Friday, September 29, 2006

Miles to go

Miles to go 1
The shawl is lovely, dark and deep / But I have promises to keep

Miles to go 2
And miles to go before I sleep / And miles to go before I sleep.

I'm "almost done" with the Pacific Northwest shawl! It's coming off the needles, slowly. As you can see, I have two shells of the border done; they get added to the stitches on the circular needle as I work across the shells. There are 12 more to go till the center point shell, then 14 on the other side... ("this will take forever!" I keep thinking). It needs to be done by Monday, as the recipient arrives then!

I might get very little schoolwork done this weekend. Blah. But this shawl will be done. "I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Queen of the pie

Ever since I mentioned this weekend that some of the apples might become a pie, Coffeeboy's been asking me when the apples might spontaneously jump into a tasty pastry shell.

They made that transformation this afternoon, with a little bit of help from yours truly on the crust* and filling, and a lot of help from Coffeeboy on peeling and slicing up the apples. Yes, there's a picture down there, but first I have to tell you about when I was crowned Queen of the Pie.

Several years ago, when I still lived in Boston, some friends invited me to a "pie party." Everyone was supposed to bring a pie; I brought pecan. Several partygoers selected themselves to be judges, and they tasked savory pies, sweet pies, super easy pies made of whipped cream and a store-bought crust, pun pies (there has to be at least one pie in the shape of the number "pi," doesn't there!) Entertainment was provided by a little bluegrass band from school, who called themselves the Jeremiads.

After the judging and feasting, the organizers announced the winners. They came up with some amusing "prizes:" the "pie that looks and tastes the most like toothpaste" for a grasshopper pie, the "pie with the least stability," the "pie most likely to cause death by chocolate," the "best pun pi"... and then they announced Best Overall Pie.

I won! I was the Pie Queen! My homemade pecan pie was the winning pie of the evening!

Now, I'm usually a pretty quiet person. The requirements of winning were to wear a crown made of tinfoil and to act queenly. The entire gathering sang a song (with the help of the Jeremiads): "She's the pie queen, the queen of the pie! She's the pie queen, the queen of the pie!"

As they sang this (rather badly and languorously... come on, where were my trumpets!) I walked around the room, waving my hand a la Princess Di, shaking people's hands and thanking them for their support and generally trying to ham it up as much as possible. Because really, how often does one have an entire party singing to you when it's not your birthday? How often can a shy person feel completely authorized to act as strangely as possible in front of a crowd? Not that often, at least for me... and it was a ton of fun.

The next year the same friends had another pie party... and I won again! This time with a butternut squash tart.

So you see, every time I make a pie, I have a reputation to maintain.

Easy as apple pie
Slab of sharp cheddar cheese with that? Vanilla ice cream?

The pie needs to cool and then we'll see if I'm crowned again. Since the judge is none other than (the rather biased) Coffeeboy, I have little doubt this will be hailed as another triumph!

*Update: a word on pie crust, in answer to Danielle'squery:
I follow the Joy of Cooking recipe for Flaky Pastry I, as of the edition that was out in 2000. Basically, I've found that if I take them seriously with the instructions, it comes out much better! This means: cut the shortening (of whatever variety) to pretty small pieces; I usually go smaller than pea-size. Do use cold water. Do cut the water in to the shortening/flour mix using a spatula. Do let the dough cool in the fridge before rolling. I used to not do things quite like this but usually... though not always... when I do, there's less patching. And finally, most importantly, even if I need to use ice water to patch it up like the California ground after an earthquake, it always tastes good no matter what, because there's nothing like a homemade crust and the tongue has no knowledge of patches!

Sunday, September 24, 2006


There are some incredibly generous people in this world. For example, this sock yarn surprise arrived in the mail yesterday:

Sock yarn surprise
A package of beautiful sock yarn!

Last week, I mentioned that I needed solid sock yarn; in response, Julia at Knitting History packed up this sock yarn suprise package for me! That's two balls of black, one of burgundy, two of red, two of navy, and two of purple! Wow! I am now more than set for Socktoberfest and beyond! Thank you so much, Julia! You are truly one of those amazingly kind people who make the world - knitblogging and otherwise - go 'round. (For those not in the know, she's been doing some destashing lately, with many blog contests offering yarn, knitting books, you name it. Want to knit for the menfolk? There's yet
another contest ending Monday
.) I feel I'm accumulating many debts, large and small. I only hope one day I can repay them!

Apple picking revealed a similar abundance; we came home with sixteen pounds of apples, most of them Macintoshes as that's what the local farm had still on the trees. (The Fujis, which are some of my favorites, were pretty picked over, or had already fallen to the ground in preparation for becoming ground apple sauce.) Coffeeboy and I have been scheming on what to do with all of them: applesauce? Pie? Apple cake? This morning's solution? Pan-fried apples with brown sugar and cinnamon (served over challah French toast, no less!) This afternoon, we had a small snack of apples with slices of cheddar cheese, a tasty combination.

16 lbs of apples

Even though today is a little warmer than it has been (high 70s), the wind is blowing in the trees outside, blowing with that characteristic crackly shushing sound it gets as fall approaches. I wonder if the wind sounds different in different seasons depending on the shape, size, and water content of the leaves? They've definitely started to turn, with a falling yellow leaf here, a red branch there. My drive to school runs along an old state road, past farms and under the branches of trees. It's always pretty, but no more so than in the height of spring and fall. Right now it's still green, but with that fading green of late summer, not the lush, vibrant green of midsummer foliage. In a few weeks, my daily drive is sure to be strewn with golden colors, and that is what I wait for eagerly, every summer. You can bet you'll hear from me again on the foliage, hopefully soon with pictures!

Friday, September 22, 2006


First of all, I passed my first general exam! Yay! One officially down and boy am I glad I don't have to do it over again. Not that I was really worried, but if I didn't have the occasional nonsensicalfear that I wouldn't pass, then I'd hardly be an academic, now, would I?

I also don't think I failed spinning class. The fibers are twisting, and that's all about all I need to start with, right? I certainly have a lot to learn about drafting and not over-twisting and many things I've never heard of, but with so much encouragement and enabling out here in blogland, I'm probably going to keep working at it.

Here I am (dressed for cold, wet day that ended sunny and warm) trying to figure out how to hold the roving, how much to hold, where to hold it, why I'm holding it sideways instead of up and down: in other words, all the oddities that come with learning new movements.

Newbie spinning

I wasn't sure I wanted to reveal my extreme beginner's "yarn" to the world, but then I discovered that when you set the camera on macro and have the CD part of this little CD+dowel spindle as background, you get a interesting picture, regardless of the quality of the yarn found therein.

Beginner's yarn
(Rather neat, isn't it!)

To those of you celebrating the Jewish New Year, L'shana Tovah (Happy New Year!), and to the rest, have a wonderful weekend! it's traditional to celebrate the new year by dipping apples in honey, so Coffeeboy and I are going to celebrate by going apple picking. (Chances are, some of those apples might not-so-spontaneously jump into a pie in the near future, too.) I hear a rumor that the Coffeeboy is at home making some challah, too, which will be a wonderful treat for this weekend! I hope to somehow find time for all this plus plenty of knitting and equally plenty of reading.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Week-and-a-half socks!

They're done! Actually, I finished them this past Friday, but only took the pictures yesterday. And yes, you've seen them before... making this an obligatory FO post.

Fleece Artist Autumn socks

Pattern: short row heel, wedge toe. Cuff motif comes from the Traveler's Stocking in Knitting on the Road.
Yarn: Fleece Artist Merino in the colorway "Autumn"
Needles: size 0, dpns and magic loop
Time: a week and a half!
Thoughts: Hmm. despite my intention of doing a short-row toe, I decided the wedge works well enough, so I went with that and all is well. The short row heel feels OK, except that it seems to cause the stitches to stretch a lot over the top of my foot. I'm not sure what to do about that. It's also interesting that the short row heel leaves a shorter sock than the heel flap, by about an inch. Next, I think the stranger looking short rows, on the left in my previous post, were on the purl rows; I must be doing something odd with how I pick up the stitches. Finally, the Fleece Artist yarn is really pretty. The pooling was slightly unexpected, but I think it's all right. The stranger thing was that the dye didn't always appear to go all the way through the yarn, but that might have just been where the colors changed.

tree motif
Close up of the "tree" motif

Not to mention, I now have cute new shoes to aid in the showing off wearing of my socks! (It was really hard to find these in my size. Even was sold out of size 5 and I had to explore other options - oh no! Luckily, though, they fit well, with and without handknit socks!)

Fleece Artist Autumn

These might be my last socks until Socktoberfest, as I need to finish up a certain shawl by the beginning of October, and that's taking up pretty much all my knitting time. Until then, I'm dreaming up Socktoberfest projects and feeling a lack of solid-colored sock yarn. Any suggestions?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A festival of sheep

This weekend, I went to the Garden State Sheep and Fiber Festival, in Ringoes, NJ. This area truly gives the Garden State its name: rolling farms, horses, little country roads. If all you've seen is Newark or Trenton, etc, you wouldn't believe me, but it's there, a small remaining slice of garden.

Judging sheep Woolly baah

The festival was quite small - three barns with lots of extra space to expand. Only one had yarn vendors, and even those seemed pretty far between. The second barn held sheep. Many, many sheep! Sheep baah-ing their loud, happy baahs! And the third barn held a few alpacas, plus some pigs, ducks, rabbits, and a single turkey (for good measure.)

Among the sheep, most impressive (if I can say that about at sheep!) were these fellows (below), possessing no fewer than four horns - and the announcer even said that these sheep from the ancient Near East could have as many as six horns! Where would you put the sixth?!

Too many horns!

Finally, I took a spinning class! Yay! I had imagined the movements entirely incorrectly! Who knew that you actually spin the yarn by dangling the spindle? We were given high whorl spindles made of two CDs and a dowel. Jessica caught me in action, as she was conveniently sitting behind me, but I don't have the image yet, so I'll save more on the spinning for another post. Instead, I'll just say that my cats were quite entertained by the wool the class provided.

Woolly Juniper

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Knitpicks needles and the magic loop

On Tuesday, something exciting happened. I received two new Knitpicks needles in the mail! A size 0 and a size 1, 32" long circular. I've wanted to try magic loop for a while, now; I simply lacked the needles. After some debate, I decided to try out the new Knitpicks line...

magic loop 1

and I like them! A word of warning before I offer my thoughts, though. I'm not exactly what you'd call a needle connoisseur. Most of my circs and DPNs are made of bamboo; I have a couple Addi Turbos which I like for certain things. This lack of connoisseurship is as much due to lack of purchasing power as to desire to spend money on yarn rather than needles as well as an "if it seems to work, use it. If it doesn't, try something else."

I like DPNs well enough for socks, but when I'm sitting by a table, the DPNs tend to bonk against me or the table, which gets annoying. I had a hunch that the Magic Loop would be less cumbersome in this regard, so I went with the "try something else" option.

Thus far, these needles are light, the cord is very flexible (a plus for magic loop, as near as I can tell), slippery but not too slippery. They are pointy to the point of being dangerous, and my thumbs and forefingers might develop a callus or two. We'll see. The join seems fine, but since I'm not quite knitting circularly, I can't quite comment. As a novice magic looper, the join seems to be just fine for those purposes. Finally, the 32" cord length works for magic loop. I've read that longer is better, and that's probably true, but this is the longest length so far, so I'll work with that. And it works! A rather low-key review in comparison to some, but the long and short is that the needles get two thumbs up!

I can't help but ask, a la Was this "review" helpful to you?

magic loop 2

This week was the first real, full week of school for me, so I'm pretty tired. Meeting new people, going to class (yes, I'm in a class after all, as we're reading second exam books), going to meetings, chit-chating, figuring out how to stay on the right sides of the different personalities that make up academia... it's exhausting. So I will save further magic loop reflections for later. My FIL is in town this weekend, and there's a small fiber festival on Saturday. Not to mention it seems that every-other grad student I know is hosting a party on this same busy weekend! Life is suddenly, very suddenly, crazy again. Last but not least, I've signed up for Socktoberfest!

Monday, September 11, 2006

A short exploration of rows

Since last Wednesday, I have completed this:

1/2 Fleece Artist sock.JPG

A short-row heel, top-down! Which wasn't that hard, minus the wraps, but I'll get to that later. I've been knitting this sock pretty fast, since I can work on it while I read. I'll have to take another picture when it's not cloudy out, as the cloudy day - despite the natural light - really doesn't do the colors justice. I'm pretty much into the groove for studying for my second exam, though I think I'm a little calmer about it this time. I haven't, for example, been dreaming about the topic of whatever books I happen to be focusing on in a particular week. What a nice relief!

You might wonder about the little wooden smiley face. It's a back-rubbing device, and darned effective, too! My shoulders had been hurting much of last week, and Advil wasn't helping, heat wasn't helping; the only thing which has made a significant dent in the back pain has been that little guy right there. Highly recommended.

But now, on to the short rows. One of these things is NOT like the other.

short row heel 1.JPG short row heel 2.JPG

These are images of the two sides of my short-row heel. The short rows look nothing alike. What's up with that? Did I wrap wrong? Pick up the wraps wrong? Turn wrong? (OK, so I doubt that last one.) I wasn't following any specific method of wrapping, just around and around until it was wrapped. As for picking up the wraps, I slipped the unworked stitch to the right needle and then slid the left needle under the wraps, and then I slid the stitch back to the left needle and knitted or purled together. And I got consistent results on both sides, obviously.

So far - and I've worked well past there already - it seems that the short row fits my heel nicely. (I do like the traditional look of the heel flap, though, so maybe I can work on getting it to fit more snugly). Nonetheless, I will probably try a few more short row heels, which means I'd like to clean up the short rows, if the fit still feels nice once the sock is done, on my foot, and in a shoe. Any suggestions?

It's kind of a relief to write in a straightforward manner!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Being the measurement of stockings

If the following obfuscations befuddle, bring yourself here, where perplexity turns to precision.

Imitation is the truest form of flattery, they say? I think not. In this case, imitation is the truest form of inanity, a crazy allusion to a bizarrely simple movie title. Surely it can’t be "socks on a scale," surely it must be more than that!

No, no, no, it must be more like this: "stockings on a device that measures how much weight a thing has when it's attached to the lower extremity of the limbs with which one walks!" Can you not hear the susurrations of the crowds, asserting the indignity of such a puerile designation as "socks on a scale?" How quotidian!

Certainly the artistic genius of such a production requires a greater appellation than such simple words would permit. Certainly the promoters of this presentation are aware that such a lack of verbosity, such a single-minded devotion to literary simplicity as conveyed by the title "socks on a scale," will never attract the attention of the masses to this magnificent enterprise! Without a doubt, the average viewer of such a phenomenon will eschew to have her presence recorded at this fabrication, unless it employs a more resourceful use of the English language!

No, my fair friends, we will not disappoint, and without further ado, I present to you the grand appearance of…

"Socks on a Scale! Being the measurement of stockings on a device which determines the degree to which one may, or may not, be heavier than the other, in which it is found that indeed, one set of stockings does possess greater heaviness than its partner, to whom we must assign, after all, significantly less substance"

Shocking in appearance, delightful in visage, stunning in complexity! The wonders revealed by these devices will astound and delight all ages! For one pair of stockings does not possess the same heaviness as the other! Why is this! Could it be that the curvaceous curlicues of intertwining cables cause the creation of increased substance? Could it be that the comparatively smooth, silken surface (though still composed of wool and nylon) of the rightmost sock nonetheless lacks the bulk, the substance, the sheer compilation of yarn as its leftwards neighbor? I must confess that this, indeed and without a doubt, appears to be the appropriate conclusion.

Stay tuned for "Socks on a Scale II, being the measurement of each sock, to determine whether or not that designated for one foot weighs more or less than its mate which has been designated for the other foot, in which it shall be admitted that this goal is not ideal, and that the perfect outcome would result in socks of very nearly the same weight..." Coming soon to a blog post near you!

With that, I bid you a fantastic fibery weekend!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Crafty weekend

As I said, I made a tote bag this weekend. Actually, two. I made the first one kind of on a whim Saturday evening. You see, we were vacuuming the study Saturday morning, and I had several varieties of knitting bags lying around: a big canvas bag, my eBay purchase from June, my backpack, a freezer bag for carrying socks to school... you know. I suppose I hadn't put any of them away because they all served a potential purpose. So while I was fiddling with knitted sock toes, the back of my mind schemed over bags. Including a break for dinner, I went into the blue room/guest room/no cats room/fiber storage room and emerged later that night with this:

Knitting Bag outside Knitting Bag Inside

My very own homemade knitting tote bag! And a vast improvement over the one I made a few years back when I first got my sewing machine (wobbly stitches, white thread 'cuz it's all I had, ragged edges and open seams... you know). This one only has two ragged edges, there by the handles where the fabric became just too thick. (Not quite sure what to do about that.) I still need to add on some kind of closure (as the cats' recent discovery of how to pull yarn out of the bag revealed - ugh), but otherwise it's done.

My first homemade knitting bag had a nice long pocket to hold straight needles, specifically placed so the needles stuck out of the bag and looked oh-so-knitterly. Now, I just made two big pockets for various knitterly gadgets, and two smaller pockets for pencils and DPNS. Circs can be loose or in the big pockets, I figure. But there's no designated space in that bag for straights. Not anymore. ("Ow," says the wrist!)

On Sunday, the weather improved substantially after Saturday's rain, and Coffeeboy and I took a nice walk on an old canal towpath. The weather was perfect and there were even hints of fall leaves glistening in the foliage above. I had grand plans to do work that evening, but really, I was quite excited that it had only taken me an evening to make a tote bag. So I made another. A smaller one, a little one-skein (ahem, ... sock) project bag.

Small project bag outside

The Fleece Artist "Autumn" sock would like you to know that this home is a vast improvement over what was expected... a clear plastic freezer bag. "Bletch!" says the sock! "This is much nicer!"

Small project bag inside

Meanwhile, the new Small Project Bag eyes that old plastic bag with disdain, thinking, "You *used* to carry socks to school! Well, now the socks get to ride to school in me! I am a homemade pretty green and blue bag! I don't even have any loose seams! I can be slung over Lazuli's shoulder or tied 'round a chair! I can carry her ID card and some cash to the coffee shop if she needs to run out for some coffee, doesn't have pockets, and doesn't want to find alternative methods of carrying her cash! I have a snap so that I can hold a ball of yarn while she knits! I hold DPNs! I have a pretty blue lining!" Yes, yes, we hear you on the blue lining.

Little green there has a bit of an attitude, doesn't she. She's pretty pleased with herself, but then, I'm pretty pleased too as the bags came out much better and were made much faster than I expected. It was great to have such a crazy crafty weekend!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A journey begins with a single toe

I've learned how to start socks from the toes! I'm even reasonably pleased with the results. I have photos to prove it, too. Then why, oh why, am I digging in my heels with starting a toe-up sock? What follows are my realizations in a journey that began with a single toe... well, that and a desire to do right by a pretty yarn.

1. Gathering Data
First I did a short-row toe, using a really screwed-up provisional cast-on because I my attempts at a crochet chain weren't unzipping right. I also foolishly used my nice yarn, unaware that that was only the first toe of the weekend.

Short row toe 1.1 Short row toe 1.2

I liked the fit, but my short rows were a lumpy disaster with some wraps not picked up and holes everywhere. Actually, I really liked the fit. But the short rows looked rather wretched, so I decided to try Knitty's magic cast-on. Oy. I can see why people do this one with circulars. The DPN version, for a while in there, was just as messy as it looks in the article's picture, only more so since the leftover Trekking yarn made it rather difficult to see what I was doing.

Magic cast-on 1 Magic cast-on 2

The fit was, well, fine. The look... meh. It's probably more due to my technique - and to throwing in an extra row of plain stockinette before starting the increases, which was partly oversight and partly due to the tightness of the magic cast-on at its beginning. Yet they look pretty much like my cuff-down wedge toes. Not terribly interesting for the DPN hassle.

I decided to try short rows again, this time with a more substantial yarn and a working provisional crochet chain, a la Wendy's pattern on Knitty. After a lot of fiddling, I figured it out, and made another sock toe, this time with wraps slightly nicer than the first.

Short row toe 2.1 Short row toe 2.2

The fit, like the other short row toe, was very nice. Very toe-y, if that makes sense. What I didn't like, however, was how the sock bulges a little where I'd picked up a stitch at each join in order to avoid holes, a la heels. Plus, my mind still fought the whole toe-up sock thing.

2. Analysis
What was the matter with me? Didn't I want to try a toe-up sock to learn new skills, maximize my pretty yarn, and see if I like toe-up socks, as so many knitters seem to do?

Rather than officially start a sock toe-up, I did a thought experiment. Or at least as close to a thought experiment as my humanities self is likely to come.

First, size. I have a size 5 foot, which makes my foot about 8.5" long. The toe is 2", the heel (at least with a flap) is about 1.5", and 3" with the gussset. What this means is that when I finish a gusset, I have very little sock left before I start the toes. On the other hand, I like a long cuff, usually 7-8 inches. In other words, if I start with the cuff, everything just gets smaller, and the sock feels like it goes faster.

As far as I can tell from just thinking about it, to make a sock toe-up would be to get the easy bits over with and then have the comparatively long haul of the cuff, and possibly some kind of finicky sewn bind off! No wonder I'm balking at the idea of going toe-up! Yes, I have every confidence that I can make toe-up socks. If there's a pattern out there that requires it, I probably will go toe-up one day. But if I'm just going to do a stockinette sock, then I don't think so.

Next, toe shape. As you probably noticed - if you're still reading this! - I kept saying I like the shape of the short-row toes. I think that has to do with my toes being rather short, with the second and third toes not substantially shorter than the big toe. The short-row toe has a nice flat front tip with a slope that mirrors the wedge toe, which fits me fine. This seems like the right shape for my toes.

And of course, conclusions:
If you have any links or references, it looks like I'm in the market for a good cuff-down short-row toe pattern! My next sock will be cuff-down, with a short-row heel (to see if I like the heel) and hopefully, a short-row toe.

I've done a lot of crafting this weekend. Experimenting with sock toes was really fun and a great learning experience, and it's pretty much all the knitting I managed, what with all the learning new techniques. I, for one, am glad I can stop pondering my feet and start knitting socks. But I also made a tote bag last night. As I said, a crafty weekend. I'll save that one for later.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Back to... what?

Yup, it's back to... oh, what's that, school? This year will be different for me than all other back-to-school years, as I am neither taking classes nor teaching. How odd. (Not to mention, "how nice to be able to say this, while I have the chance!) It lends a very different feeling to the whole back-to-school thing.

As I think about it, it's been ten years since I went to college, meaning it's also been ten years since I moved back to the east coast from California, where I'd lived from the start of elementary school to the end of high school. Yet what I feel is not so much nostalgia for my ecstatic rediscovery of the beauty of sugar maples an oaks in the fall, but a definite sense of excitement for this school year and for the future. If all goes according to plan, I'll be ABD by the start of next summer. (I'll have as much education as my dad, who never did a dissertation and left grad school with an ABD). It's more likely that I'll have finished my exams but the dissertation proposal will take a little longer than the above plan would indicate.

The idea of moving on is tremendously exciting. Last fall, I entered my fourth year of coursework after college, and while I felt really very sick at the idea of taking even more classes, I wasn't quite ready to do the exams. I felt somehow out of place and time and stuck in the middle with no way out but to muddle forward. These last few days, I'm back to feeling like I'm in the right place at the right time, and I like that. Let's just hope it lasts.

I had meant to save these for a more specifically sock-related post (on the emerging saga of Fleece Artist yarn, gauge, and toe-up toes ... and thanks for all your suggestions!) but instead I'll show them now.

Trekking #100 socks
Pattern: simple stockinette socks
Yarn: Trekking #100
Needles: size 1 bamboo dpns
Time: about a month, on and off
Thoughts: I think Coffeeboy's foot is wider than his ankle, given the stretching going on across the foot. At least these aren't too big like the last pair I knit him. One day, I will get this right! I think more measurements are in order.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Enjoy the knitting! We're due for the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto, which means (more) rain, which means staying inside and cooking, reading, and of course knitting. I'll have more sock news when next I post!