Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A Sister's Socks

Way back in February of last year, my closest in age sister came to visit, and I took her to the yarn store. GD is one short year and nine days younger than I am, was 'streamed' a grade ahead in grade school and thus we were classmates as well as sisters and she has always been my best friend. She choose 2 sock yarns, and the deal was I was going to knit them as gifts for her. One was a Fabel Sock yarn that we both fell in love with and one was an Arequippa sock yarn, in a lovely natural shade. I started the Fabel pair right away.These socks and I have been steady companions over most of 2008. We really should not be calling them sister socks. We should be calling them Forever Socks v. 2008. These socks, unbeknownst to my sister, have had many different lives before they made it to her feet.

I tried 3 different heels and found I could duplicate none of the heels a second time. I tried a a toe up gusseted heel, a short row heel, a Fleegle heel, and finally went back to my old and very much favoured afterthought or peasant heel. Once that was finally debated and decided upon, it still took me months to get these socks done. I had to decide how to finish the top. 2 x 2 rib top, picot edging on a hemmed top, standard 1 x 1 short ribbed cuff? I'm pretty sure that this pair of socks was at least 5 different completed single socks at one time or another.

These socks were my companions wherever I went. I carried them along with me for months, never working on them, just knowing they were there. They lived with me, they went to the grocery store, the mall, the book store, they went to the mountains with me, they took buffalo tea with both of us, and came home to be finally put out of the work bag as Christmas knitting filled my days.

For some time now, I have been wondering if these socks were slow because they were a habit, or a comfort. I really liked them. I loved working with this yarn. When I didn't know what else I could do a row or two on, I always knew your socks were there backing me up, boosting me when I needed boosting. In a way, it was as if your spirit was there in the fabric of these very humble socks.That last week was when I finally set my sights on finishing them, even if I had to put the cuffs on during Christmas dinner. They hardly took any time at all. The cuffs were done before the holiday, but I put the heels on while all the family was present, and while we were chatting after all the feasting was done.

In the long journey of these socks, they had reached their full potential, and are filled not just with my life but with the love and joy of the entire family at Christmas. They fit you nicely.

But I must ask you sister mine, which of these two other nice yarns is the one you liked. Its been a while and I have absolutely no idea.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Excess yarn

Since I found that yarn in the deep archives some time ago, I have had a little problem with my plethora of yarn.

To put it bluntly, the problem was that it was taking up space and crowding out the stuff I am really interested in working with. Its not that I wasn't planning on using this. I have a knitting machine, and the plan was to knit it up into blankets for the Sally Ann or one of the other groups that helps out people who need a hand but I'm so slow at my regular knitting, that I haven't gotten there yet. The yarn was quietly sitting there, waiting, doing nothing.

Then two things happened quite unconnected to each other. The Yarn Harlot talked about taking care of each other on Christmas day in a wonderfully moving post and in the December newsletter, River City had a note about two places that were looking for yarn.

There are plenty of people out there who have the time to knit it up, but who maybe don't have the funds for yarn. I don't know if giving yarn away is quite what the Harlot means by taking care of each other, but, if all this excess yarn can get to people in need as clothing to keep them warm, it can become something. It can become a 'taking care of each other' that much sooner.I'm making arrangements to send it to one of the groups, or maybe both of the groups if one can't handle it all. In my basement, in my study, it is just something I am holding on to. It is stuff in bags, it is insulation against a chilly wall, but it really isn't yarn till I use it. It isn't doing the good it should. So I am off with my great Ikea sized bags filled with yarn, 2 of them full of fresh new unopened bags yarn, and one filled with bits and pieces and smaller amounts.

May it find a better home than I have given it, and may many hands be busy and fulfilled by it, and most of all, may some soul in need be warmed and comforted by it.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Good Morning, Good Morning to You...

I woke today with an old jingle on my mind. A coffee jingle I think. Must be that as much as I like having the days off, going back to work, even if it is just for one day, means normal is returned.

Normal is good for no other reason than if I have to eat another big meal...Really, I am good for a week. Maybe three.

My mom's Christmas is all about cooking for us. She loves to prepare the feast, and feast we do. There are platters of meats and dressings, bowls of vegetables, galores of salads. And when we are done with the main course there are trays of cookies and squares, each tray with a different selection of delicacies. There was pie and ice cream and strawberries and then...if you were really really good, you could have coffee or tea, but only if you had some chocolate first.

My mom was born to cook for a family of hundreds, and though we are not hundreds, we work as hard as we can to eat like it to please her. She has a superb sense of timing and the taste buds of a spring chicken. Nothing is ever overdone or needs just a little more salt. It is all better than good, it is moms.

If blogs had a taste feature, I would insert it here so all of you could have a taste of what my mom cooks up. If we could share it over the Internet, we could leave the table looking a little more like the hot young Henry the VIII from the Tudors mini series, than the aged Henry we look like. Her meal is medieval in its scope and though we may groan after it, we look forward to it every year.

I had a lovely Christmas. I received a bouquet of knitting needles, the kind where the tips light up on the end and a gift certificate for yarn from son 3 and his wife. The needles are going to be just the ticket for working in twilight and dim light in front of the big TV.

From son 2 I received a complete set of Mr. Bean. Mr. Bean, my hero, plus the Vinyl Cafes Christmas CD. From son 1, the complete Firefly which really ought to have been kept on the air. It would have been a massive success and I hope that there are a few executives out in TV land gnashing their teeth at their collective stupidity.

From Mr. Needles, some very lovely things. Yarn, of course, and some silver stitch markers. The stitch markers are part of a year long marker event, one for each month, each of them unique and handmade by a local artist. I was behind and Mr. Needles caught me up.

Besides all the wonderful food and great company over the last week, there was a lot of knitting time. Just for me knitting time. I knit some on the black socks, which, though not for me, will be wonderful to get out of my work bag. I finished the first of the pair of socks of Socks that Rock 'Aline' and am well on the way to the cuff on the second.

And then there was this. Mr. Needles gave me a hank of Woolie Silk from Fleece Artist. It is the colour of wheat in the field and oh my I love it. It hung at the shop sort of overlooked among all the other Fleece Artist finery, its soft golden waves of colour sitting quietly waiting for someone to discover them. He did, and I have benefitted. It was just the right gift for an old farm girl.

I'm working it up into a small shawl. The 'Eye of Partridge Shawl' caught my attention quite a while ago, and now that I am working on it, whoooeeeee. Its a wonderfully speedy mindless knit that yields such lacy goodness. These last longer rows may feel like they take more time, but the knit one slip one side goes so fast, that its hard not to think you are only doing purl rows. I'm working this up on larger then usual needles for the yarn, but it is making the most delicious fabric. The yarn and the colour are so right for this and the fabric is soft and comfortable and lofty. Sigh. It is all good.

And here we are, 8:00 a.m., and I am going to have to rush off to make it to work on time. Happy Knitting. I can't think of a nicer way for a year to wind down than spending it knitting.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Crash Test Dummies 'The First Noel'

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year. Sporadic posting over the next few days, but I will be back regular posting come Monday!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas found

The relationship between a good yarn store and its customers has been likened to the relationship between a bartender and his customers. Yarn stores are a place where we discuss dreams and possibilities. We listen, we advise where we can, we open people to new possibilities, and we act as mother confessors for things like 'I knit my ssk's as a knit 2 together through the back loop and do you think that is OK?' We try to make our customers walk away happier than when they came in. We want them to knit happy and wear happy too. It is a goal that gives back.

We have had a lot of customers bring in cookies for the staff. And chocolates. Did I mention chocolates? We have had customers bring in chocolates so fine that even the most ardent chocolate hater (do these people exist or is this an urban myth?) would have been compelled to try the truffles. We received trays of home made cookies so divine that a whole new definition for chocolate chip cookie is required, and a whole new genre of adjectives is needed to discuss shortbread.

And then there were things so lovely I cried. I did.

Working in the yarn store is very special to me. It came to me when I was at the darkest period in my life. I had lost my sense of the worth of my abilities, lost confidence in my skills. I stopped imaging that life could be different. I stopped believing. There were no dreams of a better way to be. There was no hope. I was very very close to just giving up. I don't fully understand what happened to me, but the bottom line is that, in every way that mattered, in every facet of life, I lost me.

Knitting helped me find me. Working at the yarn store has helped me, find me and customers have helped me, find me.

When I try to help people find a yarn, a craft, a piece of string, what I hope I am helping them find is some of what I find in knitting, and in yarn. I hope that they find creativity, simplicity, a tie to the old, a passion for the new, and sometimes, just one tiny place in the world mistakes can be taken apart and made right. I hope that they experience for just a wee moment a tiny bit of the joy I find there. I hope I help people find comfort, consolation and joy as result of picking up one or two sticks and some string.

My reward is when people walk out of the store happy. When they feel a sense of the adventure they can find in knitting, my every wish is met and I go home feeling very very good. My satisfaction is a customers satisfaction.

I did not expect my joy in sharing knitting and socks to give back to me the way that it has.I have two customers who are exploring socks. I think exploring socks is one of the most interesting things and I guess my enthusiasm for it touched them. They made me this absolutely stunning needle case in return for my efforts.

I'm all moved in now, my needles have a new home. All of them fit. One side is for circulars. The needles tuck neatly away in little pockets, that are deep enough, none of them will ever go missing, There is room for plenty of tall straights including the wee bit taller River John needles I enjoy. There is room for my entire collection of double pointed needles, plus some little wee ribbon bits that will work to hold stitch holders and stitch markers and whatever notions won't fit into the little pouch.

It is beautiful and I will treasure it for the rest of my days.

At Christmas, there are no more giving people than knitters, and I am honoured, proud and utterly bowled over to be counted among them.

Thank you and many blessings to all the knitters, customers and yarn store owners who have helped me find my way.

These very special needle cases are going to be featured at River City Yarns for the next while. If you want a needle case that does it all, give the store a call.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Moving along

to more hats!

I've got dad's hat off the needles and the first of his mittens is on. I was hoping to be almost done mitt one, but life got in the way, and I only cast on this morning. It is going to be tight since most of the prep work has to be done for our Chirstmas Eve dinner tomorrow on my day off, and we have company coming too. It is entirely possible that I wll be doing mitten knitting while driving to Saskatoon.

On other more interesting news, I have been drilling the minds of those around me trying to wiggle out what they are getting me for Christmas. I haven't had much luck so far, but I have managed to dig out a few clues. It doesn't sound like yarn, but it might be something I can watch while using yarn. It was confirmed to me by my sources inside the purchasing duo that it is most defintely not a copy of 'Band of Brothers'. sigh. It is also not Ken Burns 'Civil War' which I would buy just to listen to David McCullough's marvelous voice. Bigger sigh.

As was pointed out to me, its only 4 days. But I already knew that. I'm not done knitting.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Because I am busy knitting

I love music of all kinds. I listen to classical music a lot of the time, but I don't like to put boundaries or labels on the things I listen to. I love all sorts of music, and I love it when the genres clash and merge. Really, I just enjoy good music. A friend directed me to the first of these yesterday and the rest well, I hope it explains a bit more about my musical tastes.

It is all very good music.

Yo Yo Ma and Alison Krauss (embedding is disabled so bear with me. Its worth the listen)

Yo Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin

And then just for the heck of it Yo Yo Ma and the Honkers

Thursday, 18 December 2008

My Quandry and The Fan Neck Warmer

The idea for this neck warmer is not mine. The idea is from a shop called the Bonita Knitting Store.
The pattern is the Fan Neck Warmer, a really nice design.

I have yet to knit a pattern exactly like it has been designed. This pattern is a good case in point. This is designed to use a DK/light worsted weight yarn (which brings to mind that it would look fantastic in Silk Dream)but moms scarf is knit from a Collinette sock yarn. There is a different number of stitches, and even a different placement of increases and decreases. So come on, if I can sort of figure it out, do I need to pay for it?

I'm not the sort of person who can endlessly think up cool stuff. I'm not the sort of person who decides to take a seriously fine lace, and turn it on its side, like Annie Modesitt's Sideways Spencer Redux or come up with a way to put a spiralling line of lace goodness in a sock like Veronik Avery's really great socks or see the fantastic cable designs in Fiona Ellis' Inspired Cable Knits in the nature that surrounds us.

I'm the sort of person who enjoys knitting and goes into it knowing that I am going to have to change a pattern to fit my hips. I know that I am going to have to change things to make it fit me so do I really have to pay for it? Yes, yes, I do have to pay for the pattern.

I am purchasing not just a pattern here, I am purchasing the designers instincts for something interesting, I am purchasing the designers ability to see something different in a knit and purl. I am purchasing creativity and thought and flare. If I could have thought it up on my own, I wouldn't have been looking for inspiration, I'd have been knitting it.

Down the road, when we are tired of knitting an average knit 2 purl 2 hat (inspired by the Yarn Harlot and EZ), when a garter scarf isn't doing it for us, we need designers to be there to help take off the edge, to help us see our stitches and our wool in a different light. Take care of a designer today. If the pattern isn't free, buy it.

I just have one request, though. Let me know my delivery options before I pay for the item, so that I don't have to wonder if I am going to get the pattern by email or if it is is going to come by mail (since you asked for a lot of information you don't need if it is being emailed). If you can do that for me, I might not have to take liberties with your scarf, knit an approximation, and buy the pattern after the fact like I did this time. I do apologize for taking that liberty, and I do sincerely want to keep you guys in business.

At 4 in the morning this close to Christmas, I need absolute clarity. And coffee.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


One of the nicest things about gift knitting is a having a deadline. You can't waffle and wimp out when you don't feel like it, you can't play around and say well, you'll get it done next week, or Tuesday you will work on it again. You have a calendar date and you are compelled by everything your momma taught you that these gifts are going to get done. If not, you will have to go out and shop. In malls. Or other stores. If that isn't motivation, I don't know what is.

I fudged around with things all year and finishing felt forever far away, but look at this.

Second to last hat. A scarf for my mother which turned out really really well. So well, that I am making one just like it for my daughter in law. Two completed items since yesterday morning at about this time. Two things which yesterday morning, were not half done. Seriously smoking needles were happening here.

With a deadline like this, I go into hyper focus mode. Knitting in hyper focus mode means I don't really see anything else, I hear little, and if the work is in hand, I might look like I exist in this world, but I'm not so sure I do. There is only the needles, the yarn and my hands.

With these two done, there are only two must do projects still to complete. Both are hats. One is needed for Thursday evening, but I am confident that I can complete that with no problems.

The other is a sorrier tale. I've been looking for the yarn I purchased for my dad's scarf for two days now. I have gone through every container in that room, and every project bag, and every little tiny space, and I cannot find the yarn. So I have to pick up some yarn for one of these really nice hats I am making. And a pair of mittens.

In a way, these simpler items made in a very ordinary yarn, Cascade 220, might suit my dad better. The doubled strands form a really thick warm squooshable fabric that hugs your head and feels warm the moment you put them on. I think he might actually use this hat when he steps out for his walks. The hat is going to be a little hard to resist.

Even with only two musts remaining, there will be knitting right up to Christmas. If I can, I'd like to make some mittens to match all these toques.

And then there is that darn pair of black socks.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

At the store Christmas party the other day, one of the ladies who contributes to making our store what it is, was talking about what her Christmas was like in Italy when she was a child. She spoke of the things they did not have because of the war, and of all that they had instead. She talked of community and family and food. Community and family and food always sends my thoughts to my Auntie Lorraine.

A very long time ago I made a wee beaded Christmas tree for my mom. It was something that came out of a McCall's craft magazine (IIRC) many many many moons ago. It was admired by one and all. My mom's sister, Aunt Lorraine really liked it and since she enjoyed Christmas more than just about any season, my mom decided she needed one too. I very happily obliged. After Auntie Lorraine's passing, the beaded tree came back to me.

My Aunt Lorraine was a special person. She was unmarried and lived at home taking care of Grandma, till Grandma passed away and her brother Uncle Victor till she died. She had a passel of nieces and nephews who each called her their own.

She worked in her younger days as a cook in the hospital in the small town I grew up in, and worked in Saskatoon in hospitals and nursing homes too. She was a very, very cook cook and loved to make good things for all the local events. A paternal aunt, who knew her well, said to me at her funeral, 'we're sure going to miss Lorraine's things'. Since we were talking about egg salad sandwiches (the staple food of community events in small town Saskatchewan) , I took it to mean that she made a superior egg salad sandwich. I remember her baking, her donuts, her cookies. Auntie Lorraine always had a full cookie jar and if it was not too close to dinner, the cookie jar came your way the moment you walked into the door, sheer heaven to any 6 year old at heart. She had mastered the art of the expandable table, meaning that if you and seventeen other relatives showed up a half hour before dinner, you sat down to a feast to eat.

But Auntie Lorraine was many other things too. She may have been a simple farm woman, but I think that she came to be that as many of people in those days did. You stayed out of a sense of duty and a sense of what was right. You may have regretted your lot in life, you might have wished for something different, but you did not let those regrets dominate your days. You did what needed doing and you got on with life.

She loved pretty things and collected lots of interesting things. When I was a child, there was a cabinet full of salt and pepper shakers in a high cabinet. Somewhere along the way, she started collecting bells and since I was a wee small child, there were whispers that Auntie Lorraine collected dolls. As I grew to be an adult, the stories of her doll collection became almost legend.

I don't know how many were in her collection at her death, but I do know it was huge. There was a doll for each and every niece, nephew, great niece and great nephew, and sister, and very likely brother too,plus as bunch for herself. In the last 6 or seven years of her life, she began to pass on these collections, keeping only her most treasured ones for herself.

Above, you see my wee mousy bell, the only mouse I willingly allow in my home, my pumpkin salt and pepper shakers, my doll, and the dolls of sons 1, 2 and 3.

Auntie Lorraine is gone now, and I have these things she choose for me and my sons, and that I made for her. Much as I love them, the thing that I remember most is the thing that really matters at this time of year. I remember the sound of her voice, how her eyes crinkled right up when she smiled, and the sound of her laughter. I remember being scolded when we raided the pea patch and looked on fondly when we brought her eggs from the chicken coop without breaking any.

Going to Auntie Lorraine's meant going home, and being with the ones you loved and sharing food and stories and laughter. It meant sitting in the big kitchen, having a coffee, and some cookies. It meant comfort and love.

She might be gone now, as are many of her brothers and sisters, but among the large clan that we are, when you think of Christmas you think of Auntie Lorraine and you just feel good.

Monday, 15 December 2008

More production

In my overly optimistic listing of things I had to knit before Christmas, I forgot some things. For instance, Mr. Needles. There was nothing on the list for him. On the list I keep inside my head, there was.

I worked on hats this weekend. Only the black and white hat was completed by Friday. By Saturday morning, before I headed off to work, there was a second hat complete. The third hat was completed early Sunday morning. The brim of hat 4 is on my needles now. My plan is to make this last hat be of stripes all the colours in it from the other 3 hats, plus at least one of his own. I have plenty of each colour left on this particular pile of yarn, except for the Big Fabel that Son 3's mittens were made out of. There will be but a single stripe of that through this hat, two perhaps, but only if I get really really lucky.

This last hat might look like an after thought hat, a hat to use up all the bits and pieces, but it's purpose is to tie all 3 hats together. Each hat is tied by colour to the others, and yet still is unique. This last hat, is the daddy of them all, containing strands from all of the other hats, tying all things together.

The original plan for this suite of hats was to include mittens. And I will make mittens for them all, just not for Christmas. Even if I knit every moment of every day but for my work hours, (this is what I plan anyway) there is no way I will get to mittens. Maybe after Christmas.

Sunday afternoon was the store Christmas get together, and I found myself in need of a single yarn travel project to keep my Holiday knitting on track.

I started working on this scarf for my mom. The yarn is one of the prettiest colourways from Colinette. Even though the yarn is fine, this simple ribbing is making working it a breeze. It is actually going to be more of a short cowl than a scarf, since it will be short and the ends are meant to pass through a slit in the fabric and I want them to flare out a bit to keep everything in place. I want it to hug her neck and bolster the open neckline of her coat, without the excess fabric of a scarf. I am really hoping to get to mittens for her too.

There is another important scarf to complete this week too, though I am wondering if that scarf might not be more valuable to the giftee as a hat. It may morph into a hat today, and possibly mittens, which would be about the same amount of knitting hours as a scarf. The weight of the decision is going to rely on one factor and one factor alone. If I can find the scarf yarn in the depths of my stash, it will stay a scarf. If not, it shall become a hat and mittens. (I searched two hours yesterday and couldn't find the yarn, I have no idea where the heck I put it)

I should be feeling rushed and hectic, but strangely I don't. I'm feeling almost comfortable with it all. Life is good. Very very good.

Friday, 12 December 2008


Toque and thrummed mitten set for the son who got the pitifully lame ugly slipper socks last year.

I have one hat and mittens to do, a scarf but its is a short 'coat' scarf and maybe one other thing, and I will be done.

Well except for that pair of black socks. The black socks is what I am going to go do right now. And if I can't face that darn black sock, he is going to get a hat too. I have the yarn on stand-by just in case.

I might just make it.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Seriously fine tools.

Many years ago, back when I was determined to knit, back when I envisioned a life of clothing myself in lovely sweaters, I optimistically bought a complete set of plastic needles in a padded plastic case. The 'set' was the best on the market at the time, the most cool knitting thing that knitters were using.

Over the years, these needles were used only occasionally, and seldom for knitting. I picked up the needles to unlock bathroom doors that 2 year olds had locked on themselves and one time I made scarves for each of my kids. I'm quite certain that I never used them enough to account for the 40 dollars I paid for them.

Time passed and one day I finally figured out knitting and took out the awful plastic set of needles. Within the first 4 rows, I realized there had to be something better than these. I was right. First things first, I bought a few decent straight metal needles. Then I picked up various and sundry sets of dpns because I had quickly moved on to making socks and loved it.

I first began this current crop of hats on some of those dpns, but I found for an adult male head, my 4 mm dpns were a too short for my comfort. I moved to one of my 3 really long sets of 4 mm circular Turbos. (??? How did that happen?)

In general terms, starting my circular needle set with long cables, has stood me in fairly good stead, but I have to tell you, there are times, as I knit on this first hat, that the long long cables were driving me batty. Dragging that darn cable around each time, pulling it through, was taking every bit of the fun out of knitting and turning it into work to avoid.

I decided to invest in a proper set of short circulars. If I plan to get all this holiday knitting done, I need something that is going to help me get done, not hinder me. I know I will get my money's worth out of a set of two same length needles even though part of me says I could have done it with one 32 inch and one 24 inch. I can see all kinds of knitting where the benefit of two needles would be immediate. No needles change in the middle of a pattern in stranded colourwork for one. The burning question is do I buy many individual needles or do I wait for the set?

If knitting is a symphony, then a Turbo is a Stradivarius. If the Turbo click sets live up to their advance billing and the quality of their other needles, they would be the Stradivarius that all the really famous violinists want, the single most perfect instrument that they can find.

The idea of a set still appeals. Wouldn't it be lovely to just sit there and be able to make the right size and length? Wouldn't it be organized? Wouldn't it be a dream come true? Like all dreams, the reality sometimes has a little more to consider.

The turbo click set is pricey. Do I spend one big chunk of money or should I buy the individual needles a couple at a time? The jury is out right now, since the sets are still not delivered to the distributor and I could not access them even if I wanted to.

I'll have to make the decision soon enough and in a way it is comforting to have the time to really think about the options.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A book of hours

A book of hours is more or less, a medieval prayer book. They contained fantastically illuminated stories of martyrs and saints and short devotions, and were usually given as gifts from wealthy husbands to wives on their wedding day. They originated out of monastisicm, where each hour was marked by prayer.

One of my most treasured books is a book about the Belles Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry. It is beautifully bound and comes in a small box to protect it from harm. I have always loved its beautifully illuminated pages, and the histroy behind the men who painted the masterpieces but more than that, I love the name 'book of hours'. I had no idea what it was when I ordered it from the book club special catalogue. I liked the name, and I had these points to use up.

In my grand imaginings (yes we are still doing grand imaginings here. Maybe I need more coffee) a modern day book of hours would have little pages you could tear out if you were short of time. You could trade a page in for more hours in a day.

Wouldn't that be great, if we could do that? Think of how much knitting we could get done? Think of how much extra sleep I would get. Think of how I would be all caught up with all the things that I am not caught up with. If I had a book of hours that could give me extra time, I might have used 10 or 15 pages of it yesterday.

I knit all day yesterday, and worked so diligently on a few of my remaining Christmas presents, but it seems like I am no farther along than I was yesterday morning. I don't have the thrummed mittens finished. I need to check out the sample at the store to see just how big the thumbs are, the hat I knit in the mean time would not fit, and I had to rip them back and restart with the right number of stitches, and though I worked on the soul sucking black socks, there seems to be no progress there either. The toe of sock two is still just a freakishly small toe. (In case you thought they were done, no, no, they are not)

Everybody feels the need for more hours in a day but really, in truth, what we really need to do is to stop focusing on how busy we feel. Busy is a thing you can think yourself into. We have to plan to think slow, plan not to rush. We have to look at everything we are doing and appreciate each little step along the way.

So when I say I didn't mind ripping the hat back, that I didn't mind that two hours of knitting went down the tubes, know that it is really part of my strategy to think slowly. Know that I was really disappointed with the part of me that felt, quite sincerely that an hat measuring 16 inches around would fit a head that is 24 inches around.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Things I think of while making thrums.

This morning, I'm working on thrummed mittens. Thrums are short pieces of woolen fibre (or other fibre) that are drafted, then loosely wound around my fingers and left in a soft loop, to be worked into the mitten. The Thrum is knitted with a stitch every so often and creates little tuffets of soft fibre on the inside of the mitten. Over time, these tuffets felt a little and make an extremely warm lining to a mitten. Some people like to draft the thrums as they go, but I like to have a bin full of little tuffets in front of me. Thankfully there are no spiders.

As I was drafting a these many small strands of fibre, I got to thinking. I often try to avoid thinking because it usually produces foolish results, but you know how it is when a thing pops into your head and try as you might you can't quash it or put it back where it came from.

Today I will tell you a story about how idle play invented yarn.

A very, very long time ago, in a world where people did not have homes and farms, on a warm bright spring day, a pair of children were running through a meadow, playing as all young creatures do, and generally irritating their mother. They ran and laughed and shouted. They took tall reeds and pretended they were hunting. They took sticks and pretended they were clubs. Then they sat down to rest. One of them noticed some animal hair caught in the brushy plant next to them. The child idly pulled it out of the branches.

As children do, when they have something their hands and they are sitting there, laughing and talking with friends, this child pulled and played and twirled the fibre around, between and over its fingers. The child twirled the strand against his leg, and then began to pull the animal fibres apart again, repeating the same idle mindless actions. When this child looked at the fibre, it seemed as if the fibre had doubled in size, but was airy and thin like a gossamer spiders web. The child saw that when he twisted it, it looked like a clubby string of bark or leather.

The next time the children were out playing, they found some more of the animal fibre, and played with it again. It became something to look for as they played. Soon it became a game to find a pile of this fibre and who ever had the biggest fibre pile at the end of the game, won.

One day the mother came looking for her children because they were late to dinner, and she found the children surrounded by small tuffets of this woolly goodness , and she demanded the children show her just what would have been making them so late to dinner.

The children showed her how the strands of fibre could be stretched and folded and twirled to make some short strings. They showed her how you looked really silly if you stuck a couple folded strands under your lip, like big incisors. Heck you could look just like a sabre tooth tiger if you made the strands big enough. The other child showed how if you stuck two bits of fibre in your nostrils...well you just looked darn silly. The mother was not impressed.

Well, she was not impressed with the sabre tooth tiger game, and the fibre up the nostril game, but she was impressed with the soft pile of fibres. The smart mother realized that the fibres, when pulled apart, slipped against each other, and when twisted more closely together, formed a strong tough strand. The smart mother asked her children to collect more of this fibre, and bring it to her, as punishment for being late to dinner.

The observant mother started playing with the fibre. Over time she discovered that you could keep adding to your bunch of fibre by overlapping edges. She found that if she pulled the bunches softly together into longer thinner strands and that if she twisted the long strands she could form unimaginably long ropes of this fibre. She could make strands far longer and stronger than the ropes they usually braided from tree barks and leather. That meant life would get a whole lot easier.

This is fairy tale. There is no way to say exactly how people figured out that the fibres from a sheep or goat behaved in this magical way, but somewhere back in time, sure as the sun rises in the morning, someone once played with some fibre that was just laying around, and kept playing with it. Somewhere, someone in an idle moment, when there was nothing pressing to think of, realized that they could take it and make that found bit of fibre longer and stronger with a bit of a twist. Over eons of time someone else realized that they could form these strands into fabric and that they could do it in a whole bunch of ways.

Whatever really did happen, whoever they were, we owe them a small debt of gratitude. Yarn and string were probably happy accidents in the history of mankind, like Velcro and the glue on the back of your post it notes. Like a lot of happy accidents, all it took was for one person whose mind was open to possibilities to observe its magical properties and put those properties to good use.

Time is precious. Waste it wisely. Play. Who knows what magic we are going to invent next.

Monday, 8 December 2008


Its a pair! Its done! these mittens are finally done. Each of them has 3 patterns above the thumb. the thumbs are on the proper places. the mittens fit on my chubby hands and thus will fit on the giftees just right.

They are not perfect, I know there are some flaws, but if anybody sees anything, please be kind and don't tell me. Don't even to begin to think I will hear if you tell me that one thumb is 2 stitches bigger than the other. I'm not sure I could bear finding out.

I am moving on to the thrummed pair, and this at least is a quick knit. Mitten 1 is done, and mitten two is on the needles. they still fit Mr. Needles hand so they are going to be fine for the giftee. There is one more pair of mittens to make after these, a pair of socks, a set of heels, a scarf and another scarf, and I have all my things done. I think.

I know that last year I said I wasn't going to knit things for Christmas, but did so anyway. I wanted to share just how much fun I was having with this thing I found. This year I set out knitting some things for Christmas as an expression and exploration of all the new things I learned to do. Next year? I'm going to try to not knit anything for any one else, unless I am specifically asked. And even then, I am not going to do it unless it is something that really inspires me.

I need to learn that not everyone wants these things. Till now, gift knitting has been an expression about something I do. It has been a statement about what is going on in my life, how I am spending my time. My hope is that people receive these things I make and even if they don't like them, that they look at them and appreciate that what I have given is a part of me.

Knitting is such a deeply personal journey for me and even though I want to share the journey, I have to accept that not everyone wants to come along on the journey. Not everyone wants to see the pictures of the trip. Not everyone wants to read the travel diary, and some people don't even want to see the map of all the places I have been. Maybe that is something that other people who have knit longer than I have, already know.

I've have not been able to predict where knitting is going to take me at all. I'm just going to keep hanging on to knitting's coat tails. I'm going to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Knitting something else

Mittens are driving me batty.
Count the number of branching sections above the thumb.Now count this mittens branch sections above the thumb.

Do you see it? I have to re-knit the perfectly worked mitten one section longer. I discovered this when I could not make the design merge the same for the mitten one as mitten 2's lovely finish. I wanted to shoot myself, and I consider that all the learning I am doing by finding this out now, is just excess. Got that knitting universe? It really is just too much. and I even said nice things about you yesterday.

I cut and run. Not having the energy to face the error, I hied off and worked on these mittens.

They are coming along wonderfully well. Mr. Needles gave me a hand to trying the mitts on for fit and it is just right.

At least one thing went according to plan yesterday.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Knitting changes lives

I have always been fascinated by tapestries, those large ancient woven works such as the Lady and Unicorn tapestries, the Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries or the embroidered tapestry, the Bayeux Tapestry.

I have often seen my life as a tapestry I look back on, all the little decisions of life woven into its final form. One short year ago, I posted this.

At that time I sort of felt like like the unicorn, found out and hunted down. A year ago, I could not imagine that there might be a different place. I could not imagine what else I would do or be.

Picking up knitting needles was a statement. Knitting felt like me kicking back, like me defending myself.

Why knitting did this for me is something I am less sure of. Maybe it is that knitting's very simple repetitive pulling of one piece of string through another looped piece of string helped me see simple things I had forgotten. Maybe it is that I wasn't just looking back on the fabric of my life, but was becoming an active participant in its making. Maybe it is that knitting happens slowly, with diligence. Maybe it is that finding out that ripping back things and knitting them over again is not defeating, but liberating. Maybe knitting is giving myself permission to fail. Maybe it is all these things, maybe it is none.

It doesn't really matter how or why my world came to look and feel like a trap to me, I suppose. It doesn't really matter why knitting freed me. In the end, the only really important thing is that it did. The only thing that matters is that when I look at the tapestry of my life, at the threads being woven, I see a very different picture taking form.

I knit, I read, I play with string, I work, I have a family, I am, I exist. It is enough.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Sometimes, you just need colour

I am having an inordinate amount of fun with the mittens. And look at this.

Purdy, yes? Right now, I have the other mitten on my needles again, and I am going to redo the top and make it look like this. It's a much more effective play of colours or non-colours, as the case may be.

Before I headed out to Knitting yesterday, as I surveyed my projects trying to decide what to work on, I realized that once again, everything is black and white or gray. I just really needed to see a little colour as work flowed from my needles.

I dove into the sock yarn stash, because if you are looking for a couple hours of something different, the sock yarn stash is THE place to go. I came up with an old colour from Blue Moon Socks That Rock. The colourway is Aline, and though gone for a time, seems to be back on the website.

It is making me giggle each time I get to deep teal parts and there is something about the coppery parts that is, gosh darn it all, making me blush. These colours are bringing me a great deal of simple unsullied pleasure.

The store doesn't have any Aline in right now, but if you are looking for STR in Canada (and if you are from the US, have you looked at the exchange rate lately?), we do have a really good range of colours. Call and talk to me, and we will find something that will ...

I'm going to quit now, before I start sounding like one of those fugly 'text me for a good time' commercials.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Interesting work

I am finding my journey with unusual yarns and stranded colourwork fascinating. I'm not surprised by this. I have always seemed to be drawn to things on the small scale. Stranded colourwork mittens are never going to be a thing that changes the world, but they do have the capacity to entertain me, to stimulate my brain, and hopefully at the end to give someone a warm pair of hands on a cold winters day. They might not change the whole world, but they are changing me.

Exhibit one:Excuse me while I stop and just admire these for a moment. They are so unexpected and I still am amazed that I made these.

Exhibit two:After I showed these to my Fair Isle instructor, she asked me if I was holding my tension really tight on one or the other yarns. She suspected that the reason that the black yarn was so deeply inset from the white was a tension problem. She was wondering what happened on the place in the palm where the little black bloorf is (the section where the black is even with the white near the thumb) After some thought I realized this had to be the place where I almost lost a stitch, had a really really big open stitch, and planned on pulling it back in to place after blocking. I didn't think the tension was unbalanced on the rest of the mitten but I did decide to play close attention to it as I worked up mitten two.

Along comes mitten two, and I really have paid close attention to my tension, not just on the suspect hand, but on both yarns. I am erring on the side of really really easy tension and yet...

This is a view of an unblocked portion of the inside of the hand from this mornings work. As I look down the tube, the exact opposite is happening on the inside, the black is playing a more prominent role than the white, but looking deeper into the tube, the tensions appear to be very even. The strand lengths are pretty even.

If any of you can see something I am missing, please let me know, but I just can't help but feel this oddity of tension is coming from unbalanced yarns. This is why at the beginning of class they tell you to use well balanced yarns.

Love It is a slightly stretchy, bouncy cotton and acrylic yarn. Phil Bamboo is a not at all stretchy slightly finer yarn. Probably not a smart combination, but the yarns were there when I needed them and that has to count for something too.

The only way I would really know is if I worked a quickie mitten in wool where the only difference was colour. Or if I worked a swatch in two colours of Love It, or two colours of Phil Bamboo. I might do all three of these things in search of the answers but not right now. Right now my focus has to be completion of these and the other gift knitting.

Cause I tell you, the days are speeding by awfully fast, and that big 25 is not very far away.

Monday, 1 December 2008

The sky is falling

I worked on mittens this weekend and scarves and wrist warmers too. Wrist warmer, scarf and mitten set for my sister in law who helped me out in a very big way. You will notice the absence of beads. They were large beads, and once knitted in, looked like a fish out of water. I took them out, and re-knit. I am disappointed but I probably should have chosen smaller beads, and worked in multiples. My large beads were just wrong.

Tonite I am going to finish this pair of mittens. Mitten two is well under way. I'll show you some interesting stuff with these tomorrow.

So far colour work has been a fairly speedy feeling knit. Time moves fast while you are so engaged in a project, even when the pattern is easy enough to do. It's almost hypnotic.

The downside is that I could not finish it up yesterday because my eyes pooped out. I worked about 3 hours, until I could no longer focus on the graph paper and had to move on to something else. That is how the sister in law's gift happened to get finished, but I really really hankered after the black and white.

This is holiday knitting, big time and I am now far enough along to feel very very complacent. In laws, check. Sister in law, check. Sister, partial check. Son and wife, partial check.

Looking at it that way, I don't have a lot done at all.I still have a couple of hats, and at least two pairs of mittens to do. As usual, when I start to feel complacent, the sky falls.

And here I was wondering what I keep bumping my head on.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Bead Knitting

I'm about to put beads onto the knitted fabric. Thanks to all I have seen and read about on the net, I was able to take my time and really think about the look of the finished project and my goals for the beads. After much serious consideration (or none at all), I have the right solution.

Had I strung the beads onto the yarn, easy enough with only 3 beads, the beads would have sat between the stitches, and be visible from both sides and the beads would have sat with the hole horizontal to the fabric. The strong black edges of the beads would have worked in the opposite direction of the columns of knit stitches.

By using a crochet hook to get the beads onto the knitted fabric, the beads lie on top of the fabric and their strong edge colour echoes the columnar look of ribbing. Prominence looks right.

Thought, logic and sense had very little to do with my reasons for choosing to apply the beads with a crochet hook rather than stringing them along. I chose it because it was easier to contemplate this early in the morning before coffee.

I took the easy road, and surprisingly, it is the right road.

I'll post some photos later today after I have another bead laid on the knitting.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Litte things that thrill me.

Need I say more?

Glove one, reasonably well worked, reasonable fit, and ...

All right. There is nothing at all reasonable about how thrilled I am with the way this mitt turned out. Its not perfect, and there is a strong possibility that I will redo the decreases on the thumb, and it may yet come to pass that the hand might have a few more rows knit plain before the decreases start to form the top of the mitten but I can put it on my pudgy hand, so it will fit the giftee just about perfectly around her knuckles.

One mitten used a skein of the black Love It and the better part of a skein of Phil Bambou. The fibres split more than is ideal for stranded colour work, but over all work quite well. The little bit of stretch in the Love It and working fairly loose gives the mitten the stretch it needs. The fit is fairly close so that down the road, when the fibres relax, the giftee will still have mittens that work.

The single biggest yarn issue was that the two yarns were not perfectly matched. I had hoped to compensate for that by making the slightly lighter gauge white my dominant colour. It worked marvelously. The yarns seem quite balanced in the end. It has been just a really pleasing knit.

There ought to be a brass band on standby for such occasions and fireworks, maybe even a parade with a float I could sit on while I wave to the crowd. I'd wear the mitten, naturally. We'd be famous.

There are no brass bands, no parades, no crowds, no fame. There is just me, who knit a really nice mitt.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

More not knitting content, but

it still is pretty important.

Yesterday, in the mail, I received the first of spring 2009's seed catalogues. I have mixed feelings about getting the first seed catalogue this early. It previously arrived between Christmas and New Year and was my respite to get through winter thinking about something else.

I don't think I'd mind so much, but we don't have any appreciable amount of snow, and everything is dry and brown. It isn't even all that cold. In every way that counts, it is still fall, so don't be rushing next spring.

There will be knitting today. Mitts for Christmas this morning, and knitting with friends this afternoon. this evening there will be still more knitting, but in between, there might the occasional sneak peek at the
Seed Catalogue.

Looking at a seed catalogue is really a lot like looking at yarn and planning a project. First you dream the really big dream of a perfect sweater in yarns you cannot afford and patterns you'd never wear. Then you come down to earth, look at what you really like, what you wear, what you need, and what you can afford.

I'll dream of a pretty garden and bountiful produce. I'll dream of gardens crisp and green with nary a weed in sight. And then by the time spring comes, I will have accepted that I don't have enough sunlight to grow crab apples, and cherries and will have been beguiled by the many hostas and berries I'll find on its lovely pages.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Big Days

Sometimes I forget important days but I think that has a lot to do with the way I was brought up.

My sister and I have birthdays 9 days apart in January. I am 1 year and nine days older than she. At the time my sister was born, my brother was not yet 3. That is a lot of diapers in a very very short time span. (Several other sisters followed after us, but there was some time between the other girls.) There were some birthdays where we had a friend over for dinner or a sleep over, but sometimes, we shared a birthday in between our birthdays. Birthdays were marked and counted but were not big splashy celebrations.

I'm still not into big splashy celebrations. For my birthday, I like taking a day of quiet contemplation, of reflection, of doing some of my favourite things, like watching a movie and having popcorn with real butter on it. For other days, I like a nice dinner out.

Today is my 29th wedding anniversary. We are going out to dinner tonite to mark the occasion, and I am looking forward to it. We wouldn't have to go out to dinner, it would have been OK if you forgot (which you did not). Those things are not what I hold so dear.

What matters today, what I am celebrating close in my heart is not that today is our anniversary, but that I have been lucky enough to spend all those other days in between, with you.

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Needles.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Black socks

These black socks are sucking the life out of me.

I worked on the nice little stranded mittens. I worked on the EZ vest, I work on the travel pair of socks, but nothing is distracting me from the soul sucking-ness of the black socks.

The soul sucking black socks are becoming mythic in my mind for their power to dominate my thinking in a very unpositive way. Every time I go to the work box, there they are. I have tried hiding them at the bottom of the pile, but the giftee looks at me most accusingly (He doesn't realize he is doing this when he walks into the room, but his spectre looms large.).

I am working with 2 balls of Kroy sock yarn, which as everyone knows is not enough yarn for a pair of men's socks with a medium long top. You know this I know this, but it doesn't stop me from not buying enough yarn. Running out of yarn on a project you are not all that fond of, generally means the project hits the frog pile. I was tempted, but there the giftee was, looming.

I grabbed a hank of Louet Gems at the store the other day, the only true black that I could find among the many sock yarns, and it's working out OK. Gems is a little bit finer, but alternating rows of yarn as I work up the calf is making the difference almost unnoticeable.

I'm going to put in a bunch of time to get these socks out of my hair. I am going to try to get sock one completed today (if I have to stay up late to do it) , and I am going to devote Sunday to sock 2. If I can get sock 2 past the heel Sunday, I'll be doing just about right.

Just making a firm schedule for the completion of these socks is making my day feel brighter. Nothing looming right now. No spectres hanging about.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Jumping for joy.

One of the interesting things I have learned since taking up blogging is that if something looks good to me in life, but looks bad in a photo, the photo is right.

I submit this.
It looks pretty good to me in the photo, so I'm jumping for joy. The black is Berocco's Love It, the white, Phildars Phil Bambou. Neither are particularly bouncy yarns, both are a little splitty, the weight of the yarns is mildly different (compensated for by making the white the dominant colour{I think})but they are working very well together.

I'm pretty sure I'll have a lot more to say about stranded colourwork before this pair is done, but for right now...

Well I'm going to go knit. I'm feeling just a wee bit obsessive about this whole knitting mittens in colourwork thing.

(I'm planning to get obsessive about working with beads next. Wait till you see what I found.)

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


I enjoy finishing a project. Just getting done a thing feels good. I finished a pair of mittens yesterday, and even if the photo shows the thumbs on the same side,

these still work. EZ's mitered mittens really don't have a side. My kind of knitting.

The only thing I would change on the next pair? I'd start the thumb gusset before 5 and a half inches. 5 and a half inches works great with the afterthought thumb EZ uses, but at 5 and a half inches with a gusseted thumb, I have mitten a very long way up my arm. They will make a nice gift.

I'm back to square one with the stranded colour work mittens. The others were just too tight. I added 4 stitches, and now that the cuff is done, and I am on my way up the mitten, I am very very pleased to say these will fit just right. Its such a relief to get the size right. I was beginning to envision casting on hundreds and still having it be too small.

There has been one big bonus to all this knitting of stranded work. My tension is getting very even. From cuff one, to cuff three, I can see a marked improvement in the evenness of the lengths of the carried strands.

Its a beautiful morning for knitting mittens and the start of a great day. Can't you just feel it?

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Looking for the perfect thank you

The other day, I ran out of gas (You'd swear I had teenagers again.) I managed to catch my very busy realtor sister in law at home, and she brought me gas so I could make it to work on time. I wanted to get her a little something to let her know just how much that meant. I spent the last 2 weeks trying to figure out what to get for her.

Not once did I ever think about knitting her something.

Sigh. She does not knit, she does very little in the way of hand made, and when she has, it has been made in a workshop she took. She likes the results, just doesn't enjoy the doing. I realized this yesterday as I drove in to work. She is the perfect candidate for something knitted. How could it have taken me 2 weeks to arrive at the obvious?

I picked up yarn yesterday, my much loved Lang Silk Dream. For a special project, there just isn't anything nicer than this. I've chosen colour 39 since she often wears that kind of soft warm tone.

The gift will be wrist warmers, simple, ribbed, possibly the Maine Morning Mitts from Clara Parkes Knitter's Book of Yarn, but I'd like to show a wee bit of open work to the knit part of the ribs across the back of the hand.

Or maybe some beads. There is a nice bead store in town, and I think I'll stop to see what I can find that will coordinate with this yarn. If I find nice beads, the beads will take place of the lacey bits.

Maybe it will be a shorter wrist warmer with a ruffly bit at the wrist, recalling, but not copying Mrs. Beeton's Wristwarmers.

This part of a project is always an adventure. A quick little yarny adventure where I can travel without a map, with only the vaguest notion of where I am going. Go west young man they used to say.

Knitting is often like that. Sometimes you end up heading east instead of west and sometimes you get lost. Sometimes you begin and end looking a lot like a puppy chasing its tail, but sometimes the traveling and the search will lead you to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Monday, 17 November 2008

the Purple Thing

I had one goal this weekend. To finish the black socks. I didn't, but I'm ok with that. I had a lovely time, nice enough that the thought of black socks doesn't fill me with dread, nice enough that even though I know I am going to have to get another ball of black yarn, it doesn't bother me.

I've come under the powerful influence of Elizabeth Zimmermann. Reading her books, makes me want to just get something on the needles and see for myself, try something new, take a look at the shapes and forms that knitting can produce.

Whammo, you get a big purple thing.

Before I knew it, half a day was shot, and I had swatched and had half a front done for a rib warmer vest. The swatching and planning and first knitting happened Thursday, Sunday, after a little ripping back, and reknitting on the first corner, after this mornings thinking about fit and shaping on a shapeless design, I'm down to the second corner of the first half of the vest, and have my changes, plans and size adjustments worked out and done.

I'm having such a good time knitting this vest. Interesting shape, short enough rows that it fits on my favourite needles, short straights and a yarn in a rich tweeded purple. What's not to love.