Jumper

You know those stories? The ones that end ‘and the doctor says with physical therapy I’ll be good as new in six months,’ or ‘but luckily, the lawyer got me off with just community service,’ or ‘so as long as I never go back to El Salvador, everything should be just fine?’  Have you noticed they all have something in common?  They’ve all got a moment when the story teller pauses and says ‘that’s the moment it all went wrong.’  I’m convinced that part of living to a ripe old age is learning to recognize those moments as they approach, rather than as they go whizzing past.  I did that yesterday.

I’ve been working on a little mitt, and it was at a good point to snap a picture to show to you lovely folks.  So I grabbed Millicent, the knitting, and the camera and headed out into the yard.  I set Millie, all decked out in the latest knitting, on a fencepost and snapped a few shots.  I was making an adjustment to my camera when I heard a dull thud.  I knew what it was before I looked up.

Millie had gone over the fence.

Now, to understand the full import of this, you need to know something about our lot.  Our property actually extends a good 10 or 15 feet beyond our back fence.  That area is at a tremendously steep angle though (really the only thing holding it up is habit and a carpet of ivy), and it is more or less unusable.  The only way to get to it is to go into our neighbor’s back yard, shimmy behind her garage, and creep along, clinging to the trees and brambles for dear life.  So when Millie fell of the chest-high fence, she actually fell down about 8 feet before she hit.  The ground is that steep.

I said a variety of very unladylike things, then leaned as far as I could over the fence (holding very tightly to my camera) and snapped a picture.  Alas, it in no way portrays the vast distance between me and Millie.  I could just barely reach her with a broom handle (yes, that is a strand of yarn trailing up from our fallen friend, the yarn never broke through all this, though it wasn’t strong enough to pull her back).

So, having lost Millie (and documented the incident for posterity), I decided to mount a rescue expedition.  I was in my pajamas.  I had not put on a coat.  I had put the kettle on for tea before I headed out to grab pics.  Somewhat to my credit, I did actually decide to stop and take a moment before I went shimmying behind buildings on steep, snow-covered hillsides.  I turned off the kettle, and texted The Boy to inform him of the situation.  Then I went in.  I got about 10 steps behind the garage when I decided this was A Bad Idea.  A Very Bad Idea Indeed.  I tried coming in from the other side, behind the other neighbor’s garage.  This was A Much Worse Idea.  I considered walking down the hill and around the block to get to the house whose back yard runs into ours and scaling the hill directly, but that seemed equally unlikely to end in success.

I retreated inside to reassess (and warm up, I was still not wearing a coat).  I texted The Boy and explained the situation in more detail.  Millie was down.  She’d taken a very expensive skein of yarn, a lovely set of needles, and a good 5 hours of my knitting with her.  The situation appeared fairly stable, except that the knitting seemed to be sitting on a pile of soggy, moldering leaves which I feared would stain it.  I was uncertain of the best way to rescue her without dying in the process.

Now The Boy, wonderful person that he is, did not in any way question the necessity of a rescue mission.  Once he heard about the stain potential of the leaves, he didn’t even question the need for a quick rescue mission.  His only qualm concerned who would mount this rescue mission.  He leapt into action, dashed home early from work, scampered nimbly behind the garage (he’s a bit better at negotiating perilous inclines than am I), and rescued Millie.

She and the knitting were damp and covered in a bit of leaf debris, but it was nothing a quick rinse wouldn’t cure.  And I, I can take comfort in having recognized one of those moments where things had great potential to go pear shaped (I might still by lying unconscious in the snow while the kettle boiled itself dry) and acting appropriately…even if it did mean calling The Boy to rescue the knitting.  And The Boy? The Boy has excellent good karma points having both rescued a damsel in distress (Millie) and prevented me from meeting and untimely demise, all while keeping a straight face and not at any point suggesting that this was a bit ridiculous.

To The Gentleman To My Left At The Concert

Dear Sir,

You sat to my left at the concert in Toronto on the 14th.  I noticed you seemed to be a bit perplexed by me and my actions during the concert.  Indeed, perplexed may not be a strong enough word.  You appeared downright disturbed.  To help allay your concerns, I thought I’d answer some of the questions that seemed to occur to you.  So, without further ado:

1) Knitting.

2) Yes, really.

3) A sock.

4) Again, yes, really.

5) Because I like to.  Because they are awesome. Because it’s my job. Because it helps me respond with more grace to the antics of others.

6) Indeed, I do think it’s an appropriate thing to do at a concert.

7) For a variety of reasons.  Namely, because it is quiet.  The sound of yarn against yarn or the sound of needle on needle is far quieter than, just for example, the braying of your ringing phone and your loud conversations.  Because it is discrete.  My knitting does not emit light, unlike (again, just for example) your phone as you send text message after text message.  Because it can be done while remaining within the confines of my allotted seat.  My knitting can be accomplished while keeping both my elbows and my knees to myself, unlike (once again, just for example) your phone conversation, which seemed to demand a truly impressive amount of gesticulation (hint, your conversational partner can not see you).

So sir, please do not be alarmed.  And don’t worry, knitting is easy to learn.  If you’ll just put your cell phone away, I’ll be happy to show you how.  In no time at all, you too can be behaving appropriately in public.

Sincerely,

The Irritated Knitter to Your Right

Unexpected

Last Thursday, we headed over to Lakewood to see a show by Puscifer.  Some of The Boy’s friends from high school were in town for it.  They had extra tickets and asked if we’d like to come along.  Working on the theory that leaving the house and interacting with people is often more interesting than staying home in my pajamas and interacting with the cats, I went.  It was…bracing.  I actually liked much of the music, but some of the more, um, theatrical aspects of the show didn’t appeal quite as much.  I decided to take a little break in the middle and wandered out to the lobby.

Now it just so happened that it was the sort of show where they pat you down and search your purse before they let you in the door.  That meant it was also the sort of show where there were rather a lot of members of the local constabulary hanging out in the lobby.  I wasn’t planning on doing anything nefarious so I didn’t pay them much attention.  I found a comfy chair and pulled out my knitting.  After a few minutes, one of them strolled over and stood behind me.  I nodded and said good evening.  A moment later, two others sauntered over and joined him.  They all seemed quite interested in what I was doing.  I firmly believe my life is simpler when I’m polite to the police, and I generally do what they ask.  I grew up somewhere with rather different ideas about police behavior and was always encouraged to err on the side of caution.  The habit has stuck, so I was about to ask if it was ok that I was knitting.  There were signs all over the place explaining that no weapons of any kind were allowed in the venue, and I thought perhaps they were concerned about the knitting needles.

Just as I was about to open my mouth (two more gentlemen were converging upon us at this point and I was starting to feel a bit surrounded), one of them asked what I was doing.  Before I could answer, one of the other observers explained that I was knitting.  A bit surprised, I agreed that this was indeed exactly what I was doing, and I further allowed as how I was knitting a sock.  It turns out they didn’t have any security concerns, they were just terribly interested in what I was doing.  We discussed the virtues of knitted socks, the speed of knitting, the cost of yarn, and the mechanics of cables.  They seemed genuinely intrigued.  It was one of the more surreal moments of the evening (which is impressive, given the rest of the show).  I almost felt I should have handed out cards for the local yarn store and invited them to drop by.

Missing in Action

Upon hearing of my current hat phase, my dad graciously offered up his head for swathing in woolly goodness.  We talked about head sizes, yarn colors, and hat styles.  A hat was planned and executed.  I bound it off the other night.  The next morning, I washed it, shaped it, and set it out to dry.

Around these parts, hats get dried over the heating vent in our kitchen.  Most of our heating vents are giant cookie sheet sized affairs in the walls, but the one in the kitchen happens to be on the floor.  If you put a wet hat on a bowl, stand the bowl on a water bottle, and set the whole shebang on the heating vent, the hat is dry (and toasty warm) in an hour or two.  This suits my impatient nature quite well.  I followed this procedure with my dad’s hat and went off to do other things.  I came back a few hours later to check on it, and it was gone.

This did not bode well.  Kittens were immediately declared persons of interest and vigorously interrogated.

A search was initiated.  The hat was not found.  There did, however, seem to be a secondary crime scene.  In the bathroom (that would be the room right next to the kitchen) I found this.  That, in case you can’t tell, is a displaced vent cover and a crumpled bath mat.  (I struggled with posting a picture that shows this much dirt, but if the insides of your heating vents are sparkly clean you have an entirely different set of problems, and I don’t much care if you want to judge me.  Also, we’ve been meaning to replace that hideous gold monstrosity since we moved in five years ago.  This might just be the spur to action that I seem to need.)

I could think of several scenarios.  The vent cover and the missing hat could be two unrelated incidents of kitten mischief.  Or, the kittens could have lifted up the vent cover (a new trick by the way, they’ve never done this before), decided the hole was an excellent hiding place,  gone looking for something important to stow in there, and settled on the hat.  Or, better yet, some other creature is living in our ducts and lifted up the vent cover.  The kittens, in a valiant attempt to defend their home, sought to thwart the invader by burying him in wool.  The hat went down the duct (where it will soon cause the furnace to explode), and some sort of furious hell beast is now on the loose in my house.  I think it’s more or less a tossup at this point.

The hunt for the hat continues.  As a stop-gap measure, the duct leading to the bathroom has been closed at the furnace (There are these very mechanical-feeling lever things on the ducts near the furnace, and they seem to close some sort of door in the duct.  Closing that seemed like the thing to do, though I’m not sure it will actually do any good.  I’m working on the theory that the angle of the duct running from the furnace to the bathroom is very shallow, and that something like a hat wouldn’t go far if it did fall (cough, was pushed, cough).  I’m further theorizing that if dropping things down a vent were all it took to blow up a furnace, no one with a three-year-old would have heat.)  I’m searching the house and concocting various levels of back up plans starting with a flashlight, coat hanger, and hand mirror and working up to that lighted camera thing they use to check out sewer pipes.  Should be a fun day.

And Dad, when I do find the hat, I promise to wash it again before I send it to you.

Edited to add:  Found the hat…in the cabinet where we keep the kitten’s food.  It wasn’t in the food mind you (that is all sealed up) it was just sitting beside the food.  The kittens are quite capable of opening that cabinet (and often do when they feel they’ve not been fed recently enough), so I think the disappearance can safely be blamed on them.

I Will Save You

So I’ve mentioned before that we have two wee kittens.  They’re not actually so wee anymore (Barry here is closing in on 15 pounds) but we still insist on calling them kittens.  Now I have long suspected that Barry is the most knitterly of the two fellows.  He’s the one playing with the spindle in that earlier post.  He’s also the one hopelessly smitten by his wool pet.  But now I’ve had it confirmed.  You see I have this giant sweater coat.  It’s like an over-sized cardigan.  It’s warm and soft, and I often throw it on over whatever I’m wearing if I’m a bit chilly.  It’s definitely not an example of fine knitting.  It was fifteen bucks on sale at Target, it’s mostly acrylic, and it’s getting a bit tatty, but it serves its function well.

Well it seems Barry hates acrylic.  We have a few blankets that are made at least partly of acrylic.  Barry has a habit of dragging them off the chairs, through the house, down the stairs, and into the basement laundry pile.  I’ve seen him do it, but have no idea why.  Well the other day, as I was sitting at the computer wearing my sweater coat, Barry hopped up on the desk to visit.  He instantly decided my coat also belonged in the acrylic graveyard in the basement alongside the blankets.  He carefully grabbed my sleeve (not biting me at all) and tugged and tugged and tugged.  This went on for a good five minutes (long enough for me to grab my camera and get a picture).  He was quite insistent.  He really wanted to protect me from the dreaded acrylic.  Some time (when it’s a bit warmer) I may have to just let him have it and see how far he manages to drag it.

Utterly Without Shame

So I’ve gone and done it.  Once before I succumbed to the biggest knitting blog cliche out there and showed you my cat.  Apparently doing it once broke some sort of internal restraint, because here I am doing it again.

It seems all my kitten-based indiscretions are related to spinning.  The last time I mentioned them, it was in a post where I declared that my affair with spinning was at an end.  Two weeks later, I found out I was going to the silk retreat in Port Ludlow which features spinning.  A deep and abiding fear of being the worst in the class prompted me to get back to work.  I got nicer spindles and am actually rather enjoying it now that I have better tools.

So, apparently, are the hellcats.  That’s Barry going to town while Levon looks on awaiting his turn.  Helpful wee creatures those two.

Ignominy

Every now and then I get these fits (and those who have seen them will testify that ‘fits’ is really the best word) where I have to get rid of stuff.  Blame my peripatetic childhood, blame years spent in tiny apartments, blame the stars.  Sometimes I just must.throw.things.away.right.now.  It works for us.  It lets us live in a smaller-than-average house and still have plenty of space.

I was in the middle of one of these fits the other day, and my attention fell on my craft closet.  I have recently realized that I just don’t care for spinning.  Heresy, I know.  I tried.  I was fixated for a few weeks, but in the long run, it’s just not for me.  That meant the spinning fiber had to go.  Now I’ll find a home for the nice stuff, but the crappy practice fiber and lumpy bumpy early attempts are not things I need to keep.

Or so I thought until Barry came along.  Barry is my cat (er, one of my two cats), and doesn’t exactly feature on the website.  Somehow having excess kitten on a knitting blog seems just a wee bit too close to the cliche, so I generally avoid it.  But today, I have no choice.

One of my random sacks of fiber destined for the trash contained some…stuff.  I have no idea what it’s really called.  It’s super curly.  It looks sort of like individual clumps of very curly sheep tendrils.  Some of it was dyed, some of it was sheep colored.  It is er…unprocessed…enough that it has the occasional twig or leaf, and it makes your fingers feel greasy if you touch it.  It reminds me of mermaid hair.  I have no idea why I bought it.  I was more than happy to throw it away.

Barry had other plans.  He’s always had a fondness for sheep-scented things, and this stuff drove him nuts.  He desperately wanted to spend some deeply personal time with it.  I could not dash his tiny kitten hopes.  I also could not just give him the wodge of fluff in its original state.  He would eat it, strew it all over the house, or both (likely in that order).  So I wadded up a handful of it, stitched through it a bunch of times to hold it all together, and turned him loose on it.

Massive kitten glee ensued.   I was powerless in the face of such cuteness, I had to take a picture.  Apparently, I am also unable to keep the picture to myself.  I must share.  May I present Barry, stripped of all his noble kitten dignity, reduced to helpless abandon by a very smelly wool pet.

Resurrection

I promised to bore you with copious details of a new project.  Now I’m not quite ready to cast on, but we all know that casting on is not the first step in a project.  Before you cast on, you need to find some yarn.  I’ve got some that’s been hibernating in the sash for far too long.

Long long ago, when I was just a wee baby knitter, I decided to make my first venture into a Real Yarn Store.  I had finished a grand total of three socks (not three pairs…three socks, there is a fairly substantial difference), and I was convinced I was ready for the good yarn.  The only yarn I had worked with up to this point had been either from a big box store or from the sale pile at Knit Picks.  Now I have nothing against Knit Picks, but two skeins of their sale sock yarn don’t really give one an adequate sense of the full variety and majesty of the yarn universe.  I had a suspicion there was more out there, and I wanted to find it.

I gathered up my courage and went to the Store That Shall Remain Nameless.  Let’s say that the experience was not all I could have hoped for.  The store had that cliquey feeling that too many yarn stores have.  There was a not-so-subtle suggestion that if you weren’t working on an intricate cabled cardigan in fingering weight yarn or a lace shawl big enough to double as a tent you weren’t a real knitter and so clearly weren’t worthy to be in the store.  There wasn’t much of an organizational scheme, and nothing had visible prices.  I asked about sock yarn and was directed with a head nod to a small basket shoved off in a corner.  I didn’t see a single thing I like.  Not one.

Now I have this character flaw that makes me feel deeply uncomfortable in stores where the staff is being snotty and superior.  It’s ridiculous.  I know that I should simply double check my posture, smile politely, and leave with my wallet unopened.  I’m working on it.  At the time though, I couldn’t quite manage it.  Instead I wandered around feeling I had to find something to buy so I would seem worthy.  I saw a glimmering skein of Fiesta Yarns’ La Luz Multi.  It was silk.  It was shiny.

I picked it up and scurried over to the the counter.  After finishing her row and having a leisurely sip of her coffee, the owner sauntered over to ring me up.  Remember how I said there were no prices on anything?  Yeah.  The yarn rang up at $35.00 (robbery I now realize, but I didn’t know any better then).  That was rather more than I had intended to spend, and rather more than I could comfortably afford, but I was too embarrassed to put it back.

I brought it home and set it somewhere safe where I could gaze at it but not harm it.  I had no idea what to do with it.  I was obviously not a good enough knitter to deserve it.  I eventually put it away so it would stop taunting me.  That was more than two years ago.

I just dug it back out.  I am a good enough knitter to use whatever yarn I want.  I don’t think I actually have too terribly many more skills than I did two years ago, I’m just a heck of a lot more confident.  This yarn should not be intimidating.  This yarn should not have to bear the weight of the bad juju of a crappy yarn store.  This yarn should be used.

I’ve decided to make something indulgent and impractical and frivolous.  I’m thinking fingerless gloves.  I have an unholy love for them, and I’ve got just the right amount of yarn to make a nice substantial pair.  So now I have yarn and a plan.  Add in a pattern and it starts to look like a project.

Progress, Part the Second

So there I was, feeling awfully pleased with myself.  I had made socks, two whole pairs.  They fit.  They were lovely.  I was quickly approaching smug.  You know those lists you see detailing why you should knit socks?  The ones that talk about the practicality and the comfort and the portability and the reasonable cost and the creativity?  I proudly ‘discovered’ each and every one of these marvelous traits and was completely sure I was the very first to do so.

There was just one problem.  A pair of socks has an ungodly number of stitches.  Do the math.  It’s astonishing.  I was a very new (and hence dreadfully slow) knitter.  That many stitches was weeks and weeks of work.  So I had a brilliant idea.  I would use thicker yarn.  Thicker yarn would cover the same amount of area with a smaller number of stitches.  Genius.

This was the beginning of what I now think of as my deeply unsuitable yarn period.

Now it’s not (usually) that there was anything all that wrong with the yarn itself.  It’s more that it wasn’t right for socks, at least not at the gauge I was using.  So the next dozen or so pairs were knit with poorly chosen yarn at far too loose a gauge.  The upside was that I couldn’t just follow patterns without some serious alterations because I didn’t need as many stitches as most patterns called for.  I quickly learned that if you kept the basic structure of a sock in mind you could do pretty much whatever you wanted with the stitch patterns.

Most of those socks got holes within a few months which prompted me to wise up about gauge, yarn selection, and their rather fundamental role in creating long lasting socks.  I even got (slightly) faster and switched to using standard patterns.   These socks proved much more durable.  Then I found out about stitch dictionaries and gleefully abandoned other people’s patterns in favor of making up my own.  I even toyed with making some without benefit of stitch dictionaries.

A few people saw some of these socks and asked where I got the patterns.  I stammered something about making them up, and they suggested I write them down.  I don’t mind writing, and I have an unreasonable fondness for telling other people what to do, so I gave it a shot.  The first iteration of this website was tossed together at 3 in the morning one night in the middle of March to host one of these patterns.  People liked it.  People knit it.  Some lousy stuff was going on in my non-knitting life, and knitting was soothing, so I knit.  People saying nice things about my pattern was also soothing, so I wrote another one.  Then another.  Some people were kind enough to suggest that the patterns might be worth charging for.  Ravelry made that easy so I gave it a shot.  It seemed to work.

It’s mostly just been momentum and deep and abiding selfishness from there.  Knitters keep saying nice things, and it makes me feel good.  Knitters keep buying patterns, and that lets me buy more yarn.  I’m going to be knitting socks anyways, so as long as other knitters keep making me feel good and keep funding my yarn habit, I’m going to keep indulging my bossy streak by writing patterns.

So back to the questions that started this (unreasonably long and rambly) story.  No, I haven’t been knitting for ages.  I’ve been knitting for just over two years, and I’m still a slowish knitter.  And as for how I learned how to design socks?  Well mostly by being too lazy to follow proper sock patterns.  So the moral of the story is that it takes no magical talents to write patterns, just laziness and a willingness to tell others what to do.  If you’re wondering if you could do it, I’m guessing you can.  Give it a shot.

Progress

I get a fair number of people asking me how I learned to design socks or asking if I’ve been knitting for ages.  This is very flattering, but I feel the need to confess.  I’ve only been knitting seriously for about two years.  I’ll explain.

About seven or eight years ago, I decided to learn to knit.  I cobbled together something resembling the knit stitch and made a large and very ugly rectangle.

Having never been very good at taking small steps, I then decided that I was destined to create intricate cables.  I got Elsebeth Lavold’s Viking Patterns for Knitting, picked out the most complicated cable pattern in the thing, and decided to whack it on a scarf.

Alas, I had no real concept of gauge or yarn selection.  I picked out some nubbly blue acrylic stuff from Walmart and proceeded to successfully execute the cable pattern (more or less figuring out how to purl and wield a cable needle along the way).  The nubbly bits hid the cable almost completely, and the yarn/needle combo resulted in a fabric so dense it could be used to hold up a sagging porch.  But I did make cables.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to add on more yarn, so I was stymied about 6 inches in.  I stopped knitting for a while after that.

A few years later I decided to try again, this time with lace.  I thought that a skein of laceweight was long enough that I wouldn’t ever have to worry about joining on new yarn.  So the third attempt (after the ugly rectangle and the unexpectedly structural cables) was Knitty’s Branching Out scarf knit in some Knit Picks laceweight.

Along the way, I learned to do increases and decreases.  Unfortunately I did not learn about winding my yarn into a ball.  Instead I would open up the loop, wind off ten rounds or so, twist the loop closed, and knit that yarn.  I did that for the whole scarf.  I did learn rather a lot about picking knots out of laceweight yarn.  I also found that you can use up that seemingly endless skein of yarn long before you’ve reached the hoped for length of scarf.  I’ve still got this (rather short) scarf tucked away in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.  I took another break.

Just over two years ago I decided that socks were obviously the answer.  Each sock took only one ball of yarn (no joining on) and the yarn came in tidy balls (no terrible tangled loops).  I found a free pattern (Mock Crock Socks, again on Knit Picks).  I bought the yarn and needles called for and just followed the instructions.  Two months later, I had learned to work on dpns, had some sort of notion of how you turn a heel, and had socks.  They even looked more or less like socks meant for an adult human.  I found another pattern and did it again.  All seemed to be going well.

Then I got cocky.  I’ll tell you that story next time.