Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It's getting real!

That was the catchphrase of the day.

Put on my big black london fog trench, my old Fluevog F-boots and hit the drenched streets of SF today. I was the classy arty lady foretold by an old friend, with dark lipstick and arty Missoni cat-eye glasses.

I walked from Montgomery BART station up through North Beach all the way to fisherman's wharf most of the way to Cow Hollow (a mile on the bus). Bussed it down into the Haight, to the Lower Haight to Hayes Valley. Bussed over to Market and 3rd, walked from there to Union Square.

Yeah. I was dampened. My spirits aren't. Smiles beamed at the garments I was toting and the lookbooks I was giving out. There are people in SF who love my knits. Planting seeds, planting seeds.

Greenbrae, Larkspur, San Rafael . . . see YOU tomorrow.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Stoll Training Part II

I dug this one out of old files the other day. I have been remiss for not posting this sooner. It is a little more about the training at Stoll, written while I was still in Germany.

I have been studying at Stoll Germany for 3 and a half weeks now, and I feel that I can finally write a little bit about what the classes have been like.

We are learning how to program the computerized Stoll flat knitting machines using Stoll's latest software, M1+.

The software controls every aspect of the machine, including the speed of the motor, the amount of tension on the fabric as it knits off the needles, the size of the stitches, the distance the two needle beds shift when you do a racking transfer, the distance the yarn feeder stands from the edge of the fabric—absolutely everything. All these aspects must be considered and adjusted during both the programming and the knitting.

There are some great default settings as a starting point though, and many built in motifs and macros (they call them modules). Yes, there are deer, butterflies and snowflakes (no clowns). There are also cables and arans (10x10 cables—and the machine can knit them without breaking the yarn)!

These machines can knit the front of a sweater with cables AND jacquards in under 5 minutes (okay, depending). If you fine tune the program, you can DECREASE production time, a major issue.

If you are like me, and you are used to using a Brother Knitting machine or a Passap Knitting machine, the speed is dazzling. The techniques are awe-inspiring. This isn't even a “whole garment” or “knit and wear” machine, either. Those machines have four needle beds and you can knit a seamless garment with sleeves, patterns and everything. You don't even need to weave in the ends (well, maybe one or two).

The first two weeks were basic orientation to the software. The second two weeks we learned fully fashion techniques (to create shapes like necks and sleeves). We also learned a technique called “color arrangement.” Based on the way the machine handles intarsia techniques (did I mention most machines have three knitting systems and 16 yarn carriers?) you can trick it into executing the most amazing color and structure patterns you never dreamed. A student in the class from Amsterdam was able to create a fabric that was a 1x1 jacquard net on the back and a pointelle on the front using the color arrangement feature.

The students in my class come from diverse backgrounds.

Amsterdam works at a textiles lab and works with artists to help make their loopy fiber dreams come true. She has been using the Stoll equipment and software for a while now, and was sent by the lab to receive updated training.

Chicago is originally from Hong Kong where her folks run a knitting mill. She just graduated from the Art Academy and is here to get more skills.

Melborne has her own children's line and works with a artists hub where they have equipment you can access with membership. She teaches there. The Austrailian government sponsored her training here. Leischester has been operating and programming knitting machines since he was 16 and they were using punch cards. He is a freelance technician.

Eritrea owns his own knitting mill. A recent project they completed involved making close to 100,000 sweater vests for the South African officials who controlled crowds and traffic for the World Cup.

New Jersey graduated from art school a couple years ago and is interning with Stoll for six months.

They are interesting to talk to, kind, creative, and smart. They all have engineering minds. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't. This stuff is hard!

That's where it ended. Some of you had more questions about the industrial equipment and other things that happened. Like, when I went to see the singing Christmas Tree in Frankfurt,
or when I ate Kangurufleisch at a Teppenyaki restaurant. Drop me a line . . .

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Journey to the underpants

This trip to Germany has been rough on me, overall. Training at Stoll has been overwhelming, international travelling interfered with my sleep patterns and I have struggled to stay in good spirits.

Despite the fact that the last few days I have been battling a fever and a sinus infection, I went exploring today.

First, I stopped by Zum Schwann Konditerei for coffee, then headed into Reutlingen.

The Wienachtmarkt was in full swing. Folks were drinking gluhwein and eating massive sausages. There was all kinds of crap from China you could buy as gifts, but also a life-sized creche, live lambs, and tons of candy.

A seven year old was making heaps of euros clunkily honking classics like “Jingle Bells” on a trumpet. A group of four middle-aged Russian men were making far less playing exquisitely bouncy marches on trombone, euphonium, french horn and trumpet down the street. I think they were making it look too easy.

I got on a bus to Pfullingen to get to the Unterhosen. I didn't know where to get off the bus, but I thought I would figure it out. A woman sat down next to me and started chittering away in German. “I don't speak very good German,” I said in English. “Oh!” She responded, in English. “Are you a horse rider? Those look like horse riding boots.”

“No, uh . . .” I smiled a little awkwardly.

“Where are you from?” I said I was from California. “We do not have very many Americans here. What are you doing here?” I told her I was training at Stoll. She looked confused. “Strickwaren.” I said. “Oh! Strickwaren.” “How long are you here?” I said one more week, that I will have been here for four weeks.

“That is not very long, considering how far you travelled!”

“Well, it's a long time to be from home though!”

“People here are not very friendly to foreigners.” I shrugged. I told her my interactions were very limited, just buying things at the grocery, and people were nice enough. Maybe I couldn't tell that they were unfriendly, because I didn't understand most of what they said.

“I am going to my church, to get, how do you say . . . sweets? Little breads?”

“Cookies!” I said. “Yes! They are really the BEST. So pretty, you almost don't want to eat them.” Then she told me that her church was special, because it wasn't like the rest of the churches, that are controlled by the state. They have their own church leader. She asked me where I was going.

“To Unterhausen, but I don't know where to get off the bus.” She looked confused. “Which . . . wagen halt?” She put her hand to her mouth, and repeated “wagen . . . halt.” “When . . . should I leave this bus?” She still looked baffled.

“You get off the bus with me, everyone gets off where I get off.”

We got off the bus. I started to wander towards the city map next to the bus schedule to check it out. There wasn't a soul on the street. “Uh, where do I go now?” I asked her. “Um, I don't know.” We looked at the map. “Is this it?” I pointed at a green patch. “Yes!” “So, is it this way?” I pointed. “Um, it's a very long walk!” I shrugged. “I wanted to go hiking.” “Hiking! You should have stayed on the bus! It would have taken you right there!” “It's okay,” I said. I will wait for another bus. She was crestfallen. I told her not to worry, it's okay. She tried to direct me to go to the grocery store across the street, or the Pfullingen Wienachtmarkt a couple blocks away. I told her I was fine. She said goodbye, and walked away. A few minutes later, she came back with a sack of cookies for me, as an apology. I thanked her and said goodbye again. What a lady!

After 25 minutes, another bus came, and I got on. I knew where to get off the bus now. The map at that bus stop showed the hiking trail up the hill. I snapped a photo of it with my iPhone, then started walking.

First, I was in a suburban neighborhood. Then, I was on a narrow paved path surrounded by apple trees. There were some signs I couldn't read. It appeared to be a research orchard. The trees were laden with apples, but had no leaves. They looked like Christmas ornaments.

The paved path ended. The ground was thick with orangish brown leaves. The forest was dense and dark. I was near the Schwarzwald, but not in it. I started thinking about Grimm fairytales. I walked very slowly. Old men passed me. I stopped to look under gnarled tree roots for elves.

After about an hour, I reached a plateau. Short grass stretched out before me in a large field. It reminded me of UC Santa Cruz. In fact the field was bordered by oak trees, and acorns covered the path like pebbles. There were also rose hips on leafless branches. More Christmas globes.

I crossed the path and started up another, steeper hill. I could see "the underpants" now. A hard steep climb, but very short. Schoenberg Turm. I climbed the spiral staircase, slowly. Lovely views! I stayed at the top a long time, feasting my eyes on the scenery. Then I started thinking about sundown, and getting back to the bus stop, and when the buses might stop running on a Saturday.

I descended, and wandered to the edge of the field to look out over the valley. I saw something white on the ground. It was a tiny piece of paper. A fortune from a fortune cookie!

I remembered that I had brought a cheese pretzle and a beer with me. I sat in the fading light and drank half the beer and ate half the pretzle. Feeling full, and a little drunk, tired and happy! Heavenly! The sun shone on me and I took off my hat to soak it up. A falcon cruised the valley maybe 50 yards away from me.

I descended to the lower field, and ate the other half.

Then I tromped back to the bus stop and ate some cookies while I waited for the bus.


Saturday, November 12, 2011


Hi there from Deutschland!

I am in Reutlingen, attending a 4 week class on software programming for Stoll Knitting Machines. Just wanted to update you all at once to how things are going for me on this trip.

Stoll's NYC headquarters called me about a week before my trip and told me that despite having made arrangements in JULY, I had not taken the "machine handling" class that was a pre-requisite for the software class. Therefore, I would have to wait until next year to take both classes over the course of 6 weeks, or I would have to rush to NYC and take the class one on one in a compressed time frame.

With many loose ends that I still needed to tie up, I scrambled to prepare to leave early, and flew out to NYC a couple days later. I arrived absolutely exhausted, hanging by a thread and struggling with jet lag. I stayed with Melissa and George and Baby Felix the first night. We had "Chexican" for dinner. There are Mexican restaurants in NYC operating by Chinese folks. The fajitas were seasoned a little like stir-frys. It was interesting, tasty and super duper cheap! Felix is teething which equals interrupted sleep. I press on!

Stoll was kind enough to provide me with accommodations for the rest of my stay, but they were in Queens, about an hour train ride each way to and from Manhattan where I put in 9 hour days on the equipment. The first night was Halloween. There was all kinds of noise from the street as people partied. Sleeping problems! The next night, a couple NYPD officers spent about an hour chatting about strippers right outside my window until I finally got out of bed and told them to leave. Oh, sleep, what are you?

The good part about Stoll putting me up in Queens was that the apartment also housed two of Stoll's knitting techs. Henry, a young guy from Shanghai, and Stuart, a seasoned tech originally from England. Stuart was a verbose and jolly guy who had studied and worked everywhere, done everything knitting, knew everyone, and even invented a way to do circular 2x1 rib on a v-bed Shima machine (rather mind-blowing and I am still trying visualize how he programmed this feat). He lived with his family in Quebec on three day weekends and worked crazy 11-14 hour days at Stoll all week. Henry didn't speak much English but was super nice. I showed him how to take the express train to get to work a little faster. The Colombian grocery stores and bakeries in Queens kept me well fed on the cheap.

My instructor, Eddy was excellent, kind, helpful and encouraging. I was surprised at my ability to control the complex machinery and even to understand it's inner workings. It is just like my knitting machine, only bigger, stronger and faster with about 10 times as many moving parts, features and a touch screen computer that controls its EVERY move. Okay.

Stoll NYC was in the busy season for building Fall 2012 samples and Stuart was knitting a run of about 200 sweaters. It was hard to get access to a machine sometimes. It was great to check out the Italian yarns the big name designers were using and see the tech's trouble shoot the machines and programs until everything was running smoothly. Alexa, a young, sassy tech from NYC who studied textiles at Kent State--or was it Bowling Green . . . anyway. She let me help her thread up a couple machines to run overnight (they were behind). They were samples for Calvin Klein, so we had to check to make sure that we got the right "gray" yarn out of this huge box (of course there were FIVE different ones mixed in there, each designated by a 9-digit code, cross referenced to a color card and the tech pack). The next day, I asked how the run went. She said all the yarn was breaking in the machine. Still behind . . . and there I was taking up a machine. Errrr . . . but everyone was really nice to me, and took time out of there day to explain things to me and answer my two-year-old questions. "What are you doing? What's that? Why?"

I was able to connect with Sachem, who has a ridiculously awesome flat in Brooklyn now. We ate some sushi. Then, I was riding the train to JFK at 9 at night on Thursday. I arrived in Germany Friday morning, now it's time to cope with jet lag! Despite a truly lovely weekend with my Uncle Steve and cousin Ania's family, I was starting to get a bit grim from sleep deprivation. We ate delicious Vietnamese food on Friday night at Ania and Oli's. Their 2 year old daughter, Paula, is gifted for languages, speaking both Polish and German constantly and picked up some English from me and Steve during dinner. Steve and Ziggy provided me with an exquisite bed where I slept deeply that night.

The next day, Steve fed Ziggy and I an absolutely divine salmon omlette, then Ania and Oli and I took a walk in the forest. The fall colors were popping everywhere. The forest was full of mushrooms, moss, pine cones and birds. Paula needed to help teach Oli all the German and Polish words Momma had been teaching her. "Koch, Oli! Pilzen (mushrooms)!" Ania and I were able to connect. I am so grateful for my lovely family!

[Ania, Oli, and Paula in the Taunus forest outside Frankfurt]

I spent that night in absolute despair freakout on the phone with first Isaac and then my parents, in tears. "Nothing is working and we're all completely F&@$#KED!!!" Then I took an Ambien and conked out. Sorry guys. I was having a moment.

The next day Ziggy, Steve and I took a bike ride along the Nieder. It was a crisp but sunny day. Frankfurt is a BEAUTIFUL place to visit. We had so much fun. We ate a delicious lunch in Bad Vilbel. Then it was time to get on the train. Yay! I love the hauptbahnhofs in Germany. I got a lovely sandwich for E1,50 to eat on the train and settled in with some knitting and Dalai Lama on audio book.

I arrived at my sad little apartment in Betzingen, got the wifi connected, and prepared for class the next day. More on that later.

A little gray raincloud has attached itself about a half meter above my head, and irritability sizzles my manner in the afternoon now, but I feel that I am getting back on track.
[Isaac, I told you about how small the motorcycle engines are in Europe. This one was parked outside the Bosch headquarters in Reutlingen. Look closely, it's a 125!!!]

I promise to write more about what class, Stoll Germany and the other students are like watch the ridiculously bad video of our sing along last night, but that is quite enough for now!



Sunday, June 26, 2011

What is this genre called?

I keep seeing these mini dresses that look like cartoon, sanrio, muppet things. What is it all about? Each picture is a link to an etsy shop where this style is featured. Comment if you can help me out with what is going on here. It looks fun, but I don't think I could pull it off.

Example one:

Example two:

Example three:

There are more. Many more. Help a sister out.