Still Knitting in the Winter: Kaari

It occurs to me I have knitted more Norah Gaughan designs in the past couple of years than anything else, though I don’t always keep the pattern intact.  Here, the Kiiri:

The Kiiri (Kaari, modified)

Pattern: Kaari, from Norah Gaughan Collection, Volume 1

Yarn: Shepherd Classic 100% Wool, in “dried rose.”  Brand new yarn bought at a ridiculously low sales price, not recycled from anything!  A well-built, unfancy yarn that bloomed and softened nicely after washing.

Modifications: 1. Knitted the pocket strip first, using the cable pattern from “Reverse Me,” the cover design from Lynne Barr’s book:

Reversible Knitting: 50 Brand-New, Groundbreaking Stitch Patterns

Continued the strip around the back, but in plain stockinette stitch.  2. Body knitted in the round, with pocket lining in a variegated yarn (for excitement) from Interlacements Yarn 3. Neck knitted in stockinette instead of reverse stockinette (just don’t like reverse stockinette). 4. Buttons instead of boring running stitch to divide the pockets — just because I had all these pewter buttons recycled from a 25 year-old project.

Size: I don’t believe in swatching (waiting for the knitting goddess to slap me silly), never have, never will …  I was aiming for a size to fit a 34″ bust, so all my stitch numbers were half-way between the numbers for 32″ and 36″ — and I did indeed end up with a 38″ finished bust measurement.

Thoughts: A fun, floppy, “kicking around” kind of sweater.  The cables keep the pockets from slouching too much when I put my cell phone, keys, and other “stuff” in there.  I also learned that miles and miles of stockinette stitch seem less painful in the round, but I don’t know why that should be the case . . . .


Everyone had cameras, images do not lie, and neither do photographers …  right?

“Migrant Mother”: photograph by Dorothea Lange (1936), Library of Congress FSA/OWI Collection

A picture so famous that no one questioned what it represented — because it was the right time, right issue, right photographer.  It is truth so obvious that it needed no fact-checking from no less a historian than Gary Gerstle, the James G. Stahlman Professor of American History at Vanderbilt University.  From his book,  American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (2001):

The Depression era’s most celebrated photograph was Dorothea Lange’s searing 1936 portrait of the worn but proud, simple but virtuous “Migrant Mother” in transit from Oklahoma to California . . . .  No photographs of an eastern European immigrant, black, or working woman during the decade came close to evoking a similar kind of response to that elicited by the Migrant Mother.  She was universal American; she was a mother; she was also a Nordic.

I read this book as part of my graduate studies in history; we took it apart in seminar, it was on my reading list for the comps and orals, and hence a work I actually remember fairly well.  And then, this past weekend as I continued my reading of Richard Steven Street’s Everyone Had Cameras: Photography and Farmworkers in California, 1850-2000 (2008), the author discussed how fifty years after the image, various scholars scrutinized the facts Dorothea Lange supplied for the picture:

Migrant Mother emerges as a complicated image that is both more and less than it seems. At the center of this new appreciation is a detailed reconstruction of the photographic sequence of Lange’s Nipomo assignment, beginning with the first ten minutes, when she failed to learn that the name of the woman in Migrant Mother was Florence Owens Thompson . . . [S]he did not follow her usual technique of banter, photography, and diligent note taking.  Had she done so, Lange might have discovered that Thompson was not one of the migrant workers at the camp . . . .  or that she was not a typical Dust Bowl refugee, of European ancestry . . . .  She might have learned that Thompson, while born in Oklahoma, was in fact a full-blooded Cherokee, displaced from her tribal lands.

Although to be more precise about it, Florence Thompson was Florence Owens at the time . . . .  But to continue:

For most of the rest of her life Thompson resented her portrait and the way her image had been appropriated to serve larger symbolic, emotional, and political purposes.  “That’s my picture hanging all over the world,” she told a Modesto Bee reporter in 1978, “and I can’t get a penny out of it.  What good is it doing me?”

When I finished my orals, my professors asked me what I wanted to do next or in the future — and I said, prosaically enough, that I wanted to learn something new each day.  I am not sure I will ever reach that goal, but I learned something new this weekend — and I also relearned something I should have remembered.  In my work I do not question photographs the same way I question texts; somehow, they seem more reliable, more real, than the written word. “The photographs clearly show,” I write, and I forget that these photographs have creators — creators who frame, crop, remove, and manipulate truth every single time they look through the view finder.  I thought I knew what I saw, as did a historian I much admire, as did the third eye of a legendary photographer.


From my favorite lighting and house parts store, Rejuvenation, this icon of the “atomic era”:

The Asterix, from Rejuvenation

Rejuvenation held a giveaway drawing to introduce their new “Hourglass” mid-century light collection — and we won!  Never mind that my house was built in 1994 …  I aspire to the aesthetics of the Suburban Subdivision Eclectic Style Movement, or what the nice woman from Rejuvenation’s marketing division kindly termed “decorating without boundaries.”  This “ability” to transcend stylistic rules is how I got my vaguely 1920s master bathroom with a clawfoot tub, The Kid’s 21st-century “spa-feel” bathroom, and our neo-eclectic Santa Fe-revival powder room.  Yup.  In a month or so, I will have a mid-century/Craftsman collision in my office …  It should be entertaining.

The Model Minority

Abercrombie & Fitch got into trouble in 2002 with a line of t-shirts featuring various Asian caricatures.  The company claimed it was just having fun, and that it was well-known for being equal opportunity when it came to insulting various ethnic groups.  Uh-huh.

Abercrombie & Fitch didn’t get it in 2002, and apparently neither did the teachers at Force Elementary School 8 years later.  A Denver Post photograph of 6 February, 2010, shows Force Elementary School kindergarteners learning all about the Lunar New Year: the kids, all looking very cute, are wearing vaguely Chinese-looking costumes and straw “coolie” hats.   Can’t blame the kids — after all, they are only 5 years old …  but the school claims to be a “safe, trusting, culturally sensitive community where you, the students, parents, and staff take ownership and accept responsibility for the students’ learning and behavior through valuable, active, inquiry-based activities.”  Uh-huh.

Who are these teachers?  Perhaps it is harmless — except the word “coolie,” so casually used for Chinese laborers, so casually used as an epithet, now so casually used for a hat, comes from the Mandarin ku li, which translates literally to mean bitter/hard/cruel labor.

When Denver Public School offered fried chicken, collard greens, and peach crisp in honor of Martin Luther King Day, people protested, and DPS apologized immediately for its “insensitivity.”  No such awareness applies for the Chinese, because they learned a long time ago to meet life with quiet stoicism.  In silence, they “eat bitterness,” they chi ku (yes, the same ku as in ku li).  And as my mother likes to remind me, ku never ends.

Be Inspired: February Readings

Last week, BBC Radio 7 did a repeat airing of series 1 of the Father Paolo Baldi stories.  Episode 2 had Father Baldi investigating the murder of an academic who was about to deliver a lecture on one of Ireland’s famous literary figures, a writer named Jack Matthews.  I knew the work was fictional (incidentally, Simon Brett wrote the episode), but I decided to google “Jack Matthews” anyway.

And I found … Jack Matthews!  Not from Ireland but from Ohio, and a writer who is also a professor of English at Ohio University.  And I am now reading a book of short stories — “Storyhood As We Know It” and Other Tales (1993) — unfortunately out of print, but my local university library never ceases to surprise me with what it has in the stacks.

My attention span has become shorter and shorter the older I get —  it’s a good thing I became a doctor when I did because I certainly couldn’t do all that reading now.  I must admit I am not “connecting” with too many of Jack Matthews’ characters, but I suspect the problem is a function of where I am in life right now.  But I keep reading because as the author once said, “Great fiction is a celebration of the simple mystery of how one thing leads to another.”  There is of course nothing simple about Jack Matthews’ writing; his short stories are marvels of construction, prose, and dialogue.  And if I can’t always sympathize with his characters, I can admire the craft of a master.