6.04.2011

Stalled

Despite having enough needles to make an army's worth of socks at once, it's long been an unwritten rule of mine to have only one pair of socks on the needles at any given time. (A notable exception is the Get Smart Socks I had abandoned to frog a couple years ago and finally finished back in February.) But I'm about to break that rule. 

Why? These:


There's absolutely nothing wrong with them. They're pretty. The DragonFibers Superwash Sock yarn gives me nothing to complain about.

But I'm bored. Or I'm something. I don't know. 

I cast on April 16, blasted through the toe increases, started a decorative stitch that I ended up not liking on the yarn, and ripped back to the toes. Let them sit a few days. Picked them back up and got them to the gusset fairly quickly, then stopped knitting again. Picked them up again and blew through the gusset. Then they sat again. (It's not entirely uncommon for me to let socks sit a few days before launching into the heels, but all this other sitting is really unusual!) Picked them up to get the heels going. Knit a couple rows. Let them sit. Picked up the heel flap stitches. Let them sit. Knit a couple rows more. And they've been sitting since. 

Is it the colorway? It's called Shy -- and it is -- and maybe that's part of it but not any big part. 

Is it the yarn? It's a hand-dyed superwash merino and feels nice enough. I was so happy to buy it back in April 2008 at the Village Yarn & Tea -- before they moved -- before they closed. Come to find out that DragonFibers discontinued this yarn back in 2008. The price sticker indicates I got it on sale, and that's probably why.

Is it the pattern? Nope. Although I must express some disappointment that the all-over decorative stitch I had been planning ended up not being a good fit for the yarn. I had believed the color changes were subtle enough to work on a more complicated pattern, but they're actually just distinct enough for the pattern to get more lost than I wanted.

Nothing's really wrong with the socks. Nothing's quite right, either.

So I'm going to let them sit a little longer. And I'm breaking my unwritten rule and starting another pair of socks. The yarn...

 
...Indie Dyer's Very Veggie colorway, added to my stash as part of the giant yarn purchase my mom and sister and I indulged in two winters ago. This colorway really appealed to me the moment I saw it -- even though I was viewing a web image. It didn't surprise me when it appealed to my mother-in-law, too, earlier this spring when I told her to look through my stash for yarn she'd like me to knit into socks for her.

Here's hoping it helps get my needles humming again!

5.31.2011

Knitting with Roving, Part 1 ~ A Guest Blog Tutorial by Elizabeth


Zhenya here for a brief intro: When my sister told me she was thinking about knitting with roving, I dove into our Olympic Fiber Arts inventory and emerged with the perfect fiber and an assignment: write a guest blog for Aesthetic Entanglementz! I write about my sister often enough that it’s high time you got a chance to meet her, too. So without further adieu, I give you...



Knitting with Roving, Part 1 ~ A Guest Blog Tutorial

Like so many fiber enthusiasts, I always have a list of projects I’m dying to start even -- I must confess -- when feeling overwhelmed by my myriad projects already in-the-works. The fact that my crafting interests are so varied only complicates things. I have multiple projects at different stages of completion for each hobby: sewing, knitting, cross-stitch, spinning, and weaving -- just to name a few.

My current favorite? Fiber, of course! I especially love hand-dyeing wool. My favorite part is when I first place the fiber in water to presoak. The lanolin smell of the wet wool is so clean and earthy! Not that I’m yearning to huddle with a flock of sheep in a downpour, but then again I’ve never had the opportunity. If I ever do get the chance (or have the misfortune), I’ll be sure to guest blog it for Aesthetic Entanglementz.

Enough of me and back to fiber; in particular, roving. I realize not everyone cares to try spinning -- in truth, it’s not been that many years since Zhenya scoffed at the idea when I first gave it a whirl. But surely even non-spinning fiber lovers must, when standing before a fluffly fleece or a lusciously hand-dyed batt, sliver, or roving, pause to wonder, “What could I do with this?”

For some the answer is needle felting. Zhenya and her family have experimented with that, and maybe she’ll blog about it someday. I understand that her mother-in-law made an amazing sheep! In my opinion, though, if you’re not going to spin with fiber -- or cuddle it -- the next best thing is to knit with it. Even so, my own desire to spin fiber is always greater than my inclination to knit it. I did say "next best thing," right?!

Look at the roving Z selected for me: Olympic Fiber Arts' Sunset on the Sound.


It’s so pretty, with its muted tones of pinks, greys, and smoky plums. It’s almost a neutral. I can only imagine how beautifully the colors would have blended together once spun. Alas, my assignment was to knit it. Zhenya thought this would make great knitting roving because the muted tones would remain more distinct if knit than if spun and because the colors already harmonize (which is a glorious product of the spinning in more clashingly colored rovings). Plus, it's a durable superwash wool that's next-to-the-skin soft.



If you’ve never knit with roving before, the idea of it is kind of scary -- a bit like the first time you cut into the steek on a cardigan you spent two years knitting. Set aside all those images of fiber just pulling apart like wisps in your hands; you needn’t worry.

Here’s how it works:

Start by unbraiding the roving.


Zhenya puts up the OFA roving using crochet-like chains, which makes them really easy to “un-zip” (carefully) from the bottom!

Next, separate the roving lengthwise (yes, that means the long, skinny-wise) into 4 or 5 thinner strips, each approximately the diameter of a No. 2 pencil. The roving pulls apart very easily.


This thinner roving is aptly named pencil roving because, ideally... well, you get it.

Now, if you’re an extreme perfectionist (like me), you might find yourself getting frustrated that you can’t get each length to be exactly the same diameter. Indulge your perfectionism for no more than a few seconds; then accept that, as usual, you’re over-thinking it. It will be fine if it’s close.

This is the pencil roving I made. It’s been separated, but nothing else has been done to it yet:


Once you’ve separated the roving into four or five thinner strips that are as close to the same diameter as possible, draft them a tiny bit to even everything out.

Drafting, which simply lengthens and straightens the individual fibers so they all lay nicely together in the same direction, is easy. Hold the fiber gently with your hands a few inches apart; slowly and carefully pull your hands ever so slightly further apart and watch as the fiber straightens itself out. Be careful: If you hold your hands too far apart, or pull too hard or too fast, you will separate the roving completely. When your plan is to spin the roving, that’s no big deal; but if your plan is to knit it, you really want to avoid this!

So how do you know how far apart to put your hands and how far is too far to pull? Staple length. Yes, it’s jargon, but this, too, is a cinch to figure out. Before you start drafting the roving, pinch a tiny tuft at the end and pull it away from the rest. You’ll notice that it came off in little strands of about the same length. That’s your magic distance! We'll call it "MD." It translates in practice like this:

Place your hands farther apart than MD (so the fiber will slip easily) but don’t pull the fiber as far apart as MD or the roving will separate.

Here you see my pencil roving has been drafted:


Here you see the difference between my pencil roving in its pre-drafted state (bottom) and as drafted (top):


How much should you predraft? That’s your call. I choose to err on the side of caution and leave the fiber thicker. It’s always possible to draft a bit more as you’re knitting, if necessary -- but it’s not possible to un-separate the fiber if you pulled it apart completely.

Once you’ve drafted all your fiber, you may want to check grist. It’s not necessary since you’ll swatch for gauge anyways, but if you’re curious (or, as some of us have already confessed, a compulsive perfectionist), it’s not such a bad thing to do. You’re aiming for the pencil roving to be about the same gauge as a bulky (12 ply) yarn -- about 5 or 6 wraps per inch.


I wrap roving tighter than I normally would with yarn because the fiber is so squishy and pulls just a hair thinner as I knit with it.

While you’re drafting (or knitting), you may come across slubs. Slubs are little bits where the fiber hasn’t fully aligned. They feel like bumps in the fiber. Here's one:



Slubs are not a big issue. I take care of them like this:


I pinch them out!

Once you've pre-drafted the fiber strips, gather them together for safe-keeping. I wind them into balls like this:


If you opt to do the same, please, please, please do not make the balls center-pull! Just imagine the disaster that would cause!

That’s all there is to prepping your fiber for knitting. And, really, that is the hardest part of knitting with roving.

Stay tuned for my next guest-blog entry, when I walk through steps for prepping your pattern and knitting a simple hat with all that lovely, pre-drafted roving!

If you’re dying to try this but don’t have any roving in your stash, why not give our hand-dyed Olympic Fiber Arts roving a try?


5.22.2011

Speaking of Mermaids

Those Mermaid With Golden Hair challenge socks reminded me of something: Back in February 2010, I dyed 4 ounces of wool/mohair roving that I described in a blog post at the time as having mermaid-like colors. Into my roving stash I dove to find it.


Things started innocently enough. I just wanted to look at it and pet it... but I guess I lost control. Things got heated... and one thing led to another... and...



Yes! I spun it!


It all happened so fast!



It's love, really. I mean, look at all those gorgeous colors that combine to make the beautiful, subtle, harmonious whole!

The singles looked so amazing on the bobbins that I decided to abandon my initial impulse to ply it. The yarn is a bit over-spun in places, which is deliberate since I had expected to ply it, which would have backed out some of the twist. See that little kink in the purplish strand near the bottom-right part of the image above? There are a few more like it. I can work with that, though! I just worried that if I plied this one it would knock down the colors just a little too far -- plus, it has such lovely sheen as a singles yarn.



My work yielded two skeins: one 144 yards; the other 148.5. I didn't weigh the two halves of the roving when I split it, and I haven't weighed them since spinning, so I'm not sure if the nominal difference is due to having slightly more fiber in one of the halves or due to a slightly different grist in the spinning. But I spun both halves in a single day, and I'm pretty confident in the consistency of the spin.


Fiber: Wool/Mohair Blend (80/20)
Hand-Dyed from commercially prepared top on February 20, 2010
Spun short-draw into singles on May 14, 2011
Total Yardage: 292.5
WPI: 14
Weight: Fingering

Now I just need to figure out what to make with it. Something that won't be subjected to much friction when worn. Something for the neck or head?

Perhaps what I need is somebody else's perspective?

If you have a great pattern idea, please send it my way! Nothing I've seen online this week has called out to me as a candidate for this yarn.

Or I could design something... but that will take longer, and I'm in the mood for a more instant gratification...

5.15.2011

Challenge Socks #6: Mermaid With Golden Hair

I can't believe it's May, let alone mid May!!! April practically flew by, with C's big birthday party, a lovely and long visit from my mother-in-law, the start of a wonderful new job, and more bouts of viruses running through the family than we ever imagined possible in a mere thirty days! May, too, is flying, with Mother's Day last Sunday, my birthday last Monday, and J's birthday today. These are busy, busy times! And in case you were wondering about whether I was still making progress on My So-Called Sock Challenge, I do have something to show for my long-finished March efforts:


I call them Mermaid With Golden Hair because the first line of "Mermaid Song" from Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Aspects of Love ran through my head practically the entire time I knit them. I can't remember the last time I even thought about that musical -- maybe a decade ago?

With these socks, the story is all about the yarn. Oh... My... Goodness! I can't say enough about how I love it!

It's Lollipop Cabin's organic, single-ply sock yarn, from right here in the Pacific Northwest. From their own PR: "Organic Wool Sock Yarn, individually hand-dyed using rain water collected from a wee little cabin located in the Pacific Northwest Cascade Mountains." 

Quaint, no?! Makes me want to go cuddle up with my knitting in that wee little cabin and listen to the rhythm of the rain beating on what I imagine to be a perfectly musical little tin roof before it tumbles into a rain barrel to be collected for dyeing!

I stumbled upon this yarn back in January, when my Mom was visiting. We spent a few days driving around to yarn stores, hitting not only our old favorites but also spreading out to catch some we'd never been to before.

The biggest score happened January 7 at Country Yarn in Snohomish. The shop doesn't have a website, but here's a link to the basic business info. Country Yarn is a real treat for the spinner, as well as the knitter, with a more extensive spinning selection than I've seen locally anywhere but at The Weaving Works -- and certainly a larger and more interesting selection of hand-dyed spinning fibers!

Among other things, I picked up enough Lollipop Cabin yarn for two pairs of socks (the other will be in lovely peaches), and my Mom picked up enough for a pair, herself.

You can get a visual inkling of just how cushiony, springy, densely wonderful this yarn is by looking at the bind-off edge of my socks. See how nice and round and tall the edge stands up? That's all the yarn's doing -- no photo styling!


Compare to the pursed-lip bind-off edge on the Jealous Zigzag socks my sister sent me last month (Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Superwash) -- which are still getting heavy wear in my sock rotation -- or the similarly flat Fascine-ation socks (Koigu PPM) finished in February -- these socks are positively bursting with body!

Plus they are soft, soft, soft. And as I knit, I enjoyed the slight stretch sensation. A thoroughly enjoyable knitting experience!

Be forewarned if you're a fan of the highly processed: you will encounter little bits of VM in your Lollipop Cabin yarn. No biggie. It's not enough to be a nuisance. Just pick it off as you go.

The angle of this picture really highlights the golden tones:


I love this stitch pattern. You've seen it before on Aesthetic Entanglementz with my Pink Pagewood socks back in December 2008. It's a simple, 1-row, twisted knit rib worked over a multiple of 6 stitches, and I know you'll love it, too, so here it is:

Twisted Rib: K3, P1, K1tbl, P1

You'll notice that although it's made up of a completely symmetrical stitch pattern, the rib looks asymmetrical in the fabric. This is because the twist effectively nudges its stitch to the left a bit. I think it elevates the interest of the humble rib to a greater sophistication. It works equally nicely in a sleek trouser sock or a thick jeans sock. And if you're not a fan of swatching, you don't need to swatch the rib separately from stockinette to be assured of fit!

As you know, I never tire of the Eye of Partridge stitch on my heels. It's so pretty, and the stitch feels even in the back of my socks rather than ridged, like you get with the slipped rib stitch.


I realized in putting this blog together, though, that my sister and I do our heels slightly differently -- even though she also uses my MUMTU pattern. Here's the link to a picture of the heels she put on my Jealous Zigzag socks. Can you tell what's different?

That's right: I put Eye of Partridge on the heel extension (that little triangle-shaped area on the bottom), in addition to the heel flap; she doesn't. There's no right or wrong here -- it's just an example of how people develop their individual ways of doing things. She wears her hand-knit socks every bit as often and hard as I wear mine, and as far as I know she's never had to darn a heel, either. 

One last thing about the Lollipop Cabin. Our County Yarn shopkeeper, who knows the dyer, said this yarn is guaranteed not too pool. You can be sure my ears perked up at that! Now, I am realistic. I know that pooling in socks is as much a factor of gauge and stitch count as it is of some property inherent in the dye work (although I also think hand-dyers can do a better job mathematically predicting probable round-repeats so as to avoid the most unsightly pooling for the majority of sock knitters). I know that some pooling is bound to creep in. I just hope that it's not obnoxious. How did Lolllipop Cabin do?


Pretty darned well! The patterning remains even -- without being icky-stripy -- in all but one area: the gusset. That's the only spot of pooling ... and it's not surprising that the color would sit differently in this area since it's where stitches get increased.

So a big thumbs-up to Lollipop Cabin!

Best of all, I think there's enough yarn left to make a follow-up pair for C, my own little mermaid with golden hair. She'll be thrilled!

My So-Called Sock Challenge Tally (through 4.14.11):

Total: 6 pairs in 4 months

The Details:

Pattern: Mash-Up Magic Toe-Up Socks (designed by me)
Started: March 1, 2011
Completed: April 14, 2011
Materials: Lollipop Cabin Softsock, 2 240-yard skeins, colorway 1804i
Needles: US 2 / 2.75 mm
Gauge: 7.5 st/in
Primary Stitch Count: 60


4.19.2011

Another Good Turn

Remember the Marshlands Lace Rib socks I knit, intending them for myself but realizing after they were done that they were better suited to my sister? I shipped them off to her in New Orleans, and despite the fact that temperatures there were on the verge of rocketing out of the comfort range for closed-toe shoes and wool socks, she's gotten some good wear out of them.  

In a funny twist of fate, she found herself in a similar situation. This time it was me who lucked out because these beauties


arrived in my mailbox as a result!

On April 2, as she had just finished the toes of her April challenge socks, Beth called me to talk about my toe-up adaptation of Cookie A's Monkey pattern, which she intended to use. You'll note from the picture that these are not Monkey socks. We talked about the decorative stitch and the particular qualities of her yarn for awhile, and she decided to switch to the decorative stitch used by Christine Walker in her Zigzag socks (published in Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Sock Book). It's a lovely pattern -- wonderful stitch movement but very light, without the usual density of cables.

Three days later I received the following text:
"I'll be sending u the socks I'm making now. Seem too small for me. Funny. The yarn is better suited for u anyway."
And she's right. The yarn is better suited for me. What's funny is that I never would have selected it myself if I were treasure hunting at the yarn store, but the finished socks undeniably look more like something I would wear than she would. 


It's a Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Superwash in sport weight.  The colorway, SWS162 Green Envy, inspired her to name the socks Jealous Zigzag -- which I love! (Before I knew the name of the colorway, I thought she called them that because she was jealous they ended up being more right for me than for her -- which is, admittedly, how I felt about sending off the Marshlands.)


You'd think that a yarn called Green Envy would be more . . . green. This yarn is a mix of very pale green and very pale lavender -- and the effect, overall, in the finished socks is silvery. But it's not flat color. It's very, very cool.

She worked the entire day after sending that text. And just five days after casting on had the socks off the needles and blocked. What's more, she had them in the mail the next day! I don't know about you, but it can take me weeks to package up an item and actually deliver it to the post office. She'll deny being an over-achiever, but I can't think of what else to call it! 

Best of all, these are the mushiest, softest, most deliciously wearable socks. They spent the entire last weekend on my feet. I have declared them the best jeans socks ever. Honest to goodness!


And having shared my adoration of them with Beth, I'm pretty sure she actually is jealous now.

I need to reevaluate my sock yarn purchasing choices. Left to my own devices, I wouldn't have had a clue how wonderful this Brown Sheep yarn is.

Ravelers can link to the project page here.

4.13.2011

C's Springtime Birthday Cake

It's not knitting. Not by a long shot. But it's how my mother-in-law and I occupied the better part of a week, and it definitely qualifies as an aesthetic entanglement! This is my kiddo's birthday cake:


Sharon has a long history of amazing cake creations -- just one of the many talents she shares with family and friends -- and when The Girlio's birthday rolls around each April 13, I get to join her in the fun. We've made cakes themed on rainbows, unicorns, and horse corrals, among other things.

This year C asked for a springtime cake with a field of flowers, a lamb, and a bluebird of happiness. She and Sharon sketched out the basics. I held on for the ride as the vision was fleshed out and expanded in Sharon's imagination, supplies were assembled, and the build was completed.

The base is a 14-1/2" round white cake made from mix (no, I'm not too proud to admit when I use a mix!). It takes 2-1/2 mixes to fill the pan, so the rest was used for cupcakes and a cake-batter cookie experiment I tried (not pictured, but the cookies were yummy, too).

Aside from all the driving around for shopping, the lamb cake is my big contribution to the project. It's an homage to a family tradition from my own childhood. My Grandma Catherine brought lamb cakes for all the kids' birthdays. My cousins and siblings and I would clamor for the head. Ironically, with this year's cake, nobody could bear to cut into the head, which is now among the last bits to be eaten. It's so cute!


When my grandma died, her cast iron lamb mold went to my Uncle Grant's family. For nearly 20 years I thought it had gone to my cousin, Brad, and I was only just corrected of my misunderstanding last year. The important thing is that it did not come to me, and I really really wanted it. Periodically over the years I'd looked for them, but I'd not gotten one. About two years ago I asked Sharon to see if she could find one for me. Because these molds are no longer made, it took her some doing, but for Christmas 2009, Sharon sent me a beautiful Griswold mold just like Grandma's.

The lamb cake recipe -- which is made from scratch -- is also from the Griwsold company. It's a heavier pound cake, and it's super tasty! Unfortunately, I wasn't on my best baking game and had to make the cake twice to get it right. I ruined the first attempt when I didn't turn off the mixer before adding the milk ... and then spectacularly sprayed it all over the kitchen when I nicked the measuring cup on a beater. I couldn't really tell how much milk actually made it into the batter, and I guess I overcompensated by adding too much because the finished first cake didn't hold together well enough to come out of the pan in one piece. It tasted fine -- and we ended up eating it -- but the great milk disaster required that I do it again if the lamb was to have a head at all.

The field is covered with 44 fondant tulips. Sharon spent two days on them. Each has a marshmallow center, a molded leaf, and painstakingly hand-formed petals. Hand mixing the colors, alone, was a labor of love! (In the image below, do you see how some have more than one color?) We originally thought we'd use gum paste for the flowers, but after investigating all our options at Home Cake Decorating Supply Co and chatting with some other patrons of the store, fondant won out.


Encircling the cake are birds nests and blue marshmallow Peeps. Lots of them.


The birds nests are one of Sharon's signature treats. We also had them at the baby shower when I was pregnant with C. Normally she uses potato sticks, but apparently potato sticks haven't caught on in the Pacific Northwest like they did in Ohio. We searched several stores but never found them. In lieu of potato sticks, Sharon used pretzel sticks this time. So the birds nests are chocolate-covered pretzels, shaped into little nests, and topped with speckled malt balls.

And did you notice the Sour Patch earthworm visible just about the Peep in the green coconut grass?! C insisted. Did I mention that she's 11 as of shortly after 2pm today?

The two bluebirds of happiness, which were also hand-shaped by Sharon, are solid fondant. One of the girls at C's slumber party ate the big one. The other is now drying and will hang as an ornament in C's room for awhile.

Eight excited girls dug into the cake at C's slumber party last Friday night. It was a great success. They made a serious dent in it, and we sent some home with parents, but there's still plenty left!

4.06.2011

No April Foolin' Here ... Great Blog Review!

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a spike in Aesthetic Entanglementz readership on April 1 ... and then discovered the reason: AE received a blog review on the Simply Knitting website!

Read the complete review here.

I'm thoroughly flattered and humbled by this review -- especially considering how few blog reviews they've done and that Aesthetic Entanglementz is featured in the company of such high-impact blogs as Yarn Harlot and Wendy Knits. Thanks to Simply Knitting and reviewer Judy Darley for highlighting my work!

Simply Knitting is a United Kingdom-based magazine that has a great accompanying website with new features posted every weekday, great resources and knitting guides, and an awesome section called "The Making Place" that's loaded with free patterns and craft instructions.

I'm particularly smitten by the timely flurry of "Knit the Royal Wedding" activity. Simply Knitting has made these awesome Will and Kate patterns available for free:

This image belongs to Simply Knitting.  I can take no
credit for either the photography or the cool project
!

If you haven't ever checked out the magazine or its site, I encourage you to do so! Ravelers can join the Simply Knitting group.

3.08.2011

Challenge Socks #5: Get Smart Socks

Every time I look at these socks, all I can think is, "Missed it by that much!" Maxwell Smart eat your heart out. I'm considering starting a gallery of Get Smart Socks -- or even branching out with an entire Get Smart line of projects that just don't quite hit the mark.

Behold:



That's right -- they don't match properly. I had the hardest time splitting this skein! Right around the half-way mark the colors were variations on pinks, purple-pinks, pink-purples, etc, and without a hard line delineating the color changes... well... I messed up. If they weren't so clearly capable of having been matched better, it wouldn't bother me so much. These, though, pretty much scream, "So close and yet so far away!"

I actually bought this yarn in late February 2007. I remember vividly because I made J stop at Acorn Street Shop on the way home from UW Medical Center, where I'd just had surgery for kidney stones. You know how sometimes you think you're doing just fine but you're really totally looped out and it's a good thing they made you bring someone else to drive you home? Well that was me that day! I'd never worked with Noro yarn before. Didn't even have any in my stash. So when I saw this skein of Noro Kureyon Sock on sale, I bought it -- despite the fact that it really didn't look or feel like anything I would enjoy knitting.

And I didn't enjoy knitting them. Not one single moment. The yarn is miserable to work with! It's rough and scratchy. I actually developed callouses on the parts of my fingers and hands that made contact! Moreover, my hands were strained and achey every time I worked on these socks. Every stitch required extra effort. Turning the needles took extra effort. They seemed interminable! I don't know how many times I called my sister to say, "I really hate this yarn."

I found the inconsistencies in grist irritating more than charming. See that bit pooking out weird just below the yellow?


It's an ugh in my book. Pooking is definitely the right word for what it's doing, too. (Sorry I didn't bother to color-correct that picture.)

The parts I liked?

I appreciated the way the colors transitioned. It was interesting to watch as I knit... even as I ground my teeth at the mis-match. I also liked the heels.



For some reason, I really enjoyed the stitch definition and the way the reinforcing thread worked in with the Noro.



I used my beloved Eye of Partridge stitch. This time I put 2 stitches of garter on either side of the heel flap.  It's a neat look.

I really like the fact that they're done, too!

It may be debatable whether my Get Smart Socks can rightfully be counted towards My So-Called Sock Challenge, though. I started them quite some time ago and had worked them up to the point where the gusset starts before I set them aside for a long hibernation. When I pulled the partially knit pair out of my sock yarn stash on February 24 and decided I'd soldier on and finish them rather than frogging them and giving away the yarn, I honestly thought they'd only been hibernating since winter 2010. However, if my notes are correct -- and I'd bet money they are -- I actually cast these on back in February 2009. Read that again: 2009 -- TWO years ago!!! I rarely leave WIPS to languish like that. I did mention that I really hated knitting these socks, right?!

February 24 I picked them back up again. I blasted through the gusset, debated working the faster short-row heel but stuck with my trusted one to ensure these miserable things at least fit, stacked a 3 x 1 rib on top, and knit until I found a stopping point that had a color on the bind-off edge that at least was close if not a match.

So half the socks were done a long time ago. But even though I hadn't frogged them, they basically moved back into my thinking as stash yarn rather than WIP. I'm not playing my sock challenge by any rules other than that I need to use stash yarn and I need to knit at least 12 pairs in a 12-month period, so I've decided to count them.


My So-Called Sock Challenge Tally (as of 2.28.11):
Total: 5 pairs in 3 months

The Details:

Pattern: Mash-Up Magic Toe-Up Socks (designed by me)
Started: February 2009
Completed: February 28, 2011
Materials: Noro Kureyon Sock yarn in a Mork's suspenders-style colorway
Needles: US 1-1/2 / 2.5 mm
Gauge: 8 st/in
Primary Stitch Count: 64

The big question now is whether I'll wear them. They haven't been on my feet yet. I'm told the Noro softens with wearing and that I'll probably end up loving them more than the rest. Wouldn't that be something?! I'm open to that possibility so will keep an open mind. I'm also curious to see how the yarn holds up to wearing since it's not plied. Time will tell!

3.06.2011

Challenge Socks #4: Sleeping Socks For C, No. 2

When last we met the fourth installment of My So-Called Sock Challenge (a.k.a. Sleeping Socks for C, No. 2), I was second-guessing my yarn choice. As you may recall, I'd completed the toes before I realized that I was working with a thick-thin yarn that might not be sock-comfy.

On the advice of Shannon and some of my off-line knit compadres, I stopped second-guessing myself and just plain went for it. A mere four days from start to finish, my fourth challenge socks -- made to fit a child size 4 (that's 8 inches long and only an inch shorter than my own size) -- came screaming off the needles:


I had decided to call the handspun, of which I had just shy of 185 yards, Poisoned Apple as a nod to the fact that this project had seemed like it would be such a simple, quick, no-brainer but then I was zapped -- surprised by the reminder that I'd used this yarn to experiment with inconsistent grist. The other thing about this yarn is that I don't have a clue whether the wool is superwash or not. I'd purchased the roving from A New Yarn shortly before the shop went out of business, and it had come in as a donation with no label.

Of course, once I got past my hesitation of whether to continue using the Poisoned Apple handspun for sock, they really were a speedy knit. I didn't analyze yarn weight, but it's probably somewhere between Aran and worsted in the thick areas and between fingering and DK in the thin ones.


I stuck with simple stockinette and let the handspun do its thing. Ironically, the major color shift happened the same place on both socks. The yellow and dark green variations all landed in the space from the toe to the heel, and the brighter greens landed from the heel to the cuff. They're fraternal yet matched in an interesting way.

You may have noticed already that I veered from my standard sock preferences and put in a short-row heel rather than my favored turned heel with gusset.


What persuaded me to do such a thing?!

A reality check: These socks are meant for sleeping in; they're not being worn inside shoes or even on a person who will be upright much of the time they're on. Moreover, I had no intention of spending a lot of time on these socks -- especially considering that fact that if they aren't superwash, they might not have been the best choice for a sleep sock -- and short-row heels knit up more quickly than the heel-flap/gusset variety. The double-wrapped diagonal line is super thick in some places, but it did work quite nicely.

Finished off with a simple 2 x 2 rib cuff at ankle length, they now make a nightly appearance on the Girlio's feet.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to soldier on!

Pattern: Mash-Up Magic Toe-Up Socks (designed by Zhenya Lavy)
Materials: Poisoned Apple Thick-Thin Handspun, 183 yds, spun at my Mom's house in Ohio
Skein 1, 93 yds, spun and plied on my sister's Ashford Traditional, 1/27-28/10
Skein 2, 90 yds, spun on my sister's wheel and plied on my Spencer Parasol dropspindle, 1/29/10
Needles: US 4 / 3.5 mm
Gauge: 5 st/in
Primary Stitch Count: 36
Started: February 2, 2011
Completed: February 5, 2011

3.01.2011

Challenge Socks #3: Fascine-ation

I can't tell you exactly why it took me so long to post these socks; I can tell you that I absolutely adore them! I completed them exactly one month ago today and call them my Fascine-ation socks. A pattern is forthcoming.

The decorative stitch on these socks is quite wonderful. From a distance, it looks like a cabled braid:


But take a closer look and you discover that there's no cabling involved whatsoever!


The diagonal lines that your eye reads as crossed stitches have been created using the simple technique of slipping stitches that then get passed over newly knit stitches. It's ingenious, quick to work, and easy to execute without those pesky errors that creep in with some stitches just because you can't quite remember -- or figure out -- what row you're on.

To be clear, I'm not the clever knitter responsible for developing the Fascine stitch. As with so many other wonderful stitches, we have Barbara Walker to thank for bringing it to our attention. I think it's an absolutely perfect stitch to try with hand-dyed yarns that don't have long color repeats. The diagonal slip/passover breaks color lines and enhances the visual interest without overpowering the dyer's work.

The Fascine stitch's comparison to cables doesn't stop at resemblance. The stitch draws the fabric of the sock in for a nice, dense, foot-hugging fit. They're so comfortable that they may just be my favorite hand-knit socks to-date!


The basic sock construction follows the MUMTU recipe.  The decorative stitch begins on the top of the foot and extends up the leg for a long, lean look. As is my usual preference, I worked a traditional, turned heel with the Eye of Partridge on the heel flap.

I used Koigu PPM in browns and couldn't be happier with the results. This particular yarn is one of Koigu's more subtle in the nuances of its colorwork, with some areas containing delicate speckling that leaves me puzzled as to the dye technique. Whenever I buy Koigu, I look for colorways with this quality -- as far as I'm concerned, there is no more wonderful dye work done today.  (My Monkey socks were knit from a similarly scrumptious Koigu.) My only disappointment with this yarn was that there were two knots in one of the skeins. I'd not experienced that with Koigu before and was surprised to find the first, let alone a second.

After a 3/4-inch rib, I finished with Jenny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off:


In this application, the bind-off created an almost ruffled edge. This is because the bind-off's expansiveness gets doubly emphasized by the Fascine stitch's denseness. I imagine the bind-off would have the same impact coming off a cable. The ruffle disappears during wearing, though, so it's not something that could work as a design element.

Specs:

Pattern: Mash-Up Magic Toe-Up Socks (MUMTUS) by Zhenya Lavy
Decorative Stitch: Fascine Stitch worked over a 6-stitch repeat
Materials: Koigu PPM browns with a hint of orange
Needles: US 2 / 2.75mm
Gauge in Stockinette: 7.5 st/in
Primary Stitch Count: 60
Started: January 19, 2011
Finished: February 1, 2011

2.27.2011

On Blocking My Bridgewater

If ever there were a bad time to come down with the flu, it would be now. Here I am, two days into a terrible bout of blechghs that (if Mancub's progress is any indication) will stick around at least a week... and I am supposed to start back to work Wednesday after four months of parental leave. I'm not on my feet much right now, we'll see how I'm doing in a few days.

In my desperation to fully finish Bridgewater before returning to work, I blocked it today. Illness be damned!  

Allow me to share a few truths and thoughts culled from this experience:
  • My study is narrow; my Bridgewater is not. 
  • Finished dimensions: center garter section, 36" x 36"; total piece, 54" x 54" 

Yes, my study is that narrow! In fairness, it's lined on one side
by a wall of bookcases and on the other by a wall of deep cabinets.
  • Blocking a large lace piece on the floor while suffering a flu that includes impacted sinuses is painful and exhausting and decidedly not recommended.
  • Lace blocking wires are little miracles. It may take awhile to thread them onto the shawl, but it's nothing compared to the time you would spend pinning the whole thing! 
  • When blocking on the floor, it's best to have more than six inches of walking space around the item, not only so you can move your body but so you can manipulate the wires.
  • If your edge is longer than a single wire and you need to use two, don't bother with any of the tricks recommended to connect the wires (such as taping them). It just makes the stitches move less easily along the wire and doesn't yield enough benefit to be worth the aggravation.
  • Turn off that space heater! Otherwise the lace dries lickety-split before you get the wires set. You need all that wonderful dampness you spent 20 minutes soaking into it to hang around awhile.
  • A little lavender essential oil in the spray bottle when you re-moisten is heavenly!
  • Block in a space where it's possible to close the door and have everyone -- cats, dogs, kids, etc. -- forget it exists for at least 24 hours.
  • Insanity is not the answer. Leave your inner perfectionist at the door and allow that not every single line will be perfectly parallel/square/perpendicular/straight/whatever. Get the dimensions right; make it look good; do your best; be happy with your work. Remember that when the fabric's on your shoulders, you want it to move fluidly and defy the rigidity of the lines.
Someday soon I'll give Bridgewater a proper photographing. The beach towels and rug don't do it justice!

2.24.2011

Off The Needles!

Bridgewater is finished!

Actually, it was finished late Tuesday night, but I've had no opportunity to block or photograph thanks to the pleasant little virus that's held Mancub in its grips the last two days. By way of a teaser: It's oh-so pretty!

In other news, I'm in the process of writing up the pattern for Challenge Socks #3 and will blog and post the pattern for these amazingly cable-y non-cabled lovelies as soon as possible.

For now, back to my sick little guy and pleasant dreams for a better tomorrow.

2.19.2011

Hubris

Bridgewater "should" have been done three days ago. After having flown through the horseshoe lace section, which I completed Sunday night, and based upon my round speed at the largest perimeter, I figured I'd just need two days to crank out that cute little 13-stitch edging.

Right.

I'm five solid, heavy-knitting days (4+ hours each, with one double) into it.

It's kicking my butt.

Each side has 188 live stitches by the end of the horseshoe lace section. The edging section incorporates 1 edge stitch for every 2 rows knit. That means 376 rows per side. And taking into consideration the 16 rows at each corner, this "cute little edging" adds up to 1,568 rows... knit flat.

20,384 stitches in short little burst of rows. Very challenging to create the momentum that fosters stitch rhythm.

flip flop flip flop flip flop

It'll be beautiful when finished, but the way things look now -- at just one-third of the way through the third side -- I've got another three or four days to go. (If I can carve enough knitting time.)

2.16.2011

Rounding Up The Reinforcements

Today I had a nice exchange with Mingo08 on Ravelry. She wrote to ask about the Russian wool I mentioned using as reinforcing thread in yesterday's post about the Marshlands Lace Rib Socks. I've been meaning to blog about reinforcing thread, so I'm grateful to Mingo08 for her nudge!

I reinforce heels and toes in all socks I knit. "Always" -- which means it's my rule (but exceptions can be found).


Back when I first started knitting socks, I considered it mission critical to buy the little cards of reinforcing thread sold in a range of colors to match most yarns. I was in graduate school when the passion for sock knitting really took hold of me. And with a grad student's income, it wasn't long before I decided that, relatively speaking, reinforcing thread was expensive. Too expensive.

Pictured above are just the cards I have left. The sticker prices range from $2.50 to $3.50 per card (the last I bought would have been at least four years ago, so those are old prices). At two cards per pair of socks, reinforcing thread tacked an additional $10-$14 onto the cost of my "affordable little projects."



About four years ago, I picked up several skeins of Moscow Yarn Company's wool in two lace weights Ksenia (cobweb) and Lydia (even finer cobweb). I found them at A New Yarn, the non-profit yarn store I adored which sold both new and donated yarns -- you could find amazing things there until they closed in Spring 2009. I didn't have a project in mind, but at $1 per skein figured I'd come up with a nice shawl pattern someday. The wool went into my stash, where it sat for awhile.

One day I wanted to start a pair of socks but didn’t have matching reinforcing thread on hand. I was looking around for somethind else that might work and remembered the Moscow Yarn Company wool. At such a light weight and with a nice twist, it held up in comparison to the cards I did have on-hand and seemed like a good substitute.  

I've never looked back. The darker, Lydia, is my favorite. In fact, I use it pretty much exclusively now. And whenever I teach sock classes, I invite my students to wind off enough for their projects, too. It’s performed really really well and saved me a ton of money. I haven't even finished off one skein's worth yet. Plus, because it’s already put-up in a center-pull format, it’s really convenient for me to pack two skeins in with my sock project pack and just knit off what I need.

The darker grey color works equally well when in contrast to the base yarn...

On Stripes of Sunshine I experimented with reinforcing toes only 
so I could see how well the Eye of Partridge heel stitch 
holds up on its own. (The answer is "very well.")


I expected it to show up more and was surprised
by how little contrast it ended up having.

On the Twin Rib socks I made my Mom in December, 
the contrast is more apparent yet still looked 
as if it had been designed expressly to go with the Regia Bamboo.


... as when in harmony with the base yarn....

 I can't even see it on the Country Garden socks, can you?

 The only thing giving it away on the Marshlands Lace Rib is the denser fabric
where the reinforcing wool is used. I suppose you can see a hint 
as if outlining some of the lighter colored stitches on the heel.

It wears like iron. I haven't worn through any of the toes or heels on socks reinforced with it yet -- and unless I'm wearing gym shoes, the only socks that go on my feet are handknits. I may have mentioned before that as a die-hard fan of heeled boots, I'm pretty hard on my socks. Toes, especially.

But there’s nothing particularly special about the Moscow Yarn Company wool for reinforcing except that it's what I have in my knitting bag at all times and that the dark grey truly does blend nicely with everything I’ve made. I don't even bother to take this yarn out of my bag. It's always at-the-ready.

As far as I'm concerned, you could use just about any nice lace-weight wool and be happy with it. You probably have something sitting in your stash already that’s left-over from another project and more-than-enough to keep you in toes and heels for awhile. 

In fact, I have another couple of wools that I also picked up from A New Yarn once I figured out this little trick.


As you can guess, I haven't felt the need to use them yet, so I can't say how the 2/20 weaving worsted performs. I can say that the mustard one held up remarkably well to the playful assault of my cardboard-chewing cat, Mouse, when the tube skidded under the bed during the week of our move... although it did lose its label!