Friday, February 26, 2010

The Knitting of the Insane: 2 Socks in One

(Family legend: a brother of mine went through of phase of listening to some fairly terrible music, and would play his favourite songs over and over again at high volume. After the umpteenth day of Donovan bleeding through the walls, my Dad stormed into the family room and remarked - apparently also at some volume - "this is the music of the insane".)

Whenever I get into a phase of doing something obsessively - particularly something that not everyone shares my excitement about, Dad's expression leaps to mind.

So yes, this is The Knitting of the Insane.

I'm a sock knitter - you probably know this about me. A sock knitter with a passion for things slightly odd.

Years ago I recall reading about knitting two socks in one. There's a mention of it in War and Peace, and I recall seeing an article in a publication - which naturally I didn't buy - sometime in the mid 1990s.
And there was a very amusing Knitty article published on the technique a few years ago.

The January 2009 issue of Piecework had another article, written by Jacqueline Fee. It was reprinted in the recently published "Knitting Traditions" special issue published by Interweave. (If you're at all interested in strange/wonderful/historical/unusual/ethnic knitting traditions, go get yourself a copy of this.)

And I was reminded that this was something I really wanted to try.

Sometimes, the only way I can prioritize something is to commit to teaching a class on it. That way, I am forced to put it on my to do list with a deadline. So I floated the idea of a class, and got my needles out
The Piecework and Knitty articles are a good starting place, but not being one to leave well enough alone, I had to mess with things. The Knitty article doesn't really have specific pattern (and she recommends a short-row heel, which I'm not keen on). The pattern in the Piecework article is one-size, which doesn't work for me, and I wasn't keen on the heel and toe shaping. In addition, the designer wasn't using directional decreases, which meant that the gusset wouldn't look quite as neat as I like.

So I decided to see if I could reproduce - precisely - my standard sock pattern. Complete with flapped and gusseted heel with directional decreases, and a wedge toe.

I cast on for one of my training socks, and starting playing with it.

And it worked!


I haven't actually wanted to finish this first one up - I just love how it looks on the needles.

Emboldened by my success, I cast on for an actual sock, on actual sock needles, with actual sock yarn.

To help myself out, I chose a self-striping yarn, and deliberately offset the stripes so I could distinguish between the two layers.

Loving every stitch - it's exactly the sort of bizarre and wonderful sort of thing that makes me very happy.

Stay tuned for class info.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Needle Pulling Thread Spring Issue

Click here for a PDF preview of the Spring issue of A Needle Pulling Thread.

I'm proud to be part of this magazine. It's all-Canadian, and focuses on promoting the work and products of Canadian designers and suppliers.

In this issue, I have lace cardigan and scarf designs, and an article about lace knitting.

You'll also find original patterns for crochet stitch, needlepoint and quilting. Look for it at your favourite crafting shop, or a big bookstore near you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gold! Forest & Trees Indeed

To the strains of "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" (as used, inexplicably, by a French ice-dancing team), I got my gold medal.

And now I have a pair of socks.

This design is called Forest and Trees. The name was inspired by two things... I love how the stitch pattern suggests intertwined branches of trees in a dense forest, and I thought that it was a magical balance of stitch pattern and colour. I find that many handpainted yarns are just too damn busy for pattern stitches. As a tech editor, I see a lot of pictures of socks, and it saddens me when a knitter does all this beautiful and clever knitting, but then obscures it with a poor choice of yarn. You want a balance so you can see both the forest of the stitch pattern and the trees of the colour, to stretch the metaphor. I love a good handpainted/self-striping/patterned yarn, but if I'm going to use something wacky, I keep the knitting pretty simple.

This seems to strike the right balance, however, and I'm very pleased with the result.

The yarn, as mentioned before is Cascade Heritage Paints.

(It really is hard to produce a great of photograph of a pair of socks on your own feet, on a gloomy winter day.)

I was working on the second sock yesterday with some of the gang, and grumbling away about dropping stitches, and getting tired of turning the cables, and generally finding the knitting slow. (The problem is entirely with me, not the sock. I've been carrying it around with me everywhere, and half the time forgetting to take my cable needle, which has made for some risky knitting. I have not been applying the degree of attention this pattern requires and I've been suffering because of it.) And I was really worried about gauge - the new one seemed significantly looser than the first one.

But the gang raved about the sock-in-progress. They were so very enthusiastic and supportive of the design - and one of even them bought yarn and the pattern on the spot so she could knit them herself (thanks P!).

In light of all the nice words, I stepped back and took another look at this thing that had been driving my insane. I had been so focused on the trees of the process I wasn't seeing the forest of the sock anymore. And you know, the forest is pretty great, if I do say so myself.

Pattern for sale on Patternfish and Ravelry.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympic Knitting: On Why Knitting Cabled Socks Is Like Men's Figure Skating

Because your equipment needs to be very sharp, and because no matter how many times you successfully land a quad jump/turn a cable, sometimes it just goes wrong.

And you can never go wrong with a bit of Jimi Hendrix.

(Can't find a video of last night's performance, but the link is a video of the same program skated last night. I loved how Japanese figure skater Takhiko Kozuka brought a bit of rock and roll to the proceedings.)

Anyway, yes, I am making progress on the Olympic knitting, but as I've said before, it's slow. I've been alternating between using a cable needle and not for all those million cable crosses... to take the analogy further, sometimes I feel strong enough to attempt the quad jump, sometimes I just stick with a safe triple. (I consider working the cable without a cable needle landing a quad, as it's trickier and cooler.)

Glad the Signature needles are sharp.

The fabric is tight due to all the cables, and the yarn is quite fine (Cascade Heritage Paint sock yarn), and I'm finding that I drop a stitch every few rounds. I need to stay vigilant on this one.

Anyway, I'm pass the heel turn, and into the home stretch. And if I can get about three quarters on an inch done per day, I'll get my gold medal.

(And likely watch an awful lot of figure skating as I go. Am also loving the anarchy of Snowboard Cross. It's like a faster, slightly insaner roller derby.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Olympic Knitting Update: Day 3

Today, I actually managed to do some work on my Olympic knitting. Yay!

I've been working on a deadline project (to remain secret for a while), and I've needed to focus on that. As of today, the deadline project is almost done, and I felt confident enough about it that I could pick up my Olympic sock. I got four rounds worked this morning, and tonight I'm at liberty to work on it again while the deadline project is drying after a good blocking.

(Yes, all knitting should be blocked before it's finished. You should block pieces before they are sewn up, you definitely have to block lace, and even something like socks should be blocked before they are done - it just makes everything so much tidier and finished-looking.)

The safety pin marks where I picked up again for the Olympic challenge. It's SLOOOOOOOW going, I have to say. There are 5 repeats of the cable pattern around, and there are two cable crosses in every repeat, every other round. Yes, really. This is why there are 80 sts in the sock, rather than the usual 56 at this gauge. No wonder I never finished the second one...

I am very much looking forward to being able to wear the pair of them, and that's what I'm focused on.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Work Knitting: Yak Yak Yak

In my previous post, I mentioned that I do a lot of "work" knitting - commissioned designs and samples.

In no way should this be considered "work" in the same way that showing up in an office and attending meetings and writing TPS reports is considered "work".

Case in point: I've been doing some designing for the lovely people at Bijou Basin Ranch. They have a herd of Yaks, and they spin the fibre into some of the most fabulous yarns I've ever had the privilege of knitting.

Their yarns are warm and soft and utterly delicious. It's significantly warmer than wool, and comparable to cashmere in softness. It's remarkably durable and lightweight. The yarn is spun from the down undercoat which these cold-climate beasties grow to keep themselves warm in the winter. When they shed it in the spring, the yarn is combed and harvested. So although I think Carl and Eileen are wonderful people, I hope they are suffering a truly miserable winter so that their yaks grow a really magnificent undercoat this year.

They don't dye the yarns, so you get a lovely range of natural colours.

Now available on their website, a couple of things I've designed for them...

the Honeycomb Kerchief

and the "Not Too Fussy" Men's Vest

Whether you use the yarn for one of my designs or not, I strongly recommend you get your hands on some of this stuff. It's some of the most fun I've ever had with my needles. And they have a sock yarn!!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Olympic Knitting: It Is a Challenge...

Last winter Olympics, I knitted my very first major lace piece.

My world has changed a lot since then - all for the better, no question - but I have significantly less time to knit for myself. I'm a working designer these days, and spend most of my time on design samples and commissioned work. I love it, don't get me wrong. It just means that most of my knitting is "work" knitting.

And knitting to deadline is part of my daily life.

Right now, I'm working hard to finish a lace piece for February 19th. It's wonderful, I'm very happy with it - but it's definitely a scheduled knitting project.

So for the 2010 Knitting Olympics, my challenge will be to find time to knit something for myself.

If I can get my lace assignment done a little bit ahead of schedule and be efficient with the next assignment, then I can carve out some time to challenge myself with my Olympic knitting.

I have decided, after much consideration, that my Olympic knitting for 2010 will be to...

(drum roll, please)...

finish a sock.


I completed the first sock of the Forest & Trees pair last August, while enroute to Sock Summit. I'm very happy with it, and have published the design, and regularly show the single sock at my sock knitting classes, but it remains unworn because it lacks a mate.

I did manage to cast on for its mate sometime around November, but haven't got very far with it. I'm enormously keen to wear the things.

So I'm going to finish this sock.

Hey, it's all about a challenge, right? Trust me, this is going to be a challenge.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Update on Moose Pattern

The pattern is available separately, for $6.00. Contact The Purple Purl for info.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Moose Sweater; Still Looking for an Olympic Project?

For those who follow my Twitter feed, you might recall a number of tweets around the end of last year about a moose.

I was working on a moose sweater. Not just any moose sweater... The Moose Sweater.

The sample is on display at The Purple Purl. The pattern is available exclusively from them.

I used Earth Collection Homestead yarn. This is an absolute gem - it's light and warm, with a lovely not-too-scratchy hand, but not so soft that it will pill. It comes in the three solid colours I used for the design, and I think they work very well together. Any aran weight would work - perhaps Mission Falls 1824 or Louet Riverstone - if you want to add a bit of colour

Click through to the Purple Purl newsletter if you want to see the fun Miko is having with an additional colour...

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Classes - Socks and Others

Just a reminder - I'm teaching five classes at the DKC Winter Workshops in Toronto this weekend: Entrelac, Design-Your-Own Custom-Fit Socks, Math for Knitters, Pattern Alterations, and an "Expert Tips" workshop.

I'm particularly looking forward to the Expert Tips class - we'll be talking cast-ons, cast-offs, increases, decreaseds, blocking, swatching - all the goodies and tidbits that I've learnt over my years of knitting.

Spaces are still available in all classes, and you can sign up at the door.

Speaking of classes, a student from a recent sock knitting class took this tremendous photo. This is me in my happy place - sitting in the sunshine, surrounded by hot drinks, socks and sock yarn, and me wielding a ruler to measure gauge. Thanks Marnie! She also has some nice words to say about my class on her blog.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Puffy Vest: Record Time for A Completed Sweater

It took two tries, but the Puffy Vest turned out exactly the way I wanted. Last weekend, I had worked almost all the way up to the armholes, and discovered that it was too big.

So I undid it - bravely - and restarted with fewer stitches. I cast on the second time about 5pm on Monday, and I had it finished 49 hours later - just in time to wear for my Wednesday night class. (Although I have to say that it's not easy to do a three-needle bind off with only two needles, when you're on the streetcar. It can be done, but it's not for the fainthearted.) When I left the house to go to my class, it was still on the needles, but I finished it enroute. N looked a bit befuddled when I arrived home... "That didn't have a hood when I saw it last, did it?"

And it's perfect. Fits exactly the way I wanted, and looks just as I hoped it would. It needs to be quite fitted and cropped, otherwise the puffiness of the mohair would be overwhelming and unflattering.

I expect to wear this a lot.

I designed and knitted this entirely for me - an unusual treat. This wasn't a commission, it wasn't designed with publishing or sale in mind - it's just for me. I was, therefore, able to indulge my own whims - and make it to fit little ol' me.

The gratifying thing is that the response has been so good I think I will write it up for sale.

Although I might need to knit a second one, in a colour that will actually photograph well. I think I need to convince Mum to knit one for my niece so she can test the pattern...