Thursday, January 31, 2008

Airport Knitting

I've just gotten back from another short over-nighter. This time, I went well-armed. Well-armed, of course, means having not just a couple of absorbing books but also a good portable knitting project.

What I had underway in the way of candidate knitting projects were the Pine Bark sweater, another project with large pieces, and a small one with little pieces that would be over too soon. None of these was particularly portable. But after the last trip -- caught in a five-hour flight delay with nothing to knit! -- I wasn't going anywhere project-less. Party? Dentist? Gotta have a project. Grocery store? Gotta... (well, no; just kidding.) But, especially, airport? Gotta have a project!

Well, naturally, I had to cast one on. Anyone would.

I packed it in my handy GoKnit bag. And how I love that little bag. It's compact, but big enough for a ball of yarn and small project, and, with its snap tab, it can hook onto my belt, purse strap, or what-have-you. When I don't feel like having things dangling off me, it's small enough to tuck inside my purse. I realize I must sound like an ad, but it pleases me with its usefulness and its bright silly color, and it has gotten more than its share of use.

Of course, having a knitting project, I was proof against airline delays. This time no delays were forthcoming. That's not a bad thing, of course; I can't complain about it, but think of all the potential knitting time missed! I clambered aboard the plane, folded myself into my middle seat -- not having made travel plans far enough ahead to nab one of the hotly contested aisle seats -- tucked my elbows tightly against my sides and contentedly alternated reading and knitting from "ensure that all your belongings are stowed" right on through to "remain in your seats until we arrive at the gate."

I looked around at the people nearby. By the end of the flight, they had stiff backs, popping ears, and grumpy dispositions. Would it be wrong to pity them? For I had all these things and a precious inch or two of lacy little sock cuff!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Scribblin' and Figgerin'

The Orange Effect hats have now been bestowed on their boisterous and appreciative recipients. I wasn't entirely sure how they'd go over, as the Yarnstruck nephews have reached the age of style-consciousness. But I knew it was going to be OK once they all surged into the house. Little niecey spotted the hats on the coffee table, hollered, hey look what I found! -- and they all fell to dividing up the spoils.

In an unexpected development, little niecey claimed the ribbed watchcap for her own. Luckily, I'd made an extra hat, thinking world's-most-patient-husband might want a second one, which was sacrificed in a good cause. Luckily also, the ribbing makes the watchcap very flexible as to size. So there were hats all around and a good deal of silly mugging.

After that, nothing remained to keep me from my knitting goal of the weekend: break loose the blockage and get going again on the Pine Bark sweater. I'd been flirting with it for the last couple of weeks, playing peek-a-boo with little projects like the hats, but hadn't quite mustered the momentum. Indecision is a besetting sin for me and was the cause for the sweater's having gotten stalled in the first place. But in a burst of determination a few weeks ago, I'd swatched until the remaining basic design decisions were made.

Now it was just a matter of the laborious green-eyeshade- and-pointy-pencil working out of all the precise little details. No big decisions, just a whole lot of little ones. But since I'm making it up myself on this one, nobody was going to do it for me.

So I gathered the swatches and the rulers and the sketches and the notes on scraps of paper and the graph paper -- whew! puff, puff -- and a pointy pencil and set myself to scribblin' and figgerin'. I spread out all over the kitchen table and scratched my head and muttered and made mistakes and erased them and muttered some more.

The sweater having been put aside for a couple of months, it took me a fair amount of muttering and head-scratching just to remember exactly where things stood and what I'd had in mind. One good thing, I guess, about giving a project a long enough nap is that it turns you into your own proof-reader and test-knitter. Having forgotten everything, I had to rediscover it all archaeologically from the artifact itself and any accompanying hieroglyphics. This gave me a fresh set of eyes and a certain detachment.

In fact, in laying out the front neck design, I found I'd made a mistake in the completed back of the sweater, that had been done and tucked away all this time. The neck width would have been an inch narrower than planned, because I'd forgotten to account for two times the edging width in calculating the neck opening. Arggh! But on the bright side, picking out and reknitting half a dozen rows of the back helped me to procrastinate just a little longer on the rest of the scribblin' and figgerin'. And let's not even speak of how big an Arggh that would have been if I had figured it out once the whole sweater was done and ready to assemble!

Getting up to go and wind a fresh skein into a nice apple- shaped center- pull ball provided another helpful diversion.

But finally, delaying tactics exhausted, I set back to work and graphed out the front neck and sleeves. And by golly, I think I got the whole thing pretty much licked.

I grabbed the needles, and the sweater front, which had been halted at the armholes pending the front neckline being sorted out and permission granted to proceed, and got back to knitting.

It was interesting discovering this yarn again as well. This was the Naturally Harmony 8-ply felted merino wool from New Zealand. It's awfully unusual in texture.

Here, see for yourself. It really does seem to be felted, as in what knitters do to shrink and mat a knitted object to a firm, dense texture; not fulled, as in what spinners sometimes do to bring up the soft fuzziness in a woollen-spun yarn. But it's still light and pliable, not at all stiff.

And the important thing is that Pine Bark is finally rolling again. I'm a few inches above the armholes and halfway up the split neck placket. It's going so fast I can feel the wind whistling through my hair! When I say that, of course, just bear in mind that even five miles per hour seems pretty whippy and fast if you've been at a dead standstill for long enough.

Sleeves, here I come!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Knots and Rings Socks Take a Bow

And they're looking rather nice, I think!

I got the Knots and Rings socks finished a few days back. Despite the dangers along the way, they came through just fine, I'm happy to say.

This pair of socks is my good-humored-brother's Christmas gift, albeit a bit late. That is, all but one cuff is late. On the day, he actually opened his present to find a single cuff, still on the needles, along with a big ball of yarn. This worried him a bit, as I have a penchant for offering to teach everybody to knit. But that was not my intention. This time.... :)

Anyway. The Knots and Rings socks are my own design, with a cabled cuff, ribbed foot, and contrast toe. I chose not to make a contrasting heel, mostly because it might peek out of a pair of shoes, making the socks look a little too casual. I was envisioning something businesslike and handsome.

They're knitted in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks That Rock Lightweight. The main body of the socks is in the Lagoon colorway and the contrast toes in Haida. The colors are more accurate in this picture.

I used US size 2 needles, for a gauge of about 7 1/2 stitches per inch, and made them in a men's large size. I used one full 4 1/2-ounce skein of Lagoon, and about one ounce of Haida.

The Lagoon yarn was actually a little stiff to knit with, which is why, after some experimental swatching, I went with larger needles than the label suggests. At first, knitting with the Lagoon, I wondered why people seem to like Socks That Rock so much. But, thankfully, the Haida yarn used for the toes seemed a little softer. After trying out Haida and a couple of other colorways, I'm a convert. It's pleasant, bouncy yarn, with beautiful stitch definition. And there are scads of great colorways.

And what about those dangers along the way? Well, let's just say it's good to think about what project you might make and how much yarn it is likely to take when you're making that impulse yarn purchase, not a month later and 3,000 miles away. But the contrast toe added of necessity makes for a more interesting sock, and the Haida colorway blends in beautifully.

All's well that ends well. I hope he'll like them.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Heaping Helping of Hats

Maybe it's the suddenly cold weather. Or maybe it's a desire to tidy up some loose ends. Or maybe I just needed a break from knitting socks, socks, and more socks, after knitting three pairs in a row. Whatever it is, it caused me to dip deeply into the Yarnstruck strategic yarn stockpile and come up with the Wool-Ease Thick & Quick.

I bought this yarn a couple of years ago, in the Pumpkin and Claret colors, to make a school-spirit hat as a Christmas present for world's-most-patient-husband. It was kind of an impulse project. I hadn't really been looking for a super-bulky yarn, but that happened to be the one yarn at the local chain store that came in the requisite colors. Not sure how much I'd need and not wanting to run short, I bought four skeins, two in each color. I do like to have a safe margin. But once I'd knit the hat, it was clear I'd bought a ridiculous amount. Between the two colors, I had the equivalent of three full skeins remaining. Since then, it's just been lolling around, idly wondering whether it might want to grow up to be a matching scarf.

Finally, Friday, something clicked. I realized that there were a couple of close family members I'd never hand-crafted anything for. With the help of my new digital scale, I also figured out that the remaining yarn could easily make three more hats. I could make team hats for my brother-in-law and my two teen-aged nephews, football-mad fans all.

The brother-in-law version, like the husband-hat, was loosely adapted from Rebecca Rosen's Just Ribbing watchcap in the Just Hats book and re-worked for a different gauge (3 stitches per inch on US size 11 needles). I also added a graduated striped design. The 3x3 ribbing looked quite different in the super-bulky weight, and made for a lovable hat with a good personality. I hope my brother-in-law will like it; he has a kind heart and plenty of team spirit. (And trust me, it looks better on a person's actual head.)

For the teen-aged nephews, I needed a better idea of what might go over OK in the high-school crowd. I checked out a few ready-to-wear styles on-line. Based on that, I designed a fairly simple hat, and knit it up hoping for the best. It didn't look half bad, so I reversed the color scheme and made another one.

Here's the artsy top view. I've given the hat a name, too: Orange Effect.

The nephew hats looked pretty decent. But I still had yarn left. Yes, I wanted to do something nice for the guys, but I'd also been hoping to clear out that yarn. The scale told me it was enough for yet one more hat. I thought, why not? World's-most-patient-husband could use an updated one. So I grabbed the needles and had at it one more time.

In the end, those skeins I'd bought for one hat wound up stretching to five. Four of those, all but the original one, were knitted in the last three days in an on-again- off-again marathon of big yarn and hefty needles.

Here's the whole stack-o'-hats. (The original one sneaked in there too, on the bottom floor.) And, yes, the yarn, for the most part, is finally wiped out. Close enough, anyway. All in all, a pretty good weekend's work, I'd say.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Big Yarn

Builds Strong Bodies

I've been knitting with big yarn this weekend. After the last few projects with tiny little yarns, precise and delicate, this comes as something of a shock to the system. No neurosurgery here with sensitive little instruments, no fine motor skills, no grasping things gently. No, this is all muscles and sinews, pulling and levering sturdy yarn with big, thick needles.

I'm knitting hats with Lion Brand's Wool-Ease Thick & Quick, a super-bulky-weight yarn. This is no gently bred raised-with-a-silver-spoon yarn, it's a hearty, hard-working, level-headed, wheaties-for-breakfast-and- a-cup-of-strong-black-coffee yarn. You don't knit it with skinny little needles, either. The label calls for massive US size 13s. I'm using US size 11s for a warm, dense fabric. I suppose using smaller needles than recommended is adding to the physicality of the whole experience. But even at that, these are big needles. After weeks of knitting socks with US size 2s, they feel like cudgels. And if it came to that, in hand-to-hand combat between this yarn and me, I think I would win, but it would give me a good run for my money.

With each stitch, the yarn courses through my fingers in great inch-long bounds. My fingers and thumbs work hard, pushing and pulling. And, since I'm knitting in the round on double-points, the yarn constantly threatens to come off the ends of the needles. Although it's just a few stitches on each 7-inch needle, they sprawl and push their way to the ends of the needles through sheer bulk.

But when I get to the end of each row, I really feel I've done something. With big yarn, you don't knit row after row wondering if you'll ever get anywhere. Each row is a sizable chunk of visible progress. Inches of thick fabric practically leap from the needles. When I say I'm making hats, I mean I'm on the third hat in two days. It's not that I'm any champion knitter; it's just that it goes so fast with the super-bulky yarn. And not only do I see quick progress, but I feel it, too. I can feel the workout I'm getting in my biceps and in the meaty parts of my forearms.

I'd better get in shape, too, because I've got a whole sweater's worth of another super-bulky yarn waiting for me in the stockpile. Truthfully, though, it will probably be easier, because I most likely won't be knitting it at a dense gauge with smaller-than- recommended needles.

The yarns I'd been using lately are finely spun, made of precious fibers, individually hand-dyed, bearing the hand of the artisan. This acrylic-blend yarn is more redolent of large-scale production. And yet, part of it is lambswool. 20% of this mass-market juggernaut grew on a little baby lamb gamboling on a hillside somewhere. This whole business continues to amaze me.

Now, please excuse me while I go look for a hot compress and some Ben-Gay ointment.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Frost Flowers

Sometimes nature is just astonishing.

Just a quick one today. Yesterday's enchanted lull being at an end, I could no longer act as if I were snowbound. I went out to my car this morning to hurry to an early meeting. There was a thick coat of frost over everything, and my windshields would need to be cleared.

But when I leaned over with my icescraper, what I saw sent me running instead for the camera.


A fleur- de-lis.

Irises and roses.

I am so glad I was lucky enough to open my eyes and see it, rather than heedlessly destroying such beauty.

Lovely, Lovely Snow

It's been a busy week for me, rushing from all-day meetings to the airport for a quick trip to Boston. I didn't expect to have much time there, and hadn't brought along any knitting. My projects in hand were either at a tricky stage or large.

I rushed through security, armed myself with a snack and a book, rushed to my gate, and prepared to board the plane. There all the rushing stopped. They were boarding, all right, but the display said Orlando, not Boston. Well, I thought, I'd better check the departure board to make sure I haven't made a mistake, hadn't I? As it turned out, my flight had been delayed. And, startlingly, it wasn't delayed for 10 or 15 minutes, but for four hours. (It was actually closer to five, when all was said and done, but four is what the board said.) No shortage of time now.

The problem wasn't in Boston. They had had 15 inches of snow the day before, but that had been dealt with by then. New Englanders do pride themselves on how well they cope with the snow and how poorly they think we handle it here in the mid-Atlantic. They have it plowed, and salted, and cleared in the blink of an eye. They take it all in stride, never missing a beat. We know this because they often take the opportunity to explain it to us. But this late plane was coming from elsewhere, actually a warm-weather place, so the Boston weather had nothing to do with the delay. There was nothing to do but wait it out. I wandered the airport until its diversions palled and settled in to read. It made for a late night getting in to the hotel, followed by an early morning and a breathless day.

Meetings over with, the return trip was smooth, with no ripple greater than an exceptionally chatty seatmate. I got home, sank gratefully into bed, and awoke to...
lovely, lovely snow!

I was delighted. Snow does fall here a few times each winter, but not so often that we lose our joy in it. And this time, I was particularly happy to see it. It snowed all day. It blanketed and muffled and damped down work's anxiety, and urgency, and hurry. It gave me just the excuse I needed (roads might ice up!) to decide to stay home for some much-needed time to relax. And sit by the fire. And knit. I lunched on home-made soup. I finished the Knots and Rings socks for my good-humored brother.

I had a peaceful, pleasant day looking out at the snow falling and doing exactly as I pleased.

And they think they know how to handle snow!

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest

What about the Knitting Pattern-a-Day calendar -- what's inside?

Well, it's got a totally different personality. It is just what it says. It really is essentially a pattern every day, six days a week (since Saturday and Sunday are combined). That's a lot of patterns. This calendar is earnest and hardworking.

Deducting for the combined weekend entries, and a few that continue over more than one day, that's something close to 300 patterns. What a staggering job it must be to put all that together. When there are so many to compile, you aren't going to get there by commissioning new patterns from top designers. Instead, they issue an invitation each year to all and sundry to submit patterns for consideration. And all and sundry respond.

As far as I can tell, they hear mostly from three categories of submitters: yarn companies providing pattern support to sell more yarn, designers and bloggers trying to establish or expand a following, and just everyday ordinary folks saying, hey look at me, I've got my pattern in the calendar!

So the patterns run the gamut. Some are extremely simple, obvious, even. Lots of scarf/baby blanket/shell patterns in this yarn or that, or in a generic weight. Sometimes they're in a nice stitch pattern, or in an interesting colorway. Sometimes they're just as plain as can be but have a lovely warm thought from the submitter to accompany them. There are afghans and accessories, dishcloths and spa mitts, toys and strange things, like knitted lace bookmarks and decorative sleeves for votive candleholders. Some days it's just the stitch pattern itself. Then there are plenty of sweaters, hats, mittens, you name it. Some are attractive, and some unfortunate, some stodgy, and some really stylish.

Sometimes there's something interesting and authentic. A traditional Norwegian sweater from Arnhild Knitting Studio. A sock adapted from Dutch fisherman's style sweaters by Joanna Daneman.

Sometimes there's something arrestingly original, like the gansey-styled sock (whose designer I'm sorry I can't remember off the top of my head), that translates the gansey's traditional underarm gusset to serve as a heel.

And once in a while, there's something gorgeous. An elegant sweater by Annie Modesitt. A sock by Cat Bordhi. A domino knitting project by Vivian Hoxbro. A beautiful mosaic pattern. A chevron-patterned capelet in handspun alpaca.

The quality is patchy, from amateurish to great. Some days the pattern is a groaner, the photo muddy and hard to make out, the project laid out lumpily or modeled by a loved one feeling awkward in front of the camera. Other days, the pattern shows a real eye for style. Maybe this unevenness is what has me pulling for it. It's like a child getting the hang of riding a bicycle, with someone running along behind, pushing and steadying it, just on the verge of wobbling off on its own with its training wheels.

This year, I notice they've changed editors. We'll have to see if the new editor helps with smoothing out the bumps without losing the nice parts. Signs so far are mixed. The photography seems clearer and more consistent. Some of the patterns continue to be strange. Maybe stranger than ever. A shoulder car-seat-belt cozy. String bikinis for your hands. (Really. Narrow bands around the wrist and each finger, all connected by strings.) Oh, and dear new editor, one request is to avoid continuing multi-day patterns onto that combined Saturday/Sunday entry. It just makes for yet one more day without a new surprise.

It's the daily uncertainty that makes it exciting. People who complain that there aren't many patterns they'd like to make are missing the point. If you want to know what you're getting or have a particular style in mind, this is not the place to look.

But if you love the jelly-beans-all-sorts chanciness of never knowing what's next, it's interesting, maddening, pleasing, disappointing, and utterly... wonderful.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Another Kind of Fun for a Calendar Girl

Yes, I'm loving my Knitting Pattern-a-Day calendar, but wait; there's more!

This year, my young teen-aged nephews decided to give their Auntie Yarnstruck this. Of course they knew I would like it, but no doubt they were also enjoying the frisson of doing something just slightly risqué, since it has a (bad word) on the cover!

Regardless, having reached the lofty eminence of having had about a dozen days of reading both knitting-o-day calendars, I now feel supremely qualified to hold forth on their respective merits.

For anyone who hasn't cracked one of these open, a basic thing to be aware of is that the S 'n B one is not a pattern-a-day variety. Actually, if you want to be literal about it, the Knitting Pattern-A-Day calendar doesn't have a pattern every single day either, since Saturday and Sunday are combined. But that's neither here nor there.

The S 'n B calendar is more the chatty type. Each day might bring a tip, some interesting knitting fact, a beautiful yarn, or a profile and picture of a S 'n B group somewhere in the world. Only on Fridays does a pattern appear, with the notion that you might start on it that weekend.

The overall tone is, of course, irreverent, youthful, newbie-friendly, just like the whole S 'n B phenomenon in general. In fact, if you've been around the block a few times as a knitter, you might find some of the knitting tips not all that tippy. Sample: a trick for being able to tell which side of your piece is the right side.

Still, not everyone has built up a big collection of knitting books (guilty) and studied it like it holds the meaning of life. It's interesting and new to many to know about Sweden's Bohus knitting collective (beautiful fine-gauge colorwork), or about when written knitting patterns first started to be published and what sort of challenge they posed. It's interesting to hear about the local S 'n B groups, how they started, where they meet, what's notable about them.

The highlighted yarns and the patterns so far tend toward the in-crowd trendy and artisanal, Spritely Goods, Spunky Eclectic, Curly Purly. Really, that's part of the point. Learning new things and soaking up the do-it-yourself spirit are all well and good, but part of this also seems to be about flocking with the knitting community -- or rather a particular, albeit large, segment of it. Some of those tips and pointers (why wool is good!) take on the flavor of a shibboleth, something that those in the group know and say to distinguish themselves from outsiders and to feel part of the group. It's cozy, really.

Nothing wrong with that! Wool is good.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Day Flipper

A girl and her anything-a-day calendars.

I confess, I am nutty for those page-a-day calendars. For years, I haven't been able to be content without my Dog-a-day calendar. You know, the one where people send in pictures of their dogs, looking winsome, looking soulful, looking beautiful, looking playful, looking out over a dramatic landscape, looking goofy in a costume. Each day, there's a picture of a dog, with his name, his owner's name, where they're from, and a story, some dog-care advice, a how-about-that interesting fact, a literary quote.

One year, I didn't happen to get one at the turn of the year, and I thought I could, for once, live without it. On the contrary, I grew more and more wistful, missing my morning ritual of tearing off yesterday's page to reveal the new dog o' the day. I ended up ordering it in February, when calendars were long gone from the bookstores. And for full price, for heaven's sake -- when we're already deep into the year in question. Don't these people know that calendars are half price on January 1 and forever thereafter? Everyone knows it's the law. Well, maybe they just knew they had me over a barrel. I needed my daily dog.

But it's not just dogs. To me, there just must be something intrinsically appealing about the page-a-day format, the promise of something new and possibly exciting every single day. Plus, all those pages have a second life as a year's worth of notepaper. I get to revisit each image once more before scribbling a phone message on the back.

No, dogs for me alone were not enough. I found additional scope for my calendar-a-day infatuation in gift-giving. Wine-a-day, stupid-crook-a-day, Elvis-a-day; nobody is safe from me. One of my dear ones probably had a narrow escape at some point from a fold-your-own-paper-airplane-a-day (and I still think it sounds like fun). Whatever the topic, you name it, put it in a page-a-day format and I'm fascinated.

So imagine my excitement, about three years ago, when I first spied a Knitting Pattern-a-day calendar. An entire, brand new knitting pattern surprise every day. I was on it like a wild jackal.

I've been hooked ever since. As it happens, the actual fulfillment it provides has been mixed. Some patterns are hits, some are misses, but the anticipation of a potential knockout is always there with each new day.

Of course, the knitting pattern-a-day concept leaves you with some residue. That is, a whole lot of patterns. This calendar doesn't have that handy self-cleaning feature of trickily recycling itself as notepaper. For one thing, many of the patterns continue onto the back of the page, severely limiting the scope for scribbling. For another, knitting patterns have the quality of seeming like reference material one might want to use at some point, making them harder to throw away, if you're the accumulating type. So there's a potentially troublesome issue here. But that's a worry for another day.

Anyway. Well, of course that must mean I've given up the daily dog, right? ...right? No, that I could never do. To get my day started right, I must have my knitting pattern du jour and my dog o' day. In fact, little did I know, I had been severely deprived until then. If you can't have a page to tear off at home when you first wake up and one to get you rolling when you arrive at work, what kind of a life is that?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Galloping to the Rescue

Reinforcements have arrived. We're saved!

Now I can take care of December's unfinished business, before I get all caught up in rhapsodizing about January's projects. My brother's Knots and Rings socks, poor things, had been lying here for a week or two, toeless, begging for some coordinating yarn that would let me finish them off by adding contrast toes. They were looking really handsome in their Socks That Rock Lagoon colorway, but so sad, truncated of their toes.

Actually, when it comes down to it, it may be more than just contrast toes that they need. I came up more than just a little short of yarn. It may wind up being something more like contrast demi-feet!

Beyond my natural aversion to leaving anybody in quite that state, they were a Christmas present, to boot. So I've been anxious to get them done.

And there, on the right, it's new contrasting yarn to the rescue. Bless you, U.S. Postal Service! And I must say, the Blue Moon Fiber Arts people were quite snappy about filling the order, too.

Oh, what's that on the left, you ask? Well, never you mind. A girl's allowed to have a little treat now and then. :)

Anyway, the new yarn is Socks That Rock Lightweight in Haida, one of a new group of Blue Moon Fiber Arts colorways that they call the Raven Clan. A Google search to satisfy my idle curiosity yielded the information that the Haida are a Northwest Indian tribe centered in British Columbia. In their mythology, the Raven's exploits included creating the earth. A Haida legend recounted here tells how the crafty Raven brought the universe its light. So this name has layers of resonance.

Each of Blue Moon's Raven Clan colorways is made up of various colors drenched in overdyed black. Haida is based on a palette of blues. It will be interesting to see it in the morning's light. In the weak indoor light of a winter's evening, it's hard to see any blue at all; it looks like black with some hand-dyed tonal variation. Even now, though, I can see that the barely perceptible shifts give the color a little more life than a flat solid dark color has.

But either way, visibly blue or not, I think it's going to work out just fine!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Stuck on Socks?

For pity's sake. Isn't there anything else besides socks I want to work on? I've started another pair.

Actually, there is plenty besides socks that I want to work on. The first item I'm raring to go on is the Pine Bark sweater that I haven't mentioned in a while. It was laid gently aside for a rest while I wrestled with indecision about what kind of neckline I wanted for it. I started the Gentleman's Fancy Socks to provide a mental intermission -- though it didn't quite turn out that way -- then found myself in the holiday season, knitting presents in slow motion while waiting out a case of the flu.

And so Pine Bark has had a little nap of two months. But its time is drawing nigh again. A week or two ago, I swatched and drew little charts and swatched some more until I figured out the basic plan for the neckline and stitch patterns for the edging.

Now, one might have thought that I'd have done that with the actual Naturally Harmony 8-ply yarn I'm using for the sweater, so I could not only eyeball the samples but also measure the relevant bits. But then one would have thought wrong. That would have been too sensible. No, I swatched with an unrelated ball of unknown beige yarn in a heavier weight. I think it was actually given to me long ago by my great grandmother, left over from one of her projects. Why did I dig that up rather than winding another ball of the Harmony yarn to experiment with? I have no idea. But it's kind of neat to have even little scraps that belonged to Great Grandma, my first knitting teacher. And it's nice to encounter them once in a while. So maybe that's tangled up in all this somewhere.

Regardless, since I'm designing the sweater myself, I shall have to swatch a bit more in the correct yarn, and then do a little calculating before I can get going on it again. But I'm looking forward to getting my teeth back into a big, meaty, satisfying project. It's so close I can smell it.

The socks are just a good snack until I get going. Besides, I had gotten all that sock yarn out to look at, wanting candidates to finish the Knots and Rings socks that were in need of contrast toes. Besides, there's someone else I wanted to make a pair for that I didn't get to in time for the holidays. Besides....

Oh, why not admit it? Socks are like potato chips. The colorful yarns. The small size. The limited commitment. The interesting stitch patterns. You pop one in your mouth, then another, then another. Bet you can't eat just one!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

And So It Begins

Behold, my first finished object of 2008. It's arrived much sooner than it might have, had I taken down Christmas decorations, written thank-you notes, and done any number of other useful things on my to-do list. On the other hand, it's awfully nice to have a new handknit for myself, so I'm not going to second- guess it!

I made these from the Feather and Fan sock pattern in the Socks Socks Socks book. The yarn is Socks That Rock Lightweight in the January One colorway. It took less than one skein. After knitting the socks with US size 2 needles to get the 7 1/2 stitch-per-inch gauge, I still have about 23 grams of yarn left over, proving once again that women's socks take much less yarn than men's.

These socks were pretty much a romp to knit, especially sock two, once all the decisions and adaptations had been made. The feather and fan lace pattern was fascinating in what it did to the hand-dyed colors.

Where the feather and fan works its magic, the colors look dark and humid and tropical. They remind me somehow of the paintings of Martin Heade, a 19th century American artist, of hummingbirds and orchids in the rainforest. On the sole of the foot, however, where it's plain stockinette, there's no mystery. It's just a perfectly straightforward stripe, albeit in a sophisticated colorway. It amazes me that a mere stitch pattern makes such a difference.

The pattern is a nice one, suits this yarn well, and is clearly written. I like the scalloped garter-stitched top edge. It also has a couple of other entertaining features. It uses a Dutch heel turning, basically square instead of triangular, and the heel flap is ribbed, something I hadn't seen before. I like the way the ribbed heel flap looks and feels on the foot. I did make a couple of small modifications. One was to lighten the purled ridge detail where the foot meets the ankle. (You may be able to just make it out in the picture above. It goes across just above the heel flap, and up and over the instep.) I changed the double ridge called for, which I thought looked a little heavy, to a single ridge. In this strongly colored and patterned yarn, you almost don't notice it at all, but I still think it adds a little zest in comparison to having a smooth sweep of feather and fan all the way down the cuff onto the foot.

The other change was in the toe shaping. As written, the pattern tells you to begin the toe two inches short of the desired length, but then the actual toe shaping adds three inches. The decreases are specified for once every four rows, in a toe style that's normally decreased every two. Then at the end it goes lickety-split, with decreases in each of the last few rows. Well, every four rows is most unusual. I think it's most likely a typo, although the XRX publishing page has no reported errata for this pattern.

I changed it to every three rows until the aforementioned fast finish to get a two-inch-long toe. That worked out reasonably well, though it's still just a bit roomy and could probably stretch without a problem to fit a women's large. If I were to knit these for a medium size again, I'd be inclined to knit them at a slightly tighter gauge.

On the whole, I'm very pleased with my new socks. I'll enjoy wearing them. They make me happy just to look at. And with the merino wool, there's not even a hint of a prickle!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's Knitting

For me, the New Year has started in much the same fashion as the old one ended: with food traditions and knitting entirely more than is good for me. Each New Year's Day, for luck in the coming year, we eat black-eyed peas. (I don't know why they're supposed to be lucky, but it's a Southern tradition. You don't question some things.) We may have already taken care of the luck part with the fried oysters on New Year's Eve, but there's no such thing as too much luck!

On the knitting-too-much part, it's so easy and comfortable just to settle in with whatever's on the needles and placidly knit away for hours. (Maybe pausing now and then just to give the hands and wrists a break, get a drink, make a meal.) On a holiday, OK, there's nothing wrong with that. But what I have to guard against is letting it take over too much of my time on ordinary days when there are things I should be doing. Despite its many wonderful aspects, knitting can also be an insidious way to procrastinate. It's something I can pick up, thinking I won't spend a lot of time, thinking how satisfying and productive it is, just enjoying myself for a few minutes and then a few more minutes.... And I might just keep on doing it for much too long as a way of putting off something I'm not as eager to do. I also get very determined to make it to a stopping place, a milestone point like finishing the sleeve or turning the heel, before putting down the needles.

So, while I'm not a big resolution list-maker, this year I'd like to be mindful of when I choose to knit, for how long, and why. I don't subscribe to the "knitting with an attitude" rhetoric about abandoning housework, haircuts, and what-have-you to make more time for knitting. (I doubt if even those who do say those things really want to live that way.) I'm looking for balance.

I'd also like to reduce or reverse the growth rate of my yarn stockpile. Yarn should make me happy, not crouch in great piles in the corners of my sewing room making me nervous. I've acquired quite a lot in the last couple of years, some as travel souvenirs (as Mary points out), some from getting comfortable with ordering from on-line suppliers, some from festivals. And some from my new spinning hobby! All of this has been jolly good fun, but at this point, I'd really like to bring more of the many sweaters, socks, and shawls-to-be to fruition. I enjoy them in my imagination, and I'm looking forward to enjoying them in real life.

So I'd like to make that a priority this year. I'm not setting any rigid rules for myself, of not buying yarn at all or until some certain number of projects has been completed. I'd just like to be knitting more than I'm buying for a while. I've actually been doing reasonably well on that lately, at least since returning from my vacation in November. I've mostly been giving my local yarn stores a breather. For Christmas presents, I focused on coming up with patterns to show off the beautiful yarns, instead of the other way around. That's the spirit I want to continue with for a while. I have so much yarn that I really love; there's no reason to keep eclipsing it with new yarn coming in.

I think it might be a good goal to make most of my projects from my already-on-hand stock of yarn from now until the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in May. (I can hardly believe it's already less than six months away!) I'd like to be able to browse joyously through the panoply of things on offer there and find something wonderful to bring home, instead of feeling guilty all the while about overdoing it.

For a little comradeship and encouragement, I've signed up for the Burnin' Up The Stash 2008 group that Knittin' Diva has organized over on Ravelry. There seem to be plenty of people there with giant yarn stashes in need of drastic reduction. It makes me feel very mild-mannered by comparison.

So now I can congratulate myself on making progress on the Feather and Fan socks not just because they're fun to knit, not just because I'm looking forward to wearing them, but also because I'm virtuously using up a skein of yarn I already have.

Happy 2008 to all -- I wish you a happy and healthy year of balance or excess, each according to your own druthers!