The winter is on its way out. Take heart, everyone, it really and truly is. Even if the thermometer doesn’t necessarily agree, the sun does.
Every day, my southwest-facing kitchen window gets a little brighter a little longer. This week I installed an extra shelf on the windowsill, to make more room in that sunny and warm spot for the houseplants that are thriving in their little oasis (this window also has a baseboard heater below it!), and for the seedlings that I hope will be taking root in their little egg-carton cups to make a fine balcony vegetable garden this summer. The first sprouts were spotted this morning!
Some of you readers might remember a post in the summer, where the cockles of my heart were warmed by the eagerness of my houseplants to brave the transition to a new land and put down roots. Well, they just keep making me smile. My little cuttings have turned into real plants. The Christmas cactus is due for a repotting, as the cuttings are overtaking the pot. The baby rubber plant has turned over a new leaf, so to speak, and instead of monochromatic green leaves, now sports beautiful, glossy light and dark leaves. My jade is more circumspect, and is taking its time to grow, but even so is doing well. A retrospective in photos:
The transplants, after a month in Montreal:
Today, 8 months in:
And what’s more, I planted some grocery-store sprigs of mint in the summer, and they’ve turned into a sprawling bush of mint. I chopped off some sprigs to try to tame the growth, stuck them in water, and within a couple of days have set out roots with abandon:
Things are growing!
With the days getting ever so slightly longer, I’ve been feeling phenomenal lately. My academic writing’s been going well, and I’ve been baking up a storm (nothing adventurous, but my family never says no to a batch of tried-and-true cookies). I’ve bought seeds to grow a garden! Just when it couldn’t get much better, I had a brilliant idea that would make my life oodles better: redesigning my winter hat.
You see, my warm winter hat was a gift a few years ago – a white wool “Kaldi” hat from 66˚North, with fuzzy lining and earflaps. It’s a lovely hat, but has a few problems. It’s always been a little snug on top, and the peak of the crown is sort of pointy, making an egghead shape. And, the seams are on the outside. Maybe it’s “traditional”, and it was a look that was super trendy some years ago, but I never liked outside seams (and don’t get me started on inside-out fair-isle).
So the other night I took my stitch ripper and performed some fuzzy-hat surgery. I undid all the seams on top and restitched them by hand with a narrower seam allowance, making the hat roomier and bringing the seams to the inside and out of sight. I also changed the crown shaping a bit to fit my head and eliminate the peak. I changed the way the front flap folded up a bit, making it rounder and smaller. And I took off the designer label, just because.
And then, I got an idea. I’ve been thinking for some time of decorating the hat, because a large white hat is nice, but couldn’t it be nicer? Embroidery? A dye job? Knitting a cover for the whole thing? As I was staring in the mirror, it came to me. Cat ears. CAT EARS! I grabbed my yarn and knitting needles and set to work.
These ears are the same as the ears of Hibou the Owl, just bigger and felted. I cast on 60 sts, and worked 3 double-decreases evenly spaced every other round until all stitches were used. Then I felted by hand a bit, but eventually just tossed them into the washer and dryer with my other laundry. A little shaping, a little stitching, and then, voilà, ears!
So, I like knitting socks an awful lot. But my knitting time is not so copious these days, so I make sure to always have a project with me on the go so I can make use of those precious oft-wasted minutes waiting in lines, sitting on buses, or just waiting for my gosh-darn computer to finish loading whatever it is that’s taking so long. I find that knitting is especially useful in helping me avoid the black hole of internet distraction while writing my thesis. If I need a break to decompress or gather my thoughts, I knit a few stitches and let my brain settle, rather than checking Facebook or Ravelry and suddenly finding that a half an hour has mysteriously slipped out of my grasp.
And, as I’ve mentioned before, I really like knitting socks on double-pointed needles (DPNs). But traveling with DPNs can be tricky. Knitters worry about the needles slipping out of the work, or getting crunched by the other things in your bag, and for good reason! I’m fearless (and really good at picking up lost stitches), so this doesn’t stop me, but I can see why others are less eager to throw a sock with its 5 toothpick-needles into a backpack and pull it out on the bus.
So what’s the solution? This is my roundup of options for keeping your socks safe between bouts of knitting in public, including my own prototype DPN sock holder (DIY all the way, baby).
First, the solutions you don’t need to buy:
Wrapping your needles up in the yarn. This has long been my preferred method of transportation. You fold your sock up, squish the knitting to the middle, and wrap one end with the working yarn. Then, you wrap the other end. Then, you do a little figure 8 back and forth, and secure by catching the working yarn between the needles on one end. Voila, you’re good enough to go.
Rubber bands. This is too much effort for not enough class for me, but you can put rubber bands of any size (actually, I recommend fabric-covered hair elastics, so they don’t snag your yarn) on the ends of your needles, bundling them all together. Be careful not to make them too tight on small needles, though, or you could warp or even snap the needles.
Solutions from your LYS, or online:
Clover needle holders. These little plastic coils work like the rubber bands, except they’re cuter, and will set you back $5-7 a package. They come in two sizes, and the size you choose will depend on how big your needles are and how many you’re bundling together. I actually think the flexibility of the rubber band wins in this case.
Rock Your Socks holders. This is available on Etsy from seller NeuroticNeedles, and I’ve seen similar (or the same) in a yarn shop locally. They’re two plastic caps that fit over your needle tips, with an elastic that connects them and holds them together. Sometimes they have cute little charms in the middle. It’s a nice concept, and will stop dropped stitches or missing needles and accidentally poking through your bag, but if you shove your laptop on top of your sock, this isn’t going to offer any protection. But, a good concept, worth trying out. $6-8 on Etsy, depending on how fancy the charms are.
Knitpicks Sock Knitting Needle Holders. I’ve personally used these, and liked them. They are a pair of paperboard tubes that sit snugly inside one another, with a slit that allows your sock knitting to come out the middle. You can store empty needles in them too, by just rotating the tubes so that the slit is closed. The way they’re designed means they fit a wide range of needle lengths, and you don’t have to worry about elastics snapping. But, the quality is chintsy. They’re paper, after all. After using them a short time, the layers started to come apart. I taped them back up, but then my toddler found them, and that was the end of that. Advantages are the price ($5 for two sets of tubes). I’ve only seen these on Knitpicks.com, and I’m still boycotting Knitpicks because of their unprofessional security and customer service practices. But they’re an affordable product and do the trick for light use.
Tin holder – discontinued? Way back in 2006, the Yarn Harlot blogged about a tin needle holder that she’d gotten, that originated from Woolworks, Ltd. I’ve contacted them, and received no reply, nor does their website mention awesome needle holders, so I have to assume that they’re no longer being produced. Too bad, because they looked great.
Knitzi. This is the gold standard of sock knitting needle holders, and I want one so badly. They’re hand-carved wooden tubular cases to do essentially the same thing as the Knitpicks case, except gloriously. Instead of two nested tubes, there is one tube with a threaded cap. Because of this, they come in a few different sizes. Unfortunately for me, this makes my life trickier, because I have a few different lengths of needles. I’d rather get the smaller, 5″ one, to keep weight and bulk down, but I sometimes knit with 6″ needles. Dilemma. It’s okay, the beautiful “Flow” case in walnut above is $109. Regular Knitzis come in sizes ranging from 4″-8″, are in the $30-40 range, and are custom made, so they have a greater turnaround time, but only a couple of weeks. Not exactly instant gratification, but we’re knitters, we’re not in this for instant gratification. Covet, big time.
So, my own prototype looks like an absolute monstrosity following that thing of beauty, but I’m still pretty proud of it. Meet my 50-cent sock DPN holder:
Yes, that’s a toothbrush case. I got it from the dollar store, 2/$1.
And I cut openings in each half, and smoothed out the edges with an X-acto knife.
And then I threaded fabric-coated elastic through the drainage holes and tied it together at tension, so the two halves would stay connected and have enough pull to keep closed in my bag.
And you know what? It’s great. I’m thinking of some modifications, to drop some hot glue in those holes to prevent extra needles from slipping out, and maybe finding a slightly better elastic. But it’s perfect. The hardest part was finding the toothbrush case, because CVS didn’t have this kind, just the over-the-head type.
Anyone else have stories of successful sock knitting hacks?
New Year, new post! Life has been busy, with dissertating and living and all that, but I wanted to show you all what I’ve been working on most recently in the knitting world. Meet Hibou and Étoile, the very best of friends:
The inspiration for this charming duo comes from an absolutely adorable YouTube video I stumbled across, of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. In it, a cheery owl decides to take an adventure up into the sky, to see what that star is really all about. The star and owl exchange friendly glances, and holding hands, go off on a playful frolic through the clouds. Eventually, realizing that they belong to two different worlds, the star and owl regretfully part, but the implication is that their friendship endures. Or something like that.
What is undeniable is how cute it is. And how absolutely intoxicating it is for my toddler, who would watch it 15 times in a row if you let him. So, for the holidays, I decided I’d make a pair of stuffed animals so that he could have his own starry adventures. I’m incredibly proud of how these came out (especially the owl) and I hope that sometime I get around to writing up a detailed pattern, so that others can have adorable owls too. For now, though, I’m happy to share the basics of construction, which can possible help inspire you to try something similar yourself! A lot of people think that stuffed animals are a lot of sewing up…but these are practically seamless. A little fiddly, yes, but almost no sewing involved.
I started off with the star, because it was the most straightforward in my mind. I’ve made knitted stars before, although my last star was started along the outside, with decreases forming sharp lines along the radii, which was something I wanted to avoid in this star.
For Étoile, I started in the center and worked outward, with lifted increases, to try to minimize the overall visual appearance of the increases. I also decided to have the increases fall along the “armpits” of the star, and then work the peaks separately afterward. So, I cast on 5, joined in the round, and increased in 5 places every single round, alternating left- and right-leaning lifted increases.
When the body of the star seemed big enough, I put it on a holder, and then did the same thing again, so I had two pentagons. Then the fun part. Lining up front and back, with the purl sides together, I worked in the round over 1/5 of the star’s front and 1/5 of the star’s back (from “armpit” to “armpit”). Here, I did double decreases at both sides every other round, to make a “seam” look that would actually be seamless. I did the same thing for each of the points, picking up stitches at the corners to avoid gaps (like you would for glove fingers), until there was just 1 point left.
At this point, I wove in the ends that I could, and stuffed the whole thing. Once stuffed, I decided on the placement of facial features, and used a pair of black glossy safety eyes, backed with a small circle of white felt, to make eyes. The mouth and eyebrows were done with black embroidery floss, and not being an embroiderer, I probably didn’t do this the most efficient or effective way. But, to make the large filled areas for both mouth and eyebrows, first I stitched the outline of the shape I wanted to fill, using 2 plies of floss (I don’t have any pictures of this process, as it was done in hiding and in a rush in the nights before Christmas!). I did the outline in split stitch, and fairly small stitches, to be as secure as I could on the loose knitted fabric. Then, I sort of made up a fill stitch – it’s like satin stitch, except that it’s not flat and it doesn’t totally encircle the fabric it’s worked on – it makes figure-8s between the two rows of split stitches, only on the surface of the knitting. I don’t know what it’s called – do you?
Anyhow, I filled in these shapes, then went to work setting in the eyes, so they’d look more naturalistic and less bug-eyed. To do this, I used 2 plies of the yellow yarn (Cascade 220 SW) and a long soft-sculpture needle, and essentially just sewed the fabric just around/behind the eyes to the stuffing beneath it. I secured off as best I could, finished knitting the last point, stuffed the last bit before finishing, and secured off the final end, tucking it back inside the stuffing to finish.
The owl was trickier. I started with the legs, and made two crown-down “hats”, each with 5 increases every other round. When they were big enough, I joined them together in the round, and worked some short rows to fill in the gaps in the front and back. Pretty quickly, I realized that the owl was a lot fatter than I’d planned him to be, so instead of having his wings come straight out from his body, I decided to do “raglan wings” and have the body gradually taper up to the neck. I had to do some tinkering with this, but it paid off. The front and back were worked flat, and then rejoined in the round for the neck. I did some quick decreases followed by some quick increases to make the neck shaping, and then increased in 8 places every other round to make the bottom of the head, worked even a bit, and then decreased in 8 places every other round to make the top of the head. I finished the crown of the head just like a hat, pulling through the small number of remaining stitches.
For the wings, I picked up stitches around the armholes, and worked even about an inch. Then, I did a centered double decrease at the bottom point every other round for a few inches, and then every round until I ran out of stitches. After finishing one wing, I stuffed him and worked on the face features.
The mask was originally going to be made with commercial felt, but I wasn’t happy with the result, so I knitted an 8-shape out of feltable wool (Knitpicks Bare Worsted), and felted it by hand in my kitchen sink. Doing it this way meant I could stop felting as soon as it was the right shape/size, and then I could wet-block it to shape over a ball overnight so it would lie nicely on the face. I sewed it on with a whipstitch.
The beak was made in two triangles, one slightly larger than the other, sewn together, then stuffed with a tiny bit of polyfill and sewn on over the mask.
The ears are little pyramids, with doubled decreases in 3 places every other round, and sewn onto the head using mattress stitch with a little polyfill stuffing inside. To make the eyebrows, I did a bit of applied crochet – single crochet, double crochet, and triple crochet, filling in the space from the eyes to the tips of the ears.
Eyes were the same safety eyes and white felt as the star’s eyes. I set both eyes into the head the same way as I did for the star, using a length of white yarn.
I knitted the other wing, then did a bit of embroidery on the wings using the knitting yarn, quilting some of the stuffing into wingfeathers, and pinching the wing edge so that it puckers like feathers.
Feet are just little lengths of I-cord, sewn on with the leftover ends from the beginnings of the legs.
I hope I have time someday to write this all up in more detail, with elaborations and numbers, but until that day (should it ever come), I hope someone gets inspired to be adventurous and make something adorable!
I can’t remember when I first discovered Venezia. I didn’t yet subscribe to Interweave Knits in 2006, but I did fall HARD for Eunny Jang’s designs that winter, when I was living in Russia and knitting to keep sane, so we’ll imagine it was sometime that year, or maybe in my first year of grad school. I added it to my Ravelry queue in August 2008, so maybe it was then. In any case, when I saw this sweater, in its stranded, blue-green glory, I knew it had to be mine.
I eventually bought the pattern, and as I set down to look at the chart, I noticed something interesting, nay, disturbing. The pattern had 9 colors – 5 background shades, but also 4 different “white”s.
That’s sort of crazy, I thought. Couldn’t this just be done with one white, and a nice range of background colors? Maybe with contrasting edging? So I set to work recoloring the chart, in a more reasonable number of hues. Photoshop is my friend for situations like this:
Armed with this new chart, and yardage estimates, I went to WEBS in pursuit of 2-ply Shetland (this is now December 2010). They had cones of Shetland, but not the 50-gram skeins I was hoping to find. They did have Reynold’s Whiskey, however, which came in close-enough colors to my chart. So, I picked up my colors (I had to order the white online), all 16 skeins of it, and then…sat on it for 2 years.
If you’re a knitter, you’ll understand. First, I needed the right needles, and then, when they arrived, I was in the middle of other projects. And then I was busy, and then it was the summer, and who wants to start a big sweater project in the summer. And then, and then…
Part of it, too, was that I was a little scared. This sweater had a lot of knitting in it. And steeks. And the sizing had to be right. And then I probably would want to tweak things. And really, in 2010, I’d only knitted one or two sweaters, despite having made lots of other pretty things. Sweaters sort of fill their own category. So I waited until the time was right. And apparently, the time was right when I had a squirmy baby in the house and was burnt out on lots of other things in my life. The Venezia was reborn.
By then (August 2012), Reynold’s Whiskey had been discontinued, so I had to cross my fingers that I had enough yarn. Word to the wise, overbuy your yarn. Really, just do it. Luckily, I had plenty of everything, and now have extra enough for a little vest or a sweater for JL, but I’d be so sad if I hadn’t.
The modifications to this sweater were many. First, I lengthened the torso of the sweater, and even then it rides a little short, so I ended up ripping out the original turned hem and adding a long ribbing to bring the edge lower. I mix-and-matched sizes, to make a 38″ hip and a 36″ bust, and changed the increase/decrease rate to go with the new length. It was smooth sailing through the sweater body, and the sleeves too, although I did wait about 6 months between the body and (two-at-a-time magic loop, stranded) sleeves, because it was summer and I was tired of all that colorwork.
Then was the fun part. I decided that there were issues with the construction of the original Venezia – the sleeves were too boxy, and I wouldn’t like a boatneck in scratchy shetland wool, all the way up to my collarbone. So, I wanted to substitute in set-in-sleeves, preferably worked in the round with the body seamlessly to avoid issues lining up the colors in seaming, and to make a V- or scoop-neck. Here’s what I came up with:
So, it’s a little messy, but what you see on the right is the shape of the sleeve cap, in the middle are the armscye decreases, and on the left is the V-neck shaping in black, with the scoop neck shaping and the back-of-neck shaping superimposed in blue. I used some sleeve calculators and a pinch of experience/common sense to figure this out, and then stuck to it pretty faithfully in the knitting. Here’s how it knitted up:
You’ll see that the top of the sleeve cap doesn’t reach as high as the body does – at a certain point, you need to bind off the top of the sleeves, and continue with a little steek for the top of the armscye. There is also a steek for the neck in the front, and also a tiny steek for the back neck.
I then did a strange modified incremental three-needle bind-off over the tops of the shoulders. Here’s what it looked like when I finished knitting, before scissors were introduced:
This is the least like a sweater that it looked, but soon (the next morning), the scissors came out. I crocheted all the steeks, and soon this happened:
Sweater! (see the scissors in the second photo there?) I have to give some credit to my friend Mira, the first person who ever cut a steek in my presence, for making this moment possible.
It took some experimenting to be happy with the hems and neckline, but eventually, it was done, with a nice corrugated ribbing on the sleeves and neck, inspired by Eunny’s Autumn Rose.
All those color changes meant a whole heck of a lot of loose ends on the inside:
I decided that instead of weaving all those ends in, I’d french braid them down the sides. Brilliant! Next time, though, I’ll spit-splice them and not worry about the side seams being a little off, because it’d be pretty near invisible anyway.
And it was done in time for Rhinebeck! Last year it was too hot for fancy knits, and the year before I was all self-conscious in my Sylvi, but this, this was a Rhinebeck sweater. Perfect.
Last week, Dudley House (Harvard’s Grad Student Center) held a Hitchcock/Kubrick movie night, showing The Lady Vanishes, followed by Doctor Strangelove. I was a bit bummed out to be 300 miles away, and I suggested to Jonathan that we have our own Kubrick night. We popped on our VPN and flipped through Netflix’s offerings (as the days tick down on my free trial), but didn’t find much. What we did find, however, was Room 237, a documentary about different interpretations of Kubrick’s The Shining. As someone who has taught courses on interpreting art, it was a fascinating, if sometimes mindboggling/face-palming experience, and I recommend it highly to anyone who liked The Shining, and who likes crackpot film analysis. It might be too much to take, however, if you’re currently teaching analysis/interpretation to undergrads, so beware. That aside, the film reminded me that I never got around to writing a blog post about an amazing sweater, inspired by The Shining, so here goes…
A year ago, at knitting group, I met Jess. Jess was on a mission. She had never knitted a stitch before, but that was not going to get in the way of her determination to knit her boyfriend a sweater. And not just any sweater, no. This sweater:
In case you don’t recognize it, this is Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater, from Kubrick’s The Shining. She told me how, even though it was totally goofy, she knew her boyfriend would love it. She just needed some help knitting it. She even had a pattern, although it wasn’t quite right for what she wanted.
Now, if you are a knitter, this story is probably setting off any number of red flags.
#1 – An adult sweater is a big knitting project for anyone, not just a beginner knitter.
#2 – New knitters often have a learning curve, and it usually takes a while before a knitter can produce fabric with an even texture and tension throughout, especially over the amount of knitting required for a man’s sweater.
#3 – This particular sweater is not just a vanilla project – it has seaming, color changes, and embroidery, on top of the more basic ribbing, sizing, and stockinette knitting.
#4 – Haven’t you heard of the “Sweater Curse”? Where giving your boyfriend a handknitted sweater will cause the relationship to self-destruct? Yeah, that.
#5 – The pattern in question was a hand-drawn chart, made for a worsted-weight (relatively fine-knit) sweater. Which is ok, but not quite the chunky sweater Danny is wearing in the picture. I’m pretty sure the pattern she had was this one, where you can see what the end result is. It’s an ok sweater, but it’s not quite right.
And that’s just the beginning. But I listened to Jess’ story, and frankly thought that it was an awesome project. Maybe I’m a sap, but I totally think that goofy sweaters for boyfriends, given with no expectation that they actually get worn, totally defy the drama of the sweater curse. Besides, as I came to discover, Jess is a very methodical person, and her approach to knitting reminded me a lot of my husband’s – slow, steady, determined and perfectionist. I’ve seen this kind of knitter-scientist take on technically challenging projects with great success, even with very minimal experience. So I told Jess I’d help her, and gave her some yarn and needles.
Jess got yarn, found a hat pattern, and started working on learning how to knit. I poked around online, found a basic free chunky raglan sweater pattern, and got to work in Excel to sketch out a chart for the Apollo shuttle that better matched Danny’s sweater, at the gauge of the chunky sweater. Jess did some reconnaissance, took many measurements, and set to work figuring out what size to knit the sweater. Lots of math was done. Lots of swatches made. Jess demanded certainty – that the color be perfect, that the sizing be exact. I offered experience – that one stitch or row’s difference here or there wouldn’t make or break things.
Over the next semester, the knitting group fell apart. Some people graduated, others were busy trying to graduate. I had an infant who didn’t really like hanging out until 10pm at the student cafe. But Jess had a sweater to knit, and was determined, so we kept meeting, and the sweater started to come to life. Sleeves were knit. A back was made. Colors were introduced.
Of course, there was another issue. I was moving away in July. So, as Jess knit away in secret, afraid to tell anyone lest the word get out to her boyfriend accidentally, she was also working against the calendar, trying to learn everything she needed to before her knitting teacher quit town. I last saw Jess in June, right before our moving day, when we went over seaming with the mattress stitch, and doing the final embroidery in black.
And then, in September, I got the photos of the sweater – it lives!
the happy recipient
So, I might be more invested in this sweater than I ought to be, but I’m super proud of Jess, who went from non-knitter to awesome sweater knitter in about a year’s time. May your sweater blast big, rocket-shaped holes in the sweater curse forevermore.
Moving to Montreal was stressful for me, and the ways that stress manifested itself surprised me. For example, I became extremely concerned about the moment of border crossing, when I’d be coming to Canada as a “visitor,” bringing with my all my worldly possessions. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, but on a 6-month visitor visa, you’re not supposed to be coming to settle permanently. That’s what permanent residency is for. Which I’ve applied for, and am waiting on. Meanwhile, I’m “visiting.” Visiting for 8 weeks at a time, as I keep heading back to Cambridge to get prescription refills and meet with my advisor. Indefinitely “visiting.”
In any case, this was stressful enough to figure out a way to cross the border with Jean-Luc separately from the moving van, so it would look less strange to say I was “visiting.” A friend drove us up the day before, and we went through with her carload of things, while Jonathan and his family stayed another night in Cambridge to finish packing up the truck, and to leave at the crack of dawn for the long haul.
This was also stressful enough to make me worry about bringing contraband across the border. Alcohol is strictly limited to 1.14 liters per person, so I gave away all of my booze to my knit night (you’re welcome, guys). Soil is forbidden, so I threw away my bag of potting soil. Unless you get an expensive phytosanitary certificate from the government, the only plants allowed are cut flowers not intended for propagation, so I gave away my houseplants, even the one made from cutting of my great-grandmother’s christmas cactus.
And what I’m about to say is entirely hypothetical, and does not have any bearing on me…
…but if one were particularly attached to your houseplants, one might be able to bring cuttings in a small bag in one’s backpack, and start rooting them in a different country.
And if one were to do such a thing, and if the plants were particularly hardy and eager to grow, they might take root in this new country with striking speed and ease, making their owner, feeling a bit uprooted herself, both envious and optimistic.
I guess you just need to want to grow.