MKG Cable Gram—Volume 23, Number 1
The life of a librarian is popularly supposed to be reclusive and quiet, surrounded by peaceful things like books, ideas, and card-catalog data. To a knitters’ librarian’s existence is added the soft padding of yarn balls and the rhythmic clicking of needles—in short, Dullsville. So it may surprise you to learn that, in my office of Knitters’ Guild Librarian, I found myself one recent weekend under the bright lights of a live television studio with celebrities on every hand.
It hadn’t started out that way. In fact, I was working on my article for this Cable Gram—an article on how to use the Textile Center Library’s books when designing your own Aran sweater—when Carrie Mercer, the Cable Gram editor, called me. Interweave Press had just contacted her, frantically searching for a driver for one of its authors, who had scheduled a number of television appearances in conjunction with the Craft Yarn Council of America’s “Knit-Out” event, held that coming Presidents’ Day weekend at the Mall of America. Did Carrie know anyone who could help out at less than 24 hours’ notice?
Carrie did. Which is how I, dear reader, came to be the close personal friend (for two days) of one of the knitting and crochet world’s most recognizable celebrities: Lily Chin.
Chin, most recently the author of Couture Crochet Workshop: Mastering Fit, Fashion, and Finesse (Interweave, 2007), made her mark on many of us in 2002 with The Urban Knitter (Berkley) and with her columns for Knitter’s magazine. Born and raised in New York City into a family of Chinese immigrants, as happy in the world of avant-garde fashion as a fish is in water, Chin is a scrappy, flashy designer whose name is inevitably preceded by either “young” or “hip,” or both. She is also a tireless teacher on the XRX Stitches circuit and other knitting events — her bra-knitting class was especially memorable. And, if that’s not enough, she has won both the “world’s fastest knitter” and the “world’s fastest crocheter” titles, both in contests sponsored by the CYCA.
I was excited. How often do you get to drive a real live diva around town?
When I picked her up at 7:15 Friday morning in downtown Minneapolis, Chin had just spent two hours crocheting at full speed on camera for WCCO-TV’s early-morning news show. She had gotten up at 3 a.m., put on full makeup, pointed high-heeled boots, and the beautiful sweater that graces the cover of Couture Crochet Workshop, and hauled an enormous green suitcase full of yarn by taxi to the studio for a show that went on the air at 5 a.m. The news angle for this particular program was Chin’s work for a charity project, Warm Up America. The camera came back to Chin again and again, who gamely smiled as she showed them how many 7-by-9-inch crocheted squares she could produce in two hours. It turned out to be 20. (The squares were to be assembled into afghans “for people in need in the Minneapolis area,” according to the Knit-Out’s website.) Chin’s smile stayed genuine, and her crochet hook (crochet hook, people; it’s a clue) never faltered, even when the voiceover repeatedly proclaimed her “the world’s fastest knitter!”
In person, Chin turned out to be warm, friendly, and completely professional. She graciously claimed to remember me from the Stitches Midwest class I’d taken from her some 10 years before. We chatted as I drove her to Golden Valley and her next appointment, which was with KARE-TV. It turned out that I would be going with her into the television studio to help her set up for a live interview. And, after me and my little green Honda twice drove by the nondescript suburban building that houses KARE, we got there right on time.
Now, there are many reasons why I am not a good person to be on the set of a live television news show. For one thing, I was a print journalist for more than 15 years, and I am thus a complete snob about TV news, which always seems to involve a forgettably handsome 30-something man and a blonde of indeterminate age telling you what you read in the newspaper six hours ago. For another, I am not in the habit of watching much television, especially not in the morning, so KARE’s studios were crawling with famous people I have never heard of.
And, finally, I am a complete klutz—or, as I once put it after spraining my ankle on a perfectly even brick pavement, pedestrian-challenged. Put a camera cable in front of me, and I’ll either trip over it or spend the entire time obsessing about not tripping over it.
The studio at KARE turned out to be a large room, several stories high, edged by stage sets both temporary and permanent. Right next to the table behind which Chin would be crocheting on camera was an open kitchen where a chef was setting up for a segment on how to fry halibut. Next to that was a little raised stage on which the show’s co-anchors, temporarily off-camera, were discussing the morning’s hottest segment, which was (sorry, Lily) an interview with a dog handler fresh from the Westminster Dog Show in New York. (The receptionist at KARE’s front desk had asked us brightly, “Are you here with the dog?” and seemed disappointed that we weren’t.) Roaming the studio’s polished composition floor were enormous cameras like big black refrigerators bristling with lenses and handles and monitors, trailing cables like big fat rats’ tails. The cameras, controlled by one mostly invisible person stationed by the studio door, were awesomely robotic, tending to move and swivel without warning; I was creepily reminded of the Daleks on “Dr. Who.”
Chin’s segment went just fine. The table in front of her was covered with form-fitting items from her new book, including a beaded purse, an elegant cardigan, and a glittery bra. She crocheted throughout the interview. The forgettable male anchor admired the speed at which her fingers flew (they were blurry!), while the blonde female anchor did a credible job of imitating a real journalist. Chin told her that she got her start in the New York fashion world by working from a young age in Manhattan sweatshops: “child labor, but don’t tell anyone.” (During the earlier WCCO interview, when asked how she learned to crochet so fast, Chin responded, “Besides the steroids?”)
Suddenly it was over, and Chin and I were packing the clothes and yarn back into the green suitcase—quietly, so as not to interfere with the halibut-cooking segment now in full swing next door. We went out the back door into the Minnesota cold, and back into the Honda. Then, after a quick tour of the University of Minnesota (Chin, an architecture buff, was eager to see the Weisman Museum, designed by one of her favorite architects, Frank Gehry) and, yes, the Textile Center, I dropped her off at her hotel near the Mall of America, promising to pick her up at 8:15 the next morning for another KARE interview.
All went as planned on Saturday morning. I only got lost once on the way to the studio, and, unlike the previous day, I didn’t get pulled over for a speeding ticket. (Oh, I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? The officer let me off with a warning; I figured it was Chin’s karma that saved me $140 and what would have been my first-ever moving violation.) This morning, the green room had coffee and bagels. Back in the same studio as the day before, I felt almost confident as I stepped over camera cables to set Chin up in the same area she’d been in on Friday.
A little too confident, as it turned out. As I headed toward the blue-carpeted space that had been my safe off-camera haven on Friday, I failed to notice that today it had been rearranged. Two anchors (a different forgettable man and a different blonde) were sitting in armchairs, an artful flower arrangement on a table between them, and a person in a sweatsuit was making a chopping gesture behind the camera in front of them. Just in time, I veered off what was now the live-news stage. Ten seconds later, and I would have made my first regional television appearance—not a pretty sight.
Fortunately, the anchors barely had time to laugh at me before they composed themselves to read off the Teleprompters. I crept away to yesterday’s live stage, which today was serving as seating space for a motley studio audience. I had wondered what was newsworthy about a bunch of slack-jawed college students in T-shirts and baseball caps; it turned out, nothing. Today Chin was in head-to-toe black and silver, including a miniskirt, and her lively answers made her very popular with the guys who shared my stage, especially when she suggested that men should take up knitting because it was a great way to meet women.
Then this segment, too, was over. Chin presented the next guest, a white-haired newsman for whom this was his last show, with a pair of personalized hats she had made herself to help promote the CYCA event—one knitted, one crocheted. They were an instant hit; the retiring newsman wore the knitted hat throughout his entire interview, a big smile on his face.
That ended the morning on a high note for Chin. When I left her at the Mall of America, she was striding into the Knit-Out crowd, exuding high-heeled pleasure.
Oh, yes, and the Knit-Out was great, too. Almost as much fun as designing your own Aran sweater from a bunch of library books.
Because her term was up in April, this is the last MKG librarian’s report for Rebecca Ganzel Thompson, who lives in St. Paul. She continues on the MKG board as the Guild’s historian.