Tag Archives: gifts

This year’s first Christmas present

Lots of blue: my blue lemonade cardigan, the picnic cedar table my dad made for us, and some flowers from my mother-in-laws garden

Lots of blue: my blue lemonade cardigan, the cedar picnic table my dad made for us, and some flowers from my in-laws garden

I know what you’re thinking, but after trying to finish 7 pairs of socks in as many weeks last year, I’ve decided to space this year’s presents out a little bit.  I just finished blocking this Vodka Lemonade cardigan in Cascade Ultra Pima for my mother-in-law.  She loves bright saturated colours, and spends her winters in Florida, so this light cotton cardie seemed like a great idea (hopefully she thinks so too!). I love Thea Coleman’s designs, this one has just enough lace to be unique, without sacrificing wearability.  So lovely!

The clever lace motif and seed stitch border at the bottom of the cardiga

The clever lace motif and seed stitch border at the bottom of the cardiga

While the fraught relationship between a woman and her partner’s mother has become a tired cliche, it definitely doesn’t apply here. I am lucky to have such a strong and caring woman in my family. I’ve been pretty blessed in the role model department, and she’s one that I’m grateful for everyday (and it’s not just for the free babysitting – I swear).

The pattern was a pleasure to knit, and the recipient a pleasure to knit for. I’ll make sure to include a picture of it on in my holiday round-up this winter.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day to … Me!

My pink Hedera socks in madelinetosh merino

My pink Hedera socks in madelinetosh merino

This year, I’m stuck working late on Valentine’s Day (which is also my birthday!), so I decided to treat myself to a little gift: these holiday coloured-pink socks (Hederas free on Knitty and in Knit. Sock. Love).  Like many knitters, I often get caught up in working through a long list of Christmas and shower gifts and toddler sized sweaters are so fast and satisfying, I haven’t knit a sweater for myself in almost two years. When the last socks I knit for myself wore through earlier this month, I realized it was time to make something just for me.

So when I noticed the Knit. Sock. Love. knit-along on ravelry, I decided it was a perfect oppurtunity indulge.  I love how soft and cozy the madelinetosh merino is, even in this pretty, simple lace. I’m happy that they’ll be keeping me warm at work tonight.  And don’t worry, I have a little something for my long-suffering husband too,  I just didn’t knit it this year.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

A few of my favourite (Christmas craft) things

A handmade ornament on our tree

A handmade ornament on our tree

I used to see Christmas as a much needed break from the grind of work or school, but having a child has fundamentally changed my feelings about the holidays.  Family traditions that I had not thought about since in years, are suddenly important again.  I want to make Christmas special again, and all of the old holiday rituals and traditions (and a few new ones) have taken on a new significance for me; they are now a source of joy for my son, and part of the heritage that we are passing on to him.  This is especially true this year, when at two and a half, he is starting to understand what is going on.

So with my newfound Christmas spirit, here is a list of my top five favourite holiday knitting (and other needlecraft) projects.

Smitten advent garland (photo taken from knitpicks.com)

Smitten advent garland (photo taken from knitpicks.com)

5. Advent Calender.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to this project this year, but next year, I will definitely be casting on an advent calender in the early fall.  I’ve yet to decide between these two patterns: Frankie Brown’s Advent Garland and Emily Ivey’s Smitten garland.  They both look fantastic.

4. Christmas tree skirt.  Ours was crocheted by one of my grandmothers, but there are lots of options on ravelry (including eight free knitting patterns), ranging from simple stockinette to cables and lace.  These are the types of objects that stay in families for decades, why not make it special?

stocking

My son’s stocking

3. Stocking.  I knit this stocking by Haley Waxberg, before my son’s first Christmas.  It’s basically a short row sock knit on big needles in bulky yarn.  Knitting a single favourite sock pattern on big needles is an easy way to go, but the possibilities are endless.

2. Gifts.  As I’ve rhapsodized before, there’s nothing like a handmade gift.  I like socks for adults and sweaters for kids, but there really is no wrong thing to make with love.

1. Ornaments.  Practically speaking, ornaments are really fast projects and excellent stash busters.  They make a perfect addition to an otherwise generic hostess or teacher gift of wine or a gift card.  In the past, I have attached these snowmen and poinsettas to gifts for almost everyone on my list.  There are over 600 free knitted ornament patterns available on ravelry (and a few dreidels too), so you are limited only by your imagination.  Most of the ornaments on our tree have a story to tell, from the tiny globe that we mark each year with last year’s travel, to baby’s first Christmas ornaments celebrating the births of my son, my husband and myself to the various knit, crocheted, sculpted and glued ornaments made by toddlers and grandparents over the years.  One of my grandfathers died when I was very young, and so my most vivid memories of him are actually of the stories that my mother would tell each year, while the ornaments were hung on the tree.  The history of our ornaments are the most important part of decorating the tree for me.

Season’s Greetings and Happy Knitting!

Fisherman socks and Canada’s Rock

Towards the end of One Week, on the beach in Tofino, a pair of German tourists tell Joshua Jackson’s character that he lives in a beautiful country.  On the one hand, it’s a little on the nose, but as Canadians sometimes we need European tourists to remind us of the total awesomeness of this country.  Too often, we look south or east for travel destinations, and miss the beauty, culture and adventure closer to home.

Chesterman beach in Tofino, BC

A few summers ago, in the spirit of patriotism and wanderlust, my husband and I decided to see both ends of the TransCanada highway.  Given our limited travel time and budget, we decided to fly to Newfoundland and drive across the province to St John’s in July, and to fly to Vancouver and drive to Tofino in August.

A carnivorous pitcher plant  in Grosse Morne, Newfoundland's provincial flower

A carnivorous pitcher plant in Grosse Morne, Newfoundland’s provincial flower

Newfoundland has been on my mind this week, as I cast on these fisherman socks (my second last Christmas gift!).  My father’s favourite travel destination is Newfoundland, so it seems appropriate to make him a pair of fisherman socks to keep his feet warm on his twice daily dog walks (surprise, Dad!).

Newfoundland is a place of stark beauty and contradiction.  The landscape is harsh and cold, and the people are warm and friendly.  Many people in Newfoundland have been hard hit by the collapse of the fisheries in the 1990’s, and will tell you how happy they are to have found seasonal work in the tourism industry. However, their hardships have done nothing to diminish their spirits. Everything you have heard about friendly, open and easy going Newfoundlanders is true. They also have fantastic knitwear to keep them warm on their cold and beautiful rock in the North Atlantic, and I came home dreaming of creamy woolens, cables and gansey.

We started our trip camping in Grosse Morne and the landscape must be seen to be believed.  It was worth the total lack of groceries anywhere near by.

A lighthouse on the West coast of Newfoundland

A lighthouse on the West coast of Newfoundland

The spectacular beach at the end of the Green Gardens trail in Grosse Morne

The spectacular beach at the end of the Green Gardens trail in Grosse Morne

From Grosse Morne, we traveled east to St John’s. We missed a lot in Newfoundland’s north, including the Viking settlement at isolated L’anse Aux Meadows, but it’s always nice to have a reason to go back.  In St John’s, we walked the brightly coloured streets, got a sense of Newfoundland’s history at Signal Hill, and saw first hand the reason for Newfoundland’s hard partying reputation on George Street.

The bright painted houses of St John's

The brighty painted houses of St John’s

Puffin!

Puffin!

We also had one of the most spectacular travel experiences of my life in Bay Bulls.  My parents tipped us off the Colbert’s Puffin Tours.  A friendly former fisherman took us out in his fishing boat to tour a landscape that I cannot believe wasn’t covered in BBC’s Planet Earth.  I was awestruck and humbled by the beauty and power of nature, as we toured the bay, spotting puffins, terns and a humpback whale and calf.  I cannot wait to share this experience with my son, who I hope will one day be as transformed by it as I was.  It is impossible to see nature in this way, and not feel a desperate need not to protect it.

Humpback whale in Bay Bulls

Humpback whale in Bay Bulls

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Puffins!

We have no immediate plans to go back (writing this post has put Newfoundland on my summer shortlist though!).  For now I’ll have to content myself with fisherman socks and those PC holiday commercials!

Update (December 16):

Fisherman's sock in Cascade Superwash Sport

Fisherman’s sock in Cascade Superwash Sport

I’ve finished the first fisherman’s sock.  The pattern was really small, but the 5 stitch repeat and the 1×1 ribbing made increasing the size a little tricky.  I cast on 46 sts, decreased to 45 sts in the first row below the cuff, worked a 22 sts heel flap and decreased down to 44 sts through the gusset (so that the top of the foot is 22 sts – 1 purl, 4 repeats of the pattern and 1 knit). It was a little twisted before blocking but warm, cozy and attractive on a foot!

My wedge socks are done

My third pair of holiday socks are done!  It is now looking increasingly likely that I will not finish the remaining three pairs before Christmas (and I may, gulp, have to brave the mall at the last minute), but I will perservere.  Overall, these socks (Wedge socks from knit. sock. love.) are clever and I love the way the short rows look in multi colour yarn like this.  The socks are worked in a series of short row (back and forth) wedges that give it the garter stitch sections.  The beginning of the row is rotated 180 degrees each time you repeat, so that the thin and thick ends of the wedges alternate.  I have no idea how Cookie A conceives of inventive ideas like this, but I really like it! It’s hard to find a pattern that works well for multicolour yarn, or one that is as co-ed as this one is.

Wedge socks in ONline Supersocke (1167)

Wedge socks in ONline Supersocke (1167)

I did encounter a couple of technical hiccups that I will avoid next time:

1. The garter stitch wedges are really stretchy.  I made these in medium and I’m a tight knitter, and they are easily the biggest socks I’ve ever made.  Make them at least 1 size smaller than you think you need.

2. When I got to the first toe, I was convinced that I had made a mistake, since the pattern made it seem as though the toe short rows should be worked off-center.  I checked ravelry and googled errata, and there is no mention of a typo or mistake in this pattern, so I will assume the mistake was mine.  I’m still not sure if the toe short rows are intentionally off-center here or if I made a mistake when rotating the rows (you mark a new beginning of the round at least 8 times in this pattern, so if you make one mistake, it will be translated all the way down).  Rather than make myself crazy searching for the source of the problem, I just lined the short rows up with sides of the toe (working the toe across the sole stitches) and they look great.  On the second socks, I was much more careful with couting the rotations, but still had the same problem.

3. They absolutely, positively must be blocked. They’re an absolute collapsing mess when they come off your needles.

Musings on a Wedge sock

Wedge sock in Online (colourway 1167)

Wedge sock in ONline supersocke 100 (colourway 1167)

I’m halfway through my third pair of holiday socks, and I’ve come down with a bit of a case of second sock syndrome.  As I cast on my second Wedge sock and flipped through knit. sock. love. to pick a pair for to cast on for my great-aunt, I imagine that I felt a little like Julie Powell felt about Mastering the Art of French Cooking: a heady mixture of awe and inspiration, with more than a touch of stubborn determination to complete the task at hand, no matter how long it takes (because I’m not crazy, right?)

Much like French cooking, sock knitting is the art of making something mundane truely beautiful and special.  Like cooking someone a fantastic meal, the time and care involved in knitting a pair of socks is a way of making something quotidian memorable and fantastic.  And like French cooking, sock knitting has it’s innovators.  These wedge socks are one of the few patterns that has made me stand back and ask, “How did someone come up with that?”  Like moebius knitting or Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket, these socks are not simply a clever variation on an existing pattern – they seem (at least to me) wholly new.

Innovating in knitting is not easy, it involves a deep understanding of knitting as a mathematical discipline, and an ability to craft really lovely clothing that people want to make and give.  It is also not always something that comes with credit: the genius who developped the kitchener stitch (a method for grafting the toe of socks that I used to finish this wedge sock) remains the stuff of urban legend.  Herbert Kitchener, the 1st Earl of Kitchener is credited by wikipedia with devising it for use in Red Cross sock knitting, during the First World War.  However, there is a major lack of evidence to support that; the kitchener stitch, may in fact, have originated on this side of the Atlantic at sometime between the wars.

Before the contemporary era of ravelry and knitting blogs, knitting skills were passed down orally, through families, and so their origins become nearly impossible to trace.  Like me, many knitters still remember their first time picking up needles on their grandmother’s couch or across a well worn kitchen table.  It’s part of what is so appealing to me about knitting – skills and ideas are rarely owned, but shared across generations, so that they can be used and improved.

My grandmother before she passed, and my son (he's wearing a Rocketry Cardigan in Dream in Color that I knit when I was pregnant)

My grandmother before she passed, and my son (he’s wearing a Rocketry Cardigan in Dream in Color that I knit when I was pregnant)

When I knit, I feel like I am in conversation with my departed grandmothers, and the grandmothers that taught them to knit, on and on backwards through a community of women (and men) who took the time to think about how to do things better and differently and who crafted beautiful, practical objects to keep people warm – whether they were for the small children in the backyard or for the young men on far off battlefields in Europe. Today, I’m grateful again, to have had such magnificent grandparents, who continue to share their skills and their wisdom.

Sock blocking and other “Monkey” business

My completed Monkey socks in madelinetosh

I have successfully finished my first cuff down socks! It felt a little like driving on the other side of the road, but I kind of liked it.  It turns out I have been avoiding cuff down socks for no reason. Although the socks required two of my most dreaded knitting skills: picking up stitches (along the side of the heel) and kitchener stitch (to join the opposite sides of the toe together), those were relatively easy hurdles to jump (with the help of some youtube tutorials and the very clear instructions at the back of knit. sock. love.)   I chose Monkey socks by Cookie A to start me off in this new direction for a number of reasons:

1. Of all the socks in knit. sock. love., they seemed the most approachable, and I’ve been anticipating actually using this book for months.

2. They are wildly popular (with over 16000 projects on Ravelry), and I presumed that that many people can’t be wrong.

3. They’re lacey enough to be pretty, but solid enough to be warm.

While I’m pretty happy with the results, I’m a little underwhelmed; their enormous popularity and the overall beauty of knit. sock. love.  set my expectations very, very high. They’re cute, but they’re not spectacular. To be fair, that may also have to do with the disappointing way that the colour was distributed in stripes in this yarn.

The Monkey socks, before and after blocking

They were also socks wildly in need of blocking, which launched me on a new adventure. I’m usually pretty lazy when it comes to details, so I tend to do as little blocking as possible.  It isn’t essential for everything. Many objects come off your needles looking great, but in general the more complicated the texture, the more you need to block (this is especially true for lace).  Blocking can give your knit objects shape, and can even rescue the odd stretched out or otherwise misshappen sweater (even if you picked it up at the mall).  Basically, you wet the knit garment and carefully stretch it into shape, leaving it that way to dry.

My homemade sock blockers (made from a dollar store Christmas placemat)

Previously, I have just dampened my socks and pinned them down, but these socks clearly demanded more discipline.  I looked online for sock blockers, but found this set of DIY instruction instead.  The suggestion to use a placemat was ingenious.  After a quick trip to the dollar store, I had these.  I traced the wooden sock holders at my local yarn store, and added a hook at the top, so that my socks could hang from the shower curtain rod as they dry.  Success!