Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Panda Feet

The Journeywoman Socks are done. Both knit and finished and I'm very happy with the result.

Howsoever when I knit these socks I left out a part of the pattern, a most intriguing part. As you can see in this picture (I hope) the gusset is not done in the usual way. Instead the gusset decreases are done on the instep side of the heel/instep border until the instep is decreased away, replaced by the extra stitches picked up along the side of the heel flap. The mathematics of how long the heel flap needs to be to generate the appropriate number of picked up stitches so that this whole thing can work is somewhat daunting, but not too difficult. And if you mess up, you can always quit decreasing early or keep on decreasing at the center of the instep until all is right.

Eager to try this new foot style, I cast on some Panda Cotton in a colorway called "Fall Herbs." (I had purchased this yarn because : 1) it upped the dollar value of my order to an amount that gave me free shipping; 2) the colors are lovely; and 3) I know the resulting socks will be a delight to wear. Notice I did not mention the thrill of knitting with Panda Cotton. I hate this stuff. It's torture to knit. Don't ever let me buy it again.) Finding a pattern that would work with the yarn was the expected agony, but I finally turned up "Charade," a delightful four-stitch-repeat pseudo herringbone stitch. I did the leg in Charade, and then decreased it away as per the Journeyman pattern.

It's difficult to see the transition because of the multicoloredness of the yarn. Here's a closeup. The front vee didn't turn out as long as I expected, perhaps because the row gauge on this yarn is very tight (13 rows/inch). Or perhaps if I had done a longer heel flap and/or had more stitches on the instep to begin with the vee would have been longer. Another strategy might be to decrease every third round instead of every other round . Isn't hindsight wonderful?

Anyway sock one is done, sock two is on the needles, and I would definitely try this gusset design again. It's a fun way to transition to a plain stockinette foot.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spindling Adventures - Part Two

It is done. The fiber is now yarn – 325 yards of fingering. A flaw or two, here and there, but that infamous horseman riding by will never notice. Kindly admire.

As for what happened along the way, well --

Plying was no problem. A few hours standing on my trusty stool and reaching up to the ceiling (not so difficult as you might think; the stool is only about a foot off the ground and very sturdy) and one skein was done. Those 2 ounces of fingering look like nothing on this spindle, because the spindle is huge. This is the first time I have used my new plying spindle, and I love it. It was madly inexpensive too – only about $20 I think. And no problem getting the stubby little Bosworth spindle into the plying box. I used a straw to extend the shaft as Delighted Hands suggested; worked like a charm.

Finishing involved the use of steam (to prevent the dye from bleeding out and overdying the light shades, as it wanted to do), a technique I have never before attempted. But I pulled out the yarn pot, which is not nearly as large as it looks in the picture. The stove is very, very, very small. And rummaging in the cabinet I discovered that this canning pot had come with a canning rack. Good news.

I found that turning the canning rack upside down inside the pot worked perfectly. I could drape the yarn around the rack and have it easily 3 or more inches above the water. About 40 minutes seemed right. And so it was. A little drying time on the clothesline, and the yarn was dry, relaxed, and happy.

I followed the same process with the second skein, but things did not turn out quite so well. Somewhere in the steaming process something happened. Either a few strands fell into the water or the steam got too hot in general, because the dye bled out of a short length of some of the strands. Those pale gray strands along the bottom of the picture? Nope, not the original color. When I poured the water out of the pot it was a deep purple. Another clue.

At first I was so upset I wanted to heave the whole thing into the garbage. But then I took a second look and realized it wasn't a big deal. Only a few inches were affected on less than one third of the strands. So just for fun I reskeined it, from a 2-yard niddy to a 30-inch niddy. In theory, reskeining rearranges the colors so that different ones adjoin; it's supposed to give the skein a different look. And in practice, that's exactly what happened. The light gray bits are still there, but they don't look so overwhelming when randomly distributed.

Both skeins are not quite the same color though, since there is no light gray in the first skein. So for socks it would probably be best to make the cuffs of both socks from the first skein and the feet from the second. Should work.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mostly Food . . . . and Some Spinning

Ever since reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan I have become fascinated by the topic of food – how it is raised/grown, how it gets to our tables, who the intermediaries are, and what roles they play. So I now have a little stack of "food" books that I dip into randomly to gather more information and opinions.

The most recent Pollan book, "In Defense of Food," is the best written of my little collection. As a journalist, Pollan has all the writing chops; he knows how to make a mundane subject compelling. A much shorter and easier read than Omnivore, its theme is summed up on the front cover – "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." Of course the book expands on these seven words. Pollan defines "food," offers some ideas as to why so many Americans are eating too much, and expounds on the advantages of veggies and fruits. (just like Mom)

"Food Politics" by Marion Nestle is not so lively, but equally interesting if you can slog through the copious detail. Nestle is an academic and writes like one. She has studied nutrition for over 25 years, including much involvement with government programs that attempt to explain "good nutrition" to the public. As a result, she is able to provide a wealth of intriguing insights into the interaction between government and the food industry and some explanations as to why most published nutrition guidelines make little sense.

The most strident voice is Michele Simon, an attorney, in "Appetite for Profit." Perhaps biased by the cases she has handled, Simon sees "big food" as inherently evil. Not too much balance here. The most interesting bits are the case studies – who got sued, for what, how they responded, what negotiations ensued, and what was the end result.

That's the status of my journey into foodland. If anyone knows of other good books on these same topics, I'd love to hear about them.

Okay, now the spinning part. I have finished spinning the first ounce of "Say A Little Prayer." Only seven more to go. I do very much enjoy spindle spinning, but I must admit that the condition of my back after a recent episode of plying has me thinking that sitting at a wheel might be nice. (I ply standing on a stool. With arms fully extended I can then reach my seven-foot ceiling and let the spindle go all the way to the floor. This generates about two yards of plied yarn each time. If I do it 100 times I have a 50-gram/200-yard skein of fingering. Ooof)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Half a League Onward . . . .

Remember this one?

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred. *

That same dum-te-dum rhythm is pacing my charge into the Valley of Lace. The Arctic Diamonds Stole is proving to be a very restful knit, not at all what I expected. I'd read so many hair-raising tales of struggles with lace on sundry blogs and on Ravelry that I anticipated at least a few problems – difficulty interpreting the pattern, inaccurate stitch counts, impossible maneuvers. None of that has happened. Knitting quietly -- if rather slowly -- along, I've now got it half completed. Voila!

The absence of drama can be attributed, I think, to a pattern that is both easy to execute and completely error-free (a rarity among lace patterns, I am told). The rawest beginner could knit this stole. There are 5 repeats of a 25-stitch pattern along each row, with a bit of edging on each side. Since the diamonds are symmetrical, the left usually mirrors the right. A collection of SSK's on one side will have an equivalent collection of K2tog's on the other. With 64 rows in each vertical repeat, though, it's not the sort of pattern one can memorize. Not the sort that I can memorize, anyway. The chart is always with me.

I expect to be done sometime in September. And in the meantime I'm thinking about the next lace shawl. Because once you've done lace, you're hooked. We all know that. I'd like to try a triangle. There's a lot of good buzz about "Bee Fields." And the "Faroese Shawl" from "A Gathering of Lace" is lovely, although it has a diamond pattern and I'm doing diamonds now. And Cheryl Oberle's "Folk Shawls" has several nifty triangles. Oh, and it's almost obligatory to do at least one "Swallowtail Shawl." Decisions, decisions.

*"Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My First Handspun Socks

I spun this yarn last summer, my very first real yarn. I'd begun spindling in May and dinked around for a few months with small amounts of various fibers before attempting something serious. I had two ounces of Targhee natural and two ounces of Corriedale natural, so I spun each and plied them together. It came out okay. Spun too tight and plied too tight, but not so bad. Definitely a fingering weight and definitely knittable.

And now, this summer, I am knitting socks from the yarn. This is the first one.

The pattern is called "Journeyman Socks" and it is from the Summer 2008 issue of Spin-Off magazine. It's also available as a paid download from Ravelry. I did make rather major modifications to the design. Mostly it was the stitch pattern that I fell in love with. It demanded to be knit with my handspun.

What did I change?

The Number of Stitches. As you may surmise from the title of the pattern, this is a man's sock. It calls for a cast-on of 84 stitches (6 pattern repeats). I cut that back to 56 stitches (4 repeats). Worked out perfectly.

The Instep.The original pattern has the gusset decreases on the instep side, rather than the traditional heel side, of the instep/heel divide. This causes the stitch pattern to disappear into a "V" in the middle of the instep as the sides gradually come together. It looks great with the multi-colored yarn used for the illustration, but I didn't think it would look very attractive with my plain vanilla yarn. I do intend to use that approach on another sock though. I love the effect. For this sock, I did a traditional instep and carried the ribbing pattern all the way to the end of the standard toe.

The Back.The pattern calls for the twisted stitches to end after only two repeats on the back of the sock and for the knitter to continue in ribbing. I've seen this technique on a number of folk sock patterns and I like it, especially with a very complicated pattern on the front. Makes the leg of the sock look less busy. But in this case I was so enamored of the stitch pattern I just couldn't do it. I continued almost all the way down to the heel.

The thrill of knitting something that I will actually wear from yarn that I have spun myself is hard to describe. Perhaps when I have been spinning longer, I will become more accustomed. But right now there's excitement in every stitch -- a sort of ongoing internal monologue as I knit: I spun this myself! And I'm knitting it into socks, gorgeous socks, that I can wear! Ack!