wouldn't want this collection of Charles M. Schultz classics is in an actual Psychiatrist's waiting room.  Let's face it, Lucy was the worst posible person in that strip who could have been featured as a psychiatrist.  Even Pigpen would have been better qualified.  Reading all of Lucy's sadistic wisdom while waiting for one's own therapy session would most likely cause anyone reading it to get the heck out of there as fast as possible and to forsake psychiatric help for ever and ever.  It was rather remarkable that, time after time, Charlie Brown would keep coming back for Lucy's unique advice.  But then, this is Charlie Brown we're talking about. 

While Lucy is undoubtedly the worst mental therapist ever, there are topics where her idiosyncratic personality and her lack of any sort of tact would have been a positive.  Imagine for a moment Lucy as a knitting instructor.  Would her approach have been a tad harsh?  Undoubtedly.  Would there have been student tears in her sessions?  Most definitely.  But would one come out of there a better knitter?  I think so.  Linus would have knit his own blanket by the age of three.  Charlie Brown, the perpetual loser, would have put his neuroses aside and would have become a great knitter and quite possibly a decent crocheter also.  Schroeder might have stopped practicing his piano and instead, might have spent his free time creating unique lace shawls.  Snoopy would have abandoned the obsession he had for shooting down the Red Baron and instead have developed his own line of knitwear for dogs (I am still amazed at the number of wonderful designs there are for knitted projects for dogs.).  Pigpen would ... well, ....while Pigpen is not exactly the type of person you would want to see take up knitting, Lucy would have risen to the challenge.  She just would never have let him knit with anything but ultra-cheap synthetic yarn.  The type that makes those funny noises as they're being worked on needles.  Yes, Pigpen would have taken to knitting like an alligator to a swamp.  Marcie, my personal favorite Peanuts character of all time, would have been the most polite knitting student ever and might possibly have earned a one cent discount from Lucy's normal fees.

It is a shame Charles M. Schulz is no longer with us as he would have loved this new approach for his characters.  I only wish I could draw so that I myself might pay homage to that great cartoonist.  Instead, I offer you the attached caption.  Fill in your own dialogue.  And pay a visit to the actual tableau as it is displayed in the window of Montoya Fiber Studio - Cathy Montoya, owner and resident knitting expert and Fred Montoya, Vice-President in charge of window decorations and the tidying up of messy shelves filled with beautiful yarn.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013


There aren't many paintings that are so iconic, so instantly recognizable that practically everyone knows who painted them.  Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper", for instance.  Or Van Gogh's "The Starry Night".  There's also Munch's "The Scream", Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam", Vermeer's "Girl With The Pearl Ear Ring",  Wood's "American Gothic" and a few others.  But in my mind, one painting trumps them all as far as recognizability goes.  Mention Whistler's Mother and I think almost all of us can envision this classic work of art in our minds.  ....  OR CAN WE?

First of all, there's the title.  I know I've been aware of this painting since I was very little, around five or six years old.  If I had to guess how I first came across it, I'd say that I'm pretty sure it was from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.  More specifically, the Mr. Peabody and Sherman segment of that memorable series.  I think I developed a significant portion of my early cultural education from that particular cartoon.  Anyway, all these years I thought the painting's name was actually "Whistler's Mother".  Imagine my complete surprise when just a few days ago I discovered that it's really called, "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1".  WHAAAT?!   What kind of an unexciting title is that?  And what, so there's a number two of this Arrangement in Grey and Black?  My mind was in turmoil.  But nothing compared to the shock I received when I went to a website to actually look at a picture of the painting.  If you had asked me to visually describe the painting right before I checked it out online, I would have said the following:  An elderly lady sits in profile in a rocking chair, a taciturn look on her face as she knits with her project in her lap.  Boy, was I off!  First, there is no rocking chair.  She sits in a normal chair with her feet propped up on a footstool.  Second, there is no knitting.  She's holding what appears to be a lace handkerchief.  How could I have been so wrong?  What's next?  Will I soon discover that The Scream is really depicting an out-of-control laugh?  Will a detailed study of the Mona Lisa reveal that she is really a he?  Does the old farmer in American Gothic actually have a snow shovel in his hand rather than the presumed pitchfork?  Is Jesus at the far left of the table rather than in the center in "The Last Supper"?  Does Vermeer's mysterious girl actually have a diamond dangling from her ear?  I really can't be sure of anything.  But you know what?  James McNeill Whistler was wrong!  His mother should have been sitting on a rocking chair and she should have been knitting.  Perhaps the following imagined conversation did actually take place.


Mrs. W.  -  But the rocking chair is comfortable.

James  -  That may be, Mother , but I can't have you moving back and forth.  You have to be absolutely still.

Mrs. W.  -  How much are you paying me for this?

James  -  Not a dime.  You're doing this as a favor.

Mrs. W.  -  It's not my fault your model didn't show up.

James  -  Oh.  One more thing.  The knitting has to go. 

Mrs. W.  -  You expect me to sit here like a stuffed bird and not do anything?  I'll go crazy after ten minutes.  The least you can do is let me knit.

James  -  Tell you what, Mother.  You can knit, but once I start painting your hands they're going to have to be completely still.  Aaargh!  If only knitting needles weren't so hard to paint.  Don't you have a handkerchief or something that you can hold in your hands instead?

Mrs. W.  -  Handkerchief?  Hmmph!  No imagination.

James  -  All right.  You win.  I'll paint your knitting.  By the way, Mother.  That thing you're knitting.  What is it?

Mrs.  W.  -  It's a sweater.  For you, as a matter of fact.

James  -  I see.  And what color would you call that yarn you're using?

Mrs W.  -  Aubergine.

James  -  Aubergine?  You mean eggplant?

Mrs. W.  -  Aubergine sounds sexier.

James  -  Sexy or not, it's still purple.  Didn't I tell you that I'm calling this work Arrangement in Grey and Black?

Mrs. W.  -  Huh?  What's up with that?  No one will buy this thing with that kind of a title.

James  -  Well if that's the way you feel, Mother, then knitting is out and handkerchief is in!

Mrs. W.  -  Suit yourself.  But I better at least be getting a dinner out of this.  Pizza would be nice.

The way I see it, the world would be a lot better place if sons listened to their mothers more often.  Though, on the other hand, if I had listened to mine, I'd be a priest right now, maybe one day even the Pope.  Popes who hail from South America are quite popular of late, I hear.

And now, I believe I'll go online and see what this Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 2 is all about.