28 December 2006

Letter from Georgia

Just a really quick note on v e r y s l o w dialup from Augusta, GA to say hi! It was actually colder here than in NYC for our first two days, but the sun has come out and now it's lovely! The in-laws LOVE the felted slippers. There's sunlight to take pictures in. The other felted items came out mostly great, except for one pair of experimental slippers which are...now doing better, but shall be referred to hereafter as "the Frankenstein slippers." Are you in suspense? Dying for pictures? Soon - I promise!!

Back to red scarf knitting, cheezy detective-novel reading, and being plied with food and wine by my in-laws. Starting New Year's Day, I'm going to write every day and FINISH the last real chapter by the time we leave here. Really. Okay - finish a decent first draft. And, okay, parts of it are already written because they got cut out of the first chapter I wrote. But still. I think I can do it - this much sunshine, a comfortable, spacious room, food taken care of...and we get to sleep every night in total silence and darkness. It's heaven. And a washing machine into the bargain, as well. Heaven.

23 December 2006

Panic Time

Dudes. Things have been nutty around here. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, because you're all going through the same thing and doing christmas knitting at the same time!

I've been frantically finishing up this chapter while also running the errands, doing the shopping and packing and phone calls and correspondence and plant/key-exchanging required before we can take off for my in-laws' house for the holidays. I've also been frantically trying - for no rational reason whatsoever - to finish knitting that doesn't really need to be finished but that I somehow don't want to leave sitting around for a few weeks while I do other, more travel-friendly projects. I've also been getting some AWESOME xmas presents, some of them knitting-related, which I'm dying to photograph and review for you guys. But, sadly, it will all have to wait because we've got one day left before departure and I still have massive packing to do (beside throwing all our dirty clothes in a suitcase to be washed in suburban luxury and remembering to throw the gifts in the other suitcase, we have to sort out all the papers, notebooks, disks and files required for me to start the new Chapter and Hubbster to study for orals while we're gone, at a minimum of poundage, plus I have to plan ahead for everything I might possibly want to knit, both on the airplane in difficult security conditions and while we're there, and you all know how hard that is), plus I have to finish typing in my last set of revisions. (At which point, yes indeedy, Chapter Three is being firmly dismissed to await Final Revision of the whole diss in February.) So, no pictures today at all, but I'll give you a hint of what awaits you later:

- Finished Peacock Socks. The navy toes don't look half bad at all, and Hubbster loves them.

- A tea cozy for our adorable new glass teapot. Believe it or not, this is the first tea cozy I have ever knit.

- Still more fuzzy feet. Even I'm bored now, but I did wacky things with color this time - really. Makes the red toe of the blue pair positively mundane.

- Got 3 skeins of worsted weight Wool of the Andes from Knit Picks to experiment with, as I'm plotting a sweater for Hubbster to be begun after the holidays, and right now I'm working on a gauge-swatch-sock (taking EZ's advice about swatches but making it a sock instead of a hat because I don't wear stocking caps).

- Also got a 16" US3 needle from the new KnitPicks line, also to experiment with just in case the opportunity presents itself to get the Options set at some point in the future. Loving it so far!!

- The knitting on the Palette Sampler Cardigan is DONE!!! Imperfect, but done, and done satisfactorily to my mind, since the point of this project was to learn a lot, and I've already done that, for sure. I started crocheting the steeks for the neckline and front, but it's looking like I won't have the time and/or peace of mind to proceed any further before we leave. And yes, that's a bit of a relief because I'm nervous about it. I'm totally okay with the sleeve steeks now, and have full confidence, as a result, about the vertical front cardigan steeks. It's the curved neckline steeks that make me queesy. Very queesy.

- I'm back at work on the Widdershins second sock. That and Red Scarves will probably make up most of my holiday knitting, as I also plan to be working a lot and will require mindless fiber-y comfort.

- In the biggest news of all: Santa brought me a set of KIPer bags!!!!! Will do a full review of them as soon as I can, and it will probably benefit from me actually carrying them around and getting used to them for a while first, but so far I love them. They look much sturdier (and less cheap) in real life than in the rather meager pictures on the web site, and their total, perfect utility has me in raptures. They're really perfect city bags - and not just for knitters! They should market them to New Yorkers in general, I think. The black color and sturdy, inexpensive construction is an absolute requirement for me, given that I need to be able to use bags forever, put them through a lot, and am constantly dragging them through the filthy subway. I've been idly daydreaming about sewing myself a perfect handbag set for years, actually, and now I don't have to because KnitPicks did it for me (yes, folks, it's been a KnitPicks' Christmas around here, can you tell??).

I will have internet access while I'm gone, but only dialup, so I can't promise much in the way of pictures, though I should be able to post at least a few times. Will make up for it all when I get back! I can't wait to do my felting, and will try very hard to remember to photograph everything.

One further thing I want to post here, but unless you left an anonymous comment recently about the Debbie Bliss "Marilyn" pattern linked to on my sidebar, you can safely ignore what follows and go back to your Bloglines with my best wishes for a very happy and knitterly winter break!


This comment was left anonymously on a previous post sometime today:

I was browsing through various knitting sights [sic] and came across your blog. I was looking at the things you want to knit..I am surprised that one would include the knitting instructions (refering [sic] to the Marilyn sweater) as well. Does the respect of [sic] copyright not apply here?

Since this comment was left anonymously, I have no other way to respond to the commenter than on this blog. I'm copying the following response both into the comments section right after the anonymous comment, and here, in the hopes that whoever left it will perhaps see it:

I did not scan and post a copyrighted pattern and never would. A glance at the URL for the Debbie Bliss "Marilyn" pattern linked to on my sidebar will show any interested parties that the scan of the pattern actually originates from the Interweave Knits site. They made it available free online because the magazine issue in which it was originally released is out of print, never to return, and this is the way they have kindly decided to meet the strong continued demand for this particular pattern (please follow this link and note that the pattern is not from the subscriber-only portion of the site and is listed by IK as being made available for free to anyone at all "with our compliments").

A simple glance at the pattern itself or the web site the file actually resides on presumably makes this fact quite clear to any conscientious reader, but I wanted to belabor the point here as I don't particularly appreciate the unwarranted and thoughtless accusation left by my anonymous commenter. I've seen much worse on blogs, of course, but that's precisely the point: this kind of thing is always unacceptable and I refuse to ignore it when it's right here on my doorstep, so to speak, even though the issue is in this case a fairly minor one and easily resolved. I refuse to pander to such rude carelessness by ignoring (or worse) apologizing for imaginary offenses. Sloppy thinking and sloppy communicating - both of which have the potential to be infinitely destructive - appear to be a rampant disease in our society and I for one am committed to resisting this disease whenever and wherever I can. I don't claim to be any sort of paragon myself, but I do claim to do my best, and I expect as much from others.

I took the trouble to find that link and include it in my sidebar after a previous reader saw the mention of the Marilyn pattern (without a link) and asked me in private email where the pattern was available. In good conscience I had to tell that reader that I couldn't let her have a copy of my copyrighted pattern, but since the original IK issue was sold out, I suggested she check out Debbie Bliss' site or contact her directly to find out if an alternative was available. It was only after this exchange that I discovered that Interweave had already solved the problem by making the pattern available via free PDF. Under these circumstances, I was happy to take the trouble to link to the file for the benefit of other people like this first reader.

All of which, again, should be patently obvious to anyone who takes a moment to look, and to think.

We should all remember to check our facts before we accuse anyone of any wrongdoing in any public forum, even (or especially) anonymously. If you haven't bothered to get your facts straight or to think before you type, then you are the one giving offense, and you are morally obliged to take responsibility for that offense. No one else.

Respect for copyright does apply here, as do good manners.

16 December 2006

Where do you go to buy a lottery ticket?

I won Krista's contest. This is getting crazy, folks. Really crazy. I never win anything. This is a well-known fact. Or was, until I entered blog land, and somehow now everything's changed. I can't explain it, but it does seem like a good time to buy a lottery ticket, doesn't it?

As always, I'm totally blown away by my fellow knitters' generosity. Krista is going to dye some sock yarn for me. Have you seen her etsy shop? This is one talented knitter, folks.

I need to get back to my chapter (which, I'm happy to say, is progressing well and is now right on the cusp of only needing basic clean-up: fixing footnotes, typos, unraveling bad sentences, inserting last-minute quotes, etc. Yahoo, people, yahoo!!)

So here's a seasonable meme. I saw this on the Yarn Liberation Front and My Fashionable Life.

Christmas Edition of Getting to Know Your Friends

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
Both. But the egg nog has to be really good egg nog, and preferably fortified. I’m much less picky about hot chocolate. If it’s got chocolate in it, I’m happy. During this particular season, I like to melt a candycane into it. I’ve been doing that since I was very little – I use the cane to stir the hot chocolate, until you realize the cane is all gone but for a little chunk still held between your fingers. I drop that in, and really enjoy the gooey peppermint lump you get at the bottom of the cup. This is the only way I’ll eat candy canes.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
When I was a kid, mom always put presents under the tree, as soon as the tree was up (the presents had very likely been bought and wrapped much earlier). We would stare at them as long as we could stand it, then wear down our parents until they agreed to let us open one present every night until “christmas.” (“Christmas” was an arbitrarily chosen day somewhere between the last day of school and New Year’s, according to the schedule involved in driving down to family events in Illinois and blizzard conditions. Effectively, “Christmas” was about three days after we talked the parents into letting us start opening presents). Sadly, we haven’t really been doing “christmas” at all lately. My husband and I live far from all family, and usually see each of his parents, my mom and my dad (who live in far distant states) once a year each. So we no longer make it to the big family gatherings, and presents are exchanged mostly by mail. It’s sad, and I hope won’t last much longer. Someday I hope we’ll have kids of our own, and be able to host a big “christmas” whereever we live.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
I love little white lights outside, especially when they line a city street (or campus path). Indoors, I’m still nostalgic for the huge, old-fashioned multi-colored lights, but only because they're so evocative of my childhood. I think my mom now skips lights altogether and just puts all wooden or paper ornaments (red, white or wood colors only) on a mini-tree. I have to say it’s really gorgeous, even though I’m nostalgic for the huge, tacky tree of my childhood. Someday I’d like to decorate a tree entirely with vintage glass ornaments or something like that.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
Nope. Don’t really decorate ourselves at all lately. In any case, we don’t require excuses for kissy-kissy.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
We don’t. Like I said – sad. I used to have a box of xmas decorations of my own, but somehow most of them are now dispersed. Some got ruined in a sad mildew incident in my parents’ basement, some got lost in various moves, and some – like the Norwegian Nisse doll that my Norwegian host mother taught me to make from scratch and for which I knitted a tiny Icelandic sweater - are still in mom’s closet (mildew-free). I do plan to stop by one of the street corners where they sell xmas trees here in NYC and buy a pine bough. I like having the scent of fresh pine in the house this time of year, and it’s also time to put a giant pot of water with cinnamon and other spices in it – hydrates the air and smells divine.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
Ummm….Chicago pizza, actually. At my mom’s extended family gathering (in the old days when I was a kid), there were too many people to cook for (though grandma did do this for Thanksgiving, cooking an elaborate meal for about 100 people is a bit too much to ask twice in a row). So on christmas all the families would bring some kind of appetizer and/or cookie (we brought gingerbread cookies), all of which would be laid out on a huge table all day, and after the presents were opened they’d order a bazillion pizzas from Aurelio’s. This is not Chicago deep-dish (which is also beyond wonderful), but Chicago suburban flat pizza. It’s essential that it be cut into squares. I always liked the corner pieces. There’s nothing else on earth like it. (And don’t even talk to me about that puddle of grease on a slab that they like to call “pizza” in NY. Crap. Utter CRAP. And as for “Chicago’s Uno’s Pizzeria”? It’s a chain – a fake. They don’t even have the classic Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas on the menu. The chain Uno’s is to the original Chicago Uno’s as TGIFriday’s is to Delmonico’s, okay?)

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
I’ll give you two: at home with my immediate family, it was opening the stocking-stuffers. I loved them best of all. They were always small, usually silly things, but I loved the surprise of not having any idea what would come next. The “real” christmas presents were usually some big thing that we’d been begging for all year, so not a big surprise, though exciting in its way. Second memory is at the big extended-family gathering: hanging out in the attic, at first, and in later years the basement with my cousins after the presents and the pizza were over, giggling so hard our stomachs hurt, and sending younger cousins down/up to fetch more cookies as needed. Bombarding unsuspecting adults with pillows whenever they invaded our territory. Building forts out of grandma’s orange furry futons. Oh wait – one more. Making the gingerbread cookies. Specifically, decorating them with frosting and sprinkles. Infinite fun – we always got carried away and made more cookies than even our family could possibly eat before they got stale.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I don’t remember every believing in the Santa myth. I was a lot like the little girl in Miracle on 34th Street as she is at the beginning of the movie, though in my case it wasn’t my parents’ fault. I was just like that.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
We always did it in the morning of whatever day had been designated “christmas.” But I like the idea of doing the gifts the night before, and having all of the holiday day to play with them, eat, and hang out. I might try to do it that way when we have kids someday.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
See above. My mom is saving the ornaments I made, though, to give to me later when I have a tree. I also like the idea of all the ornaments being hand-made by all the members of the family…

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
What snow? Haven’t seen it lately. I love it when it’s fresh, and anywhere outside of cities. I can’t stand it in New York, Chicago, or Moscow, though, when it turns into brown, urine-scented sludge.

12. Can you ice skate?
Sorta. I love to skate in Wollman rink in Central Park. It’s set in a kind of low part, surrounded by trees, and then surrounded outside that by the much higher buildings. I love skating there as the sun sets. Sadly, though, I only make it there about once or twice a year.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
That question makes me think of many, many wonderful exciting gifts I’ve gotten over the years. Childhood stand-outs include the Atari set, shared with my brother (I was great at Frogger, man). The first Cabbage Patch Kid, which my parents happen to have stumbled upon almost the moment came out, before the huge craze kicked in, so they managed to buy it without having to fight for it or anything. It was a red-headed girl doll named Alison Coral, who I carried around with me everywhere I went for several years. She still lives in my closet at mom’s house, with a broken toe and crayon on her face. Another great present was my roller-skates. I skated for hours and hours every day of every summer, on the smooth concrete of an unused boat dock near our house. More recently, I’ve gotten lots of lovely knitting-related items from Hubbster.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
Most of the things I love about it are not happening lately – being with family, the warmth and comfort of the food, and decorations. The leisure time to do the things you love best with the people you love best. Seeing my whole, huge extended family all in one place. All the plotting and secrets that go into making your loved ones happy – for this reason, especially, I love the idea of hand-made gifts, or small, difficult-to-find or especially personal things. Nothing that’s merely expensive, or can be picked up at the nearest shopping mall. Those kind of gifts don’t seem fun to me. This year, and the past few, and probably the next few, are really not much more than a chance to have one whole precious weekend with no work and no guilt, to see one small bit of family and apologize to everyone else for not seeing them.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
This is easy. Much as I love almost every dessert every conceived, there are really only two xmas desserts that count. My grandma’s patented choc. chip cookies and home-made caramels. She has stopped making them in the last few years, but for about 30 years before that she made them faithfully every year, and for me christmas is still not quite christmas without them. I can replicate the cookies almost exactly now (after years of refining my technique), but not one of my dozens and dozens of cousins has managed to figure out the caramels.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
I love everything about my family and the little, mostly silly things we do. I love the smells and warm sweaters and the music some of the more traditional music – hymns, classical, and jazz - when sung well, and many of the movies of the season. I love wrapping presents. I’m not so big on xmas in NYC. We usually only get around to ice skating after the new year, and to me that’s the only fun thing about winter in NYC. The weather is totally weird and hardly wintry (except the occasional days when it’s just ass-kicking cold out of nowhere). This year we’ll be in Georgia for the holidays, and that’s not terribly christmasy either. I much prefer Michigan or Illinois this time of year (of course I’m blocking out all the memories of being stuck on the highway in a blizzard). But I should say that, for me, it’s really a pagan holiday. I love the sights, and smells, and family traditions, and I love to celebrate the winter solstice and begin the countdown to spring. But for me, that’s something we can all celebrate together, and call it whatever we like. I’m really not big on the propaganda part of it, mainly because for as long as I can remember I’ve always found it incredibly hypocritical and commercialized. Those who really are filled with the Christian Christmas spirit don’t generally have to advertise themselves, or defend themselves against any “war on Christmas.” Just my view.

17. What tops your tree?
Don’t got one.

18. Which do you prefer giving or Receiving?
I really love figuring out something just right for someone…and get terribly frustrated when I can’t think of anything personal enough or “right” enough. And of course I love receiving things, too, especially yarny things or books or DVDs. And my mom has the world’s best taste in clothes. I'm just beginning to get better about charity giving, this time of year and all the rest, too, thanks largely to the fine example and useful suggestions I've encountered in the knit blogging world.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
My favorite CDs to play at home on “christmas day” (whenever we decide that is) are Russian Romantic composers, especially Tchaikovsky. Sometimes Borodin. Kind of weird, but whatever. My dad started it, so you can blame him for the weirdness.

20. Candy Canes… Yuck or Yum?
See above. Just the traditional kind, and only in hot chocolate.

12 December 2006

FOs and Prize, Yippee!

It's been another really good day. Which is especially nice since the last three days were spent migraining and completely spazzing out about how little work I've gotten done lately. Pretty much par for the course for the holiday season, I suppose, but today at least I'm feeling completely at peace with the world.

That's what yarn can do to a girl, yes sirree.

I won another prize. This one's from Beth, for hazarding a guess at the purpose of her mystery object. All us guessers got prizes, and I might even (maybe) share part of mine with my husband, who also contributed a guess, though a mightily wicked one.

Take another look at that there yarn. Looky, looky, looky.

Cherry Tree Hill, and no picture could possibly do it justice. It's divine. And partly because it's in a red-family colorway, naturally these socks are going to be for ME, with no weird gigantic gussets necessitating funky toes. Mine, mine, all mine. I think I'll use my newly perfected formula for toe-up short row AND gusset socks, and maybe the Thuja pattern again just because I like it (and it's dead easy, which is still the level I'm at, sock-wise).

Lovely, lovely Beth also put in there some magnificent hot chocolate packets and mints that come in a little tin that says "Knitting Girl." I've already decided that when the mints are gone (won't take long - they're green apple!) I'm going to use the tin to keep my migraine meds in. I always need a new "indestructible" small container for my ever-present headache medicines, and this one should prove much more cheery than the one I got free from the neurologist - with a drawing of a person in pain, holding their head, on the top - is that really what you want to see when you reach for the imitrex, I ask you??

Beth rocks. Did you know her contest was related to the opening of her new spinning store in Michigan? I didn't even know there were such things as spinning stores before I "met" Beth, but sweet sassy molassy, that's a heavenly-looking place! I can't wait to go when we next head out to Michigan to visit my mom, who lives not too far from Beth.

Meanwhile, because of the migraine, I haven't been getting a lot of writing or blog-reading done (Hubbster banned me from the computer for the duration, since staring at a screen tends to make it worse), but I did at least manage to knit much of the time. I finished the striped leftovers handbag, ready for felting:

And also finished the red super-sized fuzzy feet, and started yet another pair, this time using the PGR toe-up method on 44 sts, just for variety. And for a little while there I lost my mind, dropped all current WIPs and started some Twinkle Toes from the bran' new issue of Knitty. It's okay, though, because they're already finished! Here's the obligatory ballet pose:

But I'd like to point out that they still look really cute even if you hold your feet like a normal person, and they're terrific for summer slippers or bed socks.

I made mine with random Russian yarn from the stash - 95% cotton, 5% lycra for stretch. Roughly a DK weight, kind of boucle-like in structure. I had no idea if this would work and never did check my gauge; I just made a toe, and it fit, so I kept going. I also had no idea how much yarn was in a ball; it just said 50g on the label, and the pattern used the same. Worked out fine - I ended up with about half a yard leftover! And that's after adding considerable length to the pattern. Even though it says they're really stretchy and the "adult" size should fit just about anyone, and even though I was substituting about the stretchiest yarn you could get, there's no WAY I could have gotten these suckers over my heel if I'd followed the pattern. I added 10 rows, in 5 sets of two, evenly placed between toe and heel. I might have gotten away with only 8 extra rows, but any less and I swear they would never have stretched far enough. But I've got a pecularly narrow size 10 foot, and it has become abundantly obvious to me lately that what other people mean by "average woman's foot" means, in my unique universe, "way too short and possibly too wide," so I will just have to always adjust accordingly. The beauty of this pattern is that it is absolutely clear, easy, and problem-free, and totally adaptable to minor adjustments. I plan to make another pair for a ballet-loving friend with especially small feet, and I think I'll start with fewer stitches for the toe, since the number given in the pattern was plenty for me, and her feet are miniscule compared to mine. Also, for my pair, I made the ties only 56 sts instead of 66, because I can never get ballet-style ties to stay up that high without cutting off circulation. So I made them shorter, tie them lower, and all is well. Still cute. And I love, love, love the heel construction. Will copy it, probably, on most future socks. It's pretty much exactly what I had finally concluded I needed to do to get a decent-fitting toe-up sock heel - that is, a full short-row heel plus a little bit of a gusset - all validated by someone else and everything.

I'm totally excited about the new issue of knitty. I love eiffel, and (obviously) twinkle toes, and piggle and sheldon. And I'm very likely to someday make center square, calorimetry, brown bag, argosy or legwarmer socks. And monkey adds itself to the long list of Cookie's sock patterns that I'm going to make just as soon as I can rely on myself to make a respectable stockinette sock, and can then begin venturing into the kind of territory where it would hurt very, very much to have to rip back 50 rows, you know what I mean? But several of Cookie's patterns - hedera, pomatamatamatamus, baudelaire, and now monkey - top my to-do list. I also really, really love the features in knitty. I always learn some major new thing every time, and am usually much amused and intrigued and better informed after each new batch. I particularly loved this issue's article about the yarn market, of course. Seems like we were all indeed on to something!

And just wait till we get the surprise. There might be something super-exciting in there from my perspective, especially. That's all I'm gonna say.

06 December 2006

All Good Things

Lots of good things have been happening, just when it was most needed thanks to holiday / end of semester stresses and that constant growling that's still coming from my two pairs of unfinished socks. I haven't touched the socks, and actually stuffed them in the closet so the growling wouldn't be quite so loud. But now that I have the plain blue yarn to finish the peacock socks with, I plan to do them while on vacation in Georgia over the holidays, since, of course, socks are perfect travel knitting, and by that time they'll both seem totally new to me and the angst about all that ripping (in one case) and yarn shortage (in the other case) will have faded.

In the meantime, I've been happily knitting up super-quick projects on huge needles using cheap leftover yarn. Yeah baby - just the right stuff for the current mood. It's all stuff for felting while we're in Georgia, in the handy suburban washing machine.

First, I finished the slippers for the in-laws:

Both in-laws have considerably smaller feet than I do (Hubbster's, though wider, are actually the same length - embarrassing). This is the sum total of my xmas knitting for this year. I've gone crazy in previous years - the scarf year, the felting year - and I think there may be a sock year in my future (most challenging yet!) but this particular year I decided I'd better just finish the bloody dissertation. I have the rest of my life to knit. (ooh, doesn't that sound lovely?)

And I actually went ahead and felted the blue pair of fuzzy feet, because I'd had to finish the toe in a different yarn (I don't seem to have good luck with blue footwear), and I wanted to hand-felt in this case to control the process. It turned out to be totally easy. This is the first time I've used Lamb's Pride, and I see now why it's such a good felting yarn - it starts felting really quickly. I love Paton's Classic Wool too for its reliablity, color selection, and price, but it does take a bit longer to get going. That's not a problem in a machine, but really makes a difference by hand. When I ran out of the Lamb's Pride I did the last toe in some 50-50 wool/mohair in red that was leftover from a sweater. It was made in Russia but called "Natural Mohair" in English with no apparent brand name - so I don't know what the heck it is. But it was exactly the same gauge as Lamb's Pride and similarly lightly spun, and in the end it felted exactly the same way. Since that sweater wasn't much of a success, I'm tempted to rip it up and make it all into fuzzy feet!

(The blue part in the corner above is from an unfocused picture that actually showed the accurate color). But so far I still have some leftovers to work with, so I'm experimenting with making another pair of fuzzy feet in different dimensions:

This one is a little bigger around (48 sts instead of 44) and much longer, because I want a slipper that's a little longer than the others, but much more tightly felted. Since stock. st. felts much more vertically than horizontally, I made it bigger in length than in width from the pattern. You never know if that sort of thing will work, though, and in retrospect I'm thinking it would have been a better idea to follow the pattern but on bigger needles with a double strand of yarn, to get more or less the same slipper but thicker. Anyone else out there experimented with this before??

Finally, I've been playing around with leftover felting yarns to make a handbag:

I wound random lengths of yarn into a ball, tying the ends (since they're just going to get felted anyway, I can snip the ends that stick out), and then just knitted mindlessly from the ball. This has been wonderful fun, especially since I forgot the order of the colors I'd picked as soon as I finished making the ball, so unwinding it as I knit felt like constantly discovering a new surprise. I think the level of fun I was having with this tells you something about my state of mind right now.

This is the body of the bag, hanging upside down over the back of a chair; I'm just working on the straps now. The bottom is a rectangle in black garter st. I picked up sts around, and just knitted a straight tube up. I didn't decrease at the top because I want the sides to sort of splay outward, as felting does with a large tube of stockinette. I'm loosely copying the shape of my Steve Madden handbag (which I found at Filene's for $20 and have been deeply attached to ever since, to the point where it's wearing out even though it's an incredibly sturdy construction). Except I want the straps to be just a smidge longer - it always drives me nuts that that handbag won't stay on my shoulder when I'm wearing my winter coat. I also wanted to make the braided straps that Laura showed us with a different, smaller handbag pattern. Of course, predicting exact length when you're not only felting, but felting a braid, is utterly impossible, but we'll see how it goes.

While I was working on my dissertation on this bag yesterday, the postman - the blessed postman! - came with a package! An early xmas present from my dad. So, you ask, did I wait, like a good girl, until the 25th to open it? Oh no. I saw the return address, and I opened. It was the DVD of Elizabeth Zimmermann and Meg Swansen's Knitting Glossary. I watched the whole thing all at once. I am in HEAVEN. I want to spend the xmas break (after finishing the socks) trying out every last technique in swatches. At first Hubbster was sort of giggling at me in an "oh, how sweet" way when I said I was going to watch "a knitting glossary" straight through for my evening's entertainment. Then, as he was reading his book nearby, he giggled in an "oh, isn't that adorable" way when I kept exclaiming things like

"Oh my God!"


"But that's...that's brilliant!"

...while watching two ladies knit quietly...

and then...he started watching. And then he started exclaiming! --

"Wow! That's really amazing! Can you do that?"

And I replied, naturally, "I can now!" :-)

I couldn't resist trying out quite a few things in the knitting I was doing at the same time - short rows without turning the work, two colors on the left hand in Meg's way, etc - which luckily I could do and undo in the handbag with no worries, since felting will cover any oddities in gauge. I decided to finish off the top edge of the bag in applied I-cord, now that I know how to do it:

This is just 2-stitch I-cord, which is neat because it's like the usual chain bind off, but instead of one chain of Vs along the top, you get one chain on each side of the top. I dunno, it's just pretty, and surprisingly fast. I never bothered to learn attached I-cord from any of their books before because it looked like it would be slow, and I never have patience for that kind of slow trimming/decorative thing. This was really no worse than most bind-offs, though, and there are so many possibilities for what you can do with it. And now that I'm working on the straps of the handbag - 6 skinny strips for the braids - I'm practicing knitting back backwards. I'm still a bit awkward at it, but I'm quickly becoming addicted, and the gauge I'm getting is no worse than my purling gauge anyway.

And that's not all! Actually, it seems the world is conspiring, for once, to make things nice in my little universe: the other day I received another exciting package in the mail - a music mix from Laura! I've long noticed that Laura has excellent, discerning taste in music. I used to be quite up-to-date with music when I was in college and had access to lots and lots of like-minded (like-eared??) people to trade with, but I haven't really discovered any new music since about 2000, partly because of lack of money, but really because of lack of access. I tend not to much like what's on the radio and don't really listen to anything but NPR, so I'm really dependent on hearing recommendations from people with similar tastes. And now, out of the purest generosity, Laura has sent me the most wonderful, amazing, huge music mix of totally new and wonderful stuff! I had no idea what I was missing!! I had also forgotten how well I work with music on, actually. In honor of Laura's mix, I finally went out and got the right cords to hook up the nice speakers my dad donated to us months ago, so we could play music in the living room/study. Bliss! Sheer bliss! I had really forgotten what a huge part of my life music used to be; somehow, in recent years, I just haven't even wanted to listen to old favorites, or haven't had anything but the computer to play them on, or whatever. Now I feel like I'm discovering music, new and old, all over again!

And that's not all! I ordered some of Wendy's candles for our various parental units' christmas presents, and since Wendy lives right here in NYC she graciously let me come over and pick them up instead of paying for shipping to get four candles across Central Park. So I met Wendy today!! She's just as wonderful in person as you would expect, and oh my God I got to smell the candles! Unfortunately I was trying to run a million errands in my "day out," so I didn't have much time, but I got to smell so many wonderful scents...I want them all...I think next on my list to try will be "Geisha" and "Lemon tart"...the ones I came home with are Pan, Lilac, Tranquility and Harvest Moon. They're all amazing, and it's going to be difficult to part with them. I am particularly in awe of the Pan and Tranquility scents, because they're so complex. They remind me of the scent machine Maude had in the movie Harold & Maude. Do you remember that scene? You were supposed to stick your nose in a tube, and you'd smell all the many smells of...I think it was New York City in the winter. Which is not necessarily an unremittingly good collection of smells, let me tell you, but luckily Wendy's candles really are just about the good stuff. But it's true that with "Pan" for example you smell first a kind of woodsy pine scent...and then you notice lavender, like your grandmother's sachet, and then spiced tea... It's really unlike any other scented candles I've ever encountered. I was really amazing, too, to see where Wendy makes them. As you can see on her blog, she's got this incredible shelf chock-full of the scent oils, and there are stacks of shiny stainless steel pots and the glass jars and little tins the candles go in. Everything about it is beautiful, and the whole room was rich with the scents when I stopped by, as Wendy was filling the orders that have come in in just the past fews days (yay!), since I first posted about it. The truly amazing thing is that even that really strong scent didn't bother my head in the least, even though I've only just gotten over another round of migraine. Miraculous!

So, music...candles...knitting...things are good. I hope you're all enjoying as many creature comforts as I am as we head into the homestretch of holiday knitting and/or end-of-semester writing and grading.

01 December 2006

Miscellaneous Notes

I'm revising my chapter right now (what? can't you tell?), but I had to just stop by for a few quick notes:

1. and most important: Go buy candles from Wendy's Dame Candle Company for everybody on your christmas list. Seriously. These are amazing, wonderful candles. I love mine to death, and even though I can't afford to buy them up like mad like I really want to right now, I at least want to know that Wendy will still be in business whenever I do have a little cash to put in that direction. I should say that I don't actually know Wendy - I "met" her because I bought her candles, thanks to Brenda Dayne's review of them on Cast-On, and I so LOVE the candles that I've been reading Wendy's cool blog since then. And now she says her little home-made company is in danger of folding. Don't let it happen!! For one thing, Wendy's candles are an *awesome* holiday gift idea.

Seriously - Lime & Violet were talking about how wonderful it would be to put the money we all spend this time of year into the hands of small-scale craftspeople instead of big, swindling corporations and I am SO in favor of this. I don't know about you, but I feel like I'm getting swindled left, right and center everywhere I turn, and I haven't purchased a product of quality of any kind from a large company in at least five years. And remember when there used to be this thing called customer service? Hubbster was a pension law lawyer before quitting for grad school, and let me tell you, the money we give these companies is NOT going to anybody who does real work. Meanwhile, thanks to online etsy shops and cafepress and so on, individual people -- people with passion and an actual work ethic and no CEOs to keep in luxurious elegance at the expense of the benefits and pensions owed to the people who actually work -- are now able to sell on their own, directly to consumers, without sacrificing our convenience. The problem is, they have to be able to get the word out, and consumers have to remember they're out there, instead of falling back lazily on the familiar (I admit I'm all too often guilty of this; I'm reminding myself, too). So let's buy candles from Wendy (a great choice for the migraine-sufferer in your life - trust me, these are the only scented candles that won't hurt them), and also check out Lime & Violet's awesome list of etsy shops that sell things for the fiber enthusiast...yessiree bob, that's a list for you to hand out to your friends and family so they can finally stop giving you machine-made GAP scarves (barf) and give you want you really want instead - the fiber to spin and knit your own damn scarf from scratch!

2. Beth (who also happens to own a wonderful little spinning store now, did you know?) asked that we pass around a link to this guy, who's doing a project for an MLA conference on memes. Link to him, and then ping here. (You don't have to know what "ping" means to ping - you just click, and go away feeling you've done a good deed). He's trying to show that we do read each other's blogs and get inspired to pass things on, and to demonstrate at what speed this might happen. Cool. I think it'd be even cooler if, through the same process, we could all help Wendy save her company.

3. Thanks to all my New Yorker buddies for the scoop on the Smiley's and P&S sales! After much deliberation, I decided to resist Smiley's, because they weren't selling the two things I actually needed, and I have absolutely no faith in my ability to go and not buy something else. None. I did go to P&S, and did succeed in buying only what I needed there - some navy Kroy for finishing off Hubbster's peacock socks, and a few skeins more of Paton's Classic Wool because the Galeskas moccasins that I'm making for my father-in-law just don't look right, and since I'm not felting them until we get there at xmas, I want to have the yarn with me to quickly whip up a pair of clogs instead, if the moccasins turn out to be a disaster (I could only find one person online who had knit the moccasins before, and she didn't mention any kind of problem, and I know I've followed the instructions correctly, but it still looks to me like after it felts the toe area will be very short - I can't see how toes are supposed to fit in there after shrinking. Should be a suspenseful felting experience). I had to wait about 45 mins in line for this purchase, and managed not to buy anything else largely because the yarn was only 10% off, which to my mind hardly counts as a sale. So, I got what I knew I had to have in case it wasn't available later, and I'll see whether I feel up to going back again in about a week to see if anything's left by the time the discount is much lower. If anybody goes over the weekend or early next week, I'd be very interested to hear the state of things. As it was, I made the trip count by also doing my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's while I was down there. And I have to say that I was even disappointed (slightly) in them-- and TJ's was really my last great hope for a company that I didn't hate. On my last two trips, I've come home with two items from produce that were already rotten (I couldn't see inside the packaging) and a package of "mushroom turnovers" turned out to be...empty turnovers. Seriously, half of them had nothing in them at all. I'm just completely disgusted by the apparent national, if not global, extinction of competence. Except in a few small corners of the world...the places where people knit, and spin, and make candles, and do it so incredibly well that the mind boggles. Thank god for those people - that is, for all of you! That's my thanks-giving, anyway (as opposed to the holiday, on which we grumbled through some needlessly high-pressure grocery shopping, then over-ate, then fell asleep - no great shakes, if you ask me, and not a good reason to feel thankful only once a year).

4. It's December already. AIEEEEE!! Chapter should have been done yesterday. Crap.

28 November 2006

Smiley's Manhattan Sale

Does anybody know about Smiley's once-a-year Manhattan yarn sale?? Is it worth the 4$ trip cost? From their yarn listing, it looks like you have to buy yarn by the bag...is that true? And they don't list the two yarns I'm most interested in - Paton's Kroy, and Classic Wool. Carrie, Wendy, anybody in NYC - want to meet me there? I'm thinking of just dropping everything and going tomorrow....

Heel Trauma and Lessons Learned

I have 533 feeds on my bloglines. If you haven't seen me in the comments much, that's why. But I have a feeling I'll catch up.

On the other hand, the chapter is progressing. Almost to the point where I kind of like it. Almost.

I've been really, really frustrated with my knitting lately. So frustrated, that I've been mostly reading with what spare time I have. So frustrated that every time I walk past my WIP basket, it growls at me. And I growl back.

I've been thinking about what to do with the peacock sock, and receiving all your wonderful, generous, sympathetic responses with great gratitude. I'm working myself up to facing the fact that some frogging will have to happen. I've decided that while I'm okay with a little eccentricity in my knitting, total madness will irritate me, so I'm going to go with a suggestion that was not in my poll because it came from the brilliant minds of several of you, my genius commenters. I'm going to rip back enough of the toe of the finished sock to make them evenly unfinished, and then I'm going to finish both the same way, with another yarn. I haven't decided which other yarn yet. Since both feet will at least match each other, I might just go with the alpaca (I kind of like the idea of the extra warmth at the toes, since it will be both toes). I would ideally like to use Kroy, but even though there are two sources that I know of for it in NYC, both involve a train trip, which means it costs $4 and is almost the same as shipping anyway. Since we only have to be on campus 3 times a week (between the two of us!) we can no longer justify an unlimited metrocard, and when you start to think about how much each trip costs...well, it's just nutty. Anyway. I can't think of any other errand to do near P&S or Smiley's to justify the trip, plus P&S has only a small selection of Kroy and may not even have a tolerable solid color. Crazily enough, I didn't even ever realize that Smiley's is here in NY (thank you, anonymous!!), but again, I can't quite justify the trip when I have a huge stash...not to mention that if I went to Smiley's, there's just a little itty bitty chance that I might come home with extra sock yarn, not to mention some more Paton's Classic Wool, my felting yarn of choice that I can never have too much of. So, no, that wouldn't be a safe trip right now.

So that's pretty much the result of my endless pondering of all your comments since my last post, at least in terms of these socks. I've also learned tons, and been pushed to think a lot, about the whole nature of socks and what I want out of them.

While I've been pondering all this, I was working here and there on my first toe-up flap sock, using the Widdershins pattern as modified for 64 sts by David Demchuk.

You are looking at the just-finished Heel v.3.0. Yes, while agonizing over the future of the peacock sock, I was knitting this heel THREE TIMES. And this is after, mind you, David did a lot of re-knitting and figuring out for me, so that it shouldn't have been nearly this hard. What I've learned is that Hubbster's not the only one with weird feet. I think the big secret that the cotton/elastic commercial sock conglomerates have been hiding from the world is that everybody has very different feet, requiring different socks. And since this is of course the point of knitting them yourself, I really want to get it right. So even though my first version, following David's directions but -- ahem -- accidently screwing up a little could technically be pulled over my heel, it was really too tight, so I did it again, and this time got the instructions right. But the heel was still too short to fit me well. While Hubbster has wide, very flat feet, I have long, narrow feet (I knew this) and, I believe, tall, narrow ankles (hadn't so much noticed this before). So, Hubbster needs both height and length in the gussets, to get the sock over the enormous ankle part of his foot, which lacks an arch. I need lots of height in the gussets and flap, but not so much gusset length, as my foot gets really skinny really quick on either side of the ankle.

Meanwhile, I have also learned, with ya'll's help, a great deal about the Yarn Harlot's square-flap formula. When I first did it, I thought to myself, "well self, I'd better not do my usual 'knit until square' thing where I fold it over and if I can stretch it to the other side I decide it's 'square' only to find out after I've done the next part of the knitting that it's really a short, squat kind of 'square'." No, I thought to myself, I'm knitting on bloody #0 needles, I'm going to do this right. So I got my measuring tape (digging it out from the couch cushions) and I measured, and even checked to make sure I was measuring in a straight line, and that damn peacock sock flap was precisely 3.5 inches each way. And look where that got me.

So what I decided was that I needed to figure out the perfect proportion of gusset to flap for me and for Hubbster (nobody else gets socks on #0 needles, no way!), and just always use that proportion, ignoring the word "square" altogether.

I figured out that Hubbster's sock could have done well with 6 fewer sts in ea gusset, but no fewer than that (that's why I'm not ripping back that far - I won't save enough yarn for it to be worth it). I figured out that I need a bit more than 25% of the total number of sts (which, judging from the comments, is what most of you do, and which I see in most general sock patterns), but not as much more as Hubbster. This also affects how far in from the toe you need to start the heel, which was a factor in my trouble with the Widdershins pattern, among other things (also, that Widdershins has you increasing for fewer gusset sts than will eventually be attached to the flap - the extra sts needed beyond that are increased at the center heel section, when you "turn" it).

In the end, my formula is: a PGR toe (which I like because it's less pointy than the traditional one), then, after 2.75" for me or 4" for Hubbster, start gusset increases. Mine need to add up to 29% of total sts on each side, 41% for Hubbster. Then, I do the Widdershins short-row heel turn, but simply skipping the increases. This doesn't make it quite as rounded, but it's rounded enough for my foot:

Then, you just knit up the flap, which is the usual 50% of total sts, consuming the gusset sts as you go, at the same rate as a top-down sock. The sock you see here, v.3.0, still has only 25% of total sts for the gussets, and is still a little on the strained side, which is why I made my ideal 29% (based on measuring how many more sts I wish were there but aren't). And I think I'll be sticking with the regular slipped-st heel rather than EOP, just because EOP takes up too much yarn. Although since Hubbster's socks will clearly always require more than the usual amount, I might as well do them on his, if I'm going to have to always buy three skeins anyway!

So, in sum, I've had a traumatic couple of knitting weeks, and neither pair of socks is remotely done even now, but I have learned a hell of a lot, and I know now my own absolutely perfect sock formula and how to get there.

Which has now been added to a little project I've been working on...a 6-page knitting cheat sheet, containing everything I ever need to know to keep knitting for the rest of my life. Seriously. I actually made one a few years ago, but it was lost when my laptop got stolen, along with a lot of other great knitting stuff (which just goes to show, you can't just back up "work" stuff, you must backup ALL docs, everytime). I gave up on the project for a long time after that, then came back to it recently. I put in it all the technique tips and reminders I'm always having to run to a book for (like the order for kitchener stitch, or which decrs to use in what order for v-necks vs raglans, etc), plus the essential points for the most versatile patterns - EPS with all the shoulder shaping options, my own (new!) essential sock formula, wash cloth, slipper, mitten and wrist-warmer patterns, the pi shawl. The instructions for the basic lace and cable motifs that I like best. I put this all in columns in 10-pt font with tiny margins so that it all fits on 3-dbl-sided sheets that can be folded like a book. Right now, I still have room for 2.5 columns, and I swear I could happily knit for the rest of my life using only the info here! The only pattern I use regularly that isn't there is the Galeskas felted clogs, and I'm not sure I can fit that into the remaining space. I type everything up in my own abbreviated way, leaving out the things that are no-brainers for me, and adding in reminders for the things I always screw up (ahem, kitchener). The real point of this is to take it with me to Russia next year, so I don't have to take a whole suitcase full of books, but I also like to have it on shorter trips. So far I've taken versions of it on trips and it's always missing the one piece of info I want, but now that I've been through that a few times I think I've added almost everything - this year's xmas trip to Georgia should be a good test, as there will be plenty of knitting time and I plan to bring only the 6 pages, yarn, and (hopefully! if Santa has been good to me!) the KnitPicks options needles.

Here's a slightly blurry pic of the socks, the only one taken without flash so you can see the colors and the pretty pooling. It's in-house cashmere sock yarn from School Products, with a little nylon. It's spun with little curlicues like boucle, which makes the socks very soft-looking and soft-feeling, but also makes it tough to see the sts when you're ripping back.....

And because I can't resist a good meme:

(click to make it legible)

20 November 2006

Peacock Sock Emergency

I regret to tell you all that the peacock socks have reached a state of emergency.

I'm out of yarn. What you see is what I got. I'm not sure how this little problem managed to sneak up on me like this, but I think the cause may be those pretty eye-of-partridge heel flaps. They seem to take twice as many rows to reach squareness as other stitch patterns. This is no doubt why it's so firm and sturdy, but it also means that it takes a lot of yarn. Then, since this was my first foray into heel flap socks, I took the Harlot at her word when she said to just pick up one stitch for every 'V' on the flap and that would be the perfect amount for the gusset. I really did slip the first stitch of every row, but I still ended up picking up 36 sts on each side (on a 72-st sock). Now, I did see fairly quickly that this looked like way more stitches than a "normal" sock, and that it was taking way too long to get back to the baseline number of stitches at the rate of 2 decreases every other row. But I tried the first one on Hubbster's foot at this stage and discovered that while the "widest part of the foot" that I had been measuring (where the toe-knuckles are) is wide, the part of the foot in front of the ankle - the highest part of the foot - is actually well over a half-inch bigger around still. Probably because poor Hubbster has flat feet. (Honestly, I never imagined I'd know his feet quite this well.) So, the huge, odd gusset actually fits him marvellously well, and he says it's better than any sock he's ever put on. Although a slightly smaller gusset - say, halfway between normal and this one - would probably work just as well, this one is already knitted, now on both socks, so I'd really hate to frog and re-do it because of the yarn shortage.

Another option would be to frog the ribbing on the legs, and use that yarn. I am missing 30 rows plus the toe, and the ribbing is 20 rows on each sock, so that's probably about the right amount. Then I could just rip the last 4 or 5 rows of the remaining legs and knit them back up in 1x1 rib to finish it off. But I think this would seriously diminish the beauty and comfort of the socks - this is not the right colorway or pattern for anklets!

I could, of course, hunt down another skein of the yarn, which is Cherry Tree Hill Supersock merino. Two problems with that - 1, I'm not sure of the colorway or its current availability, and 2, if I'm going to spend real money, I've got a huge list of things I want, and I'd rather get something new and different and have these socks done already.

Or, I could finish it with another yarn entirely, and when Hubbster wears them in shoes no one will notice. Hubbster gamely declares that he is totally fine with this plan. But what yarn? The whole point would be not to spend money. The cheapest option I could find online was Paton's Kroy (in plain navy blue) for $4.50, but shipping was $6 (!!). I do have a plain brown yarn in the stash that would probably get the same gauge or close enough and not clash. But it's alpaca, and much fuzzier/hairier than the Supersock.

I cannot resolve this dilemma, not even after tossing and turning for an hour last night. Help me! Log your verdict in this poll:

How should I finish the peacock sock?
Buy another skein of matching yarn.
Unravel the ribbing and make ankle socks.
Frog and re-knit the feet with smaller gussets.
Finish with a matching Kroy yarn
Finish with the miscellaneous brown alpaca.
Stick it in the closet and cry.

View Results

In the meantime, I am continuing with the first pair of Widdershins. Did I mention that I have vowed to never, EVER, ever ever ever knit socks from the top down again???!! I have. Except maybe for EZ's moccasin socks, and even those I prefer to start just above the ankle with a provisional cast-on and then finish two at a time on one magic loop. I get better chances of having two legs of equal height that way, plus it makes the boring part a little more adventurous.

I also worked out some of my angst by whipping up these suckers in one evening:

Fuzzy feet, in orange alpaca, inspired by Aija's. It occured to me that since I'll be felting in suburban comfort over the holidays anyway (when I felt the in-laws' new clogs while we're visiting them), I might as well felt a few other things. I figure I might have time to do one or two more of these before we go. We can never have too many tapochki in this house.

P.S. I'm behind on my email. I know. I will catch up...eventually.

17 November 2006

The Benefits of a Crafty Childhood

I seem to be on this sentimental streak. Bear with me (or just skip this and wait till next time; I should be reverting to my usual cynicism any day now).

Marianne commented on my earlier post about my knitting bag that it sounded like I had a happy childhood. This really made me think...you know how you refer to other people, saying they had a "happy childhood" or an unhappy one...I don't think I've ever thought about my own childhood in those terms before. Probably because I've only recently realized that I am, in fact, an adult now whether I like it or not. So, prompted by Marianne's comment, I thought about it.

This is the whole version of the photo that I cropped and put into my "100 Things" list. Now you can fully appreciate both my red knee socks and the Wild-People-of-the-Woods look my parents were sporting in those years (hey, it was an ugly decade - it could have been so much worse!).

There are a few reasons that I didn't immediately think, "yeah, of course I had a happy childhood!" For one thing, I was never a happy-go-lucky type person who runs around dancing and singing and liking everyone they meet. I've always been the introverted, observant type (and, okay, more than a little antisocial). In almost all of my baby pictures, even, my brow is furrowed as though I was contemplating life and death or something (I suspect it was actually gas). That said, I enjoy thinking, and observing. It seems to be my place, and I like it. So while I may not have always looked happy, much of the time when I didn't I was probably merely thinking, and was perfectly content.

Meanwhile, my parents married young and there was a lot of fighting in our house (they eventually divorced, as soon as my brother and I left the house; they're both happier now). And like I mentioned, there wasn't much money; my parents really only started to get their heads above water right about the time they needed to pay for orthodenture and college, so even then it wasn't easy. However. While they weren't necessarily sure they wanted to be with each other, my parents were deeply committed to being parents, and very, very good at it. Obviously my brother and I would have been a lot better off if they had been more respectful and kind to each other, too, but I couldn't ask for anything more in the way they behaved toward us (the one thing in which they were united). A lot of the theories that are popular today - attachment parenting comes first to mind - were things my parents were practicing way back then without knowing the name for it. That's even more impressive knowing they figured this all out on their own, so young, without much in the way of modeling from their own parents. As for the money - I admire them enormously for choosing to dedicate their time and energy to working in social services when (with their educations and social background) they could have made a lot more money doing just about anything else. My dad was a teacher in the public schools before his recent retirement, and my mom is still a social worker. It's also true that I didn't ever really notice the lack of money when I was young because - the story is famous in my family - I was perfectly delighted with things like a box of popsicle sticks (grandma gave it to me one year, and she couldn't get over the fact that my favorite present ever had cost about $5 - but have you ever tried saving popsicle sticks for an entire summer, tried to make anything at all out of those sticks despite the colored stains left by the popsicles, only to suddenly get a bonanza of some 1000 perfectly clean, new sticks all at once???!!! Oh wait - I'm talking to knitters. We're all people who get more excited about a ball of string than just about anything else. So you know what I'm talking about.)

I also grew up in a crazy, insular, intolerant, bigoted town. I'll just share with you the phrase - which I have actually heard spoken in all seriousness - "If ya ain't Dutch, ya ain't much" and that should give you a general idea. My friends at school went to church three or four times a week and really, truly believe(d) they were the only people going to heaven, and the rest of us were damned. Creativity, independent thought, and outside influences were all abhorred. People actually accused me of being a satanist when I admitted that I didn't go to church very often. To say I was a misfit in school is putting it very, very mildly. My whole extended family was (is) very much a part of this madness - my parents became such hippies because they were running away from the loving-in-its-way but suffocatingly repressive and punishing environment they'd been raised in.

But you know what? I did have a really happy childhood. Because when I look back on it, the stuff I've just described isn't what comes to mind. What I think of is how much I loved reading and crafting. I spent my entire childhood mostly immersed in my own little world...and it was an awesome, creative, stimulating world. My parents' brilliant attitude toward childrearing - lots of freedom within reasonable limits, lots of love and respect and communication - was obviously crucial in every way, but the most important thing they might have done was to expose me to the World Book Encyclopedia and another series of children's reference books which I've forgotten the name of but which had one particular volume that defined my whole childhood -- called "Make & Do." It was a craft book for kids, and I don't really remember which projects were specifically from there, but I know that whenever I was bored or at loose ends, I turned to "Make & Do," or maybe a Ramona Quimby book. How could you not be happy? Naturally it was just a hop, skip and a jump to where I am now...getting a PhD and knitting a lot. Even before I could knit I had a yarn stash. It was 100% variegated acrylic, and I did many things with it - finger knitting, spool knitting, gluing it in patterns on paper, wrapping presents with it, you name it - but I think it's fair to say I haven't been without a yarn stash since I was 3. How can you not have a happy childhood when you have a yarn stash, I ask you??

Someday when I have (hopefully) kids of my own, what I would like to be able to do more than anything else is to give them books, and creativity. If you've got those things, your life will always be rich and interesting, and that's bound to bleed over into everything else you do.

Thanks to everyone for all the wonderful comments on my last post. I'm sorry I couldn't show you a picture of any incarnation of the brown pullover, but I didn't have any of those digitized, and we don't have the prints here in NY. Hubbster was touched and adorably embarrassed by all the attention.

I've often felt a little worried that I might be or become somebody's 'Aunt Myrtle' - I think I sometimes hesitate to give a knitted gift because of that stereotype. (See the latest evidence of the strength of the Aunt Myrtle stereotype over on Specs' blog). Especially when I become a mother and grandmother someday, I want to be the kind of knitter Anna was for Hubbster. Kids anywhere need that kind of focused attention and care, and will always be proud to wear something that's just for them, as long as you pay attention and make it really something they want and need -- and that's a good excuse for getting to know a child even better, which is always the right thing to do! Failed FOs, though, shouldn't be forced on anyone. They can always be frogged. That's the lesson I'm going to try to take away, anyway.

I'm on the heel of the second peacock sock, and so excited to start the toe-up Widdershins pattern (David of Knit Like a Man sent me his formula for the 64-stitch version!) that I've also cast on the toe for that, in a spaced-dyed boucle cashmere (with nylon) sock yarn from School Products that, as you can see, is too busy for a complicated design and so is a good candidate for my first, plain stockinette Widdershins.

I know I shouldn't start a new, more exciting sock before the old ones are done. Couldn't help myself. And I discovered that (gasp) I actually really hate the magic cast-on. Maybe I just didn't give it enough of a chance and maybe it was the tiny needles, but I found it incredibly fussy on the first few rows, and impossible to get the M1s on every row without holes. I tried every kind of M1 I know, and increasing by knitting into the row below the next stitch, but most of those are impossible right above the previous increase, and the M1 where you just twist a loop over the right needle leaves a huge hole. I contrast this to the PGR method, where you start with the invisible CO done with waste yarn, short-row around, pick up the invisible CO and proceed. I've never had any trouble with that CO row, and the toe looks great, so I'm going to stick with that. On with Widdershins! Oh wait. No. Better finish the peacock socks first, or poor Hubbster will be sad. Then on with Widdershins.

(Did I mention that I also really, really hate DPNs? I thought I'd figured out why people like them when I navigated that first top-down flap heel on a magic loop and got royally irritated during the picking up sts process. So I did this fussing around with the toe of the new sock, and some of the second peacock sock, with DPNs. It may just be that I have the wrong ones, but one set was short Brittany birches that are so flexible that make my hands cramp up. I know some people like flexibility, but it makes my hands cramp, I don't know why, but it hurts like hell. So I switched to a set of steel DPNs, but they're really long, which makes it a very poky-poky, awkward experience, plus at this size they have almost no points at all. I might try a pair of KnitPicks' new DPNs in #0 someday just to see if they can convert me (and because they don't get offer a 60" US#0 Magic Loop, natch), but I doubt it.

Oh, and the Fair Isle is down to the cuff on the first sleeve, finally. I don't like how the sleeve pattern ends clumsily in the middle of a motif, but I also don't want my sleeve either an inch or two too long or too short, so oh well.

THIS JUST IN: Make and Do was part of the ChildCraft series published by World Book, the same folks who did the encyclopedia. I remember my parents saying they bought both sets from a very charming traveling salesman, around 1976 when I was 1 and my brother was 4. They used the grocery budget to buy them, but I say it was totally worth it. Dharmafey: Let the nostalgia flow.... :-) Thanks for giving me the first word of the series name - I figured it out from there.

Back. To. Writing. Chapter. Now.

15 November 2006

The Exception That Proves the Rule

EDITED: to add PICTURES because Hubbster came home and gave me permission to post them!

First, the third YARNIVAL is out. It rocks all over the place. Really, this thing is getting cooler and cooler with every issue, probably because more people are becoming aware of it and contributing (or even writing for it). Do your part!

Anyway, even though there are a million other things I should be doing right now, I wanted to respond at length to one of the awesome posts from Yarnival. (I thought I'd do it here instead of leaving one of my patented long-ass comments, because I'm always timing out and losing those long-ass comments because I forgot to copy it to the clipboard before hitting 'send'.)

There are several rockin' posts about the Boyfriend Curse. Kirstin's got an entry in which she posits the theory that these infamous boyfriends, upon receiving the handknitted sweater, suddenly flashback to the most hideous christmas present they ever received, a monstrosity courtesy of someone like an Aunt Myrtle, and no matter how beautiful the sweater you knitted might be, they suddenly see you morphing into Aunt Myrtle (who else is picturing certain scenes from Vanilla Sky here?), and so they cut and run. Without even giving back the @^@%&#$% sweater, which if you ask me is really the worst part, since obviously this is not the sort of person worth keeping around anyway, and after the initial pain wears off, you might be grateful to him for showing his ugly colors early, you know? But that YARN - it could've been frogged into something fab for you!

So I've got an exception that proves Kirstin's rule. (Warning: This post may also be a blatant attempt to nominate Hubbster for hunk of the month.) Anyway.

So...I think Hubbster may have actually married me for the handknits. That's how much he loves them. And he doesn't just love what I make for him (though he loves those items with a fiery passion). He oohs and aahs over everything else I make, too, because he knows that this keeps me productive, and as long as I'm knitting productively, he knows he'll be on the receiving end of a fair portion of the goods (actually a totally unfair portion; I'm ashamed to say that Mom hasn't been getting as much as she deserves ever since Hubbster showed up - she's been very understanding about it since I finally finished her second and long belated sweater, though). Hubbster even accompanies me to yarn stores and likes it. He gets all excited about any undyed, natural fiber. He spends as much time as I do petting the pretty hanks (though he's of course over on the earth tones wall, while I'm wading in the reds and pinks). I get all kinds of murderous looks from the other young women in the store.

Maybe you've been one of those young women -- and so you ask, where did I find this guy? Like everything else (ahem), you have to understand the historical context or you'll never get it. So - I'm sure almost all of us can picture all too clearly the Aunt Myrtle experience that Kirstin describes. Many of us may have had an Aunt Myrtle of our own. In any event, all of us who were youngish in the 70s have certain dark memories of unpleasant acrylic color schemes. This all makes sense.

Hubbster has a different background. He grew up in Moscow, in the last years of the Soviet Union. Like many Soviet kids, he was an only child and both his parents worked, and then spent most of their after-work time waiting in line in several different stores to get groceries. So, like nearly everyone else, he spent most of the week while he wasn't in school being watched over by his grandmother. His grandmother's name is Anna and she's a Knitter (sadly, she's no longer a lower-case knitter because her eyesight is going, but she'll always be a Knitter).

(This is Babushka Anna knitting what appears to be the sleeve of a child-size sweater.)

The thing is, in the Soviet Union, even though most people's grandmothers probably did know how to knit, there was very rarely any yarn available, or if you happened to come across some it was probably itchy and ugly. Being a Knitter, and having the extreme good fortune of living in Moscow, where supplies were a bit less scarce than anywhere else in the Soviet Union, Anna did sometimes find decent yarn, and when she did, she made excellent use of it. Hubbster was wearing one of three major items she knitted him in almost every picture taken of him in his childhood years. One was a warm, bright blue and grey ear-flap hat. We brought that hat back from our last trip to Moscow, and I did my best to re-create it in his adult size, using the half-Russian half-American Peace Fleece yarn. It was a clever and adorable-looking design (I don't know whether she made it up or followed a pattern), made out of a yarn that feels like a blend, maybe of cotton and wool, or wool and a synthetic. She also made him a pair of bright-red ribbed snow pants, which he wore on top of what looks like about 10 other layers whenever he played outside. In the oldest pictures, the snow pants have huge folded cuffs, which gradually become smaller and then disappear, straightening out to make longer legs as he grew.

(With his grandmother, wearing the snow pants.)

And then there was the sweater. It was a fairly plain sockinette crewneck pullover, made in several different shades of brown, probably because Anna couldn't get enough of any one color for a whole sweater. At first, it was plain with a small pattern across the chest. As he grew, she modified the sweater, adding different-colored cuffs and a body hem, and then, it seems, ripping the whole thing out and knitting it again in with the several yarns in different-sized stripes, though all of them in shades of brown (possibly undyed wool brought in to Moscow markets occasionally from the countryside??).

My husband was very proud of these items. Not everyone had a grandmother who could do this, and no one had very much clothing at all, much less custom-made clothing. You had your school uniform, and a few other items. Often, all the kids would have pretty much the same clothes and shoes, because the Soviet supply problems meant that certain items would flood the market all at once, and then disappear just as suddenly, not to be seen again for a long time. So, when a necessary everyday item appeared, like kids' jackets, everyone bought the same one, or the same type, as long as supplies lasted. My husband's hand-knitted clothes were his alone, completely unique, and made with love (and considerably more effort than we go through today) by one of the people who most meant security to him in his youngest years. Anna made them to fit him, and she made them to last. They were plain, but skillfully made with the best materials available at the time.

(Hubbster thinks this sweater was probably also made by Anna, but we're not sure.)

When I first started dating my husband, a few weeks passed before I was brave enough to admit to my, er, little knitting fixation. Most American guys I knew acted just like Kirstin describes in her post - they didn't exactly mind it, and thought it was kind of cool in a way, but it was a little...disconcerting. And anything that wasn't a hip project - like a skullcap - well...most American guys wanted to change the subject. So, when I met the man who became Hubbster, I knew from the start that I really, really liked him, and I didn't want anything to screw it up. I figured I better introduce the knitting gradually, and I sure as heck wasn't going to knit anything for him for a minimum of 20 years, and only with a marriage certificate and several children for collateral. After those first few weeks, I casually brought along to his place a very hip pink scarf I was making for myself. It was my first official test of the waters, and I was very nervous. I said, half-laughing (so I could pretend it was a joke if necessary??), "so...you know, I know how to knit." Then I added quickly that I learned how in Norway, to replace any initial green acryclic associations with ski sweater associations.

But it wasn't necessary - before I'd even finished my sentence, he had brightened up like a light bulb and said, "REALLY??!!! You know how to KNIT??? That is SO cool!!! Would you know how to knit me a scarf??" I mumbled something about how easy it was, really, and changed the subject. I didn't want to test my luck too far. Then he kept asking about what I was knitting, and, gradually, since we were spending almost all our time together anyway, I started bringing my knitting along and regularly knitting when we were together. And he kept mentioning how much he'd love a real, proper scarf. The one he was wearing was not only synthetic, but the pain 1x1 rib pattern was finished off on each end with a line of serger sewing!! Horrors! And then he kept saying that he'd like to see a yarn shop some time, to see what they had. This finally did me in...for our first Valentine's day together, I made him a little card with a coupon promising him a scarf in the cashmere yarn of his choice. I took him to Purl Soho. He walked in, and almost immediately zeroed in on an undyed 100% alpaca so soft that I want to spend the rest of my days wallowing in it. To be sure we were getting the best possible yarn, I examine every other skein in the store, and Hubbster-then-boyfriend followed along, but we kept coming back to the alpaca. What I've since learned is that Hubbster has absolutely infallible yarn instinct. He can walk into any store and instantly gravitate straight toward the best yarn there. I bought one of the huge hanks, and made him a scarf in twisted rib. Fast-forward a year or so, we got engaged, and Hubbster-then-fiance begged: can I pretty please have a sweater now because we're getting married and the curse no longer applies??? Since he was a lawyer at the time, I made him promise to draw up an agreement stating that in the event of any breakup, sweater ownership would instantly revert to me.

And there you have it - he couldn't divorce me even if he wanted to, because he'd have to give up his favorite sweater. It was made entirely to his specifications, which meant endless rib on tiny needles in a size several times too big for him (that's how he likes 'em) in that same undyed alpaca. It's not at all what I would have picked out for a yarn for this sweater, and I would certainly have made it several sizes smaller, but he utterly adores it. It took me all of our engagement period and a couple months after our wedding to finish, and I frogged and re-knit the collar the last and final time just one day before I left the country for a long research trip in Russia, while Hubbster had to stay behind because he was taking coursework at the time. As I was frantically finishing that huge sweater, part of me was wondering what had possessed me to even contemplate a project like this - I wouldn't do it for myself or anyone else on the planet - but the other part of me was so glad to know that if I had to leave my newlywed Hubbster home alone for months at a time, that at least I knew he'd be warm and cuddly, wrapped up in miles of lovingly stitched alpaca. He called me every night while I was away, often while wearing the sweater and telling me yet again how much he loved it. We survived the time apart, and have been happily wallowing in handknits ever since.

And when I re-organized my stash a little while ago? I told him I'd got rid of two shopping bags of acrylics. He cheered the banishment of synthetics and said...."so now you have room for more yarn, right?"

And I didn't even have to train him to get him that way. Thanks, Anna.

(Hubbster was too young at the time to remember what was going on, so we totally can't explain this.)

(This is his second sweater made by me, deliberately reminiscent of the one his grandmother made for him in various shades of brown. The third will be a Dutch fisherman's sweater, like the ones my ancestors wore.)