Basket Case

So much for making my mention of the purple sock series a little quickie throwaway. OK, OK, screaming throng! More on this subject. Not an actualpattern yet, as such, but some further discussion and eventually some recipe-ish guidelines.

First of all, the requisite assurance: definitely no Third Sock Syndrome, and apparently no Fourth Sock Syndrome either. I finished #3 on Sunday and cast on almost immediately for #4.

It wasn’t all plain sailing getting there, though. Did anybody besides me notice the whacking big mistake in the picture of this from the previous post?

Here’s a hint:

The basket weave pattern is supposed to alternate directions. But there’s one place where…

… it doesn’t. Let’s hear it for blogging. I hadn’t actually noticed that until I looked at the picture.

Phooey. At first I thought I could get around it with the old demi-frog.

No such luck. Because the crossed stitches are so loose until you cross them, they eat an unusual amount of yarn per row, and when you’re not working the basket-y pattern all the way around the sock the right-leaning row differs substantially from the left-leaning row because of the extra framing stitches. Not only was this more trouble than it was worth… it wouldn’t have worked anyway. So I sucked it up and full-frogged back to before the mistake.


So anyway… the stitch here is from Barbara Walker, Vol. I. She calls it Crochet-Knit Cross Stitch, and I’ve adapted it for working in the round, alternating the two variations to produce the basket-weave pattern. Basically it’s a four-row pattern – in the odd-numbered rows you create the elongated stitches by double-wrapping each one around the needle, and in the even-numbered rows you cross them like cables, two over two. First left, then right.

This is fine for the top of the foot, but it poses a problem for the ankle if you’re working it all the way round, because, being all-over-cabled, it has very little lateral give, and correspondingly an unusual degree of vertical stretch – in fact, it works very much like the old Chinese Finger Trap. So the sock is tight, not in the usual problem spot – i.e. the heel/instep angle – but in the ankle itself, which at a normal stitch count doesn’t stretch enough to allow the heel to pass through. I had built in one of my usual pseudo-gusset increase schemes before the short-row heel, and I quickly discovered that I was going nowhere fast if I also used the usual decrease scheme after the heel. So I didn’t decrease at all, and kept the extra eight stitches going up the ankle.

That’s an extra inch, and it’s just barely enough. I decided it was enough, for me, but though the sock fits nicely once it’s on it’s difficult to put on, which is why I’m still thinking of it in kids-do-not-try-this-at-home terms. Before I’d make a formal pattern out of it I’d want to work out a way to squeeze in some more increases above the heel. Can’t do them before the pattern section or the fabric will balloon out; can’t easily do them in pattern because the pattern doesn’t lend itself to gradual increases. I do have a notion in my noggin about a way to slip them into the transition point, but frankly for now I just want to HAVE these socks and I don’t have time to put a lot of complex engineering into them at the moment. Not, that is, unless the world out there would be happy to see me delay the standalone leaf pattern, and the shipping of Firebird, and the public release of Cleopatra, not to mention Swan Lake, and the next club sock after Firebird, and… well, you see where that line of thought leads. That way madness lies, and I’m crazy enough already.

That said, there’s no reason you couldn’t do a version of this sock with the basket-y stuff on the top and front only. Or take on the all-round version, with the clear understanding that in its present form it is just NOT going to work for the really deep of heel or the high of instep.

The first pair, however, the pair I made for Ada, was subject to no such strictures. That sock was built from a Turkish toe-tip cast-on, my usual 14 wraps (i.e. 28 stitches) increasing to a circumference of 64 stitches. Plain stockinette up the foot. A series of 4 sets of paired increases in the 1-1/2 inches before the heel. A wrap-&-turn short-row heel, Woolly Nylon held with the yarn for reinforcement. Three sets of the increased stitches decreased out above the heel, the last two left there because I needed a multiple of 6 for the ankle. The basket-y business on the ankle is a simple knit-purl texture thing: k3, p3 around for 4 rounds, then switch to p3, k3 around for 4 rounds. No reason you couldn’t do it on top of the foot as well… only… well, I didn’t. No particular reason, except maybe that this is a fairly dense fabric and I was concerned about bulk inside a shoe. (Of course, I then up and contradicted myself by doing the double-thick basket-weave thing on the present pair, but – well, it was an experiment and it was for me, and I decided I liked it. If you’re expecting rational and consistent all the time… you should probably be reading some other blog.)

If I’d had a little more time to think about it I would probably have done that toe a little differently – would have done what I did this time, which is a provisional cast-on and a short-row toe, with the reinforcing nylon added on the bottom only, that being where I’m hardest on my all-wool socks. Being half a size smaller than Ada, I used a slightly smaller circumference for my pair; even though I was getting my normal gauge of 8 SPI the thicker yarn means the fabric is not only denser but a little less resilient. I needed a multiple of 4, so I went to 60 stitches instead of 64. I started with a 30-st provisional cast-on, shamelessly borrowing a neat trick suggested by a friend on Ravelry: I substituted a toe-tip-style cast-on in place of the normal provisional set-up. I did a 30-wrap Turkish cast-on and started the short rows from one side of that, leaving the other needle in place. This way when the toe is finished there is nothing to unzip or pick up – no waste yarn, no extraneous motion – when you finish your toe you just arrive at the other needle and poof, you’re working in the round. Elegant. Thanks, Madmoon!

There are 4 sets of increases, so the ankle is 68 stitches, still the necessary multiple of 4, ending in 2×2 rib. Further deponent sayeth not, for now, except… that I’m vaguely thinking of this sock as “Footbasket,” because – well, if there’s enough yarn left (and I rather hope there will be) I’m thinking of making a pair of fingerless mitts with the same stitch on the back, and of course I would call those… “Handbasket.” What else?

Do I have basket-weave on the brain? Funny you should ask. Yes. Yes, I do. In a not-at-all-unrelated development, I’ve used an even smaller and less forgiving basket-weave stitch for the body of the Firebird. Tricky to work with because it has no stretch AT ALL so you can’t use much of it on a sock without doing all kinds of tricks to compensate – or waving goodbye to any semblance of ease.

Guns and Roses

You know what this means, right? RIGHT?

Right. It means the pattern and all accompanying materials are FINISHED and UPLOADED and BEING PRINTED.

I still have a little work left to do on Tsuspense Part II, so I’m not out of Pattern Purdah yet – but the Tsuspense Project is a separate issue, and it sure ain’t gonna stop me showing you my new baby.

It is of course a stylized tribute to the Wars of the Roses. Somewhere in here is the inspiration for at least four of Shakespeare’s plays and the source of countless romantic/historic/literary images. The winter of our discontent (”the winter of our Discount Tent,” my cousin used to say); the princes in the Tower; the Old Pretender; the Young Pretender*; not quite half a century of fascinatingly sordid dynastic squabbles. And all because one day Jennifer showed me a skein of subtly-shaded rose-red yarn.

The socks are negative mirror images of each other – the white rose of York on a red ground…

… and the red rose of Lancaster on a white ground:

The roses appear on both sides of the ankle:

– under a crenellated battlement of a cuff.

They’re worked in “festive” intarsia, with floats woven at every other stitch. I didn’t use to bother much with weaving, but now I’ve fallen pretty severely in love with it, and I particularly love the neat appearance it makes on the back.

The roses also appear in miniature as an optional detail on the toe:

Here they’re done in almost-normal intarsia, the toe being worked from a provisional cast-on for just that purpose.

So – obviously – toe-up.

The fabric of the sock, on the instep and wherever the roses aren’t, is a version of the old Heraldic Pattern –

– pikes and pennons in stockinette and twists, over a garter ground.

Apparently I have some sort of idée fixe about English themes, especially if they have architectural elements: in my mind they are indelibly associated with a flap and gusset heel.

In this case, the reverse flap heel I was grousing about the other day –

– and the part that was so mercilessly kicking my butt at the time was the formula for working the flap in pattern…

…so it would meet and match with the pattern at the instep. An optional feature, no less! but a highly characteristic one for me. (And when I think how simple it would be to accomplish if one were working cuff-down… oh, never mind. Too late. That way madness lies.)

This is not quite ready to ship – there’s still some yarn to dye, some printing to finish, and the packages to assemble – but it’s going out Real Soon Now. So ack – I’d better fly round and finish up that Tsuspense thing. I’ll tell you more about that once it’s done.

Back to work. Purdah, here I come.

* I am wrong about this. Wrong, wrong, out of the hunt and wrong. Pay no attention to the egg on my face, but please see tomorrow’s post for the correction.

O My Prophetic Soul

Why Two?

Initially because the design was inspired – or perhaps I should say forcefully demanded – by two good friends of mine; both knitters, both named Cassandra. This sock and its duality were intended to be a tribute to them, and to the resemblances and differences between them; but as I began to plan it I found that the more I thought about that duality the better it seemed to fit the original Cassandra and her story.

It’s a story about reversal and reflection; it’s a story about extremes; it’s marked by irony and contradiction and paradox. Cassandra herself, like most women, embodies two opposing principles, or rather any number of pairs of opposing principles; as someone I know is fond of remarking, she is “both sides of every coin.” There’s Cassandra the princess and Cassandra the prophetess; Cassandra the priestess and Cassandra the high-born beauty with a dozen royal (and immortal) suitors at her feet; Cassandra who truly knows the future and Cassandra whose visions of the future can never be believed; Cassandra the clairvoyant and Cassandra the mad; Cassandra the brilliant and Cassandra the universally scorned; Cassandra who has everything and Cassandra who has nothing, because it’s all been taken away from her.

Or to look at it another way… there’s Cassandra before Apollo and there’s Cassandra after Apollo, because her interaction with him is the catalyst for all her reversals.

The gift of prophecy is itself a dubious one, perhaps, but all the versions of the story seem to agree that Apollo’s initial intent was to confer a benefit on Cassandra, as such. Not without strings, however; and when she refused him the sexual favors he had come to expect in return, he turned it against her, depriving her of the power of convincing others, by spitting into her mouth during one final kiss.

(That there were kisses at all appears to support Aeschylus’s contention that in rejecting Apollo’s advances she was renegeing on a promise she had made him. This adds Cassandra the Tease to the many aspects of her personality; still, the curse seems a heavy price to pay, and is an object lesson of sorts about dealing incautiously with gods.)

From that point on everything in her life turns to dust and ashes, all the more bitter in that she foresees every element of it and her warnings go for nothing. She warns her parents against allowing Paris to live; she warns Paris against bringing Helen to Troy; she warns Hector against going into battle; she warns the Trojans against accepting the gift of the great wooden horse; she warns Agamemnon of his impending death, as well as her own, at the hands of Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus; all to no avail, and she knows it.

Her own father declares her insane, and who is to say that a destiny like hers would not be enough to drive any woman mad?

Whether the course of events Cassandra foresaw would have been affected at all if her prophecies HAD been believed is a question the present pattern does not presume to answer; it does, however, propose to raise the issue – which goes to the heart of every theory ever mooted about predestination and the human struggle for free-will – and to keep it in play during some part of the knitting of the sock.

The sock.

The sock makes heavy use of broad symbolism.

Apollo is represented by the classic laurel wreath;

the laurel berries, in clusters of three, stand in for the three metals that define the Bronze Age – copper, tin, and bronze itself.

Cassandra herself is represented by the poet’s favorite device: her hair. It is golden-brown – an otherwise somewhat improbable blonde – because Homer calls her “golden as the goddess Aphrodite.” (Actually, the production version of the yarn is slightly darker and browner than the prototype shown here; such are the vicissitudes of logistics, sometimes.)

Cassandra before Apollo is elaborately braided and elegantly wrought, after the style of the high-born ladies of her time.

After Apollo, after the curse? she appears as the poets and painters have depicted her, crying distractedly from the ramparts, with her hair loose and tangled about her shoulders. Whether you consider that as betokening madness or merely extreme distress, either way the chaos of her hair is a reflection of her mental state after the curse of Apollo.

This, incidentally, is where all those predictions come into play. The Dishevelled Hair is not quite as random as it looks, but part of its pseudo-random appearance comes from the use of your prophecies, and their results, to determine the sequence in which the elements are worked.

The flap and gusset are worked in pattern – so much so that the decrease line of the gusset fades into the woodwork and becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the tangle.

As usual, there are optional elements. The patterned flap is one of them, as is the snake on the toe.

You may want to omit him for comfort and fit; equally you may choose to omit him out of skepticism. He represents the alternate version of the first part of the story – in which Cassandra received the gift of prophecy, not directly from the lips of Apollo himself, but from a serpent in his temple who supposedly licked her ears when she was left there as a child. (I rather like him myself, even though he doesn’t really fit my preferred interpretation of the myth… but then again, who says I have to be entirely consistent? So I’ve put him on one sock and not the other.)

Chief among the optional elements is the orientation of the laurel wreath, or actually the whole head wearing it; I’ve chosen to use it as a symbol of reversal by making it face backward in the second sock. The angle of the cabled i-cord cuff is also affected; on both socks it is taller over the “part” and shorter over the front of the wreath.

So the bow at the base of the wreath

appears on the heel of one sock and the instep of the other.

There are a few little structural quirks to keep you on your toes, as it were. The wreath and the braided section are worked flat, in biased sections that dovetail at a braided part.

The flat piece is then joined at its widest point…

… and the gap filled in to form the ankle.

After which construction goes into the round (except for the flap), the ironic result being that you’re working the most normal part of the sock structure under the most chaotic part of the patterning.

And that is all I can tell you for now about the Two Cassandras. Oh – except for one other thing. They shipped today. All of them. Every. Single. Kit.

Start making some predictions: how long till yours arrives?


Heart of Ice

I’ll tell you a story. There; it’s begun. When we get to the end of it, we’ll know much more than we do now.

Actually, I’ll tell you more than one story. I’ll tell you two stories – three, really, though I’ll let Jennifer tell most of the third one.

There’s the story of the Tsock; the story of how in the teeth of all occasions informing against it the Tsock finally DID get written and printed and packed for shipping; and there’s the story behind the development of the Tsock.

What – did you get caught up on that second one? Well, then, let me just cut to the chase on that for a moment.

Yes, Club Tsock #5, “The Snow Queen,” is being packed and shipped today. TODAY.

I know I normally blog these things the moment I am out of Pattern Purdah, and in this case that happened three days ago, and I’m half-sorry I didn’t say anything sooner. But just this once, after all the obstacles and disasters and insanities, and with the stamina of the printer as uncertain as it was, I thought I’d better leave it a hostage to fate until I was sure the patterns were actually ready. So that’s done now – and now that you know there’s a happy ending, let’s go back to our stories.

We’ll know about the demon whose favorite toy was a magic mirror he had made for himself; a mirror that showed “the real, ugly truth” of everything – making beautiful landscapes look like boiled spinach and good people look suspicious and deformed. We’ll hear about how the devil and his imps tried to take their toy up to heaven and show the angels their distorted reflections, and how on the way up the mirror shattered into millions upon millions of pieces that fell to earth.

The larger pieces were used as windows, smaller ones in the lenses of eyeglasses; everything seen through these became hateful and hideous. Some of the tiniest splinters, no bigger than a grain of sand, lodged in people’s eyes – with the same effect – or even in their hearts, which then froze solid.

This is what happened to Kay; one splinter in his eye and another in his heart, and suddenly he became spiteful and vicious; his playmate Gerda seemed ugly and foolish in his eyes, and so did the roses, and the picture-books, and the grandmother, and everything else that had formerly delighted him. At last, when winter came, he found something that still looked perfect to him: frost and snowflakes.

Attracted by the cold and symmetry, one day he set out to follow the flakes, the “snow bees,” to their Queen. He found her; she kissed him on the forehead; he became colder than ever, and forgot everyone and everything but her.

And this is where the miniature canvas of the sock becomes so cruelly constricting. There is room for the fragments of the devil’s mirror; there is room for ice and snow and frost; there is room for the powerful force that will save Kay at last – but there is no room for the marvelous adventures Gerda meets on her quest to find him and free him and bring him back. No crows, no princess, no reindeer, no Laplander, no robber’s daughter; no red shoes, no story-singing garden, no roses – for these you will have to read the book (or perhaps one day we’ll knit the shawl, which will give us scope for all this and more).

All I can tell you now is that, though it took her several years and uncounted miles and hardships…

… Gerda did eventually find Kay, cold and blue and alone in one of the frozen rooms of the Snow Queen’s palace – and the hot tears she wept over him melted the ice in his heart, washed away the splinters of the mirror, and set him free at last.

I want to dwell for a moment on Gerda’s Tears – after all, they are the most powerful force in the story; so powerful that they can overcome both the cold of the Snow Queen and the wickedness of the Devil’s Mirror to bring Kay back to life. When they meet the fragments of the mirror they melt them away, drop by drop. First one drop amid the shards; then two; then three; until at last the mirror is all gone, melted away in a lake of tears.

(The pink line? not part of the sock. Just me belaboring the obvious in PhotoShop. The two pattern stitches use the same number of rows and stitches, so one flows seamlessly into the other.)

And the first tear of the flood – the one that washes away the mote in Kay’s eye – occupies a place of honor (optional, as usual) on the back of the heel.

So that is the actual Tsock; and as you may recall it was finished and written and being tested and adjusted – I was in the middle of the calculations and re-charting for the Large size – when the blow fell and the computer refused to compute. What happened after that… I really should have issued regular bulletins, but honestly I hadn’t the heart – went pretty much as predicted. It took us about two days to locate and implement the solution to the file rescue problem – a downloadable Linux installed on a device that would boot the machine and talk to the external backup devices we had available. Several iterations of Catch-22 later, the spirit of Rube Goldberg was upon us and we managed to get all the little pieces talking to each other – and sure enough, there were all my files, ALL of them, sitting on the drive, pretty as you please. Another couple of hours, and there they were, ALL of them, safely copied off to an external hard drive. Leaving me with all my data, but still no machine configured to handle it. At this point, however, there was nothing to lose; if necessary I could format the hard drive and start fresh, reinstalling everything. I could ill afford the time, but anything I did was going to eat more of that than I could happily spare, and the most important thing was that all the files were safe.

The rest of this story is not terribly exciting – in the event we managed to come up with the right mix of utilities so that I didn’t have to reformat and start from scratch, but it still took the better part of a couple of days to figure out what needed to be reinstalled, what settings backed into, etc. (In the middle of all this the adapter arrived. Hah – we don’t need no steenkin’ adapter no more. Still – not sorry to have it for future use; it would have made the file-rescue process a good bit less convoluted.) And of course, having failed to clone myself, I couldn’t be working on the pattern at the same time I was working on the computer. Mai frustration, let me sho u it.

When the carnage was over I was left with a mostly-working computer (somehow I still haven’t gotten around to reinstalling Flash and other media stuff, and you know, I’m not at all sure I miss them much) and a mostly-written and mostly-charted pattern. I did have to start from scratch with the Large sizing, some of it fairly complex (as with Blessed Thistle this tsock includes a different version of one pattern stitch for the larger size, with different increase and decrease schemes relating to it around the heel), and we had some moments during that process where my blessed Test Knitter had plenty of cause to doubt my sanity – but finally it did get all pulled together. It was still sort of a comedy of errors, because at each step along the way there’d be something to pull me up short. Go to format the pages? WHOOPS! Forgot to re-copy the style sheets from the backup. Go to generate the PDF? WHOOPS! Forgot to re-install the PDF driver. Go to FTP it to the site? WHOOPS! Forgot to re-instate the FTP settings. Mai fried brain, let me sho u it.

But at last the pattern was done and uploaded, and the charts were done and uploaded, and the cover was done and uploaded, and I was just working on the last bit – formatting the techniques booklet pages – when I got a call from the Tserf. Now, I knew before I picked up the phone that the news couldn’t be good, because if it were good it would have come by e-mail. Sure enough… the printer, which has been tottering on its last legs since before Rhinebeck, and which we had just recently jollied into working again by cannibalizing a part from an old printer of mine… had gone half-way through printing the covers and then decided to throw a tantrum and refuse to handle cover stock any more. In fact, it was so sulky that it didn’t even want to hear about plain paper.

I told her to put it in time-out. Shut it off altogether, I said, unplug it in fact, and just leave it for a couple of hours; let it cool down and reflect on its sins. Then try it again, and if it’s still acting ornery, then we’ll think seriously about panicking.

Two hours later the phone rang: we were printing again. Not happily… but still, cranking out the copies. I uploaded the final file for the tech book and crossed every extremity I’ve got.

I also ordered a new printer.

Anyway, that was when I decided it would be wiser not to blog this thing until I was sure that the patterns were completely printed and assembled and actually out the door. Last night I got the assurance that they were ready to go, and that Georg was going over to Jen’s with them today to assemble and pack and label, and I almost reached for the blog – but then I saw the post script to her note saying, “of course, they’re predicting snow for tomorrow.” So I shut up, re-crossed all the extremities, and held my breath for good measure.

Today I got the welcome all-clear at last. But even then I couldn’t type at first – had to wait for my lungs to start working again, and for the circulation to come back to my newly-uncrossed fingers.

Remains only to tell of the origins of the Tsock, and aside from the obvious sources of inspiration Jennifer has already told that story better than I can. (Well… except for her favorite story about me wanting her to produce a color BETWEEN two shades on the Pantone chart, which is base slander I’m telling you. She totally made that up. I may be crazy, but I don’t have a DEATH WISH. Ahem.) Not to mention that her pictures do far better justice to the colorway. I can only add that I loved the original Polar Bear Inna Snowstorm colorway when I saw it, and I hoped against all reason that it would work for the design I’d had in mind ever since we first started talking about it.

Especially since it chimed so perfectly with the real colors of the frozen North. TheBoyTM took one look at it and made a beeline for his photo archives, and next thing I knew I was deluged with pictures he’d taken of the Herbert Glacier. Sure enough, check out the ice color in this detail of the terminal moraine:

I tried, too – tried really hard – tried to fool myself into believing that I could overcome the laws of nature and make a complex colorway and a complex pattern stitch work together instead of fighting to the death and canceling each other out.

Might as well have saved myself the trouble.

The pattern stitch is a scaled-down version of the old Frost Flowers, and the scaling-down was already complicated enough, further complicating an already complex stitch. I can’t even tell you how many different versions of the faggoting section I tested before nailing down this one; I literally don’t know any more. Anyway, add this riot of arctic shades in quick succession, and… we all know the rule, right? busy colors + busy stitch = mess. As always. There are contexts in which you could do something like this and produce a result that is opulent rather than chaotic… but a sock ain’t one of them. Just too much going on here.

So much so that I had to re-swatch the umpteenth version of the stitch in solid white to make sure I wasn’t imagining that it could work at all.

Nope, wasn’t imagining it. The stitch structure works at sock gauge. (It doesn’t at lace gauge, but that’s a story for another time, perhaps.)

And that’s when we went back to the drawing board on the yarn. The colorway we ended up with for the sock is, I think, about as lovely and as just-right as any yarn I’ve ever seen or imagined; it had better be, considering what Jennifer puts herself through to dye every skein. (Hey, no looking at me. It wasn’t MY idea to make things more complicated for her. She did that all by herself. So much for me having the monopoly on perfectionism around here.)

When it came time to put the pattern together, however, I was careful to come up with a completely different name for it in the context of the sock; subject to Jennifer’s approval the sock version will be known as Winter Palace. Meanwhile, I’m hoping the original Polar Bear will continue to swim in his own Arctic Ocean and be a standalone colorway as originally envisioned.

At any rate – I know what I’m planning to do with my prototype skein.

After my nap, that is.

America’s Sweetheart

This is it – the final sock for the 2007 Flock Sock Club. As usual it’s been off the needles for quite a while; as usual I’ve been sitting on it superstitiously, not wanting to blog it until it was almost ready to take wing. (See earlier post re: OMG-it’s-already-January!) Which took even longer than I was expecting because of… um… unforeseen circumstances that might have something to do with leaves or amoebas….

If you were still expecting this sock to be “Fearful Symmetry” – well, it isn’t. That plan fell by the wayside during “The Nine Tailors,” because when we finally nailed down the base color for that sock and realized how grey it was… and then confronted the fact that the base color for “Fearful Symmetry” was also going to be grey… it just didn’t seem like a good idea to do two grey designs back to back. No matter how different the greys (one cold and granite-like, the other softly ashy and underlaid with pale peach). No matter how different the designs (and they are dramatically different, diametrically different).

So “Fearful Symmetry” has been shifted to late 2008, and in its place we have… we have… well, see, it started out with this skein of bamboo Jen showed me at Rhinebeck, in a soft peachy-pinky color that had us both thinking light bubbly giddy thoughts about pink champagne. When we made the decision about “Fearful Symmetry” a couple of weeks later, the pinkish bubbles rose to the surface again and struck us both as the obvious, the natural solution. So Jen sent me a skein, and I got me some beads, and I started swatching, and swatching, and swatching, and somehow… the champagne thing just wasn’t happening. And then I backed off and took a good look at the yarn, and suddenly I realized that it was a lot more pinky and less peachy than I remembered, and that my Rhinebeck-fuddled memory of it was clashing with the reality on my needles. So I started shifting gears.

I can’t easily describe the progression that led to where the sock ended up. It owes some of its shape and drape to an unfinished sketch I made over a year ago, based on Cunégonde’s aria “Glitter and Be Gay” from Bernstein’s “Candide” – a short dainty girly sock in pale pink, with swags of diamond necklaces. But somehow this one wanted to be more modern, more overtly robust, than that. Next thing I knew I was up to my ears in the history of Elsie de Wolfe and the gazillion incarnations of, and recipes for, the Pink Lady (a story for another time, and a good one). By the time I found my footing on the other side, what I had was a sweet little flapper, in fishnet stockings, with a bugle-beaded skirt daringly grazing her knees. And the pink pink pink pink of the whole thing was nagging at something elusive in the back of my mind, something that I knew was central to the idea, something that I just couldn’t quite grasp. Like when you meet someone on the street and you recognize the face but you can’t put a name to it. Then a night or two later you suddenly sit bolt upright at 3 AM and realize who it was – and it’s someone you’ve known all your life, someone you know like the back of your hand.

And sure enough, one night I sat bolt upright at 3 AM and realized exactly who this sock was and why she looked so familiar. She’s Roxie, that’s who she is.

You know who I mean. The jazz-baby with the smoking gun. The beauty of the cell-block. The sweet-faced little flapper you wanted to take home to mother – if only you could bust her out of the clink. Yeah. That Roxie.

(I wasn’t so far off with the Pink Lady, though. It turned out that wanted to be the name of the colorway, not the sock.)

The Innerness of the Outerness

 “Now, this third handkerchief”, Mein Herr proceeded, “has also four edges, which you can trace continuously round and round: all you need do is to join its four edges to the four edges of the opening. The Purse is then complete, and its outer surface—”
“I see!” Lady Muriel eagerly interrupted. “Its outer surface will be continuous with its inner surface! But why do you call it Fortunatus’s Purse, Mein Herr?”
The dear old man beamed upon her with a jolly smile. “Don’t you see, my child—I should say Miladi? Whatever is inside that Purse, is outside it; and whatever is outside it, is inside it. So you have all the wealth of the world in that leetle Purse!”

Lewis Carroll,
Sylvie and Bruno Concluded

So the question is… when is a sock not a sock, or indeed when is a tsock not a tsock?

Why, when its inside is contiguous with its outside; when, therefore, it contains both your foot and everything in the universe other than your foot – including, of course, your other foot.

And then – riddle me this, Batman – what happens if you make a PAIR of them?

Yeah… if that don’t give you no ringin’ in the ears between Being and Nothingness, as Leo Rosten might say – at least I hope it’ll be good for a laugh.

“This” being Tsock #3 for this year’s Tsock Flock Club: “Quantum Paratsox.”

Which is really PERFECTLY NORMAL. I mean, doesn’t every sock begin with a Möbius cast-on?


OK, OK, so maybe not so much. But really, I don’t see how I was supposed to resist.

I love to see two truths at once. Every good comparison offers this benefit to the spirit.

That’s Joseph Joubert, and he neglects to point out that the real benefit comes from the two truths being mutually exclusive. So I am kindly doing it for him with my weird little salute to paradox.

This is the sock that ties itself into a knot – so that you don’t have to.

It really does start with a Möbius cast-on, and you work the Möbius strip until it’s a couple of inches wide and then execute a fold that converts it into a fearfully and wonderfully made figure-8 thingy that goes around your foot and ankle kind of like an Ace bandage, if you see what I mean, with a twisty bit up top…

… that has an opening hidden under it, because of the whole inside being continuous with the outside thing. (Yeah, I’m sure there are some shoes that won’t fit over it. But there are others that will.)

And then… then you fill in the heel. And then you pick up the edges and start working down the foot, and/or up the ankle, and… well… that of course is when Schrödinger’s Cat makes his appearance. Or doesn’t make his appearance. Or both does and doesn’t make his appearance. Because this is the reductio ad absurdum where quantum physics meets slapstick comedy.

    One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of the hour, one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges, and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

Erwin Schrödinger,
article in “Naturwissenschaften,” 1935


Now, I don’t actually claim to know from quantum physics. But I know from paradox, and I know from surreal. According to how you interpret this…You may call that “thought experiment”; you may call it “quantum superposition”; you may call it “environmentally induced quantum decoherence”; me, I call it farce, and it gives me the giggles.

Alternatively, you can take a more Heisenbergian view of the problem, according to which there is simply no way to know whether the cat is alive or dead, because thanks to the “diabolical mechanism” the intrusion of the observer is enough to affect the outcome and invalidate the experiment.

So is the cat alive, or isn’t it? In fact… is the cat even present, or isn’t it?

But that doesn’t stop me from looking at it. And the lens through which I see it – or don’t see it, as the case may be – is a form of Illusion knitting. Only… done in the round, like Festive Intarsia. Which is why I call it Festive Illusion.

That’s what those contrasting stripey boxes are, here and there on the sock – representations of the steel chamber in the original thought experiment. Depending on how you look at it, each of them may or may not contain a cat that may or may not be alive or dead or both; or indeed it may or may not simply contain a question mark as a representation of the Uncertainty Principle. How many such boxes there are, and which of them contains (or doesn’t contain) which symbol, is up to you.

Look straight at the box, and you can’t see through it; it might or might not contain a cat.

Look at it from the right angle… and you might actually SEE the cat, and even be able to tell whether it is alive or dead or both.

Then again, even if you can see inside the box, you may not be able to see the answer to the question.

The medium is the message. That’s Illusion knitting for you: now you see it, now you don’t.

In case that isn’t twisted enough for you… there’s a cuff in angled ribbing that appears to twist in one direction…

… overlaid with another mind-bendy strip (you can make it a true Möbius or add further twists, as you please) which appears to twist in the opposite direction, although in fact… it doesn’t.

So… when is a tsock not a tsock?

Um… actually… I don’t know. Do you?

Tour de Fleece, Day 2

More spinning on the Abby silk. And I washed the Beauteous CVM, for which I’m starting to have big plans. And the day ain’t over yet. Pictures in next post. Promise.

PSA: The Karma Goose Flies for Abby Franquemont

So… Abby has been having a rough few months, lately. And a bunch of us may (or may not, as Heisenberg might see it) be plotting something extraordinarily cool that we want to do for her. In a secretive sort of LALALALALALAMOVEALONGNOTHINGTOSEEHERE sort of way, so as not to spoil the surprise, but it might have something to do with handspun, and it might be very compatible with the Tour de Fleece, and there might be a couple of weeks left for you to get in on it. If you’re on Ravelry you can learn more about this (or you could, if anything were happening which of course it isn’t LALALALALALALA) by reading as much as you can bear of this thread, or by sending a PM to westfaire, who would be the ringleader of this operation if there were any operation to ringlead. Or if you’re not on Ravelry but are still interested in participating, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

That is… I would, if there were anything to get back to you about.

The Nine Tailors

The art of change-ringing is peculiar to the English, and, like most English peculiarities, unintelligible to the rest of the world. To the musical Belgian, for example, it appears that the proper thing to do with a carefully-tuned ring of bells is to play a tune upon it. By the English campanologist, the playing of tunes is considered to be a childish game, only fit for foreigners; the proper use of bells is to work out mathematical permutations and combinations…. His passion – and it is a passion – finds its satisfaction in mathematical completeness and mechanical perfection, and as his bell weaves her way rhythmically up from lead to hinder place and down again, he is filled with the solemn intoxication that comes of intricate ritual faultlessly performed.
Dorothy Sayers,
The Nine Tailors
The paradox of The Nine Tailors is that it both is and isn’t all about change-ringing. You don’t actually have to know the first thing about change-ringing to read and enjoy the novel; you don’t actually have to know the first thing about change-ringing to knit the sock.

But the better you understand change-ringing, the more satisfaction you will get out of both.

The sock is a celebration of the novel, of the mystery, of Lord Peter Wimsey, of East Anglian churches… but first and foremost of change-ringing, and especially of the ringing method called Kent Treble Bob Major. It appears in two forms here; as a coded colorwork panel (if you’ve read the book you’ll know just why the panel is exactly 74 rows long and why the 8th strand is green…) –
– and as a twisted mini-cable that strongly resembles the method diagram.
Here is one of the gilded angels of the Angel Roof, with emeralds hidden at its feet.
The decorative features on toe and heel are optional as usual – a little eyelet bell on the toe,
and a continuation of the bell cable down the heel flap – looks very elegant in an open-backed clog.

The sock is worked cuff-down, beginning at the base of the Angel Roof.

Optional Accessory:
Bell Markers
These are offered separately – they are not actually necessary, but if you are knitting the twist panel from place notation, you may find them useful. For further explanation, click here

Fantastic Vision

Here we have yet another instance of everything old being new again, but in this case the old is older than usual… because it dates back to the days before I was a Tsarina – indeed, before I even realized I might be a Tsarevna.

Some of you may recall at least some part of the original Tsarina Tsaga – how the then Tsarina-To-Be first encountered the then Yarn-Fairy-To-Be by winning one of her auctions on eBay. An auction for yarn; yarn to make a pair of socks. Not even Tsocks, way back then! merely socks… though I suppose you could say Proto-Tsocks. Because that was the beginning of it all – and this, updated and adapted, is that very sock – now a Tsock. Club Tsock #2 for the 2010 Tseason: “The Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare.”

“The Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare” is of course inspired by the patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe” – these are indeed the very socks, “the black silk with gold clocks,” that your well-dressed Chancellor will wear to cross Salisbury Plain on a bicycle.

Jen has been after me to Tsockify this design for almost as long as we’ve been working together… and at last I have knuckled under. Actually, what I really said was, “Hey, if you are willing to dye all that BLACK YARN, who am I to argue?” And incidentally, if the sight of a skein of all-black sock yarn makes you wince, just consider this: the original (a Big Birthday gift for my father) was worked in 2/18 Jaggerspun Zephyr – also black – on US #000 needles. (I’d tell you the gauge, but I’ve blocked the memory. Probably at least 14 SPI.) It had a total of 36 clock faces, nine on each side of each sock, and I was heartily tired of chain stitch by the time I was done embroidering over them.

The updated version is a little kinder and more reasonable, I think; it’s done at a normal sock gauge and only features three twist-stitch clock faces per side.

Those clocks are, of course, the primary joke of the design – a knitter’s pun made fabric. The socks themselves are a model of restrained Victorian elegance, just the sort of thing a Susceptible Chancellor might wear, and most of the textured patterning on them is quite normal – unusually for me, I’ve taken most of it right out of stitch dictionaries and applied only minimal tweaking.

But… well, it is a nightmare, after all, so what more absurdly natural than to replace the traditional stocking clocks with literal clocks?

They’re done in a twist/cable pattern on both sides of each sock, and then the outlines and hands are embroidered over in gold silk. (What time is it in your nightmare? What time, indeed. Or what times. Any times you like. This one, for instance, is my usual bedtime. It’s a nightmare, and anytime goes.)

The original sock was worked toe-up, with a short-row heel; this one reverts to the tradition of its period and is worked cuff-down, and features a patterned flap and a reverse-stockinette gusset with daintily cabled edges.

The four narrow gold stripes in the textured cuff are taken from the sleeve of the Lord Chancellor’s traditional costume. If a Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court can imitate that detail… so can I.

And as usual… there’s an optional fillip on the toe. If you’re going to cross Salisbury Plain on a bicycle… you may as well flaunt the bicycle.

Flock Folk, commence stalking: “The Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare” shipped yesterday.

‘Tis the Season

No, no, not that season, though very definitely a season to be jolly: the time of the spring wool festivals is very nearly upon us!

Here’s the plan as I know it so far. First of all… I’m planning to go to Connecticut Sheep & Wool this Saturday. In a purely unofficial capacity, you understand – money in my pocket, a fleece-purchase accident waiting to happen. Then on the first weekend of May comes Maryland Sheep and Wool. As usual, we do NOT have a booth there, though not for lack of trying… but if we really really really really have our act together (ha) there is a slight chance that we will head down that way on a whim and a chance and a wing and a prayer anyway… and who knows what might happen. Or not. Further updates as events warrant.

As for the DEFINITE VENDING SCHEDULE, it’s the usual, and boy howdy are we looking forward to it.

New Hampshire Sheep & Wool Festival
Hopkinton State Fairgrounds
Contoocook, NH
May 8 and 9
You’ll find Holiday Yarns in the Hood Arena building – not sure what number (they moved us unexpectedly last year), but we won’t be hard to find. You know – just look for the 27 legs.

Massachusetts Sheep & Wool Festival
Cummington Fairgrounds
Cummington, MA
May 29 and 30
You’ll find us in a tent on the West side of the main drag.

Come and say hello. Hug. Hobnob. Schmooze. Catch up. Buy. You know the drill.

I Have Tulips On My Legs

(And as a committed lover of the obscure I can’t resist interrupting myself before I even start, to brag on the epigraph. Hey, how many fiber bloggers do you know who have occasion to cite Ernest Dowson TWICE within the space of a year?

OK, done with that boast. We now return you to our regularly-scheduled Tsock Reveal.

Oh wait, no we don’t either. First we’re curious to know whether anyone can point to the previous Dowson reference.

OK. Now back to the Tsock. This time fer realz.)

If I tell you that the new Tsock – #4 in the 2010 Tsock Flock Club – is called “The Green Fairy,” where does that send your mind? If your first thought is this…

… then think again. Our Green Fairy may cast spells of her own, but not the kind that might transform maidens into nightingales or vice versa. Nope, get your mind into the gutter. Try something more like this…

… or this…

… or this…

… because our Green Fairy is that Belle Epoque marketing figure that flits about among the dissipated naughty boys of art and literature: mad, bad, and dangerous to know. She is, in fact, the personification of Absinthe.

Speaking of mad, bad, and dangerous to know… this Green Fairy was indeed beloved by Lord Byron (who gilded the lily by combining her with laudanum); by Oscar Wilde (who famously claimed to feel tulips on his shins in the “third stage” of absinthe-drinking); by Ernest Hemingway (who invented a champagne-and-absinthe cocktail he called Death in the Afternoon); by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh, and a whole host of their contemporaries and would-be successors.

Memories and terrors beset him. The past tore after him like a panther and through the blackness of the present he saw the luminous tiger eyes of the things to be.

L’absinthe rend fou, reads the old government health warning – absinthe makes you mad. But does it really? Probably not, as it turns out. Absinthe originated as a sort of home-brew digestif, not unlike Jägermeister or Fernet Branca – like them distilled from bitter herbs and containing a high proportion of alcohol; also like them tasting rather nasty on its own. Of the several herbs used in making absinthe, it is Grand Wormwood (artemisia absinthium) that gave rise to its wicked reputation; wormwood contains small amounts of thujone, which in the 19th century was thought to be a powerful psychoactive substance causing seizures and hallucinations. More recent research has debunked that belief, but the romance persists – and there’s nothing like a couple of good government bans to add sizzle to a myth that already carries a spice of danger.

And that obscure night of the soul, and the valley of humiliation, through which he stumbled were forgotten. He saw blue vistas of undiscovered countries, high prospects and a quiet, caressing sea. The past shed its perfume over him, to-day held his hand as it were a little child, and to-morrow shone like a white star: nothing was changed.

So what did make all those absinthe drinkers crazy? Frankly, it’s a pretty safe bet that some of them were probably fairly crazy to begin with. You’d have to be a more than a little mentally unbalanced to mix absinthe with laudanum, as Byron did, or to cut off your ear like another well-known absinthe-drinker. Questions of sanity aside, though, it doesn’t take much to build up a death-defying mystique: alcohol and imagination are a potent combination, especially when both are present in high concentrations.

The man let the water trickle gently into his glass, and as the green clouded, a mist fell from his mind.

Then he drank opaline.

It’s a funny thing how an idea can start off in one direction and then get derailed in another. I was planning something more figurative, but the tsock knew what it wanted to be. In the event it is based more literally on the drink itself than on the legend around it.

It begins with a stylized… wait, actually it begins with a colorway. I knew that before I knew exactly how I was going to use it. I sent Jennifer a link to this image:

– and after a couple of go-rounds establishing the variegation repeat, she sent me something that knits up like this:

By that time I was deep in stylized variations on a theme of wormwood.

The Artemisia Plant takes root on the toe:

– and it grows upward on the top and front of the sock, branching ever wider as it goes.

Romance and mystique call for ritual and paraphernalia; absinthe-drinking is no exception. You pour the green liquor into the measured reservoir at the bottom of the absinthe glass. You balance an intricately-slotted absinthe spoon across the rim of the glass and place a sugar cube on its flat bowl. Then you slowly drip ice water (often from the spigot of an elaborately-wrought “absinthe fountain”) onto the cube. The sugar gradually dissolves and the sugar-water drips into the glass, sweetening and diluting the absinthe, changing it from a clear bright green to a pale opalescent cloud, and releasing the essence and flavors of the herbal oils. The drink is now “louche” – which you can translate as either disreputable or decadent – and ready to work the magic of the Green Fairy.

The man had known the obscure night of the soul, and lay even now in the valley of humiliation; and the tiger menace of the things to be was red in the skies. But for a little while he had forgotten.

Now that Absinthe is legal again there is an impressive, indeed dizzying, selection of paraphernalia available for the googling and the ordering. There was, however, no question as to which absinthe spoon belonged on this tsock. It was this one, the one designed for his own use by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:

It runs up the back of the ankle – the handle starts as faggotting on the back of the heel…

… and is crowned by the slotted bowl…

… with a few droplets of louched absinthe clinging to its interstices.

Perched on the cuff – worked perpendicular to it as a lace edging – is a series of garter-stitch sugar cubes, each decorated with another drop of the louched liquor just waiting to fall into the glass below.

Green changed to white, emerald to an opal: nothing was changed.

“The Green Fairy” shipped last week; first sightings were reported today. Cast on, Flockers!

Boot, Saddle, to Horse, and Away

All right, buckaroos, I sent off the last files yesterday, so here she is – “Golden West.”

That’s Club Tsock #5, and it’s as anatomically correct a cowboy boot as I know how to make.

Of course, it’s not just ANY cowboy boot. It’s Minnie’s cowboy boot, and it’s inspired by Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West,” possibly the silliest opera of them all – and that’s saying something, opera being fundamentally a silly business.

See, the opera is based on David Belasco’s play “The Girl of the Golden West,” which isn’t unusually silly as Gold-Rush Westerns go. But slap an Italian libretto on it, and what do you get? Spaghetti, of the spaghettiest possible kind.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the piece like crazy. And the music is beautiful and the scenario moving. But I can’t hear Minnie (whose name inevitably sounds like “Meanie” in Italian) sing “Hallo, boys!” or “Che c’è di nuovo, Jack?” (”What’s new, Jack?”) without cracking up. You gotcher good guy, Meesterr Deeck Joh-nson, da Sacramento (actually the bandito Ramerrez in disguise). You gotcher bad guy, il scerriffo (the sheriff) Jack Rance. Then there’s also one Meesterr Ashby, agente della Compagnia di trasporti Wells Fargo. And there’s a chorus of minatori (miners) and they’re always calling out “Hallo!” to each other and playing una partita di poker.

It’s… silly. And I love it.

(I also have a special feeling for it because my grandfather was present at the dress rehearsal for the momentous world premiere, at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910 – but that’s a story for another time.)

OK, so Meanie falls in love with Meesterr Joh-nson, not knowing that he is a bandito in disguise, right? And then when the scerriffo is after him, he comes to her door, and he’s wounded, and she’s shocked that he lied to her, but of course she still loves him, so she takes pity on him in his weakened state and she hides him in the attic. None too soon, because a moment later along comes the cruel lecherous scerriffo, who incidentally has the hots for Meanie, and she brazens it out and lies like a trouper, and just as she’s got him convinced that he’s on a wild goose chase… two drops of blood fall from the ceiling and land on his hand. So of course all is revealed, and things start looking pretty grim for Meanie and Deeck, who at this point makes a tottering appearance and promptly passes out at Meanie’s feet. She immediately goes all tigress, and desperately challenges the scerriffo to una partita di poker, best two hands out of three. If he wins, she tells him, he can take Deeck… and her, too. But if SHE wins… she gets to keep her virtue and her man.

Like a schmuck, he agrees. They play. She wins a hand. Then he wins a hand. The tension mounts and the music swells as they deal the third hand – then she stages a diversion, and when he’s looking the other way she pulls due assi (two aces) out of her boot, giving her the full house she needs to win.

And that’s just the climax of Act II.

So… the sock is a classic two-tone cowboy boot, with a surprisingly comfortable pointy toe…

… and a high (but not too high) stacked heel:

It’s worked from an i-cord cast-on at the ankle, which serves as a flat-felled seam connecting the lizard-skin upper…

… to the extravagantly-topstitched textured-leather top:

Of course the top of the top is split…

… and piped and curved…

… and of course it features functional bootstraps:

The two aces appear on the tongues, which also provide a little extra ease for the instep. One is a spade –

– the other a heart:

(Obviously this picture was taken before topstitching and assembly.)

The treacherous drops of blood are also represented, one on each boot:

This is, in short, exactly the footwear for saddling up, rescuing your lover from the gallows in the nick of time, and galloping off together into the sunset, singing “Addio, mia California, addio!” in swelling harmony.