People all day have been describing their role in today’s inaugural events–whether they’re spectating live or watching remotely–as “making history.” I felt some of that myself, and that played a role in the fact that I let a(n early American history) class out 5 minutes early so they could see our new president take the Oath of Office live.

Still, the impact of people’s participation in something as momentous today makes me really wish we saw our day-to-day lives as historical artifacts. I’ve been thinking about the many knitted heirlooms people brought in to Knit Purl in to be admired, repaired, copied and reknit. These physical remnants of the things we do every day–the things we take for granted and which others often mock as frivolous–are proof that the mundane is just as much a part of the history we make for ourselves as grand events like this inaugural celebration we’re all watching intently.

And that’s what’s got me really thinking. Today is important, sure, but how can we take rhetoric that makes us feel good and turn it into reality. The only answer I can think of is this: We can’t just make history on big days like today. We have to make history, with intent and vigor, on days like yesterday and tomorrow, with the little tasks we have at hand individually. We have to treat each component of our lives as a little piece of history or we may again lose sight of how much each of us individually contributes to the world around us and to the successful completion of the big tasks that face us as a nation and a planet.

There is something profoundly weird about the life academic. The strange juxtaposition of grade-or-die work binges slammed up against equally intense periods of absolutely nothing can be a little jarring, even though that parabolic cycle of rest and ruin fits my own preference for a very strict, careful division between work and play. I have, if you will, my own little personal firmament* that divides work from play, semester from break.

This winter break, the division between work and play wasn’t accompanied by a plane ride anywhere. Instead, the play** of break wrapped itself around the same geographic surroundings that had marked the real work of the semester. Finding a way to reconcile the change in behavioral patterns without a concomitant change in environment was a little isolating and required quite a bit of readjustment. Ultimately, the new non-geographic way of dividing work from play rendered up any number of worthwhile things, some corporeal and tangible, others slightly less so.

Among the corporeal:

Socks On Ice

Finally! At long last! I had time and leisure to finish the final edits on a basic 2×2 ribbed-sock pattern that has sizing for the forked heel. It’s available for purchase now at Ravelry and it never would have gotten done if not for the photographic stylings of chemgrrl. (Thanks!)

The socks (and a hat/scarf set that is still to come) were accompanied by intangible rewards: personal validation, though that too had a corporeal form in the shape of evaluations from students. Good ones. Really good ones. So good that I’m almost afraid to talk about them any more, lest I jinx myself for this term….

2008 was a very serious test, in many many ways. The early part of last year’s academic summer break, and the accompanying early-summer break-up, tested my will to pursue a life undertaken with great care and intent, and that meant serious consideration for what’s most important in that life. Fall semester brought with it not just another division between work and play, but a growing division between gloomy past and promising future. Friends and family (hey, that’s you!) have provided support in spades, but it still came down to whether or not I could harness all of the help and good will flowing in and channel it effectively in the unexpected process of reshaping my life. As a result, the fall semester was one long pep-talk. I kept reminding myself over and over again that the measuring tape that matters most is the one in my own head, not the one that someone else handed to me.

The ongoing emphasis on internal validation coupled with the strange, isolating, unfamiliar shape of this winter break meant I had lots of time to think. That’s been good, but it also had me feeling a little bit like I was tuned to a different frequency than everyone else. The stack of very important papers sitting next to me, heavy with the penciled-in scribblings of students, proves that occasionally, regardless of how sure you are of what you want, what matters is some sort of sign from the outside world that you and it are orbiting the sun at basically the same rate.


*You know, the firmament? From Genesis? It divides the waters below from the waters above. And God called the firmament heaven? Nevermind….
**”Play“! Hah! Take that, Derridaean critical theorists!

Two wrongs–or in this case, four similar wrongs and a screwy cast-on–finally make a right.

The slouchy hat that tortured me last week is, this week, my willing accomplice in knitting success.

A good oops

I struggled with what to do with this bulky yarn and like the results enough that I’ll be putting together a pattern. When I have pictures that do the finished product justice, that is.

Now I just need a camera capable of capturing the saturation of Alchemy’s Koi Pond colorway, because my little guy just can’t handle reds and oranges. There is, however, hope on the horizon. A digital SLR body awaits, though it will be delivered by dog-powered sled from the far reaches of snowy Alaska.

Not really, but saying my mom and sister will have it in their carry-on luggage when they visit from Portland doesn’t quite evoke the same dreamy visions of a young Ethan Hawke frolicking with wolves in White Fang.

After months–months, I tell you!–of hemming and hawing over what I would do with the fabulous, beautiful skein of hand-dyed merino/bamboo Celebration (from Briar Rose Fibers), which I bought at the Greencastle Fiber Event in early April, I have at long last cast on for a project. At least a project that I didn’t immediately rip back.

The good news is that this project suits the yarn (and my available yardage) exceptionally well.

The bad news? Well, the bad news is that I swore I’d never knit this pattern again. Why, you ask? Because I’ve knit it 6 times already, and so has every other damn knitter on the planet.

You’ve all seen Clapotis a hundred million times (because you already have one you wear regularly around your neck, right?), so I focused on the yarn instead of the pattern.

Clapotis Closeup

The shift in focus away from an overview of the pattern also let me play with the settings on my camera, which I’ve been futzing with for the last few weeks in order to figure out what its limitations really are. (Yes, yes, I should have done this before, but my natural instinct to rebel against everything my parents–all three of them–love led me to avoid anything that resembled an interest in photography.)

Clapotis Closeup 2

The only difference between these two shots–I didn’t even move the camera–is a toggle between the camera’s auto-focus on standard macro and the camera’s “Digital Macro” setting. In any case, it’s clear that “focal length” is the key phrase here. Very interesting. Instructive, even.

But I still probably need a new camera, because it frustrates me that I couldn’t control the focal length effectively. (There, I said it. I’m becoming my mother, my father and my stepmother, and all in one single evening of innocent photography. I’m doomed.)

This is the story of a hat. A very bad hat. In fact, it might very well be the horror-knitting-story hat-oriented version of that new movie that’s coming out about the teenage girl being haunted by the ghost of her unborn twin brother.

The first version of this hat, now frogged, has come back to haunt the second, third, and now fourth versions of the hat, and the spectre of the First-Hat Haunting will likely continue to hover over all future versions of any hat made with this yarn. Before I present the most flattering of the hat photos (I couldn’t bring myself to post anything less flattering because I look like a misplaced RennFayre court jester mistakenly cast out into the modern world), let me unfold the horror in its full glory before you…..

It began with a slouchy-hat wish spurred on by all of the slouchy-hat goodness going on around me. The problems were compounded by a recently finished scarf in Alchemy’s Lux, a mistake-rib keyhole scarf that is truly a thing of beauty. I wanted mistake-rib-matching slouchy-hat goodness and bulky gauge in the same hat, which led me to Ysolda’s Urchin, a sideways-knit garter stitch hat that was both bulky in gauge and interesting in technique. Good for all of us, right?

Wrong.

The garter stitch was just not the right stitch pattern for the yarn, which is cabled and drew together and create a too-stiff fabric. So, I reasoned, why not knit a stockinette stitch version sideways to solve the compact-fabric problem? Sadly, reason had very little to do with that version of the hat because the band was too loose. Reason also had little to do with version 3, in which I tried a stockinette crown with a knit-on in-the-round brim in mistake rib (to match the scarf). Better, but still unwearable, because picking up stitches in a gauge this bulky just. Did. Not. Work.

Which leads us to Hat #4, a stockinette crown with garter stitch brim, still knit sideways because at that point, I was stubbornly wed to the technique and determined to make it work (thank you, Tim Gunn).

This time, things were promising, except for the odd pointy bit at the short row, which I figured would work itself out in blocking. Given my past blocking experience with this yarn, I had hope. Even after 3 failed hats, I still had hope.

Little did I know that this truly was the denoument of a horror movie, in which our heroine turns around thinking her nemesis is dead only to be attacked one last time before she finally slays the evil incarnate in a gruesome and very permanent way.

Evil incarnate, indeed.

Horns of the Beats

I have horns. Actual horns. Consider briefly that this is the only photo that didn’t make it look as though I’d put on the Statue of Liberty’s crown before donning the hat, and I still have horns.

On the other hand, perhaps this qualifies me to direct the next I Know What You Did Last Summer sequel.

It has been so long since I did anything other than Judy’s Magic Cast-On that I actually goofed in a serious and vital way when I went to cast on for a scarf tonight.

Guess I need to go to remedial knitting school. Think there are night classes for that sort of thing?

Hope you all had a lovely winter holiday (of whatever persuasion) and are prepped for an equally lovely entreé into the 2009 New Year. Pictures of the holiday fog and the new scarf tomorrow. I promise.

The world is, indeed, topsy turvy. Kinda like this baby set.

Topsy Turvy is comprised of a top-down hat and toe-up baby booties with a forked heel. Babies have pronounced heels and fat feet, so making baby socks that fit can be difficult. The forked heel helps out by creating a longer, wider heel that will stay on.

main-image

A common cast-on technique for toe-up socks also doubles as a cast-on technique for the top-down hat. This adaptation takes the pain out of small-circumference circular cast-ons and might just win you over for your next shawl, too.

Basic 2×2 ribbing is flexible enough for new parents to get squirmy babies into both the socks and the hat.

$5.95

I love my camera. My Canon SD1000 is a tiny thing of limitless wonder, and I have spent the last year finding ways to use the Canon camera hack to make my life as a graduate student better after reading a post about it on Lifehacker.

To wit: A 10″x13″ piece of half-inch thick plexiglas and a bendy tripod coupled with the camera hack that takes automated interval shots gets me an upside-down scanner that can shoot high-quality OCR-able scans of a 250 page book in under 20 minutes. Voil√†, an electronic book in PDF format that I can use with Skim to double my reading speed and still take good notes. Truly a life saver when I have a big chunk of reading to do.

But the qualities that make my little point-and-shoot darling a fantastic scanner sometimes get in the way of real photography. Unless you’re made of stone, the camera sometimes doesn’t focus properly, and trying to get a nice photo that’s well lit under any circumstances is a near-impossibility. Even with a decent flash and good ISO control, no photo taken in normal lighting will ever be a great photo because the optics aren’t the best.

Lifehacker to the rescue again. This time, they pointed me toward a DIY photo studio in a box designed to create near-professional lighting and backdrops. I still need to get a better camera, but this will tide me over for the time being…

Macro Photo Studio

The subject? A new hapagirl.com pattern, a baby set that’s been turned on its head. The knitting, testing and pattern editing are nearly complete, and it should be out tomorrow. Today. At some point in the next 24 hours. Whatever…. Clearly I need to re-regularize my sleep schedule.

To add a little variety to your sock knitting this holiday season, I’m putting These Socks Are Forked on sale for $5.50 (down from $5.95) for the month of December.

And to whet your appetite, I have photos of the second foray into sized forked-heel socks (the manly size is soon to come). As Nicole pointed out, babies have pronounced heels and fat feet, so making baby socks that fit can be difficult. The forked heel helps out by creating a longer, wider heel that will stay on.

This time, the baby stuff is even tinier and cuter! Little baby forked-heel booties! Now with extra exclamation points!

Knitting these make me think that the writers at How I Met Your Mother had it exactly right when they had several characters fawn over the tiny socks of a newborn.