Archive for the 'Sock it to me' Category

Sockward ho!

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

I am a sock-knitting addict.  There, it’s out.  The first step to healing is admitting the problem.  To make my addiction worse, I quite self-centeredly knit almost all my socks for myself.  Selfish, selfish, selfish.  I offer the following proof:

First up, a finished pair of socks in Regia cotton.

Regia striped socks
I finished these several weeks ago and have been wearing them happily since.

Next, another pair in Regia cotton, first sock not yet finished.

Regia socks in progress 
This colorway of the Regia just called out to me from the nest last week, and I was compelled to cast on.  I think it has something to do with the gorgeous, summery saturation of those reds in the middle of this neverending cold winter.

In a similar fashion, last week I was also compelled to wind this black/grey superwash handspun off into a ball and cast on for yet another pair of socks.  (You see, in my world, it is not necessary or even desirable to finish one pair of socks before starting another.  Come visit!  My world is a happy place!)

handspun sw sock
This first sock of the pair lacks but the final grafting at the toe.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, when I was heading out to my spinning guild meeting, well, I had to have something to take with me to spin.  Something new!  Something beautiful and impressive!  (Naturally I could not take something I was already working on.  How could you even think that?)  I did a little digging and came up with a black and red superwash mill end roving and another red superwash roving.  I combed them together on my handheld combs and out came:

combed maroon superwash
this maroon roving.  Definitely greater than the sum of its parts.  It has a kind of shimmery beauty that I was certainly not expecting.

maroon superwash on bobbin

maroon superwash on wheel

What will I make out of it?  Why, socks for myself, of course.

To teach, to learn

Monday, February 4th, 2008

I had an exciting and fun new experience last week, which is an exceptionally good thing at this point in the winter when so much seems dreary and tired.

I taught a sock knitting class at Woolcott, specifically a class on how to make socks on two circular needles.
Here is my little class sock.

I feel that everyone should know this technique, which is my standard practice. Even if you decide to go back to your DPs or to magic loop it (or to switch between all these methods), it’s worth knowing about the two circular needle method. Good to have options, you know?

I had five students, all very focused and eager to learn. Although not all that eager to be photographed—perhaps some of them are in the Witness Protection Program?—which is why you don’t see them here.

Teaching is as much an art as a skill, I think, and teaching something intellectual (read: abstract) is vastly different than teaching something primarily physical and applied (like knitting). I’ve done way more of the former than the latter, so I have to admit that there are certain challenges, although I like to think that meeting them will make me a better teacher in the long run, no matter what I’m teaching.

For one thing, there are special difficulties in conveying a skill that relies, ultimately, on having a “feel” for how much tension to keep on the yarn. And with socks in particular, on conceptualizing how what you are doing now in the knitting contributes to the architecture of the finished product, on “seeing” in 3-D and allowing that to guide you in your next steps.

It can be hard to find the right words or metaphor to make these things clear. Especially when these are things you have been doing since you were a rather small child. In other words, in some ways, I find it harder to teach something that now feels “natural” to me (even though it isn’t at all) than something I could still viscerally deconstruct into its component parts.

So these are things I try to be mindful of and work on as I teach. Teaching knitting, though, gives me a greater appreciation for what we do as knitters. Because handcrafts are really quite devalued in our culture at this stage in the game, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that this is just some little thing we do, that it is no big deal, that it isn’t special, that anyone could do it.

Which they could. But for most people, it would take a lot of patience and a lot of practice to get really good at it.

So if you’ve gotten really good at it, you should take pride and give yourself some credit.

And if you are just learning, you should give yourself some time and space not to be perfect for a while. In my experience at the shop, adults have a hard time allowing themselves the time to proceed up the learning curve because they are used to having mastery in most of the things they do. They get frustrated learning knitting in a way that kids, who are used to having mastery in almost nothing, don’t.

If I had one piece of advice to give beginning adult knitters, it would be: allow yourself to learn at your own pace, give yourself credit for learning something new, and accept that there will be mistakes and that those are—if I may be a little “Miss Mary Sunshine” for a moment—opportunities for learning.

Eventually, you’ll get really good at knitting, too. And the rewards of that, believe me, will be worth all the difficulties.

Happy birthday, Sarah!

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

Today is Sarah’s birthday, so if you can leave her a birthday greeting in the comments, I’d be much obliged.

I’m feeling more than a little sad because Sarah (and my parents) were supposed to be here today—and earlier this week for Thanksgiving—but low-grade tragedy struck when both Alex and I got a bad case of viral bronchitis and were deemed “unsuited to host and roast” by the medical authorities.
It’s no joke, dudes. There is something powerful wrong with my monkeys.

Even more tragically, our last foray into the outer world involved buying a 16-lb. turkey in anticipation of a feast which never happened. In the event, we actually cooked the bird lest it go bad, producing—since neither of us has any appetite whatsoever—nearly 16 lbs. of leftovers.

If you have any great recipes for leftover turkey, bring ’em on!

In knitting news, I have finished Rogue (remember Rogue, from, oh, a year and a half ago or so?), but I am waiting to model her on the blog until such time as I feel more spry. In spite of our bronchial woes, I am delighted with the sweater, which is all the more special because my sister spun the yarn for it.

This is big bananas, people. Stay tuned for photos.

And did I mention that this sweater fits and is attractive? Unlike, ahem, some creations.

Meanwhile, I have been knitting what we officially refer to as The Sick Socks:
This is about all I can handle right now. Trekking. Stockinette. Watching the colors change. Fun for the feeble-minded.

Oh, and since we’re discussing socks, I also made an elegant pair for Nasser from a lovely charcoal grey skein of Alpaca Sox, but he came and got them before I could snap a photo and whisked them away to London where he is wearing them today to do a reading in a friend’s wedding. I am quite honored to know that one of my creations is a world traveller and the chosen sock for a special occasion.
Here in the Commonwealth, meanwhile, we’ve got bronchitis and a frozen birdbath. So much to be thankful for!

Some of you have expressed concern that the blog posts have been mighty scarce these past few weeks. Thank you for you notes, all of you. There is an explanation for this: Sarah is very involved with some family issues that are consuming of her time and energy and I am increasingly in what I call Dissertation Mole Mode.

What this means is that on all days when my lungs aren’t kicking me to the curb, I get up very early, walk the dog, and then for the next seven to eight hours, I employ the secret strategy used by successful writers everywhere.

I put my butt in a chair.

And I write. This is very satisfying work, but I have to admit that at the end of it, I am not generally inclined to write more. Even about knitting. And life. In fact, at the end of the day, I got nothing left. Nothing left for nothing. Everything else has gotten pared back to get this sucker done—social life, knitting, blogging… I have gone to ground; I am the Dissertation Mole.

So bear with us. We’ll do what we can in the meantime.

For all of our American readers, we hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving.

And now, about those turkey recipes… Whaddya got for me?

Soft Horizons

Friday, October 26th, 2007

There are probably many reasons to come to Eugene, Oregon in the fall, but this is not the least of them:
What I need to emphasize is that this is simply a representative tree. There are hundreds of trees like this. I can’t get over it.

If you get under the tree when the light is coming through the leaves, it looks like this:
I never tire of fall leaves, and this is why.

The University of Oregon makes its home here and it has a lovely campus:

The youth of today soaking up sun. And no doubt knowledge.

Downtown Eugene is also home to a remarkable yarn shop:
Soft Horizons Fibre.

The sheer amount of stock in this shop is remarkable. I’m almost glad Sean didn’t see it, because even for me, a minor, part-time employee of Woolcott, the envy was difficult to manage. Soft Horizons occupies an ENTIRE VICTORIAN HOUSE! The ENTIRE first floor—must have been five large rooms—is devoted to beautiful yarns, every kind of needle and tool you can imagine, knitting books, fleeces, and spinning wheels. Floor to ceiling fiber goodness and more Ashfords than you could shake a stick at.

As I was browsing this shop, I had an ugly realization. Back in Cambridge, we are selling yarn out of a closet.

I hasten to add that it is a very nicely appointed closet, we do an excellent job with our space, and we have many, many beautiful yarns. To paraphrase one of our profoundest philosophers of the modern battlefield—whose name I have actively repressed—we are going to war with the army we have.

I showed great restraint, inspired more by the already bulging suitcase I am travelling with than any genuine yarn asceticism:
Alpaca Sox in a colorway I could not pass up and Bryson Rosewood needles, the latter purchased both because they are so pleasing to the touch and because Bryson is a Eugene company. Supporting local industry and all that.

So if you are in Eugene, make sure you stop in to Soft Horizons. Here’s the info:

And now, I gotta catch a plane. Reporting from Boston again next week…

This one’s for you, Harve

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

What a great week!

I’ve been to Texas and to Oregon in a whirlwind trip and here’s what’s gone down: two fascinating interviews that will contribute beautifully to my dissertation; the discovery of a marvelous yarn store in Eugene, OR (more on that in my next post…); fall color in Eugene that would have you halfway convinced that this is heaven (photographic evidence will be produced in a forthcoming edition); gorgeous East Texas countryside, complete with grazing cattle and horses (alas, no photos…I was zipping by in my Jeep…yes, a Jeep); and ample opportunity to purchase firearms!

And then this!:
On 7th Avenue in Eugene…Harvey’s Magic Emporium!

This one’s for you, Harve! I like to think there’ll be a magic emporium in your future.

Of course, there’s a downside. Yeah. I’ll show you the life of the mind: it’s very low budget and it looks basically like this:
La Quinta Inn interior. Anywheresville, U.S.A. Tell you what it isn’t—it isn’t the Ritz Carlton.

My knitting hangs out with Mr. Coffee, vintage 1976.

That’s the academic profession, a little frayed around the edges, a little proud of being frowsy, unstylish, and even ascetic. This ethos gets on my nerves a bit, the way it can seem so self-conscious and masochistic. It sure ain’t investment banking.

But then again, it’s hard to put a dollar value on the luxury represented by being able to think your own thoughts and to spend all your time on a project you chose and you find fascinating. It really doesn’t get any better than that. It’s the intellectual Ritz Carlton! No kidding. (It’s just that the room service is virtually nonexistent.) I try to remind myself of this wondrous fact periodically, especially when I’m experiencing various mild forms of deprivation. You gotta keep the celebration going, you know?

And the crummy hotels? Well. I’ve got a good imagination. I just close my eyes and I’m at the Ritz.

A betting woman?

Friday, October 12th, 2007

As you know, if you haven’t been living under a giant moss-covered stone for the last few weeks, the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians are inaugurating the American League Championship Series tonight, here in Boston.

In about 25 minutes, to be precise.

In “celebration” of this fact, I have proposed a bet with Laura, of Affiknitty fame. The terms are these: if Cleveland wins, she gets a ball (or two skeins, depending on the put-up) of sock yarn from me; if the Red Sox win, I get sock yarn from her.

Wanna bet?

Now, I want to make it VERY clear that this in no way should be taken to indicate that I support the Red Sox (clearly, nothing could be further from the truth), but I do live here in the greater Boston area (having been, obviously, cast into the baseball equivalent of the Outer Darkness when I left NYC) and Laura is a true Cleveland fan, so for the purposes of the bet, it is a temporary stance that I will endure.

Much like a difficult yoga pose, this may increase my flexibility. And much like a difficult yoga pose, it will certainly be excruciating and damaging to my dignity.

But for sock yarn, I will do this terrible thing!

Real time update: Laura has accepted the bet.

Now, 12 minutes to game time!

Zen knitting

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

After that whole Minnie debacle, the pain of which is still well in mind, let me tell you, I have decided that in lieu of never knitting again (which I briefly but seriously contemplated), I will do a couple of simple projects before tackling another sweater.

Neat, clean, brief projects with minimal chance of abject failure.

Exhibit A:

Scarf for Alex in Rowan Cocoon, Charcoal Grey—yet mysteriously labelled by the company as color “Mountain”…whatever on God’s green earth that means. 80% Merino Wool, 20% Kid Mohair, 100% Amazing. Also knits up on a U.S. 10.5 so fast that it actually makes you feel like a semi-competent knitter again and not the kind of person who would churn out an ugly, semi-unwearable sweater…but enough of that…

Exhibit B:

Socks for Nasser in a basic 5/2 rib. Knit from Classic Elite’s Alpaca Sox, one of the greatest gifts to sock knitting ever devised. Also in charcoal grey. (See, stick around and a pattern will develop…)

I figure the successful completion of these items should smooth my ruffled feathers and make Minnie a distant memory. And then…Tangled Yoke, here I come!

Meanwhile, it has not been a particularly auspicious week.

First of all, the Yankees have been eliminated from the playoffs. (And yes, Laura, I can sense your gloating all the way from Cleveland, so don’t think you can fool me. I know the ways of the Cleveland fan, and they are the ways of the gloater.) Secondly, I have been ill with this mysterious “sleeping sickness” and although I am better, I am still not feeling as well as I would ideally like.

Ever just want to sack out and put your dogs up?

I can stand the fatigue and the general feelings of physical malaise, but what is really intolerable is the virus-induced black humour I nearly always find myself in when I am sick.

I currently feel, for instance, that civilization is in decline, that we are living in a moment of collapse of empire, that human beings are an overwhelmingly dismal species, and that I myself have made a series of irrevocable but mistaken decisions that have diminished my life.

Personally, I just like to get in a good nap as often as I can.

These may be slight overstatements. I mean, just slight.

Of course presently I will be well and all of this will seem utterly ridiculous. Well, okay, maybe not the collapse of empire business, but all the rest of it.

Then again, did I mention that the Yankees have been eliminated from the playoffs?


Monday, October 8th, 2007

As my sister suggested in her last volley, I just got home from a week in California—a week full of fun and hijinks, old friends and good conversation, new sights and new viruses.

Yes, yes, it’s true. I came home not only with a completed pair of socks…
Cherry Tree Hill Gems Merino in colorway Peacock, US Size 1 needles, my own pattern, which I will publish on the blog presently.

A little closer in on that pattern.

…but also some kind of viral ailment.

As a result, I have learned how much distress I can cause in this household JUST by sleeping until 10:30 a.m. To be fair, I am generally awake, up, and—to Alex’s mind—intolerably chipper by 6:30 a.m. Furthermore, I never sleep more than eight hours.

Except for the last two nights, when I have slept twelve hours. Both nights. Asleep 24 hours out of the last 48.

Clearly this is a disturbing sign, quite possibly of my imminent hospitalization and death. Shelley and Alex have been expressing their worry by unhelpfully hovering over me in the mornings, beginning around 8 a.m. Shelley hops up on the bed, installs herself at my side, and looms over me with a concerned and puzzled look. She is sometimes moved to place a paw on my chest, presumably to see if she can still register a heartbeat.

Alex, on the other hand, has taken to rustling around in the bedroom until I stir, at which point he asks, worriedly, “Are you going to get up anytime soon? It’s really late.”

This from the man who can easily sleep until 11 a.m. when he is well.

I pointed out to them that they might well be hastening my untimely demise by disturbing my restorative rest, but improvements have not been forthcoming. They mean well.

So until I am better, I will attempt to entertain you with photos and stories of the Golden State.

The Campanile at the University of California, Berkeley.

Our very own on-campus redwood grove. Harvard, eat your heart out.

My ride. I have since decided that I love the Mini Cooper so much that it shall be appointed the “Worldly Motivation” for finishing my dissertation. That is, I finish the dissertation and get a job, I can get a Mini. No dissertation, no job, no Mini. It’s just that simple.

One of the places I got to in my Mini: Tilden Regional Park. I went up here three to five times a week with Shelley when we lived in Berkeley. I used to like to pretend, Walter-Mitty-like, that we were Lewis and Clark, an adventure fantasy encouraged by the frequent and prominent postings warning of wildcat attacks.

The trees where you park your car before you head out on your hike.

Trail and clouds.

And last, but certainly not least, my father-in-law:
Shown here with a Baked Alaska in the low-lighting conditions (elsewhere known as “atmosphere”) that prevail at Trader Vic’s in Emeryville.

And finally, my first experience with Bananas Foster, made tableside. See above regarding low-lighting conditions.

More soon, but right now I’ve got to get some rest…


Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Ellen has been in California all week, and every day for the past week I have been saying to myself, “I need to write a blog post.  I need to write a blog post.”  But it hasn’t gotten done.  Until today.  So, herewith, I offer these thoughts.

A.  I have been working on the blue Corriedale that I wrote about last week.  Mostly combing, but also a bit of actual spinning.

corriedale lambswool on the wheel

B.  It has been in the upper 80’s and almost 90 for several days this past week.  In early October!  I don’t like it.  I’m not one of those nuts who actually enjoy hot weather.  When I run the world, it will be against the law (at least in NW Missouri) for the temperature to be above 75 F after September 15.

C.  The grass needs to be mowed.  Again!  No doubt due to those unseasonably warm temperatures.  Another good reason for it to get cool in the fall and stay that way.

D.  I have finished another sock and started work on the second of the pair.  Here’s the first:


The yarn is Claudia Hand Paints, fingering weight 100% merino, in the colorway John B.  Purchased in California this summer.

E.  I came home one day this week and found my home invaded by tiny ants.  They were all over the floor in the back porch area and in the kitchen as well.  I grabbed the vacuum before I even sat down (a first for me, I’ll tell you) and ruthlessly vacuumed all those little suckers up.  I blame it on the warm weather.

F.  I’ve gotten back to work on the design/swatch inspired by (I almost hate to bring this up) the sweater from The Holiday.  I haven’t pictured it here because I have a goal of sending this design in to one of the knitting magazines, and I don’t think it’s right to put designs on the blog when my goal is to get them published. 

G.  Focus.  Set goals.

H.  Hugo gave me the raspberry earlier today.

Hugo 10-7-07

I guess he’s unhappy with the service.


Dreaming of the sea

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

I have been doing two things over the last week or so, (well, in addition to going to work, unpacking boxes, spending time with Harvey, walking the dog…) and those two things are
1) knitting on Howard’s socks and
2) spinning

In fact, I finished Howard’s socks today and, contrary to my usual pattern of leaving a project finished but for the weaving in of ends, went ahead and worked in those ends right away.  Aren’t you proud of me?

Howard's socks

If you’re thinking that these socks look rawther large, even for men’s socks, you’re right.  What can I say?  He has big feet.  So big, in fact, that I knit the heels and toes out of a coordinating solid because I was afraid I would run out of yarn otherwise.  And it’s a good thing I did, since I was left with only a few yards at the end of the second sock.

And, at the wheel, I have been working on some dyed Corriedale lamb locks:  combing a bag full of roving with my small hand combs, and then spinning away.

purple-blue yarn on bobbin

I got this wool (along with some other goodies) from Homestead Wool and Gift Farm in Wisconsin.  There were some very lovely things in the box that arrived from them, and I’d encourage all you spinners to check out their website.  Also, Sandy is a wonderfully nice person to work with.  She even sent a sample of one of their other offerings and a pretty little sachet of lavender, which, if I had to guess, I would say was probably grown right there on their farm.

In the process of moving, I have re-discovered some gorgeous spinning fibers that I had tucked away, and I got an urge last week to spin up something beautiful–something different.  I pulled out some carded batts that I had ordered some time ago, set the wheel on the lowest ratio, and started spinning.

I call this skein “Ocean,” since it reminds me of the sea.  Not that I’ve spent that much time in my life at the ocean, mind you, but those colors do seem like what the sea should be, I think. 

Sometimes it’s the dream of something far away and beautiful that keeps me going.