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.