Saturday, March 23, 2013

Inch by inch, row by row

It's been a whirlwind week. I lucked into some freelance work and I spent many many hours over the last five days behind a desk. Just like old times, in some ways, and completely different, in others.

I haven't had much time (or energy) for knitting this week...which is funny, because it's always during weeks like this that I need the soothing rhythms of knit and purl the most.

That's when an old familiar pattern comes in handy – preferably for something teeny-tiny, so that you can feel like you're making progress. Enter the Cutest Booties.

Tiny socks for a tiny baby. 32 stitches, KPPPM, 2.75 mm needles; a pair finished in a week, even with spending less than half an hour a day with needles in my hands.

Crochet ties and teeny-tiny pom poms (thanks to this gadget – an excellent investment of $7) finish things off. It doesn't get much cuter than this!

This week I'll be tackling the macro version – another gift, but this time for a grown-up friend – big yarn, big needles...but just as satisfying.

Oh, and speaking of satisfying, look what I saw when I was out for a walk this morning. Snowdrops!

Spring is coming....

Saturday, March 16, 2013

When darning isn't enough (a tale of two socks)

The thing about becoming a sock knitter is that it doesn't take long before you also become a sock fixer. Especially if, like me, your favourite sock yarn is 100% merino, and your favourite mode of transportation is walking.

This sort of situation isn't hard to fix – and you can see that I've already darned this sock at least once. That's just a matter of getting out a darning needle and spending a bit of time weaving things back together again.

Easy. (No, really: easy.) But the second sock of this pair was another matter entirely. It wasn't was downright holey.

I knew about the two big holes, but I didn't see the smaller ones until I put the darning egg (it's actually a sea shell) into the sock. Not only was it practically disintegrating, but it had also taken a trip through the washer and dryer (whoops!). I've been wondering if I could figure out how reknit the heel of a sock, and I figured that this was the one to experiment on.

The first thing I did was to put in a lifeline. Thanks to the magic of wool, I wasn't too worried about runaway stitches, but a little insurance never hurt anyone. It also made it easier for me to cut in a straight(ish) line when I snipped out the heel.

This is what I cut out – you can see the bottom of the heel flap at the far right, the heel turning and a bit of the bottom of the sock on the left. (You can see that I've already darned this one, too.) 

Next, I picked up stitches, starting at the heel flap, then working up the side of the foot, across, and then down the other side. 

I didn't worry too much about the numbers at this point – well, I knew there were 32 in the heel flap, and I tried to make the number of stitches on either side match. But I wasn't too fussed about it.

Working back and forth, I put in six rows on the heel flap, picking up with the same k1, sl1 from the pattern. Then – again, following the pattern – I turned the heel.

When that was finished, I put markers on either side of the 18 heel stitches, then picked up 5 stitches from either side of the heel flap. Working back and forth, I faked a gusset by decreasing on the outside of each marker on every other row until I had 22 stitches – which matched the number of stitches that I'd picked up further up the foot.

To make the next step easier, I divided the heel stitches in half and put them on the needles with the stitches from the sides of the foot. Still working back and forth, I joined the bottom of the foot to the rest of the sides by working short rows: k21, k2tog (knitting the last stitch from the bottom with the next stitch from the side of the foot); turn, p 21, p2tog (purling the last stitch from the bottom with the next stitch from the other side) turn. That was easy enough, if a bit fiddly with five DPNs going. 

It looks a bit like Frankensock, but you get the picture.

When I'd knitted each of the side stitches, it was time to graft the old part to the new part. A little bit of Kitchener stitch was all it took. 

It's not a perfect fix – that trip through the dryer means that that the body of the sock was smaller and denser than it was at first, so there's an inherent size mismatch between the old sock and the new heel. And I could definitely find a neater way to join the edges. But still: an old sock with a new lease on life.

Ta da! Sure, these socks are going into the around-the-house pile, but it's nice to know that a hole or two (or five) doesn't automatically mean they're going into the scrap heap. 

I have to admit that I'm pretty proud of myself for figuring this out. I've read enough Elizabeth Zimmermann and Ann Budd to know that fixes like this are possible, I guess – and when it was time, the theory behind the afterthought heel and EZ's moccasin socks had tumbled around in my brain long enough that something like this finally found its way out my fingertips. (I guess that having 25 years of experience counts for something.)

To me, this sort of thing is what craft is all about. It's about learning a skill, and then perfecting it – slowly, a bit at a time, over an extended period. It's about challenging yourself; trying and failing and trying again. It's about solving problems, building a skill set, learning from others and learning from yourself. It's about creating a narrative, or finding your place in a larger story. It's about taking pride in your work – and valuing the things you make so much that you use them, appreciate them, take care of them and learn to fix them.

It's a sustainable approach, and – in a world where so many things are instant, ephemeral and disposable – it's also sustaining.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A taste of spring

There's still a week until spring arrives officially, but there are hints of what's to come in the puddles on the sidewalk and the sudden cacophony of early morning birdsong. The sparrows don't know anything about Daylight Savings Time.

As I travelled down the QEW on Sunday, the late-afternoon sun made the orchards glow pink. Small patches of snow were still visible among the trees on the escarpment, but it's nothing like the great drifts of white that were there the last time I drove by. Soon it will all be covered in a haze of green.

We went to the nursery yesterday – opening day, all the plants lined up and ready to go. Hydrangea and lilies and the first tiny herbs, straining toward the sun.

Inside the greenhouse it was easy to forget the sun had retreated back behind a curtain of clouds. It was warm and humid and it smelled of damp earth. We wandered the aisles and rubbed leaves between our fingers for that brief hint of spice: basil, thyme, golden oregano.

The ranunculus were showing off, all pinks and purples and oranges. I bought some to take home – a change from the bouquet of supermarket tulips that were dropping petals everywhere as I left the house.

After the nursery: ice cream. The dairy bar up the road is a neighbourhood institution. We had our first cone of the year there yesterday, sitting in the parking lot while the wind buffeted the car. It was the best ice cream I've ever had. It always is. 

Now, home again, a flower on the table and spring in the air. I like it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Snapshots: early March

I think the lambs won out this year – the first of the month was sunny, the sky was blue, and it was warm enough that I briefly pondered having the first ice cream cone of the year. Instead, I stopped at my favourite bakery for an Eccles cake and some hot cross buns, then walked along Queen Street to the yarn store. 

A latte and some satisfying insta-sock knitting: my kind of Friday happy hour.

I've been busy in the kitchen, too. Granola; chocolate pudding (do you have a favourite recipe to recommend?); salted caramel brownies. Out for brunch: huevos rancheros. Dinner with friends on Saturday night: homemade pizza, salad, a bottle of wine. Those brownies. (Make those brownies!)

Reading, writing, reading about writing. The mug is by Rob Ryan. "Believe in people."

Yesterday another yarn store trip, this one on the other side of town. One skein of KPPPM, destined to be baby booties for a friend who's expecting. They'll be tiny diversions from the sweater I'm working on – little rewards to knit as I hit the milestones of a finished sweater body, finished sleeves, and so on. Like dessert, but in knitting.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:
Listening to: Radio 2
Reading: Bossypants. I decided it was time for a re-read.
Eating: Soup. Still.
Drinking: Orange juice. (I'm nursing a cold again, ugh).
Coveting: This sweater by Glenna. After I finished modelling it, I wanted to steal it, but no luck. Guess I'll have to make my own!
Hoping: This stretch of sunny days continues.

What are you up to these days?