Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summer Spirals

It would seem the planets are aligning this month (literally). After a brief and uneventful embargo, SOS ’11 judges Zarzuela, Annimol, and ShutUpAndKnitSOS button selected my hasty little DIPper to be one of the featured patterns for Summer of Socks 2011. And I finally got the photo I wanted of the hitherto unseen sock, now written up as a pattern and named Summer Spirals.

Summer Spirals sock

Summer Spirals had its origins in the observation that little cotton socks are perfect for summer evenings spent under the stars, yet many otherwise intrepid knitters have never attempted them. To help remedy that, the pattern provides a low stress introduction to cotton sock knitting. Its design showcases the superb stitch definition and beautiful drape of cotton yarn and adjusts for the fiber’s relative lack of elasticity. It’s my modest effort to expand the knitting universe.

The pattern includes five sizes and three spiraling faux cable stitch patterns adapted from Pattern 60 in Knitting Lace by Susanna E. Lewis, an outstanding resource rescued from O/P exile by Schoolhouse Press.

K2tog Spiral   Ssk Spiral   Spiral Wave

Pattern 60, a traditional lace stitch pattern with a multiple of 12 sts, has a nice structure for cotton yarn. But m12 is an awkward horizontal repeat for a sock of many sizes, so I scaled down the pattern to a more versatile multiple of 8 sts and modified its appearance to emphasize the faux cable.Knitting Lace cover image The three results give a cotton sock just the right amount of texture without adding excessive bulk, and allow for knitter's choice.

Many old lace stitch patterns produce significantly biased fabric, and so too the spiraling children of Pattern 60. Bias ribbing can give a cotton sock a flattering fit that compensates for lack of elasticity in the fiber, but too much bias can complicate working the garment. For this reason, the sock leg is kept short, which not only limits the amount of off-grain distortion but also makes sense for a summer sock. It's still the regulation three inches specified for a past SOS.

Regulation leg

The stitch pattern is continued on the heel flap to avoid the bulk of a slip stitch heel. As a bonus, the pattern stitches form an elegant undulating edge to the gusset. I worked the heel flap and toe of the sample sock in contrast yarn because I was worried about Not Enough Yarn, but I rather like the effect. I'll call it a design element. The heel flap and gusset also place the ease of the sock in its construction rather than in its fiber.

Heel detail

As mentioned in the previous post, the sample sock was knit in a hurry from stash yarn that turned out to be discontinued (100% cotton Rowan Sea Breeze, lovely stuff, sigh). During SOS '11, I plan to knit-along with Bristol Yarn Gallery Lyndon Hill, 111 Skyway. Other possibilities include baby fingering, cotton warp, and crochet cotton (although some knitters may find their style of knitting tends to un-ply yarn meant for crochet). The sock would also be beautiful in wool – I'd love to try Lorna's Laces space age Solemate when it becomes available.

Lyndon Hill, 111 Skyway

Conversely, I would tend to avoid heavily mercerized cotton (eg, perle cotton), which can knit up remarkably densely. A heavy cotton sock is traditional in some cultures, but I dislike them. Some knitters may find that socks knit from cotton-acrylic blend yarns make their feet sweat; others may tolerate them well.

As for colors, solid yarns and yarns with long color runs, including self-striping yarns, make the faux cables pop; variegated yarns with short color runs tend to reduce the stitch pattern to a sense of movement in the fabric, which can be a pleasing effect, but may be too subdued for many knitter's taste.

Solid blue swatch   Ombre orange swatch   Variegated swatch

Finally, for a bit of summer fun, summer astronomers may enjoy using a stargazing app, an online guide, or one of the whimsical print guides by H.A. Rey, such as Know the Stars pictured above. Remarkably, astronomy is a science in which amateurs can do important work – it's a big sky out there.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bikes & Feet!

Well, it rained on Tour day. When I woke up, the downpour was positively monsoonal; by Tour time it was a fine, constant drizzle.Tour de Montclair logo Very good for the complexion, so they say. I had an easy stint as a marshal, doing intersection control with one of Montclair's finest, who was the very model of courtesy and professionalism. Judging by their radiant smiles and complexions, the walkers and bikers who turned out had a fabulous time, not to mention all the free bananas (courtesy Whole Foods) they could eat at the post-walk and ride festival.

Leading up to the Tour de Montclair, I had a plan to make myself a pair of traffic cone orange cycling socks to match my traffic cone orange TdM staff shirt. It took some doing, but I finally found the perfect yarn....

Orange traffic cone shirt and yarn

... and promptly got distracted by the Summer of Socks call for submissions. Ah well, there's always Halloween.

The last time I put a toe in the sock design pond it was for SOS 2007.SOS button It seemed apropos to try another DIP, design in progress, for SOS even though the time between the call for patterns and the deadline for submissions was less than three weeks.

The first attempt served to remind me how much I dislike knitting toe up socks – the results were pretty, if I do say so myself, but I wasn't enjoying knitting my own design!

Design in progress

So I dipped into stash yarn, started a new DIP, and knit like the wind – only to discover the yarns I used, plural, are discontinued. Argh. It does seem to make people crabby when a new pattern so much as mentions discontinued yarn. Nonetheless, I persevered, and even found some props suitable for a double DIPper. The attempt to simulate field conditions was not wholly successful, though, as the most evocative lighting is too dim to properly show off the sock.

DIP props

The pattern is now in the capable hands of the judges, who will announce their decision in about a month. If it is not selected, I'll offer it for sale – I'm that pleased with the results.

Cinema Montclairismo buttonSpeaking of stargazing, this Friday the hills are alive with The Sound of Music, thanks to the Cinema Montclairismo screening and sing-along in the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Bring a lawn chair if it stops raining.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


ETA: Not least among the surprises, a Blogger glitch. Sorry if this post has been appearing and vanishing like a mirage, hopefully the issue is now fixed.

It's been a week and a half of surprises roundabout Exit 151. Last Sunday evening I was blogging along,National Bike Month button organizing links for Bike Month and thinking about submitting a pattern for Summer of Socks – nothing out of the ordinary – when I heard the announcement there would be an announcement. Upon which I stayed up 'way too late, scrapped the blog post I was working on, pondered whether a reference to yarn bombing was inappropriate, and generally upended my Sunday routine.

[Impatient readers can skip this part and resume after all the pretty bicycles.]

Since then I've been surprised by how readily and fervently quarrelsome some people have been over any number of matters more or less related to the death of Osama bin Laden, not least the cost of the war on terrorism, justifications for torture, sharing battle honors, closing the terror gap, and the accuracy of some fake and misattributed quotes. I've also been surprised by the frequency with which theological language has been used to describe events, perhaps deliberately, perhaps unconsciously. It would seem that when sports analogies fall short, only the language of God will do.

I've been surprised, too, by how the visceral memories of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent years came rushing back. I didn't think I'd been avoiding introspection, but perhaps I had compartmentalized memory (not unlike a blog post or a parenthetical remark). I was expecting something like this might happen in September, but not now – in any case, the levee is blown. It's not pleasant. For me, it dampens Schadenfreude; perhaps it's not unrelated to the irritability I've noticed in others. Emotional energy needs to go somewhere. Newspapers, too. I've been following the news reports with great interest, but I have no desire to save and cherish the headlines of the day, however historic – to the recycle bin they go.

From recycling back to cycling.

Bicycle key

Coming full circle, or cycle: this coming Sunday is the 9th Annual Tour de Montclair, starting at 10:00 a.m. in Brookdale Park. This is a family-friendly event, not a race – in keeping with the theme,Tour de Montclair logo Bikes & Feet on Every Street, there's a car-free route for inexperienced cyclists of all ages and a shorter and longer road route for those hankering for more of a challenge, plus a walk on part of the Lenape Trail. For those coming from out of town, Gary Johnson is leading an easy 9-mile ride from Newark Penn Station to Brookdale Park (click to see quoted text); one could also take NJ Transit to Bay Street. I'll be somewhere in the mix – hope to see you there!