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In a previous post, I said that I would never knit another Aran.  I don’t know why Arans irritate me so, but they do.  The last Aran I knitted, for myself, was my fourth, and I have cursed over every single one of them.  (Three were for my husband.  I figured it was about time I cursed over one for myself.)

Socks, on the other hand, are…I don’t know.  The ultimate crowd-pleaser?  I think so.  They’re a bit more complicated than mittens, but there’s just something about warm feet.  And they are so customizable, as I am proving with the pair I am currently knitting.

The important thing is to get the gauge right.  I worked this out so many years ago that I no longer remember how I came up with the magic number of 72 stitches on a set of size 1 (2.25 mm) sock needles, for my husband.  For my son it’s been a bit dicier; for one thing, his feet are big.  Size 15.  For another, because he works outdoors, his socks have to be knitted in thicker wool, so I usually choose Ragg wool, and that entails larger needles – I think I used a size 4 (3.5 mm).  The good thing about knitting socks for my son is that by the time his feet got so big, I’d begun making notes on all my projects, so the next time he needs a pair of socks, I can just consult my notes.

The current pair is for my husband, the original Wearer of Socks.  When he shovels snow, he wears a pair of work boots that’s a little loose on his feet.  Regular dress socks, even doubled, don’t do the job.  Thick work socks are too thick.  Somehow, the socks I knit, of fingering-weight yarn, fill the bill perfectly.

But you have to be choosy with sock yarn.  I once knit a pair of socks out of bamboo yarn, and the darn stuff was so slippery that it was forever falling off the needles – and these were wooden needles, which had been specifically recommended for working with bamboo yarn.  Never again!  The original yarn, good sock wool, is still the best, in my book.

Then, because it’s for socks, it should be machine-washable.  The doyenne of knitting, Elizabeth Zimmermann, knitted socks of regular wool, and often wrote about the desirability of hand-washing handknits.  I will thank her forever for getting me out of the plastic-yarn groove I was in; I religiously handwash all my handknitted sweaters; but socks, I’m sorry, is pushing it.  I need to be able to throw those puppies into the machine and have them come out looking civilized.

Yarns come and go at an alarming rate.  When I first began knitting socks, some thirty years ago, I stumbled across the Absolutely Perfect sock yarn, a Swiss brand called Arwetta.  No sooner had I laid in a good supply than the business folded.  Then, about ten years ago, I finally found a similar yarn, Froehlich Wolle.  How can you resist a sock yarn called Happy Wool?  Especially since, like Arwetta, it came with its own card of reinforcement yarn (Arwetta had a spool of reinforcement yarn, but it’s the same principle.  Since the stuff is as scarce as the proverbial hens’ teeth, it’s a selling factor).  Note the past tense.  Happy Wool, unhappily, is no longer available, either.

My current hope, as I work my way through my last skeins of Happy Wool, is for Jawoll.  Ha, ha, very clever – it’s pronounced Yah-voll, and means Yes Wool.  Whatever.  It looks like an acceptable substitute for Arwetta/Froehlich Wolle, right down to the reinforcement yarn, and the colors are suitably conservative for a pair of stick-in-the-muds like the hubster and me.  However, my next pair of socks is going to be for me, and I might want something a little more adventurous; Sockalicious, maybe?  It doesn’t come with reinforcing yarn, but I can buy a card of that from the Local Yarn Shop – when I pick up my sock yarn.  I do try to buy local, and discerning blog readers will note that my yarn links all reference a yarn shop in New Hampshire, where I live.

Here’s the thing about knitted socks:  You can really personalize them.  Most patterns will start you with a knit-one-purl-one or knit-two-purl-two rib; I’m not especially impressed with the elasticity of either one.  My current favorite is knit-two-purl-one, and I defy anyone to find a more elastic ribbing.  Holy cow.  27 rows of that, and those puppies will stay up but good.  (The 27 rows came from a now out-of-print book about Maine mittens, Fox and Geese and Fences, and apparently, all Maine mittens begin with 26 rows of ribbing.  It seems like a workable length of ribbing, and you don’t get too sick of it before it’s time to stop ribbing; somehow, my brain added an extra row of ribbing.  Whatever works.)

Now, 72 stitches on four sock needles works out to 18 stitches per needle.  They used to sell four needles to a set, three to hold the stitches and a fourth to work with, but German needles came five to a set – four to hold the stitches and one to work with – and American needle manufacturers seem finally to have cottoned to the idea that four needles make a perfect circle, whereas three needles are tight to work with.  Anyway.  Eighteen stitches per needle.  Or, nine times two.  Nine times two works out to a very serviceable rib of seven knit, two purl, which keeps a purl-hater like me from going completely crazy, but still keeps the socks up on the leg.  I used always to change to stocking stitch after the initial ribbing, but the socks don’t stay up all that well without a little extra encouragement; knit seven purl two works out very well, in terms of Encouragement.

So!  I’ve cast on, using the “long-tail cast-on” method, because it’s nice and elastic.  I’ve got my 27 rows of knit-two-purl-one, and six inches of knit-seven-purl-two.  Now I add in reinforcing yarn, and knit the heel flap.  There are a couple of ways to do this, and one of these days I promise I will try Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Afterthought Heel (if you can get your hands on a copy of Knitting Without Tears, the best heels are all covered in it, including the Afterthought Heel); but for lo these many years, I have knitted her turned heel, and it works well for me, especially since you knit the first four and last four stitches of each row, thus producing a garter-stitch edge that just look spiffy and is easy to pick up stitches on, when shaping the heel.

I won’t go into the actual heel-turning, but I will say that I leave the reinforcing yarn in for the entire process, including the instep of the sock.  This is what I mean about completely customizable, since the hubster desires a little extra padding in this area of his boot, and the reinforcing yarn supplies it nicely.  If I weren’t going to pad this area, I would leave in the reinforcing yarn for the heel and snip it as I came to each instep, joining it back in while I worked my way down the heel.  When I am done with the heel, I like to knit in a strand of a different-color thread on just the heel stitches; this way, when the heel wears out, I can rip it out without having to replace the whole foot.

(I once did try out Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Totally Refootable Sock, from Knitters Almanac, and didn’t like it.  But that’s just me, Traditionalist to the end.)

Once the heel is turned and the side stitches have been gobbled up so that I again have 72 stitches on four needles, I knit straight, stocking stitch on the sole of the foot and my weird 7-and-2 ribbing on the top of the foot, for another four inches, and join in another strand of contrasting yarn, this time around the whole sock:  I will be padding the ball of the foot and the entire toe with reinforcing yarn, and since these areas also wear out quickly, I have planned ahead for this section to be replaceable, too.  This time, I don’t carry the reinforcing yarn around, but add it in as I begin the sole and snip it when I get to the top of the foot.  After a final two inches (six inches in all to the foot, measured out from the garter-stitch of the heel flap), I work the toe, entirely reinforced, and when I’m down to five stitches per needle, I work them off in Kitchener Stitch.

A couple of years ago, I took a class at my Local Yarn Shop on toe-up socks, and the selling point for them was that you didn’t have to work Kitchener Stitch.  I like the idea of toe-up socks because you can just finish the sock off when you reach the end of your yarn – theoretically – I mean, you still have to leave some yarn for knitting the ribbing and binding it off, and then, as it turns out, if you want a bound-off edge that doesn’t cut off circulation in the leg, you have to use a bind-off that resembles – whaddaya know – Kitchener stitch.  I’d rather work Kitchener stitch for ten stitches than for 72.

The big disadvantage of socks is that having knit one, you have to turn around and knit another.  There’s a technique out there for knitting two socks at once, on a cable needle, from the toe up.  Aside from my grumpy objection to toe-up socks, I just don’t like socks worked on a cable needle (the class I took in toe-up knitting was worked on a cable needle).  I like socks knitted on sock needles, thankyouverymuch, and I like them knitted in the traditional way, top down.  And if that means I have to work a second sock, well, so be it.

However…Leo Tolstoy wrote, in War and Peace, about Anna Makarovna’s [sic] Secret Socks:  Apparently, this peasant woman had developed a technique for knitting one sock inside another, and when she was done, she pulled the second sock out from the first.  I think I know how it’s done – I’m thinking a kind of double-knitting technique – but I can’t think how I would keep the ribbing straight.  You’d have to cast on with two separate balls of yarn and knit one stitch for the outside sock and one for the inside sock, then another for the outside sock and another for the inside sock, and then how would you bring the yarn forward for the purl stitch on the inside sock??  Too confusing.

So I’d best get back to my knitting because – I’m still on the first sock.

Reblogged to my knitting blog, Being Woolly-Minded

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Plays with Booze

NaBloPoMo prompt:  “Tell us about some of your first toys.”  Oh, dear.  You may be forgiven for not believing this one.

I actually did have a toy, a stuffed elephant (Dumbo was very big when I was a child).  And I have photographs of me grinning prettily, clutching Dumbo, which does nothing to explain why I dislike elephants in adulthood, though the movie may explain why I really loathe circuses.  In any case, Dumbo was a gift from one of my several uncles, I’m not sure which one, and I treasured it.

But as for other toys – not for quite a few years did I have dolls and doll-houses.  Having been widowed very young, and the late 1940s being a time when women with small children just did not go out to work, my mother was not in a position to buy toys.  Although the very notion affronted her mightily, looking back on the whole time – we were poor.  She got Social Security for herself and for me, and probably an income from her sister, whose son she watched so my aunt could go out to work.  That was it.

However, there were other ways to amuse oneself, and I found them readily.  I liked the sound her keys made, so I used to play with her keys a lot, dropping them to get them to make that pretty jingly sound.  Then there were my doll substitutes.

One day (this was my mother’s story, I don’t actually remember it), I said to my mother, “I saw a funny lady today.”  When my mother asked what was funny about her, I said, “She had knees.”  “Everybody has knees,” said my mother, and I replied, “Blackie doesn’t  have any knees.”  And there was no arguing with that because Blackie was…a powder can.  A used-up can of baby powder that I had somehow adopted and turned into a doll, of sorts.  Blackie had a companion, “People” (I liked the sound of the word, that I do remember).  “People” was a whiskey bottle.  When the man who would become my stepfather entered the picture, he courted my mother with boxes of candy; I didn’t get to eat too much of it, but I did get to keep the empty candy boxes with the little paper wrappers that rustled like…pigeons.  (Dad kept pigeons.)

So there is my little roster of toys:  a stuffed elephant, a powder can, a whiskey bottle, and boxes of candy wrappers that sounded like pigeons.  And if you’re wondering how someone who was “really poor” could afford to buy whiskey, you’re not the only one asking that, though in charity, it probably also came from one of my several uncles.  Being Irish, they knew what was important in life.

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NaBloPoMo prompt from January 6:  “Do you wish the start of the year was in a different season?  Which one?”  Better late than never, I suppose.  (Note that the grammatical error “was” is a quote from NaBloPoMo.  In case anyone from that organization happens to see this blog, the act of wishing takes the subjunctive mood, which in this case would lead to one’s wishing that the start of the year were in a different season — as in, “I wish it were in September — but it’s not.”)

In liturgical Western churches, the First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the Church Year; in the Orthodox Church, it’s the first of September.  (The Jewish calendar also begins the year in September, but on a different date.)  Many, many years ago, when the thought of becoming Orthodox was little more than the Impossible Dream, I picked up Knitter’s Almanac, by the incomparable Elizabeth Zimmermann.  This was a calendar of knitting projects, one or two per month, that covered the span of a year in a most chatty and engaging way.  I was relatively new to knitting then, and hers was the first book I had ever seen that encouraged “thinking knitting,” i.e., not knitting from a pattern but according to one’s own designs and whims.  Wow.  It certainly changed my life.

But I digress.  The first words for September were, “September is the logical beginning of the year.  Summer heat is nearly past, the weather begins to brisken up [sic], schools open their doors to siphon our beloved young out of the house for longer or shorter periods…”  At the time I thought, “She has a point.”  Nowadays, I think she was prescient.  September is the logical beginning of the year.  If summer heat isn’t quite past – in New York, it isn’t past until the middle of October – there is certainly a busier quality to the days of September.  It isn’t only the weather that “briskens up”; the indolence of the summer disappears as if on a wisp of wind, and the human brain stirs itself, as EZ put it, “… adult activity starts to stir, and Mother forms good resolutions and makes lists.”  And not only Mother; those first few days of school are so wonderfully New.  New notebooks, new pencils, new teacher, new subjects to master (or not), sometimes new classmates – it really does feel like a rebirth of daily life.  Even as a mother of school-age children, I could feel the newness of the year.

So why does the New Year fall in January?  It makes no sense.  I could see if people needed a little pick-me-up to get them through the dreariest time of the year, though even then, most younger folk I know welcome winter as its own sporting season (“Think Ski!”), and geezers like me are relieved to have an excuse to sit in a sunny window with books and crosswords and Sudoku, to which I have recently become addicted.  But even without these charms of winter, isn’t Christmas enough of a blood-stirrer to provide you with a sense of jollity and celebration?  Even atheists celebrate something at Christmastime; they must, or we wouldn’t be afflicted with the annual silliness of whether or not to put up public Nativity displays.  Like it or not, that Nativity scene is what Christmas is all about; if you don’t like it, don’t celebrate it.

But since such a large part of the world does celebrate it, in one form or another, I think we should abolish January 1 as the beginning of the year, and go with “the logical beginning” – September.  Perhaps that way, we could return to the custom of celebrating all twelve days of Christmas, from 25 December through to 6 January.  Or, in the case of Orthodox Old Calendarists, from 7 January through to 19 January.  Or, in one particular case (my own), with both an Orthodox Old Calendarist and a Western Christian in the house, from 25 December to 19 January.  Twenty-four days of Christmas!  Talk about Party Hearty!

Post Scriptum:  I would consider myself a disgrace to the world of knitting if I did not direct readers to Elizabeth Zimmermann’s most lasting legacy:  Schoolhouse Press, purveyor of wonderful wools, esoteric knitting tools, enough knitting books to begin a small library, and the incomparable wit and wisdom of the doyenne of the knitting world.  It’s usual, among Orthodox, to greet news of someone’s passing with the words, “May their memory be eternal!” but in EZ’s case, I think her name will last as long as there are knitters in the world; not just her memory, but her work, lives on.

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On Sunday, our computer crashed.  We’ve only had the thing a little more than a year, and it has, I think, 80 gigabytes of hard drive (when we took it back to Staples, where we bought it, the sales clerk described it as a “beast”), so this shouldn’t have happened.  But I turned it off before church on Sunday morning, and when we returned home and I went to boot up, it wouldn’t boot.

Let me tell you — getting it all back has been a pain.  First we had to get a hard drive, and I didn’t want to replace Vista, which we hadn’t been using anyway; so we purchased Windows 7, and now have to learn how to use that.  Then, all our documents were lost, of course, and of course, we’d grown lax about saving them to a flash drive.  When DH asked if we could possibly recover them, we were told that, sure, it would be possible — for a minimum $1200.00 (according to the manufacturer of the hard drive that went south on us).

Then I remembered something.  On  Saturday I had had a notice from our seucrity program, Norton 360, that we hadn’t backed up our files in awhile, so as a matter of course, I took care of that.  If our files had been saved onto the hard drive, we were out of luck; but if they had been saved to an external source, there was a chance we could retrieve them.  So last night, I sent an e-mail to Norton to ask about the situation —

— and they were backed up and saved on Norton’s own computers.  The download took just about an hour, and we didn’t recover everything — my new cross-stitch projects didn’t come through — but all our documents are available, and thank heaven for that!!  Now it’s just (perhaps I should say “just”) a question of transferring them from the file created to store them into the My Documents section of Windows 7. 

It’s not as easy as it sounds; there are a lot of new bells and whistles on Windows 7 that I expect will keep us both tearing our hair out for the next month or so.  And all my Favorites sites are gone, so I’ll have to see what I can do about rebuilding that special page where I had my Top 9 sites available at the click of a button — I don’t even know if such a thing is possible with Windows 7.  But at least we are back in touch with the outside world.

Now, whether or not that’s a good thing…

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Back in February, I posted about the newest “member” of our family, my new red Toyota Matrix. At the time, she was Molly. She has a new name, “Minnie.” (Which I don’t especially care for — makes me think of Minnie Mouse. I liked Mimi, but the hubster, loyal son of Das Vaterland that he is, says it’s “too French.” Sigh.)

Anyway, what occasioned the name change was meeting an actual person named Molly at the Summer School. Charity forbids my saying very much about this, umm, interesting person, except to note that she was a third-year student this year, and is the only person I have ever seen conduct a choir with a hula motion. Most of us conduct with the “opposable thumbs” approach, i.e., we move our arms in opposite directions from each other. Molly conducted by moving her arms in the same direction at once. She did get her certificate — I’m not sure if it was because she didn’t fall apart altogether during the final exam, or because they would do anything to make sure she didn’t come back.

She had other idiosyncrasies. Let’s just leave it at that. But I knew that if I ever referred to “Molly” again, it wouldn’t be my little red car I’d be thinking of. Hence, the name change.

And, just before we left for Jordanville, we got another Toyota Matrix. This one’s pure white, and its name is “Snoopy.” It started out life as “E. B.” (the hubster being an admirer of E. B. White), but “Snoopy” fits it much better. Its purchase was occasioned by a broken tie rod, followed by the discovery that all the other tie rods on the car were also in shaky condition, and fixing one of these puppies, in this neck of the woods, costs upwards of $400. Plus, the car was a 1994 Escort — hard to find parts for it, at this point. Plus, the floor was rusting out altogether, and in NH, your car doesn’t pass the state inspection if the floor is rusted. (Doesn’t matter if the headlights are out of balance, or even if the tie rods are about to fall apart — as I learned one September, after a state inspection the previous month — but that floor had better be good and solid. Go figure.)

Fortunately, we paid cash for the first car, so we only have one car payment to handle. But the hubster was considering retirement, before this latest discovery. Now – well, who knows?

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