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On The Needles: Hickory Socks

Happy Friday friends!

I'm still happily working away on my personal Knitter Book of Socks challenge {My goal is to knit ALL the socks in Clara Parkes' book of the same name }. Check out the  #kboschallenge hashtag on Instagram to see everything I've made so far.

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These are the hickory socks designed by Jane Cochran and knitted with yarn dyed by Loralee at my LYS Mockingbird Moon. These lovelies are basically ribbing that is stacked wonky-ily {but not unprettily} making the sock look like the bark of a tree when it's worn. Ribbing = tightness, so these are knitted hugs for feet.

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They made their way to my favorite social worker in Texas last week {Ie. my sophomore roommate and one of my life long soulmate people}. If anyone deserves a foot hug it's her.

Technically, these socks were a lot more fun than I thought they would be. In part this is because it was the first that I used the chart exclusively.

I've realized a big benefit to this class is that it's forced me {in a nice, gentle, and kind way} to read charts. Charts are pictorial abbreviations yes; they allow a person to knit without worrying that they've missed a line in the directions. {Because that's never fun.} But they are also an a sort of picture of what the finished product looks like. And that's lovely isn't it? To know that what you're doing as you're doing it. A visual pat on the back of reassurance.

At least that's what it is to my "always question all the things" self. I wonder if that's just me...

Regardess : Here's hoping your upcoming weekend brings signs of Spring or hope or hugs. Or all three.

On the Needles : Basics Basics Basics Lesson 2

In my last post I implied that the real fun started with my TKGA experience with Lesson 2 of the Basics Basics Basics correspondence course. 

Partly, this is because I am a huge nerd. No, actually, this is entirely because I am a huge nerd and both of these lessons allowed me a "peak behind the curtain" of the "why" and "how" behind different knitting techniques. It allowed me to see why some directions list one thing while another set lists another. It allowed me a chance to demystify some techniques I had always wondered about  {"How DOES one knit a v-neck sweater that has two divergent directions?" "Why DO handmade and machine made garments look different?" "What is all this talk about GAUGE?"}. 

The best part of the learning was the de-mystification didn't take the joy out of it. Instead, it increased the magic. It showed me that things can be greater than the sum of their parts.

Read on to see the specifics.

Lesson Two was about decreases, but it also taught me how one makes v-neck sweaters {swatch 5, 6, and 7} and why certain decreases are used in lace instead of others {check out the last swatch and you will see that the middle stitches below the yarnover holes are all arranged differently}.

It also taught me to not be a cheapy and to buy proper finishing pins. {Swatch 5 and 6 have tiny punkers around their edges because I used sewing pins to block them and they don't distribute their weight as well as the "good pins".} 

But the brightest light bulb moment of Lesson Two is that I finally started keeping a legitimate knitting "diary". For Lesson One, I made-do by writing my how-to's on the margins of the course notes. But this time, I would start a new section of my notebook and write down exactly what I did on each swatch. 

  • Stockinette: 6 rows.
  • k2, ssk, k14, k2tog, k2.
  • p20.
  • k2, ssk, k12, k2tog, k2.

Writing this down, it sounds utterly inane.
I wasn't actually using these swatches for anything. It's not as if my instructor would be too terribly concerned if her directions weren't followed perfectly.

But the ambiguity of the instructions, "Knit one inch of stockinette before starting decreases. Decrease until you have 14 stitches on your needles then knit one more inch in stockinette." were ambiguous to a woman who likes knitting for the rules it allows me to follow. Tell me to knit one inch and all the sudden I need to know exactly how many rows one inch is. And I also need to knit that same number of rows on the opposite side. 

In two thousand years, if humanity has managed to keep itself going that long, a future archaeologist will find my magically petrified notebooks and be convinced that she has come across an unknown language.

And that makes me smile. 


Lesson 3 coming soon.

On the Needles : Basics Basics Basics - Lesson One

"Why did I do this? Why am I using my coveted making time to go toward lessons and instructions and courses rather than just doing the making?!" These were the things my brain was yelling at me as I waited for my results to come back from the instructor for the TKGA "Basics Basics Basics" Course, Lesson 1.

I had told myself before that it was because I loved learning. And that's true. I do.

But another truth that this first lesson brought to my attention is that I have a massive inferiority / imposter complex. I haven't been knitting since I was 5 do surely I'm not a "real" knitter. I don't live in a particularly cold climate {the Rockies / Canada} and my home doesn't have a particularly strong knitting culture {New England / Sweden}. Surely this also means I'm not a real knitter.

Yes, I'm able to read patterns and make things that... mostly... fit. But that's just basic comprehension. That doesn't make me "real" does it?

Yes, I've had an idea and then made it happen with skeins of yarn and two needles. But that's just problem solving and working through mistakes. That doesn't make me "real" does it?


The thing that this first lesson taught me, first and foremost, is that I'm not a "fake" knitter. I'm as real {ie. individually strange} as they come- I know how to make the basic two stitches and, with some written instructions and the occasional youtube video, I can make lots of things happen. Sometimes they happen less than perfectly, but they happen, and "things happening" is the essential part of me that needs to come out. That's the stuff that makes me a maker.

I learned that I need to get over my silly complexes so that I can truly focus on the learning. And I learned I'm ready for Lesson 2.


Below are the five swatches I knit for the first lesson.
Scroll past the images to see the instructors comments and my results.

The first thing that Arenda helped me realized was that this class and it's next step {TKGA's Master Hand Knitter certification} doesn't initially help foster creativity. The first steps are about following directions and knowing how to exactly make another's pattern. This is, she says, a stepping stone to knowing best how to get your ideas onto paper and into someone else's hands.

She then went on to address specific questions I had while working through these swatches.

Tension: I had mentioned that my last purl stitch always seemed loose. She explained that this was a common issue and directed me toward these two articles {ridges + enlarged bind-off} by Suzanne Bryan {whose website I find to be a treasure trove of nerdy knitting information}.
She also mentioned that the yarn I choose had "high twist", and that this generally contributes to wonky tension but that by tension was "quite nice" in the center of the swatches. {my reasoning: more twist equals more energy which equates to yarn pushing out and wanting to do its own thing}.

Weaving in ends: This was one of the things I MOST enjoyed about the entirety of this course... though I didn't realize it in this lesson. Anything related to finishing was foreign to me. As a mostly self-taught knitter I never had a problem with knots or random unwoven ends... I just figured that was a quirk of a self-made garment. But something that came up over and over in Arenda's course was the difference in "handmade" versus "homemade".
She explained that a garment that is finished with the same acuity as the "proper" knitting makes a much more beautiful and elegant finished piece. 

I really appreciated this from an artist perspective. If an artist obsesses over an oil painting for hours only to realize that it has been painted on a refrigerator box and mounted it on toilet paper, its value is suddenly in question. Something that I learned from a wise artist is to let one's work be intentional. Proper finishing is intention and, in that, an art. One that, I confess, I still have to work on, but am light years ahead of where I was before this class.

Blocking: Again, a finishing issue that I had never made myself learn. I viewed the resource she shared approximately one thousand times. If you are new to blocking you should too: White Horse Designs "Blocking for TKGA".

Increases: As this was the main part of lesson one, she went into lots of detail about this. One of those details was about how I had done the right side of swatch 04 incorrectly. Scroll up and it's pretty easy to catch: I made an open M1 stitch instead of right leaning M1 stitch. As such she requested that I make it again and re-send it to her with my lesson two stuff. ie. I failed!! 
Well maybe not failed, but I didn't do it perfectly. Scrolling up again you can see that it is a bit wonky and would probably catch the eye of someone admiring the sweater you've spent literally days of your life toiling over. Might as well figure out how to make it correctly, right? 


This was a great start to my TKGA experience: mostly "known" concepts presented to me in a super structured format, with enough "new" to make it interesting. What I didn't realize was that I would enjoy the next lessons even more.

More on those soon.

On the Needles : When Socks Transform into Hugs

In part one, I explained why the thought of sending surprise socks was nice but not terribly practical.

So this is what the sock turned in to. 

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It's The Sunshine Shawl for Sad People and it's a free download on Ravelry. 

Like most projects, I stumbled and fumbled to start with but, as I got going, it was a welcome respite from... life.

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While working on this shawl I learned that a cousin of mine was seriously injured and subsequently died. Traveling to his funeral in central Texas I had a toddler with tummy issues. In between the travel, I canceled and re-made the appointment that told me I needed a root canal. 

Shock, loss, frustration, inconvenience, physical pain. All things that life throws at us. All things, that, after a time, feel like incomparable weights.

But the chance to, in part, escape from the hurt, at least for a moment {without the bummer side effects of drugs} was a safe place. It wasn't me hiding from life, but working on it {knit two, yarnover, knit until the end of this row, yarnover, knit, yarnover...} gave me a chance to, momentarily, step away from the negativity. It allowed me the distance to say, "I can do 'Right now.' Keep going."

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In addition to all of that, this project was a gift of love for the mother of a child with cancer. Stitching stitching stitching, I would think about my friend L, breathe a prayer for her, send some good love juju to her child, and make the next stitch. 

Perspective is magic like that isn't it?

Tell me I have to jump all of these hurdles within a two week time span and I want to curl up into a ball and hide. Tell me of an alternative that I find even more daunting? I figure out my "right now". I uncurl and keep going. 

I might not be strong or powerful or courageous but I could be there for my family and I could take care of myself. The added benefit of taking some of that anxious and frightened energy and being able to turn a sock into a shawl, a physical thing that most closely resembles a hug, was an important reminder:

I can't do it all. 
But I can do something right now that matters.

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The shawl itself is better than I imagined it might turn out. On the advice of pattern designer Sylvia McFadden, I "pin[ned] the ever-living hell" of it. While this pattern is wonderfully simple, I knit it on needles a size bigger than what it was called for. This larger size (bigger needles equals bigger loops) combined with stretching it to its extreme, made the finished fabric light and airy. This is the type of thing my friend will be able to wear to a staff meeting at her school in Southern California without anyone asking her if she's planning on catching the next flight to the frozen tundra.  


I hope she loves it.  

Regardless, I have loved the process of making it for her. Finding my "right now" has been a gift in itself. 

If you have a second {or ten} to send your own prayer and positivity to L's daughter that gift would be appreciated as well. 

On the Needles : Why Handmade Socks Make a Bad Surprise Gift

I met L during a summer she came back from Spelman. We both worked at a small department store; reshelving shoes and figuring out this week's sale signs while passing off the most annoying customers to one another. "She talked to me for two hours last week. It's your turn."  

She had a beautiful smile that would crinkle her eyes and and a slightly husky laugh that was oh so often directed at me. I was a clueless sheltered white girl in small town southern Arkansas while she was an educated black woman going to one of the most prestigious HBCUs in a city that was just blooming into the ATL that we know today.

Those laughs: they weren't mean-spirited just... knowing... in the same way that I giggle and groan at the "babies" I've had the chance to work with in the fifteen years since.

I didn't realize it at the time, but L was someone I actively mirrored my life after. I fell in love with her descriptions of the city and grew excited as she spoke about her upcoming trip to Japan to teach English. A few years later I would be on a plane to teach English in Asia and a few years after that, living in a studio apartment in a big city, but there in the shoe section, all of those things seemed impossible until she spoke them. 

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Twenty years on and she's a school administrator in LA who's Facebook posts make me laugh just like I did when we were in the tiny breakroom in Hope, Arkansas. 

And then she announced her two year old had cancer.

She was very matter of fact, very direct, and as always, so well spoken. She asked that unless they were praying or asking for prayers her daughter's name not be spoken. Her message of, "Do not delight in my family's trial," was something so radically different and refreshing in this day of constant status updates. 

And there I was with a two year old who did not have cancer, but with whom I shared a strange sisterhood. How does one reach out and support the woman I had unknowingly shadowed, down to the birth of our children, for years? Well, I would knit her socks. 

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She had liked a picture of the golden socks I had knit for myself a few days previous. I also remembered that she had shared that gold was the color of November and it's being Childhood Cancer Awareness month. I would knit her a pair of golden socks and show her that I was listening and sending a {somewhat awkward} foot hug to her from far away in the Ozarks. 

And so I started. It was the first sock project I started post-LASEK. And the tiny needles and skinny yarn were cumbersome until I finally fell back into the rhythm. And then I re-read the pattern.  

"Knit until sole is ___ long while slightly stretched."

Wanting this to be a surprise I had messaged her sister {also a friend who I had shared another former lifetime with} and found out that she wore a "size 9.5-10 shoe and she had a wide foot". All the sudden I questioned my original calculations.

"Will it be too small?" This lead me to re-read the project description again:  "No ribbing equals less elasticity." This made even more questions pop up in my head.

"What if the leg of the sock is too constricting around her calves?

What if the lack of running causes the socks to pool around her ankles?"

These doubts led to more- She's a mom of a toddler and a teen, one of which has a major illness.

"Does she even have time to hash wash these things?"

As I was binding off that first sock I knew my gut was telling me to slow down. My heart was in the right place but these needles might not have been. 

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So I proceeded to rip it all out.

Part two soon.

On the needles : none of these things are like the other OR failure at its best

The magic of knitting is that one can take the same size yarn, the same size needles and make things of all different sizes. The consternation of knitting is that one can take the same size yarn, the same size needles and make things of all different sizes.

One can easily see how this is a problem with the picture below. 

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You see, my goal was to make my husband a hat to fish in. I had been so busy with my other projects that the, "Where's my handmade knit?" question was happening all too frequently. So when I came across the Hill Country Hat in The Knitter's Book of Wool by Clara Parkes.

I went for it. It was interesting without being dainty, and having read 5/6 of her books, I officially consider myself a fan. Why not make her stuff?

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So I did. But I messed up.

I'm not even going to try to explain the "how" except to say that I started it the evening before Christmas Eve after 10:30.

While it was definitely a "quick knit", I obviously should have taken the time to

  • A. knit a swatch
  • B. measure my husband's head
  • C. wait until the morning... or maybe until after Christmas
  • D. all of the above.

It was actually finished before we left for my in-law's the next day... and it didn't fit my head. Let alone his. Fortunately, it's something that Sam can grow into.

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Having failed at a new pattern I went back to an old reliable. This pattern is The Regular Guy Beanie by Chuck Wright and it was the second pattern that I ever bought. {Back then: I was newly married. I was a new knitter. I NEEDED to knit for my man.}  And having knit this project at least three times {no exaggeration} I knew this would work.

Except it didn't.

That same Christmas Eve day, my sister-in-law pointed out that this second project didn't look big enough either. But I knew better. I was the knitter. Not her.

I knit on... But it didn't magically grow in width.

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Sure enough, it was ridiculously small. As in, too tight for the two year old's head.

{I realized, after the fact, that I must have used larger needles previously.}

On to the next.

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I had previously finished reading Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's Knitting Rules In it she talks about the power of the swatch AND how one can transform a swatch into a hat. Having just worked through the TKGA's Basics, Basics, Basics {link} class I had a swatch in the same yarn. And this pattern {the Scarf Rescue Hat} was easy.

Garter stitch. Simple flat knitting. This was as brainless as this stuff comes. By this point is was past Christmas and I needed a husband hat pronto. This was the project that needed to happen.

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And sure enough this was a brainless knit.

So much so that I didn't pay too much attention some time and would miss the fact that I dropped a stitch... and I'd have to rip back to the dropped stitch, pick up that one stitch, and start over again.

Add that to the fact that garter is a notoriously slow stitch {those ridges compress together... instead of grow} and this was not the quick knit I was searching for.

But I was determined. Plus I was already past my deadline... I would surely finish this before next Christmas. Maybe.

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As it turns out I finished the knitting in three weeks. Definitely not as fast as the first two.

Then came the finishing. The concept of this hat is that it's basically a short scarf that one connects into tube that is then gathered up at the top.

So I learned how to connect everything with garter stitch grafting. {This took approximately 10 hours. Not really, actually closer to two. It was just ridiculously tedious.}
And then I gathered up the material... only to discover there was still a hole at the top. {Hashtag : frustration.} So I gathered more and figured out how to close it up.
And then I wove in the seven loose ends. {More tedium.}

But I liked the finished product. And it fit me with plenty of extra stretch for my husband's larger head. And I was done!!

Except... once the gift was gifted {imagine me presenting it to my husband at the end of the day, "It's done. Yay."} we both realized it wasn't going to work.

Yes, unlike the other hats so far it was wide enough, but in my exuberance {i.e. "PLEASE LET THIS BE DONE."} I had made it too tall. And my husband is not a hipster. A somewhat slouchy hat is not his thing.  And, it just wasn't cute on him.

Boo.


I've read that the reason that lots of new knitters quit is because the things they make don't fit. And after this experience I most definitely understand this frustration. 

Luckily, I've got enough positive experiences behind me to not get too wrapped up in the minor tragedy of the husband's fishing hat experience. He will most likely throw the largest hat in the boat and layer it with other hats when he goes fishing for striped bass {i.e. in the middle of winter, brrrr...}. The fish don't seem to mind his fashion, or lack thereof.

As for me, I've learned that, like any creative project, knitting often works best when it has some restraints.  In the future, I will plan ahead {no more last minute projects!}, swatch {they're fun! and quick and beautiful}, and measure {because "big" isn't always an adequate description}. 

And until I have these rules firmly established Sam will have a plethora of hats of various fit.