Saturday, August 30, 2008

Two Happy Campers

The Princess hasn't taken her socks off since I presented them to her yesterday when she arrived home from school. (Thus the s0-s0 picture. I got tired of chasing her around with the camera, hoping for a better shot.) She is happy, happy, HAPPY.

Pattern: Basic Socks from Ann Budd's The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns
Yarn: Trekking
Needles: 2.25 mm Knit Picks Harmony DPNs
Notes: 60 stitches around, 45 rows in 2x2 rib for ankle, 40 rows foot
They do look big because I always knit an extra pinch in the toe for room to grow.

As for me, I've had the entire day to myself...although not necessarily for good reasons. Yes, Saturdays are usually my day to sleep in, and my husband does take care of the girls for much of the day. However, today he's gone above and beyond because the evil vertigo virus came back last night. It's not as bad as it was earlier this month, but I did have to spend the night sleeping upright on the couch, and have been rather sick and lightheaded for most of the day. We're a bit worried that this is some new, and infinitely more vile way that my body is responding to stress...but then it's also likely that the virus just hasn't been cleaned out of my system yet.

At any rate, I was not up to any sort of intricate knitting today, so I decided to do something fun and simple.

Several years ago, I took a sock knitting class with Lucy Neatby through my guild. (Thank You guild for the scholarship!) The class corresponded with the release of her book Cool Socks, Warm Feet, which rather charmingly included instructions for mini-socks. Every since then, I've been committed to making a single mini-sock to go with each pair of regular socks that I knit. I follow Lucy's basic recipe, incorporating any details specific to that pair of socks. (length of leg, type of ribbing, any stitch design, etc.) Normally, I don't stop to make the mini as soon as I finish the regular socks, but rather toss the leftovers into a ziplock until I have a need to do something fun and a little bit silly

Today was the perfect day for that, and so I pulled out all of the leftovers for plain socks, and started casting on. I now have eight tiny legs completed, and should be able to finish most of them this evening during our weekly Saturday night bad horror movie time. (a la Sci Fi channel) Once these are completed, I'll be almost caught up with only four or five patterned mini socks left to do.

And what exactly do I do with these socks? I have a personal Christmas tree - an artificial, 5-ft pencil tree - that I cover with handknit ornaments. (My husband has one that he covers with Star Wars ornaments and action figures.) It's beautiful, and very personal, and I love it more than I can say. I'm considering other options for year-around display, and in the meantime I do have a couple of the mini sock blocker key chains that I like to use from time to time.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that the Green Woman and her friends play with the socks when I'm not looking.

PS. My husband has ordered a new Internet connection doohickey for my computer. Until then, my connection continues to be rather dubious...thus the lack of links in this post. Once we get everything fixed, I'll go back and fix that!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

PS

The internet connection on my own computer is down right now. I'm able to access my google services - including blogger - through my husband's computer, but email and photos are off-limits until my husband returns home from a business trip and fixes things for me. (You have no idea of how technologically-impaired I truly am.) I promise lots of pretty pictures of knitting and things just as soon as I am able!

The Flip Side

As promised, there is a silver lining to yesterday's post.

Simply put, none of my rantings really matter all that much because I do find intense pleasure in knitting plain socks. Sock knitting has become my 'mindless' knitting, and is a much needed respite from all of the intricate lace I tend towards. Round and round and round I go, with little breaks for heels and toes. They're just enough to help mark progress and keep my interest. The process itself is just about as close as I come to meditative knitting. The end result - humble, practical, warm and snug - brings great satisfaction for a job well done.

I think perhaps my frustration comes more from a sense that I 'ought' to be making fancier socks...that I 'should' be using all of those pattern books. Even if I'm not happy with the patterns as written, I'm certainly smart enough to write my own. God knows I'm an expert at rewriting patterns. (and the small voice in my head screams, 'but I don't wanna!")

The Green Woman knows better, though, and rolls her eyes at the 'oughts' and 'shoulds.' They are no fun, and frequently get us in trouble. If you don't want to do it..she might say...than just don't. Knit what you want, and have fun.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Trouble With Socks

I have a love/hate relationship with sock patterns, and it's been on my mind a lot lately.


To understand why, you need to know a bit about my own personal history with sock knitting. I was drawn into sock knitting five years ago, shortly after devoting my crafty life to knitting. I fell rather in love with the idea of knitting something so ordinary and yet so mysterious at the same time. My first pair was done in a beautiful orange speckled Opal on 2.25 mm needles, following the most excellent instructions of Ann Budd in The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns. Those socks were made for my Dad, who to this day insists they are the best pair of socks in the world.

As an aside, I knit those socks during a family trip to Tucson. That trip remains one of my most treasured memories because we were there to introduce Princess to her great-grandparents. Mema and Grandaden, my husband's grands, adored my daughter, and I am so grateful she had the chance to spend time with them before they passed. I later knit her first pair of socks from the leftovers of that skein of Opal, and I will always treasure them.


Since then, I have become rather fond of my handknit socks. If you look at my knitting bookshelf (which is overflowing, by the way...) you will see that I have a fairly large collection of pattern books devoted to socks. Lace socks, cabled socks, fair isle socks, historic socks....you name it, I have it. Not to be outdone, a rather large portion of my (admittedly smallish) stash is comprised of sock yarns - mostly handpaints and self-striping. Yum.


The problem is that I never knit anything BUT basic socks, a la Ann Budd.


Why?


Gauge.


My earliest socks were heavily influenced by two sources - Lucy Neatby and my guild friends - who all insisted that the best socks were knit at as tight of a gauge as was comfortable for your hands. It was advice I took sincerely to heart, partially because of the challenge. (I've always been fond of taking the most difficult path...) I did, however, want to test this theory, so I knit two pair of socks in matching Opal Brazil to see which I liked best. The socks knit from 2.0 mm needles at a gauge of about 10 stitches per inch won hands down for fit and feel. From that time on, I've knit all of my own socks on 2.0mm needles and all of my gift socks on 2.25 mm.

It is true that socks knit at 10ish stitches/inch take a whole lot longer to knit than socks done at a more reasonable gauge. This is mostly due to the number of stitches required. Most basic socks, for example, call for 64 stitches while mine need 80. Occasionally, this results in peevish fits of jealousy for all of those bloggers who seem to crank out socks faster than they can breath. However, I know in my heart that I am more than repaid for all of this work by the extreme long life of my socks and the happiness of all of those who wear my socks.

Sock designers apparently do not share my opinions. In all of those lovely sock books on my shelf, there are almost no patterns written in a gauge I would use. I've literally only made 3 pair of socks to pattern specs, and was deeply disappointed with each. They tend to slouch, show wear much faster, and the knit stitches just look sloppy. Above all, a sock is a practical item which by nature receives rough treatment. There's no point to knitting them if they are going to fall apart and be uncomfortable.

On top of this, there are few options for sizing outside of the rather silly advice to adjust by using larger or smaller needles. If I had average feet, I'm sure this would not be that big of a deal. Alas, my foot measures a 6 1/2 E!!!! (That's right, an E. You try to find shoes for that foot. It sucks.) Which means I would have to go up....further compounding the gauge problem at hand.

All of this came to a head for me with the recent publication of The Eclectic Sole. While some of the designs thrill me to the depth of my knitter's soul for their beauty and innovation, the gauge makes me want to weep. As I read through the book, I kept asking myself who on earth fits into a sock with only 60 stitches around...but then you see the gauge and you know what the problem is. Then I saw several of my favorite designs knit up in person. I was shocked, and more than a bit horrified with how bad they looked.

Beyond this, though, I do find myself searching through all of my books and patterns, longing to knit some of those beautiful designs. My recent attempts at starting the monkey socks ultimately failed - as do all of my attempts to use these patterns - because I just can't stand the gauge! One just shouldn't be able to see through the sock when it's being worn!

Argh.

For now, I'll stick with Ann Budd...while continuing to look over at my bookshelf with a wistful expression on my face.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the flip side of the coin.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Lesson

I first showed this picture a week ago in a post about my annual fall sock obsession.
What I didn't tell you was that Princess had been assisting with those socks. (She requested I put a picture on the blog....silly goose.) At five, she's already an opinionated knitter, and doll scarves just weren't going to cut it. She's been trying to get ahold of my socks since before last Christmas, having apparently figured out that one of the benefits of knitting is in producing useful items. On the advice of my friends in the guild, I had tried giving her bigger needles and worsted weight yarn to work in the round, but that wasn't going to cut it. She wanted to knit socks....just like her mommy.

When she asked if she could help with this pair of socks, I decided it was time to let her. I handed over the needles, and after a few minutes of trying to figure out double points, she was off and running. We spent an entire blissful afternoon knitting on my bed during Pixie's nap time - each of us on a sock. I lost count of the number of times she would exclaim, "This is FUN!," or, "I really like doing this with you." Once there was even an, "I know I keep saying this, but I REALLY like knitting with you."

A dream came true for me that day, as my daughter and I discovered how the language of craft can draw two people together.

If you look at the first picture, you will see a band of knitting in the light pink stripe above the heel that looks a bit odd. That is where Princess put in the most work, and as she doesn't do ribbing yet it is pretty easy to see her stitches.

I was going to keep that sock forever.

But it didn't fit. Despite some misgivings after an early fitting, I kept blithely knitting on until the entire sock was finished. After all, she had worked on that sock, and I was NOT going to let anything happen to her work. Princess could barely pull that sock on, though, and so I had to face facts...and a potentially difficult conversation.

And once again my girl surprised me. She rather prosaically informed me that it didn't fit and we would have to do it again. Actually, she did get a spark in her eye when I offered to let her do the frogging, which she then proceeded to do with great glee. She was delighted with the pile of curly yarn that was left over, and as always she enjoyed helping me to rewind it.

My mother taught me that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing right. It's a lesson I have always wanted to pass along to my girls, and apparently I've already started to do just that...without having to do anything other than be my own knitting self.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Baby Bird Flies Away

When she was just a year old, both her doctor and our Parents As Teachers educator warned me that her independent, strong-willed spirit would drive me absolutely crazy when she was a child. And it certainly has.
What they also told me was that those characteristics would also be her greatest strengths, and that one day I would come to appreciate them....perhaps when she was a teenager or a young adult who was able to negotiate the world firmly on her own terms.
I think they were both perhaps wrong. She's only five and a half, and yet already I'm grateful that my Princess is so very strong. She left home this morning with a heart filled with excitement and joy, and I find that not only am I proud of her, but I am also proud of my husband and I.
I've never been particularly fond of the quote which says that the most important thing we can give our children is roots and wings. Today, though, for the first time I completely understand its meaning and know that's exactly what my husband and I have done.

Kindergarten is going to be SO much fun!

(Thank You to Princess's teacher, who suggested that we meet Princess at school after putting her on the bus this morning. It was the perfect compromise...and for those of you who don't know her, Princess was the one who insisted on the bus.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Second Gift

Early Sunday morning, my husband and I were able to sneak away to Watkins Mill State Park. Last summer, we spent as many weekends as we could training for our half and full marathon around this lake. The trail is 3.8 miles of gentle hills, and much of it is either under shade and/or receives a breeze from the lake. It was the perfect place to train during a long, hot summer.
And I fell back in love.
When I was in high school, I worked at the historic site. Every morning and evening I felt a sense of peace as I drove through the park on my way to and from the most satisfying job I've ever had.
I had four summers there before my college life pulled me away.
Four years was enough, though, for me to give my entire heart and soul to this place. My high school boyfriend once said that it was the only place he ever saw me relax completely...and I think that might still be a little bit true. I know that I always feel like I'm coming home as soon as we cross through the gates.
My favorite place on the trail is this spot. You come through a long stretch back in the woods up and around a corner. All of the sudden the trail opens up to sun and air and water.
I always stop here to drink in the view, to breath deeply and to feel alive.
Thank You.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Festival of Butterflies

As luck would have it, we were able to go spend this last weekend with my parents. Normally, we really don't do all that much when we go home for a visit. This weekend, though, The Green Woman decided to bestow upon us two very nice gifts.

First, we were able to visit Powell Gardens for the annual Festival of the Butterflies. Quite frankly, I'm surprised I got as many good pictures as I did, given the quality of my camera and the general nature of the subject!

Here are my favorites from inside the conservatory:

This is a Blue Morpho. They are literally as big as my hand, and they were everywhere! When they settle down, they fold their wings as a defensive move, and as they move very quickly in the air I wasn't able to get the picture I wanted.
The local Monarch organization (and I didn't get their name...whoops!) had a "Caterpillar Petting Zoo" set up in a tent outside. They had tons of educational information, and lots of opportunities for up close and personal events with the butterflies.
I think my favorite part, though, was the tent that you passed through on the way into the visitor's center as you arrived. These are more native butterflies, and they were a delight!


This last is my absolute favorite picture. I may end up printing and framing it....
And tomorrow I'll talk about the Green Woman's second gift.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sock Love

I seem to be in a mood. Rivendell, from the Eclectic Sole. Knit in Dream in Color Smooshy Sock, Cloud Jungle.

I cast on for this pair the day of the fairy houses. It seemed appropriate to be working on socks named after a fairy land on a day so beautiful that we couldn't help but spend the entire afternoon in the backyard, frequently reclining on our hammock while gazing at the sky through the trees.

Sigh.

I am making one major alteration. I think that the gauge on all of the socks in this book is way too loose - especially having seen some completed samples at Hillcreek Yarn Shoppe. So, I dropped the needles size to a 2.0 mm and added another repeat. If I need to, I can decrease some of the purl stitches between the ribs below the leaf pattern. We shall see.


Monkey Maybe's, an attempt at the infamous Monkey Socks by Cookie A, knit in luscious Denali sock yarn by Pagewood Farm. The color is called Passion, and is rather a departure from my normal color choices. I started these at our guild meeting Tuesday night.

I say maybe because I'm not entirely sure that I like the gauge. Once again, I have massive issues with the gauge most designers use, finding it too loosey-goosey for either comfort or durability. The cuff is ok, but three rows into the patterning I find that I'm getting annoyed with it. I may take a new look at the pattern to see if there is anyway to change it a bit

Progress on a basic pair of socks. My plain vanilla sock recipe is from Ann Budd's fantastic book, The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns. The sock yarn is Opal, although I think I've lost the ball band and so I have no idea what the pattern is called.

On my Ravelry page, I've named these "They don't all have to be orange" because they are destined for my father. He has received a LOT of handknit socks from me, probably because he appreciates them more than anyone else. However, every other pair I've done for him has been orange in some way because that is his favorite color. I felt it was time for him to learn about change. These are a pair of carry-along socks, and as they are usually in my purse for odd moments here and there, it could be a while before they were finished.


Yesterday, though, I pulled them out to work on them because I had help with this next pair.


A very special pair of socks for my soon-to-be kindergartner. These are also basic socks, a la Ann Budd, and are knit in Trekking.

At my guild meeting, the question came up, "Who knits socks for children?" at which I raised my hand. It's true, my Princess is very hard on her handknit socks. You have to be just a wee bit callous to knit socks for kids because they are going to be abused. It's worth it, though, when you have children that know those socks are special and wear them often.

Generally, I've been able to use sock yarn leftovers, but she's now big enough to require her own skein. I bought this particular skein for myself, but thought that it was ugly when knit up. It is, of course, perfect for a five-year-old girl.

There's a bit more to say about Princess's socks, but I think I'll save that for another post. I've promised her I'll post a specific picture.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Speaking of Shawls...

It has come to my attention that I have too many shawls on the needles at once. At the last count I had four, which is a tad silly. While many knitters don't think this is a problem at all, I find that it is starting to bother me.

Why? Two reasons.

First, I find that there are shawls that I really want to be working on right now, but I can't because I feel guilty for leaving the current WIP's alone to languish in my project basket. Just as the knitting project list (you remember, the one I tossed a few months ago...) led to a big, fat knitting slump because of the 'should be's' it created, the pile of barely started shawls is making me want to chuck my laceweight into the nearest river.

Second, you just never know what your gauge is going to do over time. I am acutely aware of the fact that I've had at least one major shift in my personal knitting tension over the last year or so, and I worry that if I leave a project sitting for too long than it's going to be a mess of different gauges when finished.

I decided this evening that the smart thing would be to frog one or two of those shawls. The most obvious choice is my Hanging Garden Stole. The pattern is by Sivia Harding, and I purchased my copy back when it was available from KnitPicks. In fact, the yarn I am using is Alpaca Cloud by KnitPicks, a spectacular laceweight alpaca in softly heathered colors.

Sadly, I cast on at the end of February, and have not been able to complete more than you see above. Even worse, this is my second attempt at this shawl...the first having been destroyed in an unfortunate skunk incident at my parents' home last summer.

If I am honest, I will admit that a lot of my problem with this shawl is simply that I detest knitting plain rectangles. Of the three I've completed, each had some sort of interesting design element - be it a knit on boarder, asymmetrical shaping and design, or interesting construction - that have made them a joy to knit. As beautiful as this stole is - and it is VERY beautiful - it is nothing more than a plain rectangle.

I will put the yarn back in my stash and let go of this project for a while. I may come back to it later...or I may not. We'll see.

There is great freedom in letting go sometimes, and it is definitely time to let go of this one.

A Dream Come True

Several years ago I fell in love with a Lily of the Valley shawl that was published in Spin Off. If I remember correctly, the story was about a woman in Africa who had been making Lily of the Valley Shawls for years which were based on a pattern she had learned as a child in Europe. I was entranced by both the story and the beauty of the design.

Every since then, I have wanted a Lily of the Valley shawl of my own, and have considered many patterns. None of them were just right, though. One was knit with too small of a gauge, another had edging that was entirely sewn on and was too loose anyway. A third had a pretty gauge, but was done in a boring rectangle. Nope, none of them were for me...but I kept looking.

And then last month Piecework published Nancy Bush's Summer Shawl as a preview for her upcoming book, Knitted Lace of Estonia. I knew it was THE ONE, and I immediately bought that issue. As luck would have it, I also had a cone of white Zephyr languishing in my stash that was just perfect for this pattern.*

I cast on last week, and couldn't be happier. This is one shawl that I will treasure.

Oh, and the minute that book is released, I am buying a copy. Seriously. Have you seen the cover shawl!!!

*Normally I'm not a big fan of white lace. Can't tell you why...it's a wacky personal preference thing. Off-whites, ivories and naturals are all fantastic...just not white.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Summer Magic

Today was just beautiful. It was far too beautiful to stay indoors, and so the girls and I spent all afternoon in the backyard. I did take my knitting out with me, but I knew almost immediately that I really didn't want to be knitting. After a bit of lazing around in our hammock, I heard the Green Woman whisper into my ear that what we REALLY needed in our backyard were a couple of fairy houses.


After the Princess figured out what I was doing, she joined in the fun.



I know I will go to sleep tonight dreaming happy dreams about tiny fairies finding perfect homes in our backyard. I imagine they will be pleased.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Recalled To Life

Thanks to everyone for their well-wishes and concern about my health!

As you know, I went to visit the doctor a week ago about my sudden vertigo problems. She confirmed that it was most likely just a virus, and fortunately by Tuesday night it had calmed down enough that I was able to sleep in my own bed. I was almost back to normal by the next day, although I didn't drive until late Thursday just to be on the safe side. As is the case with most viruses, I'm still not quite 100%....but I'm getting there!

The real reason why there hasn't been much blogging since then is that the girls had a rather difficult reentry into normal life after almost a week at Grandma and Grandpa's house. It's been two years since I've had to deal with this, and to be honest I had forgotten just how tough it can be. The girls have settled back into their regular routine now, although we have another big adjustment coming up when school starts next week.

In the meantime, there has been a bit of crafting going on around here. I made up another of my tea-towel bags, but gifted it before I was able to take a picture. It was rather pretty, with a yellow liner and periwinkle pockets against black handles. I've also been working rather diligently on samples for several classes I'm going to be teaching over the next couple of months. (More on those later.) One of the two involves miles of garter stitch - which turned out to be a blessing, because that was all I could handle for a while last week because of my virus. A wee case of startitis also hit, and so I cast on for two new projects for myself - both of which I plan on blogging about later today.

However, right now it's in the low 60's outside, and I desperately want to go for a walk with the girls. I can't waste this weather!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Best Knitting Dream Ever

Last night I dreamt that I was at some sort of big knitting event. Never having been to a big knitting event, I couldn't tell you which one it was. I was wearing a black and grey sweater that I had made - knit on tiny needles in some sort of colorwork pattern. Apparently it wasn't my favorite sweater, because I really didn't think all that much of it.

But then two women pounced, and began oohing and ahhing over my sweater. To my utter surprise, one of those women was Meg Swansen! She pointed out some stitches on the sleeve, exclaiming over the technical ability and detail that I had while my heart thought it would burst with pride and joy.

Even better, Meg then asked me to come with her as she wanted me to do some knitting for her. During the rest of the dream, I followed her and her companions around the event, sharing meals with them, talking knitting, and showing off my past projects - including Emily's Firmaments.

It was heavenly.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I Should Have Expected This

Christmas Break in 1991 - my senior year in high school - began for me with the most horrendous flu I've ever had. Unfortunately, it also began a tradition of Christmas flues that continued throughout college. After the second or third repeat, we finally figured out that I am normally such a little stress ball that when I let go and relax my body decides to get sick.

My husband calls it letdown.

I call it things that I can't politely say on my blog.

So it should come as no surprise that I woke up Saturday morning not feeling right after spending all of Friday grumping around the house doing completely unnecessary housework. (It's been two years since I had time away from the kids and I haven't had an actual vacation since my honeymoon 9 years ago. I didn't quite know what to do with myself.)

What has been surprising is the nature of the illness. You see, I rolled over at about 3AM yesterday and was instantly hit with a wave of dizziness. This repeated three or four times before I finally fell back to sleep. By the time I got out of bed, it had progressed to the sensation of a wildly spinning room that did bad things to my tummy. I was ok when sitting or standing straight up...but every time I tried laying down or bending over I got hit with vertigo. I've NEVER had vertigo before, and it scared me.

I called my doctor yesterday, and am on my way to see her in a little while. In the meantime I didn't do anything yesterday except for read a bit and watch tv. I did manage a nap - thanks to my ability to sleep sitting up on our couch, perfected because of my headache problems - but there wasn't a whole lot I could really do. Even basic, garter stitch knitting makes me queasy.

My friend Jenn says that this is my body's way of telling me I just need to rest...that it doesn't want to be doing all of those projects I had planned. She's probably right, but I wish I didn't need such a big, nasty lesson to learn that.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Vacation

In about an hour and a half I will be loading the girls up in the van to go meet my parents at the half-way point between our homes. The girls will then be going home with Grandma and Grandpa for five days and four fabulous nights.

I'm giddy just thinking about it...