Dressing Up the Holidays

Close-up of Abby's stocking

My brother, Noah, was the catalyst for the other holiday gift knitting experience.

Last summer Noah asked me if I could secretly knit a pair of Christmas stockings for himself and his fiancée, Abby.  He likes the set of handknit colorwork stockings I made for my house.

My family's handknit Christmas stockings

 

These stockings are knit from Nancy Bush‘s pattern, Christmas in Tallinn, published several places, but the only souce that matters is her excellent book Knitting on the Road.  I made the first one, the red one, in 2005 for my infant son; Matt’s green stocking was made in 2006; my blue one was made in 2007; and then I had a year reprieve until our daughter came along in 2009.  She got a purple stocking.  I substituted the yarn Bush’s pattern calls for, Dalegarn Tiur, for Dalegarn Heilo simply because I liked the Heilo palette better.  (This was, by the way, the first time I was bit in the ass by yarn substitution.  Tiur is 109 yards.  Heilo is 126 yards.)

E's Christmas stocking

Noah left me in full creative control, so I of course immediate sought out ways to make this project as difficult as possible.  First, I had to design my own.  Second, if one design was fun, then two new designs were twice as fun!  (Right?!)  Third, the yarn (O!  The yarn!).

Abby's Christmas stocking, designed by me

I really enjoyed picking out colorwork patterns for these designs.  I found everything I wanted, and pretty quickly, in Sheila McGregor’s Traditional Scandinavian Knitting.  For the top of Abby’s stocking (green), I chose a boy-and-girl motif; for Noah’s stocking (orange), I chose reindeer.  The body patterns on each of their stockings come from the same 19th-century sweater: one was the pattern on the back and the other was the pattern on the front.

Noah's Christmas stocking

Can you imagine knitting that sweater?  Maybe…

There was some math to work out to make these motifs go together, resulting in Noah’s stocking being noticeably larger.  Noah has no problem with this.

As for the yarn, Cascade 220 Superwash Sport, it wasn’t my favorite.  Noah and I chose it based on wide color palette and affordable price, but it has just about put me off superwash yarn for the rest of my life.  It did not hold up well to repeated ripping and reknitting, coming un-plied and… for lack of a better descriptor, flacid.

Of course then my friend pointed out that many of the high-end end yarns, like Mashtosh and Tanis and Plucky Knitter, are superwash now so never say die.

Okay, So the Gift Knitting Wasn’t All Roses

I didn’t tell you the entire story of my holiday gift knitting in the last post.

My parents and siblings decided this year to scrap the round robin of individual gifts in favor of the secret santa system — which wasn’t even secret, not that any of us heathens cared.  So you can imagine my relief when evil-me went from trying to talk good-me into making a whole bunch of stuff — starting, oh, mid-November — to sane-me realizing I could still crank out a gift knit because I only had to make ONE.

I got my brother’s name.  Noah is awesome, fashionable, self-reflective, sensitive.  In other words: a great recipient of handknits.

Noah!

I started off making Noah Purl Soho’s Shawl Collar Cowl in Malabrigo Chunky — Lettuce on the outside, Natural (white) on the inside.  The yarn came from my stash, the project was working up quickly.  At Thanksgiving, I asked Noah’s fiancée Abby what kind of handknit he would like and she said “a cowl” and told me how he tried to buy one on Etsy and it was too long and girlish.  I felt like a champ!  The Shawl Collar Cowl is so chic and manly and I was going to solve Noah’s problem.  And he was going to look smashing in that lettuce green, if I do say so.

my beautiful failure

How does the saying go?  If it’s too good to be true… Well, perfection was far from achieved: I ran out of yarn.  Although I had researched what yarn would be a good substitute and looked up the needle size, I never checked how much yarn I needed.  Why, I cannot say.  This is not my first time at the rodeo.  (This is not the first time I have made this mistake, either, arg!)

Worse yet, this college town has gone, in five years, from having three yarn stores to having half a yarn store.  The remaining half store is downtown, where no one who doesn’t work downtown wants to go.  But go I went — and on the Saturday before Christmas no less.  I knew it was a long shot, that I might have to start over in a new color rather than just alternate between dye lots, but at least this place specializes in Malabrigo.  I still had hope that this project would be saved.

(There’s that foreshadowing of doom again, eh?)

I do believe I gasped out loud when I walked in to this very small shop.  Admittedly I had not been there in a year or more and I knew the owner had been scaling back the yarn portion of her business (she also sells clothing and jewelry). Eyes as wide as saucers, I gaped like a fish for a moment before finally choking out the question, “Where’s all the yarn?” to the owner.  The shelves and walls set aside for yarn were nearly empty — altogether there was only an armful of yarn in that shop.  The needle wall was almost empty.  My stomach sank to the floor as I realized: I have more yarn in my house than this shop now carries.

You might be tempted to conclude that there was a run on her small stock as people grabbed all the yarntastic gifts, but no.  The owner patiently explained that Malabrigo, the small cooperative, cannot keep up with the demand of her customers, so people are putting themselves on a waitlist and when it comes in, she calls.  A month later and I am still aghast at this… solution?  I am sure I don’t know all of what is going on in her store, but isn’t this the kind of thing that a dozen online businesses are doing, only faster?  And charging less?  And if you can’t keep yarn on the shelf, but still have empty shelves, why wouldn’t you carry another brand?  This used to be the place to go for Reynolds brand yarns, as well, including Lopi.  I didn’t see that at all.

At this point I could have gone to the big box store and gotten something else so I could forge ahead, but I decided to cash in my chips and cast on a pair of socks.  There was now no way I could finish in time and I used a precious skein of Trekking XXL that I had been saving for myself, but it seemed that some kind of sacrifice was demanded by nature in order to make this vicious cycle of WTF end.

socks of brotherly love

Noah was gracious about opening up part of a gift that wasn’t finish and I know he looks forward to these extra special  socks.  I’m still not done with Noah’s holiday socks because I  tried to pull off some other knitting miracle for my husband’s January birthday.  But first, I have one more gift knit to tell you about.  And this one is truly epic (the knitting, not the story).  Here’s a preview:

IMG_0233

Endings and Beginnings

The green socks are DONE!  No small thanks to Charlotte who did half the knitting!

It’s hard to catch these socks between feet and laundry and in fact I had to fish them from the top of the basket for this pic.  Zander loves them and immediately requested a new sweater.  I gladly put in the call to grandma who in fact has a wack of the same yarn, Plymouth Jelli Beenz, to make a child’s sweater or two.  Ball’s in your court, G-Terry.

I started some little green socks for Elinor, knit one almost to completion, crammed it on her foot and thought, Self, this sock is running small.  My daughter has big feet.

Riiiiiiiiiiip.  Cast on for the Size 2.  Immediately set aside because recipient has no long term memory and other things seemed more pressing…

Like this!

Elinor’s Christmas stocking, knit in Rauma Strikkegarn, a rough, sticky yarn that was perfect for colorwork.  The color is deliciously saturated without being a distracting eyesore.  I think the Strikkegarn natural is a little brighter than the Heilo used for the other three.  These stockings make me happy.

As for beginnings, I started a project for myself on Christmas Day:

Bits and Pieces

I’ve reached that point of the holiday season when there is so much to do, holiday or otherwise, that I can’t keep track of it all and I know some things are time-sensitive and I end up so turned around that I don’t know what to do first and thus do nothing.  Thankfully, I’ve learned not to stress about it (too much).  Instead, I am bewildered, I suppose.  I called Matt this afternoon after dropping Z off at preschool just in case he knew something I forgot.  He suggested I do some shopping downtown.  I am burned out on shopping, whether it is for gifts or groceries, so I just went home and played with the baby until it was pick up time.

Now for the randomness:

*It’s so windy!  And wet!  I should make myself a cup of tea.  But I forget to before I make it to the kitchen.  Or I don’t hear the electric kettle.  I’ve heated it twice.

*Finished a small Thorpe for Zander last week.  It took me only three days–what a thrill to finish something so quickly.  I knit the small size using Cascade 220 doubled, and this is a good size for a child.  It’s a little loose on my preschooler but not so it will fall off his head.  I skipped the braided ties because I thought that would be safer on the playground–and they’re easy enough to add later if I change my mind.

*Elinor makes kissy noises with her lips.  And gives open-mouth, wet, baby kisses.  You know it’s love when you don’t care!

*Hanukkah starts on Friday.  We are ready with the gifts but not the food.  Someone needs to go to a grocery store with a real produce section so we can get a heaping mound of onions and potatoes for latkes.  And it’s windy, rainy, cold, and gross outside.  So far…I can live without latkes on the first night.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings (I hear it’s going to be very cold).

*I have had a crisis of coat buying for the children.  It has nothing to do with the holidays but has worn me out on shopping.  It involved going to the mall, in December, which I never do.  The best part, though, is that I found a coat for Elinor in her closet this morning, a coat her cousin passed down.  Hallelujah.  Crisis over.

*I/Zander inherited a UFO from Charlotte–a pair of half-finished socks–which her children outgrew before they ever got to wear.  I finished the first this afternoon.  Here it is yesterday.  The yarn is Plymouth Jelli Beenz, a fun and colorful acyrlic/wool blend.  Zander, my biggest fan when it comes to knitting, is very excited.  We’ve already had one serious discussion about his socks and the dog.  Ahem.

*My freelance work is ramping up again.  I have two projects right now, although one is in three pieces so it’s really more like four projects.  I must pace myself to avoid stressing out because I can only do one piece at a time and if I get behind it will be a vicious domino effect complete with loss of sleep.

*I am knitting Elinor a stocking to go with our other three.  The pattern is Christmas in Tallinn by Nancy Bush from Knitting on the Road.  I’ve made several patterns from this book.  I had to substitute the yarn because no one locally now carries the Dalegarn Heilo I used for the first three, but I am happy with the substitute, Rauma Strikkegarn.  It comes in lots of colors and is sticky, which is great for colorwork.  I may actually like this yarn better than the Heilo.

*The seed catalogs are starting to arrive.  I am thinking of planting more quantity of fewer types of plants next year in the vegetable garden.  Partly to get better at growing the things we love the most and partly because we really need to focus on the flower beds, get them organized.  They were empty when we moved in.  Now they’re kinda weedy.

Good night!

Where did I park my spaceship?

There would be more (and more recent) pictures in this post but I have had to hide my camera card reader from my son who thinks it is a spaceship — and now it is so well hidden that I cannot find it.

The Urban Aran Cardigan for my husband’s birthday (January 2009) is now being sewn up.  This photo is a few days old since both sleeves are now on and I just have the sides and underarms to go. I had to bust into my last skein for the sewing so I had just enough yarn.  The local craft store did not have a zipper of the right length and color–mostly because it had been raided by people making Halloween costumes, I suspect–so I will order one from Zipperstop.  Almost there!

I also finished the first Jaywalker from my Flat Feet yarn (again this picture is a few days old)–that was started on January 13, the day before Matt’s birthday.  Progress, ten months later!  Such is life with babies and young children.  I cast on the second sock and knit exactly one row before being interrupted last night by the baby who suddenly, thankfully, recovered from her flu and was tearing around the living room, throwing stuff to the floor.

I think the next order of business will be hats and mitts and scarves for the four of us.  None of us is completely without these items but probably the most needy is Zander for mittens.  I spent an entire day last winter knitting and reknitting mittens for him that never quite worked out and his store-bought insulated ones turn his hands into clubs.

I feel occasional pangs of holiday-knitting-itis but nothing has stuck, which is good because the only time it really works out is when I start in August.  I keep telling myself that I need to knit for birthdays instead of winter holidays.  But then I realize that I would probably spend 12 months of the year knitting for others and never for myself instead of 4 months.  I suppose I could try it for one year to find out for sure… but then I am also sure I cannot be that organized for another couple years.

Zander was healthy for Halloween, by the way, and had a blast.  I have no idea what the fever was fighting off on Wednesday–perhaps a very mild flu because at midnight on Saturday night, just as our last guests trickled out the door, Elinor woke up to nurse and was blazing hot.  She ran a high fever with runny nose and was very droopy for nearly 24 hours.  Then it was over as suddenly as it began.

(The marvelous view outside our living room window a week ago.  Then it all fell down.)