A New Sock Adventure

April 25, 2013

I’m doing it again. I’m knitting myself socks. I’m almost half-finished with the first knit sock…so, you may be hearing about knitting socks for a bit. However, because socks are a slower process, I may present other knitting topics. I finished each of the other projects on my list with immediate due dates and decided to get out my new tax-refund sock yarn and began knitting thousands more hugs for my feet.

I found a free pattern called Vanilla Latte socks on ravelry.com http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/vanilla-latte-socks. Though the price is right, please do not rush off to get this pattern without a little further information. This pattern is for intermediate knitters, specifically those who have knit socks from the top-down before. It assumes you have a favorite cuff style already. I haven’t gotten to the heel or turning the heel or the gusset yet. I do not quite have a favorite cuff pattern, but this forced me to put some thought into the sock I was knitting.

Sock #1 on needles-dpns

I like to think, if none of you have figured this out yet. I now had to consider if I wanted to attempt to knit the knit 2, purl 2 cuff I’ve done before and wasn’t entirely happy with or if I wanted to do a different cuff pattern. I searched other styles of cuff and thought about adjusting the ribbing pattern with a knit 3, purl 1 cuff, since the pattern was a knit 6, purl 2 rib. I thought it would give it a distinctive but tied-in look, but wasn’t sure I wanted that look. I’ve learned to wait to be sure or to find something else when I’m not sure. It usually works.

In the end, or beginning, rather, I chose to knit the pattern for the cuff. I don’t like cuffs, Sometimes, they are not as elastic as I like, and they aren’t the most comfortable on my sturdy legs. So, I began knitting the pattern with an extra 1 and a quarter inch for the cuff. The good news is, while the pattern repeats often; I am still able to do this while watching a video with a class I teach or on a night when preschoolers or kindergarteners did not completely exhaust me.

However, during classes of older children, where I have had a few minutes to fill here and there, and not certain if I had enough time to pull out the books I love, I have demonstrated knitting to the classroom to a surprisingly receptive level of students. My favorite demonstration was while knitting these socks in a fourth grade class at the end of the day. Their dioramas were packed up and they had cleaned up and were nearly ready to go. I had a couple of volunteers pick up the floor and sat down to knit a row in front of them, showing them the pattern and telling them how I picked out the yarn for this pattern. At the end, one young man raised his hand and thanked me for the demonstration, and shared that he would be visiting his grandmother that evening to knit with her. I was touched.

In all honesty, I am not the best demonstration knitter, but I have come to accept that after I demonstrate a row of knitting, sometimes it is best to simply rip out that row and knit it again. However, the benefit of exposing kids to knitting is worth every ripped stitch, and it lessens the pain when you know you are going to rip it out anyway. If I pull off a perfect row, while discussing my knitting, I will be doing a dance so happy, the kids will think I’ve lost it.

Now, bear with me for one more class story, and then perhaps I can get back to the socks. When I walked into this fourth grade class with the young man who knits with his grandmother, it was my second visit. I had been knitting the cactuar on my last visit to their class. Before the teacher could hand me the instructions and step out for his meeting, at least two of the students asked me about the other project I’d been working on. I told them I’d finished it, but I’d left it at home that day and the photos of it were in the mail to me. Part of me wished I’d remember to bring the cactuar to school for that few minutes of my day. It would have been fun to do my own show-and-tell with the finished project and let the kids see that knitting isn’t just for sweaters and grandmas.

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Speaking of sweaters, one day I hope to get there. In the meantime, I hope to have more info next week on an update of these socks. If I can get to the heel, I’ll tell you if I go with the familiar one or pick a different variation, as the pattern I picked comes with three heel variations. I’m going to take these little surprises one at a time. Options are a good thing, but there can be such a thing as too many choices. Plus, I am knitting these socks one at a time. I will have to repeat whichever heel I choose, so I had better mark it carefully.  

In the meantime, I will be choosing the heel and beginning the turn as I continue on this tight-knit sock journey.

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Knitting a Cactuar!

April 18, 2013

Some days, you search for the patterns. Some days, the patterns find you. Some days, its a little of both. It becomes even more of both when a friend presents you with something interesting you’ve never knit before, but is close to the Sock Monkeys, you are known for. It’s even more interesting when that friend is full-grown man who plays video games and has a collector’s personality.

I received a facebook message from a friend asking if I could knit him one of these: http://www.sheezyart.com/art/view/2413993/ with a photo of the image included.

I looked at it and asked for a knitting pattern, since this version is crocheted. The person making this one made it smaller than mine, but I began the search and found a pattern with said friend’s help. We settled on one pattern, and I began knitting mini socks, that were almost like baby booties. The pattern said to knit the body first, but the “socks/booties” were tougher and there were four of them. If I could get them done, finishing the body should be easier and like a long home stretch.

The four “sock” legs knit up easier than I thought, but still provided some challenge as they were tiny, but too long for baby booties. Though, they were almost as cute. I have to mention the yarn color here, as cactuars are almost pea-green in appearance. I had an asparagus green yarn that has been deemed ugly. It was passed on to me from someone from the generation of avocado green kitchen appliances. I also had a really cool two tone green novelty ribbon yarn by ice, but it refused to knit up in a reasonable size which I could make this pattern from. So, off to the stores to search the correct skein of yarn.

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(The ugly asparagus yarn is nestled in the pretty bowl my boyfriend’s sister Denise and niece Katelyn picked out for me for Christmas)

While my friend offered to pay for the yarn or provide it, I knew about what I wanted to work with. I searched for something like Caron Simply Soft for this, or a cotton based green yarn, but neither had a good enough green that would look like a cactus. I looked at more specialty yarn, but did not find the right green, nor a good texture. I also wished to keep it affordable. So, after searching, and searching, the only green I liked was made by Red Heart.

Confession time: I am a yarn snob. While I will use acrylic and find it splits if I’m not careful in my knitting, I draw the line at Red Heart yarn as it has a scratchy feel I do not like. However, this was different version, called Red Heart with Love, and was apparently washed before it was sent to market. It didn’t have the scratchiness I’ve associated and found with every skein of Red Heart since I’ve begun knitting. I picked a pound of a color called ‘lettuce’ and took it home to finish the ;Gotta Love Me’ Monster in last week’s post.

Then I started knitting the Cactuar using the Red Heart with Love yarn and was surprised at its softness.  I knit the four sock booties, then began the body with a few knit stitches and a couple of purl stitches. The true fun of knitting this body,  since it was a lot of the same thing for 10 inches of knitting in the round, was taking it into work.

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(Cactuar on burgundy panel before assembly)

I work as a substitute teacher and find myself in different classrooms often. A repeat classroom, though increasingly common, is still rare. When I have downtime in class, or on breaks, I often knit. When I need time fillers at the end of the day, I pull out my knitting and demonstrate or explain the project. Each time, the sock monkeys, the monster, and the cactuar has engaged the imagination of many children, but the Cactuar perhaps most of all. Perhaps, I simply had more opportunity to present the Cactuar to the children I worked with.

But, just yesterday(Wednesday), I returned for an hour to a class where I was knitting the Cactuar previously. Before the teacher could show me where he’d left instructions for me and head out, one of the kids came up to me to ask if I’d finished what I was knitting last time. “The Cactuar?” I asked. “Yes, he’s all done. But the photos are in the mail, and I didn’t think to bring him with me. I’m working on socks now.”

I was touched. At the end of the day, as we put away the Winn-Dixie dioramas they were creating, and once we got cleaned up, we found we had a few extra minutes to fill. I pulled out my sock and demonstrated my knitting for this project to some interested fourth graders while a few volunteers made sure the floor was clean. While I was presenting, one of the students raised his hand to tell me, “I’m going to my grandma’s tonight, and I will be knitting with her.”

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(Cactuar on burgundy panel after assembly)

I was pretty impressed. At the end of my presentation, once the teacher had returned, he politely raised his hand to thank me for showing him my knitting. I wish all of my classes were as good as this fourth grade class. I really enjoyed them, as well as knitting the Cactuar. I hope you enjoy knitting your projects.

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(Cactuar on Briannag with puppy pillow. Briannag approves all my knitting, but would prefer to test it for durability)

I used to wonder about people who knit, crochet, or sew for charity. I wondered where they found the time to knit some “extra” projects, where did they get the yarn, and what made one charity good enough for someone to spend that time knitting for them. I also wondered if I was a good enough knitter. Since people are vastly different, the answers are sure to differ.

Then I met the group 600 Monsters Strong through facebook. A friend who also knits posted a link for their call to action. The joy in this call to action was 1) it was something I could do, 2) it wasn’t political in nature, 3) it went ahead to say move forward and stop focusing on pointless arguments, 4) it grabbed my heart and looked fun.

http://www.ravelry.com/groups/600-monsters-strong

“A group started (but that grew beyond) with a one goal: knitting and crocheting 600 stuffed toys for the children impacted by the December 14th, 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.”

To me, this says, ‘Let’s do something positive.’ They posted this idea on facebook and ravelry and were soon overwhelmed with questions, responses and shortly thereafter, monsters.

“Why monsters?” one might ask. Wouldn’t monsters scare the children? Not necessarily. I think of it this way, while you often fight fire with water, “fight fire with fire” is a cliche for a reason. They’re meant to be soft, cuddly and lovable. And each monster does have a few rules. Eyes were not to be X’s or even glued on googly eyes. They were to be felt shapes, crocheted, and sewn rounds are acceptable. Red is discouraged for this group. Monsters should be 6” to 10” in height to be cuddly. The link above leads to the rest of the rules and suggestions, as well as a list of approved patterns.

I chose the “Gotta Love Me Monster” pattern. It was cute and the pattern was free. Most of the patterns with a charge are $6.00. The “Gotta Love Me Monster” was based on a circular needle, but I am already comfortable with double-pointed needles, so I read the pattern through and decided it should translate from circular needles to dpns well. Yeah for me, it did.

Next, I located my leftover Angel Hair Sensations yarn in multi-color which I used to knit Francine, “The Third Sock Monkey, Meet Francine” I had the most of this yarn, as well as the Vanna’s Choice Barley(brown) yarn I had left over from knitting each of the sock monkeys.

To knit this monster, I cast on 72 stitches first and began a somewhat long process of knitting 35 rounds and marking them on the pattern with tallies. This monster began very pretty, but after 8-10 of very similar rows, he was starting to get boring to knit. However, I trudged on, sure the end result would be worth it. I do, however, become easily bored with repetitive actions. I did think this monster might have benefitted from a waistband, but he was not designed that way, so I marked the tallies and took him to school to knit during breaks. As a substitute teacher, I sometimes get time to do nothing. I knit during those breaks. It helped to break up the knitting for this section and make it go smoothly. I knew he’d be cute when I was done, so I continued. Plus, some child, somewhere, would be comforted by my creation.

Once I finished the body section, I began the decreases and the knitting become more interesting for the next 37 rows. These rows became easier to knit in part because they required my attention and in part because they became smaller every other row. Somewhere around rows 58-60, I realized my multi-color yarn would run out. I was not buying another skein of yarn for two reasons-1) I was tired of this color, 2) I was sticking to my resolve to turn this monster into a stash buster. I resisted the urge to sew it together then, and create the ears and arms and feet. But what is a poor, stubborn girl to do when the main color runs out?

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I changed the design/color of the yarn. I tied the brown barley Vanna’s choice yarn I would use for the appendages and continued with the last ten or twelve rows. I decided to make the eyes a different color. Then I knit the body flap, which is a simple rectangle sewn onto the bottom once the body is stuffed. I continued knitting the appendages which knit up much quicker than the body. However, the three needle bind-off was a new practice for me. I felt stumped with the first one, but found a video online…I do not recall which one, but a simple Google search for 3 needle bind-off should help you find assistance for this. Essentially, you place one knitting needle through two knit stitches as if to knit and knit them off as one, then you bind the resulting row off giving you a tougher seam. However, to fully understand it, I recommend getting better instruction, or searching out a couple of videos.

Once the ears, arms and feet were bound off and stuffed, and the body was stuffed and sewn, I would sew the small pieces to the body close to the areas designed for them. By this time, I had mostly discarded the pattern and sewed them on where they looked good. When this was finished, I added the eyes, sewn in circles of yarn in deep blue and a smile in the same color. Then I took this monster’s photo and showed my boyfriend, who thought he needed something. Oddly enough, I had the perfect two-tone green novelty knitting ribbon yarn in  green tones that worked with the monster and I gave him a little belt, which defined his waist.

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In the end, he was a fun monster to knit. I may knit him again. I do recommend the pattern as written for the “Gotta Love Me Monster.” I do not recall finding any errors in this pattern either, which was impressive. If there was an error, it was quite minor and easily resolved. I hope you have enjoyed this blog about my knit monster. I hope the child who receives this monster finds great comfort in this simple gift.

Fourth and Last Sock Monkey for Now….

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Sock Monkey Legs for Lizzie

There is something special about knitting, about that which comes from the heart. When someone else knits for you or you knit for others, that project becomes an act of love. That love can be seen, touched and felt in a simple sock monkey vessel, even in a simple loving dishcloth. Selene, Sock Monkey of Moonlight is that act of love and comfort for my youngest niece, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is the youngest of three children and a sweet darling who always made me laugh. She’s moved to Florida now, and I cherish her in my heart as I do her brother and sister. But each child brings you a different joy. Elizabeth’s is the gift of humor. She never fails to delight me with funny faces or by curling her tongue at me when we wake up and I’m not certain I’m ready to face that day. That humor gave me the courage to get through some difficult times, and she was only three then. She was likely unable to fully comprehend her effect on me simply by being who she is.
The hope, by knitting Selene for her, is that she will feel me thinking of her as I knit. That she will feel the love and happiness she brings to me as she enjoys her sock monkey and hosts tea parties to honor them, fancy hats often required. After all, Selene did arrive with a purple, green, and blue hat of Spring to match Celeste’s fur and Celeste has the yellow and pink hat to match Selene’s fur. They have been gifted to sisters after all.
Now, I shall get to some of the mechanics of the knitting love into stitches. Some think its just yarn. Some think its the same yarn. But as I mentioned last week, each monkey has their own personality. Just as a roomful of small children will be filled with many personalities. I found this Cotton Candy yarn by Deborah Norville to be less striped than the Spring color. I watched it knit into a 2:1 ratio of yellow to pink(2 inches of yellow for each 1 inch of pink). I was hoping for more of a 1:1 ratio. However, I did have some striping on each appendage as you will see from the photos.
Some may ask if it becomes rote to knit the same project more than once. It might, but I have yet to find that. With each monkey, I have been lucky enough to change the yarn color and sometimes the texture of the yarn. Each yarn often has a slightly different feel in your fingers. Each color has a different look. Michigan's Adventure 002

Squib(kitten) testing knitting needles

Most acrylics feel like acrylic but the single strand is thinner than most double strands, and Caron Simply Soft is usually softer than Red Heart Yarn. The Sensations Angel Hair was more fuzzy, and the Vanna’s Choice in barley which I used on most of the monkeys felt the closest to wool I’ve noticed. I’ve found that liking the yarn helps me to want to do the project. But the sock monkey is relatively simple to knit, yet has enough parts and complications to keep me occupied. Shaping the rear and the muzzle take a more concentration of effort and should not be attempted when one is asked to naviagate through unfamiliar roads. The ears knit up quick and take on a cuteness of their own as well. And while one ear is usually covered by the hat, I knit both ears and sew them on. Part of the reason for this is that while I work to secure the hat to the head and the scarf to the neck, I find children often want the option to remove these items. Therefore, I do not knot them. Most people I’ve provided these monkeys to have enough sense to secure the hat and scarf back on in a hidden manner if they feel the need to do so. Or they know enough to find someone who can.

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Briannag(Pit/Lab Mix) & Putzer(Cat) Greet Selene when she’s ready to travel to Lizzie

As for the monkeys themselves, they have one or two jobs in this world, but they’re the biggest jobs of all. Their main job is to share the love I felt for my nieces and friends as I knit these monkeys for them. Their secondary job is to listen to the child when they need it, to help them feel loved no matter how tough life seems. After all, there’s a certain strength in knit stitches that hold what little else can. I hope they bring love, comfort and happiness to their recipients.