Monday, January 25, 2016

Wintry Mix

Where has January gone? Its weeks and days seem as blurred to me as the fine-falling snow outside my windows. (Yes, it's snowing here - hooray! Nothing so heavy as the blizzard back East - just a few fresh inches to fill in the gaps caused by a recent spell of dry and windy below-zero weather.)

There were several blog posts I'd like to have written this month, but life has been crowded and time has been short. So here's a kind of January summing-up - a Wintry Mix post, if you will.


A few weeks ago I took my camera for a walk, but after one photo, the battery died.

(A nice wintry photo, though. I like to see the oak leaves still clinging to the trees.)


The Aged P is having a series of extensive skin cancer surgeries on his face and head, which means lots of running for me and my sister, and lots of driving back and forth for the daily dressing changes. Mr. M (bless him!) has nobly pitched in to help with this job, since he passes by Dad's place every day. The plastic surgeon told me that women are generally better than men at changing dressings - but Mr. M has proved pretty handy with the tape and gauze.

We hope and pray that in a few weeks Dad will be whole of scalp once more.

(And the moral of that is: wear your sunscreen!)


I bought a bag of oranges, and one of them looked like this:

Citrus confusion?

This is what comes of hanging out with those lemon trees in the next field.


In the intervals of knitting mittens and beavering away at a magazine commission, I've been making some Valentine-y coasters:

Pattern coming soon.


Yesterday afternoon I took a walk to the park (making sure to have a fresh battery in the camera this time).

It was a damp, chilly, grey-and-white day, punctuated with the tawny and black of last summer's growth. Oak leaves huddled in the corner of the baseball field, waiting for the new season to start:

At the edge of the pond stood cattails wearing brown velvet coats....

Milkweed pods, greyer than the sky....

Once-vibrant prairie coneflower heads....

Delicately lovely wild-grass seed....

And goldenrod, like memories of summer lace:

The gap between winter and summer is so great; it seems an age since these flowers were in bloom. Was there ever really a summer? Yes - and there will be again. The fragile dried blossoms at the edge of the pond are the substance of things hoped for, the promise of warmth to come.


Have you seen the bright planets aligning in the night and morning sky? We've been looking out for them every clear evening. Even the full moon of a few nights back could not eclipse their shine.

I'm sorry I haven't been able to visit you lately. How is your January going?

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Monday, January 11, 2016

The Christmas Socks (a Tale of Woe), Part 3: It Ain't Over Till It's Over

Here at last is the harrowing conclusion to our stirring saga of Will over Wool,
in which Mrs. M - who had never yet completed a Second Sock -
undertook to knit a Pair of Gift Socks.

~ ~ ~

At the end of Part 2, our heroine was sitting pretty, with Sock One complete and Sock Two nearly so. Just a foot and a toe - a few hours' work - and her Tale of Woe would become a Song of Victory.

Swift and steady - more or less - was the knitting of Sock Two's foot. Our heroine's stitch tension (never her strong suit) was dramatically improved by the practice of "knitting ahead", or working an extra few stitches at the end of each dpn, thus minimising the chance of unsightly ladders.

We will gloss over the 3 accidentally-slipped stitches she found about 15 rows after slipping them, and the many attempts it took to: a) drop the right stitches, in the right order, down to the mistake; b) fix the mistake; c) pick all the dropped stitches back up again. Frogging and re-knitting the 15 rows would probably have been quicker; but our heroine regarded it as a Learning Experience. Nothing daunted, she knitted on, and found herself at last on the brink of Toe Number Two.

Toe Number Two! Magic words to one who had never yet finished a Second Sock. How excitedly did she work the decrease rounds! With what modest yet growing confidence did she Kitchener her way across the opening! How joyfully did she lay the socks toe-to-toe across her lap, admiring their pleasing symmetry!

Never again would she bear the shame of Second Sock Syndrome. She could hold her head high among the knitters of the world; she had Completed a Pair of Socks.

(Pause while knitting readers remember with nostalgia their own sense of accomplishment on first finishing a P. of S.)

But the ordeal was not yet over. You will, I am sure, sympathise with our heroine when I tell you that she waited several days before blocking the socks. She told herself she needed to research the best sock-blocking method - but the truth is she was afraid. What if something went wrong? What if the Socks stretched hopelessly out of shape? What if they (gasp) felted?

(Lest my readers be alarmed, let me hasten to assure you that the Socks did not felt. Fate had yet a blow in store for our heroine, but it was not so cruel as that.)

Common knitting wisdom dictates the following method for blocking wool socks: saturate the socks in tepid water (with or without a few drops of cleaning agent), being careful not to agitate them. Without wringing or twisting, squeeze out as much water as possible. Then roll them in a towel and squeeze (or step on) the rolled-up towel to extract still more water. Socks may then be shaped and allowed to dry.

Our heroine has never liked swishing small items in a sinkful of water - too drippy and messy when it comes to hauling them out. So after a bit of thought, she devised her own sock-wetting method, as follows:

1. Stack the socks, roll them up lengthwise, and put them in the bottom of a large plastic cup (a quart-size yoghurt container works well). Add water to cover:

2. Give the socks some time to soak up the water. When they're saturated, pour off the excess. Now insert another cup of the same size, and press it firmly against the wet socks. (Do this over a sink while holding the cups sideways or upside down, so the water can run off.) The second cup acts as a plunger to help squeeze out the moisture.

3. Remove socks from cup and admire their cake-like appearance.

Now for the clean towel, the rolling, squeezing and stepping...

...then the grand unveiling, and the laying-out of the socks on another towel to dry.

Our heroine was thrilled with how well the Socks looked after blocking; the transformation was almost miraculous. Most of the blips had evened out; the bumpy heel-turns were now smooth and tidy; the colourwork looked crisp and clean.

She gazed with affection at the damp socks, product of many hours' labour. But the affection soon turned to horror....

Toe Number Two pointed the wrong way. She had decreased in the wrong places.

They say that when a man is drowning, his entire life flashes before his eyes. Here are a few of the thoughts (rather bitter, I'm sorry to say) and images (strangely movie-related) that passed through our heroine's head as she gazed on the misshapen sock:

a) Aaaugh! Aaugh! Aaaaaugh!
b) ("That is the sound of ultimate suffering.")
c) If I were Tolkien, I'd have written a book called The Lord of the Socks. Instead of a Ring, Frodo would stagger through Middle-Earth dragging a set of dpns, working on a sock that could never be finished. His only hope would be to find the Yarn Shop of Fire and throw the @#*% thing in.
d) These are the Socks of Doom. How can I possibly mail them? Surely the plane will crash, or some dire mishap befall the poor postal employee who tries to deliver them.

and finally, when she had calmed down a bit...

e) What a great ending for the blog post.

(Our heroine was more of a philosopher than she realised. As a knitter she sighed and clutched her head, but as a writer she took consolation in the creative opportunity. Every cloud has a silver lining, they say.)

Lest our story take on the length of a novel, let us cut to the chase:

Our heroine knew she could never mail a sock with a cock-eyed toe. It didn't look right, it wouldn't fit right, and it certainly wouldn't wear well. Toe seams should run from side to side across the toes - not from the top of the foot to the bottom.

So she swallowed her bitter disappointment, called Patience to her aid once more, and waited for the socks to dry. Then, a sadder-but-wiser knitter, she frogged and re-worked the misshapen toe (not forgetting to first wet and weight the ravelled yarn to straighten out its kinks). And I'm happy to report that she had just enough yarn left to weave in at the end.

Thus ends our woolly saga. A Tale of Woe indeed, with only glimmers of triumph here and there - but rich in learning opportunities (or so our heroine consoles herself).

Sock Two is once more on the drying rack; in a few days, she hopes, she will be able to get this project out of the house and out of her life mail the Socks to their intended recipient.

Meanwhile, she's started on a pair of mittens to use up the leftover yarn....

(Thunder crashes offstage....)

~ ~ ~

I could never have made these Socks without frequently tapping into the wealth of knowledge shared by a generous online knitting community. The following sites were especially helpful:

By Gum By Golly - how to keep yarn from twisting when working stranded colourwork
Paper Tiger - on colour dominance in stranded knitting
Techknitting - Kitchener stitch, blocking, help for wonky ribbing and all things knitting
My Jewel Thief Knits - useful foot size chart
Knitty - wonderful basic sock tutorials

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

First Walk of the New Year

December was horridly murky and damp. After a brief late-November freeze, temperatures became abnormally high (for the first time ever, we had parsley in the garden and still-green lawns on Christmas Day) - but the sun seemed to have already gone south for the winter, leaving us under the woolly gloom of a perpetual wet blanket of cloud.

Then, a few days after Christmas, a welcome storm blew through, bringing winter proper. With several inches of snow to brighten the landscape, life began to look more cheerful. On New Year's Eve the clouds finally broke, and on New Year's Day, I went for a walk to watch the first sunset of the year.

Tiny golden clouds were scudding across the sky, pushed on waves of light from the west:

By the time I reached the start of the trail, the southern horizon was tinged with palest pink:

And a few minutes later the sun was glowing like an ember behind a gauzy curtain of trees:

I'm so grateful to live where deciduous trees make a yearly marvel of black lace against wintry skies.

Dried wildflowers look lovely too, against a backdrop of snow and fire:

Farther on, a goldenrod as tall as myself had fallen flat across the path before me:

What a glorious treat to be out in this fresh cold air, making the first tracks on the trail of the year.

To the east, the sky was layered in rose and blue over amber prairie grasses:

 Rust-coloured stems sprang up from the snow, with cocoa-brown blossoms hard by:

Queen Anne's Lace bid a spindly goodnight to the first day of 2016:

A very good walk to start the new year.

How is 2016 going for you?

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Christmas Socks (a Tale of Woe), Part 2: Many a Slip, or, Frogging Builds Character

Welcome back to our stirring saga of will over wool,
in which Mrs. M - who has never yet completed a Second Sock -
undertakes to make not one, but a Pair, of Christmas-gift Socks.

When last seen, our heroine had, after several false starts, managed to design and produce several inches of acceptable sock leg. Filled with a quiet determination, she was well on her way to completing the colourwork portion of Sock One.


After what seems days (but is probably only an hour or three) of intense labour, Leg One is at last complete. Flushed with success, poised on the brink of The Heel, our heroine turns to the Internet for advice and counsel.

O inestimable Internet! Friend of ignorant knitters, well of woolly knowledge, inexhaustible source of advice and delight: what would we do without you? Eagerly does our heroine plumb your depths, searching out the deep mysteries of heels, weighing the relative merits of flap and short row, German and half-handkerchief, eye-of-partridge and slip stitch.

After much pondering, our Intrepid Knitter - having, with tolerable success, completed one German heel in her lifetime - decides to go with what she knows. The German heel is selected. But the flap - ah, the flap. In her quest for knowledge, our heroine has gathered that a loosely-spun 100% wool yarn is not the sturdiest choice for a pair of socks; something must be done to strengthen the heel area. Consulting once again the collected wisdom of the online knitting community, she decides on an eye-of partridge flap.

In addition to its delightfully exotic-sounding name, the eye-of-partridge flap possesses a lovely textured appearance, made by combining slipped and regular stitches in a 4-row repeat. Nothing could be simpler. After a few hiccups - accidentally slipping stitches on both purl and knit rows (ribbit), losing track of the repeat (ribbit), and waffling over how many rows are needed - our heroine at last produces a Heel Flap worthy of the name:

Onward she knits, and soon beholds with joy an actual Turned Heel:

In no time at all, she has picked up and knit the necessary stitches to continue down the sock:

The Gusset now calls with siren voice. Our heroine has rosy visions of pushing onwards to finish Sock One, but in a rare display of crafting self-control, she places Sock One on a stitch holder and proceeds instead to cast on for Sock Two. "If I knit the second leg now," she reasons to herself, "I stand a better chance of matching tension to the first leg. And I'll get all that fiddly colourwork out of the way."

Whether through the soundness of her reasoning or divine intervention, the leg of Sock Two does indeed go much more smoothly - apart from two trifling errors in the colourwork, one on the very first row and one on the very last (discovered, of course, when it was too late to do anything about it). But let us ignore these small stings and focus instead on the positive: our heroine has reached the second heel flap. Sunshine fills her knitting heart, and lights up the work-in-progress:

Meanwhile, Christmas has come. Our heroine has missed her deadline; she must now lay aside her knitting and take up the burden of hostess-ship for a time.

When the guests are gone, she looks to her needles and eagerly proceeds to The Gusset, which - after a slight contretemps caused by working the wrong decreases on the wrong sides of the heel (ribbit) - soon bursts forth in all its glory of compound angles and cunning joinery:

Sock Two, with gusset complete, is now placed on a holder while our heroine returns to Sock One. (She wants to do the other gusset while the process is fresh in her memory.)

Before you can say "baa", she has worked gusset and foot...

...has decreased for the toe...

...and has smoothly grafted said toe with the help of another Wisconsin blogger (thank you Techknitter!).

Our Intrepid Knitter has finished a sock; her Second First Sock, to be precise.

A quiet happiness fills her heart. Patience and Perseverance have Paid Off. All the mistakes, the frogging and re-working, are as receding ripples on the sea of memory. Sock One is complete.

With fresh courage, our heroine turns to Sock Two. Just a foot and a toe - a few hours' work - and this Tale of Woe will turn into a Song of Triumph. The longed-for happy ending is nearly in sight.

Or so she thinks.

To be continued....

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