When Life Throws You Snow Storms...

... knit last-minute holiday mitts!

We've been snowed in for a week (more on that later). Unfortunately, we became house-bound before doing our Christmas shopping for C. All the nieces' and nephews' presents were bought and wrapped, but we had only three little things for C when the storms descended. When it looked like we really wouldn't be able to get out at all before Christmas, I started to panic, so I whipped up these fingerless mitts. As you may recall, I'd been planning to make them for awhile. The new job had prevented me from getting all the Christmas knitting done I'd hoped, though.

Pattern: 11th-Hour Fingerless Mitts by me (size: youth)
Materials: My Handspun, 2-ply worsted (83 yds), Green Goes With Orange
Needles: US 5 / 3.75 mm
Started: December 22, 2008
Completed: December 23, 2008

I worked them both at once using Magic Loop and a mere 83 yards of fantabulously soft and springy wool you first saw me handspinning on my amazing Katherine's Cup spindle by Greensleeves. Because I wanted to show off the yarn, I kept the pattern very simple:

They're constructed from the finger(less-ness) to the cuff, with a reverse gusset for the thumbs to provide architectural interest. Knit mostly in stockinette, they do feature a 1x1 ribbed cuff and two rows of single crochet at the finger(less)s.

The crochet rows are more than a pretty detail—they're also functional. Without these rows, I could not have worked the entire body of the mitt in stockinette without having the edge roll. I really didn't want to put ribbing at the fingertips, so this was a great solution.

For the cuff, I used the Russian bind-off.

See that little bit of twist? After knitting the first two stitches and returning them to the left needle, I knit them together through the front loop rather than through the back loop to make a more braided look.

I'm so pleased with how they turned out, and words can't express what a pleasure this yarn was to knit.

And because I worked these top-down, I could use up every last scrap of the yarn making the cuff a healthy 2 inches.

Back to the reason for this last-minute present panic: Snow. Snow. Snow.

But not just ANY snow... we're talking about snow in Seattle, the city where whatever minor accumulation we might get in a year usually melts off within a day... this snow's been with us for a week, and we just keep getting more. This morning I was shocked to wake up to this:

Unimpressive for many of you, I know, but you should know that the snow on that planter (the middle blob at right) was only half that high when I went to bed last night. And look at the weight of the snow on the evergreen boughs!

Go on, you snow bunnies, laugh—I was once like you! As a young person growing up in Ohio's Snow Belt, I had no fear. Not rain nor sleet nor snow nor blizzard could keep me down! I drove in it all.

But in Seattle—where municipal snow removal consists of a handful of plow trucks (equipped not with the sharp steel blades that clear streets so nicely in Ohio but, rather, with rubber blades so as not to damage the roads), where streets are sanded rather than salted (so as not to burn plantlife or cause damage to the Puget Sound waterways), where winter temps usually hover just a degree or two above freezing, and where hills are the new flat—even a prediction of snow strikes fear in everyone's hearts!

This is straight-down snowfall, mind you. Not drifting. Check out the bench!

So we have lousy snow removal. No salt on the streets. Native Seattlites who don't have a clue how to drive in the snow. Hills. And milder climates. That's the real killer... the milder temperatures. That means the snow falls, and everything's nice and cold—and as we all know, it's not so bad driving on snow. But during the day, the temperature usually pops back up just above freezing... so we get a little thaw. And if it's not enough to thaw all the snow off, then when the temps dip below freezing again in the evening, that thaw becomes ice on top of snow. We've had that process for 7 days—with the exception of one day that never popped up above freezing because it just kept snowing.

The ice can be beautiful. But it's terrifying when it's 6 inches thick under the wheels of your tires and there's a thin layer of water between you and the ice.

Even the mail wasn't making it to our area. Think about that in the context of "we had no presents for C" and "packages from family weren't being delivered."

As it turns out, we had enough thaw late this afternoon for J to be willing to brave taking the car out. He had a harrowing trip (we live in a geological formation that is, essentially, a bowl—you have to go uphill to get out and uphill to get back in), but he did come back with some presents for C and some fixings for Christmas dinner. Not how we'd hoped the shopping would go. Still, we can't complain: C will not feel like Santa forgot her!

I promise to post the pattern for the mitts—just not tonight. I couldn't write it up with C hovering over my shoulder today, and now I need to go help J with some wrapping!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!


One Day More

I don't generally like mixing business with pleasure—and I do view this blog as pleasure—but I thought this merited mention: Olympic Fiber Arts' holiday sale ends Christmas Day.

All items are 40%-70% off for one day more. So if you want to pick up some amazing yarn (check out the customer feedback) for amazing prices, now would be the time.

After Christmas, the sale banner comes down and the new banner goes up. Gorgeous, isn't it?!

Tomorrow: Notes on a last-minute gift I whipped up last night. I'll even share the pattern!


Twenty Years

This post has nothing to do with knitting and everything to do with remembering.

Miriam Luby Wolfe
September 26, 1968 - December 21, 1988
Severna Park, Maryland

Twenty years ago my friend, Miriam Luby Wolfe, was murdered in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland. She was 20 years old—a junior at Syracuse University. We met the summer before, when we both worked at Darian Lake, a theme park outside of Buffalo, New York, where we sang and danced in shows produced by Showbiz International. I had turned 19 just before rehearsals began; she would turn 20 just after we ended the summer. I performed in the mainstage show; Miriam performed in the outside show with one of my summer housemates, Deb. Anyone who's performed in theme park shows knows how close everyone becomes, even those who don't particularly like each other... and often that's just because of the closeness. Although we weren't in the same show, I was around Miriam quite a bit through Deb, and I liked her very much. She projected life, with a powerfully optimistic personality and a contagious enthusiasm. And she had the most amazing hair! Gorgeous, red, springy curls. They seemed to symbolize her very spirit, bouncing high upon her head. We exchanged addresses at summer's end and vowed to stay in touch. Along with some others, we talked of having a get-together during the holidays, after she returned from her study-abroad semester in London.

I will never forget receiving the voice message, just days before Christmas, saying Miriam had been on that flight. Shock. Tears. Grief. Deep sadness. The weather was terrible that year. I was lucky to make the drive home for Christmas from college; it simply wasn't safe enough to drive to Maryland for the memorial service—and I wasn't getting on a plane. At my family home, I poured through every bit of news about the tragedy I could find, eagerly looking for something yet also sorely dreading that (worse) I might actually see something.

In my video library, I have a tape from that summer filmed by one of the guys from our show. There is video of both shows, as well as a little walk around the area where we worked. I've always turned it off when it gets to the headshots of the outside show performers. It's still hard to think about seeing Miriam performing... but perhaps that's the best way to see her: singing and dancing in that upbeat show, her curls keeping their own, lofty rhythm, her joy visible in every moment.

Twenty years have passed. In many ways, I don't feel the time, but I can't deny that it's passed. Miriam's mother, Rosemary Mild, found a way through her grief to write a book titled Miriam's Gift: A Mother's Blessing—Then and Now, which was published in 2000, the same year my daugther was born. I'd like very much to read her book.

To Miriam's mother, Rosemary: I am very sorry I could not make the trip to Maryland for the memorial service. That has always bothered me. I knew your daughter a relatively short time, but I remember her well—and not only in those moments when I am reminded by newscasts of the anniversary. I admire your strength and perseverance in the face of the unimaginable. Thank you for the gift that was your daughter.

Many Happy Returns

Oh, my—it's been two months since I posted! We can mark the beginning of my long silence to my return to full-time work, which has been quite an adjustment after a couple years' dissertation writing. (This is not to say that the dissertation is finished, just to say that it's no longer my full-time focus—which underlines the extremity of my lack of blog time.) I have continued to knit, though, plus I taught two classes and have developed another original design for one of the classes I will teach this winter.

I thought it would be nice to mark my return to blogging with a return to the Pagewood MUMTU socks I made in conjunction with the sock class I taught over three sessions in October. When last I wrote, I was thoroughly enamored with the Pagewood Farm Denali Hand Dyed Sock Yarn. Seriously enamored with it... just look at the subtle sophistication of the gorgeous Butterfly colorway!

When I returned home from the final class—where I had let two of the students practice Elizabeth Zimmerman's stretchy cast-off on my socks because they hadn't quite finished the cuffs on their own—I couldn't wait to pop them straight in the Eucalan.

If you haven't tried this soak for your woolens, I highly recommend it. I just swish a few drops into my favorite mixing bowl (which also happens to be the perfect size for soaking hand-knits), drop the socks in, let them sit for about 15 minutes, pull them out, and block/dry them. No rinsing required—it's great!

I love the way the reinforced Eye of Partridge heel looks. If you scan the above picture up to the cuffs, you can see how pretty the twisted rib looks in this yarn and how nicely it harmonizes with the heel stitch. And the yarn continues to woo me with its squishy goodness.

Some of the ladies in my class said they would not reinforce their toes or heels again because they thought it made the fabric too stiff. This was before they actually finished their socks. So I brought in several pairs with reinforced toes and heels as a demonstration: Even though it may seem like you've crafted your socks in Teflon while you're knitting, the yarns full together during washing and soften so much that you never notice the reinforcing thread when you wear them. (But they still wear like iron!)

As for this particular finished pair... and the wearing...

The socks are very pretty. As predicted, nobody else notices that they're two different colors, which I pointed out in my previous post. I'm not sure I'll knit another pair for myself in this Pagewood yarn, though. My reason has less to do with appearance than wear. These socks may actually be a little too soft. That sounds whiny and way over-privileged, so hear me out:

Remember how surprised I was that my primary stitch count was 60 for these, when I normally use 64 PSC for MUMTUs on fingering weight yarn? Well, the resulting fabric is much less dense than I prefer:you don't get the same stable feel from the fabric. And this means that while the socks are still thick and cushy feeling when I hold them in my hands, the fabric shifts and stretches so much when I put them on my feet (and into my shoes) that I worry they won't wear well over time.

Finally, they're a little thicker inside my shoes than I usually need in Seattle. If I still lived in Ohio's snow belt, they'd be much more necessary. But for Seattle's usually milder climate—I say "usually" because I've been snow-bound at home four days thanks to two storms that dumped more than 5 inches in my yard and frosted our hilly streets with a thick sheet of ice, making them completely impassable given our lack of municipal infrastructure for snow removal—for Seattle's usually milder climate, the socks aren't all that comfortable.


Thoughts on Socks, Hand-Dyed Yarn, Colorways, and Better Labeling

I'm two-thirds of the way into another sock class I'm teaching at A New Yarn. We're using my MUMTU pattern to teach Magic-Loop technique, working two socks at once, toe-up, and using a gusset heel. You're already well-familiar with my pattern (download here) and in-depth pictorial workshop, so I thought I'd share my response to the sock yarn I selected this time around, as well as some thoughts about hand-dyed yarn and yarn labeling, in general.

It's Pagewood Farm's hand-dyed sock yarn in the Butterfly colorway. This is their Denali line, with a fiber content of 80/20 Superwash Merino and Nylon.

I'm particularly drawn to this yarn's lovely sensitivity to color. Pagewood Farm incorporates so many different colors and shades, but they do it in such a way that you don't end up with distinct overall striping on your project.

As with my other recent socks, I've reinforced the toes and heels not with a packaged reinforcing thread but, rather, with a 100% wool lace 2-ply in my stash—Lydia brand from a Russian mill, Moscow Wool Company. I have both a dark grey and a light grey in my stash, and I've found that one of them always looks perfect with whatever yarn I'm using on the body of the sock. In the above pictures, you can see the reinforcing on the toes and on the decorative Eye of Partridge heel stitch. Isn't it remarkable how well that grey scans so it appears to match the darker purples in the main yarn?! I highly recommend reinforcing toes, at least—it protects your hard work and is a nice way to use up left-over lace wool!

For the cuff, which is done on 60 stitches this time, I selected a twisted rib variation with a 6-stitch repeat: K3, P1, K1tbl, P1. It adds a nice architectural line to the rib, giving it a more-striking look that also works to show off the yarn.

It always makes me cringe to see hand-dyeds knit up using stitches that compete with rather than complement them. I believe one of the beauties of hand-dyed yarn is its tremendous capacity to make large areas of otherwise unchanging (a nicer word than "boring," but you know what I mean) stitching very interesting. It acts to augment. The problem is that if the stitch is too fancy—and I'm mostly talking about cables and laces here—the yarn and stitch clash. As a result, neither the yarn nor the stitch gets featured in its best light.

That's why I tend to keep my sock patterns simple when I use variegated hand-dyeds. Yes, there's room in the MUMTU pattern for lots of creativity... lots of room to substitute fancy stitches. But I pay a premium price for hand-dyed yarns, and I want to make sure the focus is on them whenever I use them.

Which brings me back to the Pagewood Farm yarn. I simply adore this colorway. It made me happy the moment I saw it, and even though I've been operating under a self-imposed moratorium from purchasing more sock yarn until I work down my stash, I made an exception for this one. The sheer number of colors used is spectacular, and I could tell at a glance the color would knit up the way I like. Plus it's very soft. (BTW: Pagewood Farm also makes a version of its sock yarn that includes some bamboo content for those looking for even mushier softness.)

I do, however, have two critiques:

First, there's quite a bit of drag on this yarn when you work with it. It's an elastic kind of drag. You can feel this strongly when winding the yarn from swift to ball, but you can also feel it when knitting. It's made me question whether there might be more distortion in these socks than in others I've made or whether I might notice a difference in terms of elasticity in the finished product.

The other critique gets back to color. I know I've just spent much of this post talking about how much I love the colorway of this yarn—and I do—but I noticed a problem. Let 's see if you can see it, too:

Did you catch it? The socks are, overall, different colors. The right sock is more pink; the left sock more purple. Now before you ask, let me assure you that this is not a dye lot problem. These socks were knit from a single skein of yarn that I divided in my own home. But there is clearly a blue-ish "dot gain" (to borrow a design/printing term) over the course of the skein.

It's disappointing. Will anyone notice it when the socks are on my feet? Probably not. But I notice. And it's the kind of thing I've noticed before in other hand-dyed yarns. Maybe I'm being overly picky or exacting. I don't know. I guess it wouldn't bother me so much if the label just gave some indication that I should expect a gradual color shift over the course of the skein—whether that means from light to dark or from one color to another.

The problem is especially troublesome when companies are marketing sock yarn in 100g put-ups. Why? Because the customers are definitely going to split those skeins and are definitely going to be disappointed when the two socks look completely different (and not always in the most optimal way).

I think sock-yarn labeling, in general, needs an overhaul. If the label doesn't have a picture of a knit-up sample and the LYS doesn't have a swatch knit up, it's not always possible to tell whether there's a distinct color repeat in the yarn or not. If yarn companies provided us with a simple statement indicating that the yarn either did or didn't have a distinct color repeat, it would save a good deal of time for those of us who actually do like to knit matching pairs, when possible. And if there is, in fact, a distinct repeat (created through a space-dyeing technique, right?) why not do like the wallpaper companies and tell us the length of repeat. You know what I mean? It could be as simple as this:

Colorway: Apple Pie, 24-inch repeat -OR-
Colorway: Crazy Neighbor, 16-foot repeat -OR, as in the yarn I'm using now-
Colorway: Butterfly, all-over variegation

... or some such.

Wouldn't that be nice?

I get that hand-dyed yarns shouldn't be held to the same consistency standards as machine-dyed. I love them for it. And I love all the techniques for striping and dyeing we see today. Bring it on! Just give me a label that provides a slightly better sense of what I'm getting. Nothing worse than loving the way a yarn looks skeined up but hating the way it works up because you didn't have just that little bit of extra information (which you know the manufacturer/dyer already has) that could give you a better chance of making an appropriate project choice for it.


Lubricating the Economy

Did you happen to notice a link to this new Etsy shop in the sidebar?

Last month, Olympic Fiber Arts entered the world of online fiber artists and merchants. (I did mention that my sister and I have been busy with some great expectations....) This month, we're raising our profile: doing our part to help lubricate the stalled U.S. economy by holding a

Bailout Blowout Sale!

Every item in the shop has been marked down 40%-70% from regular prices.

Olympic Fiber Arts has a truly massive inventory just waiting to be processed and posted to the shop: If we only post one new item each day, it will take more than a year to get everything listed. Of course, we're working to make things available to you faster than that!

The heart of Olympic Fiber Arts is its exquisite, inspiring, hand-dyeds.

In our massive inventory, you will find everything from wools to cottons and cashmeres; silks to mohair, raffias, and lingerie tapes; yarns to rovings, and more. In the coming months we will be adding other fiber-related items, too, such as custom-designed needle cases for your KnitPicks Options Interchangeables.

We add new items frequently—and will continue to post new fibers and colorways throughout the sale—so check back often.

Click on the shop images in the sidebar or link to Olympic Fiber Arts at http://olympicfiberarts.etsy.com.


DIY Magic

My sister and I went to the CGOA/TKGA Fall Knit and Crochet Show in Portland, Oregon, earlier this month. We have plenty of stories to tell from the trip, but by far the most exciting is the one about how we entered a little door underneath a nearly hidden stairway and found ourselves in a magical place called Yarnia.

First, I'll show you what I got. Then, I'll talk more about the shop and its way-cool DIY concept.

We have here 1-1/2 pounds of gorgeous wool—designed by yours truly. The yarn is destined for a cardigan for J—Ann Budd's Cambridge Jacket from The Best of Interweave Knits—and I got enough extra for a hat or mitts. J mentioned that he would like this sweater in a green, tweedy look. I took my own, creative approach to his request. Here's a close-up of the yarn construction:

Six strands of wool in all: dark grey, navy blue, 2 strands olive green, hunter green, and—to add periodic hits of color—a 2-ply variegated in grey, royal blue, and turquoise.

I picked the fiber and color combination from the cones lining the walls at Yarnia.

We're talking hundreds of cones of all types of yarns: wool, silk, mohair, cashmere, cotton, bamboo, boucles, nylons, metallics, acrylics. You name it, it's there... except elastic... but we overheard one customer ask if she could bring in her own cone of elastic to blend with yarn from the shop, and she got the green light. You determine how many strands of fiber you need according to the weight of finished yarn you're after. In my case, I wanted a worsted.

Never fear the calculations. The owner, Lindsey, helps with all the math and has plenty of resources on-site to help you articulate what you want. Once you've selected your fiber combination, she checks out your intended project (if you brought it) to confirm you're making a yarn that will be compatible. You can even knit up a little swatch to see what you think before she makes up the cones! She then cuts off a length of your yarn and uses a McMorran Yarn Balance to determine the yards per pound for your blend so she can calculate the amount of yarn you will need to complete your project.

You purchase the yarn according to weight. After making all the calculations, your cones get lined up on a tensioning rack and wound onto cones using a very industrial-chic cone winder that's so fascinating to watch it's housed near the front window for passers-by to see. I wish I had a picture to show you. If I didn't recognize it would be spectacular overkill, I'd say I must have one of these machines for myself!

I love the way the cones come out. They're like works of art in their own right! The strands of yarn are not plied when they're wound on, so you end up with distinct banding at this stage. Also, because of the way it's wound, the overall color can look very different depending on light and angle.

In case you're wondering how the yarn will work up, I saw many sample garments at the shop, and I can tell you these DIY blended yarns knit up beautifully. I can't wait to see how J's Cambridge Jacket comes out!

And what about price, you ask? Happily, the price also exceeded my expectations. Each cone has a per-pound price tag. Lindsey calculates everything up before she actually winds the cones. My 1-1/2 pounds of wool cost just over $50. Compare that the to Urban Aran I made J last winter out of Cascade Eco wool—which was my most economical option at the time—for just under $50. We're talking about a $4-$5 difference. Pretty amazing given that this time the yarn is custom-designed, don't you think?!

Yarnia is definitely worth a periodic train ride from Seattle to Portland! If airfare doesn't fit your budget, you can purchase pre-made cones online.

Lindsey got her inspiration from a shop in Montreal called La Bobineuse de Laine, which also takes a DIY approach. Read all about it on the Yarnia website.


Little Cakes for Patty Cakes!

The Girlio has asked me to make her some fingerless mitts. It was inevitable. After all, she'd seen me make a pair for myself last fall. And earlier this summer, her father knit a pair of orange Knucks for himself to match his Honda Rebel for those crisp, early summer morning drives to work.

I decided that the bright, green singles I posted pictures of on my Greensleeve's Katherine's Cup spindle last June would be the perfect fiber choice for C's mitts. But first, I had to ply the 170 yards of singles. The result:

Nearly 85 yards of squishy, 2-ply worsted wool, drop-spun and plied on my Katherine's Cup spindle. I picked up the roving at A New Yarn earlier in the spring. Sorry I didn't take a picture of the spun hank before I divided and wound it down into these two sweet little cakes—I know this isn't the best way to display my work. I was just so excited to get the fiber ready to be turned into warmers for C's ever-growing patty-cakes!

I wouldn't normally have thought to make mitts for her in this color, but I found inspiration in this great fall jacket we found her for the first day of third grade.

The jacket looks perfect for all her puddle-jumping antics when Seattle's sunny summer turns to autumn rains later this month!

The color shifts from dark green, through a bright kelly, and into peeks of a cheerful yellow. I'm pleased with how the yarn turned out and look forward to posting pictures of the finished mitts, which I'm pretty certain I will design myself.

Now I need to find a nice pair of puddle jumpers to complement her ensemble!


Lessons Crossing the Continental Divide

Sometimes it's the impulse buys—the ones you look at afterwards with some regret and think, "What possessed me to invest in that?" . . . the ones you relegate to your Ravelry "Trade/Sell" stash, where you hope you'll be able to recoup at least some of your investment but, instead, they sit for months with absolutely nobody expressing interest of any kind—sometimes it really is those buys which result in the most satisfying projects.

Such was the case of my Maizy. What on earth was this die-hard wool enthusiast (i.e. me) thinking when I popped those two little skeins of 82% corn fiber / 18% elastic nylon into my basket?

I'll tell you what I was thinking: "Co00000ol... Corn yarn...." (Read that line with a note of Homer Simpson's "Mmmmmm... Floor donuts..." and you have a pretty clear image of the fiber-induced stupor into which I must have fallen.)

So the Maizy sat for months and months. I would gladly have passed it along to someone else, but nobody would have it. And then, while packing for one of our camping trips this summer, I realized I would be finishing one project before we returned and needed another to have at-the-ready. Short on packing time, the Maizy called to me for several reasons:
  1. I had already identified and printed a pattern—one that had been designed on the yarn by the yarn manufacturer, so I trusted I wouldn't need to stress about running out of yarn the entire way through the top-down construction;
  2. The yarn comes in center-pull put-ups, so I didn't have to reskein it;
  3. The pattern calls for US2 needles, which I viewed as a welcome relief after the long work on my recent stretch of ultimately disappointing US1-needle sock projects this summer; and
  4. Because I wasn't overly invested in wanting these socks to turn out brilliantly, I felt comfortable using them for an experiment... these would be my first-ever project knit entirely Continental, which I blogged about previously in Old Dog.
The result?

My Continental Maizy Lace Socks:

Pattern: Maizy Lace by Cathy Hannigan (for Crystal Palace). The free pattern is available via Crystal Palace.
Materials: Maizy, Neptune 1009, 2 skeins
Needles: US 2 / 2.75 mm
Started: August 1, 2008
Completed: August 12, 2008

Although they were the last of 3 pairs I completed for Summer of Socks 2008, with all the crazy stuff going on in my life this last part of the summer, I never posted them for the final raffle.

I worked these socks top-down, two at once, using Magic Loop. The pattern's not written for Magic Loop, but translates easily.

The simple yarn-over lace features pairs of offset diagonals that don't quite form a perfect inverted V but are perfectly charming, nonetheless.

The heel was written for a simple slip-knit stitch, which I exchanged for Eye of Partridge. I ask you, is there ever a time when Eye of Partridge doesn't make a more interesting choice?

Despite the stitch modification, I did not modify the garter detail flanking the heel flap:

Talk about charming! I may start adding this detail to all my socks from here on out. It creates a lovely frame for a more finished looking heel... and while I point to no higher authority upon which to base this next claim, I could swear it makes the heel fit more snugly. Of course, it may just be the elastic nylon that draws it in.

Overall, the socks fit very well given the pattern's not written for a customized fit.

And while I often find multi-colored yarns obnoxious for their striping and pooling effects—a feature which many people seem to turn a blind eye to in their enthusiasm for the caché of hand-dyed yarns—I actually like the way the colors played out in these socks. No complaints!

Even the Continental knitting went remarkably smoothly. In fact, I think these were one of my quickest knits of the summer. I still instinctively saddle-up Western style, but I became highly proficient at Continental on this project—both knitting and purling (on the heels)—and I'll challenge myself to more Continental knitting in the future.

Maizy is really spongy, and it's splitty in a not-very-splitty kind of way (if that makes any sense). It did take a few inches of knitting to get used to it, but once I did, I found working with the Maizy rather enjoyable. I'd even go so far as to say I'd prefer to work with Maizy again over cotton—cotton just doesn't have enough give to give me a pleasant knitting experience.

And now, a request for you:

Anyone out there know anything about the manufacturing process for Maizy yarn? I'm interested in the environmental impact... You know: just because something's predominantly made from a natural fiber doesn't mean the processing required to turn that fiber into knit-able yarn isn't loaded with so many harsh and damaging chemicals as to make the whole natural-implied labeling laughable. If you have any information about this process or can point me to online resources, I'd be grateful!



Hi, everyone.

Thanks for your patience with the recent inactivity on my blog. After our camping trip—which was lovely—a death in the family took me out of town and away from the blog. Uncle Blair was my mom's older brother, a higher math teacher retired from Titusville High School and the University of Pittsburgh. He taught me chess, loaned my mom the old ribbon-style typewriter that fascinated me so much I started writing stories in early grade school, introduced computers to his schools and to me, and always graciously helped when I called him with questions about my calc homework in high school. His death was not expected so soon. I have just returned to Seattle from the funeral and family activities in Western Pennsylvania and Northeastern Ohio. An unexpected trip home. Simultaneously, we've discovered other unexpected expectings... which I'll be blogging about much more in the near future.

I do have several finished knitting projects, spinning, and other fibery endeavors to share and will start putting some posts together.

My cup runneth over with the unexpected—some sad, some good, and some downright exciting!

Best wishes and good health to you all!


Gone Camping - Redux

We're off for our final camping trip of the summer. This time we travel two hours east, into the Cascades, to lovely Lake Wenatchee.

We're tent camping, again, on a primitive site in Lake Wenatchee State Park. Picture me here:

That's our actual site. I imagine we'll set up our 4-person blue and grey tent in the area to the right of the table. We also have a screen-enclosed room that we'll set up over top of the table area, with some lounge chairs. That's the fire pit off to the left. And our old grey Volvo wagon will be parked in front. No doubt C's bike will be splayed around somewhere. We're not too far from the water. I've been told they have killer bugs at Wenatchee, which could be a problem for me. Put me in a room with 300 other people and set 5 mosquitoes loose on the other side of the room, I'll be the only person there with bug bites—and I'll be covered. But I'm relieved that we'll have the shelter and privacy of trees this time, so I don't expect to get blasted by relentless wind and cold like we did at Pacific Beach.

I'm taking more knitting than I possibly will be able to complete in 5 days. Already prepped to go are
  • Continental Maizy Lace Socks (I just reached the heel)
  • all the swatches for the Portland certificate course and conference workshop
  • the shop samples of my Tweedy Cabled Cap and (still-to-be-designed) matching scarf for the classes I'm teaching in November
  • 2 stealth Christmas projects
  • an as-yet unselected new sock pattern
I just looked at that list again and realized how insane it is. Maybe I'll only bring 1 of the 2 stealth Christmas projects!

Of course, all sorts of things have come up today to make us question whether we should go at all.

First, one of our dogs had an emergency trip to the vet this morning for what turned out to be 2 really really bad infections (I won't give the gory details, but I will tell you he's not happy about wearing diapers—especially not "cute" ones with pink and blue paw prints. . . I can't say that I blame him. He's a DOG, for cryin' out loud, not a baby!) He's on 3 medications and a special prescription diet, but he'll still be accompanying us on the trip.

Second, after dinner C started complaining about not feeling well. She had me feel her forehead. Felt fine. Five minutes later, she's barfing all over the place. We're pretty sure it was a one-time thing. Maybe a strange combination of food. She has a tendency to mix orange juice with things it just wasn't meant to go with. As with the dog, she will still be accompanying us on the trip, too.

Pleasant day at our place. Full of amazing sights, sounds, and smells.

If anything goes wrong in the morning, and we believe either the dog or the child should not go camping, I will stay home with the invalid and will send J off with all others well enough to enjoy the trip. It wouldn't be the end of the world, as far as I'm concerned—it would give me a lot more dissertation-writing hours per day than I get with everyone home—but let's all cross our fingers that it doesn't happen.

So I'm hanging out the "Gone Camping" shingle until next weekend!


Old Dog . . .

. . . New Trick!

Did you catch that, observant and loyal blog readers? It may be subtle, so I'll bring it close up:

I was going to turn this into a guessing game and have you place your guesses in the comments then reveal the answer tomorrow with some fabulous prize, but I've never been much for suspense. Besides, I wouldn't be able to talk about the WIP if I did that because the name would give it away.

The pattern is Maizy Lace by Cathy Hannigan. The yarn is called Maizy—and it's 82% corn fiber, 18% elastic nylon—in the Neptune colorway. My first time working with the stuff. So far so good. . . It's different, but not in a bad way. I opted for Magic Loop technique but am sticking with top-down construction, as written.

I'm calling this project my Continental Maizy Lace Socks. (hint hint hint)

Surely you've guessed it by now?!

I'm knitting Continental instead of Western. I'm picking instead of throwing.

Every stitch.

Just because.

It's no small thing re-training my hands after 30 years of knitting!


Meet You There, Sis!

I talked my sister into doing this with me:

September 10, 2008
8:30am - 8:30pm
Doubletree Hotel
Portland, OR
It's being held in conjunction with this:

2008 Fall Knit & Crochet Show
A Crochet Guild of America (CGOA) &
The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA) Conference
September 12-14, 2008
(with classes beginning Sept. 11)
Oregon Convention Center
Portland, OR

We have homework:

For the 12-hour Certified Instructor's Program:

  • 5” x 5” swatch of each of the following (6 total): Stockinette, Ribbing, Cable Stitch, Yarn Over or Lace Pattern, Fair Isle, and Intarsia
  • Two knitted items we've completed (clothing, household, or decorative)

For the 3-hour class we're taking at the conference Friday, Fully Fashioned and

  • Swatch #1: With smooth worsted weight yarn and appropriate knitting needles, CO 13 sts. Work Stockinette St for 1", ending after a purl row. Slip sts onto holder.
  • Swatch #2: With smooth worsted weight yarn and appropriate knitting
    needles, CO 28 sts. Row 1 (RS): *K1, yarn over, K1, SSK, K6, K2tog, K1, yarn
    over, K1. Repeat from * across. Row 2 and all WS rows: Purl across. Row 3: *K2, yarn over, K1, SSK, K4, K2tog, K1, yarn over, K2. Repeat from * across. Row 5: *K3, yarn over, K1, SSK, K2, K2tog, K1, yarn over, K3. Repeat from * across. Row 7: *K4, yarn over, K1, SSK, K2tog, K1, yarn over, K4. Repeat from * across. Row 8: As Row 2. Repeat Rows 1-8 twice, ending after Row 8 of patt. Slip sts onto holder.
  • Swatch #3: With smooth worsted weight yarn and appropriate knitting
    needles, CO 22 sts. Row 1 (RS): P8, K6, P8. Row 2: K8, P6, K8. Row 3: P8, slip
    next 3 sts onto cable needle and hold in back of work, K3, K3 sts from cable
    needle, P8. Row 4: As Row 2. Repeat Rows 1-4 until swatch measures approx. 4" from beg, ending after Row 4 of patt. Slip sts onto holder.
  • Swatch #4: With smooth worsted weight yarn and appropriate knitting needles, CO 32 sts. Row 1 (RS): P2, *K3, P2. Repeat from * across. Row 2: Purl across. Repeat Rows 1 and 2 until swatch measures approx. 4" from beg, ending after Row 2 of patt. Slip sts onto holder.
  • Swatch #5: With smooth worsted weight yarn and appropriate knitting
    needles, CO 22 sts. Row 1 (RS): K2, *P2, K2. Repeat from * across. Row 2: P2,
    *K2, P2. Repeat from * across. Repeat Rows 1 and 2 until swatch measures approx. 2" from beg, ending after Row 1 of patt. Slip sts onto holder.

She's arriving in Portland from New Orleans on Tuesday, September 9th, by this:

I'm arriving in Portland from Seattle on Tuesday, September 9th, by this:

Turn that picture around, and you'll see how we both get to Seattle Friday night. You can bet our needles will be clacking in rhythm to the train the entire way!

Also on our agenda:

  • knitting
  • acquiring a fleece
  • picking
  • dyeing
  • carding
  • spinning
  • LYS shop-hopping around Portland and Seattle
  • music-listening (Kell's Irish Pub in Pike Market... Ockham's Razor is playing Saturday night, so B will get to see what we're talking about!)
  • staying up too late
  • giggling
  • drinking lattes and Italian sodas
  • catching up
  • regretting that we don't live closer to each other
  • scheming our next (mis)adventure

She takes the red eye home to NOLA Sunday night.

I start singing another rendition of my famous Miss-My-Sister Blues shortly thereafter.


Downward Spiral—A Cinderella Story?

It had to happen sooner or later: A project that just doesn't work for me. I've hinted around about my despair over this project. I couldn't face blogging about it sooner. But it's time to work through the pain and get it over with.

This cleverly staged photograph masks the utter failure of the downward spiral that was (and is) my Redhawk Tailspin of Pacific Beach Socks, knit from Cat Bordhi's Spiraling Coriolis architecture in New Pathways. Originally intended for me, the socks are being modeled by J because of how ridiculous they look on my feet.

Pattern: Spiraling Master Coriolis by Cat Bordhi
Materials: Mountain Colors Bearfoot, 1 skein (350 yds with quite a bit left), Red Hawk Tail.
Needles: US 2 / 2.75 mm
Started: June 21, 2008
Completed: July 31, 2008
Technique: 2 at once on Magic Loop

I swatched. I checked gauge. I checked and re-checked my measurements and my calculations. If I were to try knitting these again tomorrow, I'd end up working with the same master numbers and would end up with the same bloody mess.

As far as I can tell, the problem likely has to do with my instep: Mine is unusually tall. So using the numbers the architecture specifies for my instep height meant creating a horribly baggy mid-foot and arch. It's an odd experience for me to have any socks too baggy in the arch because my feet are almost completely flat.

These socks fit through the toe and the ball of the foot, and they fit through the "bottom of heel to top of instep" measurement, but they're swimming everywhere else. I did try them on as I knit, and I knew they were awfully baggy . . . but I held true to my faith in the made-to-fit qualities of Bordhi's pattern and convinced myself that something else—surely—would happen in the architectural construction to pull the bagginess around and make them work. Boy was I wrong.

I mean, seriously. Check out the carnage as they blob all over my 9" antique sock blockers:

My first UGH in 30 years of knitting!

(If you look at the top picture again, you can see signs of puckering in the arch area along the left side of the picture, and you can see how straight the right side—which corresponds to the bottom of the foot—looks.)

By the time the sad truth about these socks could no longer be denied, I figured I would felt them to adjust fit. I decided not to frog and re-knit the socks because I simply didn't care enough for the pattern.

I know, I know: Other people love this pattern. More power to them! But besides my issues with the finished results I got, I have a lot of problems with the way the pattern is written, in general. I'm a well-practiced reader of all kinds of patterns and charts. I can't remember the last time I had such issues with the way a pattern was written. Flame me if you want, but I found Bordhi's style tedious and overly complicating of something that need not be so thick.

To be honest, even if the socks fit me better, I don't know how much I'd actually wear them beyond around the house stuff . . . which is what may happen to them anyways if I don't find another foot that fits them.

As for my efforts to felt them? Silly me. I normally knit with non machine-washable wools, but I knit this particular pair with a superwash . . . a fact I remembered only after tossing them in the wash and having them come out exactly the same as before they went in. The good news: Mountain Colors Bearfoot is a fantastic superwash! The bad news: I really would have preferred the option of felting.

Ah well. I'm sure someone with bigger feet will like them. They're customized to fit someone . . . but how will I find the foot? Anyone in contact with Cinderella's prince—or his footman?!


Looking Forward to Fall

Last week I finalized my fall teaching schedule at A New Yarn. I'm offering two classes: Magic Loop Socks and Cables & Twists (details below). Also, the shop will be featuring my MUMTU Socks and Tweedy Cabled Cap patterns as give-aways at Seattle's 4th Annual Stitch & Pitch on Thursday! (You know that the nationwide Stitch & Pitch phenomenon actually got its start here in Seattle in 2005, don't you? Even though it was driven by retail stores, it's yet another reason why Seattle rocks!)

I stopped by A New Yarn yesterday to get this:

Five skeins (one's buried) of yummy Queensland Kathmandu DK in deep purple with flecks of white, blue, pink, and red. I will be knitting up a shop sample of the Tweedy Cabled Cap with one of these skeins. The others are for a scarf I'm designing to match.

Claudia, Program Manager of A New Yarn, will be posting the new class schedule next week. For now, here are the basics:

Magic Loop Socks
October 11, 18, and 25
10am - Noon
Learn to knit two socks at once from the toe up with this clever method. Course includes a lesson in Judy's Magic Cast-On. Join us as we make the Mash-Up Magic Toe-Up (MUMTU) Socks, which will give you a customized fit with whatever yarn weight or needle size you choose.

Cables & Twists
November 8 and 15
10am - Noon
If you love the look of cables and twists but haven't tried them before, now is your chance. Join us as we knit the Tweedy Cabled Cap to learn the basic techniques of making and moving cables and twisted stitches. We will learn methods of crossing stitches both with and without a cable needle.


(Not-So) Crabby

Yesterday I was crabby. Inexplicably so. Nothing was really wrong (except the Red Hawk Tailspin of Pacific Beach socks, which I finished but still can't quite bring myself to blog about... but that's been an ongoing saga). Nothing was really right (except that I sold the extra chicken coop and we got to take C to a free concert at Magnuson Park, where our favorite local band, Ockham's Razor, was playing). I was just mwlechghy, and the mwlechghiness made me crabby.

So when I woke up super early this morning, I went into C's room to cuddle her and said to myself, "No more crabbies today!" Then I remembered one Crab that would actually cheer me up: Crab Nebula!

4 oz of 100% handdyed Corriedale wool top

One of my blog friends, Gwen, sent it to me a couple weeks ago. Gwen's a brand-new college-graduate from Ohio... and I think that when I friended her months back, it was with an email that said little more than, "Hey, Ohio college student! I'm an Ohioan and was an Ohio college student, too." (I know—I was totally lame.) She blogs here, Ravels here, and has a wonderful little Etsy shop here. Gwen's fiber is lovely, and I had resisted for so long, but Crab Nebula called to me.

Here's Gwen's description of the fiber:
This is the first in my Hubble's Eye in Space series, inspired by images taken by the telescope. If you've never seen these amazing photos, check out hubblesite.org. The colors are spectacular! This has been handdyed in pink, yellow, turquoise, green.
Given that I know very little about astronomy, I had to look it up. Crab Nebula is the leftovers from a supernova explosion observed by the Chinese in 1054. It's in the Crab constellation, and it's cloud-like in appearance with what scientists believe to be high-energy particles still present.

I like the way Gwen thinks. I love the way Crab Nebula looks.

What a way to cure the crabbies! I'm going to keep this top around a little longer for my petting pleasure before spinning it.

BTW: Gwen's blog and Etsy shop are called Pieces of String Too Small To Save, and she's always interested in hearing from people about the creative things they do with theirs. Got bits of string? Tell Gwen about them here!


Took Long Enough

After making two other pairs of socks that don't count, I present (finally) my first entry for Summer of Socks 2008: Prizewinning Asparagus of Pacific Beach.

Asparagus Cables Socks by Wendy Johnson (size: large)
Materials: The Knittery's 4ply Sock: Merino Cashmere, 1 skein (397 yds), Seabreeze
Needles: US 1 / 2.25 mm
Started: June 21, 2008
Completed: July 23, 2008

This is the pattern and yarn Wendy sent me as reward for winning the 2008 Summer of Socks button design contest, so I thought it fitting that these be my first socks for this year's along. I cast on the day Summer of Socks opened. I did the bulk of the knitting on our camping trip at Pacific Beach—inside our tent because it had to be the coldest, windiest summer camping adventure ever!

The pattern calls for a US0 needle, but I used US1 for better gauge and to produce a fabric that wasn’t stiff. Even with the increased needle size, my gauge was still more like 9 st/in rather than the 8 st/in called for and the fabric is very dense. My gorgeous summer-colored socks will be brightening up the Seattle gray winters! (That's appropriate, I suppose, given the wintery temperatures of our time at Pacific Beach.)

I knit both socks at once on Magic Loop. The stitch pattern itself is not difficult. But if you’re going for a full-length sock, all the twist stitches can get tedious. I had to use a cable needle rather than employing a needle-free cable technique—my stitching was too dense and the yarn too split-y to make it work otherwise. It actually took me longer to do the twists when I tried the needle-free method!

Tedious, perhaps, but the twist stitches are exquisite!

That ribbing's just shy of one inch long. Would have preferred 2 inches, but I ran out of yarn. Rats—it's a good thing these socks are knit toe-up! I might not have run out if I'd made the medium size instead of large, which I'll do when I make this pattern again. At the very least, I'll cast on fewer stitches for the toe, which is much wider than I can wear well and puckers quite a bit. I’m hoping to even this out with blocking.

Modifications: The pattern is written for the two sides of the twist motif to be split, with 4 extra stitches added around the width of the sock, and with the split cables extending into the ribbing. I did not split the side cables at the top of the heel, did not add the 4 stitches, and did not extend the side cables into the ribbing.

With the cashmere content, this yarn is too soft to really show off all the neat little twists. In person—without the benefit of the lighting for the pictures—the pattern gets a little lost in the halo. Next time, I'll select a yarn with higher twist and more subtle color variations, if any. Despite how it shows in the photographs—where I’ve worked to emphasize texture—the colorway stripe is just pronounced enough to distract from the pattern.

All that said, these are tremendously soft and thick socks, and I’m sure they’ll be on my feet a lot come the cold season!

I'm so grateful to Wendy for sending such a luxury of yarn to work with, in addition to her pattern. I've not seen this yarn at any of my regular LYSs, and it's been such a joy to have my hands on while I knit!