Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hey Haddam and East Haddam

I am psyched to join as a local editor for Haddam and East Haddam, Connecticut. Look for my new hyperlocal news website in mid-to-late December.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Is this lampshade made from human skin?

I read an excerpt of Mark Jacobson’s new book in the Sept. 5 New York Magazine, provocatively titled “Skin.” It was an excellent piece, enthralling and affecting, especially given the disquieting subject matter.
Jacobson, a self-described “big-nosed Jew,” is the award-winning New York writer whose pieces were the basis for the late-‘70s, early-‘80s Taxi television series and the 2007 film, American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.
The book, with a dust jacket of translucent paper (eerily reminiscent of skin) through which the glow from a tattered lampshade pictured on the cover can be seen, is a massively-researched account of this gruesome object, which enters Jacobson’s life and piques not only his curiosity, but memories of growing up Jewish in the 1950s. In Cold War-era Flushing, Queens, Jacobsen was often bullied by neighborhood kids to shut the hell up — or risk being turned into a Nazi lampshade.
Purchased by a friend for $35 in early 2006 at a rummage sale full of mismatched scavenged items in post-Katrina New Orleans, the lampshade is “hot-potatoed” to Jacobson by the friend with experience taking apart and reassembling vintage German guitars. Skip Henderson recognizes the solder connecting the panels as German handiwork. Almost as soon as he observes “the greasy, dusty feel of it, the veined, translucent look of it,” Henderson is told by the seller it’s “made from the skin of Jews.”
Not long afterward, DNA lab testing reveals the lampshade is indeed of human origin, confirming the niggling feeling of everyone who has touched the shade, with its tiny pores and unmistakably familiar wrinkling. So begins Jacobson’s search for the history of this palpable reminder of the Holocaust’s horrors, and his own complicated relationship this loathsome lampshade.
Like the heath in Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native, the main character in The Lampshade is the object — in all its immutability. With the lampshade in hand, its immediacy cannot be ignored, especially by a journalist whose own father, a member of the 133rd Engineers Corps attached to George Patton’s Third Army, had a photo taken of himself in June 1945 seated defiantly on Hitler’s balcony in Berchtesgaden, Germany.
Jacobson’s quest to retrace the path of a lampshade reportedly found in an abandoned house by a history buff on a pile of junk ceiling-high, “like a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae” (he eventually becomes so attached to it, he names it Ziggy, an Americanized version of Sigmund) leads him to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where from varying accounts, anywhere from 33,000 to 56,000 prisoners from all over Europe (primarily Jews) died during World War II.
There he explores the legendary “Bitch of Buchanwald,” Ilse Koch, wife of the Kommandant at the internment camp, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes, including “blithe defilement of the human body.” These offenses included rampant rumors of her selection of prisoners to be executed, skinned and made into lampshades by virtue of her fancy of their tattooed backs and torsos.
There are arguably more characters in this book than The Iliad and keeping them straight is an epic feat in itself. As to whether Jacobson’s detective story ends in certitude, you’ll have to finish the book yourself. If you can stomach its difficult parts, you’ll at the very least get a better understanding of how interconnected we all are, even participants in and victims of atrocities and natural disasters.

Get Your Needles (And Wallets!) Ready ...

Can you hear the steady click, click, click of knitting needles metronoming in anticipation?
Stitches East, inspiring the annual pilgrimage of yarn addicts, avid knitters, crocheters and fiber enthusiasts to Hartford, is set to begin, running Oct. 28-31 at the Connecticut Convention Center.

If you don’t know how to knit or are a little rusty on the old needles, you too can participate because this year they‘re offering free learn-to-knit workshops Friday at 2 p.m., Saturday, 12:30 and 2 p.m. and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Learn to cast on, knit, purl, bind off, and go home with a pair of needles and yarn.
Dozens of classes are being offered ($30 per hour, $75 for three hours, $150 for six), such as Socks Without Sticks (knitting socks with two circular needles — easier than it sounds!), Entrelac Intro (the characteristic basket weave that surprisingly requires only basic skills) and Double Knit in Color (reversible knit technique — two sweaters for the price of one!).
And of course the true draw of the weekend — the marketplace, where you can peruse hundreds of yarns, notions, buttons and needles in a kaleidoscopic scene not unlike an Indian street bazaar (sorry, there’s no haggling allowed!).
The yarn vendors are more than happy to demonstrate the fine points of their products and you’ll be introduced to the cutting-edge tools of the trade, like the increasing popularity and ease of square knitting needles and the latest cult fibers such as shrimp and crab shells, milk proteins and seaweed. All of which are friendly to those knitters (like me) who are allergic to most wools.
Last year, there were even a couple of booths with “last season’s” floor model/demo baskets, where you can pick up a hand-knit vest, sweater or scarf at a deep discount.  
The market (complete vendor list at is open Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $8 (there is a $2 coupon online).
There you’ll find the familiar names of Connecticut fiber sellers, like Marji's Yarncrafts of Granby; barn-based Country Yarns in Wallingford; New England Yarn & Spindle of Bristol; Creative Fibers in Windsor; the terrific Sit 'N Knit of Bloomfield; Hither & Yarn based out of Torrington; and Meriden’s fabulous Yarn Garden.
Friday night is the key note event, the fashion show hosted by Knitter's Magazine editor Rick Mondragon and professional models donning handmade knitted items on the catwalk (6:30-8 p.m., $50; $90 with dinner), where you’ll see sweaters like these two featured at last year’s Stitches West.

If you go: Oct. 28-31, Stitches East 2010, Connecticut Convention Center, 100 Columbus Boulevard, Hartford.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Heading East: Fiber Fanatics Flock to Hartford

Yippee!! The veritable Dylan’s Candy Bar of avid knitters, crocheters and fiber enthusiasts, Stitches East, inspiring the annual pilgrimage of yarn addicts to Hartford, runs Oct. 28-31.
The marketplace, which fills the entire Connecticut Convention Center, runs Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To get an idea of the dozens of vendors, check out the list of those traveling from as far away as Australia:
Admission is $8($2 off coupon online).

This year's attendees from our fine state are:
Marji's Yarncrafts, Granby; Mocha's Fiber Connection, Columbia; Country Yarns, Wallingford; New England Yarn & Spindle, Bristol; Creative Fibers, Windsor; Not Just Plain Jane Knits, West Haven; Sit 'N Knit, Bloomfield; Still River Mill, Eastford; Tidal Yarns, Old Lyme; Hither & Yarn, Torrington; Indie Spun, Middletown; The Yarn Barn, Woodbridge; Yarn Garden, Meriden.
And we have to include New England's yarn Mecca, Webs, Northampton, Mass.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hip-Hop Habit

Just bought the pattern to make Ann Budd's Hip Hop Coat from the Interweave website.
I already have the size 13 circular needles, but alas, the yarn is no longer sold. Soooo.... I know!! Wanna be her! Gotta have it!! I went to Webs and found Debbie Bliss' Como yarn (90 percent merino wool and 10 percent cashmere) in a firey orange color, ON SALE, for $4.99 per skein. DON'T you buy it BEFORE I do!
It's originally $8.95, which means buying it at full price would preclude me from making this sweater/coat because I need (get ready) 28 balls to feed my habit.

Cardinals Catch Fiber Fever

Get your needles ready! Check out this Wesleyan Argus story about the knitting club up at Wesleyan University:

Graffiti, Philosophy, and Yarn: Club Finds Knit(che) on Campus
"Creating Out of Chaos plans to devote time in the spring to art installations and yarn bombing."
"Yarn bombing, which has been called the least offensive form of graffiti by some, uses decorative displays of vibrant knitting and crochet to adorn public spaces."
No branch should have to shiver this winter.
Start knitting your tree turtlenecks now.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Goin' To The Party

Tonight is the North End Garden Party on Erin and High Street.

Hard to believe it's been there for 10 years.
It seems like just yesterday when ground was first broken and as the years went on, colorful scarecrows emerged, Macdonough School children worked on the garden through the Northern Middlesex YMCA Kids Korner, and North End residents worked their magic to coax lovely herb, fruits and veggies from the soil.
Bill Carbone and Friends are singing and there will be food, friends, and a birthday cake!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Feeling Crabby?

The America's Knitting website has an awesome little cornflower blue, green-blue and orange sweater - a Rock Crab Sweater - that is perfect for those of us who can't get enough of the Connecticut shoreline during the summer months (love Hammonasset and Rocky Neck!).

These little guys look harmless holding up their claws as if in surrender, but in the aquatic world, both Pacific and Atlantic rock crabs are considered the meanest of the crustaceans.
They're big-eyed and popular for eating (don't read this part aloud!)
Three little crabs seem to dance across the bottom. It's lovely.
And made from a Fox Island Folkwear Kit. Purchased from eBay!!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

She designs dresses - and can knit

Remember last season's Project Runway sweater drama between top contestants Althea Harper and Irina Shabayeva? I do, because I absolutely coveted both big-sleeved sweaters, so detailed and beautiful, almost coats.
The Spring 2010 Vogue Knitting has a story about Gordana Gelhausen now creating delicately patterned sweater dresses and a tunic.
See the story here.
She calls her line Goga and you can buy her designs at
See her spring 2010 collection here:
Gotta have her creamy lace dress!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mo Rocca Learns To Knit

Knitters across the country listening to NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" are angered to hear Mo Rocca disparage hand-knit sweaters.
Knitting is a privilege, not a punishment.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring Knit

I am working on a chunky satiny pink vest knit from the book, "Simple Style: 19 Innovative to Traditional Designs with Simple Knitting Techniques." I used Farmhouse Yarns' I Am Allergic To Wool in Dusty Rose.

I can't believe I've put off learning how to cable for so long. Actually I feel foolish at how simple it is to create these fat cables. They're lovely. One note: if you don't choose a flat color for your yarn (like the blue shown in the picture), the pattern won't show up so much in relief.

Crafting in the Cab

Now there's a reason to do an about-face in your opinion of truckers. You know, those omnipresent behemoths of the highway that make drivers of "fuel-efficient" and "compact" cars (like me) cringe as they pass at 80 miles per hour and spew mud and rain and slap your windshield with slush?

Gotta read this. Looks like they do have redeeming qualities.
The Wall Street Journal publishes: "Idle Pastime: In Off Hours, Truckers Pick Up Stitching"
There's something discordant in this: "Kevin Abraham-Banks, a 37-year-old trucker with a shaved head and dragon tattoos, passes time at truck stops with his cocoa and knitting."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

All that racquet: Andre Agassi’s memoir gets intimate

Open: An Autobiography
By Andre Agassi, Alfred A. Knopf, $28.95

The front and back cover photos of Andre Agassi’s new memoir, Open, epitomize the world-class tennis star’s life story.
On the front, Agassi’s 38-year-old face fills the entire cover, speckled with sun spots from three decades of hard time on the court. His amber eyes look directly at the reader.
On the back is a late-‘70s shot of a 7-year-old Agassi in a trim white polo and jean cut-offs, Dodgers-blue Adidas set off by red-banded crew socks, racquet poised to slam an incoming tennis ball.

It is ghostwritten by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author J.R. Moehringer, whose memoir The Tender Bar Agassi devoured while competing in the 2006 U.S. Open. (Moehringer also wrote the L.A. Times magazine article about a homeless man claiming to be former heavyweight boxer Bob Satterfield that later became the film, Resurrecting the Champ.)
The book is so grittily honest and electric, you wonder if two years of collaboration tightly intertwined Agassi’s photographic memory with Moehringer’s journalistic gift for writing, causing the two voices to be inextricably and brilliantly bound for this project.
The story opens with the tennis champion mustering every ounce of verve he still possesses just to rouse himself from the floor, where Agassi sleeps most nights to assuage the excruciating nerve and spinal pain that have crippled this relatively young man’s body — making it more like that of a 96-year-old.
Even if you’ve never done more than volley a tennis ball over a net and couldn’t come close to understanding the game, let alone outline its major features, you’ll find Agassi’s account so compelling, his frank, staccato style so heart-pounding, that it won’t matter.
And that gets to the heart of the appeal of Open — what we consider a charmed life is actually fraught with strife.
It might shock some that Agassi reveals he has hated the game since as early as he can remember, when, he’s told by his mother, his father, a former Iranian Olympic team boxer, taped a ping-pong paddle to his infant hand and encouraged his son to bat at a tennis-ball mobile above his crib.
As a toddler Agassi is given “a sawed-off racquet” by his cruelly driven and violent father and told to hit whatever he wants with it.
“I specialized in salt shakers. I liked serving them through glass windows. I aced the dog. My father never got mad.”
At age 7, his father made Agassi train like a pro, hitting 2,500 balls a day. In seventh grade, his father sends Agassi to a tennis boarding school in Florida run by a former paratrooper, after he sees a story on “60 Minutes.”
Not being able to afford the annual tuition of $12,000, his dad sends him for three months to a place his mother later tells him is led by Nick Bollettieri, “who was in essence running a tennis sweatshop that employed child labor.”
The bombshell in this memoir is Agassi admits he was addicted to crystal meth and lied his way out of a positive drug test by the Association of Tennis Professionals that could have penalized him with a three-month suspension from the game.
From his rock-star hair and unconventional tenniswear, his on-court battles with greats Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, an ill-suited marriage to actress Brooke Shields, his notorious anger fits on the court, championship wins and losses, and eventual marriage to former tennis pro Stefanie Graf, the birth of a son and daughter, to his last tournament in 2006 and current charity work, you’ll ride the peaks and endure the sinkholes of this intimate look at an American Everyman. n

Monday, March 22, 2010

Skinny Legs Like I've Always Wanted spring/summer 2010 has an awesome pattern designed by young knitwear and T-shirt designer Craig Hunter CUBISTLITERATURE.COM of New York City. At first glance they do remind me of diaper covers, but glance again!! They're awesome. I just can't get over the male pattern, it's so cool the way the front has a little panel and the back has a semi-fancy seam going down the center. They're totally impractical (knit in wool!?!) and you could only really get away with wearing them around the house because otherwise you'll risk looking like the cyclists in the movie 1979 "Breaking Away" (Dennis Quaid in white short shorts!).
The lady's eye makeup is inspiring. Wonder if I could go five minutes in my house with the kids and the hubby and nobody comment. How come some people get to be "expressive" and I can't wear leggings with holes in them (a total fashion DO) without some clown making a comment?

The guys panties are knit in Harrisville Designs New England Highland but I'd use some sort of merino or cotton (and just may).
Another amazing creation from Hunter is this "bathing costume" he created using leftover balls of yarn from his stash.
"This is a wool prototype of a cotton version I plan to make.
It is inspired by men's bathing suits circa 1920's.
My color choice is arbitrary, as I was merely trying to use up
remnants of other skeins I had laying [sic]around."

Kudos for him posing in the thing. That alone sells it. How come when I try to combine balls from my stash into something I end up just frogging it because it look so awful? I have to get more adventurous.
Gonna go home tonight and knit something really out there: sparkly underpants and freakin' wear them OVER my pants and look really cool. See Elle magazine. They make it look so NORMAL.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Knitting Bandit

I heard this story on NPR yesterday morning on the way to work. They treated it wittily, however, there is something disturbing about treating knitting as graffiti.
'Midnight Knitter' Wanted In N.J. Shore Town
The story is here:

From the story: "A person or group calling him/herself "Salty Knits" has claimed to be behind the colourful handmade decorations that show up overnight. There is a Facebook group for the 'mystery knitters who are sick of knittin kitten mittens.'"

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Repurposed sweaters for a song

I was delighted to hear a story on NPR last night while I was driving on the highway home from work in Hartford in the cold, pouring rain, "Mother, Son Create A New Life For That Old Sweater."

In the far, dim reaches of closets all over the world, there are stretched out, too tight, out-of-fashion sweaters. A small-scale operation called Reknit is taking these old sweaters and repurposing them into scarves, gloves and hats.
Here's the podcast link:

People can go to the Web site and vote on what item they want their old sweater to be turned into for that month. In January, the public voted for scarves; in February, it's fingerless gloves; and for March, hats are in the lead. On the last day of the month, Haik will redesign the Web site with new colors and next month's item, according to Gayane.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wagging their tails behind them

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And can't tell where to find them;

I came across an amazingly lovely and soft Bo Peep Shawl pattern at knit in Trixie's Loopy Mohair, which is 90 percent kid mohair and 10 percent nylon. Two yarn color options stood out to me: Rainforest
Leave them alone, And they'll come home,
Wagging their tails behind them.

and Tropical Punch

She heaved a sigh and wiped her eye,
And over the hillocks went rambling,

The pattern is so light and airy: it looks like a boucle with lacy edging knit into a confection as dreamy as cotton candy.

And tried what she could, as a shepherdess should,
To tack each again to its lambkin.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Knitters Try Spyn

Here's an amazing story out of the UC Berkeley School of Information that unites new technology with the ages-old technique of knitting and sharing stories in the award-winning Spyn project created by students Daniela Rosner and Kimiko Ryokai.

From the link below:
"The Spyn project investigates how digital tools affect the creation, transfer, and continued use of everyday personal objects. We are currently studying people's use of Spyn during the creation and exchange of handmade objects. When a person gives a handmade object, the object may not simply be valued for its utility, but also for its affective and communicative potential. By studying people's digital augmentation of handmade objects we can investigate how digital interactions affect people's relationships with the craft practitioner as well as with the process and products of creative work."

Everything is Illuminated

New book will have you rethinking your diet
I was pumped to read this book after hearing what seemed like a dozen different NPR shows devote air time to discussing Jonathan Safran Foer's latest tome. The actress Natalie Portman wrote an ode to it on the Huffington Post, Colin McEnroe used it as a subject for one of his WNPR shows, and praise is heaped on the book jacket like a mountain of mashed potatoes on your Thanksgiving plate.
The premise: Foer spent much of his life as an on-again, off-again vegetarian (as many of us have). The impending birth of his son, he says, got him thinking about what exactly meat is, where it comes from, how it is produced. It's a quite natural response. When it comes time to move a baby from breast milk to food, what new parent's heart hasn't nearly stopped contemplating how to nourish a most perfect human being with entirely pure food, devoid of chemicals, additives, preservatives ... even (gasp!) poisons?

There's no doubt Foer presents a compelling argument against eating meat (notice his title's use of the word "animals") and exhaustively researched his subject — there are 60 pages of notes to back up his claims and Foer spent three years "immersed in animal agriculture," bringing his work to fruition.
The problem is the book just doesn't flow. It is divided up into chapters but with near meaningless titles, like "All or Nothing or Something Else," "Slices of Paradise/Pieces of S--t" and two chapters bookend the whole, both with the same title, "Storytelling." Obscure headers are fine, but they quite possibly only make sense to the author, because despite repeated readings, I still can't definitively understand what he's trying to say in many spots, other than "don't eat animals."
Be warned. Foer's accounts (he can only obtain second-hand statements from line workers because the inner workings of poultry, beef, dairy and pork producers are guarded more closely than Fort Knox) of factory farm slaughterhouses are horrifying. You'll find it near impossible to stomach flesh in any form after reading how brutally animals are treated, but did you really think your Thanksgiving turkey lived a full, humane life before it appeared in the supermarket frozen-foods aisle anyway?
Fine, you say, I'll only eat antibiotic-free, organic, free-range meat from small, independent farms. Well, the man Foer calls "the last poultry farmer" has got you there.
For 60 years, Frank Reese, the first and only rancher authorized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to call his birds "heritage," has raised turkeys and he'll tell you birds sold under the auspices of "free-range" can't fly (did you know turkeys should be able to take flight?), can't walk normally (because they're fed so much to grow so quickly) and can't reproduce.
He writes, "Every turkey sold in every store and served in every restaurant was the product of artificial insemination. If it were only for efficiency, that would be one thing, but these animals literally can't reproduce naturally. Tell me what could be sustainable about that?"
Even Foer has to admit Reese is a good guy. So good, in fact, he apologizes to every batch of turkey he loads up on trucks to ship to one of the last remaining USDA-approved poultry processors that he can pay twice as much to work half as fast, to slaughter his birds in a way that is as humane as possible.
If you want to know the truth exposed by Foer's investigations, and can see past the quirkiness of his style — like five pages of the words, "Influence/Speechlessness" over and over again, followed by the pronouncement, "On average, Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime — one animal for every letter on the last five pages" — you'll find it in this book.
And by all means, skip the bacon and eggs for breakfast, at least for today.
Eating Animals
By Jonathan Safran Foer. Little, Brown, $25.99