27 January 2011

Postal blues

I have a friend who is a brilliant silk artist.

She started out painting silk scarves as a hobby. Now, she does glorious hand-painted mandalas. I can't copy the pictures from her website, but I promise you it's well worth going and browsing for a while. (The site is in German text, but my friend speaks English like a native; I'm not sure why she's never gone bilingual with it.)

Over the years, as she has honed her talents, she has given me at least half a dozen stunning scarves. I blogged one of them here. But I also have elephants, seals, floral patterns, abstractions: a cornucopia of beautiful silkiness.

One day last summer, I looked at some fiber in the spinning pile, and realized that it wanted to be a shawl or scarf for my friend. (Never make a gift for someone unless the fiber tells you that's what it wants to be.)

Spunky club "Flowering Weeds"

The fiber came out in her colors. I got about 325 yards of chain-ply from three ounces of merino-mohair blend (Spunky Eclectic, once again, colorway "Flowering Weeds").
This being me, I started spinning in early June, thinking I might get it done for her birthday at the end of the month.

I finished knitting the shawl in October.

Flowering Ishbel

Before blocking. Note how little of the yarn is left over: it came out just exactly right.

Flowering Ishbel

During blocking.

Flowering Ishbel

After blocking.

The pattern is Ishbel, by Ysolda Teague. And I wish I had taken some better photos of it. But I blocked it, and then waited another month or so to weave in the two ends (would hate to rush anything), and then I just wanted to get it in the mail.

I sent it in mid-December, thinking that she might possibly have it in time for Christmas. Though I am usually pretty scattered about Christmas and gifts (I am great at thinking of nice things I would like to send people, and not very good about carrying through on my plans), I did manage to get a few things in the mail this year. Even a couple of Christmas cards, though only a couple.

Of course everything takes ages to arrive internationally, especially over the holidays. Still, thanks began to trickle in from people. But earlier this week, I realized I'd never heard from my friend. And after some thought - you hate to push someone to acknowledge a gift they might not have liked! - I wrote her on Facebook to ask if she had gotten a package from me.

Wouldn't you know: it never arrived.

She, being an optimist, assured me that she sent a friend in Florida a package at the start of December, and he only just got it this week. So we hope it went surface mail, and might show up in a week or two.

But wouldn't it just figure that when I finally get around to acting on a nice instinct and making something for someone who has made me so many nice things over the years, it vanishes without a trace...

UPDATE, Jan 31: All it took was a little griping for the postal gods to take note! It arrived today, about seven weeks after I mailed it, with the airmail sticker still on it. And the recipient was very happy.

10 January 2011

Ripped (out)

I have spent months letting potential blog posts drift across my mind like those zips at the bottom of cable news channels, adding a layer of ephemeral complexity to an already overcrowded prospect.

I am finally, though, moved to commit words to screen out of sheer frustration. After years of functioning as a reasonably competent knitter, I seem to be losing my ability to complete the simplest of tasks.

It began with these socks. Slippery Socks, from Knitty.com.

Slippery Sock

These were conceived as a house present for a friend who brought me to her country house last fall. (LAST fall. That would be 2009.) While I was there she admired, extravagantly, the hand-knit socks I was wearing. So what better house present could there be than a pair of socks, made in autumn-leaf colors to commemorate our weekend of "leaf-peeping?"

Now, I have been known to knock off a pair of socks in a matter of weeks. See my last post. I can even knit socks faster than I can photograph them, as evidenced by this image of a half-knitted, toeless sock that was actually completed six months ago and has been in regular rotation since.

Plane Socks

And these "leaf-peeping" socks were moving along swimmingly. Only, I realized, as I made my way up the leg of the first (toe-up) sock, that they might be a little big. I tried them on and realized that they were a little big ON ME, and would therefore be able to do double duty as a sleeping bag for my petite friend.

I responded as I usually do. I put the unfinished sock in the corner for a number of months, as punishment.

Some time THIS fall (we're talking 2010 now), I finally ripped it back to the toe and started a whole new sock in a whole new pattern: Leyburn socks, which I'd been wanting to make for a long time. (I liked the way the Slippery looked, but I found the pattern a little fiddly.)

"Peep" sock in progress

Well and good. Yet somehow, I ended up having to rip out these socks several times.
The first sock was too big, again. Ripped back, reknit. Then I started the second sock. Messed up the heel. Ripped back, reknit. Realized I had left out some pattern increases. Ripped back, reknit. Realized I had left those increases out of the first sock, too. Ripped back, reknit.

I got into a veritably manic state about these socks. I wondered if they would ever be finished, or if I would be condemned to continue knitting them for the next ten years.

"Peep" socks (Leyburn socks)

Finally, they're done. I think one of them is still too big. And the floats look awfully loose. They might benefit from a spin in the washing machine. But I have entered the "it's-the-thought-that-counts" stage. This represents a terrible loss of knitter's pride. Obviously I have reached a new low. But I did a great job on the packaging.

"Peep" socks, packaged

So, those socks are all ready to send off. And this weekend I was faced with the prospect of wrapping up other unfinished objects, and catching up on spinning. Logically enough, I woke up on Saturday morning suddenly inflamed - perhaps "consumed" is a better word - with the realization that I had, in my stash, the perfect yarn with which to make a sweater I've had my eye on: Debbie Bliss's Divided Front Tunic. Somehow it takes several weeks for ideas to percolate in the brain until the notion of "yarn-being-saved-for-sweater" and "sweater-I-want-to-knit" bump up against each other and prompt the chemical reaction that leads to immediate, willful casting on -- without even swatching. (Cue ominous music.)

I knit all Saturday morning. Then I calculated the yardage and realized that if I knit the pattern in the size I'd chosen, I wouldn't have enough yarn to finish.

So I ripped out my work from Saturday, and cast on again, one size smaller. Still without thinking to MEASURE what I'd ripped out.

By the end of Sunday, I had about 10 inches of the back. At which point I actually looked at it and thought it seemed generously proportioned, even for a loose-fitting garment. When I measured, I discovered that I was so far from getting gauge that my sweater was not a size M, but a size XXXL.

I will not let myself be defeated. I want to wear this sweater while the weather is still cold. So I am pledged, today, to rip it out again and hope that the third time is the charm.
But I long for the days when I simply sat down and knit, and made things that fit.