Memory Lane

Most people do their year-in-review/year-to-come navel-gazing on or about January 1, don’t they. I suppose I do a little of that myself, what with that date being my official blogiversary and all. But for me the real change of seasons comes right now – as one TsockFlock Club year draws to a close and the next prepares to launch.

It’s been an amazing ride, this 2008 TsockFlock year. There was the late launch thanks to the Great (if by “great” you mean “scary-stupendous-boggling”) Yarn Drought of 2008; there was the big strategic game of catch-up – successful overall, to my relieved astonishment. Not that I didn’t think we could do it. But given all the circumstances, the massive changes we went through in the course of the year, I wasn’t 100% sure Jen and I would survive with our sanity intact. Heh. Yet here we are, all in one piece, with a year’s worth of Tsocky goodness under our belts, ready to up again and take another. (The sanity part? Let’s not go there.)

What a year. 2008 was the year in which Jen and family deflocked, sold the farm and moved to a new location and new business identity. 2008 was the year in which I became a spinner, or rather discovered that I was one. 2008 was the year in which we both hit critical mass on being a two-woman operation (and/or each hit critical mass on being a one-woman operation, as the case may be), the year in which our ranks were swelled by two, a host in themselves: Pixie for the Yarn Fairy, Tserf for the Tsarina. Oh happy day. How we ever functioned before that… I can dimly remember, but I’d rather not, thank you very much. 2008 was the year that saw us and our KALs nestled into our cozy niche on Ravelry, where we truly and riotously became a community and a family – again, I can dimly remember what life was like before that, but why would I want to?

Mostly, though, it’s been – if I do say so, and I do – one HELL of a fine year for Tsocks. Let’s review, shall we? Because… well, I’ve got my work cut out for me with the coming season, and right now I just kinda feel like basking a bit first, if I may. (And I may. I say so.)

Something of a baptism by fire(bird) for new club members, as he was worked on US #0 needles. The club rose nobly to the challenge, I might add, especially those bold souls who were new not only to the TsockFlock but to socks in general.

Something of a baptism by firebird for me, too, come to that – at any rate, during its development I found myself sporting a new and interesting kind of personal ornamentation.

The Shape of Things to Come

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?


And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?


What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp? 


When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?


Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake

TsockFlock Club 2009.

Think Pink

Well, we had meant to announce this on Valentine’s Day, but somehow Friday the 13th went into overtime for us Tsockistas, both here at Tsarskoe Tsocko and in the affiliated realm of the Yarn Fairy… but here and now, at last, it is my pleasure to announce that “Roxie” is – as it were – RELEASED at last!

She didn’t get any time off for good behavior, but she’s ready for you now. Boy, is she ready.

Go read more about her here.

More to the point, go buy her HERE.

Just make sure you lock up your guns first.

Imaginary Numbers

But first – before I delve into the mysteries of eleventy-tween and thirdo-grenfteenty – you might want to swing by Cassie’s blog and give her some last-minute birthday love. Go ahead – I’ll wait here. (Incidentally, that of course is who this was for, and she got it just in time for this nasty cold spell we’re having. Note to self: go hunt up FO pictures and post them soon.)

So anyway. I had hoped that tonight I would be doing the full reveal, and announcing the shipment, of “Fearful Symmetry.” But am I? For my sins – no. It won’t be long now, though. The pattern has been tested and the files are finished and uploaded – all except the re-compilation of the Techniques Book material, which I’ll finish tomorrow, effectively releasing me from the last of this spell of Pattern Purdah. And at Jen’s end? well, let me put it this way. Here’s what I have learned by experience about specifying hand-painted colorways: when we reach the stage where Jen calls me up and says, “OK, now listen up, you: the next Tsock you design had better be a polar bear in a blizzard,” you can be pretty sure that the worst is over and the home stretch in sight.

The chief hold-up at my end was, as so often happens, a numbers game. You know how they say you can’t see the forest for the trees? I seem to have had the opposite problem; the forest was beautifully and clearly visible, but individual trees kept sneaking out of position when I wasn’t looking. The sock worked. Everything about it worked. And it made sense on paper. But in one big crucial area the two didn’t actually… match. The knitting came out right. The directions reflected the chart; the chart, stitch for stitch, reflected everything I actually did. And yet the numbers refused to add up. I kept going back to Square One. I counted forward; I counted back. I counted up; I counted down. And every time I came to the same inevitable conclusion: there were stitches in the sock that were not present in the chart – and yet, and yet, and yet… nothing was actually missing from the chart!

Or… maybe it was the other way round. I swear, sometimes it seemed to be both at the same time.

I nailed it down at last, of course, and there was a fair amount of facepalm action after that, not to mention way too much continued puzzlement, because it turns out that there are some mental leaps I’m just not so good at making.

Here’s the culprit:

That is the generic symbol I use for charting multiple YOs – sometimes I stretch it way out like that and sometimes not, depending on context, but it’s always basically the same code-sign, and how you read it is determined in the chart key.

Sometimes it’s perfectly innocuous. In fact, there is one such instance in this tsock:

That’s Row 1 of the Pawprint chart, and for clarity’s sake I’ve also put in Row 2, which doesn’t ordinarily appear on the chart. See what happens here? There’s a triple YO in the first row, and it’s counterbalanced by a k2tog on one side and a left-leaning double-decrease on the other, so three stitches are eliminated and three stitches are added, and the seven-stitch count comes out even. (Well… as even as an odd number can get.) Which you can tell clearly from the seven neutral stitches of R2. (Ooops – that middle stitch should actually be purled. I’m too tired to go back to the drawing now; pretend I didn’t forget. It’s correct in the pattern, I promise.)

But what happens when the stitch count doesn’t stay even?

That’s when you encounter the Catch-22 of charting.

The Holy Grail of the knitting chart is to achieve a graphical representation of the pattern that simultaneously conveys clear and accurate instructions AND actually looks like the finished design. The problem is that occasionally these goals are at cross-purposes. Take, for instance, the Tiger’s face.

Yeah, the Tiger does have a face, and said face is loosely based on an old traditional knitting pattern – Tiger Eye lace, as seen in one of my favorite go-to sources, BGW II. The original repeats vertically, stacking one tiger face on top of another. I only wanted one face, so I broke out an individual instance and made some alterations to its contours, giving it more height and a narrower nose and some shaping on the top of the head, but retaining its salient feature: an eye(let) composed of a quadruple YO.

That quadruple YO blithely throws the whole count out of whack. There are no counterbalancing decreases in the same row; instead the stitch count is gradually restored over the course of the next 8 rows, through the judicious use of double decreases. So on top of the quadruple eyelet are four new stitches that simply were not there before.

There is no one right way to chart that.

Here is my first chart of the original pattern stitch, as written (but with a couple of repeats added):

The good news is that every stitch is present and accounted for. The bad news is that the addition of eight stitches in one spot throws the contours out of whack. So this method of charting meets one of the goals: it communicates the instructions needed to work the pattern. But does it look like the knitted picture? Nuh-uh. FAIL. It looks way out of whack, and not just any old kind of out-of-whack either, but an out-of-whack-ness that negates the strongest visual feature of the pattern at that point, the double vertical lines at the edges. If you have great faith in the power of the symbol on the page, knitting from this chart will give you the correct sequence of stitches in the right places. But what you are knitting does not look much like what you are knitting from. That’s disconcerting for a lot of people, and it defeats part of the purpose of charting. It’s Not. Good. Enough.

Enter Approach #2:

Believe it or not, this is almost the same chart. Not exactly, because at this point I was beginning to experiment with alterations – for instance, this version adds only two stitches per eye instead of four. But close enough.

So what’s going on here? Basically the same thing, except that I’ve used the X symbol for “no stitch” to pad out the places that were distorted in the previous chart, with the result that the contour of the chart is a lot more similar to the contour of the knitted pattern.

I hate it.

It’s a great example of X Abuse. “No stitch” can be a really handy little device, but there has got to be some sort of threshold for its use. I can’t tell you the exact formula for how many X’s are too many – but I can certainly tell you that in my opinion this chart violates it left, right and center. It sort of meets the second charting goal in that it does resemble the knitted shape, and it meets part of the first in that it does communicate the sequence of stitches. But is it clear? Sure, if by “clear” you mean “impenetrable as pea soup.”

Ugly. Bad. Confusing. Sloppy. And otherwise no good.

Here’s a fragment of another attempt, reflecting part of a different set of modifications to the pattern itself (the four YOs are restored but we’re down to a single instance instead of a stack):

Urg. At least this does roughly follow the shape of the knitted pattern… but half of those stitches don’t exist! And those non-existent stitches shove the vertical lines way out of true with the jawline. A great big waste of space, if you ask me. (And you didn’t, but I’m telling you anyway.)

There is a solution, and it too is something I learned from Barbara Walker – she uses it in some of the embossed figures in her Charted Knitting Designs (I think this is now published as #3 in the Treasury series, or is it #4? I can never remember), and I’ve used it myself on a small scale in the grapes pattern for Vintage. It goes something like this:

This works. It looks like the knitting (see the neat confluence of the vertical and diagonal lines?) AND it conveys the information, and it isn’t cluttered with nasty non-existent X stitches.

But… it still isn’t right. Because there should actually be TWO knit stitches on either side of the multiple YO. I’m sorry, I’ve just realized that in the course of many edits I destroyed part of the evidence of this stage of the proceedings, and I’m not sure I can reconstruct it exactly, so what you’re looking at now doesn’t perfectly reflect the dilemma as I experienced it. Suffice it to say that just when I thought I had finally arrived at the solution to the problem… that was when I began to doubt my ability to count higher than 10 even if I took off my socks. Because no matter what I did, at this point, I still had to distort the chart slightly for that one extra stitch, and then when I did so I just couldn’t make the number of stitches in the chart agree with the number of stitches in the sock.

It’s obvious, right? It’s screamingly, glaringly obvious? and the only dunce who couldn’t see it was the one staring right at it, counting and counting and re-counting, for all those hours? the one who kept being thrown off by the fact that for charting purposes a double decrease is the same width as a single decrease, even though it eats up more yarn real estate; the one who kept trying to figure out whether a quadruple decrease is ONE stitch or FOUR stitches or neither or both; the one not listening when reason whispered, “Step AWAY from the chart and stop obsessing over it for a while.”

Or maybe it’s only obvious to me now that I’ve figured it out. I just don’t know any more.

Anyway, it’s here. This…

… should actually be this:

– and the reason it is right and necessary is that even after you shrink this…

…down to this…

you have to deal with the fact that even though you’re no longer showing all four stitches of the increase you have still ADDED ONE stitch to the overall displacement of the charted row. The “2″ in the increase row is the only way to show that without blowing the contour of the figure.

It’s a funny thing, but somehow it gets a whole lot easier to see which way you’re going when you finally stop chasing your own tail. (The Tiger has one of those, too.)

And when you realize that occasionally even Real numbers can be more imaginary than integer. I’m here to tell you, sometimes four really IS equal to triggo-threenty.

At least, for really really really high values of four.

Flying Tiger

No more teasers. This is for real.

“Fearful Symmetry,” Tsock #1 for 2009, has shipped, and mail carrier stalking can officially commence.

I was exposed to, or rather immersed in, Blake at a very early age; I could spout this poem and a couple of the Songs of Innocence long before I had any idea what I was talking about. Almost as soon as I could talk at all, in fact. Apparently it stayed with me; this isn’t the first time that echoes of Fearful Symmetry have surfaced in my life, nor the first tigerish form they’ve taken.

It’s funny how an idea will take hold and keep changing shape over time. The tsock I ended up making is a longish way, via not exactly linear progression, from the tsock I first envisioned a couple of years ago, though it’s still true to those roots. It’s still based on my grey tiger cat Ptolemy; it still begins and ends with literal flames.

(Incidentally, it hasn’t escaped my attention that this is the second season in a row to start toe-up with a fiery stitch pattern in a fiery color. Is this going to be a tradition? Y’got me. Tune in a year from now to find out.)

As you saw the other day, the flames this time are our old friend the Flame Chevron, scaled down and tightened for snug sock fit.

They engulf most of the foot…

… and then when they reach the instep they end up being partially bound off in pattern, so you can work this Clever Transition in pseudo-entrelac…

… until the Tiger, Tiger rises from the flames. (I’m apparently swimming somewhere between the literal and the surreal, here – channeling an inner Hieronymus Bosch I never knew I had, though I probably should have suspected it.)

What I love about this transition, and the reason I keep twisting my arm to pat myself on the back and call it Clever, is that the angled stitches create ease for the instep without a lot of extra increases or pseudo-gusseting. Well… that and the fact that I really like the way it looks.

You’ve already seen the Tiger’s face –

– which appears on the front of the sock. What’s on the back?

His tail.

Of course.

His pawprints…

… appear here, there, and everywhere – there’s some Knitter’s Choice in their placement relative to the path of the tail, which is also pretty much open to interpretation and characterization. Because you never know, with cats.

In another display of fearful symmetry, the flames reappear…

…at the upper edge of the ankle; this Tiger burns bright at both ends.

P.S. Hey, Marcy… NAO!

Inching Along – I

Sigh. So close, and yet so far.

The picture was taken after I’d unintentionally undone said knot, scattering beads in all directions. Actually – I can’t be entirely sure the knot was not of my own making. I was using a small remnant ball of black laceweight that was a by-product of the not-perfectly-smooth process of skeining and winding the original batch (and yes, Jennifer, I am taking that into account in my yardage tally). I don’t think I would have tied the two pieces together like that, but all these months later I can’t absolutely swear I didn’t.

Sigh. One more set of ends to weave in.

And in other news –

Inching Along – II

Yesterday I tackled the leaf edging on the shawl. This should look slightly familiar:

I don’t want to knit this – I want to wear it around my neck.

I know at one point I had a lot of high-falutin’ ideas about fancy edgings here; but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that the edging itself should be of the simplest, allowing the scalloping on the side to do the lion’s share of the shaping. I wanted slightly more depth than I used at the top, though. So – Arianne/Emilie, your wish is granted after all, because the eyelets that were overkill for the top edge turned out to be pretty much what the doctor ordered for the side.

Looks like I got a little out of alignment toward the end – on the last three reps I managed to position the phallic dagger-bead cluster off-center on the scallop (you can only actually see one of these in the picture, at lower left). It was kinda late. If there’s time I will adjust this, but it isn’t high on the priority list at the moment – these beaded picots, especially in 2/24, are no fun to tink; and I’m thinking it won’t be very noticeable once the piece is draped. But we shall see. If it keeps me awake nights – and it well may – then fix it I shall. After all the other components are finished, that is.

Eyelets in close-up:

(Entomological appearance of pinned-out lace eliminated through the miracle of PhotoShop, so nyah nyah nyah)

So that’s the rightmost leaf-edge done.

And now, speaking of leaves – for those of you who evidently have not completed the Mind-Reading 101 course requirement (what? you’re not all following the tortuous path of my obsessions every picayune step of the way? I am shocked – shocked I say), yesterday’s leaves in context. I wasn’t going to show this just yet, because some of these are not the real colors for this version of the sock (hoping to see the remaining ones in the mail tomorrow or next day ptui ptui ptui I spit through my fingers I shouldn’t jinx it), but some explanation is required, and I ain’t got time for no 1,000 words. So here’s a mockup:

The leaves are just dummied into place now, but when I have the colors all sorted the stem-tails of the upper layer will probably become integral to the bind-off of the cuff.

(You really don’t get the sculptural effect of the grapes from this picture. Must shoot this in daylight without flash. Will do so, when sock finished, and will then show and tell some details of construction and fit.)

Again… we shall see.

Off to string more beads.

Oh – almost forgot to mention – I see we’re teetering on the verge of a blog milestone: 1,000 comments. Somebody will get something nice when that happens. Dunno what yet, but with Rh*n*b*ck in the offing the possibilities are just about endless. BTW I managed to let another milestone whiz by without celebration: 10,000 spams trapped. I do in fact have a tribute of sorts planned for that one, but by the time I get around to it, at this rate, it will probably reach a whole ‘nother round number. Nobody will be getting anything nice on that occasion (though Akismet sure deserves a medal!).

Inching Along – III: More of the Same

More Kitri Shawl Leaf Edging

That’s it for edging, for now; must complete insertion and bottom edge before any more beading or finishing can take place.

More Entomological Specimens

The four on the right are done in a shade that’s a hair darker than the lightest color shown yesterday (as seen here at the top of this picture). Much experimenting and fiddling with leaf color balances for the three different Vintage colorways. For the Claret version I’m still awaiting a deeper, more primary green; for the white wine version a couple of warmer tan-browns. With the blessing, Jennifer will be overnighting these to me today, after which… you’ll be seeing still MORE leaves.

I’m starting to have a nice little pile:

Makes me want to jump right in.

BTW, note that some of these are posing purl-side-up. Being stockinette, they will naturally tend to curl. The entomological blocking is not intended so much to counteract that as to coax the points into their proper shape and relationship – in the long run the curling is going to be a normal part of how the leaves hang. Kind of like… real autumn leaves, y’know? I need to do some controlled “de-blocking” here, to make sure it’s going to work the way I think it is; but it’s possible, curl-wise, that the best look for these is going to be purl-side-out.

Oh, and a reminder for those who were wondering: “Vintage” is not a club sock. It is going to be a free-range standalone kit, available to the too-long-neglected public in three colorways: Claret, Pinot and Chablis; it joins the light and dark versions of “Oktoberfest” in our Open Bar line of Potable Socks. (You didn’t know we had such a line? Neither did I. It “just growed,” and now I’m envisioning various cocktail possibilities to round it out. To be thought about after Rh*n*b*ck….)

More Invisible Stuff

Continuing, but unphotographed and unphotogenic:

  • Pattern Writing
  • Pattern Printing
  • Pattern Assembly

In general bloggy/Rh*n*b*ck-y news, I’ve been meaning to mention that Jennifer and I are both Squares in this year’s Blogger Bingo, and that we are also contributing some of the prizes.

And in Blog Milestone News, I’m delighted to announce that the 1,000th comment was left yesterday by Cathy-Cate. Cathy, as soon as I get out from under I’ll be sending you a little something to beguile your convalescence…

Inching Along – IV: Allied Forces

Shaping up, I think:

Seeing it laid out like this, I got a little nervous about the proportions, so since taking that picture I’ve done another couple inches of fagotting. If I had a lot of time on my hands were a Really Good Person I would probably be doing some big broad curvy shaping at the bottom; as it is I think I’m going to let a little trick blocking solve the problem for me. Got just past the insertion last night and am now going to do a few more rows of fagotting under that and then… bind off. Oh frabjous day. I’m leaning now toward continuing the slightly heavier edging down the sides of the fagotting section after all; partly because I feel it will make for a better visual balance, but mostly because of weight distribution (it will still be fairly straight, following the existing contour of the edge, but I’m thinking I want the dagger beads for ballast). We’ll know soon – almost soon enough.

Meanwhile, as the deadline looms closer and the days get chillier, I wanted to assure you that my expert staff is rallying round me and contributing its share to the great work.

It’s snuggling weather.

Weird Science

This ever happen to you?

You have something to write, and you’ve worked it all out in your head: what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it and why – the points to be made, the aspects to be emphasized, the piquant touch of irony here, the illustrative anecdote there, the tiny quaint dADa-ist non-sequitur somewhere near the end where it won’t even be noticed at first but will come back to mind later like a lurking aftertaste. If you’re like me you may even plan a few “unscheduled” digressions to sweeten the pot and broaden the relevance. You can hear the style and syntax and phrasing and rhythm in your head and you’re full of steam.

You sit down to write and you’re going great guns, all of it just rolling smoothly off your fingertips and falling beautifully into place. It feels right. You know it’s good.

And you’re well into the fifth paragraph before it dawns on you that what you’ve written – right and good though it still may be – is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from what you planned and crafted.

Mind you, I’m not talking about black toner turning magenta here. You read it back and yes, it’s good and it turns out to be something you really wanted to say, something almost certainly more relevant and immediate than what you expected to say – it’s just… not what you expected to say.

Not your Regularly Scheduled Programming.

Somehow your hands, or whatever it was that did this, knew better than your conscious mind.

(I remember in my programming days – speaking of Regularly Scheduled Programming – we used to joke about writing the perfect two-line function:

all bugs off;
do what I’m thinking;

Yeah, kind of like that, except… thinking?)

Well, that’s what happened to me the other night with the shawl.

I had reached the point where I needed to start the insertion, and I had the whole strategy worked out and I knew exactly how I was going to knit it. I needed to make a series of large eyelets, spaced at regular intervals in a garter ground, for threading the cord or ribbon that I’m going to use to gather the bottom of the fan. So I did some garter stitch, and then I set out to do a series of double-YO eyelets in the appointed locations.

I was knitting merrily along and was maybe 1/3 of the way through the row before it struck me that I had done a major self-correction without any conscious intent. At some level it had registered that a double-YO eyelet calls for an even-numbered stitch pattern – i.e. one where the center-point falls between two stitches rather than on a single stitch – and that what I needed was a hole that would center itself on an odd pattern. So without thinking about it at all, or at any rate without realizing I’d thought about it, I had changed my approach and, instead of trying to squeeze in the double-YO where it couldn’t go, I’d been binding off three stitches over each centered point, to be counterbalanced by three cast-on stitches in the next row.

You shoulda seen my face. Running on auto-pilot is one thing when you’re working no-brainer stuff like ribbing or straight stockinette; but making big strategic course corrections to accommodate the laws of mathematics and physics – well, that’s something you kind of expect to be aware of when you’re doing it. No?

It was, of course, totally the right thing to do. I’m grateful that some part of me figured that out and did it, incidentally sparing me the whole Learning-the-Hard-Way stage of the process; but it felt a little weird to discover after the fact that that part of me hadn’t bothered to notify the rest of me.

Kind of makes me wonder what other twilight-zone shenanigans I may have been getting up to without realizing it….

Which brings me to a twilight-zone shenanigan that I’m pretty sure I’m not responsible for. I can’t tell you all the details right now, because it concerns a Semi-Stealth Project. But… well… I woke up this morning to discover that a member of my staff apparently has a weakness for… cork. (Also apparently possesses a surprising degree of tenacity and skill: whoever it was extracted the articles in question from my knitting bag without – luckily for him and for me – compromising the knitting and needles that were closely intertwined with them.) So somebody is in the doghouse. That is – I think it’s the doghouse. I don’t have a positive ID yet; the slim circumstantial evidence visible at the scene of the crime was highly suggestive but not actually conclusive.

I imagine I’ll be… harvesting…? further data when the time comes to take an afternoon walk – though given the nature of the missing evidence itself I can see where it might create, er, an obstacle to further investigation. So it might be pretty late in the day before any new developments… um… emerge. Just keep an ear peeled – and if you hear a loud POP from this direction… DUCK!