Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ripping Yarn

I've reached the ankle of the still-nameless sock that was inspired by a wallpaper from Upstairs, Downstairs.

Sock in Progress

You must pardon the photograph–I'm away from my proper camera, and used the one that lives in my computer.

After a day of pondering the leg I've decided to rip it all back and re-knit it. What you can't see in the photograph are the flaws and wobbles. They are legion. This is my first sock in two colors, you see, and a new design. I couldn't resist experimenting along the way.

I began on two circulars–my usual method–with the work right side-out. Then came a problem I've never had before: a slight buckling at the transition from needle to needle. No amount fiddling helped, so I flipped the sock inside out. This eliminated the buckling and gave me effortless, perfectly tensioned floats all around; but the flopping ends of the loose needle kept getting in the way of the working yarns. Annoying.

I switched to five double-points. First right side-out (satisfactory), then inside-out (perfect). I get a far looser gauge with the double points (though they're the same size and material as the circulars) and the ankle of the sock is bigger than the cuff.

You may be wondering who on earth looks so closely at my socks that any of this would matter to them. Nobody. Nobody but me, that is, and every time I put it on I'd grit my teeth.

So, my friends, it's rippin' time. But from the smoking ruins will rise a new sock, a better sock, a sock that the other knitters won't make fun of on the playground.

Rip rip rip rip rip.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I realized recently that I’ve been doing this needles-and-string act long enough to perceive, for the first time, certain trends in my output. These trends are not at all what I’d have predicted when I started out.

If one’s knitting is a journey, I set out for Sausalito and wound up in Angkor Wat. I remember distinctly an early vision myself with a closet full of rustic handmade sweaters, made by me for me. They would fit properly, which off-the-rack sweaters never do. They would be beautiful, like folk art; but practical, like Gore-Tex.

So far, I’ve started three and finished one.

I know how to knit sweaters. I still enjoy the idea of knitting sweaters. I have (oh sweet Sally Melville, do I have) enough yarn to knit sweaters. But I do not, for the most part, knit sweaters.

On the other hand, my lifestyle is not such that I often stand before the mirror and think, You know what would look great with those motorcycle boots? A lace shawl. Yet I have discovered that I don’t feel like I’m up to much unless there’s at least one lacy thing in progress and two or three others under contemplation. If you look through my finished objects, you’ll see I’ve knit way more than my share of holes.

Go thou, as the Bible says, and figure.

Right now I’m up to my clavicle in nupps, thanks to Nancy Bush and her book, Knitted Lace of Estonia. I waited a long time for this book–years, Nancy, but who’s counting?–and was so relieved to discover it was worth the wait. Before it was released, I got my paws on a copy of the preview and Susan ordered one (1) copy of Miralda’s Triangular Shawl as soon as she saw it.

Miralda 01

I decided, for reasons that are still unclear to me, that I should spin the yarn for this myself, using some beautiful Border Leicester provided by a friend. It’s coming along slowly, though my speed continues to improve.

Miralda Singles

(There’s nothing so titillating as a shot of a partially-filled bobbin of handspun singles, is there? Unless it’s a low-resolution YouTube video of drying paint.)

Mind you, I refuse to wait until the spinning’s finished to try out a pattern from the book, so I grabbed some JaggerSpun Zephyr and started the Leaf and Nupp shawl.

Nupps, in case you are not familiar with them, are little bundles of wrapped stitches characteristic of Estonian lace knitting. The word is pronounced “noop” and means “devil’s rabbit dropping.” (Nancy Bush insists it means “button” or “bud,” but you work a few of them and then tell me who you believe.)

Ha, ha. I jest. Nupps truly are not difficult after a bit of practice, and well worth the effort for the striking texture they add to the finished piece. Still, when you are learning, do so on a swatch and not the shawl; and make sure impressionable children and sensitive relations are out of earshot until you’ve got the moves down pat.

Photographs of in-progress lace are even worse than photographs of in-progress bobbins. Unless you take a lot of time to prep the shot, which I could not, they look like the bastard offspring of cheesecloth and macramé. But I tried silhouetting it against the morning sunlight, and offer you these.

Leaf and Nupp 02

Leaf and Nupp 01

If you squint, they look kind of artsy. If you don’t squint, please don’t say I never offered you the opportunity.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Am I Here? Here Am I. I Am Here.

Push Da ButtonThat grinding noise you hear is rust working its way out of the joints in my cerebral cortex. My friend the Prominent Anatomist insists there are no joints in the brain, but I don’t believe it. I can feel them in there most days, creaking.

I have to stop every so often and oil the works to keep them from freezing up, which I neglected to do this month. Therefore, the extended silence.

And there has been so much to relate.

A talk at the Yarn Market News conference in Chicago. A talk at Knit in Public Day in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. A signing and a class at Loop, in Philadelphia. Two appearances in New York City at Knitty City and Annie and Co. And a visit to a live taping of my all-time favorite National Public Radio show, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, at which a group of knitters presented Mo Rocca with a quite gorgeous hand-knit sweater and I gave him a copy of the little book. (There’s even a video of that one, if you scroll down to the bottom of the WWDTM page.)

And I’ve been knitting, though mostly on projects that’ll be published elsewhere.

Just couldn’t write about any of it. Could not.

When you are accustomed to writing at least with fluency, if not elegance, realizing that you've suddenly gone dry is terrifying. It’s like sitting down to knit, and finding your fingers have melted and run down the drain.

Every writer suffers from block now and again. It’s an occupational hazard. But this wasn’t a block, it was a wall of blocks. A big wall, like that one in China. I was on one side, and on the other were all the ideas. I could hear them having a marvelous time, blowing kazoos and playing tag. But I couldn’t get over the wall.

My usual tricks–scribbling randomly in notebooks, talking into a recorder, beating my face against the shower door–fizzled like a pack of wet matches.

I started envying people who aren’t usually sources of envy. Like the guy who hands out flyers in front of the subway station. Sure, I thought. You have to stand in the rain shilling for a mariachi band that’s paying you a quarter an hour. But you don’t have two unfinished articles staring you down, vulturewise, from a perch just above the keyboard.

In the end, this time I simply had to give up the struggle and wait.

Thank goodness for knitting. Knitting helped. When I couldn’t follow a noun with a verb, I could still follow a knit with a purl. It felt like progress, production, industry. It kept my fingers busy while the circuits in my brain rebooted. I know it's far more traditional for a writer to turn to drink, but I'm too much of a lightweight to handle Thunderbird and too cheap to pay for good champagne.

(Just imagine if, instead of glugging whiskey in excess, that nice Mr. Hemingway had thought to cast on for a mitten. I bet The Old Man and the Sea would have ended properly, with a round of mojitos and a fish fry.)

As to what I've been knitting and lots of other knitting-related chitchat, tune in tomorrow. And no, I’m not kidding, I mean tomorrow. I'd write more, but I have to take Dolores downtown for a go-see at Veterinary Practice News and she's getting antsy.