Monday, December 31, 2007


In Scotland, there's a custom at New Year's known as First-Footing. Friends visit each others' homes just after midnight, bearing traditional gifts, to ensure that the first foot across the threshold in the new year will be a friendly one, bringing luck for the year to come. There's a lot of great information here, at this BBC-sponsored wiki site, about First-Footing and the other customs of Hogmanay, the Scots New Year.

Here at Yarnstruck Manor, we're having a pleasant New Year's Eve in, with wine and smoked salmon for celebration and fried oysters for luck. Strictly speaking, the fried oysters should have been for Christmas Eve, but the stores around here had run out. We'll just assume that a fried oyster make-up session before the end of the old year will still have the same effect!

There's also first-footing going on at Yarnstruck Manor tonight, but of quite a different sort. My brother's Christmas socks -- which I'm calling Knots and Rings -- are on hold awaiting the yarn for their contrast toes. I already had three other colorways of Socks That Rock Lightweight on hand, but none of them was right for the Knots and Rings socks, so those will have to bide their time. Meanwhile, though, I couldn't help but start on something new.

I'd been thinking of two of those three skeins for possible future presents to particular people, but this one wasn't spoken for. Time for a pair of socks for me!

I hadn't really thought about it, but of all the pairs of socks I've knitted over the years, only two pairs have been for me. And they were made of pretty basic yarns -- a little prickly, in fact -- before I discovered nicer ones.

So, with this yarn, I started yesterday on a pair of socks for myself. Working with this skein, the Socks That Rock yarn is starting to grow on me. It doesn't feel as formidable as the skein in Lagoon. It feels lighter, more flexible, actually a little bouncy with elasticity. It's really rather nice to knit with.

In talking with fiber people about spinning, I've been told that different colors of dyes can affect the texture of the fiber. In particular, they tell me that when wool rovings are dyed with blue and green colors, it can actually felt them slightly, making them a little harder to draft out for spinning. I wonder if there's some similar effect going on with the different dyes with this yarn.

In any case, I began work on the Feather and Fan sock pattern from the Socks Socks Socks book. The first foot of this pair of socks will be the first new foot in our house in the New Year. Perhaps I should walk outside and carry it in over the threshold at midnight!

I like the way the pattern is working with this yarn. This pair is going to be fun. (The color is closer to true in the photo above; the overall effect is not so rusty as this, and the color changes don't really look this jarring.) I'm looking forward to finding out for myself what it's like to wear a pair of merino wool socks.

Now, what about that colorway? Yes, it's... January One. I swear I didn't plan it that way on purpose! But it's awfully appropriate for first-footing, don't you think?

Actually, I'm pretty certain that it's named after the January One blog of Cara, the founder and patron saint of the Spin-Out event held the last couple of years in the New York area. If so, I'm grateful to her for inspiring this colorway, because I'm really enjoying watching these colors paint themselves over the feather and fan pattern. And once they're socks, these colors couldn't help but be cheery on a winter's day.

I hope you're enjoying New Year's Eve as well. Lang may your lums reek! (Scots for: Long may your chimneys smoke!)

Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

How Much Is Enough?

Quantity of yarn seems to be an issue all around, just now. How much does it take? How much do I need?

In yesterday's post, I didn't think to mention how much yarn the silky scarf required. Let me remedy that now. It took only one 100-gram skein of Handmaiden Sea Silk, with plenty left over. In fact, thanks to the new digital scale I got for Christmas, I can tell you that there are 32 grams left. Based on that, I estimate that Mom's scarf must have taken roughly 300 yards of yarn to knit.

Now, about that 32 grams. That's far too much to throw away, especially since it's so lovely. There's an old saying from times of wartime scarcity: "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." That really appeals to my innate frugality. I'd like to use the Sea Silk up. What do you suppose I can make from 1/3 of a skein of Sea Silk? I'll have to give that some thought.

My brother's socks are another matter entirely. I knew all along that there was a good chance that one skein of Socks That Rock would not be enough to complete a pair of men's socks. Even though the skein is about 4 1/2 ounces, the yarn is dense and heavy, so the yardage is moderate. Nevertheless, I knit heedlessly on, figuring that, if needed, contrasting toes would be my secret weapon. Once the first sock was done (but the yarn not cut!) I would determine whether I had enough for the second by comparing the weight of the completed sock and the remaining ball of yarn. When I got there, the completed sock weighed 71 grams, and the rest of the ball weighed only 51 grams. Not even close! I was definitely going to come up way short. I could feel the difference even without the scale.

Well. Contrasting toes are an awfully nice touch, don't you think? And they spend most of their time deep inside shoes. Nobody but the wearer need ever know, unless he chooses to doff his shoes and wiggle his toes. Surely that bespeaks a cozy degree of chumminess that ought to be able to withstand even the most startling contrasting toes! Besides, my brother is just generally a good-humored sort of fellow.

So, using my handy little scale, I ripped out enough rows to even up the weight. I knit the second sock to the same point, thinking all the while that I could do the toes with one of the other skeins of Socks That Rock that I already have on hand. I do want to use the same type of yarn so there won't be a difference in texture.

Now that both socks are ready, the question becomes acute. Here are my options. The skein in the center seems the most likely candidate, but it's not ideal. I find that I'm pickier now than I had expected. My sweet brother's good humor notwithstanding, I want to present him with a beautiful pair of handknit socks, not one thrown together as potluck.

So even though I'm eager to keep going, it looks like I won't be happy unless I order another skein specifically chosen for these socks. It will still need to be a contrasting color, since another skein of the same Lagoon colorway would most likely be from a different batch and leave a tide mark. I'll order another color that I hope will coordinate, and pace the floor impatiently until it gets here.

Looking at all of the beautiful colorways on the Blue Moon Fiber Arts site, it's awfully tempting to throw in a couple more pretty skeins for myself while I'm at it. But that would be gratuitous, wouldn't it? While my store of sock yarn has not reached national strategic stockpile proportions, I can hardly say I'm lacking. After all, how much is enough?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Satisfying Finish

I do love the time right after Christmas when the frenetic pace of preparation and celebration gives way to relaxed lazy days with no deadlines. It's a great time to sit by the tree with a cup of hot spiced cider... and knit!

Now that my Dad has his socks, and my Mom her scarf, I thought I'd give a little wrap-up on the finished objects.

Gentleman's Fancy Socks
from Knitting Vintage Socks, by Nancy Bush

I made these socks in the yarn specified by the pattern, Schaefer Anne, which is a very fine-gauge hand-painted yarn of merino, mohair, and a bit of nylon for durability. It is soft and luscious to knit, with a little loft and a soft halo from the mohair. It's superwash, too, which is nice. This yarn goes a long way. There are 560 yards in the 4-ounce skein. I have well over an ounce left over!

The tag that came on the skein didn't identify a colorway. Looking around a little on the web, I've found that a number of sites (like this one) say that skeins of Anne are one-of-a-kind, impromptu small-batch creations using dyes on hand from making other Schaefer yarns. Several other sites (like this one and this one, for instance) offer named colorways of Anne for sale, so I'm not really sure! In any case, this skein is in subtle, masculine greens, ranging from sages to olives to khakis. The true color is somewhere between these two photos. It has enough variation for interest and depth without distracting from the stitch pattern.

I used size 1 double- pointed bamboo needles (vs. the size 0 needles called for in the pattern). Bamboo needles are not a particular favorite for me. I find them too bendy, and I always feel like they could give way at any moment. It's like knitting with licorice sticks. But I knew this project was going on a vacation with me, and I figured airport security staff and fellow passengers would find the bamboo needles less scary than my trusty steel double-points. So bamboo it was.

I did modify the pattern somewhat. It had some very unusual features, including a "seam stitch" down the center back of the heel, unusually pointed shaping of the toe, and side-to-side grafting. In this book, Nancy Bush seems as much archivist as designer. I, however, was more interested in producing a comfortable, well-fitting sock than in recreating a museum piece, so I eliminated the "seam" and redesigned the toe to a more typical rounded shape.

In the end, I was very happy with the results. The yarn is lovely, the stitch pattern is attractive, stretchy, and accommodating, and the socks fit nicely. Hooray!

Scarf with Striped Border
from Victorian Lace Today, by Jane Sowerby

I made this simple lace scarf in Hand Maiden Sea Silk, a lovely yarn of silk and Sea Cell, a cellulosic fiber made with a smidgen of seaweed. In this case as well, I don't know the colorway. The tag from the skein says only "Hand Dyed in Canada -- one of a kind." This site has good photos of about 40 of its gorgeous colorways; from the picture, it looks like mine might be the Renaissance colorway.

I used size 5 Brittany birch needles. The pattern calls for size 7 needles, but I was looking for a finer texture without such large loops. (On the other hand, in the end, I over-blocked it slightly to open it up. Hmm.) In this project, the Brittany needles had their chance to shine. For most things, I prefer shiny steel or aluminum needles, smooth and fast, but in this case, the wood was perfect for providing a little grip on the slippery silk.

The pattern, which also seems to be referred to by many as "the page 80 scarf," was accurate and reasonably easy. I enjoyed the technique for knitting the borders sideways and the body of the scarf vertically without breaking the yarn. The only modification I made was to add an extra 25 repeats of the two-row pattern in the main body. This was necessary to regain some of the length lost because of the smaller needles. It came out just a little narrower than the width in the original pattern, but pretty close to the original length. It's a wonderful, versatile size that can be worn many different ways, simply knotted in the front as a decorative accent over a blouse, or wrapped around and around and tucked like an ascot.

And the scarf itself? I think it's glorious. After blocking, it has a lovely drape, and the patterned ends, which remind me of fishtails, show beautifully.

I'm absolutely in love with the colors, and the sheen of the silk, and the way they work in this pattern. I'm delighted with the pooling of the colors over the length of the scarf. I look at the striking rose/fuchsia streak against the deep, quiet blues and teals, and I see a slow flow of lava, glowing in the nighttime, turning this way and that to follow the terrain, crusting over a little as it cools, and finally disappearing into the sea in a cloud of frothy spume. I love the way the lava-flow contrasts with the short vertical dashes of color in the borders.

Most important of all, my Mom loves it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Oh, my. I can't believe it's been ten days since there's been so much as a peep out of me. Well, I'll just say hello briefly for now, and then hope to get back to normal in the next few days. To all of you who have been able to get through the busy holidays and still keep connected with your usual activities on the Web, I salute you!

For my own part, I had to hurry, but managed to enjoy at least a smattering of all the traditional holiday festivities and a lot of warm and wonderful time with family. My immediate family lives nearby, and my in-laws traveled in from Florida retirement-land.

The tree was decorated, and I had the pleasure of rediscovering all my special ornaments and the stories and memories behind them. Holiday music was played. The cards were sent. The presents were wrapped. Ribbons and bows had to be skipped in the interests of time, but sometimes we have to make a few minor sacrifices on the little things to get the bigger ones right.

My mother-in-law and little niecey came over to do their Christmas baking. And since my sister-in-law's kitchen is in the midst of renovation, I was able to have the pleasure of hosting our whole smallish but lively crowd for both Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner.

The couple of handknits I gave as gifts were enthusiastically received. I've talked about them here over the last few weeks, but tried to be just a bit cagey in case the recipients should be looking. Now that I can speak freely, a finished object comment and picture or two might very well show up here shortly. Even my brother's half-done first-sock-of-a-pair, wrapped up needles-and-all, was received with pleasure... that is, once he was reassured that he wasn't going to have to learn to knit to finish them himself!

I received some really wonderful knitting and spinning-related presents from family members who don't share these all-consuming hobbies themselves, but go to a lot of trouble to come up with things that make me happy.

I'll leave you today with a few pictures and my warmest wishes to you and your families for the best at the holidays and in the coming New Year.

Here's Santa's little helper getting the decorating underway.

Christmas baking in my husband's family means Norwegian specialties like kringla and these lefse (flatbreads), ready to be rolled up with sugar.

This is the special rolling pin used to make the lefse.

Here is a sheet of my little niecey's cookies ready to go into the oven.

This is the start of my brother's Socks That Rock Christmas socks -- and about as much as there was to wrap!

And now I'd just like to extend all my very best to you and yours.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What's All This I Hear...

About Socks for Rocks? What do rocks need with socks anyway? They don't need to stay warm; they're cold-blooded. Rocks are warm anyway. Lizards climb on them to bake in the sun. Rocks don't need socks to keep their little shoes from rubbing. They don't wear shoes. They don't even have feet! And to think there are rocks getting socks when there are children in this world who don't have any.... Oh, what's that you say? It's not socks for rocks? It's Socks That Rock? Oh. Well, that's very different. Never mind!

So, Socks That Rock. The yarn that so many sock-knitters are gaga for. The yarn that makes a thousand bloggers swoon. The yarn that causes them to swarm like locusts over the Blue Moon Fiber Arts booth, picking it clean within hours, leaving only a dry husk. I had to see what all the fuss is about.

It's time anyway to pick another project to start. The striped border silk scarf is pegged out upstairs. Stretched out on all her pins, she looks beautiful but a touch desperate. Like a Bond girl, about to go into a threshing machine, giant drill, tank of sharks, or nuclear ice melter, with the villain standing by. "James, James!" she cries, "Don't worry about me, go ahead and save the world first! There are still eight seconds left before this thing runs me over!" But, like the Bond girl, she will soon wind up safe, fresh, lovely, and perfectly coiffed. I'm going to leave her to block a while longer. I want to wait a full 24 hours, to make sure she's completely dry. Pinning out a project for blocking, while it does have a certain absorbing quality all its own, is not something I'm anxious to repeat.

Meanwhile, I've pulled out a skein of Socks That Rock lightweight to play with, in the Lagoon colorway. It's a nice masculine combination of inky blues and greens that I will no doubt have the dickens of a time trying to photograph. I do basically know my way around a camera; I have a decent working knowledge gained through a short stint on a school yearbook staff. Finding all those same functions on a menu-driven digital camera, though, is a different kettle of fish. Sooner or later, I may have to spend some focused time with the manual. But there's no need to be hasty!

I started swatching with the Socks That Rock, curious about all the hullabaloo. It's pure merino, fairly tightly twisted, the plying showing a certain corded look. I imagine the tight twist is both to keep merino's reputed tendency to pill at bay and to make the yarn strong for socks, since it has no nylon content. The feel of the yarn is solid and firm. There's no airiness in this stuff, no fuzz, no compressibility. It feels forthright, foursquare. I yam what I yam.

The label calls for eight to ten stitches per inch on US size 1 needles. With size 1s, I got eight stitches to the inch on the nose, and a dense, solid, firm fabric. I think I'm going to have to acquit myself of being a tight knitter. I wouldn't be able to get ten stitches to the inch with this yarn if I tried. It's hard to envision the knitter who could. I think she'd have to be outfitted with a winch.

Getting acquainted, I tried some ribbing, a little texture, some cables. I finally went up to size 2 needles to get a fabric that's more pliable and doesn't require as much wrestling to cross a cable. I hope I'm not doing wrong by loosening it up. It does have a nice feel now, still sturdy, but with a bit of resilience that seems as if it would be more comfortable underfoot.

This yarn has many devotees. One reason, undoubtedly, is the selection of great colorways it comes in, with color runs well tuned to give a nice stripey effect. It also seems to show stitchwork very well, although of course the effect can be swallowed up by the multi-colored background. But are all these people making strong, dense socks? Sturdy socks that you'd need a good breakfast to have the strength to pull up over your feet?

Or does the yarn perhaps soften and bloom with washing to a more relaxed and approachable texture?

Or even, is the gauge on the label an in-joke, a bit of mirth? No, I think we can rule that one out!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Fog Creeps Out

Slowly, the flu-induced fog is receding on little cat feet. Or whatever kind of little feet it is that flu travels on. Little germ feet, maybe. Cilia, I suppose.

I just hope world's-most-patient-husband does not pick up this bug. It's no fun at all, and I don't want him to have to take a turn with it. But as much as I've been moping around the house all week, touching things, coughing, and just generally breathing around the place, I'm sure it's one giant booby-trap for the unwary. I'm just going to have to hope that he can get some extra rest and take good care of himself and manage to duck the whole thing.

As for me, I missed an entire week of work, and, more critically, time getting ready for Christmas. And in a cruel twist, even though I was stuck at home too weak and listless to do anything else, I did not feel like knitting! I went so far as to think that knitting seemed boring and pointless. I'm convinced it was the fever talking. (I mean, pointless? Knitting needles? :) Thank goodness the fever finally subsided and went away a couple of days ago. Good riddance to it.

So I'm slowly getting back to being not too much worse for the wear, other than some surplus tiredness and the occasional bone-rattling cough. And, boy, have I got some catching up to do. I hope to turn into a little Christmas dynamo for a few days. We'll see how that goes. I may have to make a few compromises here and there.

Merry Christmas, I got you this... pack of gum. Hope you like it! No, of course, I'm kidding. Balls of yarn for everyone! No, I'm still kidding. What compromises there are will have to be of the baking, card-writing, and decorating variety, to try to save time for shopping, wrapping, and spending time with family.

Anyway, one thing I did manage to finish is the rest of the striped border silk scarf from Victorian Lace Today. My version is a little smaller and more demure than the original in the book, since I went to smaller needles for a more contained and fine-grained texture. I did add a good dollop of extra repeats in the main body to get it to a decent length, however.

Once the main body was done, it was interesting doing the second border as a knitted-on border. I hadn't done one before, but it makes perfect sense. It's just basically this. As you go back and forth across the border, the last stitch of the border is knit together with one of the stitches of the body each time you bump back into it, allowing the border to "climb" up the side edge. It sure beats sewing seams!

In the picture, the knitting-on process is part-way done. The stitches of the border, being worked from side to side, are bunched toward the top/right side of the needle. The remaining stitches of the main body that was knit vertically are the smaller bunch on the left/bottom waiting to be folded in one at a time as I come to them. An interesting little chain stitch forms across the junction of the two sections.

The whole thing is sheering off at an angle at this point, partly due to the joining operation at hand, but it's also part of the general biasing that I hope will be brought under control by a good stiff blocking. Maybe I can work up a good head of steam and ambition to get that done tomorrow.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what this scarf will grow up to be!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It'll Do In A Nostepinch

Recently, I'd been trying what I call lap-skeining: knitting directly from a skein lying loose across my lap, instead of winding the yarn into a ball first. It was an interesting experiment but, ultimately, I decided, not my cup of tea.

I tried it when I was facing a 400-meter skein of fingering-weight silk and anxious to get started on my project, instead of sitting down for a marathon ball-winding session. Here, it seemed, was a way out! What did I need a wound ball for, when I had knees and gravity? So, laughing my evil henchman laugh all the while, I gave it a try. What I found, though -- once the initial exultant sense of getting away with something had ebbed away -- was that it turned out to be more extra fuss than warranted for the amount of time saved. This probably shouldn't have surprised me; otherwise, I suppose there would be lawless lap-skeining breaking out all over the land.

So it seems there's a reason why the wound ball was invented. Pulling a strand of yarn from the skein each time I needed to loosen another length was quite a delicate operation. It meant drawing the yarn centrifugally from the carefully laid-out skein, lifting the working strand off its fellows, their tendency to cling and pull up right along with it not always overcome by their own weight, and keeping the far loose end of the yarn from getting involved and causing a tangle. Nor was the knitting itself as relaxing and serene as it should be. In the back of my mind, there was a constant low-level buzz of worry that an ill-advised shift or motion could imperil the whole scheme. On the bright side, as Mary pointed out, when I really needed to relocate it, I could just hang the whole business rakishly around my neck. But on the whole, it was uncomfortably immobilizing. I couldn't do something as simple as re-crossing my legs without thinking about it. And that must be something I do a whole lot more than I ever realized, because not being able to do it sure was driving me crazy!

So it's back to the ball for me. Join the lap liberation front! Wound balls forever!

As knitters know, you can make a ball of yarn that pulls from the center by first making a little butterfly of yarn, then, making sure the loose yarn end stays out where you can see it, grasping the butterfly with your finger and thumb, and winding the yarn around and around over them. You have to keep the thumb in there for a good long time as you wind the yarn, to keep a hollow core in the ball so the end won't get sealed in too tightly to pull freely. You keep turning the ball on your thumb this way and that so the yarn will wind on evenly.

But as I learned when I started to read about spinning, there's a tool made just for the purpose, called a nostepinne. (That should actually be the special Scandinavian "o" with the little slash through it, but since I don't know how to make one, please just pretend it's there. :)

This pleasantly tactile nostepinne, made in Poland by the Kromski spinning wheel people, was one of my fun acquisitions last October at the Fall Fiber Festival in Montpelier, Virginia. This handy little tool helps liberate my thumb as well as my lap. In fact, a surrogate thumb is in essence what it really is. You hold it by the comfortable handle, and wind the ball onto the post, leaving your thumb free to answer the telephone, make a cup of tea, and generally come and go as it pleases. Just one of life's little luxuries.

But, of course, if you don't happen to have one handy, why let that be an obstacle? Even a pencil will do in a nostepinch! :)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Knitting When I Oughtn't To

Or, how knitting leads to the flu, and the flu leads to knitting.

This year, wanting to spare myself some pressure, I intentionally set no holiday knitting goals. Oh, if something I was knitting happened to be not for myself but for a loved one, and if it happened to get done around the holiday season, I certainly wouldn't quibble with that. I'd be happy to wrap it up, put a big bow on top, and pat myself on the back.

What I did not want to do is to set unrealistic goals, spend time knitting to a deadline, and get behind on all of the other wonderful but time-consuming things that need to be done to get ready for the holidays. This is a season I truly enjoy, but have, all too often, had to rush to the finish. But maybe this would be the year that I didn't have to stay up until 3AM to get the last of the gifts wrapped in time for Christmas.

Well, goals or no goals, it looks like I've let the knitting get out of control. I've been knitting when I oughtn't to. I've been knitting when I should have been (shopping, wrapping, decorating, tree-trimming, baking, ....) So I'm behind. At times, I've been knitting when I should have been sleeping. Well, for heaven's sake, why? Maybe it's just that a knitting project looks so inviting sitting conveniently by a comfortable chair. It's so easy to pick it up whenever there's a spare moment to be filled. And so hard to put it down. And then there's my stubborn streak. When I'm having a problem with a project, I'm just determined to get it right. If that means knitting and re-knitting and re-knitting, then I'll keep at it, even knowing I'm spending time out of all reason.

Have I learned anything? Well, yes. (1) I can't spend all this time with the knitting needles and not expect some consequences. Christmas is rushing up awfully fast, and I'm behind on all the things I love about it. (2) I can't knit late into the night in flu season with fevers and coughs running rampant among my co-workers and not expect some consequences. Yes, I came down with the flu this weekend and have had to spend the last few days nursing a high fever instead of puttering around with the Christmas decorations singing carols under my breath. Ever had the kind of fever that makes your head ache when you cough? The kind that makes every joint feel arthritic? The kind that makes it hurt to move your eyes? Me, too.

So, when down with the flu, one needs some quiet undemanding things to pass the time between naps. Like books. ... And knitting. That's the bright side, I suppose; I've had time to make some good progress on the knitting. The Victorian Lace Today striped border scarf is coming along nicely. I may or may not be finished with the main body and ready to start on the second, knitted-on border. I've done as many repeats as the pattern calls for, but since I went down a couple of needle sizes, it's not as long. So the question is, when to stop? The original pattern is a 60-inch scarf, after blocking. I'm not sure this one needs to be that long; that sounds like kind of a long, floaty-ended affair. It might be nice to keep it to more of a trim, tidy, wrap-and-tuck-into-your-coat kind of scarf. And, of course, I don't know how much length the blocking process will add. Maybe I should just let that sort itself out in the back of my head for a while. That might allow me, once the fever abates, to concentrate on making it begin to look a bit more like Christmas around here.

When I called in sick this morning, our wonderful secretary asked if she should check to see if there were any meetings that needed to be cancelled. Oh yes, great idea. She read me the first thing listed on my schedule. "Call about flu shot." Ha!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Off and Running!

One false start after another has finally come to an end. The scarf with striped border from Victorian Lace Today is on track and flying along. Really, it's such an easy pattern that I'm embarrassed to have had so much trouble with it.

The problem was in just getting it started properly. The wide border is knit from side to side, and matching up the tension of the cast-on and cast-off edges on the two sides was driving me to distraction. I knit the whole first border and then ripped out the entire thing three times, with various other entertaining excursions of knitting, checking, and ripping smaller patches along the way.

Mind you, there is nothing particularly difficult about the crochet cast-on method that the author specifies. It's just something I wasn't used to, and it took a while for me to learn what tension I was aiming for. And a ridiculously long time on each attempt to notice when I hadn't gotten it right. And much gnashing of teeth each time when realization came.

In frustration, I finally cut off some of the yarn that had been knit and re-knit until its smooth surface had begun to roughen. Really, I think I did it as much for the symbolism of a fresh new start as for the state of the yarn.

All is forgiven now. The scarf is coming along nicely. With just enough tightening up of the cast-on, and loosening of the cast-off, the two sides seem to be in agreement and willing to work as a team.

They seem here to be swaying together in some sort of romantic dance. With the silk, the drape, the lovely colors, maybe they're dreaming of being a ballgown. Perhaps they're twirling around the floor in a Viennese waltz.

The reality, of course, is more prosaic. The stitch pattern in the main body biases to one side, because all of the decreases are in the same direction on the same side of the fabric. I expect this will work its way out in the blocking.

I'm also looking forward to seeing the stitch pattern open up and become more airy. The pattern in the main body is simple, very simple. It really couldn't be much simpler and still be called lace. It's quite understated, but attractive, and serves as a restrained supporting player to the pretty borders on the ends. I found a Victorian Lace Today knit-along site, and there are a few examples of this scarf here, a couple of them even done in Handmaiden Sea Silk, as mine is.

The Sea Silk is gorgeous and perfect for this scarf. I absolutely love this colorway. In person, the colors simply shimmer.

I wondered earlier about how the horizontal color runs in the body would look combined with those that run vertically in the border. I have my answer now. With this needle size and stitch count, the colors are pooling in a beautiful way.

Ordinarily, this might not be something to strive for, but I think in this scarf it works. The slow diagonal flow of color over the surface of the scarf, surprisingly, reads vertically. It's quite in harmony with the striped eyelet patterns in the body and border, but provides movement and interest. And the massing of the hues together shows off the individual colors, in contrast to the way little dashes of color are interleaved in the border. Rather than competing, I think, the one really sets off the other.

I would never have predicted that I'd be cheering for pooling, but, well, there it is.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Scarf's Bane

Oh, crochet cast-on, bane of my knitting existence! What torment is hidden in these few words: "cast off at the same tension you cast on."

When last we met, I was resolutely re-knitting the first border of the striped border scarf from Victorian Lace Today, after making the painful but necessary (I felt) decision to rip out every last stitch. Why? Because once I cast off neatly on the far side of the border, the two sides didn't match. The cast-off was perhaps a bit too tight, which could be rectified, but the cast-on edge, done using a technique I hadn't tried before, looked sloppy by comparison.

It wasn't easy, but I felt I had to tear out all that work rather than let it rest that way. I muttered a few imprecations and ripped. Casting on again with a smaller crochet hook, I attempted to pull each stitch over the knitting needle and through the last loop a little more tightly than before. It was awkward work, as the two tools bumped against each other, but I thought I'd done better. I buckled down and made up the lost ground, finally casting off loosely with a larger needle and -- arrgh! -- it doesn't look so different from before.

Now, mind you, I am not a quitter. I can grit my teeth and start over yet again if I must. But to do all that and still wind up with hardly any discernible difference? I just don't know. And how much more re-knitting can this yarn take before it starts to look tired?

So which is more important? Striving again for neater workmanship, against doubtful odds, or avoiding further wear and tear on the silk? Maybe before deciding, I'll try practicing that cast-on a few times on another section of the yarn to see if I can do any better. Gee, maybe I could have thought of that last time!

On the bright side, I went ahead and tried a few rows of the simple pattern for the main body. It's easy and nice-looking, so at least that part shouldn't give me any headaches.

And let's keep things in perspective. This morning I called 911 for the first time. Driving on the highway, I saw a car swerve violently to avoid some debris. The driver lost control and the car spun around in the road. Thank goodness, traffic was light, and the car didn't hit anything, but it came to rest facing backwards in the middle lane. The woman sat there with her head pressed back against the seat, all right, I think, but shaken, drained, terrified.

I can deal with a little knitting crisis.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I've been working away on the striped border scarf from Victorian Lace Today, in Sea Silk. This morning, I knit the last couple of repeats to finish the first border and picked up the stitches to start on the main body.

That was a nice milestone to reach to send me whistling off to work for the day. It felt pretty good... for about 30 seconds.

What about those edges? The cast-off along the left side seemed to be drawing up more than it should. Would it be improved by having another go with a bigger needle? I was considering that when I noticed that the cast-on along the right side didn't exactly have the same problem. Hmmm. Left side, right side.

Left side...

Right side...

Oh, bother.

That right side was definitely a little loose and wobbly. Flabby, in fact. I was new to the crocheted cast-on method (not the provisional one, this one); it could use another try. But it was the cast-on edge! The very beginning of the project! To do anything about it, I would have to unravel the entire thing. I said to myself, surely it wasn't important enough for that. Surely I could live with it. Surely...

Looking deep inside, I asked myself. And myself answered. It said, "Don't call me Shirley." (It's very fond of silly movies.) But it was adamant. My knitting projects are not perfect. I'm certainly not the world's best knitter; I have plenty still to learn. But if I think I know of a way to make it better, I can't live with not giving it a try. I have to make it the best I know how.

When, as often happens, I've made a mistake eight rows back and have to redo all that work, I might moan a little bit to world's-most-patient-husband, looking for sympathy. He'll just laugh and say, "you know you love it." He may have a point. I know it's all part of the progress toward a result I'll be happy with. But sometimes a little more forward and a little less backward would be nice!

Of course I pulled out the whole cotton-picking thing. There was some comfort in noticing along the way that I'd made another mistake in the very first row, leaving out a row of plain knit before the pattern repeats began. So at least that gave me more than one reason for pulling it out right back to the beginning. This evening I got back to work, casting on with a smaller crochet hook and a firmer touch. I've gotten more comfortable altogether with this yarn, no longer coddling it with a limp-fish grip, but handling it briskly and decisively, letting it know I'm boss. (Just in case it contemplated slithering into some slack and undisciplined amoeba-like shape.) It's all been good practice, anyway.

So I'm now about halfway through re-creating the border. I think it's better. I hope it's coming out more evenly this time. But, if nothing else, at least I'll know I tried.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Or Maybe... Not So Big?

My little start on the striped border scarf from Victorian Lace Today seemed a little looser and loopier than I thought it should be. Checking against the instructions, based on the three repeats of the border completed so far with US size 7 needles, it seemed a little big. It looked like it would be wider than the specified finished width, before blocking.

Of course, a scarf gives you some leeway on size, so it wasn't necessarily a problem. But it did bear some investigation. I went ahead and knitted a repeat on needles a couple of sizes smaller.

Here are the two swatches, with the US 5 version on the left and the US 7 one on the right. The size difference was actually not as great as I thought it would be. But whereas the size 7 version was stretchy and sprawling, the size 5 version looked tidier. It really didn't take much considering.

So, decision made.
It's just as well. I was being too respectful of the yarn, babying it, and ending up with big loose stitches. (Maybe I'm not such a tight knitter after all!) After this bit of practice with the stitch pattern and yarn, I think the tension will be more consistent on the second try, as well.

And why is there a loose skein instead of a wound ball of yarn in the picture? It's because, after reading the Yarn Harlot's November 8 post, I was highly impressed with the way Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton simply knits directly from the skein.

Thus, I too had to attempt knitting from a skein just draped in my lap. I admit it's living a little dangerously. I may end up with a tangled mess that will take a lot of time and endless patience to sort out. But we can't shrink from a challenge, now, can we?

Or maybe I was merely feeling a bit lazy and not in the mood to wind a ball. :) I certainly hope I don't get interrupted and jump up suddenly without thinking.

Sometimes you just have to walk on the wild side.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

This Could Be the Start of Something Big

With knitting there's always something new. Today I turn from a sow's ear (yesterday's woolly pigs, that is) to a silk scarf.

Since my Seattle trip I've had this skein of Handmaiden Sea Silk asking when it could come out and play. Could you deny its pleas? I certainly can't any longer.

The Gentleman's Fancy socks have bowed, stepped aside, and made way for the lady. They're finished! They're actually feeling much relieved after having those narrow toes loosened, and are putting their feet up for a well-deserved rest.

The question was, what did the Sea Silk want to be? Despite never before having knit with silk, I didn't fret about this overlong. When I was at Stitches East in October, I saw a beautiful scarf that I think might be just the ticket.

It was in the booth of Ewenique Yarns, from Bel Air, Maryland. Hanging there was a simple scarf from Jane Sowerby's book, Victorian Lace Today, the striped border scarf in the wide-bordered scarves section. In the book, the scarf is pictured in a solid lavender silk, pretty but unexciting. The sample in the Ewenique booth had been made up in a hand-dyed silk-wool laceweight from Cinnamon's Dye Pot, in Monkton, MD, in a colorway combining short runs of reds, pinks, and purples that blended surprisingly well. In person, in the strong colors, with the sheen and drape of the silk, the scarf was a revelation. One of the ladies staffing the booth agreed. She said, that was the one [in the book] that we all thought was nothing!

The scarf is indeed simple. Its wide borders and main body are done in different openwork patterns on a garter stitch ground, with eyelets lined up to form stripes, nothing elaborate like many of the astonishing patterns in the book. I think that was actually one of the reasons it worked so well in the multi-colored yarn.

I wanted that yarn, but they had no more in that colorway, and once I had seen it no other would do. I scoured other Stitches booths for something similar without success. So I bade it farewell, but filed away the thought of the scarf for later.

With the exquisite Sea Silk now begging for something nice to do, that pattern came to mind again. It's just as well that it is simple and easy, relatively speaking. I've done a bit of lace knitting here and there, but never yet the serious kind with a thin yarn and large needles. (And the silk yarn is slippery.) The necessity for the more extreme kind of wet-blocking had caused me some hesitation -- a mental blockage, you might say. I finally steeled myself to get over that last year, in the interest of completing a mohair-wool lace stole that I wanted to finish for my Mom. It responded beautifully to the treatment, encouraging me to do it next time with a little more alacrity.

So I guess it's time to give some lacier lace knitting a shot. The Sea Silk seems to wish it.

Here is the beginning of the wide border at one end of the scarf. Though very different from the colors I had seen it in at the show, the darker and gentler colors of the Sea Silk look as if they will show beautifully in this pattern. It will be interesting to see how it looks with the streaks of color running vertically in the border and horizontally in the body.

Who knows? If the simple pattern with slippery silk goes well, I may be emboldened later to try one of the elaborate ones that are mostly imagination and loopy air.

News of the Wooled

The newspaper has been unusually entertaining this week.

From it I learned of the hitherto unsuspected (by me) creature of wonder, the woolly pig. It seems there is a breed of pig called the Mangalitza, now rare but common 100 years ago in Austro-Hungary, that has a sheep-like woolly coat.

Hearing this, my imagination ignited. If we can spin and make sweaters of goats, rabbits, the downy undercoats of dogs and the fur of New Zealand possums, why not the wool of curly-coated pigs? A little investigation, however, dashed such hopes. One article referred to their coats as thick and bristly. Perhaps a better candidate for scrubbing pads than sweaters.

But they're really quite cute to look at. Have a look here or here for pictures. Evidently, the blonde variety is the most sheep-ish in appearance. As for me, I'm tickled just to know that such beasts exist.

In other news, it seems that the rusticating pop star Madonna has caused a wool-related ruckus. Yes, she of the-ever-changing, carefully-orchestrated, controversial image has found a way to create controversy with sheep. Apparently, she and her film director husband were due to have their estate in the English countryside featured in a book. Not content for the resident sheep simply to look like sheep, she ordered them dyed in pastel colors for the photo shoot. The RSPCA fears a fast-spreading craze for pastel-dyed sheep.

No doubt they look cuddly in coats of pink and blue. They might be just what the sleepless would picture, jumping one after another over a fence, for counting. About this incident, though, there does hang a slight, effete whiff of treating the sheep as decorative props for the bored rich rather than as living creatures.

Plain sheep being too ordinary for her taste, perhaps she should look into woolly pigs!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Start As You Mean To Go On

I have a new friend who is learning to crochet. I host a small but broad-minded knitting group that shuns no-one. I'm not sure the quilters even know they're in a knitting group. Shhh, don't tell them!

Celeste paid us her second visit today. The first one was more reconnaissance to see what we are like. This time she brought her work and meant business. She had started a first crochet project, gotten bogged down, taken time out to crochet a simple baby gift or two (successfully, too -- good for her!), and now wanted to get it going again.

Her bag in her lap, she began reaching in to pull things out. This is just practice yarn, she said. The ladies in the local yarn store had told her this was a more inexpensive way to get started, until she's mastered it. She'd been shocked, I think, at the cost of yarn for a sweater she'd thought of for her small daughter. The yarn shop ladies offered the practice yarn and project as an alternative.

Out of the bag came three skeins of yarn, in pretty cream, pale blue, and taupe. Three skeins of practice yarn. Three skeins of ethereal, fingering-weight, fuzzy-haloed, baby alpaca. Celeste's practice yarn is Misti Alpaca.

At first, I have to admit, I was taken aback at the idea of such a wonderful yarn treated as practice yarn for a beginner's project. But then I started to see what perfect sense it makes. Even in the first awkwardness of handling unfamiliar tools with unaccustomed movements, the enjoyment of the beautiful materials themselves would help you to feel good about working at learning a new skill. I wouldn't suggest yarn of such a fine gauge and fuzzy hand for every beginner, but Celeste seems a precise sort of person, well prepared for the close attention it requires at first. The point, either way, is that it be beautiful.

She showed us what she'd done so far. Three or four delicate squares of a feminine, flowerlike granny square pattern destined to be a soft, lovely scarf. She showed us the pattern in her beginning crochet book. In her choice of practice yarn, her start at a scarf looked more appealing than I could ever have imagined the scarf in that picture could be. Much. Her first project will be a knock-out, that she will wear, and love, and take pride in.

The more I think about it, the more I realize she knew exactly what she was doing. Start as you mean to go on.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oh, What A Relief It Is!

Well, I went ahead and ripped out the toe of one of the pointy-toed Gentleman's Fancy socks and had another try. Here are both versions, modeled on my conveniently-available-but- smaller-than-intended feet. I don't know; do you think the redesign might have made a slight difference? :)

Seriously, with the original toe, I despaired of these socks ever fitting on a man's foot. But the one with the re-done toe seems like it might actually be roomy enough. Better, much better. Phew!

What amazes me is that, by my reckoning, the re-done toe on the right has only two more rows of knitting than the original on the left. Really. That's how much the extreme tapering of the toe was affecting the size of the sock.

Further field testing with a suitable test subject confirmed the initial findings. The new high-capacity design can accommodate a reasonably typical man-foot. Now that engineering design and validation are complete, production roll-out to Fancy-two can proceed post-haste.

I have re-checked the pattern for this sock in the Knitting Vintage Socks book, looking for any possible misunderstanding or error: the number of rows, the number of stitches at each stage, the length in inches. Everything checks out. It's just simply a pointy-toed sock. And even with 20-20 hindsight, the photo just gives no earthly clue that there is anything unusual about the shape of the toe. That sock must have been blocked within an inch of its life.

In any case, the finish line is in sight. Just a little more wanton raveling, some picking up of itsy bitsy stitches, and straightforward re-knitting, with an easy mind.

For the next project, after all this time spent with colors so subdued, I have a feeling I'll be in the mood for something brighter. And speaking of subdued, playing now and then around these parts is a band called the Subdudes. I can't say I know a thing about them, since I've never gone to see them play, but I do know a great name when I see one. :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bless Your Pointy Little Toes

Why, why, why didn't I trust my gut feeling a little earlier? I had a suspicion there was something a little odd about the shaping of the Gentleman's Fancy socks. But I was so happy to knit away thoughtlessly that I really just didn't want to dig too deeply.

In knitting the first sock, I noticed that the pattern had some, ahem, peculiar features. The heel turn starts with an unusually small number of stitches. The toe tapers down to an unusual degree before calling for grafting. The grafting weaves together the left and right sides of the toe, instead of the top and the bottom. These are not errata. They are all perfectly, precisely designed and specified. It was what you might call an interesting sock to knit.

When it was done, I tried it on myself, noticed a little room in the toe. OK, that was good. Extra room in the toe was exactly what I wanted to see. I was just hoping it would be large enough for a bigger foot. Not caring to examine the matter too closely, I focused instead on how handsome the stitch pattern looked when stretched out on the wearer.

As always, I went ahead and rushed headlong into the second sock. I knit my way through it quickly, blithely, unknitting and reknitting when I encountered the inevitable minor second-sock mistakes, untroubled and happy, until the thing was complete.

I held it up, looked at it, before asking for help from world's-most-patient-husband in testing it for size. I couldn't avoid noticing any longer; it did look a little odd.

Only then, finally, did I face the facts. OK, I admit it! The toes are a little pointy. Really pointy. Awfully pointy. Pointy enough to poke someone's eye out.

Just how pointy?

This pointy. Oh, my goodness.

This view is of the bottom of the foot. (Don't ask me why; that's just how it decided to pose for its portrait.) You can sort of see the side-to-side grafting, too, which only serves to emphasize the general abundance of pointiness.

Well, it's an adaptation of a vintage pattern; maybe people's toes were pointier then. Or maybe it was a perfect match to the pointy evening pumps late-Victorian gentlemen might wear with their tightly tapered trousers. But it's more a curiosity than a comfortable match for a moderately rounded set of modern human toes.

And as you can see... the heels are pointy, too.
But I really think that will just kind of stretch away when the sock is on an actual foot, won't it? Yes, I thought so too.

So, it's taken a lot of consideration and more than a few heavy sighs, but....

Dear Fancy-one and Fancy-two,

I'm sorry; I don't know how to break this to you gently, so I'll just have to say it straight out. I'm going to rip out your pointy little toes.

I know it sounds painful. But I assure you, it's going to hurt me more than it hurts you. After all, you'll soon be as good as -- no, better than -- new. You'll be getting proper toes, like all the other socks have. But I will never get back the time I'll be spending cross-eyed, picking up 140 teeny-tiny little stitches in tiny little skinny yarn on tiny little needles. I'm only doing it out of an abundance of love.

Thank goodness, at least I haven't already woven in the ends!

Too Tightly Wound? Part 2: Spinning

I'm wondering if there's a theme here. We've already looked at the evidence that my knitting might be just a wee bit high-strung. What about the spinning?

Well, first of all, the whole body of work we're talking about here is pretty small. A couple of puffs of mystery wool that I bought along with my handspindle when only the first inklings were dawning that this was something I might like to try. A sweater's worth of Coopworth wool in its various natural undyed colors. Some dyed locks of unknown breed that I bought to try out my brand new handcarders last spring. And a sumptuous Lorna's Laces hand-dyed top that I'm half-way through right now.

Nevertheless, if forced to make a judgment on that small sample, I would have to say that almost all the yarn I have spun has come out... firm. Sturdy. Durable, I'd say. Not that it's a bad thing, but I'm still hoping I might be able to produce something a little more tender and yielding.

On the blogs, I keep reading about how wonderfully soft handspun is, how it's such a pleasure to knit with compared to commercial yarn. Mine doesn't yet have that lovely voluptuous temperament. If anything, it seems a little dour. Oh, it's definitely real yarn, nicely uniform, which is a victory in itself, and one that I'm proud of. It looks beautiful. But the hand is disappointingly no-nonsense. It will probably make a strong fabric that would show cables well and wear like iron.

I have a feeling that I'm making the beginning spinner's mistake of over-twisting everything. I read about how you have to give one type of fiber a little more twist than another to keep it from drifting apart. Let me just say, loosely spun strands drifting apart have not been a problem for me. :)

It's not that my hands can't keep up with the drafting. I believe I've learned reasonably well how to handle and control the supply and draw out the fibers. No, I think what's going on is that I'm so thrilled to have gotten the hang of it that, in sheer exuberance, I'm peddling away on the treadle far too lustily!

A skill like spinning. that you have to get the feel of, seems to be a challenge to learn from books and trial-and-error alone. At each step of the process, it means guessing about what I'm aiming for, what it should feel like. But I'm still learning, analyzing, and each skein brings me a little more knowledge.

So, the jury is still out, but I think the defendant repents and will be trying very hard to abuse helpless fibers no more.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Too Tightly Wound? Part 1: Knitting

It strikes me to wonder lately if I'm a little too tightly wound and need to loosen up.

To the best of my memory, it seems like I've generally knit at a fairly average gauge. But some recent observations have shaken me to my boots. Could it really be that I've been a tight knitter all these years and didn't know? No, that's just not possible. Consider the following exhibits:

Exhibit 1.
I had to go up a needle size, from US 0 to US 1, to get gauge on the Gentleman's Fancy socks, now underway. That's funny; I don't think this is usually the case (but maybe I haven't been checking carefully?)

Even so, I have a sneaky feeling that maybe I ought to check it again, because the first sock of the pair seems suspiciously narrow. It's a stretchy stitch pattern. But still.

I'm a little concerned about whether it's going to fit a man-sized foot. It's a bit large on my average-sized woman's foot, but I'm not sure if it's large enough, especially up near the top of the cuff, for a man's well-turned muscular calf. Maybe it's just that Nancy Bush, whose pattern it is, is an exceptionally loose knitter. Sure, that's it.

Exhibit 2.
I like my needles pointy. I've seen it said somewhere that those who dislike blunt-pointed needles are probably tight knitters. I remember trying my first pair of Addi Turbo circular needles, in a US size 7. Addi Turbos are finely honed instruments, veritable weapons in the knitter's arsenal, gleaming and dangerous. I liked their sleekness, appreciated the nickel-plated slipperiness that makes for fast, smooth knitting.

The points did seem a little blunt, but not so much as to be a problem. For another project, I went ahead and ordered a pair in US size 3, figuring the points would be scaled down along with the needle diameter. Not so. To my dismay, when they arrived, the points on the size 3s seemed no smaller than those on the size 7s. Not one whit. (OK, that might be an exaggeration. I think they were actually a little smaller. Maybe one or two whits.) That, I did not care for at all. Slipping those great big dull points under a thin little strand of sport-weight yarn was not my idea of fun. I soon abandoned the Addis and went back to an old standby set of needles. But that was surely just a fluke.

Exhibit 3
Lately, after a whole row of purling, the stitches have not been sliding so easily on the needle. But I have monkeyed around a lot over the past year with my purling technique. Having been unthrilled by the characteristically loose leftmost stitch I was getting in ribs and cables, I was looking for a way to eliminate it. Oh, I know there are a couple of tricks people use for this (for instance, here), but I was determined to solve it my way. I may have tightened up my purling a bit too much in the process. A minor adjustment out of whack, that's all.

Exhibit 4
I saw a side-by-side test. I sat next to a friend in one of the Market Session classes at Stitches East. We all knitted, as part of the lesson, the same pattern, with the same yarn. My knitted sample was just that little bit smaller than hers. With the same size and brand of needles. Hmmm.

My stitches looked small and even (for the most part). Hers were more comfortably relaxed. Well, then probably she was knitting a little too loosely for the most consistent results. Obviously. That would be it. Of course.

Exhibit 5
My great-grandmother, who gave me my first knitting lessons, was known in our family as a famously tight knitter. All her work was beautifully done, but very tight. OK, but I was barely knitting at all then! I was too young! It was years later when I really learned how to knit! I'd forgotten everything!

Coincidence? Who can say?

(I wonder if anyone has ever done a research dissertation on the effect of genetics on knitting style.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

And Speaking of Monty Python...

OK, I know we weren't; not really. But a remembered little snippet of dialog made me look up an old favorite movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail. " I happened to light upon a Wikipedia entry that, among other things, gave some details about how the movie was made. And oddly enough, there was a knitting connection. It seems that to outfit the movie's knights-in-armor on a shoestring budget, the film-makers faked the chain mail by using wool, painted silver!

There is also some talk of complaints about the wool being clammy, absorbing water in the cold wet weather. But no, obviously they must be wrong, as all my knitting books tell me. Wool keeps us warm and dry because it absorbs all that moisture. At least that's what we like to think. :) Maybe there's a threshold beyond which it throws up its hands and says, "Och, a wee hank of wool cannae do anything mair!" Stereotype tells me that this dampness threshold might be regularly exceeded in the U.K., though the weather when I've visited there hasn't necessarily borne this out.

Anyway, another link led me to a YouTube clip of the scene where the knights are being repelled from invading a castle by the hurled insults of a defending Frenchman. The Frenchman is the always-loopy John Cleese. You might find it either hilarious or puerile, depending on whether you have a liking for anarchic silliness and can tolerate a modicum of childish rudeness. I laughed myself senseless. Regardless, you can get a good look at the "chain mail." (It's perfectly ordinary garter stitch, as far as I can tell, but it's still kind of interesting to see the knightly garments.) If you're up for it, it's here. Or rent the movie for an extended dose.

I also have fond memories of skits from the TV show. One that comes to mind is the Ministry of Silly Walks. Maybe we should establish a Ministry of Silly Knitting Mistakes. We could admit to the most ridiculous accidents that had happened in our knitting, safe in the knowledge that others have made mistakes just as silly. As I said, I've made a sock without turning the heel, and I've probably made two lefts of something instead of a left and a right. I've made the whole front of a sweater accidentally using an unmatched pair of two needles in different sizes.

Surely I'm not the only one!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Second Sock Syndrome? Pshaw!

Sure, I've heard about the dreaded second sock syndrome, the boredom-fueled procrastination over knitting the second sock of a pair. For many, it seems, once the thrill of discovery and accomplishment of trying an interesting new pattern has been exhausted with the first sock, the prospect of making another holds no charm. It becomes a chore to get through sooner or later (often much later). Perfectly natural.

But that's not me. I'm not so anxious to be immediately on to the next new thing. In me, there's still a trace of the two-year-old, exhilarated after a little swing through the air in my Dad's strong hands, shouting "do it again! do it again!"

I rather like knitting the second sock, working my way again through the pattern that I've already done once. I like watching the first sock's identical mate gradually appear. I don't mind the need to occasionally "read" the stitches, examining them closely to be able to duplicate first sock in every detail. I like knowing that I can master what's lurking around the next bend. Difficult patches? Dimly lit pictures? Errata? Misleading explanations? Ha! They've met their match. They hold no terrors for me. I will wave my knitting needles in their general direction!

If anything, it's the grafting that puts me off just a little. And what gets me past that minor bit of drudgery to close up the toe of the first sock is the strong desire to get those last two needles free so I can cast on for the second one! I could sneak the needles out early by threading the live stitches awaiting grafting onto a stitch holder or waste yarn to await their moment, but I choose to regard that as cheating. Eat the vegetables first, then have dessert. It doesn't take so long, after all. Then, the minute the fiddly work with the tapestry needle is done, the cuff of sock number two is immediately underway.

Mind you, I'm not saying I never mess up on the second sock. The danger for me lies in over-confidence. Eager and certain I know what I'm doing, I breeze ahead -- without remembering to look often enough at the instructions. This is when I'm liable to get ahead of myself and miss one of those oh-so-intricate adjustments that a detail-minded designer like Nancy Bush is apt to make in her patterns (must shape the ankle just so). Or I may do something utterly silly like picking up the gussets along the heel flap without first turning the heel! No matter, a little backing up, a little re-knitting, and I'm safely on my way again.

Interestingly, the sophomore-oops phenomenon extends for me to other arenas as well. In cooking, the first time through a new recipe usually works fine. It's when I've made that dish a time or two already and think I have it licked that I'm more likely to run into trouble. I'll just glance at the recipe and skip merrily ahead a step or two, only to realize I've missed the stage when I was supposed to add a key ingredient. Oops.

All of which is to say, the second of the Gentleman's Fancy socks is now coming along quite nicely. :)

Giving Thanks

I'm thankful for the turkey we had for dinner this evening.
I'm thankful for the home to cook it in and welcome my family to.
I'm thankful for my family, near and far.
I'm thankful that so many of my dear ones live close enough to come and be with us for special times.

I'm thankful for my parents, brother, and sister-in-law- to-be, who arrive swathed in my handknits to show me they care.

I'm thankful for my other sister-in-law, brother-in-law, nephews, and niece, and their little dog too, with all their good cheer and happy commotion.

I'm thankful for the chance to guide my little niece's hands as she gives in to a growing curiosity about Aunt Cathy's spinning wheel.
I'm thankful for the happy corkscrews and fluffy slubs of the beginner's yarn she makes.

I'm thankful for a little quiet time once all the excitement and tumult are over.
I'm thankful for the chance, after a long day of hard work, to put up my feet and rest my back and knit a while.
I'm thankful for the husband who wants nothing more than for me to be happy.

I'm thankful for new things to discover and enjoy.
I'm thankful for the generosity, with their time and their knowledge, of the knitters and spinners I feel I've come to know through reading their blogs.

I'm thankful for the pleasant town I live in.
I'm thankful for this wonderful country, and I'm thankful for my chances to see other parts of the world.
I'm thankful for the awe-inspiring natural world.
I'm thankful that we can always hope and try for things to be better.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Feet

I couldn't resist showing off my new shoes. Cute, yes (at least I think so), but they're actually something pretty special. It turns out that they're part of a benefit that Nike has been doing for the last few years for the Oregon Health and Science University's Doernbecher Children's Hospital. Each year they pick out half a dozen kids who have been treated at the hospital for serious illnesses, and let them design their own shoes! Each one gets teamed up with a Nike designer to help translate their ideas into reality. Then all proceeds from the sale of the shoes go to the hospital.

You can see pictures of the kids and the shoes they designed on the Oregon Health and Science University site, here. My pick was designed by a young lady named Alice Heinz. Not only did Alice pick out the colors, but laser-etched into the leather are a few of Alice's favorite things, like guinea pigs and cheese. :) In the picture, if you look closely, you can just see a sunburst on the dark blue. There's a nice article about sweet little Alice and her shoe design in the Corvallis Gazette-Times, here.

We just stumbled upon them in the Niketown store in Eugene, Oregon, but I understand that just a couple of weeks ago they were released for sale nationwide and on-line. The Eugene Niketown is also kind of fun in itself; it's basically a shrine to the famous University of Oregon track stars and the coach who, not incidentally, in trying to help his runners, came up with the revolutionary waffled rubber shoe soles that led to the creation of Nike.

So, while I realize they're not knitting-related, they make me smile, because of the happy colors, because of the fun the kids must have had creating them, and because of the good they're doing for the hospital and other kids.

Besides, wouldn't they look great with a nice bright pair of handknitted socks?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Back Home to... Handcarding!

After a vacation, it's always tough to come back down to earth. Luckily, this time that wasn't really necessary.

First of all, just look at what I came back to, for Pete's sake! These pictures were taken on Sunday, when it was a little gray out. I really wish I had taken some on Saturday, when we had a blue, crystalline autumn day, so I could show just how incredible the trees looked.

Autumn is always a beautiful time of year here in the mid-Atlantic, and I think after that horrible drought we had this summer, the trees are putting on an exceptionally fine show. It truly lifts the spirits just to get outside and see it.

But to add to the pleasure, this weekend I headed to a local yarn store to take a handcarding class. Yes, I've tried carding a little on my own, in my usual "I can do it myself" spirit. But I figured it wouldn't hurt to get a little help, and besides, the class description held out the extra lure of getting a chance to try a drum carder.

I am so glad I signed up for this class. It was a small class, only five of us, and the teacher was great. After some initial coaching on using the hand-cards and looking at different types of fibers -- wool, mohair, alpaca, different types of silk -- the class focused on blending colors and fibers. The teacher basically made a giant pile of different rovings and locks on the floor in the middle of the room, and let us all have at it, putting different things together and carding them to see what kind of results we would get. All kinds of colors and fibers. I was definitely a kid in a candy store! She provided some pointers and gentle guidance here and there, about how different blending choices would affect the spun yarn, and we learned by trying things.

Here are some of my experiments. The ones on the left are just the ones to get the basic technique with some natural undyed wool. The two in the center were interesting. One was a blend of brown alpaca, black wool, and a coppery mohair. Promising ingredients, but disappointingly blah when carded together. I took part of that same blend and carded in a little bit of a brassy yellow, and it just woke up and came alive. The two on the right were other experiments combining neutrals with bright colors. They both used a shocking pink that was considerably softened by being paired with natural colors. And the one on the right also used an intensely strong blue, which settled down nicely with the pink and some soft gray. In fact, if I took one lesson away from the class, it was to look very differently at those bags of rovings in screamingly bright colors that I see in on-line shops and at fiber festivals. The art is in blending them with the neutrals and each other to get the effect you're looking for.

Finally, to double my pleasure, double my fun, I got to have a go at using the drum carder. For those who don't card or spin and may not know, a drum carder is a hand-cranked machine that rolls the wool between drums covered with little teeth to create a rectangle of carded wool called a batt. And it goes a lot faster than carding with the hand cards, which is awfully nice if you want to do something like processing a whole fleece!

The teacher showed us how to roll up the batt that comes out of the drum carder and stretch it to form a roving. Here's the roving I made. I blended a natural light gray Coopworth wool, some teal locks, and some purple grape-colored dyed wool. I really love the way it came out.

I think my Dear Santa letter may have a little something to say about a drum carder this year!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Before We Leave the Beautiful Northwest...

From Seattle, we headed down to Portland and Eugene, Oregon. World's-most-patient-husband is a major fan of track and field and needed to see the most vaunted of all track venues, the University of Oregon's Hayward Field, where the U.S. Olympic trials will once again be held next year.

We stayed busy enough to miss out on actually setting foot in any Oregon yarn shops, though we had a near-miss at one in Eugene called Soft Horizons. Thankfully, though, we did not miss out on one of the local brewpubs. It was just a bit too late in the evening when we got to the yarn shop, but it looked like a nice one. It's in an old Victorian house with a wrap-around porch, which I clambered up on to take a peek inside. It looked warm and colorful, with turn-of-the-century-style chandeliers. There were also signs of potential spinning supplies. I could see a spinning wheel in there, the cute little Louet Victoria, which, as I learned chatting around at a festival earlier this fall, is pretty portable at only six pounds!

With my suitcase bulging with yarn from the shops I'd already hit, it really wasn't all that tragic to have to just admire the shop and move on. Especially with Powell's City of Books waiting for us back in Portland. When I went for the first time to Portland on a quick business trip a few years back, Powell's is the first sightseeing stop people recommended to me. Can a bookstore really be that amazing in this day of enormous stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble everywhere? Yes, it can. Of course, you can buy from Powell's on-line, but it's just so much better to be there in person, to lose yourself browsing around in those huge rooms, with all the new and used books shelved together and never knowing what might turn up. Stack after stack of tall shelves of knitting books. Sigh. I kept it down to four and felt virtuous.

Near Portland in Washougal, Washington, was a real treat: a factory tour at Pendleton Woolen Mills. Note the rainy, depressing November weather we'd been hearing so much about. :)

If I'd gone a couple of years ago, I might not have been that excited. But since I've taken up spinning, it is absolutely fascinating to see how it's done on a commercial scale. Wool is still wool, and has to be dyed, carded, and spun. Of course, this is 250-pound bales of wool. Imagine having to dry all that after soaking it in a dye-bath! Carded batts of fiber are still batts, and roving is still roving. Of course, these batts are continuously generated and are probably miles long. And this roving is spaghetti-thin, so they can make the very fine gauges of yarn used in commercially woven and knitted goods. The strands being spun sometimes break, just like at home, and marvelous little machines rush to repair them. It's really something. If you do visit some time, the tour is free, but be sure to buy something in the mill store afterwards, to help support it.

The factory is tucked right alongside the Columbia River Gorge, an unbelievably beautiful place, with lovely sights like this. It's the upper part of Multnomah Falls, even more postcard-perfect with the changing foliage. We had lunch in the stone lodge at the base of the falls, next to a towering window, watching the play of the water and mist.

It's also salmon-spawning time, and you can see them right there as you walk across the footbridge near the bottom. They were surprisingly a gorgeous dark crimson in color. Repeated attempts to get pictures were foiled by the movement of the water surface beneath which they swam.

One thing that struck me as being very different from here on the East Coast is the moss. Here, trees may have light dusting of moss on the north side. In the Northwest, the moss is so thick, it's shaggy! And in this case, it's helped along by the ferns growing in it.

All in all, it left me wishing I could come back again next year, perhaps for the Black Sheep Gathering or the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival. It's probably not going to happen, but it never hurts to daydream, now, does it?