Rich and Strange

Either everything old is new again, or everything new is old again. This is a new tsock, but it isn’t by any means a new idea for me; if you’ve been around these parts long enough it will look strangely familiar to you from the saga of the Rube Goldbergian Contraption, the unwinding of the coral laceweight yarn, and the plans I made for it. Which plans have yet to see fruition in that form. (There was a further hint here.)

At any rate, as so often happens… a few months ago I was letting the old mind wander, and it harked back to this color and this idea and it wandered straight off into a couple of its favorite by-ways:

  1. Can knitting do that?
  2. Could it make a tsock?

…and when it came back from them it had one word between its teeth, one answer to both, and the answer was… YES.

And so I sent Jennifer a sample of the yarn. And she sent her mind off into one of its mysterious byways, and it came back with this:

… and from that moment there was no doubt in my mind as to how we were going to kick off the 2010 Tseason of Tsocks.

I’m not giving up on doing the shawl someday. But for now, for right now, it’s a Tsock – Tsock #1, 2010.

I give you “Full Fathom Five.”

          Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.

(Funny thing about this. Ariel’s song from “The Tempest” has been familiar to me for just about as long as I can remember; but it wasn’t until I was actually typing it up for the pattern, the other day, that I noticed that “of his bones are coral made” is… well… grammatically, syntactically… it’s just WRONG. Not unlike “And damn’d be him who first cries hold, enough!” Must be nice to be Shakespeare and to be able to get away with that sort of thing.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering – it appears that this verse is in fact the origin of the phrase “sea change.”

But I digress.)

The tsock, as it turns out, foreshadows the shawl pretty effectively – that is, I was able to squeeze in all the desired elements, or at any rate suggestions of same. But I trust it has taken them and made them its own – sock gauge being a whole different idiom, after all.

Closer look? But of course.

Following the path of the knitting upward from a toe-tip cast-on, the foundation for the reef is a pile of shells.

Scallop shells, that is.

Above that rises the branching coral, constructed of lace, along very loosely fractal-ish lines. (Because of the way this wraps around the foot, it was all but impossible to photograph it and show the whole panel, so I have frankly mocked it up here – two halves, pasted together through the miracle of PhotoShop. Like an exploded globe, don’t you know.)

This rises up to cover the instep, and the ease adjustments for the heel are built into the lace patterning.

Will anyone be surprised that the scallop shell reappears as an optional element on the back of the heel? I thought not.

Rooted on either side of the heel, two wisps of eel-grass:

Then there is more eel grass drifting through the insertions of the three perpendicular edgings that constitute the ankle.

Five fathoms really isn’t all that deep; a fathom is six feet, so Ferdinand’s father, supposedly, is only 30 feet under – 30 feet of clear water, in the calm after the storm, through which all these things are visible in layer upon layer. First more shells, of a nautilus-ish sort, stirred by ripples of current, and encrusted with some of those “pearls that were his eyes”…

… then a school of tropical fish, each carrying another pearl of its own (this is scaled down from a lovely old traditional stitch pattern called “The Queen’s Edging,” which has always reminded me of leetle tropical fishies)…

… and then a cross-current – more little waves, flowing in the other direction, and playfully tossing more little spiral shells about.

So there she is; – “such stuff as dreams are made on.”

The last files were uploaded yesterday; printing is complete. Tomorrow they pack her up to ship her out.

Happy new year, club members… and stand by to commence mailbox stalkage!

The Boid

You wanted to see the boid?

Here’s the boid.

I had a time getting him to that point, I can tell you. Have I mentioned the multiple froggings? No? Well, these sculptural jobbies, where certain elements of the shape have to fall in certain locations on the foot… they’re tricky. You need to be able to plot them out ahead of time in three dimensions or you’re nowhere.

This was relatively easy when I was planning the twining serpent for Cleopatra – I put on an existing sock that was knitted at the same gauge (I used Oktoberfest, which is relatively straightforward) and just basted a piece of waste yarn into the path I wanted the snake to follow. I then carried that sock around with me as a template and worked from it. It was a pretty simple matter to count rows and stitches and place the transition points right where I wanted them. I did have to do one major frogging on grounds of stoopididity, but after that it was fairly plain sailing.

Problem with Firebird: I don’t HAVE another sock knitted at the same gauge.

So I took an old el-cheapo sock and put it on my body double AKA the Grossman Gam, and basted on that, figuring I’d pull the sock in progress over it now and then and get the body outline placed that way.

Problem with that: the gam is not only smaller than my real foot, it’s also soft and squishy, and getting the sock on and off it is a major production. And I found I wanted to test the outline at EVERY pattern row. I was spending half my time just tugging it on and off and futzing it into place.

I scratched my head about this for a while. What else do I have lying around here, I asked myself, that is foot-shaped and reasonably firm?

Finally it hit me.


At first I drew it in eyeliner pencil, but that had a nasty habit of smudging and getting wiped off. So I broke out the Sharpie and gave myself a proper template tattoo.

Worked a treat. I could try on the sock before every pattern row, and even take progress pictures while I was at it, almost without breaking stride.

In the long run the only real problem with this scheme was that I wasn’t careful enough in checking the outline for accuracy against the original sketch. It wasn’t until the sock was finished that I took a cold hard look at the prototype and realized how I’d exaggerated the curve of the neck. In my eagerness to get the sock to match the lines on my leg just so, I had frogged and re-knitted so many times that I simply lost sight of the fact that the lines on my leg didn’t quite match the shape I’d planned for in the first place.

Oh, well. That’s what the SECOND sock is for – right?

And you thought I never made the second sock. Ha. OK, so I haven’t absolutely finished the second sock here – there’s still the flame picot hem and the embellishments left to do. But I have corrected the silhouette – and the corrected silhouette is reflected in the chart.

I’ve done something newish and differentish (for me, at least) with this design – on the body of the bird I’ve eliminated the layout of individual stitches and just given indications of the demarcations between pattern stitch and plain areas and what needs to happen at those spots (and yes, I’ve done the same for the instructions). Like programming for exceptions only. I think it makes for a more readable pattern, because instead of having to count every stitch of every row you just look at where you are and follow the outline accordingly. (This is a particularly crafty strategy on my part, because it also reduces the likelihood of MY miscounting or mistyping the number of stitches in every section!)

We shall see whether or not the club members agree with me in the final analysis….

Some details:

Some of this embroidery is optional – hell, almost all of it is optional. When I finish sock #2 I’m going to eliminate the tail outline and probably some of the work over the feathers as well. But for the prototype I wanted to illustrate all the gaudy possibilities.

This basketweave on the body is optional too. I probably don’t need to tell you why it’s there or how I feel about basketweave stitches these days. I totally love the way it looks – to me it’s vaguely oriental and phoenix-ish and also slightly pin-feathery at the same time, and altogether I couldn’t be happier with it. But it isn’t very stretchy, and it occurs in a part of the sock that needs to be plenty stretchy. There’s a goodly chunk of pseudo-gusset to counterbalance it (cleverly decreased out at strategic hidden points in the body outline), but even that may not be quite enough for the really high of arch – so I’ve proposed seed stitch as a possible alternative.

How much do I love having the talon overlaid on the short-row seam? Ridiculously much.

The new version has a longer, steeper beak than this, and more room for the back of the crest to extend behind the head. But I’m fairly pleased with the fierce beady eye.

Still, after the assembly-line activities of the past few days I have to confess that right now my favorite pictures of this sock are… these:

I may have missed my calling as a sardine-packer. Thank you, USPS, for coming out with the New Large-Size Flat Rate Priority Mail Box exactly when I needed it! By the time all was said and done, my friends, I had filled two of those and an auxiliary envelope with THIRTY-SIX POUNDS of patterns and related paraphernalia. I realize I’ve already mentioned that circumstance, but… I’m here to tell you… dat’s a lotta boid.

So anyway… The Boid is on The Wing (yes, yes, I know, ain’t that absoid – I thought the wing was on the boid) and I’m hoping it reaches Jennifer some time tomorrow. Speaking of sheer poundage… for anyone who missed this stage of the proceedings, the yarn did reach her on the 22nd, and if you want to see what 500 pounds of undyed sock yarn looks like, you know where to go. She has been elbow-deep and hip-deep in the dye pots ever since – remember we’d been yarnless for more than a month by then, a month during which kit orders and yarn orders just kept coming and coming. Between that and the club kits, I’m not sure when she gets her next scheduled nap. I have to admit I feel a certain amount of survivor guilt about taking mine tonight.

But… not enough to stop me.


Buh-bye for now, Pattern Purdah, and I don’t even care if the door hits me in the ass on my way out. I’ll miss you. NOT.

Yes, the revised files are uploaded and the printing is in progress, and I am now FREE to focus on the next crisis, whatever it may be – and first, before its waters close over my head, to show you Club Tsock #2.

So here she is, the pearl and the pride of the Magnificent Twenty-First – Marie, the Daughter of the Regiment:

We’ve already stipulated the whole thing about opera being silly, right? Right. So I can spare you some of the backstory of the regiment’s dramatic discovery and adoption of a baby girl abandoned on a battlefield Somewhere In Prussia, as well as the convoluted ins and outs of a plot that takes our heroine (through a suitable complement of mistaken identities and motives, as well as of high C’s on the part of the tenor) into, and then out of, and then back into, the arms of the poor but honest local swain Tonio, as well as into, and then back out of, the aristocratic arms of the Marquise de Krakenthorp, who coincidentally and inevitably turns out to be her mother. I want to focus instead on Marie herself, as she appears in Act One, a diamond in the rough, in the characteristic costume of the Napoleonic vivandière.

She wears these dainty little black army boots…

… which lace up the front in the new-fangled fashion of the early 19th century. I had some fun researching this; not only did I ascertain that this type of lacing originated in 1780 and made an impressive fortune for its inventor, I also found out that shoelaces are no exception to the rule that there is a Foundation-of-Civilization theory for everything under the sun. Let no one ever say that sock design is not an educational field!

(Incidentally, I am reliably informed that there are a number of important military regulations about which lace must cross over which, depending on what branch of the service you are in, what rank you enjoy, and so on. On this point I have – frankly – copped out, and have simply written the pattern to cross the laces in the direction that I found most straightforward to knit. If any such regulations actually did apply to vivandières in Napoleon’s Grande Armée during the dawn of boot-lacing, and if I have violated same, I hereby offer my humble apologies to all military and costume historians.)

There is some question as to which type of vivandière Marie actually is – the way she boasts about her experiences in the battlefield, it certainly sounds as if she was the practical kind that tended to the wounded in situ, not just the sort that dispensed creature comforts in the canteen. So I’ve dressed her accordingly.

The costume of the vivandière is fairly practical for its time; of course it doesn’t flout decency to the extent of dispensing with a skirt altogether, but it does shorten the skirt considerably, giving place to trousers worn underneath (supposedly this foreshadows the Bloomer, but let’s not go there).

Marie’s trousers are a nice regimental red, with natty blue braid at the hems and side seams…

… and the short full skirt is made to match:

This is as good a place as any to remark that in theory this sock is pretty much invertible. Having done a toe-up design for Tsock #1, ordinarily I’d have made some effort to make Tsock #2 cuff-down, or at any rate something other than toe-up, for the sake of variety. I ended up deciding against that, however, for one reason and one reason only: though the Skirt Hem would be a good bit simpler to work if the Skirt were built from the waist down, using increases and bind-offs instead of cast-ons and decreases to create the pleats… I think overall the Skirt LOOKS neater this way. So the execution of the Skirt Hem frankly constitutes a bit of a challenge – as my poor test knitter can bear witness, having had to swatch no fewer than FOUR different techniques, two of which actually appear in the pattern. (Any club member who likes a different type of challenge is more than welcome to work this sock from the top down, or from the waist down, or perhaps from the knees down.)

The jacket features the reverse color scheme – it’s blue with contrasting braid trim in red, and it’s made of rough woollen cloth…

… with a high collar…

… bright brass buttons, and a placket that tapers to a feminine point over the skirt.

The jacket is becomingly snug, and can be unbuttoned if necessary for ease of putting on and taking off.

So that is our girl, and if all goes according to (rata)plan she will be headed shortly for a mailbox near some of you. Our hope is to get her into the mail before we have to pack up and light out for the Sheep and Wool Show territory… which brings me to some overdue announcements (I trust you notice I am not even saying anything about updates to my poor neglected web page, which I believe is an excellent candidate for Next Crisis on the To-Do List), to wit:

Where We Will Be!

This weekend Jennifer and I will be at New Hampshire Sheep & Wool – same location as last year, i.e. Building 28, Space #30. (I think that’s right! there was some confusion last year because we weren’t listed in the booklet, not to mention that it was a time of great confusion anyway, but I believe that’s all been ironed out now, and I believe the Vanagon is no longer part of the picture, so I hope I’m not jinxing anything by saying that we have a reasonable expectation of being where we need to be when we need to be there.) If memory serves it’s called the Hood Building, and we’ll be there under the spiffy new Holiday Yarns banner, and if you’re anywhere in the area you should TOTALLY come and visit and hang out and hug… and even buy stuff.

(We will also be at Massachusetts Sheep & Wool, two weeks later – I’ll post another heads-up about that as we get closer in.)

Hope to see you there!

P.S. Just catching up on the comments, too – ef the crick don’t rise between now and then, I’ll tell you about the Goose tomorrow. At the rate it’s raining right, now, the crick actually MIGHT rise between now and then – but let’s hope not.

Cynara, in my fashion

Ahhhhh. A brief hiatus between Purdah and Purdah. Club Tsock #4 is being printed and packed, so it’s time to show it to you.

I’ve always had a weakness for artichokes – as food for palate, as food for thought, as food for metaphor. They may well be the most misunderstood and controversial vegetable ever. I’m telling you… it isn’t just any piece of produce that could get itself banned in New York as a casus belli (or maybe that should be casus belly) for the Cosa Nostra.

Somewhere on my overcrowded back burner is a pile of preliminary notes and research for a gastro-botanico-historico-literary monograph on the subject, and this design has absorbed a fair amount of that literary juice. Shakespeare, Neruda, Dumas, Sabatini, Pliny, Theophrastus, Cesare Borgia – they all play a part here, along with the occasional nod to Greek mythology and romantic poetry.

Here, then, is what I thought was going to be this year’s tsimple tsock – Blessed Thistle.

It’s an artichoke, see? Well, kind of an upside-down artichoke, with the ribbed cuff for the stem, and little vestigial leaves just like on the stem of a real artichoke.

(Yes, I know. Technically they are not leaves, they’re bracts. So sue me.)

Um. Maybe you can tell I’m kinda proud of those? And maybe you’ll concede that I have reason to be, when I tell you that they are worked in-line as part of the cuff, so there are NO ENDS TO WEAVE IN! NONE!

And then comes the part that should have been simple – that I actually thought WAS simple until I started trying to explain how I had done it.

As on a real artichoke, there are smallish leaves at the base, i.e. on the ankle…

… and as with a real artichoke the leaves get bigger as you reach the widest point of the circumference.

So the leaf lace pattern is worked in three different sizes, omitting a single set of decreases to accomplish each transition, so that the sock widens as the leaves do, with the biggest leaves forming the instep.

Then a couple of the leaves curl under to form the heel…

… and then there’s this funky little Japanese-inspired pickup thing that happens underneath to start the sole moving forward…

… into a kinky little short-rowing sequence. And then the leaves start getting smaller again, until at last the whole thing ends in a puddle of melted butter at the toe.

It all seemed very organic while I was doing it – in fact, I got so cocky with the omitted-decreases trick that I actually scaled the lace pattern to four different sizes, using #1-#3 for the medium-size tsock and #2-#4 for the large. And then… then I sat down to try to explain it all, and that’s when my brain exploded into a thousand pieces. (Some of them splattered so far and wide that they hit my poor test knitter, at a range of a coupla hundred miles, and she was wiping up the mess for days. That woman is made of stern stuff, I’m here to tell you.) Sometimes the things that are the simplest to do are the hardest to describe. And vice versa. I mean, it’s just a plant, right? What could be simpler or more natural than smaller leaves growing into bigger leaves?


It turns out that when you make something grow really organically on your needles it is almost impossible to go back and figure out, not only how you did it (actually, I always understood how; it was only articulating it that was hard), but where. Like trying to retrace a woven-in end that you’ve hidden too skilfully, or undo a graft that you’ve worked too evenly. The unincreased increases turned out to be sneaky little devils, hiding their lights under the bushel of angled-stitch camouflage.

Then there are all the red herrings inherent in working a half-drop lace pattern in the round, even at only ONE size let alone four. Then there’s the only-half-intentional invention of a newish (so far as I know) kind of heel.

All in all, what I came away with was partly this: next time I set out to design something tsimple… PLEASE will you slap me upside the head and remind me what that word MEANS!

And yet. And yet the tsock is not difficult to knit. No, seriously; I mean it – stop laughing. It’s NOT. I think – I hope – I trust – that it’s pretty straightforward even if you just follow the directions and charts carefully. But if you are any kind of a hand at all at reading your knitting and following its rhythm… it’s practically a walk in the park. Or at any rate in a field of not-too-prickly thistles.

Gothic Revival

Oh, this one has been incubating and marinating for a lo-o-o-o-ong time in the fertile and terrifying back of my brain. And we’re out of Purdah at last, so here she is:

To begin with… have you ever noticed that the front half of your foot looks a little like a cultivated hyacinth? No?

Maybe you just didn’t put enough purple panicles on it.

Now, I will be the first to admit that it is a little fanciful to imagine these hyacinths actually growing on the grounds of the Abbey – given that it’s only March, more probably they actually come from the succession-houses of which General Tilney is so proud – but in fact there is very little about this design that is not fanciful. Besides, it amuses me to contrast the bright vibrant cheerful purple of the hyacinth with the gloomy weathered granite of the building. So indulge me. The hyacinths, then, grow right up to the foundations of Northanger Abbey, and the Abbey’s mouldering grey walls rise dark and forbidding above them.

Mouldering, dark and forbidding? Yes, well.

     An abbey! Yes, it was delightful to be really in an abbey! But she doubted, as she looked round the room, whether anything within her observation would have given her the consciousness. The fireplace, where she had expected the ample width and ponderous carving of former times, was contracted to a Rumford, with slabs of plain though handsome marble, and ornaments over it of the prettiest English china. The windows, to which she looked with peculiar dependence, from having heard the general talk of his preserving them in their Gothic form with reverential care, were yet less what her fancy had portrayed. To be sure, the pointed arch was preserved-the form of them was Gothic-they might be even casements-but every pane was so large, so clear, so light! To an imagination which had hoped for the smallest divisions, and the heaviest stone-work, for painted glass, dirt, and cobwebs, the difference was very distressing.

Yes, well.

I thought about creating The Abbey in that image, but it hardly seemed worth knitting… so I have replaced it with the Abbey of Catherine’s fevered imagination, as fueled by all the delicious horrors of Gothic romance.

Instead of a comfortable gentleman’s residence in Gloucestershire, furnished “in all the profusion and elegance of modern taste,” surrounded by “lodges of a modern appearance,” and approached via “a smooth, level road of fine gravel, without obstacle, alarm, or solemnity of any kind,” our Abbey is modeled after an ancient ruin, mouldering away in the best terrifying Mrs. Radcliffe style, set high and inaccessible on a gloomy wooded hillside, in that semi-Teutonic part of northern France now known as Alsace-Lorraine.

And about this ruin there is much to tell; not all of it apocryphal perhaps. There are those who refer to it as having formerly been a château where the by-blows of German nobility were sent to conceal their parents’ shame. Older legend has it, however, that the building actually began its existence in the early Middle Ages as the Abbaye Franchemontaise; home to the Schnazellines, a Secular Cistercian order whose particular field of sanctified manual labor was the manufacture of fine textiles. They were famed far and wide for their beautifully-wrought threads and cloths of every description, and it is in tribute to them and to their industry that we offer – for the first time – a Spinner’s Option with this sock; in tribute to them and to their founder, the high-minded and erudite Abbé Franquemont.

The irony of this is not lost upon me. As it happens, the Schnazellines were a discalced order, as such eschewing all but the most spartan of foot coverings – relatively unusual for Secular Cistercians, but an unerring reflection of their founder’s eccentric distaste for the production of hose. Spinners they were, and weavers, and as the innovation of knitting became popular in their part of the world it was not unknown to the good lay brothers; but the Abbé enforced a strict embargo on the making of warm stockings, considering the work a waste of time, its products an unwarrantable luxury.

Indeed, along with an unparalleled knowledge of his art and its history, the Abbé Franquemont cherished a number of powerful if not always comprehensible tastes and convictions, among them some curious prejudices in matters not only sartorial but also architectural. How unfortunate for him that he happened to be away on a pilgrimage during the early stages of the Abbey’s construction! for had he been present you may be sure the building would never have been permitted to flaunt its unconcealed Flying Buttresses before all the world. How the good Abbé did despise these new-fangled naked excrescences! Unnecessary; impractical; indecent. (Some contemporary accounts claim that on his return he was actually heard to refer to them under his breath as “sale espèce d’arc-foutant”; but let us fervently hope that he was alike incapable of both the pun and the obscenity.) Buttresses, he averred, like limbs (if not feet), should always be decently covered. Nevertheless, there they were, flying and flagrant and irrevocable, for by that time it was far too late to tear them down despite all the Abbé Franquemont’s fulminations; and there they remain to this day, as the rest of the structure crumbles dismally around them – an enduring monument to one artist’s frustration in the face of Philistinism.

In their honor I have erected a new kind of heel, the Flying Buttress Wraparound Reverse Flap, which rises directly from the sock’s foundation in the best High Perpendicular tradition.

The Flying Buttresses support a Gothic-arched clerestory…

…while the West front – again in tribute to the tools of the Schnazellines’ humble calling – features an elegant rose window whose tracery emulates a fine old design known as the Spindle Lattice.

Rising above, the upper cloister occupies two storeys:

And atop these the roof is edged with… wait for it… terrifying winged gargoyles, poised as for flight.

Such is the “silent, lonely, and sublime” edifice where “Fate sits on these dark battlements, and frowns”; the edifice of which Catherine Morland “expected with solemn awe… a glimpse of its massy walls of grey stone, rising amidst a grove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic windows”; a fit setting for the luridly-imagined woes of “the wretched Matilda.”

Putting It In Reverse

So I did a little more swatching the other night, playing with Wings of the Swan.

That’s only one repeat (right on top of the existing Flame Chevron swatch – see, I’m putting off the frogging), so the shape of the pattern isn’t even established yet, and already I can tell. On the one hand, it is more nearly what I had in mind, but on the other it’s way too busy. Too much eyelet action in the middle. Want more stockinette; I trust this yarn, and I’m not afraid to let it strut its stuff in naked knit.

That’s OK. I just happen to have encountered this same issue with this same pattern stitch, back when I was developing the front panel for Swan Lake, and as it happens I came up with a number of possible modifications to play with.

That’s the original pattern at upper left; the other three are my variations.

I have options. For once I’m totally focused on the visual rather than the thematic – I don’t care if the pattern loses its swan-ness altogether, as long as it looks the way I want it to. (Yeah, it’s my dirty little secret; this is what I do on my day off – design things for show instead of substance!)

Here – it’s a little easier to see the different effects if you hold it farther away from you:

At the moment I’m sort of leaning toward the one at lower left – but we shall see.

Meanwhile, though, I’ve been thinking over this reversibility thing. I’m free of it, for the moment and for this particular project, because a cowl has a definite inside and a definite outside. But reversibility is a grand thing in a patterned scarf, and I don’t see it happening in interesting ways as often as I’d like.

You can do reversible cables, of course, by replacing each stitch of each cable with 1×1 rib, and that can be a very cool effect. And you can get a number of really nice reversible textured effects with simple knit/purl combinations – basket-weave patterns, that sort of thing.

Lace, though – lace often presents a challenge. Not if it’s garter-based – the Moebius I did for Lauren, for instance, was all garter-based and entirely reversible. Or rather, being a Moebius, auto-reversed. Ahem. And the other auto-reversed Moebius, the Percupone – that stitch isn’t garter, as such, but alternating reversed repeats, in stockinette and reverse stockinette. So equally reversible.

A lot of stockinette-based laces, the kind with alternating neutral rows, can be garterized by knitting instead of purling the WS rows. This works better for some than for others, of course. It’d probably look lousy in the above Wings of the Swan, or in any of those flat Flemish patterns where the stockinette fabric doesn’t change angles because the decreases are right next to the YOs. And it wouldn’t work in any lace where the knit/purl texture serves a specific sculptural purpose – like The Cloisters, for instance.

But in a lot of airier patterns it makes no difference at all except for supplying reversibility.

Flame Chevron, though – again, not one of them. Here’s a link to a picture of it in its original form. Imagine that garterized. Awful.

So the answer for that one, I thought, was to put the alternating/staggered flames into reverse stockinette, so it wouldn’t interfere with the flow and shaping of the pattern. It adds texture and depth, which wasn’t what I wanted this time, but can be a great effect in the right context.

I was going to put up a chart for what I did in the original swatch – in fact, I am going to put up a chart for what I did in the original swatch. But I don’t recommend using it. I’m also going to put up a chart for what I shouldhave done in the original swatch, and what I would have done if I’d decided to use that pattern for the project.

Here’s a chart for the original stitch; I’ve drawn two instances, with the 4 framing stitches Barbara Walker uses, and the repeat is marked by the blue dotted lines.

It’s a pretty simple pattern to work. The decreases are stacked and the YOs travel – one way in the first half, and then in the other, they REE-verse track, go the other way back. From staggered positions. And that distance between the increases and decreases is what makes the plain part of the pattern lean in one direction or the other – always toward the nearest decrease.

Now, here is what I did in my swatch the other day.

(Of course the alternating rows change too – instead of being all purled the stitches are all worked as they lie, and the YOs are knitted in the first half.)

What is wrong with this picture?

Nothing, on the face of it. It balances out the pattern into stockinette and reverse stockinette, preserves all the traveling directions, and makes a fabric that is near as never-mind to perfectly reversible. And as some of you kindly remarked, it looked pretty cool.

Really, there’s only one problem with it. It is unnecessarily awkward to work. In fact… it’s a pain in the ass.

Here’s why.

Look at the chart for the original pattern stitch.

See how the stack of decreases in the first half is all ssks and in the second half it’s all k2togs?

Now look at the reversible version. The ssks are preserved as written, but the k2togs are replaced with a purled decrease. I didn’t bother keying these charts for purposes of this bloggy chitchat, but you can just take my word for it that in this context that purled decrease happens to be a particularly nasty one. It’s a doubly-twisted p2tog-b – that is, to make it match the ssk correctly on the other side you have to re-mount each of the two stitches individually and THEN purl them together through the back loop.

Furthermore, even on the other side – a ssk isn’t horrible but it is more awkward and less natural to work than a k2tog, and no matter how carefully you work it it never looks quite as neat.


And pfui.

If it were the only way to achieve the desired effect, you’d put up with all this and it’d be fine. But in this case you have to have a total martyrdom complex to do it this way when there is an easy and elegant alternative.

REE-verse track –
Go the other way back!

Check it out.

To all intents and purposes this accomplishes the exact same thing. OK, so the sections are flipped, but does that matter? I say it does not. This version will look cleaner and it will be a lot less frustrating to work. In the stockinette portion the decreases are all k2togs. In the reverse stockinette portion – again, I didn’t bother keying, but the purled decrease is a simple p2tog.

(Disclaimer: I haven’t yet had a chance to work it this way. So I may have the decrease stacks flipped, or something, though I don’t think so; anyway I don’t guarantee the chart. But I’m 100% sure the principle is right.)

I love this sort of thing. It’s such a simple and obvious change to make… once you realize it’s needed. Makes no appreciable difference to the product, but makes such an enormous difference to the process. But it would never have occurred to me to anticipate it (though it will from here on out) – not until I was knitting it and realizing it the hard way.

Hmmm. I wonder if you could translate it… into Moebius. sigh Now there’s something I wish I hadn’t thought of. Makes the mind… reel.

In Broad Daylight

OK, so Lauren.


Yeah. Lauren.

My BFF, my go-to girl.

Lauren… is getting married.

This is very, very good news in and of itself. Good guy; good for her; good to her. I don’t see how I could possibly be more pleased.

But because it is All About Me, Comma, I gotta tell you… speaking as a blogger, I view this as a silver lining that has a gold lining all its own. Yes, it is good news for me even over and above the fact that I am so happy for my dear friend.

Because, let’s face it, lately I have really been UP AGAINST THE WALL with the blog foddder thing. You know? Every time I come up with something I want to show and tell…? WHAMMO! it gets slapped down under a Cone of Silence. Tstealth! We hates it! Annie Modesitt mentioned this on her blog just the other day, and I couldn’t agree more. I hate the gag order, even when it’s self-imposed. I love blathering on and on about my process, especially while it’s still hot and steaming and in full spate.

I’m still coming to terms with this as regards the Tsock Flock designs. In 2007 I kept things pretty transparent; never having had a club before I was pretty much feeling my way, and for the most part it was all out in the open, and that was fine. Then in 2008 we started off with Firebird, the sketch for which had been plastered all over our advertising for several months, so that wasn’t a surprise except as regards details of implementation. After that, I have to admit it was kind of fun making people guess about Frenchman’s Creek, and yes, I’m still having fun with the Tsuspense thing… but I still think overall we ended up raising the Tstealth quotient a little too high for my comfort in 2008. Somehow I hope to find a better balance for 2009… though so far, as we approach the transition between seasons, we seem to be heading for a pretty furtive beginning. Well, we shall see.

Meanwhile, there are all these things I’m working on that are gifts (yes, still with the belated Christmas knitting, don’t rub my nose in it thank you very much), so I have to be discreet if not silent about those. And then, just as I thought I had come up with a really interesting spinning project that I could talk about in detail – poof! damned if I didn’t get enjoined from blogging that too. (To be fair, BTW – this wasn’t really just because A Certain Person whined in the comments, though I really couldn’t resist ragging her about it, and I have to say she took it in good part. No, there was another reason, and a good one, as to which all will be revealed in good time, usual stealth schtick blah blah blah.) Phooey, the irony.

But now… now! Ha! Now I have something I can and will discuss freely and in excruciating detail. It’s a spinning project AND it’s a knitting project, it’s a floor wax AND it’s a dessert topping, it’s a gift for someone AND it is blessedly free of stealth. Because Lauren – oh yeah, right, this was about her, wasn’t it? – has asked me to make a Thingy for her to wear with her wedding dress. Than which request, I gotta say, nothing could delight me more.

I think the only thing I’m not going to disclose right now is the date of the wedding, because when I told Jennifer the news and the date she said, “That’s wonderful… wait a minute. You mean… THIS year? Um, that doesn’t leave us a lot of time to make something for her, does it.” Suffice it to say that even I am not quite quixotic enough to think I can make both the dress AND the Thingy in the time allotted. (Though I’m just crazy enough to go up to the fabric stash and look over that bolt of cream-colored Shantung and think… no! no! DOWN, girl!)

Why I love Jennifer, incidentally? (One of many reasons, that is.) It never occurred to her to think I might NOT spin as well as knit the Thingy. It also never occurred to her to say the obvious, i.e. “On top of everything else you need to do between now and then? Are you completely NUTS????” That last part goes without saying. But we are fiber people. We Get It.

Also – notice how she said “us”? Jennifer leapt at the opportunity to do the dyeing for this. I raised the idea a little diffidently, because I didn’t want to impose on her or to take her participation for granted. She has only met Lauren once, and yes they did hit it off, big-time, but… well, my friend, mycrazy project, my insane deadline… you get the idea. Heh. Not an issue for our Jen. She’s just thrilled she can contribute what she does best and not have to puzzle her head to invent some knitted object that she would then turn into a felted bowl through the magical powerz of her own self-doubt.

So. The Thingy. I’m not sure exactly what you’d call it. Sort of a jacket. More than a shrug. Some shawlish elements, but much more structured than a shawl. Very feminine and soft. (I can picture it clearly, but my sketch-fu hasn’t caught up with the brain yet – will show you when it does.)

Color: A marvelous range of rosy sunset shades. Red sky at night is the sailor’s delight, so – perfectly suited to a wedding at the beach. Lauren, like me, is a Long Island girl through and through.

Texture and style: Lacy, but warm – warm enough to be worn over a strapless empire-line dress in the chill of evening. Deep shawlish collar. Soft curved cutaway shaping. Longish in back, continuing the curve, with maybe a slight bustle feel. Long fitted sleeve, deep ruffle at the wrist.

And – what do you know – I just happen to have acquired a pound of beautiful type B pygora. Raw, but very clean and lovely and lustrous.

Yesterday I ordered a pound of natural tussah silk top to use with it. Don’t know yet whether we’re talking blend or ply; what percentage; what style of spinning; what kind of stitch patterns; what approach to structure.

But this I DO know: as I figure each of these things out, I will be telling you ALL about it, every step of the way!

Let the sampling begin.

(Actually… the sampling has already begun. So has the preliminary sample-swatching. But the swatches aren’t dry yet – I’ll start showing you pictures tomorrow.)

Designing Woman

Yeah, I know. Me Designing != News.

But this is different. Because I’m designing yarn.



But hang on a second. We interrupt this ranting and roaring to bring you the following important announcement:


I was planning to post a little 2008 Retrospective / 2009 Teaser/Preview in celebration of this event… and actually I am still planning same, but I’m going to wait another day or so, because I’ve just solved a technical problem with 2009-#1, and now that it’s started to go right I want to get it a little farther along before I show it to you. Because yes! I have decided to tslough off the tchains of tstealth, at least for now, and go full disclosure for a while.

Until the next tstate tsecret comes along, anyway.

(Of course, the 2008 Retrospective will in any case not be complete until #6 has landed and been discussed a little, after which we can have a nice 2008 Retrospective Appendix with all kinds of big fat open disclosure to warm the cockles of my black – if guileless – heart.)

Meanwhile, back in the fibery studio…

Yarn, people. Yarn design. This is big.

It’s big because I played with fiber for the Lauren Thingy (which BTW in a perfectly horrible and not especially appropriate pun I have begun thinking of as Lauren-Zaccio – go ahead and groan, it’s OK, I’ll wait here till you’re done), and I looked at the yarn I got from it and the swatches I got from that, and I thought about how I wanted it to be different from what it was and how to make the changes I wanted, and… I made them. And all the stuff I’ve been told and taught, plus all the stuff I’ve read, plus all the stuff I’ve discovered accidentally, about how to change my yarn from Yarn A to Yarn B? Came together and worked just the way it’s supposed to.

I don’t know why that’s shocking. Maybe it isn’t. I certainly wouldn’t think much more than twice about it if it were a matter of changing one knitting effect into another. But that isn’t alchemy to me – it’s cool but it isn’t necessarily mystery or magic. This… still is. Or maybe it’s just that I’m still so new to spinning – in real time anyway – that it’s hard for me to get used to the idea that I actually know how to manipulate my spinning to achieve certain results. Survivor guilt? Maybe. I can’t say “it shouldn’t be this easy” because it isn’t exactly easy. But sometimes I do kind of feel as if I skipped a couple of grades, and this is definitely one of those times.

Not sure if I can really illustrate this adequately. I can but try.

Here are the preliminary samples/swatches, lightly blocked:

The first three are not meant to be “real” samples – they’re just my first quick-and-dirty experiments to see how the fiber behaves in different configurations. All spindle-spun and -plied; all worked up on a US #3 needle in my go-to no-brainer swatching lace, English Mesh.

First, 100% pygora:

Perfectly lovely by itself. If I had oceans and oceans of time, I might well do nothing but this, spinning up a mountain of frog-hair laceweight, and knitting up a huge, delicate, infinitely intricate piece of filmy pygora gossamer. Yeah. So not happening this time.

Next up, two pygora/silk yarns; one with the two fibers blended…

… the other with them spun separately and plied together:

By the time I reached this point I was rather expecting the plied version to be the answer; I was having some issues with the two fibers responding differently to washing in the finished yarn, the pygora blooming so much in contrast to the silk that it almost created a little bit of a bouclé effect, and overall making the yarn look more untidy than I expected before washing. Grrrr. In the event, though, I decided the blend was really what I wanted and that I could control its behavior with better prep and more careful spinning.

I want it all. I want shiny but I also want soft. I want smooth but I also want halo. And I even want some reasonable level of stitch definition. I want everything from this one yarn.

So I got back to work with the prep and blending.

Incidentally… here is a little lesson I learned yesterday about cleaning a drum carder. When you think you did a really good careful job the night before? be sure to look at it again in the light of day.

Not so clean after all. Very glad I checked.

Anyway, numerous passes later… here’s my blend sample.

That’s about 10g, with the two fibers mixed 50/50. And that’s what produced this:

I was moderately happy with this. It’s a heavier yarn, about 15 WPI, and it worked up nicely at a larger gauge, on US #6 (um… I think – have some labeling issues to be resolved here before I get too deep in documenting). It’s a great pleasure to handle. But… I think it’s a little too smooth and firm – not enough loft and halo. It’s spun and plied on the wheel, but I think I got too micro-manage-y with it, and it’s just a little overspun for my purposes.

Also, I went back and looked at my carefully-preserved de-hairing debris and decided I had been a little too cavalier about down loss. So I dehaired the down to a reasonable extent – not a perfect job, but hey, it’s pygora AND it’s going to be dyed; the hair is so soft it feels almost like down from anybody else, and the contrasting color, where applicable, totally won’t show in the finished piece. Besides… we’re still swatching, here.

Anyway – where was I? Oh yes, the down. De-haired it and blended it back in to the remaining fiber sample. And spun it up at roughly the same weight, but with a MUCH lighter hand.

With the down added in this is about 60% pygora – that’s a slightly higher down quotient than can be expected for the fiber overall, but it’s still reasonably representative. And here’s the result:

More to the point, HERE is the result:

And here it is closer up:

As I feared, the photographs don’t do justice to the difference – though they do an admirable job of showing up unevennesses in my spinning and negligence in my de-hairing.

But you can still sort of tell that the sample on the right is a lot softer and fluffier, right? without sacrificing too much stitch definition. It’s also a slightly finer grist – 19 WPI to the other’s 15, so about 1,350 YPP instead of 1,170.

Ironically, I’m now back on the fence between these two textures – each of them has features that appeal to me.

So I think at this point we’ll let the bride put in her two cents’ worth. Because whichever she likes best…? I know how to make EITHER ONE OF THEM!

Meanwhile – while I wait for the silk supply to arrive, I guess I got me some pygora to wash.

So I went at it today and got a little more than half of it done.

Poor little goatie – I can’t imagine that that bit of VM was much fun to wear.

Behold my fabulous new fiber drying system…

… with about 10 ounces of clean damp pygora taking the air.

Oooh, gonna have me some de-hairing to do. Good thing I know a few tricks.

And I can beguile the time by mulling over the design elements – I think the final Thingy is going to end up being a variant on the Circle Jacket, and… ooh, shiny… hey, did I mention that this thing is going to have beads?

Did I even need to mention that?

Probably not.

The Bride’s .02

Those of you who were waiting – nay, slavering in gleeful anticipation – for me to get into trouble with this project?

Your wait is over.

Mischief managed.

It’s all subject to change, of course. But as of now you will be pleased to hear that I have – predictably – stepped in it. Up to my neck.

See, I asked Lauren to stop by here yesterday and, um, look at a few things. And I made a few mistakes.

First mistake: Before she got here, I couldn’t stop myself from hunting up the cream Shantung. I found it. It’s even more beautiful than I remembered.

And there’s actually enough to make the style of dress Lauren wants. (Yes, I’ve already compounded the felony by researching patterns and yardages and notions. Stop laughing. STOPPIT!)

Second mistake: I showed it to her. Not surprisingly, she loved it.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see which way THIS is going.

Third mistake: I brought her into my, um, fiber room.

I should explain that technically I don’t HAVE a fiber room. I do have a fiber attic – ostensibly, anyway. My house is… well… it’s eccentric in a number of ways, among them the fact that it has two attics. A normal cavernous one, difficult of access, and a smaller one directly over the master bedroom, much easier to reach; the second of these is ostensibly devoted to stash storage – fabric, yarn, fiber.

Yeah, well. Literally none of my fiber stash has ever made it that far, and it’s been quite a while since I actually had to go up there for any of what I think of as “current” yarn.

See, the attic is uninsulated, see. It’s really better, in the cold weather, and also maybe at other times, to leave its heavy door unopened – and its ladder tucked away so it doesn’t block access to the bedroom itself. So though more accessible it still isn’t really as who should say convenient.

And see, there’s this guest room, see. Biggish. Has a queen-size bed, which is a highly convenient horizontal surface for lots of temporary uses. Time was, it was convenient for the accommodation of actual guests, for example. Or for the blocking of large lace shawls. Now? Not so much. Because somehow, bit by bit, more and more of my stash has managed to gravitate thither and pile up thereupon. And as the fiber part of the stash has grown it has also begun taking up real estate beyond the confines of the actual bed. Mind you, almost all of it is in plastic bins of various sizes and shapes, and it’s reasonably well organized according to category (or my own idiosyncratic notions of same). And in theory… at little more than a moment’s notice I could whisk all the bins attic-ward, freeing up the bed for purposes of sleepage, or indeed blockage, as the case might be.

In theory.

In fact, however… well, let’s just say the occasion hasn’t arisen since the piling up began to be an issue, so I haven’t yet TESTED this theory. And meanwhile the drum carder has come to rest in that room – and to be used there – and the fiber drying apparatus resides there, as does the fiber washing ditto when not in use, not to mention sundry non-binned items like, well, a couple of fleeces, and a huge bag of raw fiber samples, and, you know, some other stuff. And the stacks, while quite neat, have also become quite tall.

Not the Fiber Room. There’s a bed under there somewhere. I don’t want to hear about it, OK?

So anyway, where was I? Oh yes, third mistake. This Not-Fiber-Room place happened to be where I had cat-proofed the Shantung and where I had been blocking the pygora swatches, not to mention that it is also where the pygora fiber I washed the other day was drying, and indeed where the still-unwashed pygora is also stored. So… I took Lauren up there to show her all of the above. I opened the door. She looked.

She said – and I quote – “You have a problem.”

Well. Yes. Tell me something I don’t know.

It was said without the slightest trace of judgment or disparagement. Lauren Gets It.

But still – it was said.

Fourth mistake: I showed her all the swatches. All of them.

She agreed with me in preferring the final, softer and fluffier, swatch to its smoother predecessor.

BUT… she also loved the first swatch, the superfine all-pygora one, best of all.

And I can’t argue with her. It really is the loveliest of the bunch, in every way.

So – guess who’s now frantically cornering the market on that particular color and type of raw pygora fiber? Yeah, you guessed it. And guess who apparently won’t be needing that already-ordered-and-shipped pound of tussah top? Yeah, you got that right too.

Actually, this is not terrible. The silk won’t go bad, and I bet it won’t go to waste.

I think I can do a pretty clean expeditious job with the pygora by itself, or maybe even get an effect that will please both of us by blending in a smaller amount of silk on the fly as I spin. Part of the problem with spinning the pygora/silk blend was that it was carded, and I gather that even if I were a lot more seasoned at carding than I am… be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape neps altogether. Hence much of the unevenness in those last swatches. But the first all-pygora swatch was spun from the lock, and I can do that fairly quickly and evenly without having to do a huge amount of remedial de-nepping on every make. There’ll be less down in that yarn, because I’ll dehair with the flicker, but it will still halo nicely, and have plenty of loft and luster. (And I’ll save the down for… something. It won’t go to waste.)

Here endeth the worst of the trouble, for now. Lauren heartily endorsed the circle-shawl-jacket idea, which will save me an enormous amount of time and trouble, what with there being no wrong side to work. (Also, it’s a concept that has always appealed to me; I’ve long wanted to try my hand at something along those lines.) She also loves the pygora in its natural color (and yes…! after a brief heart-thumping moment of uncertainty I have secured a further supply from the same fleece) – and again I can’t disagree. Which can be construed either as letting Jennifer off the hook or as screwing her out of a conveniently pre-specified gift, depending on how you look at it. But it will also save at least a precious week, what with shipping back and forth and dyeing/drying time. It also means that beading-wise I can think in terms of pearls. Which I love.

And who knows… we may yet find an off-the-rack dress that “sends” us both.

Hey – a girl can dream, right?

You. You over there. Kwitcher cackling.

Still Fallible After All These Years

For the THIRD TIME IN A ROW, I might add.

Yesterday it re-dawned on me that, like so many other things in these parts, this project has a deadline attached. Several other projects being temporarily stalled pending arrival of additional supplies (whether of materials from Out In the World or of focus mojo from Inside My Chaotic Brain), this one became the obvious candidate for immediate cast-on, not only because it really does need to be done soon but because it really… Shouldn’t. Take. Long.

So yesterday I frogged the swatch, made a number of sequential about-faces on pattern stitch selection, and on a sudden whim cast on for a simple cowly thing using the Fan Lace from BGW-I.

It’s a pretty simple repeat, though it has a couple of minor annoying features – like the sequence of SSKs that I had totally forgotten about because, well – the last time I used this pattern I adapted it so heavily that the version I used ended up bearing little resemblance to the original; it is in fact the basis for the Top-Stitching Pattern in “Golden West,” and I swear I didn’t realize how extensively I had modified it then until I sat down last night confidently thinking, hey, I already pretty much know this anyway, so… wait a minute, where’d all those extra YOs and decreases come from, huh?

Anyway – now that I’ve reminded myself how the original worked, I will probably flip the direction of the whole thing so it uses k2togs instead of SSKs, making it that much quicker and more efficient to work. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Unlike the candidates I was seriously considering last week, this pattern doesmake the stitches work at angles to each other because of the distance between increases and decreases. I’ve decided I want that after all, not only because it’s flattering for the yarn and pretty in itself, but because it will give the piece a naturally wavy edge.

Besides, before I made the decision I had lost count of my cast-on, and when I counted up it turned out I happened to have 110 stitches; the pattern calls for a multiple of 11, so obviously it was meant to be.

So I re-familiarized myself with the pattern and began working it. Worked one full repeat. It was looking pretty nice. Then it hit me that I had completely neglected to work the 4-row garter stitch edge I’d planned on before starting the pattern.


I flirted briefly with the idea of leaving it as it was and coming back later, picking up stitches in the selvedge and working a retroactive garter border. Then I remembered the nature of handspun and madness and I laughed myself out of that idea but QUICK.

Frogged. Cast on again. Worked 4 rows in garter stitch. Started working in pattern.

Guess what.

You know that instruction we always laugh at? The one that says “Join, being careful not to twist”? And we look at it and think, sheesh, you gotta be a real clumsy clueless n00b to need to be told THAT.

The other day someone on Ravelry called me “The Mystic Poo of Smart.”

Well, I’m here to tell you… EVEN THE MYSTIC POO OF SMART needs to be told to be careful not to twist. Furthermore… the Mystic Poo of Smart would do well to heed that direction. And furthermore – even afterheeding that direction and paying close attention to that very thing? the Mystic Poo of Smart would do well not to get too cocky, lest she find herself tarred with the brush of Real Clumsy Clueless N00b.

Because I swear I was careful not to twist. I was.

And yet… behold me last night, well into round SIX of an undoubtedly TWISTED non-cylinder before I even noticed what I’d done.

(When is a cylinder not a cylinder? When it’s not a Moebius either, because doing this gives you a full twist, not a half-twist. Still, I submit that having Moebius on the brain has not tended to make my mental processes more straightforward, of late.)

Frogged. Cast on again. (This of course is why I still have the option of flipping the stitch pattern into reverse. Because I have to start it all over again anyway.)

And I gotta tell you… the Mystic Poo of Smart is now well and truly nervous about joining to work in the round.

Stay tuned.

Pygora Project Update:

On hold pending arrival of further supplies. Specifically, I’m waiting to see how well the additional pygora matches what I have already. Some of it is from the same fleece, but some is from the mother of the source of same, and I think it’s a little whiter. Which will be fine, but will mean I’ll probably want to think about making the colors blend as I go.

Tsock Flock Club Update:

Tsock #6 of 2008 has begun arriving at its respective destinations, and pretty soon I think I’ll be at liberty to do the reveal. At last!!!!! I’ve been sitting on this for a long, lo-o-o-o-o-o-ong time.

Also, Tsock #1 of 2009 (!) is well underway, but there too the M. P. of S. has had a bit of a comeuppance. The cool cute fun part is working out well, but the weird idea I had for the colorway…? was kind of a mistake. Or was kind of not communicated right. Or something. At any rate, I’ve knitted enough of it now to be able to confirm that poor Jennifer now gets to go back to the drawing board and try to re-channel her psychic link to the capricious mind of the designer.

On a cheerful note, though – the cool cute fun part includes a reappearance of our old friend the Flame Chevron in a whole different guise, and in a slightly kinky relationship with a sort of, well, pseudo-entrelac thing I think of as entrefake. And it really IS cool and cute and fun, so again… stay tuned.