ok, now i believe in magic

Posted on Posted in lace/shawls, projects, Uncategorized

(flower of the day, squash)

before i get to today’s story, i just want to go back and comment of friday’s post about math and beauty, and how it affects me as a designer. the discussion that this topic opened up was astounding . . . the comments are, as a group, the most lengthy and excited ones i think i’ve had on one topic. (FO posts not included).

i think the reason that knitting and design appeal to the latent mathematician in all of us is our need to access feelings of wonder and satisfaction in our work. there is nothing like the moment when, after building for a while with the simple components of knit, decrease, and yo (and a little faith), the beautiful truth of lace (or cables, or stranding) is revealed.
our wonder (and the faith) is further confirmed when we subject the piece to blocking, and the laws of physics cause the fabric to open, thus multiplying the beauty-effect with only the addition of tension, properly placed.

add to all that the satisfaction of knowing that it all spawns from our own hands, and hey, you can’t beat the feeling. as all of us spend more and more of our work time not really producing anything concrete, we hunger for some tangible validation of our investment of energy and precious time.

with knitting, you get that back. the fact that is is intellectually stimulating, whether conscious or not, gives our brains a reason to keep going back for more, increasing what we know, becoming better at it. it’s good for our self-esteem, it’s good for our inner Euclid.

i love the color combinations in this butterfly so much that i wanted to put it in a jar and keep it. but i didn’t. instead, i ran in the house and got the camera and bumbled my way back outside—it was waiting.

so, the other day, i was a little stunned when i wrote that i had only one project on the needles and it was a sock. i ran around the house and checked, and sure enough, aside from a few UFOs that are sort-of in semi-deep storage, that was the only one. so that night i got right down to business and cast on a few socks.

but today, i have only a long illustrated story about not knitting socks. yet.

maybe it’s that i have a couple more irons in the fire than i should, or maybe it’s that i’m spending the better percentage of my concentration on work and One Pattern in Particular, but for the last two weeks, i have been in a nearly-constant struggle with a sock design.

the yarn is both gorgeous, and a real challenge. i showed it to you a few weeks ago, and said i needed to design a sock for the yarn4socks sock club. i’m really excited to be working with meg from twisted yarns, who sent me sample skeins about a month ago; they are all the same colors, but the repeat of the striping is different on each one

so we have a fairly strong autumn palette, with striping, and lots of choices as to the graduation of color. hmmm.
i had a couple of ideas right off the bat, and of course, lots of people by now expect something lacy, so one thing to explore would be lace. but i also hoped to maybe find something not lacy, just for a change . . .

i immediately started looking at every horizontal stitch pattern i could find (and you know how many of those there are . . .). ideally, i would have liked a horizontal lace motif to make rings around the sock that worked with the color repeat. ha! that has not come to pass, though i’m still looking.
so i settled for ANY lace pattern that would work with the color repeat, AND be fun (a big priority).

the fun part is tricky. i really can’t stand knitting socks that feel arduous, or have too many crossovers, or where the stitch count means you have to break up motifs between needles. i just can’t deal with doing all that on the itty-bitty needles (sweaters and shawls are completely different, having just one needle). i am a lazy sock knitter, in other words, and that narrows the field of usable stitch pattens quite a bit. which is good because i have enough trouble making stitch pattern decisions as it is.

but i still want wow-factor. i still WANT the socks to look like they are way complicated and i slaved over them for weeks. who wouldn’t? (you’ll never create true sock appreciators in your cotérie unless you dazzle them with the goods and make them think they should earn the privilege of having them).

i did try a couple of non-lace patterns, and i’m still considering one rib i like (but not this one). the one i like is very subtle and works up into a beautiful ombré when i do the rows back and forth in the swatch. but when i put it on the DPNs, something went terribly wrong and it looked awful. i’m going to revisit it.

so i finally narrowed the lace choices down to two stitch patterns. mostly that means that i tried about 27 different ones, and only these two are appealing to me. my first choice is this

heh. notice anything odd about it? uh, yeah, it slants just a tad. and because i’m a masochist and i’m not feeling behind enough already (that is, i’m not lying awake at night over the sock YET), i’m going to try something. i’m wondering if using a slanting design will work ok after all—it might even make the sock hug the foot and ankle better, seeing as lace patterns sometimes don’t (if you’ve tried this already and it was an utter failure, it would be ok to let me know).

at any rate, i have a backup pattern picked out too. this one slants just a wee bit, but i can fix it.

in both these patterns i like the way the yarn shades as it progresses through the leaf motif. since this is an autumn club kit, i wanted something that says “fall”. i also like the way the colors fall over the leaves, like they are dripping down.

oh yeah, and then there was the decision about which needle size to use. this yarn is a tad hefty, which made me want to use a 2, but i am leery of using 2s for socks. so i tested both the 1 and the 2

wow, that’s a big difference. maybe we’ll go with the 1 so i can squeeze more motifs in. firmer is better after all . . .

so you’d think i’d be all set now that i have a stitch and some needles picked out, right? oh, no.
remember i still have to decide which color repeat will work best.

my instincts will always go with the longest repeat (shut UP debbie), but i felt i had to be fair, so i did some more swatching. at this point, i am employing every single set of #1 needles i can lay my hands on, because, you know i don’t want to eliminate any swatches til i’m sure (hint: i am never sure, even when i’m done).

so i cast on with the lonGER and did a toe. i have to work toe-up with this sock because the motif runs one way.


hmmm—looks like my usual toe construction isn’t quite right for yarns with long color repeats (a problem i usually avoid by working top down . . .)

(seriously, can you believe this?? you think this is really my subconscious telling me to take a break? or is a grand universal truth—make something nice like the bee shawl with practically no problems, and you will pay later in ways you never dreamed of).

ok, i need a better toe (again, shut UP debbie (she knows what i mean))
and THEN maybe i can get on with this sock.

so i heard my friend julie’s voice (which is odd, because we only email; we don’t talk . . .) saying how much she likes the magic cast on (and look, there’s a sock toe right on her blog today). now julie’s really ace, and i am not in the mood for fooling around with a damn toe, so i go right to the computer to look it up and print it out.

then when i finally sat down to watch TV this morning at around 2am, i tried it out. i have never liked techniques for starting at the tippety toe—it’s really hard to work it with my oversized hands and then, it makes a toe that tends to be too short and a little puckery along the sides for me (just my opinion about how it works with my foot; no need to defend it, i still respect all techniques without prejudice).

but wow. THIS i like well enough.
i mean, i wouldn’t switch from top-down socks just to do it, but for this situation, where the yarn demands even distribution all around, it’s nearly perfect.

ok, so yay. after about ninety-leven tries, i’m on my way. but maybe i should do two of them, just to pit them fairly against each other? (besides, i wanted to try that magic cast-on again).
so that’s what i did i started two socks, one with the lonGER and one with the longEST color repeats. i’ll try that ribbed sock with the shortest repeat, just for fun on the side.

usually (really and truly, i mean this) i do NOT have this much trouble with just a sock. i mean sock designs usually spring out of my head pretty much intact—i see yarn, and i see a pattern, i see a marriage, and then i just go with it. it rarely doesn’t work for me. this was very unusual, and i hope that’s the end of this sock being difficult.

because if it isn’t, i will just have to show it the sock i’m making out of this

more woolen rabbit yarn—mmmm. and it’s working up like a dream, of course. i can’t show it to you yet . . . i want to, real bad, but i’m thinking of using it for a submission come september, so, i’m going to wait.

tomorrow there are garden pictures.

48 thoughts on “ok, now i believe in magic

  1. More Woolen rabbit…yum, I can’t quite woolen rabbit myself. I’m in complete awe of your design prowess no matter how long it takes you to get there.

  2. I am so hyperventilating at your Y4S club pattern in progress! I can’t wait ’til I get that club package.

    I didn’t realize that the Twisted is more ombre (beautifully so) as so many indie self-striping yarns have abrupt changes between colors.

    I used to love math ’til I had to learn both physics and calculus at the same time in high school. I had forgotten how simply elegant math could be ’til I starting knitting.

  3. i’m not sure if you know this or not, but the AARP recommends knitting as one of the activities to keep your mind sharp along with crossword puzzles. so it is indeed one of the great ways to keep yourself intellectually stimulating.

    i love the colours of the sock you’re designing and the sneak peek into how you go about designing. it’s so fascinating for someone who is rather intimidated by the whole design process. maybe reading more about it will make it a little more human (vs. superhuman) for me. 🙂

  4. OMG! This Autumn yarn and sock pattern are amazing–I know it is a work in progress but I so want this sock club kit. Can you tell me which one I should sign up for there is august, october and february available.

  5. Wow, there really is a big difference between the size 1 and the size 2 swatches! Seeing that, I guess I’d give it a try with 2.5 mm (somehow US 1.5) needles, just out of curiosity…

  6. Mmmm. . . Merlot Leaves! That’s what the sock colors remind me of. Pretty. Another teaser at the end?! My word!

  7. love the additional maths talk, BUT had to comment first and foremost on the beautiful, frowzy, kind of, I must say, diaphanous-ly harlot-y squash flower…. she is Gor-jus!

  8. I think the Queen Bee fried your brain. It’s her fault, not the socks. Your brain just needs a ‘lil rest.

  9. I also just started trying the magic cast on. I feel like it is pretty straight forward and not too fussy.

    Can’t wait to see the new socks and mystery project!!

  10. I LOVE the Magic Cast On method and do all my toe up socks that way now. Just put one on the needles last night as a matter of fact.

    Sending out some sock mojo ~~~

  11. That is a load of work. I am sure that they are going to be gorgeous once you decide on what works for you. Good luck and I hope that it goes quick and smoothly for you.

  12. Pardon me as I wipe the drool away…

    I adore that yarn and the superb color progression – whichever design you choose in the end. Beautiful!

  13. From the squash flowers to the photos to the butterfly shaped like a sock toe to the “shut UP Debbie”s, I very much enjoyed reading this. Best of luck with it all.

  14. The sock swatch work is magnificent to watch, Ann. About your slanting stitch pattern — in Lucy Neatby’s book Cool Socks, Warm Feet, there is a sock made with a lacey rib that slants in one direction. My narrow-footed friend says they’re the best fitting socks I’ve ever made for her!

  15. Anne, I am dizzy from reading your post, so if I feel this way, I can only imagine how you are feeling. I’m thinking a little stretch of stockinette knitting might help you a little bit. You can contemplate while stitching mindlessly.

    Having said that, I LOVE the colors and the lace…so so pretty!

  16. eeek! I was starting to worry when I didn’t hear from you for so long! I am totally sincere when I say I can change things about the yarn that are giving you trouble! The colorway I can’t change because I’d be tared and feathered by so many of the knitters that have seen it. But please don’t hurt yourself in creating a pattern that will work with those yarns! I don’t want to stress you out with my funky stripes.

    I really liked the slanty swatch. I think the slant really adds to the good vibe. Love the lace with the intense colors.

  17. Your beautiful yarn reminds me of those lovely tourmalines that range from green to pink within one stone, often set into rings or pendants.

  18. It’s not just you. Zyllah and I both seem to have fallen from the favor of Soxia. Zyllah prepared a nice little altar with candles and a basket of hand knit socks.

    All I did was look at the picture, and it hasn’t helped me any 🙁

  19. Zuchini sorry squash flowers; beautiful and yummy. Have you ever cooked them? Love the sock yarn, glorious colours. Good luck with the patterns. Sometimes, some projects are just difficult for no reason, they just are. Love the woollen rabbit yarn. May have to get some. Beautiful butterfly. I could see a black silk garment with a lace edging in the contrast.

  20. ok, so i have the same question – can you tell us what month you are designing for? because, um, i have to know. 🙂

  21. I LOVE that yarn. For some reason the combination of red, green, and pink is really speaking to me right now. I love the slanty lace pattern as well. So I have to get this through yarn4socks? Completely doable. Yes, please tell us what month!

    Hey, you’ve gone on about math and physics in knitting, but what about chemistry? Hmm, maybe that should be my department. I’ve been meaning to do a blog post about the chemistry of blocking for ages now. I should probably get on that.

  22. that yarn is amazing! the colors and the repeat – beautiful. I love the lonGEST pattern – somehow it seems to work best with the colors and for me, is the most appealing. I love the magic cast on – I use it whenever I have to do toe ups!

  23. dude you have such patience for pattern design and swatching. i admire that in you very much. that and also how little you sleep and still FUNCTION! yay you! 😀

    can’t wait to see this pattern design. i think i’ll have to make a binder just for your patterns. or, it’d be nice if you just make a nice fat BOOK out of your patterns so i can have them all in one hard-covered, full-of-pictures place.


  24. Not sure what the problem is – I liked every picture you showed. I do believe I’m gonna have to join that sock club, based on this picture alone.

  25. Love the socks Ann. What month is going to be your design? Gotta get meyself right over there and sign up, because, as we all know:


    (I’m being very good. Really I am.)


    PS. Is Tree Scum pattern for sale? Don;t see it on the website, but Margene was talking about making a pair.

  26. The butterfly picture totally makes me think that a black shawl with graded natural shades from dark to light just on the very edge would be extremely cool.

  27. You inspire me. Your squash blossom photo is fab! I’ve been wracking my brain for a color wash combination for an upcoming sock yarn dying class, and your photog is my inspriation…think gold and orange and spring green. Now that the colors are chosen, I’ll turn my attention to searching out a pattern that makes me see the shape of the flower. THanks Ann!

  28. I’m glad to hear your preferences for sock knitting: not TOO fussy, darn it. I mean, we’re using toothpicks, after all. Good thing that doesn’t apply to the sock *design* process, though!

  29. The butterfly’s colours will make a perfect elegant wrap knitted in some very delicate pattern with the golden edges, perfect for the small black dress (not that I own one anymore…:)

    I like the toes design that separate the two colours almost perfectly but I know I am weird with that. It made me think about a sock pattern that will do this in purpose I mean have like patches of colour that look like we knitted them with different yarns, but I guess we will have to waste a lot of yarn from the variegated ones, no? what do you think?

  30. Reading through comments, I love the idea of a black silk shawl with edging the colors of the butterfly. Ooh, it would be nice if Hand Maiden had solid black Sea Silk and plus a hand-paint yarn the colors of the butterfly’s lacy edge. Very elegant! Someone out there must have this. I bet Briar Rose would do this for YOU! Maybe Lisa Souza (gorgeous yarns — she has the most amazing color sense).

  31. I hope I eventually accomplish A sock, let alone tackle some of the stuff you do. I’ve torn out the beginnings of my orange and green sock 4 times, but it finally looks like I know what I’m doing, and I’m not overly-conscious of all the pointy sticks anymore. 🙂

  32. Anne, you’re a meany lol!! I wanna see the other sock now (me stomping my foot and putting on my best pouty face). Okay, okay, if I have to wait ’til september I guess I will.

    Glad the magic cast on worked so well for you, makes me want to give it a try some time. Just my opinion, I like the lace pattern swatch #2 with the tag that has longest pinned to it. I think it’s the most reminicent of falling leaves to me. Just my personal opinion, not trying to make your job any harder lol. That yarn is just gorgeous btw!

  33. ok…that last yarn – Woolen Rabbit? IS STUNNING! Oh my.
    And the butterfly. I love the colors in the socks – no matter the length of the transitions in the dye – gorgeous…
    You do have a way with words, and philosophy, and creativity, and photography…!
    And really, I do think the math & science works there too. But you say it so much better than I…You do make me think! Thank you!

  34. O.k. Maybe a tiny offering, if you’re of a cooking frame of mind. Unlikely as it may sound, if you pinch off the flowers you can cook them – makes a lovely aperatif-

    mix salt and freshly ground pepper into a cup of flour.
    Dunk the flowers in beaten egg and then the flour mix. dust off the excess. Fry swiftly in a pan of sizzling butter and olive oil [half and half] Serve immediately – delicious!
    O.k. it’s Italian so maybe it’s more of a coronary on a pan.
    Best wishes

  35. Phew. just listening to those design dilemmas makes me want to hug my Pooh bear.
    You’re a super star to go through all of that for a sock. Me, I would have tossed caution to the wind, and gone for a top down, instead of toe up.
    And What a fabulous butterfly photo.

  36. The yarn is gorgeous. All three versions. Don’t you love that magic cast on? I doubt I’ll ever stop knitting socks from the cuff down, but for toe up socks, that cast on is the bomb. 🙂

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