Continuity of Operations

Q: When you’re retired, what’s the difference between everyday life and vacation?

A: Packing.

I’m being facetious, but that reflects the fact of my privileged little life, in which what I do every day is what I want to do every day no matter where I am. Every summer, preferably in July to escape Baltimore’s hottest month, we go for our allotted two weeks to the ancestral summer cottage (which it literally is, built by my husband’s grandfather over 100 years ago) in the woods next to Lake Michigan. During the week before we go, I cull my books, yarn, and equipment for the essential items to keep me busy and productive for the duration. When I’m in the midst of a big handknitting project, the packing isn’t complicated, but this year I’m between major projects, so it took more thought and preparation to maintain a smooth continuity of operations while working in a different location.

I spent the two weeks before we left in a mad scramble to finish the last of my machine-knit entrelac socks and to knit the prototype for a sweater using a new construction method I have developed. The hours at the knitting machine endangered my back, but in the end, I had two socks and a sweater ready for hand finishing. It’s kind of amazing how much time it takes to do the finishing– driving time and a lot of our first week at the cottage. But now I have four new pairs of socks for next winter, and my husband has a pair too, and I’m done with entrelac socks for now. And my sweater prototype is a success. It will get its own dedicated blog post, but I’ll offer a sneak peak.

The hand finishing of the sweater took some days because I picked up stitches around the loose v-neck (not visible in this particular shot because I prioritized showing off the contrasting side panel over showing a full frontal shot) to make a narrow ribbing. The visible seam down the shoulders to the wrist along the top of the sleeve was also hand-knit and required picking up stitches very precisely along the two sides of the sleeve, same number and spacing, so that the stripes would align exactly. After that I knitted the two sides together onto a single needle, knitted another row, then bound off. Also there were a million ends, only 500,000 of which were woven in, tucked away, and snipped for the sake of external respectability, while the other 500,000 continue to roam free on the inside.

The newest socks are at the bottom of the picture, with all the siblings gazing at the baby

The sock at the very bottom of the picture is turned inside out to show where some of the ends were. The ribbing at the cuff was knitted flat on the machine, so it needed to be seamed after it came off of the machine. There were ends every time I changed colors, that is, there were two ends at the junction of every row of entrelac. For them, I worked my knitting machine’s latch tool through the back of the stitches where the two colors met and pulled the two ends through, then snipped. The toes were also knitted on the main bed of the machine after the entrelac was complete, which meant that they were not worked in the round and had to be manually joined to the top of the foot with kitchener stitch. I left those ends very long so that I could weave them into the slipped stitch fabric of the toes to add some extra reinforcement. Same for the heels. Knitters who don’t use knitting machines would be surprised at how much hand finishing machine knitters find themselves doing.

Our younger daughter was able to join us for our second week in Michigan, and she brought her boyfriend along. She’s a vegan and he knits, crochets, raises silkworms and spins and dyes their silk, so I came prepared with a package of black rice for our daughter and undyed yarn and my dyeing equipment for her boyfriend, who was interested in my plant-dyeing. Black rice with sautéed sweet potato cubes and cubes of marinated and sautéed tofu is one of my favorite vegan meals, and the water in which I let it sit for a couple of hours before cooking it is one of my favorite plant dyes. After dinner (it was delicious, thanks for asking), I threw a mordanted 2-ounce hank of superwash wool into the water I had drained off from the rice before cooking it and let it sit overnight and into the morning. When I was certain it had absorbed all the color it could absorb, it was a very dark purplish blue. I wrung it out and hung it to dry, then threw another 2-ounce hank into the exhaust and let it sit there for 24 hours. It was a medium purplish blue, and another 2-ounce hank went into the second exhaust for 24 hours or maybe more, because the bath was getting pretty depleted by then. But there was enough color left to dye the yarn a pretty lavender.

Meanwhile, during our morning walk the day after the black rice meal, I brought a bag and a pair of scissors and ignored the No Trespassing signs in a field of wildflowers along our walking route, where I snipped off the heads of a few ounces of black-eyed Susans.

Part of a field of wildflowers where I picked several ounces of Rudbeckia blossoms. No Trespassing sign edited out.

Tansy was also in bloom by the side of the road, and I took a few ounces of that too. The tansy went into my big vat, and the more compact Rudbeckia/black-eyed Susans went into my smaller pot. I let them simmer for a couple of hours, then gave them each a mordanted 2-ounce hank to swim around in for a day. The tansy produced a murky yellow and the black-eyed Susan a drab brownish green, due to the fact that stronger colors would have required twice as much plant material as I took, but that was all right. It gave me an opportunity to show off my next magic trick: alkaline modifier. I dissolved a teaspoon and a half of baking soda in a bowl of water and left the tansy hank in the afterbath for a while, maybe overnight, and it turned a vibrant yellow. The black-eyed Susan hank got the same treatment, and it turned a strong woodsy green. I had one final mordanted 1-ounce hank, and it went into the depleted tansy bath, which tinted it a pale yellow after many hours, then into the depleted black rice bath, which turned it a yucky pale green. But a night in the baking soda bath gave me a cheery, springlike light green. Hooray for modifiers!

Black-eyed Susan hank (top) and tansy hank, before alkaline modification:

And after, along with the three black rice hanks, which required no modification to be glorious. The black-eyed Susan and tansy hanks (the three on the right) definitely benefited from modification.

Also on my vacation projects list was a long-dormant project dating back five years. When I first started crocheting five years ago, my first project was a boxy baby jacket made of African Flowers motifs in many different colors, connected together with a Provence blue yarn.

My first crocheted project. This is about as good at crochet as I’ve ever gotten

I liked the jacket so much that I decided to make one for myself in a cobalt/purple/brown Wollmeise multi, accented by orangey-yellow and rust. The problem is, I’m going to need hundreds of those flowers and each one takes a while to make. I got bored after the first 25 or so, so I put the project aside and forgot about it for years. I roused it from its deep hibernation to work on it intermittently when I don’t have a handknitting or crochet project that requires my complete attention, and it’s a good travel project because it’s compact, although it’s not great when in a moving car on a bumpy road. It’s exactly the thing when I want to do something that requires attention but no problem-solving or decisions. I made a few more motifs while in Michigan, and when I have 100, I’ll start joining them with a blue-green yarn that I think ignites all the other colors. It might take another five years to get the 200 or 300 motifs I need for the shape and size I want the jacket to be, but I’m not in a hurry. I’m content with watching my pile of motifs grow bit by bit and letting my subconscious work out the architecture of their assembly while I work on other things with a faster timetable.

My way-back burner project

My vacation was also the occasion for a July mini-Swatchathon. My Ravelry group, The Interior of My Brain, fell in love with a chart the designer Kirsten Hall kindly provided us, which she devised for a blister-dotted pullover that she named “Hypnotoad” after a character in the Matt Groening TV show Futurama. In her sweater, Kirsten used leftovers of pretty much every fingering-weight yarn known to mankind, to great effect. We decided to have a KAL (knit-a-long) using Kirsten’s chart in any way the individual knitter chose. The chart portrays a 24-row offset arrangement of 8-stitch units formed by tuck stitches closing the circle around a center made of slipped stitches and plain stitches. Four rows of plain knitting border the lines of units, using the yarns that make up the inside of the circles. Kirsten recommends three kinds of yarn: a solid color to outline the circles, a handpaint for the edge rows just inside the outline, and a long gradient for the inside of the circles. I packed some stray bits of orphaned yarn in light blues, pinks, yellows, greens, and orange, planning to make a swatch about 8″x 6″ to learn the mechanics of the pattern and to see how it distributed the colors of the variegated yarn. But I saw what other people were doing with their Hypnotoads, and I decided to keep going with mine until it’s about 25 inches long, then turn it on its side, gather it up at one end topped by a patterned pompom with a ribbing on the other end, and call it a hat. My colors started off a little too sweet, so now that I’m home with my yarn stash I’m working in some edgier colors.

Front side of my Hypnotoad swatch, prior to expanding the palette
You can see on the wrong side how the slipped and tuck stitches are lifted up and held in place by the blue yarn

The other swatch in my July mini-Swatchathon uses a hairy yarn in red and black that I bought for a specific brioche sweater pattern, which, I realized belatedly, looks terrible on everyone who has knitted it. So the yarn, West Yorkshire Spinners’ now-discontinued Fleece Gems, has been sitting around in my stash for a year while I learned two-color ribbed brioche and contemplated design features for a two-color brioche rib sweater that wouldn’t look terrible on me. Eventually I ran across a design that was exactly what I was looking for. I would have bought the pattern except that it isn’t downloadable from Ravelry and has to be purchased hardcopy as a magazine ordered from the magazine’s website; it uses a different weight of yarn than the sport weight yarn I’m using; and it’s knitted top down and I like to knit bottom up. So I would have to go to a lot of trouble to get a pattern whose numbers and construction method I would have to disregard, and it’s a really simple design, with a short, wide body, unshaped 3/4-length sleeves, raglan yoke, funnel neck, and a faux cable going up one side of the front body and ending at the neck.

Melissa sent me a photo of a faux cable chart she used in a brioche cowl pattern she published recently and I set about swatching the chart and learning how to do the double increases and double decreases that produce the cable pattern. I had gotten a bit confused about how to do these operations because I was watching videos demonstrated by knitters who knit English, when I knit Continental, and I was distracted by the wrong-handedness. Also I was trying to decode written instructions and kept getting distracted by the abbreviations and jargon. One of the peculiarities of the interior of my brain is how normal and trivial things can derail me. But when I had the chart, the legend for the symbols, and needles and yarn in hand, it all made sense. My swatch shows some misinterpretations and mistakes, but now I’m oriented about how to make the faux cable shape.

For months now, I have been gradually chipping away at the Frog and Toad pattern by Kristina McGowan, which offers knitted and stuffed representations of the title characters in Arnold Lobel’s series of children’s books. My own childhood predated the books, but my daughters have happy memories of Frog and Toad’s friendship and adventures, and these memories are being passed on to the next generation. Knitting toys is not usually my thing, but I was charmed by how exactly similar Kristina’s representations are to Arnold Lobel’s illustrations, so some months ago I embarked on my own personal addition to the classic series, which could be titled Down the Rabbit Hole With Frog and Toad. The pattern includes instructions for the bodies of Frog and Toad, Toad’s ludicrous swimming costume, and trousers and a jacket for Frog, and all that remained for me to knit was Frog’s jacket, which was now on my vacation to-do list. So I did it. It came out perfectly because Kristina’s pattern is a miracle of precision and clarity. Now there’s nothing left in the pattern to knit, but what about Frog’s and Toad’s snow gear for their sledding excursion? Or the jacket whose lost button caused Toad to melt down and throw a tantrum? Or the creatures who laughed at Toad’s swimming costume? Or the flowers and rainclouds and sun and snow? So down the rabbit hole I go, although I don’t think I have it in me to emerge with a rabbit. But who knows? There are some really cute patterns out there.

Here’s the group photo of all my vacation projects, all of which have progressed since we got back home from our two weeks in Michigan. Except for the socks. I spent months on the socks and I’m glad to have moved on. I have finished a second iteration of the machine-knit sweater, and now I’m working on a third version. Now I’m working on weather and nature for Frog and Toad world. I have expanded the palette for the Hypnotoad hat. I have done more dyeing with black-eyed Susans using local flowers. More African Flower motifs. The brioche faux cable swatch is starting to turn into a sweater. Operations are continuing.

What I did on my summer vacation. And before and after

6 thoughts on “Continuity of Operations

  1. A bumper crop from your summer! The yarns you dyed make a wonderful palette for a sweater, so I’m looking forward to that, and to the full story on your striped sweater, which I already love. And I’m surprised to find out that machine-knit entrelac socks seem to be more work than handknit, of which I’ve made four pair, enough for a while. You use your time well, and I always like seeing the process. Long may you flourish!

    (Btw, what is the brioche sweater pattern which doesn’t flatter anyone? You can pm me on Rav with the answer if you don’t want to call anyone out on a public forum).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Entrelac socks on the machine might not be more work than hand knit, but only barely. On the other hand, I hate hand knitting entrelac, so the entrelac socks I machine knit are a big time-saver over the entrelac socks I don’t hand knit.


  2. True, the things we make are always time-savers compared to those we don’t make. I did save myself some time by making each of my pairs of a single variegated colorway rather than alternated colors tier by tier. The colors played out with enough exciting contrast to make the socks lively throughout with a minimum number of ends to weave in. I’m done with entrelac for the foreseeable future, however.

    Liked by 1 person

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