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.