Monday, April 23, 2007


It's grey and just that bit too damp to put the washing out. On the other hand, after considerable expenditure and about a fortnight of hard labour in the garden, we might be able to sit outside next weekend and, well, just sit and contemplate our accomplishments. I think the electricians have finished with us bar submitting the final bill; the house is festooned with green&yellow earth wire and little silver tags that advertise the fact it is PME (whatever that is), and the new electricity meter is sitting in a box! on the outside! of the house instead of nestling at the back of the cupboard in which we store all our alcohol. I look forward to NOT seeing the expression on the meter-reader's face as I open the cupboard doors. That involved digging 15m of trench 45cm deep, laying duct for the power line and covering the whole lot when they'd finished. I learned how they connect a new cable to the existing supply *while it's live*, which is rather cool. I'd hoped for fireworks, but the chap just looked at me strangely and said "Not on Friday the 13th!". We spent this weekend replacing the rotted ex-railway sleepers that retained one of the flower beds with new solid sleeper-size chunks of French oak. I ordered these while he was away, because I had a cunning plan for a few more. Which worked:
Our garden from my workroom window. At one end of the bed there are now four chunks of oak standing upright, forming a partition/break. For what it's worth, placing those was much easier than we thought, given that each full-length piece must weigh c. 50kg. Note the new path, too. The blue tarp covers spare soil that must be disposed of together with the old sleepers. Which will be expensive: creosote is now a banned substance, so the sleepers (bits of which are still solid because they were soaked in it) are considered hazardous waste.

All that and knitting, too!
FO: Monsoon Socks, from Blue Moon Fiber Arts Rockin' Sock Club.
Knitted exactly to the pattern, with sole and instep on 2mm needles, leg on 2.5mm. I could just about have managed the whole thing on 2mm, but I couldn't consistently knit the cable round loosely enough on the leg. So, after two rounds I ripped back to the heel and changed to 2.5mm.
I am excruciatingly pleased with these. I've learned how to do an hourglass? toe (start at the sole with my first-ever provisional cast-on, short-row down to the toe, then pick up the short rows as you increase back up to instep width. Then rip out the cast-on and start knitting rounds as you head up the foot. As it were.). I'd never thought of garter stitch toes/heels; they're extremely soft. The yarn is BMFA mediumweight, the thickest sock yarn I've knitted (incidentally, I'm intrigued by the variability of the patterning on the completed socks. Scroll through the others posted in the gallery). I love the feel of the yarn as I knitted it, woolly and resilient, and I love the cozy fabric it made. I love the colours, I love the intricate, witty pattern... I'm bouncing slightly as I type, I love these socks so much!

The next pair is (of course) already on the needles. This is SWTC 'Tofutsies', bought because the ingredients sounded interesting (soy silk? chitin??) and it was on sale. I can confirm reports of its 'splittiness', but it's not too bad in straight knit/purl. M1 was a pain. It feels thin, but apparently will bloom a bit when washed; there were lots of comments for/against this yarn on Wendy's blog, so I reserve judgement. I'm certainly not that keen on the colour patterning. This is the first 'mechanically' coloured/patterned sock yarn I've knitted, and I much prefer the subtleties (or not) of hand-paints. Never mind, live and learn. I've also bought some fabric to drape and cut into pattern pieces for a summer top I want to design. I can see it clearly in my mind's eye, I just have to work out how to knit the thing. Some of it's sideways :-) And I'm working intermittently on the Seraphim I started months ago. It's a purple/blue jellyfish c. 520 st in circumference; only two more rows before I start the pattern charts. And find out if my calculations of stitch count to add a repeat were correct. I felt such an ass, I made so many mistakes working that out.

The US/UK exchange rate is very favourable at the moment, which means I've wasted far too much time coveting yarns available only in the US. I got as far as drafting an email order to Habu, told myself not to be greedy then, 15 minutes later, I was making notes of rovings I want from Crown Mountain Farm (this last is all HPNY's fault!). I've been wondering why I (and at least a few other bloggers) are so easily tempted by fibre when I am generally able to resist the siren song of anything other than books. It's got something to do with price: fibre is a relatively cheap habit, especially if it's to be hand-spun AND hand-knitted. It's got something to do with potential, the possibility that I can produce something truly beautiful from this as-yet unformed stuff. But most of all (for me)
it's the colours and textures of the handpaints: true artistry makes me covet colours I normally hate, and I want to run everything through my hands. I think some of these yarns are speaking the same language as the art on our walls and the sculptures in the garden. I love undyed fibres too (my alpaca/silk makes me so happy), but I suspect I'll always have my nose stuck to the sweetshop window, greedily eyeing the pretty colours. "I want one of these and one of those... wait, there's no point in having just one, it's not enough to make anything. Three of these and three of those and, oh, wow, I could make a sweater of that...")

In addition to all the socks I've knitted for myself to date, I present my most recent extravagance as evidence for the above. This is handpainted silk top from Carol Weymar, the Silkworker. Just checking that URL has revived my greed. I must be strong, I will not succumb, I will think about what I've already bought. On the left a pink/purple/orange that is far outside my colour comfort zone, but I know at least two people who would love a scarf or shawl as beautiful as that. On the right, something for me. Black and chestnut and grey and brown and gold.
And here's a reminder of other beauties. Spanish bluebells in Saturday sunlight.
Please may I have some sock yarn in those colours?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


That's what he said I must be when, last night, I cast on for the BMFA Sock Club 'Monsoon' Socks almost as soon as I'd finished the Amber Monkey socks. I delayed only to cook/serve/eat dinner and wind the Monsoon skein into balls. He said it again this morning, when I abandoned my book for the socks as soon as I'd eaten breakfast. But look, they're so interesting! I hadn't tried garterstitch toes and heels, I've never ever done a crochet provisional cast-on before. And the yarn is delightful, soft and bouncy.

FO: Amber Monkey socks.
Pattern: 'Monkey', free from knitty.
Yarn: 'Seat by the fire' from A Piece of Beauty.
Modifications: Knitted both at once on two circs rather than DPNs; leg/instep on 2.5mm, heelflap, sole, toes on 2mm. I tried to adapt the pattern for toe-up, but I don't think it's possible (there's an earlier post about this). If I knit them again, I'll try for one more pattern repeat on the leg. The toe is reduced from 32/needle to 14st/needle, then grafted; it works, but the end result seems very square albeit I haven't noticed a difference in fit. If I do this type of toe again I might try to remember to start a row or two earlier and do the same shaping I do for toe-up.
He said he couldn't believe I'd be willing to wear these socks. I asked why (somewhat belligerently), expecting a comment about the colour (M absolutely HATES it), but he said they appeared far too complex and valuable to be exposed to wear. Strange; I think this is a straightforward, easily memorised pattern.

If you're cold, put on socks. That's what they're for.
With apologies to Brenda Dayne :-)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

FO: Green Mountain Madness Socks

Home Sweet Home :-)
I've forgiven him the photo of a yarn shop window; he brought back a tin of maple syrup (we were running low), a dinky little bright green ipod shuffle (the cord on my old one is absolutely disgustingly sweat-stained), and 2 skeins of qiviut. And a lot of washing. These socks are perfect in circumference, but still slightly too long. I may just knit a toe or two to see how difficult it would be to open the toe, shortening it by ripping back about 1.5cm, then grafting it closed.

The airport was an ideal opportunity to knit. Lots of progress on the Amber socks.
The heel is turned using K2tog/SSK instead of wrapped short rows. It seems to be a simpler method, worth remembering. I'm following the instructions as written, which resulted in a tiny pointed heel (visible on the sock I'm not wearing) but that won't show when they're worn. I'm working as fast as I can on these, as there are so many other things I want to knit -- including the seriously interesting BMFA Rockin' Sock Club 'Monsoon' socks. I've seen a lot of pictures and it's really, really hard not to just cast on. But the rule seems to be only one pair of socks per person on the needles at any one time. I suspect the Tuesday spinners/knitters have accurately diagnosed my addiction: Lynn started calling me 'Professor Sock' last week when yet another person asked for advice on sock-knitting! I also want to try a rib-warmer; I think it won't entirely suit me (too square), but I like the idea.

Anyway. I don't really mind the long drive to and from the airport (Gatwick this time). His car is comfortable, has decent speakers, and I allow lots of time for the journey; there are always queues and delays. At least this time
I had time to admire the view from the top of the bridge at the Dartford crossing. Airports are strange places. Like railway stations and, to a lesser extent, Tube (Underground) stations, they're what's the word, I can't think of it marginal? Liminal. That's the one. Places defined by their existence between other places. I like the feel of transience, unreality, liminality. Spending an hour (I was early and the flight was late) knitting socks in the coffeeshop by Arrivals, I was a stationary object, a landmark in the constant flux, the flow of people arriving, greeting and being greeted, and departing again. I moved to the edge of the Arrivals area for the next hour (the monitors were broken so I didn't know when they'd clear Customs) and began knitting the travelling scarf that lives in my bag for times like these, when I have to knit without thought.

This is the curicura silk from Habu, bought at Alexandra Palace 2006. Habu's photo colur is off, mine is more accurate. It's peculiar stuff. At times I feel as though I'm knitting microscopic filaments of spun gold; at others I think I'm knitting glass fibre loft (attic) insulation. I haven't decided yet whether this is going to be a strikingly elegant and characterful scarf to be worn with expensive assymetric designer clothes... or a striking mistake to be unravelled and used for something else. I was almost sorry when I saw him finally materialise and we had to leave :-)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Plying can be fun!*

and very, very educational. If you like this kind of thing.
I recently revealed the Ugly Yarn, a mottled skein of orange and blue and white created by plying a singles of random lengths of blue, orange and white with a singles of blue. I decided to try Navajo plying to see if that made a more attractive pattern.
My first and second efforts. My word, but that takes coordination! 30 minutes once a day will be ample exercise for my brain. I thought the patterning, the neatly defined blocks of colour, much more attractive. In the skein. It's the knitting that counts.

On the left, the Ugly Skein. On the right, the Navajo-plied skein. I, er, I quite like the Ugly Skein heathering. The bright, clear striping of the NP yarn does nothing at all for me in those colours, although I can see that being able to force striping could be useful. The coolest thing is the difference in the texture of the fabric, and the skeins, for that matter. The standard 2-ply is a nice, soft knitted fabric. The NP on the other hand has bounce! The added twist makes it seriously sproinggy. (I completely messed up my third attempt at NP'g by neglecting to think through how the brake would affect bobbin speed, resulting in a yarn of such lively sproingginess it almost leapt back out of the rubbish bin before the lid closed.) Apparently if the singles is well-spun and even, the little knot-equivalents where the loop begins aren't noticeable in the final yarn. I may try this on the sole of my foot, as (spun and plied correctly) I think this yarn would be both soft and hard-wearing.

This was so much more interesting and exciting than the work I should be doing that I decided to reward myself with something more attractive than blue, orange and white. I pre-drafted a length of the very felted hand-dyed finger-wide roving I bought last September at Alexandra Palace, and dug out the dyed silk top that I'd thought would look good with it.
That's a bobbin of the singles spun from the merino (note the intensity of the colours) with the silk top at bottom right. When I'd spun half the weight of the roving I started another bobbin using the rest of the roving, randomly mixing in lengths of silk top. The result can be seen to the right in the photo below. The pale silk has diluted the intensity of the colours (contrast with bobbin on left or above). Verrrrrry interestink.
And in the middle is what I got by plying these two together. I knew the added silk was making the second singles thicker than the first, but I was nonetheless surprised by the bulk of the end result. I thought I was spinning more finely than this, but perhaps the merino was reverting a bit to the crinkled mess it was in the roving. I don't really care. It may be thicker than I'd expected, but it's very pretty. I've got about 10 or 20m of the pure wool singles left, so I'm plying that with pure silk. It's very pretty too.

* even more fun than duct tape, and it doesn't smell of plastic.