So.  Not.

You’re Brave New World!

by Aldous Huxley

With an uncanny ability for predicting the future, you are a true psychic. You can see how the world will change and illuminate the fears of future generations. In the world to come, you see the influence of the media, genetic science, drugs, and class warfare. And while all this might make you happy, you claim the right to be unhappy. While pregnancy might seem painful, test tube babies scare you most. You are obsessed with the word “pneumatic”.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.


At least I’ve read it.  Or rather listened to it.  Michael York did a recording that had me laughing every time he said “zippy cami-knicks.” 

Cally’s to blame.


My eenie greenie warp (You’re a hoot, Jane!) was intented to help me make some decisions about a project I planned back in late spring: cottolin-warp baby blankets in a Summer and Winter adaptation of the draft “Four Locked Hearts of America” from A Handweaver’s Source Book.  The Source Book is a fantastic volume of old coverlet patterns edited by Marguerite Porter Davison, presented as profile drafts.

Then I developed a back problem which seemed to be related to treadling.  The blanket project stayed on hold while I wove scarves on my rigid heddle loom.  Finally, I coaxed myself back to the Bergman with the argument that the real purpose of the eenie greenie sample warp was to see if my back problem was definitely related to treadling.  If I moved the tabby treadles to the other leg (treadles 7 and 8, the easiest), set myself up carefully, took lots of stretching breaks, and limited how much I wove in a day, would my back flare up again?

The answer was yes.  Two weeks and a chiropractic appointment after cutting Eenie Greenie of the loom, My SI joint is still giving me threatening jabs.  So that was informative.  Also sort of freeing.  I know what to expect, and I know it’s not because I’m doing anything wrong.  (Which makes sense since I’ve used the same set-up since I started weaving and had no problems until now.)   It turns out I’m just the middle-man in a rocky love affair.  “No hard feelings, I hope, Back.”  “That’s okay, Loom.  Stay beautiful!”  



This was my first time working from a profile draft, and my first time weaving summer and winter.  Leigh’s and Cally’s posts on summer and winter are wonderfully clear and to-the-point.  I reread them several times: I don’t have weaving software, and with overshot drafts the pattern repeats are so long I wasn’t about to attempt full draw downs on paper; I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing.  In the same spirit I revisited the summer and winter sections in Mary Meigs Atwater’s Shuttlecraft Book of American Handweaving.

There are other advantages in the summer and winter weave.  It is possible to change the character of the pattern completely and without re-threading by changing a few knots of the tie-up and altering the treadling to correspond.  It is possible, too, to weave all the charming patterns of the old double-woven coverlets on a loom that is not too elaborate for amateur craftsmen.  All in all, this is one of the most delightful things known to American weaving.

Clearly a fan!  Mary Atwater’s notes on threading and tie-up were easier to follow when I combined them with the information and pictures in Leigh’s and Cally’s posts.  She makes a number of sensible remarks:

The weave is beautifully logical and is far easier to thread and weave than ordinary overshot work.

This was very true.  No threading mistakes.  Although…

A different texture results from throwing the A tabby between pairs, and it is necessary to watch carefully in order not to make a shift in the middle of a piece of work.  This has a very bad effect.

Once I had woven off the sample warp, I kept hearing the words, “This has a very bad effect,” echoing in a dry tone of voice.  The fiendish part is just how easy it is to make this mistake!  As you may guess from the difference between my first picture (face) and second picture (back), when you are weaving, it’s really hard to see that you’ve thrown the wrong tabby.  A pick of the incorrect tabby looked pretty much the same to me as a pick of the correct tabby on the face of the web.  Each of those glaring skips you see in the second picture came from throwing just one wrong tabby.

As to weft, Atwater advises,

As usually woven, four pattern-shots and four tabby-shots are thrown for each unit of the pattern.  It is therefore necessary to select warp and weft carefully so that the figures will be of good proportion–neither squatty nor too long drawn out.  The warp and pattern-weft should be of about the same grist and the tabby thread should be a great deal finer.

The one thing I don’t like about summer and winter is the muddied look it can get when the tabby weft is too visible.   For the baby bankets I knew I would want a pretty thick weft, which meant I would use the “brick” treadling as opposed to pairs (x’s or o’s) and thus avoid “long drawn out” figures.  The brick treadling tends to hide the tabby pretty well.  I wasn’t worried there.  But since I was also using the samples as a way to look ahead to some summer and winter towels treadled in pairs, I was eager to see if Atwater’s ratios would be the key to sharpening contrast.

I found that the weft weights and their light/dark values made such a big difference to the overall strength and crispness of the pattern, I ended up trying all kinds of combinations.  A medium-value tabby seems to do really interesting things (medium between the warp and the pattern weft).  My favorite combination for towels was a tabby of very old light bottle green Lily perle cotton (1930’s or 40’s–they call it #20, but it is finer than a 20/2) which had about 2/3 the “grist” of the 22/2 cottolin; with a 16/2 blue Bockens line linen for pattern weft.  It’s the fourth from the top.

Most of the other samples were a little loose at 15 epi, but this one was good–light and flexible.  My favorite baby blanket pairing was also good at 15 epi: cottolin tabby with a 8-ply Finnish 50% cotton, 50% linen knitting yarn for the pattern weft.  Before washing it has somewhat the texture of a soft string.  After a hot water machine wash it makes marvelous cloth!  I’m not likely to find any more of that particular yarn on ebay, but I’ve seen similar stuff in a knitting shop, and I do have enough for one blanket.  In the picture, it’s the pale strip in the middle of the green samples at the bottom.

The darker green pattern weft there is cottolin, doubled and single, combined with various tabbies.  Using a brick treadling (o’s deflect the doubled threads and make the pattern too spotty), the doubled cottolin could also make nice towels with a cotton or linen tabby weft somewhat finer than the warp–this is what you’re seeing directly above the pale baby-blanket strip.  I’d set them at 16-18 epi.

Some other things I learned:

The border I planned needs one more unit and a couple of extra repeats to look right.

5/2 mercerized cotton (the aqua, from Goodwill), ick!  Pebbly and coarse and distracting in this context.  Not a useful cloth.

With a fine cotton tabby, plain old Lily Sugar and Cream knitting yarn makes a surprisingly nice fabric, though I’m not sure how it would hold up to the repeated hot-water washings a baby blanket wants.  This combination would also be a nice weight for place mats if it wears well enough.  (Top in photo.)

Fluffy Borgs 2/2 cotton (intense violet second from top) is not a good choice for a summer and winter, at least not with the cottolin.  It is very soft, but the linty halo worsens summer and winter’s tendency to look muddy.

The dark green sample (third from the top) is Poppana, a bias-cut cotton tape that fuzzes up like chenille when you wash it.  This stuff fascinates me.  I had visions of little summer and winter Poppana bath mats when I bought it last spring, but as I feared, I can’t really use a poppana shuttle with the Bergman.  A) I could barely squeeze it between the top and bottom of the shed and B) I had to weave with my fell WAY further from the beater than works well on my loom.  I could feel the beater bearing down on it from from the top, instead of hitting it squarely.  This might not have mattered with a different weft, but I really needed to be able to hammer at that Poppana to pack it in, and I couldn’t!  Poppana comes in disks, making it easy to handle; it would be a waste to wind it from the disks onto a rag shuttle or quills.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that.  Any thoughts?

I suppose the Poppana question is moot if weaving on my Bergman is going to keep hurting my back.  I found a forum where someone who had owned many looms remarked that her Bergman loom was much heavier to treadle than other countermarches.  This doesn’t surprise me: the stubby lamms, short castle, front-hinged treadles, and all that nice, dense Douglas fir are the culprits; it’s designed for sturdiness and precision rather than mechanical efficiency.

The eenie greenie warp confirms my treadling fears, and what do I do?  I immediately wind an 8-yard rayon warp for pillow tops and a couple of stoles in “Four Locked Hearts.”  It’s pre-sleyed and ready to beam on now.  Apparently I am in denial.

Lessons From My Early Warps

October 14, 2008

Just what I needed this morning: an injection of weaverly enthusiasm from fellow Bergman loom owner Deborah in the UK!  This is her first blog entry since her hip operation in August, and I was blown away to see that she’s already made CLOTH!  It took me right back to the very first piece of CLOTH I made on my very own loom.  Just remembering, I got excited butterflies in my stomach and a peculiar urge to take yarn and dining room chairs outside. . .

Another UK blog I’ve been enjoying is Weave4Fun, which I found through Jane the Shuttle Pilot.  This delightful weaver’s sense of humor and a-typical profile give him a great perspective.  His enthusiasm is infectious, too.

Anyway, both of these blogs, not to mention that of good queen Spinninglizzy, Renaissance woman extraordinaire (who has lovingly spruced up two looms, made a place for her Bergman, and is now preparing to spin her own tie-up cord), has been making me think about where I would be with my weaving right now if I hadn’t started this, you know, thing.  With the words.  On the internet.

It’s solipsistic to write about blogging.  So I’ll put it off and respond to some of the interesting things that have been coming up for Deborah as she weaves her first warp.

Interestingly, Deborah’s Bergman is in about the same age bracket as mine and she mentions a lot of the same things I noticed in my first efforts.  Like Deborah, my loom came with a rusty reed.  I started out using only four of the shafts.  I had to make a lot of adjustments, and I had trouble figuring out exactly how those adjustments were affecting my sheds.  I’d run chasing after one problem, and then another would pop up.  And yes: some treadles were just bugaboos!  No matter how much I tweaked things, it was as if one particular treadle was laboring under a curse of messy-sheddedness.  I now have a little better idea how to improve things, but it’s still a problem.  On my recent scarf warp it was the dreaded treadle 9.  I wonder: does anyone else have an unlucky treadle?

I de-rusted my 15 dent reed by running folded up bits of fine sandpaper through every dent, then polishing off the rust dust with bits of flannel, likewise poked through every dent.  I think there might have been some super-fine steel wool involved as well.  It took a long time but it was effective. That was before I’d heard about using Naval Jelly (a rust-removing cleaner), which is what I am going to try next time it needs it.  Or emery boards.  I really liked using emery boards to clean out the slots on my rigid heddle loom.  You can buy a big package quite cheaply.

Moral: Stainless steel was invented for a reason.

Deborah found Leigh’s excellent information on adjusting countermarche sheds.  I came across those entries myself a few months ago.  I’ve been meaning to go back to them.

You can see from Leigh’s pictures why it is more important to get the bottom threads even.  Since your shuttle rests on the bottom threads as you throw it, it’s more likely that it will slide under a sticking-up bottom thread, than that it will catch down a low-hanging top thread.

The sensible way Leigh fixes her sheds–making a list of which shafts are causing the sticking-up threads, and tightening the cords that run from the lamms controlling those shafts to the treadles–doesn’t work quite so well with a Bergman, because there is so little margin for adjustment on the smaller loom.  I remember seeming to move from over-correction to over-correction.  One buttonhole of Texsolv can be (usually is) too much.  I talked about this at length in an earlier post.  These days I can get my sheds to be tolerable if not perfect.

There’s not much more I can add except: make the most of your lamms.  Especially on a Bergman where they are truncated.  Lamms are levers.  You get more leverage (and the capacity to open larger sheds) the farther out your treadles are tied to them: that is to say, if you are using 8 treadles, leave treadles 1 and 2 idle, and tie up treadles 3-10.  And when you need fewer than 8 treadles?  Books will tell you to weave on the exact middle treadles, but I think you can fudge a little.  You don’t want to twist to reach your leg across the center line of your body, but it’s actually okay–for example–to work just two treadles with your left foot, and four with your right.  The nice thing is you can rearrange your tie-up according to your treadling plan so that you’re not overworking either leg too heinously.

Be aware that the reduced leverage on treadles 1 and 2 can really mess you up if you overuse them.  You’ll be tempted to tie them up for tabby (as I did on my recent scarf warp) because with plain weave the smaller sheds produced by treadles 1 and 2 don’t matter so much.  I’ll never do that again!  My left leg had to work so hard on the tabby that I strained my left SI joint.

This isn’t to say treadles 9 and 10 are the best, because they are the farthest from the hinge.  In my experience, although they make for the least effortful lifting and biggest possible sheds, they’re somewhat more finicky to adjust.

Moral: A treadle on the right is worth two on the left.

Now, this will sound bizarre, but another thing that can improve your sheds is to weave on more shafts.  I don’t know why; I think it is partially a matter of distribution of weight/effort.  But a lot of the fits I had with sheds and balance when I was weaving on four shafts just melted away when I started weaving on six and upwards.  One of those Bergman things?

Moral:  More is more.

“Where’s that treadle?  Why is it so skinny?”  I still glance at my feet for the tough ones until really I get in the swing: then I can tell just from looking at the web whether I’ve opened the right shed, which makes me bold enough to trust my muscle memory.  Based on when she was born I would guess Mrs Bergman had dainty feet that had been crammed into narrow boots most of her life.  Bergman treadles are narrow and close.  I treadle in socks, but I plan on getting some leather ballet slippers to stave off plantar fasciitis.  I’ve heard from a couple of weavers who like Acorn house slippers.

Moral: Do not judge a loom until you have treadled a mile in your moccasins.

Deborah has Ann Dixon’s 4-shaft pattern book, which I hear is very good.  She’d also like to find a good book of eight shaft patterns.  Visit her with your recommendations.  Mine would be the Praktisk Vävbok.  The diagrams are so clear, the Swedish text isn’t really a barrier.  I also own Carol Strickler’s A Weaver’s Book of 8-Shaft Patterns.  While it’s more diverse (and has some gems) I’m not fond of it; I find the format awkward and unattractive.  Many of the patterns require more than 10 treadles.  Worse, the texts introducing the weave structures are unnecessarily complicated.  I end up understanding less after reading them.  Sharon Alderman’s Mastering Weave Structures is fantastic, if you’d like to comprehend what you’re weaving and maybe start designing your own drafts for as many shafts as you wish.  Though it’s not intended as a pattern book it has quite a few patterns in it.

Moral: A good eight-shaft pattern book is hard to find.




Wool and Fiction

September 10, 2008

Here’s this:




Aaaand I recently discovered something.  About wool.

It’s warm.

Before you laugh, a couple of weeks ago I added a cotton-stuffed quilt to the cotton waffle weave blanket on our bed to compensate for the cooler nights.  Der Mann and I use different combinations of cotton blankets through the summer months, and cotton blankets under a light down comforter that we can pull up or shuck as needed in winter.  Well, we were starting to get a little chilly again, so when I did the wash I put away the old bedding and took out one of two super-cheap wool blankets I bought at IKEA with the intention of sewing myself a coat.  They are periwinkle on one side and ice blue on the other, warp-faced and weft-faced alternately, brushed to a nice loft; but the ice blue looks really terrible with my skin, and the whole point was to make a reversible coat with a contrasting collar.

“Okay, so they’re blankets after all.  That way I don’t have to feel guilty about hoarding fabric for a coat I’m never going to make.”  I put an IKEA blanket on the bed and covered it with a cotton spread.

That night we roasted!  I pushed off the bedspread.  We still roasted!  Under one wool blanket, after getting cold under a cotton blanket and a quilt!

This amazed me even though I know all about the insulating properties of wool: retains heat even when wet, etc, etc.  Part of my amazement comes from the fact I have worn wool coats all my adult life.  The wind blows up the sleeves and down the collar and up the hem, so it takes careful layering and tucking to stay warm.  Maybe they key is that a wool blanket does a better job of keeping a person warm than a wool coat, just like a mitten does a better job of keeping your hand warm than a glove.

I kept thinking about this because it tied in to something that bothers me in fiction.  I’ve always found it embarrassingly naive on the part of the author when characters charge off into the Northern European landscape with nothing but a small pack and either a wool cloak or blanket to sleep under.  Any novelist using her head ought to know that her characters could die of hypothermia that way, or at the very least be so miserably uncomfortable and sleep-deprived that it would make it’s way into the descriptions or dialogue.  Tolkien made the concession of elf cloaks.

I felt sorriest for the characters in the book The King’s Peace, by Jo Walton, an unromantic portrayal of Arthurian Britain.  The book straddles the line between historical and fantasy fiction, but Walton’s style is so concrete and reportive–nary a whiff of anachronism–that I expected better.  Her main character is a dignified female warrior in Arturius’ (Artos’?) army, and of course nobody in is having much fun (what with it being the last stand of a civilization against the dark ages and all), but their kits and sleeping arrangements got mentioned a lot, and nothing about the fact that everyone was freezing all the time.

The euphemism the soldiers used for pairing up was “sharing blankets,” which they did.  I supposed the extra body heat would help a little.  Also getting out of the wind and piling dried vegetation to get you off the ground, but you can’t always do that on campaign.  As I read I pictured the misery of cold added to the misery of everything else.  I’ve been to places like the ones where the characters were bedding down.  I’ve tried sleeping in summer-weight sleeping bag there.

But after my recent wool blanket experience, I think maybe it wasn’t all that bad.  My sleeping bag had a synthetic filling, whereas a good thick wool blanket or cloak you could roll up in might actually keep you pretty warm if you slept in your clothes.  Maybe all those characters aren’t being passed off as larger than life, with either a furnace-like metabolism or a heroic imperviousness to cold.  Does this mean I have to stop feeling sorry for people in history too?  The Roman foot-soldiers with paltry bedrolls strapped to their 60-80 lb packs?  The Highlanders whose entire outfits consisted of wool yardage?  It opens whole vistas.*

I didn’t like The King’s Peace enough to finish the trilogy.  The plot meandered like the politics.  Walton’s reserved style and fondness for logistics meant that while she gave a lot of information about a lot of different people, I never really got a feel for what it was like for them inside their skins.  I read her later books and found them much better.  Her super-consistent imagination lends itself well to audacious projects.  All through Tooth and Claw I kept thinking, “My gosh she’s pulling this off.  HOW is she doing this?  WHY is she doing this?”  Tooth and Claw is a pitch-perfect regency novel set in a society of dragons.

Walton also writes alternate history novels that take place in the fifties during the protracted reign of the Third Reich, after the English have made peace with Hitler in order to prevent the invasion.  Farthing and Ha’penny are both riffs on the detective novel–a genre that bores me–but they are so well conceived, and come at such interesting moral and social issues from such interesting angles, I eat them up.  Especially Ha’penny: a weakness for theater history is a hangover from my teens.

I’m thinking I should go back to her Arthurian trilogy and see if I like it now.  Fall makes me questy, and I’ve been having trouble finding good fiction.  I’m not in the mood for classics.  I’ve exhausted the work of all the modern authors I seek out, so it’s a matter waiting for them to write more, or finding new ones.  My best method of finding new fantasy authors used to be the informational sections of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies (great for lovers of literary interstitial fiction), but my current library system doesn’t buy them.

Read anything character-driven, literate, and emotionally complex lately?  With magic?

I know, I know.


*  Fortunately I can still pity the Japanese who, through a thousand years of sophisticated culture, living in essentially unheated houses, never imported wool or raised livestock for fiber!  Not everyone could afford silk.  Whenever I watch anime or a film set in feudal Japan, I imagine myself in a permanent crouch over the hibachi, pulling on a fifth or sixth cotton kimono.

Yarn Samples and a Book

August 16, 2008

A while ago I made a little resolution that I will always plan and wind the warp for my next project while my current project is still on the loom.  Once my warp is wound, it feels like the job of warping is half done–an illusion, I know.  I play a lot of little tricks like that on myself.  It’s surprising I haven’t gotten wise to them!

I may not be half done when I’ve wound the warp, but with the reeling and beaming problems I’ve had in the past, those are the parts of warping that intimidate me.  Like an omelet: that moment when you decide it’s time to turn it over or it will burn, and it all comes apart if you haven’t got the heat and the pan and the filling right (I tend to overfill).  Once you’ve turned it over, successfully or unsuccessfully, setting the table and serving it up is easy.  So far I actually like threading and sleying.  They take longer but there’s no stress involved.  Winding and beaming are easier to face if I don’t have to face them both at the same time.

That said, I only just finished the second scarf on my navy merino scarf warp, but I have been spending a lot of time planning my next project.  First a sample warp, for which I have the thread, but then I get to buy some!

So, I finally placed an order to Vävstuga, something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.

There is something so neat and potential-filled about sample cards.  When I took them out of the package, these gave me the same feeling as the oil pastel sticks lined up in a box of Cray-Pas when I was a kid.  Unfortunately, when I tried to start using them to compare colors, I realized that they were not very functional.  In tight rows you can’t use the samples as swatches.  Not only to the colors confuse each other through juxtaposition, 3 square centimeters simply isn’t enough color for my eyes to make sense of.  They are okay for matching.  If I can find a piece of clothing or a book jacket with the color that interests me, I can hold it up to the cards and find the nearest color; but since the match isn’t exact, I can’t dependably take that piece of clothing and hold it against another thread sample to see if it goes.

I’m not quite at the point of cutting the cards into strips and making a cardboard window to separate the colors.

Vävstuga’s regular Bockens sample book had been backordered a long time with no guarantee as to when more would arrive, which is why I bought the separate sample cards.  Does anyone know if the proper Bockens sample book gives you more yarn in a more useful configuration?

The other thing in my package:

I had been thinking of buying The Praktisk Vävbok for a long time.  Seeing it advertised over and over again in my 80’s copies of Väv must have pushed me over.  It is a nicely made book, a clean facsimile (all in Swedish) of one published in 1899.  I enjoy the homey assumption that weavers want to use their cloth for everyday home sewing.  The drafts are named to purpose like “Children’s Clothing,” or “Upholstery,” or “English Hand-towel Material.”  Another good thing about the book is that most of the patterns are for 8 shafts, probably because it is an old book which assumes that you are using a counterbalance–there are smaller sections for fewer shafts, but none for more than 8.  This focus is uncommon in Scandinavian weaving books.  Usually more space is given over to either 4-shaft patterns or 10-and-upwards.

Which brings me to my problem.  Most of the patterns are traditional 8-shaft plain and fancy twills.  I already have the same or similar patterns scattered through my other Scandinavian weaving books or in Edward Worst.  They are are all very Swedish looking–small all-over patterns familiar from old table linens.  It’s nice seeing them in one place, laid out compactly with a spot black-and-white photograph of the cloth right next to the draft, but for a reference book I would really want something more exhaustive with better photos, like Helene Bress’ The Weaving Book, which I have been missing ever since I left it behind at the public library where we used to live (and which I probably shouldn’t even mention here, for fear of driving the price up even further!).

Still, I like the fact that The Praktisk Vävbook features the 8-shaft versions of these twills.  It’s not too big, pleasant to hold, and it has the further advantage of not making my nose stuff up and my my throat and eyes itch.  I got most of my old Scandinavian weaving books as a lot on ebay, from a weaver’s estate.  They had been sitting in a shed or something for a long time and grown musty.  Which is bad enough.  But the real problem was that the over-zealous ebay dealer though it would be a good idea to mask the mustiness by putting them in a sealed container with a chemical air freshener for several days (I know this because I asked her).  I aired them in the sun repeatedly, but the reek is tenacious.

And now a little cord update:  I looked into the smaller size of Texsolv tie-up cord Susan told me about after the Texsolv post, but according to the nice people at Woolhouse Tools, the smaller cord is a really, really small gauge, and not strong enough for lamm or treadle tie-up.  The buttonholes have the same 12 mm spacing as the regular cord, which won’t help with fine adjustments.  The Woolhouse people suggested I loop the cord back through itself to adjust in smaller increments.  I know what they’re talking about, but I don’t think it can help with a Bergman loom because of the way the cords go to cup hooks rather than through holes in the lamms.  I will fiddle with the cords and the pegs some more when I do my next tie-up.  There may be some configuration of Texsolv and peg I haven’t thought of.

This would be a lot easier with a trained monkey.  Smaller fingers.  Fits under the loom.

Before I start, I suppose I should warn you:  I am not a crass person.  Not my style of humor.  But I do happen to think kids throwing up is pretty funny.  Growing up as the oldest of seven, with my closest half-sibling 6 years younger than me, I took my laughs where I could get them.

And to set things up even further: on Thursday, because a relative pressed money on us for helping them move, my husband and I decided to do something we never do–walk down town, have dinner in a restaurant, and see a blockbuster movie at the Regal Multiplex.

“Oh, so THAT’s why the last non-Japanese animated film we saw in a theater was Mulan, when we were in college,” was our general feeling.  At 10 on a weeknight we were the only people at Wall-E.  During the entire second half of the movie, bored out of my gourd as the plot cycled through all the requisite cartoon conventions, I kept thinking: this is just the same as when we watch a boring DVD at home, only at home we would be on the couch and I’d lie down with my head on der Mann’s knee and go to sleep.

The beginning was strong.  (They should have kept the whole movie in the garbage dump and not allowed the robots to talk.)  To get to the beginning, however, we had to run the gauntlet of the “Regal Kids” (was that what it was called?) marketing and movie previews for thirty minutes.  I mean “run the gauntlet” in the traditional sense of being beaten with armored fists and stuck with small knives by drunken Vikings.

Since our TV can’t do anything but play DVD’s, media culture tends to jar us.  We expect that.  Our eyes bug out when we catch a half an hour of television at my relatives’ once a year.  But the previews before Wall-E went far, far beyond a little eye-bugging.  My husband and I stared full into the abyss of orgiastic pandering that is children’s entertainment.  By the time the movie started, I was ready to scratch a hole in the ground, crawl into it, and wait for the cretinous Eloi and Morlock generations produced by these movies to grow up and eat me.

In other words, the tone of the previews totally undermined the cheery propaganda of Wall-E.

Our favorite place to walk is a trail in a valley with a creek and some woods.  We were very happy to discover it this spring, because it is the only natural greenway in our new city!  (The parks department here is good at sports complexes and bad at parklands.)  On Sunday we went there to stretch our legs and check on the progress of the caterpiller-treaded machines that are destroying it for posterity.

Very thorough, we concluded.  Then, since I was in a bad mood already I said, “Why don’t we go see Prince Caspian at the Kiggins Theater?”

I liked the Narnia books enough that I’d purposely avoided the movie version of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but I was interested in Prince Caspian because it was supposed to be a throw-away.  People complained it went too far from the book.  In that case, I figured I could just forget about the source material and watch it as a fantasy action film.  And if we got bored we could leave because tickets are only $4 for a double feature.

The Kiggins Theater is a poured-cement art deco cinema from the 30’s that shows second run movies.  It’s a surprise it’s survived in this town.  I like it, though we’d only been there once before since it doesn’t usually have the movies we want to see.  It’s such a home-style place that you walk inside and buy your ticket (only there are no physical tickets) from the teen-or-early-20’s person running the concession stand.  And since the movie doesn’t seem to start until they’re done serving refreshments I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re also the projectionist.

There is something I really miss in modern theaters: big big screens with curtains.  Of course the curtains are totally pointless (dust reduction?) if there isn’t a stage as well; I don’t know why I’m so attached to the theatrical symbolism, but I am.  When all the munching masses were settled in their sprung seats at the Kiggins (many are mended with floral vinyl circa 1969) and the curtains parted on the huge screen in the huge auditorium, I felt the most wonderful “ah” of happy 1930’s expectation.  Like time travel without the Morlocks.  Like Life On Mars without the irony.

There were no previews, and Prince Caspian was the perfect movie to carry that feeling, since it begins with the classic cinematic device of a desperate royal escape: paneled chambers and swirled cloaks and a moonlit horse chase.

Since I wasn’t watching it as Prince Caspian, and the Pevensies didn’t show up for a while, I was totally enchanted.  It just happened to be one of those films (rare for me) whose faults are the kind I find easy to forgive.  As far as I’m concerned Caspian and Reepicheep carried the movie.  And the location scout.  And the costumes.

One of der Mann’s and my favorite things to do is get on line and read A.O. Scott’s New York Times movie reviews aloud to each other, preferably of a film we’ve already seen, the better to savor his bon mots.  We happened to read the review for Prince Caspian a few months ago and I remembered Scott commenting (though he disliked the movie) on the exceptional performances of both Miraz and the young Italian actor who played the prince.

Um, no.  I’d misremembered the review.  The actor who played Miraz is the Italian, and very good, but I went clear through the movie thinking the actor who played Caspian was this incredible Italian ingenue:  “Wow, his delivery is flawless!  He’s got an almost perfect feel for the cadence of English, yet without any of that stage-brat actorishness British actors tend to bring to heroic roles!” I marveled.  “They made a really good choice casting an Italian instead of a Brit!  And he isn’t even very good looking!”

The remarkable thing was the way Caspian (Ben Barnes is his name) could take the silliest overblown lines and utter them with perfect authority and sincerity–natural sincerity, not the over-wrought over-earnestness that most people use.   With a consistent accent.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of screen presence in an actor born after 1920.  It made sense to me that he would be Italian because it was just so . . . foreign to the usual experience.

This level of dramatic authority is very useful if you are the centerpiece of a movie with a bad script, bad direction, talking animals, and impaired fellow actors.  It would have been a shambles without him.  As it was, I enjoyed it thoroughly!  I’ve seen a single good stage actor rescue a stage play just the same way.

What was most interesting to me was that Prince Caspian had all the elements of a really good movie; it was as if they had just been misassembled.  If the powers had cut out some of the stupider bits (forced love interest, for example), and expanded a few of the non-stupid ones; added some more CGI where it would really help the story (conveying the feeling of “Aslan on the move”), and taken it out where it was wasted (gryphons clutching aerial spies), they could have made something really grand for exactly the same amount of money, with all the same sets, all the same costumes, and all the same actors!

Different director, naturally.  (I’d have voted for Alfonso Cuarón of the third Harry Potter movie.)  I think it is mostly the director’s fault that the kids’ performances were so poor.  They gave poor Peter a bad hair day for the whole movie!  No wonder he pouted like a rock star!  Their scenes were so short the kids had no time to craft them, and (I’m pretty sure) no help getting in the right place to jump in cold.  Edmund was the exception.  Like Caspian he was a pro and always had perfect presence.  I was really looking forward to the scene when he delivered the challenge to Miraz, and I wasn’t disappointed, even though it was too short.

Der Mann and I reminisced that we had both been really impressed by the idea of the combat on the links when we first read the book as kids.  Deadly, courtly single combat is something you just don’t find in novels for children.  It seemed grown-up and illicit.  The whole book had very much that feeling of a series of important vignettes, which I think would have been the key to a good adaptation.  We agreed that we would have liked to see fewer scenes crammed in, allowing the ones that were included to be given more weight.  They tried to do that with the combat.  Der Mann liked it, but I thought it became too stagey and intense by taking place in the ruins rather than on the grass–more like a passionate duel than a deadly contest.

On the whole, pretty much everything I didn’t like about the movie just made me laugh.  I laughed at the gryphons.  I laughed at the trebouchets (gotta have trebouchets!).  I laughed at the crude subplot of Peter’s and Caspian’s jockeying for male dominance.  I laughed when that bizarre pop anthem started up during the final scene.  These things were all so truncated and tacked-on, they were no more disfiguring to the overall movie than a mustache scribbled on a magazine model.  I tried not to laugh often or loudly enough to bother the people around me, though I think it would have been a fair return for all the noisy popcorn chomping and pop swilling.

Okay, so the Kiggins Theater puts me in a good mood.  But the movie really was a lot of fun.  The production had gone for the feel of the Pauline Baynes illustrations.  Or am I misremembering again?  Anyway, most of the outdoor scenes in particular were just like I remembered them from the book.  And I noticed all the costumes looked very good on the actors (except for the armor and the Pevensie’s traveling clothes, which I know are supposed to be too big for them, but all the same I think they could have provided something both outsized and becoming).  I loved the details–smocking and embroidery–and the designer chose one of my favorite palettes.  Bruise and wound colors.  Raw salmon reds, solid greens on the yellow side, umbery accents, all kinds of silvery and muted blues, dirty butter, old linen.  Everything greyed or browned but fleshy, not cold.  I would happily have worn any of Caspian’s shirts.  Doublets are coming back!  Definitely!  They made a bad decision putting him in a skirt for the last scene, but that was almost like a final hurdle for his acting ability.  Will he make it?  Can he keep his princely dignity . . . in a dress!  Kissing a 16-year-old?  He can!

I didn’t even mind the storming of the castle.  Nothing to do with the book, but a nice set-piece, nicely executed.  I liked the business with the flashlight.

And the giddy finish to this fabulous cinematic experience?  I got up and discovered my wallet wasn’t in my pocket.  Der Man had gone on out of the theater, not noticing I wasn’t behind him.  The house lights were extremely dim, my wallet is black, I wasn’t sure which row we’d been sitting in.  After feeling around the sticky floors I found it trapped out of sight between the upended seat and the arm.  Der Mann wasn’t waiting in the lobby.  I couldn’t see him outside under the marquee.  I decided to wait a little by the concession stand in case he’d gone upstairs to the bathrooms.

And then I heard the teenaged Kiggins employee (it’s run by a family) say in the most patient, world-weary voice:  “Aw, don’t worry about it.  I’ll clean it up.”

I never saw the parent he was talking to, because they had already scuttled their child off in shame.  But, right past the only doorway, damming a stream of exiting moviegoers, splattered on the tile floor under the marquee:

Fully formed disks of sliced hot-dog in a cream sauce with what I believe to have been cubed potatoes.

No wonder the parent scuttled!  For heaven’s sake–teach your children to chew!

(On second thought maybe I might have been wrong about the potatoes.  They might have been pieces of popcorn.)

There was another young Kiggins employee upstairs when I went to look for der Mann by the bathrooms.  I heard the concession-stand one reporting the incident to him over a walkie-talkie.  They were both so resigned.  And if you think about it; yup, that’s the movie business: kids plus quantities of bad popcorn plus excitement equals vomit pretty darn consistently.

And so my love for the Kiggins Theater and all the good movies and all the vomiting children that have graced it’s hallowed tiles sent me skipping out the door, leaping over the vomit, and laughing all the way home!

The End


June 24, 2008

I always thought I might end up with a website some day, rather than a blog, if only for the reason that I keep having the sorts of ideas that can only be implemented on the internet.  For instance, I can imagine a complete personality profiler made up of answers to either-or questions:  Miracle Whip or Mayonnaise?  Sandals with socks, or sandals without socks?  Serif or sans serif?  I know there are quiz sites but I was imaging something more lengthy and random.

I was also telling my husband I could work out a social site that matches up likely conversation partners according to a list each person submits of their 100 favorite books.  My husband replied that most people don’t have 100 favorite books, even people who like to read.  This is true; people differ in their reasons for reading, their levels of choosiness, and their willingness to consider (or admit) that a book is a “favorite.”  So I would change that to a list of 100 Most Enjoyed Reads.  The situation surrounding the reading of the book can tinge your enjoyment, and that would add an interesting wild card to the matching.  It would also make the lists more likely to include obscure books.

Obviously, the built-in first factor of compatibility would be that everyone using the site was the kind of booky person who believes they would have more in common with a stranger on the internet who can rattle off their 100 favorite books than, say, a hipster stagily reading a copy of Man and Superman at the local coffee shop.

So I got curious.  Do I have 100 Most Enjoyed Reads?  I am list-maker by nature, so I keep a lot of lists of authors I want to remember or recommend to other people, but I have never just tried to make a list of books I loved reading.

Once I started, I realized I needed more parameters.  Further rules for the 100 Most-Enjoyed Reads:  1) Only one book per author.  So, if there is an author you really love, just pick out either your favorite book by that author, or a good specimen of enjoyability.  2)You think you would still enjoy the book if you read it again.  For myself I added: 3) Only fiction and memoirs.

The results were a little embarrassing.  I read more widely than my list suggests.  Apparently, the books I enjoy most intensely tend to be fantasies or speculative fiction or novels marketed for young adults (I do not apologize!).  Not much science fiction made the list, although I do read it.  Neither did much contemporary literary fiction for adults; most of which is in my head and right out again because it feels very flash-in-the-panny.  I tend to get bored with the protagonists’ banal struggles and, well, contemporaneity.  Or, in the case of historical characters, their anachronisms.  I read contemporary literary fiction the way I would watch TV if I watched TV.

We do watch plenty of DVDs though, and . . . *whisper* anime.  (There!  Now I’ve done it!  The most stigmatic genre-admission of them all!)

If you want to see my book list, click right over there to the side.  I’ve added it as a separate page.

Tea is a great motivator because it can be either the reward for finishing a task, or the reward for starting it. For example, you can tell yourself, “When I’m finished winding these spools, I’ll sit down with a cup of tea.” I prefer to say, “I’ll have a cup of tea while I take care of these spools.” Once I have put the reward in motion–put the kettle on, that is–I can’t back out. Resolve stated, tea in hand, I would feel silly just plopping down in front of the computer. Isn’t it just as as easy to wind spools as futz around on the computer while I’m drinking a cup of tea?

I became allergic to coffee about 6 years ago, but it was never something I drank regularly. As a caffeine delivery system it was just too harsh for me. Black tea generally has about 1/3 the caffeine of coffee.

I can drink tea while winding spools, threading, sleying, or drafting–anything I can take my hands away from long enough to reach for my cup. I’m careful, but I know the day will come when I knock my tea over on some yarn. Perish the thought. I do try to keep my tea in a separate part of the room from any yarn activities. It serves the further purpose of making me get up to stretch my back and arms.

But never mind that. The real reason you are reading this post is because it will guide you to a wonderful website!

Common Errors in English

I found it when I was checking out my idiom for the title. “The carrot or the stick” sounded right, but I wasn’t sure.  As Mr. Brians puts it,

The debate has been confused from time to time by imagining one stick from which the carrot is dangled and another kept in reserve as a whip; but I imagine that the original image in the minds of those who developed this expression was a donkey or mule laden with cargo rather than being ridden, with its master alternately holding a carrot in front of the animal’s nose (by hand, not on a stick) and threatening it with a switch. Two sticks are too many to make for a neat expression.

My first thought when I looked over his list of errors was, “I am so glad I am not a literature professor!” You know he must have found all these while he was reading student essays. Some of my favorites are missing (that/who), but what a list!

I’m not the old guard. I have a particular dislike for popular pet-peevish grammar and punctuation books. Yes, I have my preferences, and some of them are uppity (“different than” makes my skin crawl, though many sources allow it) but the blood of the language crusader has never thrummed in my veins. I do not pencil corrections in books. I like to think I stand with the more easy-going linguists. Everyone has a right to his own like, verbal peccadillos.


Written language is a bit different, and some of these misuses are so bad they’re funny. What surprises me is how illogical they can be. When a common saying remains in use but loses its original referent, that seems okay to me, because the referent has usually been replaced in people’s minds with a more up-to-date picture. (Or maybe the saying remains beautiful simply for the curiosity it inspires when you pick it up and look at it more closely: a language fossil.) But when a pithy metaphor becomes actual nonsense. . .

I like it that Mr. Brians doesn’t object to the carrot on the stick because it is a newer image, but because the extra stick clutters the expression: no longer simply x or y, but x and y, or y–where x is carrot and y is stick.

I laughed, I cringed, and . . . I found a few of my own mistakes. The Ukraine. Dove/dived (I still like dove). Careen/career (I thought careening could mean careering, too). Farther/further. Access (stubborn about that one too. I’m pro verb).

I also like it that he admits there’s no right choice sometimes:

“Macabre” is a French-derived word which in its original language has the final “ruh” sound lightly pronounced. Those who know this are likely to scorn those who pronounce the word “muh-COB.” But this latter pronunciation is very popular and blessed by some American dictionaries, and those who prefer it sometimes view the French-derived pronunciation as pretentious. It’s up to you whether you want to risk being considered ignorant or snooty.

To wind this up, I would like to propose (what I think may be) a meme. If you’re reading this and enjoy thinking about these sorta things, you’re tagged.

What expression or lyric did you mishear or misunderstand as a child?

I was about eleven before I realized there was more to this nonsense song than met the ear:

Mairsey dotes and dozy dotes
and little lambs e-divey.
Kiddle e-divey do,
Woudn’t you?