I’ve had a few friends tell me that it’s nice to see me blogging again. I’m going to run with that, including writing posts where I don’t have a great deal of revelatory content. For instance, this post is entirely based around the toe of a sock. Knit by me. This afternoon. And some this evening while I chatted with a friend, and watched old episodes of Fraiser. (Don’t judge me. I love David Hyde Pierce.)
It was a long process. It was a hard day. I have a hard time saying that. I imagine what my hard day looks like next to the hard days of a few billion other people without healthcare or financial stability, and I have a dark laugh. All the things I can’t control. Anyway.
I measured my foot in four different places. I have formulas that say how to figure out what your cast on should be by the number of stitches per inch in your gauge, including some negative ease (10% is the number I see bandied about). My math was correct, I checked it several times. I knit two sock toes, and both times they came out way too big even though the gauge was spot-on. WHAT SAY YOU, GAUGE FAIRES? I was getting so tired, and trying not to feel depressed that knitting socks was the thing making me tired. I only have so much energy in a day, is this really what I’m doing with it? I asked myself this, and for some reason, heard back, “YES!”
So I ate a bowl of corn chex in almond milk (someday these details may be pertinent) and kept going. YouTube finally helped:
For her toe she uses the Seam Free Rounded Toe pattern, and that’s what you see in my picture up above. I had been looking at two books and three printed patterns trying to figure out how to start, and how to use my measurements that seemed so clearly not to fit on any pattern scaffolding I could find. And then I just started this toe, and I stopped way earlier than I normally do because it just seemed like a good idea, and now I’m going to knit a little farther and see what happens. Maybe a sock will happen.
I woke up at 8 am to Greg bringing me breakfast in bed, which was incredibly sweet except that I was actually still exhausted. I kept leaning my head back on the pillow while I ate, until we were both laughing and he just picked up the tray and set it on the nightstand and said, “Why don’t you see if you can get some more sleep?”
So I did, and I dreamt of cheese. My doc is having me do a food elimination trial of going off wheat and dairy. I’m on my third week, and I’ll write more about it later, but let’s just say the lack of cheese is grueling. I think about it all the time. Brie, fresh mozzarella, the lavender goat cheese some obviously genius person sells at our farmer’s market. I’ve dreamt about cheese every night for the last week.
The first cheese dream was me at a party, standing at a buffet table. Except instead of a mix of hors d’oeuvre, it was just a different kind of cheese on every plate, cubed or tubbed or sliced or in a ball. I looked down and began panicking. Nothing but cheese? Who does that? Where are the vegetables? The chips and dip? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? My hands were shaking and I was willing myself not to pick anything up. Then the dream shifted and I was mingling, seemingly triumphantly away from the cheese table, until I suddenly found myself back there. Except that now, every plate was empty. I looked around. Every conversation had stopped. They all stood in stony silence, staring at me. That’s when I realized who had done it. Who had eaten the cheese. ALL THAT CHEESE. And then I woke up.
I’m hoping the dreams stop soon.
The family asked what I wanted to do today, but unfortunately, the CFS/fibromyalgia situation makes days like this especially hard. Every restaurant in Seattle is crowded to the gills most of the time, but today it would have been impossible to get in anywhere without standing around waiting for an hour or even ninety minutes. I can’t stand that long, especially not outside in the sun. I haven’t reached the point of being able to ask a perfect stranger to give up their seat for my invisible illness (who knows, maybe they have an invisible illness). Crowds are also hard. So we decided to have lunch at home, and then go the yarn store, as I’ve decided to learn how to make toe-up socks.
Technically I guess I already know how to knit socks, I’ve knit two pair. One using the pattern from Cat Bordhi’s book, Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters, way back in 2010 or so. They worked, beautifully! And I still wear them and love them. But I itched to learn the “normal” way. So I bought Getting Started Knitting Socks, and made a pair of cuff-down socks. I like them only so-so.
What I really want is a toe-up sock pattern, one that I can build myself, trying different heel types, until the perfect-for-me sock pattern naturally evolves. This really didn’t seem like it should be that hard, but I’m beginning to doubt myslf.
Phase 1 is Creating The Toe. Easy enough, I think? I’m using Judy Becker’s magic cast-on. Okay, done. I’m still messing around with how many to cast on at once, but I’ve created two prototypes. In both cases, the sock was way too big once it got over the toes and onto the foot. What I keep reading is that you’re supposed to keep increasing until your sock is just covering your toes. Yeah, did that, the sock was huge. But then my friend James said, “You want to knit until it just touches your pinky toe.”<facepalm> WELL OKAY, that’s what I was doing wrong. So I tried again. This time I stopped earlier. I decided to call these Westworld socks since that’s what I was watching while I knit. Things were looking up.
Before I knew it, I realized I was knitting a tube way too big for my foot. Again. I counted the stitches. I was actually 4 stitches bigger than the first.
She’s home! The trip was last weekend, she’s actually been home for a week. I’m late updating the blog thanks to a stressful week of mess and deconstruction (the flood remediation guy uses the much more colorful “demolition”), but the whole process finally seems to be getting officially underway this weekend, so relief is in sight. Living without a working kitchen is tougher than I thought. I have such an unstable and moody working relationship with both my kitchen and the food in it, I didn’t think I’d miss it when it was gone. I was quite wrong.
On Saturday, my parents drove myself, Greg, and my Aunt Ginny and Uncle Mark up to Oak Harbor. We were so grateful for the ride. If we’d been on our own, we’d have had to coordinate driving up and pick the car up later, or taking the bus. I’ve actually been taking the bus more often in the past few months, and enjoying the peace of not having to battle traffic or find parking. But the trip to Oak Harbor from our neck of the woods, by transit, would have been four hours. For someone in normal health this would be exhausting. With fibromyalgia, it would have entirely gutted my energy for the day, and most of the next one. So the ride up was very much appreciated.
On the way up, I knit. I can’t read in the car, but knitting causes no nausea, and I’m grateful to have an escape from my awareness that I’m hurtling in a metal box down a narrow road filled with other hurtling metal boxes, piloted by people who seem to enjoy texting while driving. I don’t like cars. What gave it away? Whenever I have a new knitting project, I pack it with me wherever I go, and it begins to take on the stories and experiences of what happens while I’m knitting. It’s sweet, until the knitted thing isn’t useful anymore, and then I can’t let it go because I’m attached to the memories. I need to learn how to un-knit a thing, to pull it apart and reuse the yarn for more projects and memories. At any rate, this hat is now the Bringing Elska Home Hat (I finished it last night, and wore it to bed after I realized I’d neglected to turn the heat on upstairs).
Here we are at the ferry in Mukilteo, waiting to ride across to Clinton, on Whidbey Island. Clinton is at the south end of the island, and our destination is at the north end. You can actually drive an overland route if you’re so inclined, but I love taking the ferry.
We dropped my aunt and uncle off at their motel (there’s no way we could all four sleep on Elska), picked up a few groceries, and then my parents dropped us off at the boat. I was giddy, I couldn’t stop smiling the whole way through town. Camping on our Flicka! Overnight! First time! SQUEE! Everything felt exotic. Here we are, in distant Oak Harbor Washington. On our boat! It’s the same climate and evergreen-dotted scenery as anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest, but I felt like I was a million miles away, on an amazing adventure. I was flooded with the same familiar excitement I felt as a kid, whenever I’d get to pack up a backpack and go somewhere new for an overnight, or on a trip somewhere. I loved to travel.
But this wasn’t just me and a backpack, this was Greg and I, and Elska. She’s our new satellite home. A sailboat isn’t just a means of transportation, it’s a thing of elegant beauty, a guardian, a friend, a being all its own, a place all its own. Maybe not everyone feels this way about their boat – that’s too bad.
Me, I’m transported, just in stepping aboard. Elska is the perfect size. I continue to get stares and lulls in the conversation when people ask me why I’d want to go from a 30-foot Hunter to “this little thing”, and I just grin hugely and say, “I wanted something I could manage on my own.” Most sailors consider 30 feet to be easily managed alone, and many solo sail happily at 40 feet and even above. I get it. Maybe if I were in better shape or better health (or both would be nice), I’d feel differently. But I don’t think so. It isn’t just that she’s manageable to sail for someone with fibromyalgia. It’s that she’s just….right. She’s like Goldilocks’s boat.
I’ve read a great deal about the tiny house movement, and it strikes me how consistently and emphatically people will express joy in the concept of just enough. That’s how Elska feels. All my needs are met. She’s small, but just….sturdy, capable, cheeky, beautiful, sassy, strong. She’s just right.
I parked my boots under the dinette table, and we made some tea, and sat in the cockpit. The lights from the cabin were warm an inviting, but we both wanted to soak up the evening light. We read our ebooks. And then here it was, our first sunset off the stern. My face hurt from all the smiling I was doing. I thought, this is what it’s like when a dream comes true. It’s a pretty great feeling. I popped back into the cabin to get something, and Greg said, “Come see!” I stepped back into the cockpit, and looked where Greg was pointing. In the water, right below that dinghy on the stern of the boat behind us, a great big grey seal slid by, looking first at us, and then at the other boats in turn. His gaze was so intelligent and observant, I almost expected him to whip out his notepad and pencil. He rolled around a few times, and then slid under the water and left.
We ate cold pizza for dinner, and went to bed early. Greg crawled into the quarter berth, and as is his way, was asleep ten minutes later. I lay in the v-berth all snug and cozy, and for a long time I did nothing but stare up at the heavy bronze portholes and into the darkness outside. It was too cloudy to see stars. It was cold, but thankfully not so cold I couldn’t keep warm. I thought about how this was the start of everything. I haven’t felt the specialness of a transition like that, the movement over a line from this is the way it was to this is the way it is now, since my kids were born.
Then I read my book, did a little more knitting, and watched part of a movie on my iPad. This is all normal for me – I’m a terrible night owl. Finally I felt the familiar pull to sleep, and put everything away. I turned off my headlamp and buried my face in the pillow. I could hear the water lapping against the hull. Must be windy. I said goodnight to my boat, quietly. I felt safe in her arms. I slept very well.
The next morning, Mark and Ginny showed up bright and early at 7:15am. Dave and Sherrie, the lovely couple from whom we bought the boat, came to see us off. We gave them back their marina keys and took pictures of all of us, and finally I just had to hug them. I couldn’t help it. They actually pushed us off the dock, a lovely symbol of the boat passing from their hands into ours. We found out later they’d driven to Langley to watch us motor by – how sweet! See what boats mean to people? It’s a special bond.
It was rainy and cold, but we all settled in for the long ride home. Admittedly I was probably the only one beaming with joy through the wetness.
Ginny and Mark were so kind to come up and do this with us, it just meant the world. They’ve both been sailing for years and have offshore experience, whereas Greg and I have much less experience. We were both exposed to boating and sailing as kids, but we never learned to sail until we were adults and I got the crazy idea (thanks, Dad) to get lessons. In the three years we had our Hunter, I think we went out just a few dozen times, and our longest trip was about 11 nautical miles. This trip was 43. And it was our first voyage on a boat we had no familiarity with. So, to have two experienced sailors say, “Sure, we’ll sit in the cold and rain with you for an entire day, and help out if anything goes wrong,” well, it’s a big deal. I bought them a bag of peanut butter cups, but that didn’t seem like enough. So I kept thanking them all day.
That’s my Aunt, and her cute hat, that I will someday lift when she isn’t looking. For all the grumpy weather, we had a very pleasant trip. Flickas are small, but they have a very heavy hull and a full keel – that means the keel goes from the front to the back, versus a fin keel that looks like, well, a fin. This means she’s very stable, and you could really tell as we headed into Saratoga Passage, with the waves kicking up and the spray hitting us, how little she was getting batted around. She didn’t lurch or roll, she just put-putted happily through the mess, steady as she goes.
We alternated who sat at the helm. I took two short naps, because fibro is a cruel mistress. Mark taught me all kinds of navigation information as we went along, it was great. We ate lunch, Ginny made us tons of tea and cocoa, and we looked for dolphins and orcas but never saw any. I loved having my family with me, what a treat. If the outboard failed or we struck a log, I was relaxed knowing that we had two heads on board with years of experience. That’s right, I didn’t mention the debris, it was crazy; a gazillion logs littered the water, we assumed it was all from the crazy windstorm the weekend before.
Here’s Greg at the helm. Ginny brought these gloves, and then left them with us! They were so toasty warm, and rubberized so you could grip the tiller. I think they’re for gardening, originally. My hands were turning beet red from the cold, but these warmed them right up.
We made quite a mess. I’d like to say this looks nothing like our kitchen at home, but I’d be lying. That little tiny bottle, with the white cap and the orange $1.00 price tag, behind the barrier in back of the bananas, is a teeny tiny bottle of ketchup I bought at the marina cafe. It was SO WEE that I just couldn’t help it (gee, sounds like another purchase I just made, for considerably more money). It looked like this teeny tiny bottle of dijon mustard, which I will also now have to procure. Teeny tiny boats require teeny tiny condiments.
Almost home! The lighthouse is where Shilshole Bay Marina is, our home port. It’s so odd how different everything looks from the water. I’m usually pretty good with maps, but in an urban environment you don’t realize how your landmarks are so often man-made and quite distinct. On a map, it seems obvious where the towns are that line the shore, but when you’re actually in the middle of the water, it’s like one landmass, another land mass, some hills, some other hills. Everything looks like everything else. I can see why people are so in love with their GPS units.
We made it home in 8.5 hours, which I thought was pretty impressive. We kept the outboard going the whole way, and it covered the whole 40+ miles with one 6-gallon tank of gas. Wow. I loved having an outboard. So much quieter than a diesel, much less teeth-rattling vibration, and no stink! Diesel smell makes me queasy, and once it gets in your clothes and sleeping bags, it takes a miracle (or 27 consecutive washings, as I discovered with my red windbreaker – I just threw it in with every load until it didn’t reek anymore) to get the smell out. I will never go back to diesel. Mark my words.
Finally, home sweet home! Safe in her slip, after delivering us safely home.
But before I go, I want to share a few pictures of a this lovely little something or other that was docked at the same marina as our Flicka. Such a beautiful little boat! I stopped every time I walked by to take a quick look. Her name caught my eye, Nil Desperandum. I looked it up, it means “never despair”. Tonight I looked up the actual boat, and lo and behold, her owner wrote an article about her. Here’s Lawrence W. Cheek writing in the Seattle Times about the rewards of small boats.
This post is part deux in a two-part series that I like to think of, “That time I learned that I both can and can’t knit socks.” As in, I can knit them, apparently, but I can’t follow a series of directions to save my life. Part one* is here.
Well, okay. Knitting socks. I started feeling like this was a mountain to climb, a thing to cross knit off my bucket list, and I do feel as though I’ve done it. Despite their objective lack of finesse, for my first real socks, and having done them in my crazy ADHD distracted-by-everything-why-can’t-you-just-stick-to-knitting-blankets way, I think I have something to be proud of here. I’m happy with the result, and I will knit more socks, I’m sure. I don’t have any cast on at the moment – instead I’m knitting my daughter a hat – but when it’s finished, I plan on raiding the sock yarn box again. I still have at least a dozen skeins to torture.
So, where did we leave off last time? Oh right. The heel of the first sock. I was knitting the heel flap. It went well. I was knitting on 5 dpns (Signature Needles). I got through the heel, and followed the directions from my Craftsy class with Lucy Neatby, all the way to the toe. At the toe, I decreased a little wrong at first, but soon got the hang of it, and it looked fine (my missteps aren’t visible).
Then came Kitchener stitch. I posted to Facebook:
I watched a couple of YouTube videos, and threaded my needle. Then, right after I got “set up” and began stitching (there’s a little bit of moving things about, to get your yarn in the right position), I suddenly lost track of where I was both in my sewing and in the video. I don’t know how it happened, I just remember looking down and realizing with a sudden wave of fear that I had no idea where I was. SOCK NIGHTMARE REALIZED! I panicked and grabbed a sock book, where I found something called the three needle bind off. I hastily turned my first sock inside out, and bound the toe off that way. Then I had a stiff drink.
Despite the momentary crisis at the end of the first sock, I had to admit that, all in all, things had gone well. Here in my hands I was holding my first sock. A “real” sock, in the sense that it actually matched the pattern that I’d been given, it had been created in the correct gauge, and it fit my foot. I’d done it!
Now all I had to do, was to do it again. Ha! This is where things got really interesting.
I discovered a few things with the first sock. I hate double pointed needles. They poke you all the time, ALL THE TIME, and they fall out of their knitting even when you knit as tight as I do (my socks could hold water), and it’s way too easy to drop a stitch off the end. I hate them, and their little pointy heads. I couldn’t suffer knitting another entire sock with those damn things. My head would explode.
For years I’ve had a copy of Cat Bordhi’s Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles. Well, this was my moment. I cast on the second sock on two size 3 circular needles (24″). I began knitting the cuff. So easy! Much easier than on those double-pointed torture devices! Then I knit the heel flap. Still so easy! What will that Cat think of next?!
I turned the heel. I lost track of the pattern – okay, let’s be honest, I’d stopped following the pattern entirely – so my heel was a little off. I need to find a basic heel formula, with percentages. I wish all knitting patterns were nothing but percentages (God bless you, Elizabeth Zimmerman). All I could find were patterns with row-by-row numbers, which didn’t mean anything now that I’d totally lost track of what I’d started with or where I was. And yet, it got done! At some point, there a heel was. Because magic, that’s how.
At this point I had to figure out how to pick up stitches with two circular needles, and then join them for knitting back in the round. I spent about an hour staring at this. Okay, honestly, I spent about ten minutes looking at it, and when the solution didn’t immediately come to me, I watched an episode of Penny Dreadful. Somehow that set my head to right, and when I looked down again, the solution seemed obvious. Sort of – I did accidentally make a purl row over the top of my ankle, but after I noticed it, I kind of thought it was charming in that this-is-what-happens-when-you-don’t-pay-attention way, and I left it there. These socks are only for my enjoyment anyway.
I decreased in a totally haphazard fashion, and then there I was again, at the toe. This time I put on my fez thinking cap (the hat I wear when I’m deep in thought and want to signal, “Please don’t distract me” – it’s a great idea when you have kids, who will never remember that you told them ten minutes ago to avoid interrupting you for a while) and got to work.
This helped a great deal:
And……..[drum roll]………….I did it! I finished the second sock! I have a pair!
A few things to notice:
They fit! I know from reading a lot of knitting blogs, that this continues to delight sock knitters the world over. Of course you hope it will fit, of course you assume it will, but when it does, it’s just pure glee.
The second sock (left), has that row of purling.
The dog likes to bring in pine cones, and he’s slowly pulling his dog bed apart (hence the stuffing all over the floor).
The ribbing is different on each sock – this was intentional, I wanted to see which one I liked best. The first knit sock, on the right, is 1×1. The second knit sock, on the left, is 2×2. I prefer the 2×2.
The only thing I don’t like about the socks are the toes. It isn’t the knitting, it’s the shape. They’re too boxy, there’s a little pointy bit that comes off the edge of each sock. I think I just don’t like flat toes with Kitchener. I prefer rounded toes. So now I have to figure how to make a percentage sock, cuff down, with rounded toe, on two circulars. That’s my next challenge. I think this article might help. Oh and I also have to add in Cat Bordhi’s Sweet Tomato Sock Heels. What could go wrong?
The asterisk is there because this isn’t exactly my first pair of socks. Rather, I’m hoping it’s my First Pair of Successful Traditionally-Made Socks. About five years ago, I made a pair of socks using the wonderful book, Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters, by Cat Bordhi. The Personal Footprints method she devised is ingenious, but I don’t want to explain it here – you can check out her web page, her YouTube video overview, and some reviews, if you’d like.
The socks I made using Cat’s nifty method are wonderful, and I still wear them. The ribbing isn’t as elastic as I’d like, but for a first pair of successful socks, they’re great. So why go back to “regular” socks at all? Because it’s a mountain I’ve yet to successfully climb. The traditional sock pattern, the one that starts at the cuff and works down to the toe, haunts me. When I first started knitting, everyone told me how easy socks were. I knit baby sweaters, small blankets, head kerchiefs, and felted bags, so I figured, how hard could a sock be?
There are montages in comedies where everyone is supposed to be making something simple, and at the end of the scene, the whole group has their thing they made, except one person, who has something entirely different. That’s me. I’m the one in the crafting class, the one with the confused look on their face, wondering why they followed the directions and got something entirely unlike what everyone else got. Can you imagine me in a chemistry class? I’d be the one who put chemical A with chemical B (JUST LIKE THE INSTRUCTIONS SAY), and somehow manage to burn the whole lab down.
When I tried making socks, I ended up with one sock that had this crazy elongated toe, as if it were meant to fit a duckling. In the next sock I tried to correct that, and ended up with a sock that looked made for pointy little elf feet. A friend at the time offered to help, walked me through the ENTIRE process from start to finish. And this person is not an idiot. She had reached the point in her knitting career where she could knit a pair of socks for herself, patternless, with nothing but yarn and a few DPNs. She’s currently getting her PhD at Harvard (not in knitting). And yet, when I finished the sock she walked me through, it was huge, it looked like a sock for a NBA player, or maybe a pony. She and I both stared at it, scratching our heads. What the hell happened this time? Who knows. Maybe I JUST CAN’T KNIT SOCKS.
I thought maybe DPNs were the problem, so I switched to Magic Loop and took a class on that. My toddler (at the time – the kids are much older now) got sick and I missed the last class, so I never learned how to turn the heel, and that sock sat on the needles for two years, me shaking with fear every time I looked at it and contemplated trying to finish the pattern myself. I finally let the dream go, and just ripped it out.
Since then, I have feared the sock.
They say that you regret the things you didn’t do, not the things you did, and I know that I will always regret not figuring out how to make a sock. It isn’t just the challenge, either; socks are something I actually need, and would benefit from learning. I’d love a drawer full of handmade, colorful socks. And while I love my Cat Bordhi socks, I’d really prefer to learn to knit them the traditional way.
So, I’m giving something new a try. I’ve taken a few classes on Crafty, and I love them, so I finally bought My First Socks, with Lucy Neatby. Lucy Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope! It’s going pretty well so far, I think? I was a little concerned when I started with the “easy and fast” worsted-weight pattern first, and ended up with way more cast-on stitches then her pattern suggests I might need. My feet are a women’s size 10, but that’s usually within the normal range of sock sizes, so why mine is so big is still a mystery, but so far it seems to be coming out okay. I’ve finished turning the heel this morning, and will be moving on to the foot today. AIYEE.