Midweek @ Musings: I Can’t Stop Knitting Socks!

There’s no doubt about it:  this has been my slowest reading year since I started blogging in 2007.  Each year I’ve read more than 70 books, with a high water mark of 81 in 2008.  My “year in review” post will be up in a few days, but — spoiler alert — I’ll  have read less than 65 books.  I’m only a teensy bit bothered by that, because it’s easy to explain.  Yes, there have been some stressful life events that made reading a challenge, but on the plus side I took up a new hobby: knitting.  And I love it.

It all started about a year ago, when my daughter came home from university having learned to knit in her spare time.  She took a few lessons at our local yarn shop over her Christmas break, and I was so impressed that I took the same course in January.  Little did I realize, when I finished my first pair of socks, that sock knitting would become an obsession.  I couldn’t help combining my sock obsession with my reading obsession, acquiring three excellent books on knitting socks.  And the good news is, I have something to show for it: five pairs of socks!  My first three pairs were all from Ann Budd’s Getting Started Knitting Socks. I made two pairs for me, and then one for my husband.  The fourth pair, in blue, is from Favorite Socks, and the fifth pair (also for my husband) is a pattern I found on Ravelry.  Click on the thumbnails to enlarge:

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I love the geometric logic behind socks; each successful heel is like a little miracle.  I enjoy knitting designs with patterned stitches more than the basic stockinette stitch.  And I’m beginning to learn how to pair yarn with a design.  In my fifth pair, the yarn competed with the pattern, and the stitch design kind of got lost.  I’d use a “quieter” yarn the next time.  I started my my first pair of socks with a lacey pattern, and I’m very happy with the way this subtle yarn knits up (click for a larger view):
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The only problem is, after knitting an entire leg I discovered I made a huge mistake reading the knitting chart, and the resulting design was completely wrong.  I couldn’t live with it, so I “frogged” it and will start over after a short break to make a different pair as a gift.

Socks are a nice short-term project.  It usually takes a few weeks to knit a complete pair, and I like being able to take my knitting with me when I travel.  When I have free time I’m always faced with the “do I read, or do I knit?” dilemma.  But as with reading, it seems I always need to have a knitting project on the go.  I’m still intimidated by more complicated garments, but yesterday Santa brought me three books on knitting sweaters.  I guess it’s time to broaden my horizons.  And buy more needles and yarn!

So all in all, I don’t feel too badly about reading fewer books this year. 🙂

Midweek @ Musings: Knitting Socks, by the Book

I used to do a lot of counted cross-stitch and needlepoint, and I still have unfinished projects languishing in a corner.  As I moved through my forties, I began to struggle with the finer points.  You know, like threading the needle and being able to see just which tiny square to put it in.  I caught the knitting bug from my daughter when she was home for Christmas.  It looked like fun, and the woman who runs our local yarn shop was so wonderfully helpful.

I’ve mentioned knitting a couple of times on this blog (here’s a scarf, and half a pair of socks).  I have no desire to turn this space into a knitting blog.  But not too long ago, I bought my first (and so far only) knitting book.  And books are something I can talk about!

As I approached the end of my scarf project, I began thinking about what to make next.  Lots of people make more scarves, or potholders, or dishtowels.  Zzzzzzz … I was already bored with squares and rectangles.  I wanted to make something useful, something I would actually wear.  Lots of people make hats, but I don’t wear hats often and besides, with spring fast approaching the hats and mittens would be relegated to the closet.  So I asked myself, how about socks?

I started with an internet search, and poked around Ravelry.  It turns out, lots of people shy away from socks.  They’re complicated.  Heels are hard to do, and there’s this super scary thing called the Kitchener Stitch that completes the toe.  And sometimes you go to all this trouble, and the socks don’t fit.  Suddenly I felt this sense of dread and despair.  It’s like when you research some mild medical symptoms on the internet — say, a runny nose and a sore throat — and the next thing you know you’re writing your will because you’re sure your illness is terminal.  The same thing happens if you research sock knitting on the internet.

Just as I was ready to abandon hope, I found myself in a bookstore (surprise).  And there was a copy of Getting Started Knitting Socks, by Ann Budd.  In the course of 15 pages, she takes the aspiring sock knitter step-by-step through their first pair.  Before that, she talks about choosing yarn and needles, and how to determine your size.  And after you’ve completed that first pair, Budd offers up four more basic patterns and a host of more advanced options.

I followed her first sock instructions to the letter; I did not even vary the size.  This was a practice sock.  If it didn’t fit, I might be a little sad, but I would still have learned the basics of sock construction.  For the first sock, Budd recommends using bulkier yarn than usual, with a gauge of 5 stitches per inch.  This makes for a thicker sock that’s better with boots than shoes.  But larger stitches are easier to see as you work, so you get a better understanding of just what’s happening every step of the way.  And it’s easier to correct mistakes.

Socks weren’t nearly as hard as everyone said they would be and, I was pleasantly surprised with my first pair.  For one thing, they fit.  And they’re comfy.  Using variegated yarn made it even easier to see each stitch and correct mistakes.

Did I mention correcting mistakes?  Oh yes, I had to do that.  A lot.  In fact, I had to rip out and re-start the second sock about 4 times, until I figured out what I was doing wrong.  And even though 90% of these socks were worked in the same stitch, it wasn’t a mindless activity — I had to pay attention, or I would end up with too few or too many stitches on my needles.  I’ve also learned that if you make a mistake, it’s better to correct it than hope it won’t be visible later.  The other day I started my second pair of socks, in a glittery purple yarn.  I hoped to include a picture in this post, but last night I found a major mistake that I just couldn’t live with, and had to go back to square one.  And it was all because I got distracted.  So besides learning to pay closer attention, I’m learning to be patient!  That’s probably good for me …

If you’re thinking about knitting socks but have been afraid to try, I highly recommend Getting Started Knitting Socks!

Beadwork: Another Multi-Strand Necklace

Recently I finished my second jewelry project, a Multi-Strand Necklace with Italian ”Onyx” Beads and Fire-Polished Beads from Fire Mountain Gems.  Like my first project, the materials were a Christmas gift from my husband.  However, there were a couple of “poison pills” buried in the materials list:  a 14k gold-filled melon-shaped bead, at $48 for 20 beads, and a clasp that was very pretty, but cost $37.  Um, no.  Even Santa balked at that!  I found a brass oval-shaped bead to substitute for the 14k bead, and used clasps leftover from another project.

The instructions were clear and easy to follow (click on photos for a larger view)

I used my bead board to lay out the beads before stringing (left).  There were five separate strands (center), which I loosely braided (right).  For the clasp, I used the same method as in the Multi-Strand Necklace with Wood Beads, attaching the strands to an eye pin, finishing each end with a cone and wrapped loop, and tying it all together with a hook-and-eye clasp.

The finished product is very pretty, albeit a bit heavy.  I’ll need to keep that in mind on my next project, where I will be choosing my own beads to suit a design.

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Beadwork: Multi-Strand Necklace with Wood Beads

While this is primarily a book blog, occasionally I’d like to share some of my other interests. You all OK with that?  I hope so!  Read on …

I used to do a lot of needle point and cross-stitch, but my interest ebbs and flows, and I get frustrated with how long it can take to complete a project.  Not too long ago, I decided to try my hand at making jewelry.  I bought some books and a few tools, but when I tried to design my first project I got stuck.  My dear husband Chris came to my rescue at Christmas, presenting me with instructions & complete materials for two projects, both multi-strand necklaces.

A few days ago, I finished the first project: a Multi-Strand Necklace with Assorted Wood Beads, from Fire Mountain Gems.

What I learned:

  • Read the instructions through first and make sure you have everything you need.  The materials list for this project had one item listed incorrectly, and I had to place another order for the correct bead.
  • Stringing beads is pretty easy.
  • Two of the strands turned out longer than the others, but I didn’t know how to shorten it just a little bit without redoing the entire strand.  I decided not to worry about it!
  • I need to learn how to better hide the wire at each end of the strand.  There are little ends of wire sticking out in a few places.  Luckily these will only be visible to someone with an intense desire to examine my neck.

Here’s a slideshow of the project coming together, strand by strand:

Chris also made me a beautiful worktable and cabinet, which I have filled with all my supplies and tools.  Isn’t he talented?  For more photos and a description of how he made it, check out Combray Furniture Studio.

So, my first jewelry project went pretty well.  I’m looking forward to my next one!

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