Friday, December 16, 2011

Coming Soon!

New and Estonian!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Win! Win! Win!

Just in time for Christmas, you can win books (including 2 of mine) and yarn. Visit Craftside for details!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Reviews from Around the World

Literally and officially a ton of people contributed to Knitting Around the World. They  contributed historical background, commentary and edits on text, their personal and professional knitting stories, photographs, and just general good will. Not surprisingly, a lot of these people are knitting experts of one stripe or another. And over the course of the past few months, their own, excellent, books have been trickling in to me through the mail.

Lis Stender’s sweet little volume, Knit Tajarutit Greenlandic Wrist Warmers, shows you how to do just that. There are five patterns offered in all, and of them, the oak leaf is apparently the most traditional. Shown with silver beads on burgundy yarn, they certainly are dazzling. But if, like me, you’re a novice bead knitter and not sure you can handle the most challenging pattern straight out of the gate, “Black Gold,” with its repeating small crosses, and “Hearts” are good for simple starters. 

I made “Aurora Borealis” as a gift for a friend’s 50th birthday. The instructions were perfectly clear and once I got the hang of placing the beads as I knit (a snap, really), the wristlets stitched up in no time. The only minimal challenge is stringing the beads onto the yarn in the first place, which is more tedious than difficult. Both the wristlets and the booklet itself will make great holiday gifts. And if you need even more inspiration, check out the autumn issue of Keitodama for a few more pattern ideas. 

Estonian knitting has captured the imagination of so many knitters over the past couple of years. Including, most recently, Carla Meijsen and Hilly van der Sluis of the Dutch Knitters. (Some of you may also know Carla from her Sampler M knit along.) The two have just released Warm Hands: Estonian Mittens and Wrist Warmers, a pretty volume written in both Dutch and English that documents the women’s journeys through Estonia to learn about knitting there. Photos throughout do a good job of showing techniques (like two-color stranding and various braided cast-ons), as well as some more personal aspects of their trips. Eleven mitten patterns in all – some traditional (like the snowflake motif from Helme in southern Estonia), some hybrids (like my favorite, featuring windmills); plus two patterns for (beadless) wrist warmers, each using several Estonian knitting techniques.

Three other Dutch knitters – Henny Abbink, Anke Grevers and Connie Grevers – have dedicated themselves to preserving certain knitting traditions from the region of Gelderland. They wrote about gebreide mutsen (knitted bonnets) for KAW; these, they reported, were worn in the late 19th century by farm women who could not afford to buy lace bonnets, at a time when all women, at all times, kept their heads covered, even when they slept. Gelderse Gebreide Mutsen features 2o bonnet patterns they worked out and recreated themselves. Gebreide Kralen Tasjes gives the same treatment to beaded coin purses – yes, more bead knitting! Both books are written in Dutch only, but the charts are straightforward, and the photos alone might inspire you to pick up some (tiny) needles.

I wrote a through review of Annemor Sundbo’s book, Knitting in Art, for Twist Collective several issues ago. Pretty much anything Annemor writes is well-worth reading; she’s the Norwegian knitting historian/archivist supreme, and it’s fascinating to track with her all the various ways in which traditional knitting impacts art, fashion, and daily life. She’s got a brand new book out, which has yet to show up on her website, but be sure to stay tuned.

Finally, some knitting that appeared not in KAW but in Astounding Knits – and aptly so. Because Alasdair Post-Quinn isn’t kidding when he calls his creations Extreme Double-Knitting. We’re not just talking about patterns that duplicate on the reverse side here. Post-Quinn has worked out an elaborate method for stitching up one pattern on the right side, and a whole other pattern on the “wrong” side. You’ll find the pattern for perhaps the most remarkable of these, his “Falling Blocks” hat, in this his first book. There are also patterns fallingblox aficionados will recognize from Post-Quinn’s blog: the “Four Winds” hat, with its nifty little trick of managing to have the letters of the compass points successfully reverse; the “Whorl’d Tree” bag; and just to make sure I’m sticking with themes here, “Wrist Chakra” wrist warmers; plus much-needed instructions and explanations galore. I heartily recommend this for all you knitting brainiacs out there.  You know who you are.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Live" on Subway Knits

Thanks to Maria of Subway Knits fame, who trekked all the way from Queens to Brooklyn a few weeks ago to interview me about Knitting Around the World. I sure do love to chat about knitting with like-minded souls. Check out the podcast!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Big in Japan

“Do you have a favorite chapter in Knitting Around the World?” Why, yes indeed I do – thank you all for asking!

While it’s true that in my research I explored the history of a slew of fascinating techniques native to many noble countries, I admit, I have a soft spot for Japan. And likewise, for its somewhat underreported knitting traditions.

Thanks to the expert assistance of Jun Miyamoto, my “correspondent” in Tokyo, I was given a view onto what is a rich, conflicted, still-developing, but not entirely new art/craft in the country – in fact, the knitting historian of Japan, Yoshihiro Matsushita, postulates that Japanese knitting dates back at least to the times of the samurai, and to samurai themselves.

In the U.S., knitting has lately become such an accepted and integral feature of our culture – it permeates daily life, fashion, craft, art, to such a degree that some younger knitters may find it difficult to remember a time when this was not the case. But the various facets of Japanese knitting life that Miyamoto reported on illuminated a community still somewhat in flux: an old guard determined to maintain rigorous, professional standards of technique and construction, versus a new generation of knitters looking for a modicum of creative freedom.

Members of Tokyo's Stitch 'n Bitch group. Photo by Jun Miyamoto

Thanks to the Internet, writes Miyamoto, “the new generation can read EZ’s words for themselves and see how contemporary knitting goes far beyond what Japanese culture has to offer, from Nora Gaughan’s newest stunning designs, to Dave Cole’s American flag swatch made with gigantic knitting needles and a pair of excavators. Now we can freely combine dignified, stringent chart knitting techniques and relaxed, unconfined knitting methods, right alongside our computer screens.”

Honestly, I can’t wait to see what develops!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Jeanne d'Arc: The Costume

Here is Ada in all her knightly splendor, just as we were heading out to collect our requisite 100 lbs. of candy.

My only gripe: metallic yarn knit in the round on metal needles is quite the slippery challenge.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

"Do you knit?" I get this question a lot. Halloween offers the perfect opportunity for me to answer. Because yes, I do knit. Mostly, I knit for my daughter, Ada. And every Halloween, I knit at least some of her Halloween costume.

This year, obsessed with knights and horses and all things sharp and dangerous, Ada's chosen to be Joan of Arc. Naturally, I knit her some chain mail - stay tuned for a photo of the full-on costume, which she could not be induced to model for me yesterday.

In previous years, Ada's been a Kitty Cat Vampire Outlaw (with knit ear-balaclava and tail):

A mermaid (the coral necklace was crocheted; I actually delved into the dreaded sewing for this one):

A bouquet of flowers:

The Strawberry Flower Fairy:

And a beetle (more sewing, but also some knitted extra beetle legs):

Great art it ain't, but it's been a lot fun to create something new and (hopefully) just-right for Ada's costume every year. I dread the day when she no longer wants my help or my input!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Answers, answers, answers

I was asked some deliciously difficult questions by people who stopped by my book-signing table at Rhinebeck. Difficult, not because I didn't have any answers, but because I had too many. People who know me know, too, that I have a tendency to gush information. It's a clear indication that I am grappling with a preponderance of answers, which are fighting to make their way out of my mouth. This may be one reason I write; I can tackle answers in a logical,  non-gushing sort of way and present them on the page in an orderly fashion. On this virtual page over the next few weeks, I'll be presenting some questions and answers inspired by conversations I had with some of you at Sheep & Wool about my book, Knitting Around the World.

First, though, an answer that takes care of a small matter of business. Some of you wanted to know how I could sign copies of the book that you'd already purchased. Answer: email me your snail mail address and I will send out signed bookplates sometime in the next few weeks. And yes, of course, this goes for copies of Astounding Knits, Knitting Memories, and absolutely any other book I've ever written.

Now on to larger answers.

Fingering-weight wool mittens, of a design that's common in Finland. Photo by Tuulia Salmela

The above photo, which appears in KAW in the Finland chapter, is my jumping-off point for another answer. What, a super-smarty and engaging knitter wanted to know, were some of the threads that tied the book together? This was a terrific question, and after gushing at its asker for about 20 minutes, I proceeded to think about it for the whole rest of that day. And for many days to come.

One answer is the eight-pointed star that decorates the backs of these mittens. As most knitters know, it's a motif that turns up through the centuries in the knitting of many parts of the world. But for me, it's a symbol of the movement of people. How did the star get around Scandinavia, the Baltics, Russia, Scotland? There's no coincidence here. The star traveled with people - people who knit, or wore knitting, or both.  Fishermen, tradesmen and -women, migrant workers, conquerors, merchants. From this one simple design we can begin to intuit the whole history of knitting, which is really just another way to look at the history of people: how and where they've lived, what they've worn and why, how they've made money, how they've responded to social conditions both good and bad.

There are other answers, of course. And other questions. Stay tuned, and meanwhile, if you  have any questions of your own you'd like me to address, send word!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thank You Rhinebeck People!

I really felt the love yesterday. A huge thank you to all of you who stopped by to have me sign Knitting Around the World and Astounding Knits. It was so gratifying to meet so many of you in person and to be able to have real live conversations with actual live humans - when so much of my time is spent chained to my desk typing and muttering to myself.

I'm especially grateful to those of you who made it a point of your day to seek me out. To the bizarrely coincidental four Debbies and three Susans - in a row - who came over to buy KAW. To the two ladies from Sweden who returned hours after our first meeting, having decided they could fit heavy copies of KAW in their luggage after all. To the woman who dropped a  handful of tiny chocolate bars on my table when I was about to pass out somewhere around hour five. To the packs of kids who shrieked and chortled over the pages of AK. And to all the folks who bought neither KAW nor AK but wanted to let me know how much they'd enjoyed books I'd written in the past. It was just a great day and I look forward to seeing and hearing from you again soon.

Love, Lela

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rhinebeck, Here I Come

That distinctive chill in the air could only mean one thing: it's time for Sheep & Wool & the signing of books! These books, to be exact:

On Saturday, October 15, from about 10AM-5PM, I'll be sitting behind stacks of  KNITTING AROUND THE WORLD and ASTOUNDING KNITS, pen in hand, at the Merritt Bookstore booth in Building B. Whether ye be olde friend or new, tootle on over and say hello. I'll not only sign your books,  I'll even hand-correct any errata on the pages within (Icelandic goats, alas, have been misidentified as sheep in KAW, and AK's knitimationist Max Alexander as a he instead of a she).

Can't wait to see you all out there!

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's Autumn in My Heart, But Christmas on My Bookshelf

What with all the news of books about knitting, and bees, and more knitting, I have been completely remiss in reporting the following: Christmas on the Farm, the seventh in the series of Farmer's Wife cookbooks that I've been compiling and editing since 2005, has hit the shelves at a bookstore near you!

Part cookbook, part homage to the do-it-yourself spirit that infused so much of life on the farm throughout the early decades of the 20th century, Christmas on the Farm also sports my favorite feature of all the books in the series: a hard cover! Order a copy and come December 25 you'll be able to dazzle your dinner guests with your proficiency in scalloping oysters, glacé-ing fruit, and whipping up your own hand-sewn holiday gifts.

While you're at it, look for all my other Farmer's Wife titles; they make great gifts any time of the year:

The Farmer's Wife Comfort Food Cookbook
The Farmer's Wife Baking Cookbook
The Farmer's Wife Slow Cooker Cookbook
The Farmer's Wife Canning and Preserving Cookbook
The Farmer's Wife Cookie Cookbook
The Farmer's Wife Harvest Cookbook

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Just look what the dog dragged in...

And even I have to admit, it looks pretty fabulous. In real life, it's not even blurry (photo evidence to the contrary). The tome - that's right, folks, a nice big hardcover - hits stores October 11. But thanks to the miracle of pre-ordering, you can click now, forget all about it, and receive a happy surprise in the mail a month hence.

In other news, here's how I spent my summer vacation: traipsing around the south-western region of France's Périgord, in search of bees. I didn't have to look long. This delightful little booklet turned up on my first week:

And in case you were wondering, no, the correct translation of the title is not the delightfully thriller-evocative "Savage Bees," but rather "Wild Bees." We encountered quite a few of these enormous violet carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea) on our doorstep, sweet, slow, and oh-so-blue:

And of course, there was honey. Although selecting just two jars from the farmer's market to squeeze in to the luggage proved a challenge. In the end I left it to my 8-year-old daughter to decide. Acacia honey, on the left, has a direct, up-front sweetness to it; rosemary, on the right, is subtly minty.

Friday, July 8, 2011

One More Post Before I Go

France, here I come. But before I do, here's a little South of the Border shout-out to someone many of you know and love: Cyntha LeCount Samaké.

Knitters in  highland village. Photo by Cynthia LeCount Samaké

I'll be honest, a book like Knitting Around the World doesn't happen in a vacuum. It requires the support and knowledge of whole troves of experts. And when it comes to Andean knitting, no one knows quite so much as Cynthia. I'm incredibly indebted to her for her myriad contributions to the book: scads of trustworthy information, gorgeous photos, even a little backup fact checking.

Cynthia's goddaughter, Anita, wearing a ruffled bonnet typical of Lake Titicaca.
Photo by Cynthia LeCount Samaké

Here's a preview from the South America chapter:

LeCount discovered that Andean knitters “have adapted the intarsia method to their circular knitting in order to introduce many more colors into their work. Normally, if intarsia is worked in the round, the yarns end up on the opposite side of the motif, inaccessible for the next round.” Andean knitters use an ingenious method of working around the ch’ullu in one direction, joining the yarn with one of two methods, then turning the piece and working around in the other direction... Presto! The colors are in position to use in the next color motif.

I've only met Cynthia online. You can meet her in person – if you're very, very lucky. In Spring 2012, Cynthia, along with Nancy Thomas, will be leading a two week Textiles and Culture trip to Peru. Titled "Easter in the Andes" and geared, obviously, toward fiber (especially knitting) enthusiasts, participants (I wish one could be me!) will visit Lima, ChanChan, and Machu Picchu, among many other historic cities and sites. Find out more about this trip – as well as a Textiles, Arts and Culture tour of Ghana – at Cynthia's website

Yarn junkies, this one's for you: natural-dyed yarns in Cuzco. Photo by Cynthia LeCount Samaké

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Are You Ready For a Preview?

In about three weeks I'll be heading to France - the land that brought you such knitting marvels as berets, Tchanguès stilt knitters, Les Tricoteuses of the French Revolution, and that fabulous interpreter of Icelandic tradition, Hélène Magnússon. Who knows what yarn-related wonders I'll unearth on my trip? I'm excited to find out.

Before I go, I thought I'd give you a a couple of nuggets to nosh on, while you wait out summer's swelter for the advent of Knitting Around the World.

"French" Knitting
The simple wooden spool around which children have been wrapping wool for ages has more names than you can count on three hands: Knitting Nancy, Knitting Jenny, Knitting Nelly, Knitting Nana, Knitting Nobby, Knitting Noddy, Bizzy Lizzy, Corker, Strick Susel, Knitting Bob, Knitting Doll, Muhroom, Flower and Bee Toy Knitter, Peg knitter, and of paramount interest to us here, French Knitter. Whatever the moniker, the tool accomplishes the pretty little function of creating a tube of wool...which...has an enormous variety of uses. 

Such as seen in the work of French-born sculptor and installation artist Françoise Dupré:

My concern is with the everyday and the "art of making in the everyday" concept developed by the sociologist Michel de Certeau, she tells us in Knitting Around the World. [Such] concerns have brought me to work with textile materials and processes, and in contexts where the practice of making objects continues to be seen as an integral part of the individual and communal sense of identity.

Two examples of Dupré's work are:

de fil en aiguille...snáth nasc (Ireland, 2003-2004). This was a collaborative knitted project [in which] the knitting was used to create a floor installation inspired by the [Museum of Modern Art/Dublin]'s formal garden. It brought together different kinds of knitting: French (spool) knitting and Irish knitting stitches used in the traditional Aran sweater.

Visions of Fujaan. Photos courtesy of Françoise Dupré
Fujaan (London, 2005). This was a collective French (spool) knitting project with the London-based Somali women's group Back to Basics...[which] was used by participants to create small vessels/baskets which were then joined together to make a totemic sculpture, a Brancusi textile version of the Endless Column.

Want to know more about Dupré, "French" Knitting and how it got its name? All will be revealed, on October 11!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Vampire Bees!!!

No, not really. What we've really got here are some pictures of medieval bee boxes and skeps, taken by my cousin Hannah on a recent trip to Transylvania. She reports that she found them "in a fortified Saxon church in a village called Viscri in Transylvania. I'm not sure when the boxes themselves date to but the church was built in the 13th a fortress, so everything important (including bees) was stored inside its walls in case of attack." 

According to my old friend John Howe, boxes of this vintage, as well as skeps from any era, provided only empty space in which bees could build their honeycomb. An apiarist would have had to destroy the hive in order to harvest the honey, killing most of the bees in the process. By contrast, modern Langstroth, moveable frame hives allow a beekeeper to remove frames of honey with no damage to the colony itself. 

Finally, all you Westchester folks, come hear me read The Honeybee Man next Sunday at the Village Bookstore in Pleasantville. I look forward to seeing you there from 11:30-1:00. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

All the Buzz in Denmark!

As if it weren't enough that this forward-thinking city features some of the most extensive and progressively-designed bike lanes in the world, in May, Copenhagen became host to 3 million honeybees. It's not the first urban setting to officially incorporate my favorite pollinators into its long-term plan to keep its green spaces, well, green - Paris, London and Chicago already boast similar programs; but it may be the first public works project that seeks to boost the skills of various "unempowered" social groups by teaching them to harvest honey. You can read the full, fascinating article here.

Meanwhile, in the suburbs of Copenhagen, my dear friend Noreen O'Sullivan Krogsgaard reports that her five-year-old daughter, Oona, and other members of her preschool skovbørnehave (literally, "forest child garden," because the kids spend most of their day playing in the forest), have gone crazy for bees and The Honeybee Man. That's my kind of preschool!

Oona and friends reading The Honeybee Man

A Danish "forest child garden"
I've been learning so much about bees since the book was published. Recently, I discovered that, completely contradictory to all my assumptions about bees, solitary bees "comprise the vast majority of bee species throughout the world," according to Evelyn Fetridge, who did her master's research at Fordham University on the topic. Explains Fetridge, "A single female bee constructs her own nest, lays her own eggs in it, and provisions the larvae with food. There's no queen and no workers. Often multiple solitary bees will build nests near one another, but they don't help each other with the labor involved with reproducing, and again, each one lays her own eggs." 

Have any amazing bee facts or stories of your own to share? Please send them in!

Friday, May 20, 2011

What I've been Editing Today

Coming October 11, 2011
Here's some of the great stuff you'll find crammed into its pages:

* a Japanese knitting report from Jun Miyamoto
* the knitterly stylings of Françoise Dupré, Hélène Magnússon, Kazekobo, Veronka Persché, Sharon   Miller, Vivian Hoxbro, Tuulia Salmela, Solveig Hisdal, Elizabeth Lavold, and MANY MORE
* tons of historic pix
* info galore!!!

Can I pre-order this, you ask? You bet yer sweet patoot you can!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Westchester Bees, Here I Come!

Later this month, I'll be visiting Purchase Elementary School. I'm so excited to share The Honeybee Man with all the K-2ers up there!

And I've been wondering, what are the differences between urban and suburban beekeeping? To find out, I asked Christine Lehner and Charles Branch of Let It Bee Apiaries, who keep hives both in Westchester County and in Manhattan. "Ease of access," says Lehner. In Westchester, "We can walk to our hives or drive to them very easily. Tending city hives involves... climbing up to rooftops and then hauling hives and gear up a ladder and through the trapdoor to the rooftop." (Actually that's an exact  description of Fred's Brooklyn routine in the book!) Continues Lehner, "Hardest of all is bringing down the supers when they are loaded with honey, and hence very heavy." Although she and Branch counteract this hurdle with an ingenious platform that can be lowered down from the roof with a rope.

Another advantage of suburban beekeeping, says Lehner, involves swarming - this is when a queen leaves her hive with some of her workers to start a new colony. When city bees swarm, "It is generally impossible to catch them, and they often cause  alarm and consternation among neighbors who are bee-phobic," said Lehner. In Westchester, "We can often catch and re-hive them fairly easily." To prove it, she sent along a couple of photos of Branch capturing a swarm last year:

Branch capturing the swarm. That's sugar water in the spray bottle, "To keep the bees happy."

Success! Photos courtesy of Christine Lehner

Country beekeepers often worry about attracting bears with their hives; city beekeepers have nervous neighbors to contend with (which is why so many of them keep hives on their roofs, instead of in backyards; "Out of sight, out of mind," Lehner maintains). Suburban beekeepers sometimes have trouble with skunks. But like city beekeepers, suburban beekeepers have less worry than their country counterparts about pesticides from large industrial farms - significant sources of toxins for beleaguered honeybees. Enthuses Lehner, "One of the fun things about having Hastings is that there are so many wonderful and organic gardens - and we often get calls from friends to tell us that our bees are gathering pollen & nectar in their gardens; and certainly for all of us who have blueberries and cucumbers and fruit trees, the bees are helpful in pollinating and encouraging better crops."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Read For Yourself What Real Live NYers Have to Say About Honeybees

In preparation for a school visit that I'll be making in Westchester later this month, I went online today to see if I could find any compelling facts about suburban bees and beekeeping. I stumbled upon something else entirely: the public record of letters from ordinary citizens, sent to the NYC Department of Health to urge the overturning of the law that banned beekeeping in our fair city until last spring. It's pretty riveting reading; have a look for yourself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bees - That's What I'm Talking About

Illustration by Kyrsten Brooker, from the end papers of The Honeybee Man
Yesterday, I was a guest on June Stoyer's show, The Organic View, discussing bees, honey, and The Honeybee Man. It's been a loooooong time since I've done a radio interview but that didn't stop me from talking, a lot - 45 minutes almost straight, without commercial interruptions (big surprise to my friends and family).

I was especially grateful to all the listeners who Twittered in with their thoughtful questions; it's nice to know there are so many bee-lovers out there!

You can get an earful from me by visiting the show's site and downloading the podcast...

And find another great review of the book at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thank You!!

Thanks so much to all of you who came down to BookCourt on Sunday, to hear me read The Honeybee Man and to fold amazing origami bees and cherry blossoms with Mao. Hopefully, your handiwork will soon be gracing the windows of the shop - stayed tuned for photos.

Meanwhile, this photo was taken by my friend Josh at the Queens County Farm Museum; the license plate belongs to none other than the Farm's own resident apiarist. For those of you who thought urban honey was only found in Brooklyn, take note! It's coming to a borough near you - if it hasn't arrived already!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

BookCourt & Bees

The photo says it all. Except this: after reading the book, we'll be making bee and flower origami to hang in the window of BookCourt. Come discover how truly rotten I am at this ancient Japanese craft!

And in case you missed it, here's the latest nice write-up of The Honeybee Man