Friday, August 05, 2005

Rotten Week

Words fail me and that's probably a good thing when it comes to this week. I'll spare you the miserable details and simply say that today was the first time since Sunday that I managed to sit down and pick up the needles. I only managed an inch on Sock #2 but it felt like more. Actually it felt like very necessary therapy. I need something mindless right now (and what's better than the long march toward the toe on a man's sock) to take the mind I'm trying to lose away from the problems gathering here like storm clouds.

(Do the words "eminent domain" mean anything to you?)

I managed to make a hash of picking up the gusset stitches. Well, not exactly a hash because all I had to do was slip the stitches off the needle then back on again but I know there must be a way to do it correctly the first time but I, in my spatially dyslexic haze, can't seem to retain the knowledge. I'm working with one 40" Addi Turbo circ and ended up with the working needle in front instead of in back. Imagine lots of slipping and rearranging and you'll have an idea of how I solved the problem but I'll admit here it still doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Some of the books I consulted recommend breaking out the double points to get the gussets going but I rebel at the thought of needing a "crutch" like dpns. (Then again I'm the idiot who thought using stitch markers was a sign that I was an inferior knitter. I honestly thought that a "real" knitter kept all bits and pieces of stitch/row/pattern information in her brain and never ever relied on stitch markers, stitch counters, row counters, pen and paper, to keep track.)

Talk about stupid.

Anyway, the sock is rolling along and I'd love to be done with it by the end of the weekend so I can move on to something else. There are some new babies on the horizon and I'd be thrilled to get a head start. I've been dying to use some red speckled Wildflower DK for baby socks; now I have an excuse.

D sent me a box of fabulous knitted goods for me to inspect. We do that sometimes. It's like a long distance Stitch 'n' Bitch. (We live on opposite coasts.) She's a gift needlewoman and this gives me a chance to sit and carefully inspect the construction and admire the workmanship. She sent a Pi shawl, a fabulous single sock with contrasting toe and heel, Branching Out, another lacy shawl whose official name escapes me, and a multidirectional scarf in Noro Silk Garden that's to die for. I fully intend to take photos and post them. (I just wish I could claim that I knitted them.)

Those socks over there? Seabury, knitted with Noro Kureyon almost two years ago. My very first socks . . . and almost my last. They wore through the sole in one week. Yes, one week. I wore them on our ceramic-tiled kitchen floor and I think the rough grout chewed right through the soft and tender wool. Lesson learned. Felted they might have survived but unfelted they didn't have a chance. But, oh, they were lovely while they lasted.

Sunday, July 31, 2005


One of the things I loved most about painting (both in watercolor and in oil) was the magic process of blending colors. Oh, I know there really isn't any magic involved. It's actually a very logical process. Red + Blue = Purple. Blue + Yellow = Green. Sure, there are a thousand variations within the formula but the principle remains the same.

When I started knitting again in August 2003 I greatly missed the fun of setting out daubs of paint on a palette and seeing what I could make with them. It never occurred to me that the same kind of magic could be found with yarn. I mean, yarn is . . . well, it's yarn. It isn't liquid. It can't lose itself in another liquid and become transformed.

Or can it? I picked some beautiful pink mohair and some equally beautiful orchid mohair from my stash. I knitted a small swatch of pink just to see how it handled. (A knitterly test drive, as it were.) I knitted a small swatch of orchid. To be honest, I wasn't particularly overwhelmed by either one. But when I took a strand of each and knitted both of them together -- Wow! They blended together into something brand new and gorgeous. The fuzzy bits of each color collided together and locked like Velcro and I was enchanted.

I know it sounds simple. Ridiculous, even. But it's part of the knitting journey I seem to be on this time. I would never have tried that years ago. I saw yarns as separate entities destined for separate fates. I didn't use dpns or circs. I never ripped back. And I lived in terror of dropped stitches.

And yet I sailed off into Fair Isle land when I was 17 without a care in the world and had no trouble at all. Go figure. Nobody told me it could be problematic and it wasn't. I can still see the front of that ski sweater in my mind's eye: Red Heart when it was 100% wool. (The year was 1967.) Midnight Blue, Yale Blue, White, and another blue whose name escapes me. An intricate band of snowflakes across the chest that seemed to spring from the tips of my needles effortlessly.

Oh to be that young and fearless again!


Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hammerhead Sock #2 - progress report

I'm maybe two inches beyond where I was when I took this photo last night. I'm rationing my knitting time in an attempt to keep the addiction under control. (That and the fact that I don't have a two-scarf contract with my publisher.) Tomorrow should be heel flap and heel itself. Monday gussets and launching myself down the foot.

Unless my will power fails me utterly and I make it to the foot tomorrow.

The body of the sock is #2 Addi Turbos; Cascade Fixation yarn. It's actually in a charcoal grey/lighter grey mix. For some reason it looks almost teal on my screen.

Believe me, R wouldn't wear variegated teal socks, hammerhead toe or no hammerhead toe.


The Argyle Sock

There are many reasons why I wish I could talk to my mother one more time. Every day I find myself wishing I could pick up the phone and share some silly piece of gossip or get her take on what's happening in this fractured world of ours. Lately, however, I've been wishing I could sit down with her and talk about The Argyle Sock.

I found the sock in her tiny sewing basket a few months after she died. The sock is perfect. I remember sitting on the edge of the bedand peering at the stitches through my tears. The construction of it was beyond me. All of those tiny stitches. Those toothpick-tiny double points. Little bobbins of thread-thin yarn. And the instruction booklet circa 1952! What treasures. The sock represented magic to me. A home kind of magic which is really the only kind that's important. Why hadn't I ever asked her to teach me how to use double points? Why did she drop sock-knitting? My father was just a few weeks away from his own end at that point and all he could remember was that he loved the homemade socks and wore out pair after pair of argyles. He seemed to remember commenting that the spots where she darned the heels gave him blisters and she tossed a ball of yarn in his general direction and quit sock-knitting then and there.

It wasn't until I ventured back into knitting in August 2003 that I began to look at The Argyle Sock with a critical--and more knowledgeable--eye. The cuff was done flat! Who knew? The red diagonal line was duplicate stitch! Wow! How did I miss that first time around? The rest is clearly circular knitting. What even stitches she created. I couldn't find a slip or mistake anywhere.

I always was awed by my mother's knitting, both her approach to it and the finished results. She wasn't a slave to patterns. If an improvement or design change occurred to her she gave it a shot. If it didn't work she ripped back and started all over again. No angst. No fears. (Meaning, not at all like her hyper daughter who lived in fear of public knitting humiliation.) I remember most clearly the gorgeous aran fisherman's cardigan she made for me when I was maybe nine or ten. It took her all summer and was ready to wear on the first day of school. I loved it so much I wore it despite the 80 degree weather that day! A big gorgeous ivory colored sweater with front patch pockets and bone buttons. I loved it more than any other article of clothing before or since and even incorporated it into some of my books along the way. (I guess that was my way of holding onto it even though it's long gone.)

The funny thing is I'm not sure I ever told her, really told her, how much I loved that sweater she made for me. She read the books with the references in them. She knew that I held every single item she ever knitted or crocheted or embroidered or hooked for me in the highest esteem. But did I ever tell her how I felt about that sweater? Did I ever tell her that I can still see it in front of me, feel the stitches beneath my fingers, all these years later?

I hope so.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Change of Pace

I finished the ribbing on Hammerhead Sock #2. I incorporated the same design error I made on Sock #1 (why not be consistently wrong, right?) but shifted to #1 Addi Turbos for the balance of the ribbing and it did make a difference. I prefer the tighter, springier fabric that #1s and Fixation create.

One of the things that's puzzling me is how to handle the gussets in the Magic Loop technique. I managed on Sock #1 but not without a bit of trial and error. The worsted sock in the Magic Loop booklet uses an interesting technique after the heel is turned--slip 8 or 9 stitches onto a needle until you reach the start of the working yarn (which was one of the problems I faced with the Hammerhead; I solved it by incorporating a double point for a round) then continuing. It worked beautifully but I would have to make sense of the proportions used on 48 stitches and adapt them to 56 or 64. Right now grafting a toe is about as much as this brain can handle.

That's the first Broad Ripple Sock in its early stages. I was thrilled beyond all description with it. A Pulitzer Prize couldn't have made me happier than watching that sock evolve and grow.

I never thought the Sock Bug would bite me but it did.

This was my very first attempt at Magic Loop socks: the toe-up baby socks from the booklet.

Toe-up is fantastic. Just hold your breath and concentrate during the cast-on and first row; once you do that, the rest is clear sailing.

Spoken like I actually know what I'm doing!


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Hammerhead Sock

I had no idea that knitting a sock could lead to discussions worthy of the SALT Talks but it has. The truth is, until I started knitting I never paid all that much attention to my socks or anybody else's socks for that matter. A sock is a sock is a sock . . . until it's a sock that you're knitting and suddenly you're faced with more serious top level decisions than you've ever faced in your life.

Actually I should amend that statement. I made myself a pair of Broad Ripple Socks last month and followed Rob's directions in Knitty to the letter. The socks are a delight and I'm thrilled with them. Did I angst about the toe? No, I didn't. Did I worry about the elasticity of the cuff? No, I didn't. But that all changed when R expressed an interest in a pair of handknit socks. You sit down to make a pair of socks for the man you love and suddenly--after more than thirty years of marriage--you find yourself learning things about him you not only didn't know about him, but things you wouldn't have believed he actually had formed an opinion on. (Yes, I'm ending with a preposition.) Case in point: He doesn't like pointy-toed socks. A 16-stitch Kitchenered sock is his idea of toe prison. Who knew? We settled on a 36-stitch wide toe. The thought of Kitchenering 36 stitches (18 pairs) sent a chill down my spine but I locked myself in another room, lit a candle, and got down to it.

The Kitchenering went fine. The sock fits. He loves it. But that toe! Good grief, that toe looks like a hammerhead shark. I am deeply ashamed of that toe and am not looking forward to grafting another one just like it for Sock #2.

I know, I know. You're hearing the shark theme from Jaws right about now, aren't you?

So who wins when the comfort of the recipient is at odds with the asthetic sensibilities of the knitter?

The recipient every time.

I mean that's the point, isn't it? These socks are supposed to make him happy.

But somehow I don't think Hammerhead Shark Socks are going to catch on any time soon.


Monday, July 25, 2005

The Cowardly Knitter

Maybe it was writing it down and seeing the words "I can't do it" glaring out at me from the screen. Whatever it was, something came over me around two o'clock this afternoon and I gathered up the Fixation sock, a crochet hook, some tiny #1 Crystal Palace dpns, and sat down on the sofa in the living room, in the bright natural light, and set about dismantling The Sock.

Have you ever tried unraveling Kitchenered stitches? Yikes. It's a trip and a half. Dark stitches are a major pain to begin with but dark grafted stitches will have you pulling out your hair in short order. But I stuck with it and then began ripping back to just before I started the toe decreases.

And that's when the fun started. Stitches from #2 needles are tiny. Very tiny. And disobedient. They shifted, turned, practically somersaulted under the rows beneath them in order to escape me. I didn't worry about stitch orientation. That's easy enough to correct when you're knitting. (Bless Annie Modesitt for giving a name--Combination Knitting--to what I do.) The idea was to get the damned things on the needles and worry about the niceties later.

So first I gathered them up haphazardly on the dpns then whipped out the camera to capture this glorious moment in my knitting history.

Then it was time to get serious. I pulled out my Addi Turbo #2/40" and started slipping the stitches purlwise onto the needle. That, to my relief, was problem-free.

One hour and ten minutes after I began picking apart my lovingly grafted toe, I was back in business. I knitted a round, readjusting stitch orientation as I went, picking up the two dropped stitches I discovered along the way, and found myself back miraculously where I had left off last night when I began decreasing for the toe two inches sooner than I should have!

The photo on the right is after that first re-establishing row:

I think I'm now at the point where I should begin decreasing for the toe but I'm not going to do one single SSK or K2Tog until R tries The Sock on again.

So today I made my knitterly bones. I did something I believed was far beyond my capabilities and it actually worked. (Did I mention that in my past life as a knitter ripping back was against my religion?) Looking back I think I was your basic Knitting Coward. I lived in fear of dropped stitches or counting errors because either could mean the waste of weeks of hard work and effort. One dropped stitch and an entire sweater was ruined forever because I didn't have either the guts or the skills to step back, re-evaluate, and repair.

Yarn is forgiving. Knitting is forgiving. (Okay, maybe lace knitting isn't forgiving but that's something else again.) Why shouldn't the knitter be forgiving too? To paraphrase The Beatles, "There's nothing you can do that can't be undone." And redone better.

Now onto the toe decreases, Part Deux.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Prototype

I measured. I calculated. I made a template. I checked. I double-checked. I made him try it on at six separate intervals during the construction.

It doesn't fit.

Can you believe it? After all of that, all of my uncharacteristically careful planning, the stupid foot is too short by about an inch. And the toe is too pointy. And the leg is too short . . . the same leg that was exactly the right length before I finished and closed the toe.

I'm trying to stay sanguine about this but the truth is I'm this close to a major crying jag. Ridiculous, isn't it, to invest so much emotional energy into a Fixation sock but there you have it. I have been completely obsessed with that sock for the past seven days. The closer I got to shaping the toe, the more excited I became -- almost like a kid on Christmas Eve listening for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof. Clearly I screwed up some place along the way but I'm not sure how or where.

So I'm going to suck it up, resume my game face, and cast on for sock #1A and hope for better results. The good news, if there is any, is that I took careful notes during the process. I kept track of stitch counts, row counts, everything. If I had the guts (not to mention the dexterity) I would de-Kitchener the toe and unravel back to the beginning of the toe decreases and add a little length but I just don't. I can't bear the thought of seeing those teeny tiny stitches leaping off the needle or, God forbid a million times, slithering their way up the sock and out of reach.

Tech Details: 1 ball of Cascade Fixation. Addi Turbos #3 and #2. (It's a long story.) 64 stitches. I probably should have used #1 for the cuff and, to be honest, I'm not that crazy about 1/1 ribbing. 2/2 looks a lot better.