Dressing Up the Holidays

Close-up of Abby's stocking

My brother, Noah, was the catalyst for the other holiday gift knitting experience.

Last summer Noah asked me if I could secretly knit a pair of Christmas stockings for himself and his fiancée, Abby.  He likes the set of handknit colorwork stockings I made for my house.

My family's handknit Christmas stockings


These stockings are knit from Nancy Bush‘s pattern, Christmas in Tallinn, published several places, but the only souce that matters is her excellent book Knitting on the Road.  I made the first one, the red one, in 2005 for my infant son; Matt’s green stocking was made in 2006; my blue one was made in 2007; and then I had a year reprieve until our daughter came along in 2009.  She got a purple stocking.  I substituted the yarn Bush’s pattern calls for, Dalegarn Tiur, for Dalegarn Heilo simply because I liked the Heilo palette better.  (This was, by the way, the first time I was bit in the ass by yarn substitution.  Tiur is 109 yards.  Heilo is 126 yards.)

E's Christmas stocking

Noah left me in full creative control, so I of course immediate sought out ways to make this project as difficult as possible.  First, I had to design my own.  Second, if one design was fun, then two new designs were twice as fun!  (Right?!)  Third, the yarn (O!  The yarn!).

Abby's Christmas stocking, designed by me

I really enjoyed picking out colorwork patterns for these designs.  I found everything I wanted, and pretty quickly, in Sheila McGregor’s Traditional Scandinavian Knitting.  For the top of Abby’s stocking (green), I chose a boy-and-girl motif; for Noah’s stocking (orange), I chose reindeer.  The body patterns on each of their stockings come from the same 19th-century sweater: one was the pattern on the back and the other was the pattern on the front.

Noah's Christmas stocking

Can you imagine knitting that sweater?  Maybe…

There was some math to work out to make these motifs go together, resulting in Noah’s stocking being noticeably larger.  Noah has no problem with this.

As for the yarn, Cascade 220 Superwash Sport, it wasn’t my favorite.  Noah and I chose it based on wide color palette and affordable price, but it has just about put me off superwash yarn for the rest of my life.  It did not hold up well to repeated ripping and reknitting, coming un-plied and… for lack of a better descriptor, flacid.

Of course then my friend pointed out that many of the high-end end indie yarns, like Mashtosh and Tanis and Plucky Knitter, are superwash now so never say die.

Endings and Beginnings

The green socks are DONE!  No small thanks to Charlotte who did half the knitting!

It’s hard to catch these socks between feet and laundry and in fact I had to fish them from the top of the basket for this pic.  Zander loves them and immediately requested a new sweater.  I gladly put in the call to grandma who in fact has a wack of the same yarn, Plymouth Jelli Beenz, to make a child’s sweater or two.  Ball’s in your court, G-Terry.

I started some little green socks for Elinor, knit one almost to completion, crammed it on her foot and thought, Self, this sock is running small.  My daughter has big feet.

Riiiiiiiiiiip.  Cast on for the Size 2.  Immediately set aside because recipient has no long term memory and other things seemed more pressing…

Like this!

Elinor’s Christmas stocking, knit in Rauma Strikkegarn, a rough, sticky yarn that was perfect for colorwork.  The color is deliciously saturated without being a distracting eyesore.  I think the Strikkegarn natural is a little brighter than the Heilo used for the other three.  These stockings make me happy.

As for beginnings, I started a project for myself on Christmas Day:

Bits and Pieces

I’ve reached that point of the holiday season when there is so much to do, holiday or otherwise, that I can’t keep track of it all and I know some things are time-sensitive and I end up so turned around that I don’t know what to do first and thus do nothing.  Thankfully, I’ve learned not to stress about it (too much).  Instead, I am bewildered, I suppose.  I called Matt this afternoon after dropping Z off at preschool just in case he knew something I forgot.  He suggested I do some shopping downtown.  I am burned out on shopping, whether it is for gifts or groceries, so I just went home and played with the baby until it was pick up time.

Now for the randomness:

*It’s so windy!  And wet!  I should make myself a cup of tea.  But I forget to before I make it to the kitchen.  Or I don’t hear the electric kettle.  I’ve heated it twice.

*Finished a small Thorpe for Zander last week.  It took me only three days–what a thrill to finish something so quickly.  I knit the small size using Cascade 220 doubled, and this is a good size for a child.  It’s a little loose on my preschooler but not so it will fall off his head.  I skipped the braided ties because I thought that would be safer on the playground–and they’re easy enough to add later if I change my mind.

*Elinor makes kissy noises with her lips.  And gives open-mouth, wet, baby kisses.  You know it’s love when you don’t care!

*Hanukkah starts on Friday.  We are ready with the gifts but not the food.  Someone needs to go to a grocery store with a real produce section so we can get a heaping mound of onions and potatoes for latkes.  And it’s windy, rainy, cold, and gross outside.  So far…I can live without latkes on the first night.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings (I hear it’s going to be very cold).

*I have had a crisis of coat buying for the children.  It has nothing to do with the holidays but has worn me out on shopping.  It involved going to the mall, in December, which I never do.  The best part, though, is that I found a coat for Elinor in her closet this morning, a coat her cousin passed down.  Hallelujah.  Crisis over.

*I/Zander inherited a UFO from Charlotte–a pair of half-finished socks–which her children outgrew before they ever got to wear.  I finished the first this afternoon.  Here it is yesterday.  The yarn is Plymouth Jelli Beenz, a fun and colorful acyrlic/wool blend.  Zander, my biggest fan when it comes to knitting, is very excited.  We’ve already had one serious discussion about his socks and the dog.  Ahem.

*My freelance work is ramping up again.  I have two projects right now, although one is in three pieces so it’s really more like four projects.  I must pace myself to avoid stressing out because I can only do one piece at a time and if I get behind it will be a vicious domino effect complete with loss of sleep.

*I am knitting Elinor a stocking to go with our other three.  The pattern is Christmas in Tallinn by Nancy Bush from Knitting on the Road.  I’ve made several patterns from this book.  I had to substitute the yarn because no one locally now carries the Dalegarn Heilo I used for the first three, but I am happy with the substitute, Rauma Strikkegarn.  It comes in lots of colors and is sticky, which is great for colorwork.  I may actually like this yarn better than the Heilo.

*The seed catalogs are starting to arrive.  I am thinking of planting more quantity of fewer types of plants next year in the vegetable garden.  Partly to get better at growing the things we love the most and partly because we really need to focus on the flower beds, get them organized.  They were empty when we moved in.  Now they’re kinda weedy.

Good night!


Urban Aran Cardigan

Urban Aran Cardigan

Urban Aran Cardi is DONE.  Okay, it needs a zipper and I need to bite the bullet and buy one online because it turns out that repeated visits to the big box craft store do not generate enough kismet to make the zipper style/color/length I need magically appear.  Fooey.  But when I sit down to knit, there’s no sweater to work on anymore which makes it done for all intents and purposes.  Besides, if Matt was into nice shawl pins, he COULD be wearing it now.  Mwah.

Lace Ribbon Scarf

Jaywalkers are on hold while I knit up this pretty thing as a birthday gift for a person who is otherwise impossible to buy something for.  Despite the fact that I am once again NOT making myself the hat and mittens and scarf I so desperately need, I am having a wildly good time.  The Lace Ribbon Scarf is simple but not too simple (I love the double yarn overs!).  It’s also only a few inches wide so I can finish a row lickety split.  This picture was taken after one evening of knitting.  It’s now about a foot long.  What you might not realize about this pattern (I didn’t) if you have looked at it before (I have) is that there are two mods–one uses 100g of fingering weight yarn and the other uses 200g.  I don’t know about you but I rarely have 200g of fingering weight yarn in the same color/dye lot because 100g is what one needs to make socks, generally speaking.  So yey for flexibility!

In other, but not entirely unrelated, news, last week in my fevered delirium as I read books to escape my unpleasant reality when not even unconsciousness would have me, I decided to give up television for the rest of the year.  It was a simple choice once I realized two things: 1) I could not do it halfway.  I could not pick certain shows or certain days when TV watching was okay; and 2) I could not get the boys to join me but I could probably still make an impression on them with my own actions.

The last show I watched (although I didn’t realize it would be my last at the time): The Office.  The show I will miss the most: The Office.  I can’t quite put my finger on what it is I like so much about that show but there it is.  Luckily I don’t have to worry about missing LOST because that could be grounds for marital estrangement since LOST always leads to long discussions, debates, and theorizing, and no one would thank me for having to avoid spoilers.

I haven’t missed it a bit.  I’ve been reading novels, knitting, writing, listening to podcasts, and reading blogs and everything thing else under the ether online.  I am enjoying my evening adult time even more!  I have noticed that Zander watches almost no TV during the day now and Matt watches less in the evening.  Twice in the past week Matt and Zander have opted to play games instead.  Tonight we decided to have a movie night.  This was a special event and not the kind of thing I am trying to disentangle from so I didn’t count it.  Unfortunately, we ended up choosing Hoodwinked.  Eh.  I was knitting on the Lace Ribbon Scarf.  At the end, Zander told me his favorite part was when Granny showed off her extreme sports.  Of course!  This is the same kid who tried to make a case for me to rent him The Watchmen.  Um, no.  Too scary, I told him.  He told me he liked scary movies.  I’m sure you do.

My goal, after December 31st, is to watch television more carefully and not use it like a pacifier, for me and for my kids.

Resolution #2, also decided upon as I wrapped up my bout with the flu a week ago, is to knit all the socks in this book, Knitting Vintage Socks:

Knitting Vintage Socks by Nancy Bush

No time limit although I expect it to take me about a year, maybe longer.  I have already knit two of the patterns, one of which I probably will not repeat and the other I will make again, happily.  My one rule is that I must use yarn I have already, although I may make an exception for the silk stockings with clocks (last pattern) because I have no silk and why would I make them in any other fiber?  This long term project is inspired by my love of Nancy Bush as a designer and textile historian.  You rock, N.B.

Back from the dead

Beautiful Michigan sunset

I had the flu this week.  Hamthrax.  Porcine pox.  THE flu.  H1N1.  AKA swine flu.  (Why does the official name sound like a score to me?  Humans: 1…)

I was struck down less than 24 hours after my last post — I hope I didn’t get any of you sick.  I am not totally healthy today but what a difference it makes to not have a fever constantly.  Scary as it is to say, I think my case was mild, but it still took me out for three days.  The prevailing thought I had while sick was of how uncomfortable I was in my own skin.  I knew I was better this morning when I woke up, put my feet on the floor, and realized I felt like me again instead of some meat puppet with a box-a-day tissue habit.

Anyway.  My advice to you: don’t get the flu.

I did some knitting although mostly on the leg of the second Jaywalker.  I did do some sewing on the Urban Aran Cardi but I didn’t make it very far.  Not enough to comment here.  Mostly I read.  Reading was a better escape for me than TV.  I finished a short story collection, Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen McHugh.  It was good overall.  Now I am reading Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore.  Very funny.  One of my girlfriends is a Moore fan so this may only be the beginning.

Since I continue to have a lack of finished objects to parade by and that is, of course, one of the big thrills for a knitting blog, I thought I might entertain you in the meantime with some goodies from the vault.

My first handknit socks:

my first handknit socks

Not only are these my first socks but they are also my first ever finished project.  I was taught to knit in second grade — the teacher allowed us to stay inside and knit with her during recess in winter; my project was a burgundy acrylic scarf which is yet unfinished and I still hope will surface in my parents’ house someday — but I didn’t stick with it.  I tried to pick up crochet a few times in college but my gauge was so tight it made my hands hurt (this is not an issue any longer).  Then comes the corporate job post-college and I expressed to my friend Liz who was totally gone for knitting that I might like to learn.  So one day we skipped lunch and drove to a yarn shop.  She decided I was a smart cookie like herself and that I should knit socks — like herself.

I used Fortissima Colori and Nancy Bush’s Classic Sock pattern from Folk Socks.  Liz helped me cast on, we reviewed knitting and purling, and then she sent me on my way to knit a 2×2 ribbed leg.  It was really really slow going for me for a while, trying to keep track of knits and purls when I could barely tell if I had done a stitch correctly on top of learning a knitter’s dexterity of handling two needles and the working yarn with only two hands.  She made a point of not teaching me either English or Continental style to see what I would do naturally (she had recently discovered Zilboorg’s Knitting for Anarchists).  The answer: Continental . . . and no, I am not left handed.  For the record, Liz knits English style.

After my first weekend alone with the sock leg, we met up so she could check my progress.  I showed her my few inches of leg, very proud.  She stared and stared, her look growing increasingly troubled.  Turns out I had been knitting on the inside of the leg!  She didn’t know how to fix it and was worried I had to rip it all out.  “No biggie,” I said and flipped the leg inside out.  Now the action was on the outside.  At the time I didn’t think much of it but I think this was a significant moment for me as a knitter because I was not taken hostage by my project and its problems.  Also the deceptively simple solution may have only been visible to me at that time because of beginner’s mind.  I love beginner’s mind.

Another funny bit that happened in the making of these socks: we were knitting during lunch, in the cafeteria, and there was a nearby table of about six women who were also knitting.  I had never paid attention to them before but of course how could I miss them now — fellow knitters!  As the lunch rush died down and the room emptied out, they came to check us out and were very impressed that we were knitting socks and that our needles were so tiny.  I think they were making baby garments.  One of the women became almost belligerent toward Liz when we explained that I was also learning how to knit.  “That’s too hard!  You can’t have her knit socks as her first project!  She’ll hate knitting!”  Au contraire.

I was amazed, truth be told, because it had not occurred to me that any of this should be difficult.  Not because I have a fat head but because I trusted Liz and because I was working hard but enjoying the process.  Yeah it was frustrating at times but I never once thought if the yarn were bigger it would be easier.  What moved me along was watching the pretty colors emerge and seeing the yarn become a sock.  I’m not suggesting everyone should follow the same path but rather, to each her own.

Life distracted me for a time — getting married, quitting my job, going to graduate school, that kind of thing.  I worked on my beautiful rainbow socks steadily but extremely slowly. It was a year later, in the car  with my brother and my husband that I bound off the first sock and cast on the second.  Or attempted to cast on the second.  I had been a year, after all.  I may have cried horrible tears that made both men cringe while I tried to remember how to cast on from two pamphlets in my lap and my poor, poor memory.  This crying may have gone on for an uncomfortable length of time.  But you know what?  I figured it out and had the second sock started before we reached our campsite.

It wasn’t until I was in grad school later that year and needed something relaxing to fill a few hours with that I took to knitting like a thirsty person loves water.  That’s when I finished these socks and, with a little sniff, tucked them away to give to my sister as a holiday present because I had made them too small for my own feet.  The thought of ripping back the toes to make them longer was horrid to me.  I was still new enough to knitting that every stitch was precious.

The best part?  I saw my first socks, now six years old, yesterday when my mom came over to be my nurse/play with her grandkids.  I’m glad they’re still keeping people warm!

I found my “spaceship” yesterday.  We had a spectacular sunset last night but sadly this photo only captures a fraction of it; the colors were much more intense.  Most of the leaves have fallen.  We put 37 bags on the curb last weekend and we’re not done yet.

beautiful Michigan sunset