Picking up the Pieces (TITW Part 4)

I really cannot blame the day’s polar vortex temperatures, by the time I sat down to knit my dexterity had more or less returned.  With temperatures in the single digits, I had donned sweater, fur-lined boots, shawl wrapped around nose and face, knit cap, cozy cashmere gloves, and topped it off with a below the knee, fake-fur-lined-hood-up-and-snapped-in-place down parka in preparation for my walk to the end of the driveway to collect trash bins.  The spouse, bless his heart, had put cut-up cardboard boxes not inside the recycling bin, or even between the bins, but on top of the bins where they could blow like dust in the wind.  And blow they did, scattered across neighboring yards like giant dead leaves.  The cashmere gloves that had seemed cozy while getting layered up were insufficient for gathering wet slushy boxes.  The chill gripped my face and fingers. The thought that cardboard will eventually recycle itself did flicker across my mind–and I sincerely hope the ones in the pond eventually do–but having our address on many of the boxes would make us rather unpopular in the neighborhood were I to just leave them.  Not an option.

With a newly lit fire roaring, a cup of hot tea consumed, and two hits of a rescue inhaler to offset the cold-induced asthma, I really cannot blame it on frozen digits.  Stitches still fell off the ends of needles and, when I started the double wrapped slipped stitches I realized that my skill in picking up stitches was not equal to the task.  I fixed one set of double wrapped stitches, poorly while lying to myself that I would never notice it in the finished work, and moved along even more carefully.  Just as the sun was going down and the day darkened, snap.  Another needle broke while knitting, dropping stitches everywhere.  I put it down, walked away, and did the one thing any rational person would do: got online and ordered some unbreakable metal needles.

The next day I grabbed the set of Dreamz needles I had on hand, picked up the stitches, put aside my despair, and moved on.  Happy to report that it has been going great, no dropped stitches, no broken needles, and the awkwardness is finally subsiding.  I even got a rhythm going with the double wrapped slipped stitches.  The rescue box arrived containing more of the lovely Lantern Moon Sock Sticks, the needles I have so handily been snapping to pieces. I had to admit, my top choice at the start was not the best choice for me. Shout out to Paradise Fibers, not only did they get these needles to me quickly, they were so nice about allowing me to return them.  For all that shopping, I may have found just what I needed hidden in my own collection of needles.

More polar vortex days on the way, but I will be by the fire knitting around and around and around until I reach a heel, trying not to think about the specter of the second sock.



Broken Arrow (TITW Part 3)

It is 12 degrees F heading for a high of 15 and a low of 8 today.  A pair of woolie socks would be very nice right about now, but I have miles to go before I wear.

Madness in the method.  I started by casting all stitches onto one tiny toothpick-sized needle, moved half the stitches to a second toothpick-sized needle, and started knitting with a third needle, introduced a fourth, and–high wire circus act–added a fifth.  I was so tempted to start with a circular needle, with all the space in the world to spread out the stitches to count and corral them, but I stuck with the method as described in the course video.  Adding each needle was like adding a ball with juggling but I stayed the course and got them all in play.

One newbie issue was to be expected, awkwardness with those little sticks and sharp points sticking out in all directions.  Having done a little needle test swatch knitting in the round helped prepare me but this time there were a lot more stitches and I was working in a rib pattern rather than a simple knit.  The first surprise was how easily stitches could fall off the needle to the front or the back.  Fortunately I am pretty adept at picking up dropped stitches but it was annoying to have to stop and fix them, hard to get a rhythm going when it is slip-slide, whoops, [expletive], inhale, fix time after time.

By squashing the stitches to the center of the needle before moving on to the next I have found they are behaving better.  Or perhaps they are just staying put because I have more rows knit to stabilize them.  We shall see if my technique has improved when I start the process again on sock number two.  Optimistically I am saying when rather than if.

The second sock syndrome still worries me a bit.  Will I really want to start this all over again when I finally finish the first?  With that in mind, I ordered a second set of these itty bitty needles thinking that next time it would make sense to work on two socks simultaneously: do the cuffs on the first then do the cuffs on the second, do the legs on the first then do the legs on the second, and so on.

As it turns out, it is a fortunate that I ordered more of these needles.  While fixing dropped stitches for the umpteenth time, I heard a horrible snap.  And with that snap came stitches falling off the center of the needle as well as the front and back.  Now I know why the included 6 needles in that pack. I thought it was because they were so tiny that they could get lost easily, but perhaps it was because they are just brittle little sticks and not long for this world. Thinking I was in no hurry when I ordered more I went with the very free but very slow shipping option. I will be holding my breath until they arrive. Snap or lose, my gauge would change if I substituted a different needle.  I need to stay with these for the duration and now I am driving without a spare tire.

Am I a punk knitter?  Maybe I do need to stop hugging trees and go back to metal.


Choose Your Weapon [TITW Part 2]

Planning phase (or procrastinating as it is allowing me to put this sock knitting thing off for a bit longer).

Before starting a knitting project there is a certain amount of planning required.  This might be my favorite time because I see my finished project only in my imagination–and it is always amazing–before being faced with any of the grim realities.  The which comes first, yarn or pattern, is a chicken and egg thing.  Sometimes it starts with finding a pattern to match a yarn and sometimes it starts with finding a yarn to match a pattern.  Chances are, in spite of the size of one’s pattern library and number of bins storing one’s yarn stash, having the one will lead to the purchasing of the other.  But this project starts happily for my pocketbook with a free pattern in a free KAL [knit along] class and re-gifted yarn from the shelf.  The next decision is which set of sticks are going to shape the string.

The first weapons were probably sharp sticks and fist-sized rocks.  Although my ball of yarn would work well as an item to pitch, hopefully I will not feel inclined to hurl it across the room during the course of this project. But I do need a set of sharp sticks. When it comes to knitting, I am totally into metal needles but this may be the time to stop rocking and rolling the heavy metal and become a mellow tree hugger.  Having passed through the many phases of bamboo, plastic, exotic woods, nickel, steel, straights, and circulars, I reach first for Signature Stilettos. The thought of knitting with tools called “stilettos” alone might be enough to make them my preference, but those brightly colored finger piercing sharp lovelies are what I reach for first and enjoy using the most.  If they came in size 0 or 1 the discussion would stop right here; I would grab one or two of them and use the other methods for knitting in the round–magic loop or knitting with 2 circulars–and abandon the notion of trying DPNs [double pointed needles].  This experiment would be at an end.

Those short little DPNs are going to feel awkward at first so I am going from Led Zeppelin to Dan Fogleberg, putting aside the slick metal and going for the less slippery woods.  That eliminates all the metal options, but thankfully my needle stash included a few options to try beyond the usual Clover bamboo. I started first with Brittany which were very nice but I think better for a slippery yarn; they were a bit too tacky and points too dull for the yarn I am using.  I next tried both the everyday Knitter’s Pride and the Mercedes of the needlecraft world, Dyakraft’s handcrafted wooden needles.  Either of those needles–with just the slightest preference for the Dyakraft–would have been a fine choice, but in the end the ones I felt most comfortable with for a combination of smoothness and sharpness were the Lantern Moon Sock Sticks, if one can call the feel of any set of size 0 itty bitty tiny sticks “comfortable”.

In the process of trying needles, I used different sizes and created a gauge swatch to calculate the number of stitches per inch each size needle produced with my yarn. Gauge swatches are one of those oft hated and scorned necessities, but without matching the size of my stitches to those specified in the pattern I would be doomed to failure.  I do remember my first pair of mutant, oversized socks and lesson learned.  This time the aim is for Golidlocks socks, not too big and not to small but just right.

Having reached the decision on which needles to use for this project I did what any reasonable knitter would do at that moment…I immediately went online and ordered more of them in different sizes.  Yes, I do harbor the illusion that I will have success and do this again.  And when I do, I will have the needles, in whatever size necessary, ready and waiting in my tool kit. I view it as optimism, not as hoarding.  As with patterns and yarns, it is all about planning for that magical day when I enter my workroom and find the pattern that matches the yarn that matches the needles. It could happen.  One day.


Toe in the Water (TITW Part 1)

I have not yet succumbed to the siren song of sock knitting. Opinions differ as to the best method for knitting socks, and few have opinions so strong as those of sock knitters. But with so many knitters turning out pair after pair, carrying their projects about in adorable project bags, and spending small fortunes on skein after skein of drop dead gorgeous sock yarn, I can only think that I am missing out on something fabulous and all engrossing. How do I go about mastering this?

I have made forays into the abyss before.  I took a class for knitting  two-at-a-time socks top-down on two-circular needles.  I bought the book. I knit a pair of men’s socks for my daughter’s boyfriend that were positively mutant–sized for a giant–and quickly frogged them back to their original state, a ball of yarn.  From cuff to toe I knit them again.  Although I would love to report a happy ending, practice did not make perfect and, although somewhat improved, they were just awful.  Nevertheless, I wrapped them up in pretty paper and gave them to him as a Christmas gift.  They broke up.

A year later I took a class for knitting two-at-a-time socks toe-up on two circular needles. I bought the book. I knit another pair of socks for my daughter’s boyfriend, toe to cuff and much better than the first, wrapped them up in pretty paper, and gave them to him as a Christmas gift.  They broke up.

My mother and I used to spend time knitting together when I lived close by.  She often spoke about how much fun she had knitting socks, well fun except for the darning heels part when my father wore through them.  Thousands of miles away and remembering those conversations, I was inspired to buy her a few skeins of sock yarn one Christmas.  Sadly, the last time I visited her she handed me the yarn, still in the gift box, declaring that she was no longer able to knit.  I brought it back with me and with great sadness put in on a shelf where it has sat for over a year.

Sock knitting has not brought me happiness.  Yet with watching pair after pair of socks come off needles in my knitting group, listening to a recent podcast from the ever encouraging Prairie Piper featuring the joy of knitting socks, and finding out about a free sock knitting class taught by the ever entertaining Lucy Neatby on Craftsy, it seemed like the right time to once more stick a toe in the water.  First, I did something that I rarely do with a Craftsy class, I watched it.  What inspiration it fired deep from within. Yes, I think I can take 5 little pointy sticks no fatter than toothpicks and create a foot covering.  Maybe even two foot coverings.

The box of sock yarn was right on the shelf where I had left it so many months ago.  I wound the skeins into cakes of yarn, ready to be confronted by 5 tiny pointy sticks and assembled into lovely socks.  I like my daughter’s current boyfriend very much. If 5 tiny pointy sticks do not lovely socks make, they will go into my own sock drawer.  If by some miracle they become the lovely socks that exist so vividly in my imagination, I will return the gift to my mother as socks in place of skeins of yarn.

No lifetime warranty included, she will have to darn her own darn heels.