Saturday, September 30, 2006

SOCK HOP Choice & 10 More Things

I hit a couple of speed bumps in my plan to spin the yarn for my Sock Hop project. If all went well, I could have spun up a good 500 yards of fingerling and been ready to cast on tomorrow morning. Really, though, what was I thinking? One must expect the unexpected.

First, I gouged a fingertip with the orifice hook, which is a handy little tool for threading the yarn through to the spindle on the spinning wheel. Who knew that little hook on the end had such a sharp tip? Who knew that finger was such an essential tool in the spinning process? It hurt, and apparently it was my week to be a little whiney baby. With a key finger not functioning properly, I couldn't concentrate. My spinning technique sucked. I created a tangled mess of yarn any cat would be proud to claim.

Then that big strapping bull in the neighbor's pasture started flirting with my Jersey milk cow, bellowing sweet nothings across the fields. She got so hot and bothered she wiped out a 200-foot section of two-strand electric fencing in a successful attempt to break into the next closest pasture to that muscled hunk of beef. That took a while to repair, what with my finger still throbbing and all. Lottie Le Cow has been banished to the far end of the farm until the bull's scheduled sleepover later in October. After that, it was one stupid thing after another -- you know what I mean. We've all had weeks like this.

With the countdown to the October 1 ticking loudly in my mind, I turned to my stash for a Sock Hop project yarn. And really, whatever is a stash for if not to save us from a crisis like this? Surprisingly, it didn't take long to make a choice. In fact, I think it was fate. The right yarn lay in the first bin I opened, a tweedy brown fingerling Socka in 100 percent superwash that I've been hoarding for years, just waiting for the right project. I looked at it and just knew. Its time had come. (And yes, it would wear better with nylon in the blend, but if I think about that too much I'll waffle, get confused, and never get around to casting on.) The tweedy bits are clear blue, green, red, orange, green and yellow, which created a lovely speckled pattern in the gauge swatch I made last night. I'd share pictures, but first I need to borrow a neighbor's child to retrieve the charging cradle for the camera battery from behind my desk. It's a mission that requires contortions no middle-aged woman should attempt. (Like I said, one of those weeks).

And because Barbara's and Dallas' lists started me thinking along those lines, I thought I'd add the following.

10 Things I May Or May Not Have Mentioned Yet

1. My #1 rule about it knitting is pleasure – life’s too short to waste on hobbies I’m not enjoying.

2. Fiber sales are too tempting. Throw in free shipping, and I’m a goner.

3. I’ve learned and forgotten lots of techniques and tricks. My brain simply won’t go to the trouble of storing what’s easily looked up, so I always have to look up the instructions for double decreases, PSSO, kitchener’s stitch, etc.

4. I don’t work well from charts. Like Barbara, I don’t mind pages of instructions and can follow along happily. I can even look at the chart to help me visualize how the various elements of a lace or cabled pattern come together. Just don’t ask me to knit by the chart alone. It never works out well.

5. I knit to unwind. I find the rhythmic motion soothing.

6. Mistakes only count if they interfere with function or are so glaringly obvious as to be embarrassing. I’ll stop and think about HOW embarrassing before I decide whether to rip out and repair.

7. My hands ache if I haven’t knitted for several days. They ache if I spend too much time on the needles, too. Balance – that concept has always been a struggle for me.

8. I have needles in every size I’m likely to need, just in case.

9. I’m lazy about gauge and avoid doing a swatch whenever I dare. Usually, I’m on gauge with standard needles. My stitches tend to be tight on DPNs and loose on circs, which is why I didn't dare start the socks without first checking my gauge.

10. The only rooms in my house that currently contain no yarn, fleece, roving, knitting tools, or works-in-progress are the bathrooms, my husband’s office, and the pantry. The only room with no books is the pantry. (Is this normal?)

Friday, September 29, 2006

SOCK HOP: More Links

Rick Yune needs a pair of socks. (And maybe a sweater too.)

I cheated. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. It was wrong. I know it was wrong. But I cheated just the same.

I couldn't resist casting on THE Wendy's generic toe-up socks and playing with the double-wrap toes and heels. While playing I discovered that there are many ways in which a knitter can express herself with double-wraps . . . and get herself in trouble. So I did a little poking around and found some links you might like to add to your list:

1. Misocrafty - Short Row Heels and Toe Tutorial (based on THE Wendy's famous pattern)

2. Misocrafty - Turkish Cast-On (Magic Loop, two socks on one needle)

3. Knitty's Universal Sock Pattern (scroll down for some great hints on handling wraps)

4. Judy Gibson's "You're Putting Me On" Toe-Up Sock Pattern

This is a photo of the first pair of socks I knitted without a pattern. It was early last winter, late on a Sunday night. I was poking around the guest room (trying to ignore the yarn stash growing in the corner) when I saw two big fat squishy balls of Sirdar Highlander waving to me. They were a dark dark navy blue which, as we all know, is almost as good as black in Goldisox's mind. So I grabbed the yarn, swatched with some layabout Addis, and just launched myself into the unknown waters of patternless sockknitting. I think it was 40 stitches on #4US. My usual cuff down, k1p1 ribbing, stockinette leg and foot, heel flap and gusset construction. As plain and simple as you can get. I made them in two days (and I paid for it with hand and arm pain like you wouldn't believe) and they quickly became Goldisox's boot socks of choice and house socks of choice. Unbelievably cushy and warm and hard-wearing. One experiment that had a happy ending.

navyrib The ribbing

navytoe The grafted (Kitchenered) toes

navyheel The heel

What I'm saying is don't be afraid of socks! It's just yarn. It might snicker at you when you make a mistake (I've heard mine downright guffaw) but it won't slap your hand with a ruler or run off with Meg Swansen. If you don't like what you've created, rip it out and start all over again. Yarn is the ultimate renewable resource.

Completion Anxiety

'Nother newbie confession: I suffer with completion anxiety issues.

For me, it's impossible to begin a new project until the one already on the needles is completed. The same is true for me in writing. Nothing will make me crazier than having to stop working on the current book to put together a one page summary of the next book for my editor. Forget the fact that I usually don't have more than a glimmer of an idea for the next book and I need to be brilliant about this one page summary thing. Just asking me to step out of the story for even a brief period of time is enough to send me to the cookie jar in search of comfort.

When I delve into a project, whether it's a knitting one or a writing one, I'm obsessed with it. I'm like one of those squirrels busy, busy, busy collecting nuts and what not to survive through the long winter months ahead. I must continue onward, collecting every last stitch, or every last word, until the project is completed. It's a sickness, I tell you!

Hence my current sojourn into deep panic mode. Not only do I have my next romantic suspense novel due to my publisher in a matter of days and ?? more chapters to go until I reach The End, but I'm also determined to finish the sweater pictured above by this weekend. (As you can see I finally figured out how to get the pic from my phone to my computer!) It will make me crazy to start in on the Sock Hop project if I have an unfinished project on the needles. Oy! What's an anal retentive like myself to do?

Breathe, Jamie. Just breathe.
[insert several deep breaths]

I so want to participate in the Sock Hop next week. And I want to do so absolutely guilt-free! But I have a book to finish. Did I mention my characters aren't all that cooperative at the moment? That's another rant...uh, I mean, blog post.

Wish me luck [she begged, as she reached deep inside the cookie jar...] I know I can do this. Right?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

In Praise of Entrelac

I love entrelac.

First, when you say it, you sound French without even having to put on a fake accent.

Second, it looks really, really hard to do and it isn’t.

Third, it’s magic.

I say this because when I decided to take up knitting again about nine months ago, I wanted to make a shawl for my daughter, something I considered a relatively simple back-to-knitting project. The Nice Knitting Lady at my local yarn store showed me a whole book of shawls and, in all innocence, I picked the entrelac one because it was large and warm and I’m a sucker for anything that looks like latticework. She assured me that it was easy.

(Here's my daughter wearing her entrelac shawl.)

I started knitting the shawl in the store because there were some strange terms in the directions, such as “M1”, which I figured I’d need help with. But mostly I just followed the instructions slavishly without having any idea of what the stitches were supposed to be forming. All of a sudden I had a row of triangles. Where in the heck had those come from? Then I picked up some stitches and did some knitting together and--lo and behold!--I had a slanted rectangle attached to one of the triangles. Wow! It was magic.

Entrelac is a French term (duh!) which means interlaced. The pattern has other names such as basket stitch, trellis, lattice stitch or birch stitch but these are not nearly as sophisticated and cosmopolitan so I don’t use them.

(My latest entrelac project.)

It basically consists of a series of slanted blocks or rectangles framed by rows of triangles to give a straight edge. The finished project resembles a basket weave; it’s very three-dimensional. The pattern is amazingly easy to do and quite hypnotic. I consider entrelac my comfort stitch: interesting enough to hold my attention but not so hard that I end up cursing and frogging.

Entrelac can be done in garter stitch but is usually knitted in stockinette. It requires picking up stitches along one edge of one rectangle and then doing some knitting (or purling) together to slant it and attach it to the next rectangle. The end triangles are a bit more challenging but easily within a basic knitter’s grasp (once you get past the “M1”mystery).

I’ve seen entrelac patterns for afghans, sweaters, coats, vests, hats and, yes, socks! Some patterns turn it so that instead of being a diagonal pattern, it goes straight up-and-down. It’s particularly useful for using up odds and ends of yarn because you can get fabulous effects from knitting each row of rectangles in a different color. You can also felt it to create an intarsia argyle look although then you lose the three-dimensional lattice feeling.

So what’s your comfort stitch? What pattern makes you happiest?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

10 Knitterly Things Even I Didn't Know About Me - part deux

This is my current sock-in-progress: 72 stitches, US#1 Addi Turbos, Magic Loop, Austermann Step #04

1. I loathe knitting the first row of anything in the round. That's why I cast on both socks at the same time (not on the same needle) and get it over with in one swoop.

2. When I first started knitting again three years ago, I had no idea there was more than one way to cast on. I'd never seen or heard of long-tail or knitted or cable or provisional. The 'net opened up a world of knowledge for me.

3. While I'm hypercritical when it comes to my work (writing) I am embarrassingly lenient when it comes to my play (knitting or painting or whatever.) In fact, I'm so blind to my own faults that sometimes it takes me a year or so to realize that I should be ashamed of myself for ever sending certain garments on to unsuspecting friends. I have no discernment. No judgment. I'm so delighted to be creating something and so focused on the friend who's gonna get stuck with it that judgment flies right out the window on the wings of mushy sentimentality. Witness the Berroco side-to-side sweater I made for a best friend's granddaughter. Admittedly this picture doesn't do it justice (Joan Crawford was right: metal hangers just don't cut it) but this sweater was better suited anatomically to a baby orangutan, not a baby human. (Berroco Plush, I think it was, and one of their bobble carry-alongs.

4. I'm a sucker for hot pink and pumpkin orange. Especially together. Not to mention those gorgeous hand-paints in deep cobalt blue and peacock and rich clear purples.

5. I love lace. I tried lace. I wanted to stick my head in the microwave and wait for my brains to explode. That's how much I hated knitting lace.

6. Like Dallas, I almost always get gauge. In fact, I got gauge on that awful piece of merde on the left. It's Lucy Liu, a free pattern on the Berroco website. Zen Colors, a ribbon yarn. So ugly. I can't begin to tell you how ugly it was. I finished the back and knew that if I went any further I'd probably give up knitting forever. Can you say "frog pond"?

7. I don't want to walk, read, drive, or even talk a lot while I knit. I just want to knit when I knit and let my mind float free. I'm an all or nothing kind of girl and I have to keep knitting strictly compartmentalized or it will take over my life the way my stash has taken over our (very big) house.

8. I don't enjoy my LYS. I'd rather buy on-line than go there. Guess I'm more of a stealth knitter.

9. I crochet at the speed of light. (I could give Lily Chin a run for her money.) However I knit at a more measured pace. (Okay, I'm slow.)

10. Charts make my eyes cross but ten pages of written K1 P3 YO K2TOG are clear as a first grader's reader. (I think this is because I grew up working crochet patterns and they were always written in text.)

Thanks for the meme, Dallas! I had fun . . . although maybe not quite as much fun as our boys Pierce and Liam did. Dancing With The Stars, anyone?

(PS to Nancy: I give up. You can have 'em both!)

10 Knittery Things You Didn't Know About Me

I ran across this meme on Grumperina's blog and decided to play along. Really, it's kind of unfair since, although I've knitted off and on since I was knee high to a grasshopper, I've only been blogging about knitting for a week or so. Ten knittery things? I could probably come up with a lot more than that but here's ten that come to mind.

1. I'm a Rowan slut. I love just about every Rowan yarn I've ever fondled and I've fondled plenty. Okay, there was that odd paper yarn. I can't claim to have loved that one. But other than that, I'm one of their biggest fans. I love KidSilk Haze in all it's flyaway, slip off the needles fussiness. And how can you not love Yorkshire Tweed? It's got a wonderful, earthy feel yet knits up with a certain refinement that makes me think of English country houses, Wellingtons and dogs with floppy ears. I could go on and on but let's just say that Rowan has my heart - and a good chunk of my pocket book.

2. My favorite yarn color is a particular shade of summer sky blue. I gravitate to it in yarn stores and have been known to ogle yarns I wouldn't dream of knitting with, just because they're the right, seductive shade of blue.

3. I like complicated projects. Fancy lace, cables that look like the Gordion knot, shaped darts - the more intricate the project, the more likely I am to be drawn to it.

4. I never have less than ten projects going at the same time and the number is usually closer to twenty. I'd like to say there's some plan behind this but the truth is, I can rarely resist the urge to start an interesting new project. I've been known to go out and buy new needles because the size I want is already in another project. Which leads me directly to:

5. I currently have eight pairs of socks on the needles. Since I knit with one circ, that's a whole boatload of Addi Turbos currently occupied by socks.

6. I rarely go anywhere without a project in hand. I knit standing in line at the post office. I knit in theaters. I knit at stop lights. I make it a point to have at least one small project - a sock or hat - at a mindless knitting point so I've always got something to grab on the way out of the house.

7. Unlike Claudia, I'm a sucker for sales. Tell me a yarn is disconintued and fifty percent off and I'm immediately panting to buy twenty skeins. This has led to some less than useful stash acquistions but, on the positive side, if there's ever a sudden shortage of yarn, I could knit out of my stash for the next fifty years so I choose to look on it as my version of survivalist planning. The dark ages may return but I'll still have yarn.

8. I don't mind knitting things that will never be used. Lace shawls are a perfect example. I knit them but I'm not much inclined to wear them. I don't mind. They can live in drawers along with the all the quilts I've made and never used.

9. I knit almost exculsively on circs. Addi Turbo is my preferred brand though I've got a really interesting new glass needle from Sheila Ernst that looks poised to become another favorite.

10. I've never had to go up or down a needle size to get gauge, if I'm using the same yarn called for in the pattern. I've always hit gauge on the suggested needle size. I'm not sure if that makes me a freak or just really lucky.

So, ten knittery things about me. Anyone else want to play?


Yes, Stephen Colbert needs a pair of socks too. I have no idea how Mrs. Colbert feels about this.

If you're still thinking about the Sock Hop, what to knit, how to knit, why to knit, here are some links that might help:


Simply Sock Yarn



Lisa Souza

Blue Moon Fiber Arts (Socks That Rock)


THE Wendy's Provisional Crochet Cast-On (and more)

Knitty Magic Cast-On for Toe-Up Socks

Queen Kahuna's Aloha Cast-On

Turkist Cast-On

Knitting At Knoon Video Demos

Silver's Sock Class


Mini Short Row Gusset and Heel Flap (scroll down)

THE Wendy's Sock Pattern (great heel instructions)


Easier Kitchener

Round Toe

Sock Toe Chimneys

Do you have any great sock links to share?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sock Hop Knitalong (and an FO)

The black Fixation Bulky socks are finally finished! I wove in the last stray piece of yarn last night, washed them, dried them, and today they are gracing Goldisox's (too big) feet. I stretched them out on the scanner bed to capture them for posterity but they were much longer than the legal-sized surface so you'll just have to imagine them in all of their boring boring boring glory. Don't get me wrong: I love the way they turned out and I especially love that he loves the way they fit but there is nothing pretty about knitting with black rope. Even if it's stretchy rope.

I've finished ribbing and 1" of leg on one of the Austermann STEP socks (#04 Night Blue or something like that -- very greyed blue) and ribbing plus 4" on the other. Again not a vibrantly exciting palette but lovely yarn to work with even if it is a tad too splitty for my taste. I do think they'll make gorgeous socks, however.

Which leads me to the Sock Hop Knitalong which begins a week from today. (If you haven't entered the contest, stop reading right this minute and click on the CONTEST button in the upper righthand corner of your screen. We'll wait.) There are so many different socks I want to try but I've narrowed it down to two.

1. I'm definitely going to cast on for THE Wendy's toe-up generic pattern. Probably in SOCKS THAT ROCK's "Lucy" colourway but I might change my mind and switch yarns since right now "Lucy" seems to be calling out to be a spiral tube sock. I might break out the breathtaking Lisa Souza (a gifted, gifted fiber artist) "Mahogany" colourway. (I owe THE Wendy for introducing me [and the rest of her readership] to these magnificent yarns.) (Should we be calling this THE Wendy-thon??)

2. I can't seem to resist the "Dad's Easy Cable Socks" in SOCKS SOCKS SOCKS, my absolute favorite sock book. A simple cable that you could do without a cable needle, semi-bulky yarn--what's not to like?

(Note: I'm trying desperately to post more pictures but Blogger is giving me trouble.)

HINTS: If you haven't visited designer Dawn Brocco's site site you should. She has some terrific sock patterns there for purchase and download. There's the popular Scrumptious Shag Socks and lots more on her comprehensive sock page. I'm dying to make the felted boot/slippers with the fold-down cuff.shag No, this isn't a photo of the boot/slippers. This is the Scrumptious Shag.

(And I know this has absolutely nothing to do with socks but I fell head-over-heels in love with her Watermelon Baby Blanket. watermelonbb.jpgThis is too adorable for words.

Lion Brand has some great free sock patterns too. So does I've pretty much determined that sock patterns are just about everywhere these days if you know where to look on the internet.

We're not going to open a separate Yahoo! mailing list for the Sock Hop but encourage you to share your sock stories and photos right here. I'll open up a new post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, just so you can have a current place to talk about socks and share experiences. I'll also give you an email address where you can send me photos, links, anything you'd like me to post in the blog itself. Sock-related, of course! (Only we get to post the photos of the half-naked men . . . )

Speaking of which: tayediggs1.jpg

Imagine Taye Diggs, fabulous star of stage (RENT) and screen (CHICAGO) and television. Imagine that Taye needs a pair of socks because his wife (the brilliant Tony award-winning Idina Menzel of WICKED) is too busy to knit him some. (She must've caught it from Natasha Richardson Neeson . . . )

Do you have your pattern picked out? Did you buy your yarn and needles? The (stress free deadline free) Sock Hop Countdown is underway!

Fair Isle Love Affair

You may recall my silliness and whining two short weeks ago of my fear of circular needles. I was so afraid of those little wonders but desperately wanted to try my hand at a Fair Isle sweater for one of my granddaughters.

Well color me over my fear! Not only did I rush right out and buy the required supplies (a gorgeous creme for the body and a lovely deep rose for the pattern), but I'm thrilled to report that circular knitting was just as easy as y'all told me it would be! I really need to stop being such a weenie.

I'm working on the sweater pictured here. I did take a photo of my progress with my camera phone, but for some reason I can't seem to transfer said pic from my phone to my computer today, so alas, there is no photo to show off.

The body portion is completed and I'm about to begin the second sleeve (on dpns, no less!). I'm smokin' now! Dpns and circulars. Who would've thought?

Once the second sleeve is complete I'll begin on the yoke. I'm so enamored with the ease of this pattern and the use of circular needles, I went out this past weekend for a little bit of fresh air combined with much needed retail therapy at my local yarn shop where I purchased more yarn to make a similar sweater for one of my other granddaughters. This one will be in a very pretty dusty deep lavendar color with white for the pattern portion. Once that one is complete, I'll one more girl sweater to knit before the holidays and two more boy sweaters so my grandbabies in ND and WI will be assured a warm and cozy winter.

But uh, oh! Not all is rosy on the sweater front. A new challenge to overcome awaits me in this Fair Isle business. But in all seriousness, I'm not too awful worried. Sure, I'll be attempting two colors for the first time ever and will have to follow an actual pattern. Being a long time cross-stitcher, the pattern portion of the sweater doesn't cause me too much panic. The thought of knitting with more than one color does however cause the tiniest frission of fear to give me a case of the willies. And I do have to remember to read the pattern portion "backwards," which might cause a few headaches.

I shall overcome. I know I will. And hopefully by the time I post again, I'll have figured out the phone to computer glitch thing, my current deadline will be behind me and I'll have started on the second sweater.

Wish me luck!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Argyle Socks and Family Secrets

You've seen that argyle sock before. My mother knitted it some fifty years ago but she never knit the mate. Maybe the argyle fad had finally faded away (I don't know why; I love them) and she decided it wasn't worth the dpn time. Or maybe my father hadn't expressed the proper appreciation for the pairs that came before this one and she decided to turn her needle love toward her only child. Who knows? Whatever the reason, that sock is the last of its breed.

A friend of mine got blindsided this weekend by Family Secrets. I don't know what they were but I do know she's hurting. I also know exactly how she's feeling. My parents died in 2001. In the five months between my mother's death and my father's, I learned things I hadn't even suspected about my family. (How would you like to find out that your grandmother [and everyone else] had hidden a husband from you and that hidden husband was your biological grandfather? And that's just for starters.)

The thing is, do we really know the people we love? Can we ever know them? Another friend said to me once, "I know everything there is to know about my mother. No surprises there." And yes, ultimately the surprise was on her when the secrets came rushing out.

The mother-daughter dynamic is a complicated one. We are assigned roles within the family at birth and fifty years later there we are, still playing by the rules. Not asking the tough questions. Accepting the easy answers. Wondering how all these dramas manage to play out in plain sight without us even noticing.

I mean, why didn't I ever ask my mother how to knit in the round? It's okay if you laugh. I know that sounds crazy and maybe it is.
But the fact remains that for fifty years my mother was the one who did circular knitting and I was the one who wondered how she did it.

I never asked. She never volunteered. Within our family dynamic, she was The Knitter and I was The Crocheter and never that particular twain shall meet. Why didn't I ask? Would the earth have stopped spinning on its axis if I had? Would she have disowned me? Of course not. She would have sat me down and taught me the basics and I would have either picked up on it right away or pushed it aside and said it wasn't for me. Either way we would have been fine.

Or would we? There's the question. With mothers and daughters you never quite know how it will play out. When our pooches needed new sweaters, it was my mother who whipped out the double points then whipped up the garments while I watched in awe. I was happy with the status quo. We both probably were but, since I never asked, I'll never really know.

So many questions I wish I'd asked. The huge box of haute couture Barbie Doll clothes she hand-sewed for me one magical Christmas. The afghans scattered around my house. The hooked rugs. The oils and watercolors. The secrets she held closer than close.

I was thinking about my friend last night and her own family secrets as I rummaged through my mother's tiny knitting box in search of the fifth double point so I could scan the images. Bobbins wound with colorful yarn. Half-skeins of pale yellow and mint green. And one tapestry needle threaded with wool the color of a rainy day.

Sometime in the early 1950s in the Borough of Queens in NYC my mother threaded that needle then tucked it away in her knitting box. Fifty years later in central NJ I found that threaded needle and wished with all my heart I could have five more minutes with the woman who held the secret to the argyle socks.


The OFFF Report

No, my finger didn't get stuck on the F key. OFFF is the Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival, an annual event in these parts. It was held this past weekend and my experience can be summed up quite simply:

I went, I saw, I bought lots of yarn.

Blue Moon Fiber Arts was there and I got to see the Lucy yarn in the wild. I don't know why that seemed more suprising than having it arrive in my mail box but it did. It was like stumbling across a familiar friend in an unfamiliar place. Need I tell you that I bought several skeins of Socks that Rock?

For those STR junkies out there, from left to right, we have: Christmas Rock; Falcon's Eye; Coral; Kryptonite; Brick; Gold Nugget; Rocktober; Sun Stone. Lying across the top is Seduction in the Mermaid colorway. This is a Merino/tencel blend. I've been reading about this blend lately but haven't tried it yet. The ladies at Blue Moon said that the tencel, which is a wood by-product, is very strong and the yarn wears well.

I also bought two huge skeins of a gorgeous dark teal mohair/silk blend worsted weight yarn from Blue Moon but that was Saturday and today is Monday and I can't remember where I put it so no photos. You'll just have to take my word for it that it's gorgeous. I think they said this was a close-out but can't remember for sure. Either way, the price was very reasonable and I've got a couple thousand yards of pretty yarn to play with.

Interlacements was the other booth that left my credit card melting around the edges. Interlacements is one of my favorite of the smaller yarn companies. (Are they artisanal dyers? Like the artisanal bakers that are cropping up everywhere?) They have a wonderful selection of yarns and Judy Ditmore's color sense is simply wonderful. I have quite a bit of their yarn and all of it's gorgeous.

This time around, I bought a hank of Toasty Toes, their sport weight sock yarn in the most wonderful mossy green. My mediocore picture does not even begin to catch the depth and richness of this color. Think deep forest glades lit by dappled sunlight. It's breathtaking. This is destined to be either something with cables or my third version of Faina's Scarf.

They had a stunning sweater knit up in this yarn. It's called Squirrel Monkey and it's an interesting combination of cables and openwork. I can't tell you how beautiful it was knit up in this mossy green, which is mostly solid but with that wonderful mottling that hand-dyed yarns have. But what was really shocking to me was how heavy it was. It weighed a ton. It made me really aware of what a full out aran sweater must weigh and how little use I'm likely to get out of it. That won't stop me from making one because what does good sense have to do with knitting? But at least I'll know going into it that it's not likely to get heavy use.

Also at Interlacements was a rayon boucle yarn called Ric Rak. The display was gorgeous but, for my tastes, this teeters on the edge of being a novelty yarn so I wasn't in any particular danger of buying it until I fondled a vest they had on display. The vest itself is a simple, asymetrical number - nice but maybe not my style - but the fabric was simply fabulous. Knit up in a slip stitch pattern on size 7 needles, this relatively skinny yarn turns into something silky and beautiful with a fabulous drape. And the colors, as always with Judy's yarns, are wonderful. She had so many beautiful combinations in this particular yarn that I probably spent twenty minutes trying to decide which one I wanted.

There were a few other purchases that I didn't get around to photographing - some gorgeous chocolate colored alpaca, a glass circular knitting needle and it's possible that I bought a little more sock yarn because a girl can never have too much sock yarn, right? I'll tell you about the glass circ when I've had a chance to try it out a bit more. It looks very intriguing.

I also wandered through the sheep barns and ogled the alpacas. Is there any animal on the planet with bigger, softer eyes than an alpaca?

In other knitting news, in a moment of insanity, I cast on for Lizard Ridge, the blasted Kureyon afghan in the new issue of Knitty. I don't know how it happened. I had no intention of starting this now but, last night, I found myself with needles in hand and it's like eating potato chips. I keep wanting to knit just one more set of short rows. It's not fast and, at first, I found the whole short row thing very confusing but by the time I'd finished the first repeat, I had figured out how it worked and the pace picked up. I need another project like I need another hole in the head. How did this happen?

Photo Op ...

This is a recently-finished felted purse sitting on a piece of the lining I used. I took the photo on my new camera phone and am trying to see if I can mount it on the blog. Hope this works!

I made the purse from Noro Kureyon - what else? - then trimmed a piece of plastic canvas for the bottom and sewed it in by hand before lining it with some great material I got on sale at Hobby Lobby. Does anyone else line their felted purses?

My next project is socks. For the Sock Hop, of course. But I'm stymied about what yarn to buy. All suggestions welcome!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I'm So Sorry

I'm just apologizing up front for the gratutious temptation I'm about to post. I got my first order from the new Patternworks catalog today. Note that I'm already acknowledging that this is the first order. I'm not even going to pretend that there won't be more to follow.

First of all, there is the kit for the Jewel Socks. I'll pause while you admire the picture. Aren't these fabulous? Look at the way the colors shade from toe to cuff and the nifty black framing on the diamonds. And they're stranded so they'll be soft and cushy on your tootsies.

The package says these are for experienced knitters. I've used stranded knitting on one tote bag. Do you think that's enough experience?

If you're not reaching for your catalog, your phone and your credit card already, don't breathe a sigh of relief yet.

How about the 50s V-neck sweater I mentioned last week? This is from Jo Sharp's Knit Issue 1. To my mind, this is a perfect example of a classic sweater. This is the kind of thing that endures through all fashion fads. It looks great with jeans or with a narrow little skirt. (That's assuming you can actually wear a narrow little skirt without looking like your butt is six ax handles and a plug of chewing tobacco across, which I can't but for those of a skinnier persuasion, this would be a great look.) It looks great in any color and, unlike that skinny little skirt, the sweater actually looks good on a pretty wide variety of body types. It skims rather than clings so it emphasizes curves without adding inches and that lovely v-neck creates a graceful frame for the face.

(As an aside: Why aren't there more v-neck sweater patterns out there?)

Lest I lead you astray, I do have to admit that this sweater has one serious drawback. It's knit in a sport weight yarn on U.S. size 3 needles. And it's all stockinette or ribbing. Let's have a moment of silence while we contemplate the sheer horror of that thought. Seven million stitches - a rough but I think reasonably fair estimate - on little bitty needles doing mind numbingly simple stitches. Obviously, only a knitter of dubious mental stability would actually start a project like this.

[Insert embarrassed pause.]

I just ordered the yarn in a lovely soft green. But I'm going to attempt to convert it to knitting in the round so instead of knitting back and forth for eight million stitches - yes, my estimate is growing - I'll be knitting round and round. So I may be nuts but I'm not stupid.

And last, but not least, how about this pattern from Classic Style, a new book from Rowan. I don' t usually go for boleros. I'm not sure why but they've just never really buttered my muffin. This one, however, seems to have all the best things about a bolero - that graceful curved line, the inherently feminine shape - and have a little extra length and a particularly soft drape to it that I just think is very flattering. The original yarn is Rowan's gorgeous new Wool Silk DK but I've got some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino in a wonderful duck egg blue that looks like it would be perfect for this.

And those are just the three worst tempations. There's a darling vest in the Rowan book and a couple of nice cardigans and another v-neck sweater in the Jo Sharp book and I got a pattern for a Nordic hat and a lace shawl pattern and...

Sigh. There are just way too many neat patterns out there and way too much pretty yarn. I've just got to find a way to knit in my sleep.

The Anti-knitting Project

You know how life is supposed to be a voyage of self-discovery? Well, I’ve discovered that I hate to paint. Here’s why:

1) Spackle and blue tape. You can’t just pick up a paint brush and start swiping on color. First, you have to fill in all the nail holes from the pictures that used to hang on the walls. Then you have to put blue painter’s tape all over the window panes, and along the edge of the trim and anywhere else you don’t want the paint to go. After you’ve painted the walls, you have to take the blue tape off the trim and put more blue tape along the edge of the walls. If you have two colors of wall paint (which of course my daughter chose to do), you have to tape one wall, paint the other, then tape the first wall and paint the second. Are you following me? That doesn’t include hinges, doorknobs, wall switches, electrical outlets, light fixtures, etc.

2) Plastic drop cloths. These are great until you drop paint on them. The paint you drip on plastic doesn’t dry so you end up stepping in it and tracking it all through your house. Or the drop cloth gets folded under somehow and the paint goes on the hardwood floor you were trying to protect from it in the first place.

3) Two coats. You have to paint the same darned wall twice—at least. I hate doing anything twice. It’s boring.

4) Clean up. You can’t just leave everything where it is when you quit for the day (like you can with knitting or writing). You have to seal up paint cans, clean out paint trays, wash rollers and brushes and yourself and your clothes. Fortunately, a painter friend clued me into one very useful secret: wrap your brushes in tin foil and put them in the freezer overnight. The paint doesn’t dry and you don’t have to clean them every day. That saved my sanity during this project.

In the end my daughter’s room came out looking like a wonderfully cozy robin’s egg. Feast your eyes on the photo because the room will never, ever look this pristine ever again.

One handy side effect of finishing the project (other than getting to go back to knitting and writing), is that the moment Darling Daughter saw the painted room, she started packing up her old room, something I’d been trying to get her to do for weeks.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Wow, I really need to dust...

To provide some perspective about the whole sheep to sock process, I thought I'd document and share my progress from start to finish. I took pictures of Baby BunBun, the sweet Satin angora rabbit who earlier this summer donated a copious amount of fluffy gray fiber. BunBun's shy and wriggly, so those photos didn't turn out well. I'll try again another day when my daughter's here to help.

I pulled out the box of Cotswold wool and the bag of angora. I dug through the baskets of wool in the living room for an empty spindle to spin the yarn onto and, darn it, there weren't any. I had one type of singles wool or another on every spindle. So, I wound a bit of Shetland singles on the ball winder, which freed up one spindle. I slipped that one into place on the spinning wheel and began plying strands of Manx Loughton singles wool from the two remaining spindles that work with this spinning wheel. The result is a moderately soft two-ply yarn about worsted weight. When I had a good amount on the spindle, I took this picture and uploaded it to the computer.

That's when I noticed the dust. Oh my. A few tweaks of the shadows and highlights in a photo-editing program made much of the evidence disappear. Wish that would work in the living room.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Cable Cast Ons and Live Stitches, Oh, my!

I get the newsletter and fell in love with the Fetching wrist warmers that was in a recent issue. Since I usually set aside September, October and November (okay, and December) as my Christmas knitting marathon, I usually spend the summers trying out patterns that might make good gifts for that broad base of friends, teachers, editors, agents, assistants, aunties and all the others who I like to give a small, handmade holiday "thank you" to. I've done hats, (one year knitting close to 40 hats in three months) purses, socks, and this year, I'm thinking gloves and wrist warmers. So when I saw the Knitty pattern, I decided to give it a test run.

A test run is essential--because if you are going to commit to a pattern, you better be darn sure it is going to be something you want to knit several times, and is fast and easy, and the yarn easy to work with. Last years' Lion Brand Cozy Slipper Socks are a perfect example of a great project that provides a quick gift and is fun to make.

But the Knitty pattern had two things that sort of stopped me in my tracks: A cable cast on, and "live stitches" for the thumb hole. Huh? Never one to shy away from learning new knitty skills, I printed out the cast on instructions I found on Knitty and off I went on vacation.

Okay, note to self: check what comes out of the printer before leaving on vacation to make sure you have ALL the instructions. Which I didn't. Thankfully, Seaside, Oregon has a wonderful yarn shop, where I went and peeked into my favorite knitting reference book, The Knitter's companion. Fortified with the knowledge, and two skeins of Debbie Bliss that I purchased there, I tried a cable cast on. Three attempts later, I got it, which I say proudly, because doesn't it always feel good to teach yourself (albeit with some printed help) a new skill? And I like it as a cast on, so it is definitely one I want to keep in knitting repretoire.

But those live stitches still stared me in the face. First you have to knit in waste yarn. Which I did. And then once you get the entire thing done, you pick out the waste yarn, leaving live stitches.

That's the nerve wracking part. Live stitches--just waiting to unravel. But carefully, I put them on needles and knit the thumb holes. Four more rounds and the wrist warmer was finished

Verdict: Great quick project that is easy and fun to do. Just enough skill work (cables and ribbing) to make it interesting, but not so hard that anyone couldn't do it. Here's my caveat though: The pattern says it can be done with one skein of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran. Well, yes. But to finish the first pair, I had to short the last thumb two rounds, and was using a piece I'd cut from a leftover scrap of tail to finish it. So make sure you keep your tails VERY short, and don't knit any extra rounds.

So has anyone else started their holiday knitting and what are your favorite quick and easy patterns for great gifts?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

This 'n that

If certain people don't stop talking about all those lucious yarns, I'm going to have a breakdown. I want them all, one of each at the very least.

In the interests of maintaining control, I decided to visit my stash so I could fall in love again with all my lucious fibers and stop wanting more. So I checked it out. All of it. Attic. Closets. The trunk in the bedroom. The baskets scattered here and there throughout the house. It was a glorious afternoon.

I'd been thinking of spinning a sock yarn for our Sock Hop in October, a blend I've been contemplating for a while. And that, of course, required a search of the stash for the (very big) bag of washed Cotswold fleece.

I found the Cotswold and had a lovely time petting it, combing out a lock, finger spinning it in consideration of the possibilities...and I found the bag of sock yarn I thought would make a good backup in case my spinning experiment doesn't work out. I started to inventory the stash, but it just got embarassing. Especially when I realized I still want, want, want.

A few years ago I was at a fiber festival, drooling over a display of shetland fleeces in a booth manned by a couple of gentlemen I recognized as the spouses of two avid spinners. I exclaimed over the quality and beauty of the fleeces, but added that 'I shouldn't, I have so much already stuffed in every closet.'

The response? 'Haven't you heard? She who dies with the most wool wins.'

Friday, September 15, 2006

Don't They Ever Stop Talking About Yarn?

Yes, the rumors are true. Barbara does sleep with the Patternworks catalog under her pillow.

And yes, that's Goldisox walking away from their car. Notice that they are the only people in the vicinity. Let's just say (in Barbara's excitement) they got there a wee bit early.

From Barbara to Dallas:

It's too much. A girl can hold out just so long before she loses her head and gives in to temptation.

I can stay away from eBay if I have to. I've even been good at controlling my Elann addiction lately. (If we don't discuss the huge stash of Micro Stretch, Micro Cable, Micro Everything I have hidden away.) (We don't count sock yarn, right?) And look at how I managed to push WEBS out of my mind (after buying up Tahki Cotton Classic for the Log Cabin I'm dying to start.) (That was August's knitting obsession. It's September now. Why haven't I cast on yet?) And Knit Picks and Woodland Woolworks and --

Anyway, the point is I'm trying to shop my stash and steer clear of fiber occasions of sin and I've been doing a pretty good job of it but as of right now all bets are off.

Did you SEE the new Patternworks Catalog? I mean, a new Patternworks catalog is always a moment of near-religious significance to me. (Remember the trip I made to the Source of All Things Beautiful two years ago?) (A wall, an entire wall of Koigu PPPM!) Maybe I could have resisted its lure. Maybe I just might have been able to flip through the pages, sigh longingly, and toss it into the recycle bin if I hadn't made the fatal mistake of checking out their new line of Patternworks yarn and I saw it.

Bretton. They named a sock yarn Bretton. My last name is Bretton and I am a sock knitting addict.

It's Karma, right? La forza del destino. The flying fickle finger of fibery fate.

Now I know how Lucy feels.

$$ $$ $$ $$ $$ $$ $$ $$ $$ $$ $$

From Dallas to Barbara:

If you're looking to me to preach yarn buying restraint, you're talking to the wrong girl. I just spent an entire afternoon rearranging one closet full of stash so that I could at least open the door without courting death by wool avalanche.

I'll see your yet-to-be-started Log Cabin and raise you five hat projects, eight unstarted sweaters, six tote bags that will someday be felted and I don't think I can count high enough for the scarves I've got planned. (Do not mention the sock yarn. Everyone knows sock yarn doesn't count as part of the stash.)

Remember how Patternworks forgot me last time? The only catalog I got was a spare that you sent me. After yesterday's close encounter with way too much yarn, I was half hoping they'd forget me again this time. The last thing I need is more tempation. Wouldn't you know, I got a catalog today and all I can say is 'Help!'.

The Jewel Sock Kit, the 50s V-neck sweater in alpaca silk Georgette, the Rowan Silk & Wool vest with nifty little lacy inserts and the Bretton yarn - how could I resist that? I'm hyperventilating just thinking about all the things I want. Never mind that I already have more projects than you can shake a knitting needle at - 18 started projects, for crying out loud!

I must learn to knit in my sleep. That's the only way I'll be able to get through even half of the projects I want to make.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

We're hip!

I got my recent issue of Publisher’s Weekly, the publishing industry’s Bible, and gasped at the title of the cover story: “A Knitter’s Tale: From trendy to hip. Now what?” Trendy? Hip? Did you know we were trendy and hip? This has got to be a first in my life.

Evidently knitting began to take hold about six years ago in the hobby and crafts publishing category. No one knows why but it quickly became “the new yoga”. Fashion designers and celebrities like Uma Thurman (see my blog on July 18th) and Julia Roberts took up their needles. Tracey Ullman co-authored a knitting book. Even men got into the act (3% of knitters are male) with books such as Knitting with Balls and Men Who Knit and the Dogs Who Love Them. (Now there’s a niche market.)

In 2002 13% of women ages 25-34 knitted; by 2004, that figure had more than doubled to 33%. Notice the age group being counted and courted. When you read the titles of recently released knitting books, you begin to understand the hip and trendy thing. Never Knit Your Man a Sweater: Unless You’ve Got the Ring. Naughty Needles: Sexy, Saucy Knits for the Bedroom and Beyond. DomiKNITrix: Whip Your Knitting into Shape. And of course the phenomenon that launched the whole hipster knitting trend: Stitch’n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook.

According to PW, these sorts of books feature projects such as knitted boxer shorts and a punk toilet-paper cozy with a fuchsia yarn Mohawk as well as iPod cases and cell phone covers. (What? No socks?! These young, hip knitters are really missing something.)

There is speculation that this market has “matured” since the younger demographic is famous for going on to the next fad. On the other hand, they’ve gotten better at knitting so they may want more sophisticated projects, thereby creating a demand for more books. PW wonders which trend will prove dominant and whether these new knitters will stick with their craft.

So what do you think? Is “hip” knitting just a trend or is it here to stay? Once you started knitting, were you hooked for life?

While you’re answering that, I’m going to track down the pattern for that toilet-paper cozy….

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The first pair

You're looking at the very first pair of knitting needles I ever owned. Size 7 aluminum needles, approximately 12 inches long. I purchased them at the local Woolworth's when I was in seventh grade. I won't say how long ago that was, except since Woolworth's was still around, you can surmise it was a while ago.

When I was in seventh grade my teacher taught everyone in the class to knit. For weeks boys and girls alike could be seen on the playground with balls of yarn and pairs of needles. I am sure many a life-long knitter was made that year.

With these needles I knit slippers for everyone in my family, from a pattern given to me by my teacher -- which I still have. I then learned to knit mittens and devised a pattern of my own for doll-sized mittens, to which I attached a string and sold for 25 cents each to classmates. For weeks in the fall of 8th grade practically every girl in school wore one of those little mittens around her neck. We kept quarters in them.

I made a tidy profit and used the money to buy more yarn.

I seldom use these needles anymore. They're too short for large projects and too big a gauge for most of the small projects I've tackled lately. They would be nice for a scarf, I think. Of some funky, fun yarn. Even if I never use them again, I smile every time I look at them.

I'd like to thank my teacher, whereever she is today. The sad thing is, I cannot remember her name. That was a traumatic year for me and I have lost large parts of it -- including the dear lady's name.

Thank goodness I didn't forget the knitting.


He's been nominated for an Oscar. He looks great in a kilt. He's married to Natasha Richardson, related to Vanessa Redgrave and Lynn Redgrave by marriage, and he still can't afford a pair of socks?

This is scandalicious. (Sorry. That's my latent celebrity gossip gene rearing its ugly head.)

Won't somebody knit the lonely movie star a pair of socks?

Actually we don't have time for you, Liam. We have a Sock Hop to plan and a contest to talk about.

You want prizes? We've got 'em. Here's some of what we'll be giving away on October 1st to kick off our First Annual Sock Hop Knitalong:

From Barbara Bretton:

A copy of a sock pattern from Knitting Pure and Simple.
A set of five #1US Brittany Birch double points
Two skeins of Regia Mini Ringel 5339

From Barbara Bretton:

Sock pattern and needles (see above)
Two skeins of Fortissima Colori Socka #4008

From Barbara Bretton:

Sock pattern and needles (see above)
4 balls of Elann Esprit #5382
(comparable to Fixation)

From Barbara Bretton:

Sock pattern and needles (you know the drill)
2 skeins of Regia Crazy Color #5260

From Barbara Bretton:

Pattern and needles (see above and above and above and above)
1 450 yard skein of Lisa Souza's glorious handpainted Earth Birth

From Cindi Myers:

A gorgeous skein of Plymouth Sockotta
(a great cotton/superwash blend)

And there's more to come! To enter the Sock Hop Contest you can click on the button at the top of the page or click here and make sure to put CONTEST in the subject header.

To let us know you plan to participate in our Sock Hop Knitalong, click here and make sure to put SOCK HOP in the subject header.



Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Confessions of a Sock Yarn Junkie's Accomplice

Flying the Sock Flag

So here's the thing: once you start knitting socks you can't stop. Oh, you can try. I stopped for a few months until Sandra (yes, Sandra who was on this blog and who has shared many a rowdy conference hotel suite with Dallas and me) sent me some absolutely gorgeous Fortissima Colori and 5 bamboo needles two birthdays ago and Cupid's arrow finally found its mark.

I didn't fall immediately. I fought the feeling. I didn't just roll over (on a bed of roving) and give in. I worked on scarves. I made a few really bad Uxbridge Tweed hats. I even frogged a couple of sweaters. But that yarn, that gorgeous yarn, kept calling to me.

This spring I gave in. I cast on 56 stitches, Magic Loop style, on #1US Addi Turbos and I was off and running. I used my regular sock pattern (trust me, once you understand the architecture of a sock you'll never need a pattern again) with heel flap and gusset and I tried the round toe for the first time. (Love love love it.)

The yarn seduced me. I was mesmerized by the color changes. I was, quite frankly, madly in love with a hunk of spun fiber and not ashamed to admit it.

If I could knit just one thing for the rest of my life (you know, if the Evil Knitting Fairy cast a magic spell on me . . . it could happen) it would be socks. That's how much I love the process. Short enough to keep you interested. Important enough to actually be used. Small enough to be affordable (or not.) And they wear out so you have to make more of them. It's not that you're addicted to the process or anything, right? The socks wore out and you can't run around barefoot in NJ in the dead of winter, can you? Neither can your family. Or your friends. Or barefoot strangers you happen upon in the supermarket.

Or Tom Selleck. (Yes, this one's for you, Dallas.) The poor boy needs a pair of socks.

Who knew our Sock Hop had a humanitarian side?


Confessions of a Sock Yarn Junkie

I might as well confess my deepest, darkest knitting secret right off the bat. I've never met a sock yarn I didn't like. Worse, I've seldom met a sock yarn I didn't feel compelled to buy. Sock yarn of every type fills every nook and cranny of every room. I haven't yet resorted to storing it in the oven but that's only because I'm afraid I'll forget it's in there and end up with roast Regia and pot roast.

I also like to knit socks which is how I justify my aquisitions. 'Oooh, look how pretty that pink yarn is! Wouldn't that make great lace socks? I think I'll buy just one skein.' But the truth is, I could knit nothing but socks from now until I'm a tottering old woman - at least a couple decades from now, I hope - and I still couldn't use up the sock yarn I already own. And still I buy more.

I tell myself that it's really a bargain. Sock yarn - even the good stuff, costs less than a meal for one in a nice restaurant. And unlike prime rib and lobster, sock yarn provides a good twenty hours of fun. When you look at it that way, I'm actually saving money.

Since we're edging toward Sock Hop month, I thought I'd share one of my favorite sources of tempation. Sunshine Yarns is a sock yarn lover's dream. I've bought a few - cough20cough - skeins of yarn from Dani and each skein is uniquely beautiful. Dani is also a pleasure to deal with and she ships promptly. What more can you ask for?

Here's a sample of the yarns I've purchased from Dani in recent months. Aren't these gorgeous? Don't they just make you long to knit socks?

It's also possible that I went berserk and bought five skeins of yarn from the new batch she listed this morning. I may have bought Hedwig, Gryffindor, Forest, Lemon Drop and Avocado. Yes, the Harry Potter connection is an added lure. If you're a Harry Potter fan, how could not want a sock yarn called Hedwig?

Really, buying this yarn saved me money because, when I went to the local yarn store this afternoon, all I bought was a single skein of Opal in hot pink. It's going to pair up with the black yarn I already have - see, I am using my stash - to make the Red Herring socks from the new issue of Knitty. I didn't buy the Muench Touch Me that's been calling my name for weeks now. And I didn't buy any Silky Wool in that gorgeous coppery red.

Who says I don't have any willpower?