Monday, December 14, 2015

Knitting, to be continued

Some years ago, on a visit to Baltimore, my sister Kwan very generously told me about and came with me to her local yarn store, A Good Yarn, in Fells Point. As a knitter, you always have to appreciate a non-knitter accompanying you to a yarn store. What looks to knitters as endlessly fascinating and enticing looks to non-knitters as, well, just a bunch of string with no obvious purpose. It does not spark in their imagination images of potential dreamy or practical garments. They do not get excited about the downy softness of angora. They could care less that alpaca feels cool and silky to the touch and, while lighter than wool, is much warmer. They do not see the allure and advantages of aloe-vera and jojoba-infused sock yarn. They are humoring you. They are being nice. Be nice back, choose something, pay for it and move along.

That day, I chose two skeins of sock yarn, Trekking and Step. As we walked out to the car, Kwan exclaimed, “that expensive and you still have to knit them!” My first thought was to tell her that the Step had the restorative aloe vera and jojoba in the yarn but I just replied, “Yes, I still have to knit them,” while noting to myself, “no handknit socks for her”. Sorry, Kwannie!

I love my handknit socks and you would think that love would make me want to finish a pair quickly. You'd think that, but you’d be wrong.  (If you haven’t figured it out already, I'm not really an immediate-gratification kind of gal.) Many who don’t knit--and even many who do--will not understand how it can take me over two years to finish a pair of socks. That is the problem with socks, you need a pair to make them complete. (To be perfectly honest, since we returned home from a long trip in September, I have no idea where my current sock project is. But it sure did get me through that 13-hour layover in Abu Dhabi!) For the last seven years or so, I pretty much only knit when I am waiting somewhere---doctor’s offices, at the airport, on airplanes, on the metro or on buses. Transportation where someone else is doing the work of overseeing the conveyance is key. And, for me, it really isn't the completion of the project that is important here, it is in the making and all that comes with it that I find the value. The end product, that's just gravy.

Once, I hustled to start a lace shawl the day before my husband Jean-Francois had surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon. I knew that I had a lot of waiting coming to me and I didn’t have a project to work on. Now that was stress…not having anything started on the needles. Not finishing that project for a few years, well that was no stress at all!

Over the course of six-plus months, Jean-Francois had his surgery, went to his follow-up appointments and did his physical therapy while I sat by knitting, the yards of the airiest pear-green mohair and a just-challenging-enough lace pattern keeping me calm, patient and productive. I completed much of the center rectangle of Large Rectangle with Center Diamond pattern from Jane Sowerby’s book Victorian Lace Today (the most beautiful and inspiring book, the most boring and unimaginative project name) during his rehabilitation. It really didn’t matter to me that the project sat unfinished once his rehab was complete.* Having a knitting-aided even temperament while the person you love struggles to learn to walk again was gift enough. The knitting had done its job.

During his rehabilitation, which coincided with the snowiest and coldest winter we had seen in years in central Virginia, Jean-Francois came to appreciate fully the pleasures of handknit socks. Years before, I had knit him two pairs of socks, but he avoided wearing them because he deemed them “too good”.  The only shoes he was comfortable putting on after his surgery were sandals. And he totally rocked the sock-with-sandal look with handknit wool socks (one pair in the vivid and energizing colors of Kaffe Fassett and one pair infused with Jojoba!). Cozy feet = happy feet.

So, as a salute to happy feet and knitting that works overtime, I present a parade of a few pairs of my necessary indulgence…my beloved handknit socks. (It has been awfully warm here in December, so I haven’t had the chance to wear these yet, but know the time will come soon enough.)

Pattern: Waving lace socks by Evelyn A. Clark, Interweave Knits, Spring 2004.
She writes the best sock patterns and designed my all-time favorite sock, the Retro Rib sock (not pictured). 

The first pair of socks I ever knit. Knit while Jean-Francois was installing the kitchen in our Paris place, allowing me the opportunity to time how long it actually takes to knit a sock (information that is possibly better off left unknown…about 48 hours of knitting. Per sock. Yep, I didn't need to know that. The kitchen took less time to install, 'nuff said.) They are beautiful socks and, in the interest of making it an improving project, also my first attempt at knitting lace. I love knitting lace and (I fear I'm being repetitive here) I love handknit, totally worth it.

As I knit these, a friend told me they were too pretty for my feet...well, my feet are prettier now!

Yarn: Socka by StahlWoole. Absolutely my favorite sock yarn to knit with for its versatility, wearability and great color. Those Germans know their sock yarn.

Also comes in 50 gram balls which makes for easy transportability. I know that, to yarn companies, 100 gram balls are a simple and efficient delivery system for sock yarn, but they take up too much room in the purse, suitcase, etc. The trade-off with sock knitting is that I have to knit two socks, but I don't actually want or need to carry them both around with me!

Pattern: Fiber Trends Hellen's Favorite Socks with the 3/1 mock cable cuff.

Star toe.  Not my favorite toe, but pretty.

Yarn: My first pair of socks knitted using Step yarn (ALOE VERA  AND JOJOBA-infused!) by Austermann.
For some reason, I have had to darn the socks I have knit with Step yarn more often than others…moth holes or wear holes, I don’t know if it is the aloe vera, jojoba that attracts bugs or what the reason is, but my feet are soft!

This yarn is self-striping which means that the colors change as you knit, making stripes. I prefer not to match the stripes on my socks. This fact is a great bother to many a sock knitter (and, it seems, non-sock knitters, too. There have been instances where someone who doesn't knit socks will comment to me, "your socks don't match". The options for response to this statement can range from "thanks for the newsflash” to "they match on a level that you can't begin to understand" but they all end with a silent, but emphatic, “Congratulations, you've just been added to my no-knit list!”

Pattern: Basketweave Rib from Charlene Schurch's book Sensational Knitted Socks, my favorite sock resource book. (I believe that my current sock-on-the-needles is in the Openwork Rib pattern from this book. But I couldn't locate the sock to confirm. It'll turn up, eventually.) 

Yarn:  Sockin' Sox by Plymouth. A wool/bamboo blend yarn, very nice to wear, not as nice to knit as wool sock yarn. (Something about the yarn name also keeps me from lovin' it; maybe it's the apostrophe standing in for a "g" and  the use of "x" rather than "cks". I'm weird like that.)

The first sock was knit with a "Princess" foot in reverse stockinette stitch, so the inside stitches are the smooth knit stitches that touch the sole of your foot and the outside are the bumpier purl stitches. I couldn't be bothered to purl the foot of the second sock, so I just knit a regular foot. I do regret it and feel only half a princess when wearing these.

Left toe is a little more of a princess than right, but pills more easily. Ah, trade-offs!

Pattern: Erica Alexander's Web Sock in Fancy Rib. An Interweave Knits webKnits design. Not a very stretchy rib, but the fancy makes up for that.

Yarn: Socka by StahlWoole. Again. This time with a little shiny bling added to the wool. Makes the gray not so gray.

* I did eventually get sorted out enough to knit on the lace edging, which took me just over three months, and complete the project…a full two years, two months and six days after his surgery (I know because write things like start, re-start and finish dates down on my patterns). The morning I finished it, not bothering to weave in the ends, I threw the shawl over my shoulders and went to vote. I got a compliment on it from one of the volunteers at the polls. That’s my kind of instant gratification!

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