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)

This week, I faced a minor dilemma: Do I blog about knitting for friends or about the sock monkey I knit for my best friend? I finally solved it sometime between last night and tonight. I can write about both in the same blog. Why write about the third sock monkey? Because it’s for my best friend and it deserves the same honor the other sock monkey receives. Also, because, I once again used a new yarn that gave this monkey a fuzzy effect without being overly difficult to work with. As for writing about knitting for others I include the knitting for friends here partly because I include a small part of it in any blog in which there is an intended recipient.

A small note on knitting for friends: I knit for those who have expressed an appreciation of my knitting, or who have an obsession with what I knit. On the flip side of knitting for friends and loved ones, I did once ask my nephew (who turned 13 this year), if he wanted me to knit anything for him. He said he didn’t want anything knit for him. I may work my way around this one day, likely by knitting his father a tie(he’s usually touched by my homemade gifts), and waiting for my nephew to express that he likes it, or to steal it from his dad. If I ever make it to knitting sweaters, I likely will knit my own first, then my brother’s and then possibly my nephew’s. However, I will only knit said potential sweater if he asks for it.

You may be asking if those who received the sock monkeys asked for them, they did not. My nieces are open to me knitting for them, and have asked what I was knitting, in the hopes it was for them. The first person I knit a sock monkey for-Gaylin, has a collection of sock monkeys, and Hairy, Sock Monkey of Crankiness (Until he tells Gaylin another chosen name), was a special addition to her collection. My best friend, may have asked for one when she heard about it, but in the interest of secrecy, I did not tell her anything about knitting her a sock monkey, nor did I ask if she wanted one.

Since I’ve known my best friend for over 21 years(Its okay to stop counting the years when your friendship is of legal age), I know her well enough to know that she’d like one, whether she’d ask for it or not. So, I went in search of tie-dyed yarn that didn’t break the bank. I did find something in the Red Heart for kids collection, but I don’t care for Red Heart yarn, and I found a more fitting yarn by Sensations. It was an Angel Hair style in bright colors that changed every three inches.

It suited Andrea. She likes things bright. Me, I’ll use Hairy’s purple(The First Sock Monkey), with a nice subdued green. Andrea would pick out the hottest pink or funkiest tie-dye available.

Francine, before being sewn together…Monkeys look so sweet when they are not yet capable of swinging from the ceiling fan…

So, I trusted my inner knowledge of my best friend, and began work on this once my niece’s and Gaylin’s sock monkeys were complete. You may notice the feet on this one are a little more defined than on the previous monkeys, and one more so than the other foot. This is an example of tension control. I started knitting a leg.

The beginning of the foot/leg are a little cumbersome. For most in the round projects, you cast on 6 or 8 stitches and increase until you have the number necessary for the round. The better projects can work this in with solid knit rows for larger rounds. When I began knitting the foot/leg, I was treating this yarn like all the others I had knit with in the past. The yarn was different. I believe it was still acrylic. I know it was soft. But there was a bulkiness to this yarn the others didn’t have. It knit up much tighter. After a couple of inches, I noticed how the foot looked and make an effort to relax my tension. You can see what happened, I hope.

Yes, I considered ripping the stitches out, and re-doing it. But, I didn’t want to re-do it and end up with the same effect; and the foot looked a little better defined. Also, if a friend doesn’t love most of your quirks, they’re probably not really your friend.  I did try to emulate the tension error on the other side, but I didn’t want to break or bend the needles I was fighting with to keep the tension. I did feel as if I was fighting with the yarn for that entire two inches. I was so glad to let the tension go. And when I switched to the Vanna’s choice balancing brown yarn in barley, I found it was easier to knit this time, as opposed to tougher with the Caron Simply Soft.

The difference in tension is a big part of the reason for knitting up a gauge swatch, but I find I like to live adventurously, and see how the yarn knits. If I were knitting this for sale, I would have re-done it. Since I was knitting Francine for Andrea, I left the mistakes in the monkey.

Close-up of the finished Francine(named by Andrea), with Zeus putting up with mom’s camera games…

One small note about naming the monkeys…I agree with Gaylin’s system. Sometimes the monkey will share their name with you, sometimes they won’t. Francine waited until she met Andrea to reveal her name. Celeste revealed her name to me about half way through the process, and the fourth sock monkey revealed her name to me as well. Gaylin’s Hairy, the sock monkey of crankiness was dubbed in honor of James, who inspired his creation, but to my knowledge, hasn’t revealed his monkey name to Gaylin yet. As I mentioned in my last blog, they each have their own personalities. I hope you will join me in meeting the fourth and currently sock monkey next week likely, and then move on with me to meet the “Gotta Love Me” Monster knit for 600 Monsters Strong, and the Cactuar knit by request as I move along my path in knitting…. Until then, Happy Needle Clicking!