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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Let us call her Scheherezade.  In Arabia of long ago, she is the latest in the series of one day brides chosen by the King.  In the morning, when the honeymoon night is over, she will be put to death.  But Scheherezade is a wily one.  Before going to sleep, she pulls something out of her knitting bag.  "A gift for you," she says to the King as she hands him a very nice Aran sweater.  The King is impressed with the quality of the work and the beauty of the design.  He thanks her.  But he has had a long day and he is soon fast asleep. Out of her knitting bag Scheherezade pulls out some new yarn.  Yarn more radiant than that used for the previous sweater.  Early the next morning, when the King wakes, he sees a half finished sweater on Scherezade's nighstand.  He inspects it and is quite taken with it.  "Fair Isle," he mutters softly.  He rouses Scheherezade from her feigned slumber and tells her that he will postpone her death for one day so that she may finish the sweater.  That night, the very same thing happens.  The finished sweater is humbly presented to the King and as soon as he is asleep, a new one is begun ... but not completed.  The next morning, the King once again delays the execution.  The sweaters begin to accumulate and one day the King realizes that he is the distinguished owner of 1,001 glorious sweaters, each more astonishing than the previous one and he decides to finally ...

Okay.  I've had my little fun.  We all know that the yarns Scheherezade provided on those 1,001 nights were of the story kind, not of the knitting kind.  And what incredible stories.  I guess when your life is at stake, you don't hold back.  Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad, Magic Carpets, Genies, Barbara Eden.  All are small literary gems and when viewed as a whole, they turn into the greatest collection of stories in the history of literature.  So now we get to the main theme of this particular essay.  The magic lamp or bottle with the genie inside.  The genie who, grateful for finally being released from his imprisonment, will grant you three wishes.

Everybody has played this game at some point in their life.  If a genie could grant you three wishes, what would those wishes be?  But let's put a tiny twist into this harmless diversion.  What if this genie was a knitter and he was only capable of granting knitting related wishes.  So no wishing for riches or immortality or a new washing machine or anything like that.  Nosiree.  The wishes must have a connection to knitting.  And this genie is no dummy.  He firmly states that one of the wishes cannot be to have a finished product instantly appear.  "Where's the fun in that?" he would ask.  "The glory of knitting is in the actual process," he would correctly point out.  So what to wish for then?  Allow me to share my personal choices.

I think almost all knitters, if given this precious gift from a genie, would choose the following as their first wish.  I WILL NEVER MAKE A MISTAKE.  How wonderful life would be if we could begin a project knowing ahead of time that there will not be any ripping of rows or dealing with dropped stitches or even going back a few stitches to change a knit into a purl.  That was the easy wish.  The next one took me some time to come up with.  ALL KNITTING PROJECTS WILL NEVER CURL AND THEREFORE WILL NEVER NEED BLOCKING.  Everytime I seek out a new pattern for a flat project I always look to see if the following instruction is included:  "Purl all even rows".  It doesn't take long for even a beginning knitter to realize that when you see this particular instruction or even a variation of it, the project will refuse to lie flat.  Even after a thorough blocking, the project will, with time, begin to curl again.  It would be heaven to never have to worry about this when knitting a scarf or a shawl.  And now we come to the most difficult of the three wishes - the last one.  The genie reminds us that he is obligated by law to tell us that you cannot wish for three more wishes.  So what is my last wish?  I DON'T KNOW!  So many options.  Some might have unintended negative affects.  I wouldn't wish for an endless supply of beautiful yarn.  Cathy and every other yarn store owner would be out of business if people had this particular power.  Knitting needles made from gold?  Nah! I'd be constantly worried that someone might steal them.  How about no physical ailments whatsoever from the physical process of knitting?  That might be tempting.  But I'd hate to waste it on that when there are other steps one can take to achieve pain-free knitting.  So, at this point, I will leave the last wish open.  Suggestions are welcome, though. 

Cathy and I used to go antique stores, hunting for treasures quite a bit.  Not as much anymore.  Ebay can be a wonderful thing but it has drastically changed the rules of the game when it comes to antiques.  Nevertheless, on occasion, I will stop by an antique store.  And when I'm there, I always keep an eye out for old Arabian oil lamps.  One day I might actually have to make up my mind on that third wish.     

Saturday, February 2, 2013


In 2012, my very first full year of knitting, I kept meticulous knitting journals.  These diaries have revealed many things.  I am now ready to disclose the first of my scientific findings.

Throughout the previous year, I tried to knit my many projects (finished and unfinished) with as many different types of yarns as I possibly could.  Two reasons for this.  First, being relatively new to knitting, I am naturally curious about how different yarns provide different finished products and also different experiences for the knitter.  On a few occasions I even knit a couple of small projects twice but with two distinct yarns.  For example, one project with 100% wool and then the same thing with 100% cotton.  Or knitting a swatch with silk and then again with cashmere.  While conducting this research into the aesthetics of knitting, there was always a glass of wine nearby.  You see, not only was I testing what a specific yarn was capable of, but at the same time I was seeing what type of wine goes best with with what yarn.

Most everybody knows that wine experts will almost always recommend a robust red wine with a hearty roast beef and a subtle white wine with a delicate fish.  I agree with this tried and true method of matching wine with meal.  If you drink a Chablis with a Prime Rib or a Bordeaux with an Orange Roughy, 99% of the time the result of these pairings can best be described with one succinct word - YECCH!  The same principle can be applied to matching a wine with a yarn.  Try having a glass of an ultra-rich Cabernet Sauvignon while knitting a highly-detailed lace project with silk.  You will soon realize that something is terribly amiss.  So, for you knitters out there who enjoy an occasional sip of the grape with your knitting, here are my recommendations.  Remember, these are the results of highly scientific research - on occasion, too much research.  Here is something I learned the hard way.  Never knit and drink wine for longer than three consecutive hours.  The next morning you will wake up not only with a terrific headache but also with a rather bizarre and misshapen looking project.  Also, and I know it should go without saying, but never, ever knit, drink and drive at the same time.  If you are at a knitting party or at a bar that features the ever popular Knitting and Karaoke night, and you have been a imbibing a little too much, do not be offended if a friend takes away your knitting needles along with your car keys.

One final thought before I present my findings.  While my research was conducted in a most elaborate manner, my opinions are, of course, subjective.  As with wine and food, nothing is written in stone.  If you like a drinking a crisp Chardonnay while knitting with a super bulky wool, then knock yourself out.  But consider the following options.

High Quality Wool  -  Shiraz
(A general concept one should follow for all pairings.  Spend a little more on the bottle if it is an exceptional yarn.  100% Fine Merino demands a higher quality Shiraz.)

Medium Quality Wool  -  Merlot

Cotton  -  California Chardonnay

Cashmere  -  French White Burgundy

Silk  -  Champagne

Mohair  -  French Red Burgundy

Angora  -  French Chablis

Alpaca  -  Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon

Vicuna  -  Premiers Crus Bordeaux

Guanaco  -  Deuxiemes Crus Bordeaux

Qiviuk, Bison, Camel  -  Vintage Port

Linen - Barolo

Rayon  -  Tokaji

Quality Synthetics  -  Sauternes

Low Quality Synthetics  -  Diet Coke or Lite Beer
(But seriously, why are you knitting with this?)

Lace weight Blends  -  Riesling

Sock weight to DK weight Blends  -  Pinot Grigio

Worsted weight Blends  -  Chianti

Bulky or Super Bulky Blends   -   Rioja

Novelty Yarns  -  Any non-grape wine (Apple, Elderberry, Plum, etc.)

YFAWS (yarns from a weird source - pronounced yi-faws - bamboo, soy, etc.)  -  Zinfandel

I suggested to Cathy, law-abiding owner of Montoya Fiber Studio, that on our taxes we deduct the expense of all the wine I had drunk throughout my research (I kept all the receipts).  In my opinion, all those gallons of consumed wine were a justified business expense.  She quickly nixed the idea.