Some day I will have an organised Christmas. I will plan and make (or buy) all gifts well in advance. I will pre-bake batches of cookies to be stored in the freezer and pulled out on the big day. I will choose and sign Christmas cards - and address and stamp the envelopes - in November.
Some day my house will be company-clean all the time. I will brush cobwebs out of crevices all year long, and wash down the miles of woodwork on a monthly basis, instead of waiting until the weekend before Christmas, when pride (or shame) compels me to remove the dust of
Some day I will sail serenely through December, secure in the knowledge that I am cool, calm, and ready for the hordes of loved ones that descend each year upon Micawber Towers to celebrate with us the birth of our Saviour.
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The above is a very False Start indeed. Let us now return to the Real World, where I -- even I, who have never yet completed a Second Sock -- am knitting away furiously at the first of a Pair of gift socks.
In the front of my mind I'm counting stitches (3 gray, 1 blue, 1 gray, 4 blue). At the back of my mind are various uneasy thoughts, all clamouring for attention: You need to post that free ornament pattern! You should have finished that Binding Off with a Hook series weeks ago! What about the 2015 wildflower list? Have you ordered gifts for the two great-nieces? Isn't it time to make the next batch of caramelcorn? Have you edited the Aged P's Christmas letter? Don't forget he needs help with his Christmas shopping. What about the latest call for magazine submissions? When are you going to finish those samples? Aack! A dpn has fallen out again. That clock can't be right - is it really that late?
The last-minute scramble to make Christmas gifts is an almost annual event at Micawber Towers. Usually it's my own fault: I suffer from a boundless optimism about time (how much I can get done in it, or how much is needed for a particular task); I also have delusions about working best under pressure.
But sometimes the pressure is caused by outward forces: the family name-drawing doesn't happen in a timely fashion, difficult gift requests are made, the gift theme (this year it's Made in the USA) is awkward or time-consuming to fulfil.
Which brings us to The Socks. My giftee requested "something knitted, Fair Isle, in pale grey - either big socks to wear around the house, or mittens." Not too tall an order for a Time Optimist. I can knit stranded colourwork. I've completed a sock in my lifetime. This gift request is not beyond my skillset. And good, reasonably-priced, quick-to-ship American-made yarn can't be that hard to find.
Cue the sinister music....
I will spare you the agonising details of time spent floundering in the Swamp of Indecision (located somewhere between the Valley of Decision and the Pit of Despair), of my struggles with a) finding yarn (thanks again, Amy, for pointing me to that sale); b) choosing motifs; c) deciding on the number of cast-on stitches; d) fitting the motifs attractively into the number of stitches available. (A reasonable person might have simply chosen an existing pattern to follow. I suffer from Designer's Itch and am therefore not reasonable.)
Let us turn from these scenes of laborious research, and jump ahead to the happy time when our heroine takes her needles and newly-acquired, luscious all-American yarn in hand. A rainy Sunday, Christmas music playing, lights shining softly from the tree by her side - what could be more pleasant?
The ribbing alone nearly made me give up. *K2, P2. Repeat from *. It should be simple, but for a beginner-to-intermediate, less-than-perfect-tension knitter like me, it's a recipe for wobbly columns and loopy frustration. This problem is not solely my own; from the wealth of tips available online, it would appear to be almost universal. Solutions range from the simple (knit more tightly) to the extremely creative (see this post by Techknitter for some examples).
First I tried knitting more tightly. It gave me a nice tidy ribbing, and I galloped happily on to the motif rounds. Then I noticed that the cuff edge was rather small - so small, I was afraid it would cut off the giftee's circulation. I also ran up against the stumbling block of Motifs Not Matching Up at Round Starts (seen on the right edge in photo below):
|Version 1 - designed to cut off circulation at the ankle.|
There followed much research and experimentation with tricks to overcome the motif problem, another lengthy flounder through the Swamp of Indecision, and at last a determination to redesign the motifs, allowing for a line of plain stitches down each side of the sock to minimise the offset at round ends.
So much for Version 1.
Then I had the bright idea of adding 8 stitches to the total count, as well as a rolled edge for comfort (an excellent idea culled from the pages of Techknitter's blog). I will call this Version 2.1. (No photos were taken; the human spirit can only stand so much.) Stitch tension was so relaxed on 2.1 that my dentist mistook it for a sleeve when he walked into the exam room and found me knitting away in the dental chair. (We've reached Tuesday, by the way. This is an Epic Sock.) Rip went Version 2.1.
Then came Version 2.2 - 4 stitches smaller, and back to the tighter-than-tight gauge on the ribbing. At first it wasn't so bad - the cuff now looked comfortably human-ankle-sized - but the sock body ballooned out into unreasonable proportions, and the new stitch pattern wasn't working out as well as I'd hoped. Several froggings later, snip went the scissors and Version 2.2 was thrown onto the Pile of Humiliation. Back to the Swamp of Indecision for Mrs. M.
|Version 2.2 - leg nearly large enough for an elephant.|
After strenuous thought (and a few desperate prayers), our intrepid knitter made the bold decision to reduce the stitch count to its original number, and to try to work the ribbing at a reasonable tension, using a compromise fix of her own devising. (She calls it Yanky Ribbing.)
"I may not be able to knit/purl with perfect tension, but by golly I'm going to show that yarn who's in charge - if not during the stitch, then after," she said to herself.
(Dear me - I seem to have strayed into the third person. What the heck - it's my blog. I can do what I want. "Within reason," whispers the soft yet relentless Voice of Syntactic Conscience....)
Every technique needs a good mantra, and here's the mantra for Yanky Ribbing: "Knit, knit, yank, purl-with-a-yank, purl." (If you pause for a beat after "yank" and "purl", it pairs rather nicely with the rhythm of "The Little Drummer Boy.")
"Knit, knit, yank" explains itself - knit one stitch, knit the next, then give the working yarn a tug. "Purl-with-a-yank", though mysterious-sounding at first, is equally simple: purl the first purl, but before you slip it off the needle, tug the working yarn again. Then work the second purl. Keep a moderately firm tension throughout, paying careful attention to the places where you switch needles.
Inelegant, you say? Bad knitting practice? Perhaps. But it seems to work. Here is Version 3 at the time of this writing:
You will notice that not only has our knitter produced a decent-looking cuff of reasonable size, she has also made significant progress into the charted portion of her project (after frogging and re-working a few inches when she found that some of her floats were improperly woven).
She now feels cautiously optimistic, and is not without hope that this Tale of Woe may yet turn into a quiet song of Triumph....
~ ~ ~
We now return to the first person.
I've been tempted to name this sock "The Doctor", for it's had about as many transformations as that fabled character. (And, as with him, some versions have been more appealing than others.)
My watchwords now are Patience and Perseverance. All I have to do is finish the Fair Isle-style ankle portion, decide what heel turn to use, figure out how to strengthen the sole for around-the-house wear, determine the proper length for someone who wears a size 8.5 shoe, and finish the sock. Then make another one. And block them both.
I can do that by next Friday, right?
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