Gosh, I could have had a baby by now…

That is, if I wasn’t WAY past having babies. But it’s been longer than that long since my last post.

I haven’t forgotten about posting – it’s just been basically impossible. So many reasons, but mostly tied up with my mom, and her house, and her bills, and her incredibly strong wish to return to “my home, my church, my friends, my town…” I think I say that little litany in my sleep now, since it is mentioned at least every other time I speak to her.

Note to Self: Try to plan for your old age, and if you can’t do that, at least try to keep your sense of humor about it. Understand that things aren’t going to be exactly the way you want, that your body isn’t going to work exactly the way you want, and that there probably isn’t going to be enough money. RIGHT NOW, practice keeping your face in a smile, because if it’s used to being frown-y, that’s probably where it’s going to go when you’re turning inward and homeward. If life gets smaller, make sure you make yourself as happy as you can in that smaller place.

Please understand, I don’t mean to criticize my mom – I’m just worried that I’ll go down that road and forget the things I’m observing right now. (I think my daughter might be a little worried about it, too…). As hard as this stage of life is right now, it could be SO much more difficult; we are really lucky in several ways, which I won’t enumerate because I’m a bit superstitious and not looking for trouble. As for my daughter, I just continually remind her that when I’m very old, and living in a yurt in her back yard, she must never make me knit with bad yarn.

Even though I haven’t been able to actually write a post, I have been watching the stats on my blog, and I’ve learned something interesting: Aside from the times when I write a comment on the Yarn Harlot’s blog (God, I love her!), or the few others I follow (Agujas, The More the Messier, A Verb for Keeping Warm), apparently the most interesting thing to anyone out there who’s clicked here is – matching self-patterning socks! Second to that, the Hitchhiker scarf. I find this fascinating. First, that searching for those terms would actually lead anyone here, and second, wondering whether anyone actually got any help from my babbling about the socks.

Anyway, it’s gratifying to see that people in many countries also had questions about matching self-patterning yarn.

I have knitted through this last few (okay, dozen) months, throwing myself into lace shawls, a giant Hitchhiker made with a gorgeous Yowza Whatta Skein from Miss Babs – wish I could tell you for sure which color it is, but I lost the band. I think it’s called “Believable.” Bought the skein at Stitches West in Santa Clara. On the way home on the train, I decided to just QUIT trying to conquer the Color Affection, set it aside, and hand-wound the Miss Babs. (That’s an accomplishment in itself!). It was actually a joy to knit the Hitchhiker, but at the time I began this post, I hadn’t had occasion to wear it yet. Didn’t quite know how to drape it (it’s BIG), and the weather was too warm here anyway. I was looking forward to fall and the opportunity to wear it, and Holden, and my Pilsner Pleated Scarf. And the little number that is pictured up top.

Pilsner Pleated Scarf. Ewetopia

Pilsner Pleated Scarf. Ewetopia

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Hitchhiker, Miss Babs Yowza Whatta Skein. LOVE THIS YARN!

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Holden! All those picots! And I met a new friend on Instagram when we both posted photos of Holden the same week…

My conscience says I have to admit that I hadn’t blocked the Pilsner Pleated Scarf when I originally wrote this post, with the sheepish explanation that for at least two months I had no living room floor because there were about 20 boxes of my mom’s stuff that had no place to go. Why should this matter, you ask? Because that’s where I block everything. I spread out a piece of gingham yardage and lay the wet finished object on it, using the gingham pattern to align edges, and pin through the (shag!) carpet and padding. I am very interested to see what this has done to the floor when I finally prevail and we remove the carpet to expose the old, probably ugly and pieced-together hardwood underneath. A few blocking pin scratches will likely be the least of our worries.

Still, there were a lot of Actually Finished Objects here waiting to be Actually Worn. Which brings me to what I suppose is a problem for many knitters as selfish as I (me? I?…). I have LOTS of knit objects, because I have a very hard time letting go of things to which I’ve given a lot of time and effort (y’know, kind of like, say, children). And I live in Northern California, which, while not as relentlessly sunny as SoCal, is still considerably more temperate than a lot of places. I see that our beloved Yarn Harlot speaks of her knit items being “in the rotation” – perhaps that’s the answer, and as soon as it gets even just a bit cooler here, I now make a concerted effort to Actually Wear my Actually Finished Objects. And maybe this year I’ll start knitting things that can be worn in warmer weather.

And I should probably mention that I finally finished and have actually decided to frog the Color Affection. It’s huge, and out of scale even to itself because I messed with the pattern and now it’s just a massive (really, massive) disappointment. I’m not even at the “maybe someday…” point with this thing. Sad – lots of money and time and frustration in there. At least I can reclaim the yarn and make something nice with it. Knitting is wonderful in that way!

Unblocked, HUGE Color Affection. Yuck.

Unblocked, HUGE Color Affection. Yuck.

Currently on the needles:

Yorkshire Shawl, a Purl Bumps Design, in Sweet Fiber‘s Sweet Merino Lite (Tea Leaves). Bought this at Stitches West as well. The yarn is delicious. I was trying to make myself work from the chart, got through the set-up chart and one set of 20 rows, but suffered terribly. Lots of time in the Tardis, tinking and re-knitting, not making much progress. Now I’m working from the written pattern, but I’ve set it aside for a bit because there were some hard feelings.

For therapy, noodled through a pair of toe-up, two-at-a-time socks of indeterminate pattern and nothing fancy – of course, had to re-learn everything and adjust for not having a real pattern to reference. Using a Patons Kroy Sock FX, very lovely, in Cascade Colors. Forgot my own instructions to buy 3 skeins of this yarn for 2 socks, but am keeping a good thought. I like to do a funky color on the toes to offset that issue, but the toes were first and it’s too late now! So if it comes to it, there might be a funky color at the top instead. Knitting Nazis, shut up.

(Update – finished the socks, they’re ridiculously long. I’m confused.) (OH… now I get it. Used a bigger needle. Socks fit, but they aren’t nearly as cushy comfy as the pair I knit with 2.75 needles, and they are WAY long. I can actually feel the stitches when I wear them. Boo.)

LONG, kind of uncomfortable socks. Pretty, though... ;-)

LONG, kind of uncomfortable socks. Pretty, though… 😉

And, so excited to add this – finished my first Swirl, Winter Waves, in Mayhem, a lovely Yowza Whatta Skein (about 3.5 of them, actually) from Miss Babs. This was a Christmas gift for my daughter, but was surrendered to her as soon as it was blocked and finished. It took me a little more than a month to knit it, and I absolutely love the way it came out. It looks incredible on her; starting my own now. This is a LOT of knitting…

Swirl the First... Snuggly!

Swirl the First… Snuggly!

Between finishing her Swirl and Christmas, I did two Travelling Woman (Women?) shawls for my sisters-in-law who were coming for Christmas. One in a lovely merino from FishKnits, the other in beautiful Grace cotton from Patons (for the dear lady who is allergic to wool). And I think I’ve found the answer to my issues with the chart on the Yorkshire Shawl – my husband gave me his small magnetic dry-erase board, which I used to hold the charts for Travelling Woman – with a long straight magnet that shows me the row I’m working. Yes, I know I can buy one of these several places online, but this was so perfect, and “free”! And a total revelation – loving lace knitting, now! (Picture me smacking my forehead, please).

Travelling Woman #1, Merino, FishKnits

Travelling Woman #1, Merino, FishKnits

Cotton, Grace by Patons

Travelling Woman #2, Cotton, Grace by Patons

Then there was a last minute inspiration for a hat for my niece, and subsequently another like it for my nephew in shades of brown.

Copied from a baby hat my niece posted on Facebook... So cute on her!

Copied from a baby hat my niece posted on Facebook… So cute on her!

And then, because you can’t leave anyone out (except my daughter’s boyfriend, because of the “knitting for the boyfriend” curse, and my husband, because he understands) – two after-the-fact hats in a color-of-their-choosing for my brothers.

Black and Navy held together

Black and Navy held together

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Chunky Walnut

Done and mailed on 1/6 – Twelfth Night, so technically, on time for Christmas?

If you’re reading this (thank you!) from somewhere terribly cold and snowy, I apologize for the gorgeous sunny day the outside photos were taken (today!). Please understand that our record-setting beautiful weather here in Northern California is actually a pretty bad thing right now – we’re in the middle of a terrible drought, our lakes are drying up, and water rationing is right around the corner. Would love a little bit of rain/snow, the sooner the better…

Happy to have had the moment to catch up – hoping to be more regular with posts. Probably should calendar an annual one about matching self-patterning socks just to keep the readership going!

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Matching Self-Patterning Socks…

I really like sock yarn, for a number of reasons.

One, it’s generally pretty affordable. A couple skeins of sock yarn isn’t going to break you.

Two, it’s an excellent choice for “souvenir yarn”, that yarn you buy because you’re visiting somewhere and you must visit the LYS (Local Yarn Store), or you won’t have any idea what the place you’re visiting is really like. You wouldn’t want to buy a “large project” amount of yarn, since you can’t easily go back to buy more (if you run out), or to return the extra skeins you buy (so you don’t run out). So, a couple of skeins of sock yarn are good for something you can knit up pretty quickly (before you forget where you got them – maybe even while you’re still on the trip!) and then you’ll have a useful souvenir of your visit.

Three, it’s usually available in some pretty interesting colorways and patterns. Now, here is where we get into a tricky part about sock yarn. I’ve used some self-patterning yarn in the past, with varying degrees of success. Here is a little project I did that I would call less than successful:

Photographing knitting projects is an art… sometimes it’s just a LIE…

I had several skeins (looks like it might have been at least 3, probably 4) of this great kind-of-ugly self-patterning sock yarn. I wasn’t knitting socks at the time, just wanted to see how it was to work in that weight and scale (smaller needles). One thing led to another, and I just started the mindless, long, long, loooong, zone-out kind of knitting. Ended up with a scarf (tie? muffler? noose?) about 6 inches wide and 7 feet long.

Sadly, the sock yarn doesn’t have enough body to make this scarf practical. It’s too narrow, and since it’s primarily stockinette, it also tends to roll itself into a seven-foot-long 2″ tube. Yes, I did work garter stitch on each edge, but it was clearly not enough to keep it from tubing itself. Most unsatisfying. What’s really incredible about this (scarf?) is that the pattern actually appears to have come out just about right so that the ends actually match. I have NO IDEA how that happened. Obviously, the pattern wasn’t meant for a scarf – it should have been knit up as socks, then it would probably look more uniform. I am seriously considering frogging the thing and actually making socks out of it. What a concept.

I am ambivalent about self-patterning yarn – when it works, it looks like you’ve really accomplished something, when all you’ve done is go round and round. No special counting, no charts, no joining, no keeping track of every row and stitch, and no massive amounts of ends to weave in. It’s ingenious – and kinda sneaky. I love the convenience, I respect the planning that goes into the making of the yarn, and there’s no way I would actually knit a pattern in socks that would require that much end-weaving-in. Or any, if I could get away with it. But I do feel just a little guilty about the whole self-patterning thing.

On the other hand – it can be pretty difficult to get TWO socks to come out THE SAME. Well, for me, anyway…

I knitted this sock.

Incidentally, knitting in the late summer at a coffeehouse with your daughter and a lovely cool cider – Priceless!

[I haven’t finished the toe yet – same issue as last pair, I’m just not confident that I have enough yarn to get all the way to the end of the second toe, so this time I’m planning to use some wildly unorthodox color for the toes. My daughter, Good Day Howard, suggests orange. I’m not sure…]

So now, I needed to find that same place in the yarn pattern to start the second sock. I determined this by closely inspecting the previous and following colors and combinations of colors at the beginning of the sock and in the remaining yarn. I noted that there were 12 distinct colors/combination changes in the pattern, and the celery appeared twice. I noted that the pattern from the top of the sock went celery-grey/celery-grey/white-pea-moss-white-celery-pea-etc., ending in white-grey/white. I looked at the yarn before the celery color at the top of the sock in the long-tail remnant and determined that it was a grey/white combination, then looked for a grey/white, then celery portion in the remaining yarn. Bingo! There it was!

Celery – grey/white, meet celery – grey/white!

Now, I thought the hard part was over. HA!

I checked and re-checked, and checked again. Once I made absolutely certain that I had the right spot to start my second sock, I moved the first one onto a piece of waste yarn (still need to pick a color and do the toe), and picked up my needle to cast on the second one. But, WAIT! Where do I start my Long Tail cast on in order to make sure the celery stripe is four rows long; not 3, not 5, but four rows long? Otherwise, the stripes will not really match, don’tcha know!?

Oh, crapski!

I do love the Long Tail cast on for socks – stretchy, simple, and with ribbing, the top just looks very pretty. But how would I know where to start the thing to match the length of that first stripe?

It took quite a while. I love Downton Abbey, but I watch it with subtitles because sometimes I need them, even though everybody is speaking English – so working out a knitting problem challenge while watching is probably not the best idea… did it anyway. I tried trial and error, which was mostly error. Time-consuming error, because casting on 64 stitches may sound fast but it really isn’t, especially if Mary or Sybil or Bates are having a difficult time of it, and you miss the dialogue and/or lose count and have to rewind, or start over, or recount. And if you do it enough times, you begin to lose your sense of humor about the whole thing.

So then I checked the Internet to see if I was missing something about figuring out how long the Long Tail should be. Huh. Nobody seems to have a very clear idea. Of course, they’re not trying to hit a particular teeny-tiny spot in the yarn (I tied a knot in it where my first stitch had to be) at the end of the 64 stitches to be cast on. Because they aren’t crazy.

Crazy? Heeeyyyy, maybe Math is the answer! I cast on 20 stitches, pinched the end (beginning?) between my fingers, pulled the stitches off, then measured the amount of yarn it took to make those 20 stitches. It was 22 inches! So I divided 22 into 20, which is .91. So that’s the ratio of stitches to inches. For me. On these particular needles. With this particular yarn. Last night.

Multiplied .91 times 64 stitches, and it would seem I needed approximately 58.24 inches of yarn to make 64 Long Tail cast on stitches. Gets a little tricky to say here: Take the 58.24 and divide by two, for 29.12 inches. I measured from the little knot to a point 29.12(ish) inches down the yarn, and made that the very starting point of my Long Tail cast on (the place between your thumb and forefinger where you first place your needle). And darned if it didn’t actually work. None too soon, either. I was out of Downton Abbey episodes.

Okay, then. Here’s the best part. If we plan this ahead of time, we won’t have to do the math or spend the evening casting on repeatedly to hit one tiny particular spot! Here’s what we’ll do: Wind the self-patterning yarn into two 50g balls. Look at the first skein of yarn, figure out where we are in the pattern – then find the corresponding spot in the second skein. Then, use whatever cast on we prefer, but somehow MARK the starting point on both pieces of yarn. On my next pair, I plan to cast on both socks immediately and set the second sock aside.

I can’t begin to express how happy this makes me…

Perhaps I will frog the weird scarf/noose thing and that will be my next pair of socks…

Socks… specifically, Toes

I don’t know about you, but my toes are not symmetrical. My feet are not shaped like most socks, or even like most sock-knitting patterns. I have a left foot, and a right foot. Like shoes. Huh.

So I was thinking the other day, why don’t socks follow the curve of my toes? Is it because then we’d have to look first before we put them on? Is it because it would mess up the evil plan of all those folks who suggest that you only buy one color of socks, so you won’t have to match them at all when you take them out of the wash? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I got to the toe section of that sock I was knitting in my head* at work last week (when things at the cafe get stressful or too hot or slammed, I imagine I’m sitting somewhere knitting; last week it was the sock). Anyway, when I was really knitting it at home (you may recall, the sock for which there was almost enough yarn in one skein – did I do a swatch I don’t remember? not likely), after I changed to the purple and charcoal yarns held together, and started the toe, I decided to do a little research on why sock toes don’t look like people toes.

One of the rules in my house has always been “There’s always money in the budget for books.” So I have a nice little library of knitting books. I didn’t look in every. single. one., but I checked a few that talk about socks. I looked at a lot of sock toes. They were all symmetrical, except for the toesies (you know, the ones like gloves for your feet). I haven’t graduated from fingerless mitts to gloves yet, and I’m certainly not ready to try that action on something as non-standard as my pinky toes.

So I sat and gazed at my feet for a while. I observed that, at least on my own feet, the big toe is reasonably straight up from the foot, while the tops of the other toes form a slanted, somewhat curved line from the little toe up to the full height (or length) of the big toe. Well, here, it’s kinda like this:

Better or worse than the real thing? You’ll never know…

Forgive the graphic – it’s a bit crude, but not as crude as actually putting a photo of my toes on the Internet. My daughter (Good Day Howard) made me promise I wouldn’t do that.

So anyway, given that description and that graphic, why would we routinely make toes that symmetrically reduce on both sides? Round toes, star toes, origami toes, wedge toes… every one I looked at did that! To my mind, that would mean there’d be a big empty space over the last couple of toes to form a lump in your shoe, or there’d be a too-tight area on the big toe – and maybe both of those things would happen. Well, I decided that this sock would be different.

Elizabeth Zimmermann (Knitting Idol) “unvented” stitches, techniques, etc., with the thought that probably many, many other knitters had come up with them before her. I’m sure that people must have made socks that follow the contour of the toes more closely. Seems to me that back in the days before pantyhose we had stockings with feet that looked more foot-like. (Yes, I do remember the days before pantyhose. Or should I say “tights” now?)

So – with my 32 stitches on each needle (I like to use the Magic Loop for socks, and anything else circular), I did a regular Classic Toe (usually: K1, ssk, knit to last 3 sts on needle, k2tog, k1), but only decreased on one side of the foot, until I was about halfway up the big toe. I also eliminated the 2nd row of plain “Knit” usually called for in the Classic Toe, to allow the decreases to be more definite and follow my own foot more closely. (I tried a couple of double decreases on one of the socks – it was too much and caused a lump, which has mellowed after washing and some vigorous tugging, but it wasn’t really necessary, so I don’t recommend it.) You might find it helpful to put a locking stitch marker on the “decrease/little toe” side, just to keep it in mind – I need that kind of reminder, myself. And PLEASE – make sure you’re not making two right socks, or two left socks. I don’t want any nasty emails. 😉

Once I was halfway up the big toe, I started doing the decreases on both sides of the foot, but alternated decrease rows with “Knit” rows only on the big toe, to allow it to decrease more gradually. I tried the sock on about a million times while knitting it, to keep it as close to the contour of my toes as possible. Last few rows, decrease on both sides, every row. Gauge how much decrease you need as you go. Good reason to knit barefoot. And if you’re knitting for someone else, how about a picture of their toes? Or, sit with them and drive them crazy trying the sock on repeatedly. Whatever they’ll put up with…

Keep going till you have only 16 stitches, 8 on each of the needles. Graft, weave in ends, and enjoy your custom socks!

And now –

Voila! Absolutely individual, custom-fit socks!

Next time, because I’ve started another pair of socks today, I’ll be exploring the joys of trying to make two socks with self-patterning yarn that actually look alike…

* Knitting in my head – I tweeted about it. I don’t think anyone saw it. Oh well. @uptownknitting

Knitting Idols

Listing “idols” can get you in trouble – not only with readers, but with yourself. Let’s just say that today, these are my top three idols in the world of Knitting, for a number of reasons.

First, the immortal and beloved Elizabeth Zimmermann, the Mother of Modern Knitting, the Goddess who came up with the Baby Surprise Jacket and the Pi Shawl, who made knitting logical and enjoyable, a veritable Julia Child of Knitting. I am in awe of her vision, her contributions to knitting, fiber, and publishing, and her empowerment of knitters, all while apparently retaining a wonderful humility. “Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.” – EZ

Second, Joan McGowan-Michael, author of Knitting Lingerie Style and contributor to My Grandmother’s Knitting, owner of White Lies Designs. Joan has done what we all want to do, and then some – she knits for a living! What could be better! She designs, she teaches, she is published – and she’s a real live person who I actually know, who comes to our Cafe with her lovely family. Her designs are lovely – feminine, flattering, scrumptious things. Okay, I’ll probably never knit myself a bra and panties (because honey, the world just isn’t ready for that), but Joan made me realize that if I want to, I can. Those, and lacy camisoles, and bed jackets, and all tailored to fit me. She understands the female body (used to design for Fredericks of Hollywood, no less), and she also understands that not all knitters look like fashion models. Go figure (ha ha). So she teaches classes in how to fit your knitting to you. Yay, Joanie!

And last, because she deserves the emphasis, I am in complete awe of the Yarn Harlot. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, big-K Knitter, blogger, author, philanthropist, and kick-ass bicyclist. She’s kept me up late at night laughing at her spot-on depictions of the knitter’s life. Her comic timing, in print no less, is impeccable. I have rationed her books, not allowing myself to buy all of them at once (the last will arrive sometime this week – joy tinged with anxiety). The Blog is like going to a knitting group and having wine and laughs and empathy with oh, hundreds of people all over the world. I even love her Tweets. I was disappointed when I found she isn’t actually on Facebook – yet – but kind of glad because really, how many hours can she have available for that?

Recently Steph (may I call her Steph? I feel like I may) completed a 600k bike ride (Americans, that’s about 372 miles) from Toronto to Montreal (Friends for Life Bike Rally) – to raise money to help people living with Aids/HIV. She and her team did a phenomenal job of raising donations, and Steph kept the Blog involved all through her training, falling, worrying, figuring out how to take knitting on the bike, the ride itself, and after… The Blog responded by donating beyond all expectations, and Steph raised over $52,000, her team totaling over $162,000. Wow. She also started Knitters Without Borders, which raises money for Doctors Without Borders. Knitters Without Borders has raised $1,102,556 to date, since it was started in response to the tsunami disaster in December of 2004. Wow.

She makes knitting seem not only cool, which it is, but normal, which some people might try to tell you it’s not. She validates my feeling that really, all I want to do is knit, and why is all this other stuff getting in the way – but by doing so, she makes me realize that yeah, I guess the other stuff needs to get done, too. Let’s just not go overboard with the dusting, okay?

AND – she put the greatest little sock “pattern” (instructions, really, that I can memorize and use forever) in her book, Knitting Rules. And here is my little sock:

“Little blue sock, little blue sock,…”

My little blue sock, for which there is apparently not enough yarn in this ball… Oops. Which means there’s probably not enough in the other ball for the other sock. So last night, I decided that I will make the toes a different color. I wonder if that isn’t why some socks have different colored toes, anyway… Regardless, this pair of blue/charcoal socks will have purple/charcoal toes, because they’re my socks, and as the Yarn Harlot says, “There are no knitting police”!