Elephant Walk Socks

Every year, as soon as my taxes are filed, I head to the nearest yarn shop. I mean, how else am I going to recover from “I have to pay HOW much money this year?!” It’s kind of a ritual now. I buy yarn and needles that I don’t even have a project for; the whole point of the outing is get some joy and to feed the stash. That way I drive home happy, excited and looking forward to some productive knitting. Taxes, what taxes? 🙂

Elephant yarn.
Yarn I bought at a favorite yarn store on my way home from doing the taxes.

That’s how I ended up with this yarn (Noro Taiyo Sock Yarn). It’s kind of a happy yarn, don’t you think? I thought that it would make up into something fun for my sister. These are more her colors than mine, and I had plans to make her a little shawl in time for her birthday.

Well, all I can say is that the stash ate this yarn. I put it into the drawer with the other sock yarns, and I never thought about it again. Then, out of the blue, I saw a pattern for socks (Water for the Elephants by Rose Hiver) that I just loved, I dug in the stash for some crazy yarn and pulled this out. Sorry Sis. This yarn is meant to be patterned socks with elephant details. Who knew?

Yarn on the inside of the skein. Hmmm... what will this look like knitted up?
Yarn on the inside of the skein. Hmmm… what will this look like knitted up?

The reason why this yarn seems a little crazy is, no matter how I try to visualize what the final knitted piece will look like, I get surprised. I looked at the end of the skein, and I was pretty sure that I was looking at orange, green and some golden tan. The sequence looked promising, so I cast on.

Not matching socks
Well, who knew these socks would only look distantly related when finished?

Well, the socks turned out great. I just love the little elephants in the Turkish pattern. They fit perfectly, and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. Except… they don’t really match all that much. They kind of complement each other, so that is just the way it is going to be. Knitting, the great adventure. I wonder what this pattern will look like in fingerless mitts? I think that I will put the little elephants onto the palms…

Socks and Noro yarn.
The yarn that I used (Noro Taiyo Sock Yarn) made the two socks have very different colors.
Top and bottom pattern of the sock.
I just love the pattern in this sock. The pattern on the sole is pretty nifty, too.
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DNA, Evolution, and The Signature of All Things

It seems that my life has become an exercise in synchronicity and random coincidences. I checked a book out of the library, read one that had been sitting on my NOOK for weeks, picked up a book on a sale table at Barnes & Noble, and remembered a video that I used to show my biology classes each winter. Strangely, they all fit together. No matter what I thought the book would be about, it began to talk about DNA and evolution at some point. How bizarre! All three books (The Signature of All Things, The Sociopath Next Door , and Orfeo) echoed things that I remembered from the video series Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth, which was broadcast in November 1999 on PBS. All these connections are just churning around in my head; here’s my thoughts about the video and one of the books, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert..

The episode that I’ve become fixated upon while reading these books is the first one in the Intimate Strangers series, The Tree of Life. If you would like to actually watch this episode (and all the others, of course) they are housed at Microbe World. The  biology classes saw this video when they were learning about taxonomy and the kingdoms of life.  In the video we meet Dr. Carl Woese,  a microbiologist of singular vision and drive. Working alone for years, chasing patterns in the mutations of a small, heavily conserved region of DNA, he pieced together the pattern of relationships between living things on earth. Using this information, Woese was able to determine the sequence of descent, establish common ancestors and eventually created a new “Tree of Life”. His work shook up the taxonomy world as domains were created (a grouping above “kingdom” in the normal sequence of “kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species”), and our understanding of evolution was enriched and altered forever. One man, working alone, chasing patterns in the musical score of life that is DNA, was able to change our view of the natural world.

This is what Dr. Woese says on camera in the video:

You have to have your own particular sensitivity to the world, and there has to be parts of it that are beautiful to you, because they’re beautiful to you regardless of what anyone else ever thinks. You see this all the time in an artist, and you see it also in good scientists.

This brings me to The Signature of All Things. In this book we meet Alma Whittaker, the daughter of a botanical robber baron. Raised in a wealthy and enriched environment that encourages learning and allows Alma to meet many eminent people in the scientific world, and possessing the logical mind of her mother, Alma is nonetheless trapped within the small world of her father’s estate. She sets up a lab in the carriage house, explores the land around her, and spends the majority of her life studying the world of mosses and liverworts. Small as her life becomes contained within the estate as she handles her father’s business and the details of life, it allows her to follow her “own particular sensitivity to the world” as she observes the interactions and changes in her moss populations; in truth she sees that mosses living within a timeframe much slower than our own engage in the same behaviors as the animal kingdom around her. It is a life of study in a world that is beautiful to her, and Alma is a good scientist.  Life altering events cause her to leave the estate following her marriage and the death of her father, and she travels to Tahiti and Holland, where the glory and chaos of a larger world help her develop a theory of evolution based on her understanding of mosses. This theory, while never published, propels her into a new life within her mother’s Dutch family and she obtains standing in the scientific community based on her own merits.

This was a good book. I’m a biology geek, so of course I liked it! Is it believable that Alma could have slowly come to a theory of evolution on her own? Sure. This book is a glimpse into the world that gave birth to the original theory. Science can always be pursued by a committed individual of observant and reflective nature. This was the time of Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, and Alfred Russel Wallace; Alma would have had access to the same ideas and published works that they had. All three of these men worked alone as gentlemen scientists, observed nature, designed experiments and looked for patterns. They wrote each other and shared their scientific ideas. Darwin and Wallace arrived at the mechanism of natural selection through independent work at about the same time; they published jointly in 1858. Mendel published his work in 1866, which would have been extremely helpful to Wallace and Darwin, but they missed the boat on that one! It will be almost 100 more years before we understood that the molecule of inheritance is DNA, and many more years before Carl Woese read the musical score of DNA to finally see the signature of all things.

Alma never publishes her theory because it can’t explain why all people aren’t sociopaths. Why does altruism exist, she wonders? How can natural selection account for what we see in people around us? Richard Dawkins addresses this very issue in The Selfish Gene. Guess what’s next on my reading list?

 

UFO Rescue: Week 3. Hell hath no fury like an unloved sock…

OK, this was hell week. I took these cute, cute, cute lace socks out of their storage bag and decided that I would finish them up this week. The needles in the sock are a set of my new square double-pointed ones, and I really kind of wanted them back. I had the first sock worked all the way through the heel, and it seemed like it wouldn’t take that long to get them done.

Twisted Flower UFO
Here is the UFO as I took it out of the bag. Once I had figured out where I was in the pattern I was ready to start knitting.

These socks are the Twisted Flower pattern in Cookie A’s book knit.sock.love. I loved the socks as soon as I saw them in the book. The pattern is really interesting, and the design is cleverly laid out to make the pattern flow onto the heel and down the foot. The chart and directions are extremely clear. Fun! I couldn’t wait to get started on these socks again.

Oh, boy. It wasn’t long before I remembered why these socks went UFO in the first place. The problem was the yarn. I had bought this hand-dyed Bluefaced Leicester yarn at a local shop as I thought that the color was really nice.  Once I got into the pattern, however, it displayed some truly unsavory yarn qualities. It was a 4-ply fingering weight yarn, and should have been round enough to show off the pattern well. Well, the yarn was round, but something ugly had occurred in the dyeing process (I think) and it had the sullen personality of garden twine.  There was absolutely no bounce in this yarn at all! It was stiff and slippery; at every opportunity a stitch slipped off a needle and unraveled down three rows in the blink of an eye. The individual  plies of the yarn kept springing apart from one another and I kept splitting the yarn with my needle.

This sock pattern has tons of personality and detail.
This sock pattern has tons of personality and detail.

Then there was the beautiful pattern designed by Cookie A.  This pattern involves lace on every knitted row, cables, twisted stitches and a partridge in a pear tree. You need to read the chart forwards and backwards while manipulating the (slippery) little stitches. There was no way I could watch television while knitting; every bit of my attention needed to be focused on the chart and the sock. Normally this isn’t an issue as this type of knitting has a zen-Iike meditative quality, but things weren’t working out for me with the demon yarn. I had to use five double-pointed needles and a cable needle while working;  I tried four different cable needles trying to find one that wouldn’t slip out. Yeah, right. The cable needle that I needed doesn’t exist.   I began to pull on my hair and refer to socks as THE HELL SOCKS.  More than once they came very close to entering orbit and becoming true UFOs!

Knitted Sock
Too cool for shoes. These babies will be my reading buddies next winter.

Beautiful socks. Wrong yarn. I’m thinking now that I should have washed this yarn before using it to help it recover some of its life before I started knitting.  Oh well, lesson learned.

Tomorrow I am washing these socks to see what will happen. They are beautiful, but I am never putting these babies into shoes. They will grace my feet with their beautiful lace on cold nights while I am reading and remind me that art never shows how long it took, only how good a job you did.

 

 

 

The Goldfinch

I started reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt a few months ago, and quickly lost interest . The main character, Theo, seemed to be a young man with a shaky moral compass and a dose of affluenza. The mother was distracted and slightly self-absorbed. Imminent death loomed just ahead. The plot was unpacking in a dubious manner since I (the reader) was told by Theo right off the bat that things weren’t going to go well. Ugh. It was tax time, and I couldn’t continue.

Still, the Pulitzer Prize isn’t something to sneer at. Perhaps, I thought, happier now that I had the taxes filed, the refund into the bank, the landscaping in the yard done, and a major quilting project out of the way, I should give it another try…

Well, I had to push through parts of the book, but the moment arrived where I was captured by the text and story.  I found myself consumed and engaged in endless reflection about Theo and the other people in the book. I recalled with great sadness the many children living in crisis that I have known during my teaching years.  I finished the book last week in a marathon session that occupied my waking hours until I reached the last page during an apocalyptic thunderstorm. Itching with nerves, racing to secure my animals and batten down the house in a lightening-fired downpour, I continued to ponder WHAT WAS THE BOOK REALLY ABOUT?

Well, that’s a good question, isn’t it! I have spent the last week thinking and thinking about this book. I have gone online to learn about the painting “The Goldfinch”. I have re-read parts of the book. I have searched for meanings and patterns. As I drove around town this week (avoiding thunderstorms!) I have considered the importance of stable adults in young lives, the failures of adults who we think are the safety net for children in need, the lengths some people will go to maintaining “appearances”, the search for meaning in an impersonal tragedy with crushing lifelong impact, and whether a young man named Boris should be considered a human superstorm. Then there is the goldfinch; forever chained to its little perch in an artistic display with extraordinary detail. The survivor of an explosion, a transitional piece in art history, displayed against an empty wall…

Why do bad things happen to good people? Is it possible that seemingly random events can redirect our lives if we pay attention to what is happening around us and we search for patterns? Theo is tortured by this in the book, and in the passing of pages we begin to suspect that Theo can find the safe path again; a chance encounter at the moment of the greatest tragedy in his life will ultimately bring him home.

This is The Goldfinch. It is a book of lasting impact that will continue to unpack in layers in the days and weeks after you have read it. It makes you think about tragedy, craftsmanship, redemption, and art.

You might even find yourself buying a print of the painting.

UFO Rescue: Week 2

For the second week of rescue knitting I picked up a shawl that I had started last fall. It fell to the wayside when the weather got colder and I started working on Christmas presents and socks for the winter. Ignored and forgotten (and wearing some of my favorite stitch markers!) it  ended up getting stuffed into the back of the yarn stash closet.

Princess Shawl
UFO shawl and pattern the day I pulled it back out of the bag.

Poor thing! Hard to remember why it was abandoned in the first place.  It’s kind of a cool pattern, the lace was pretty easy to learn once I was past the edging, and I like that hand-painted pink yarn (Malabrigo Arroyo).  I only had about a foot of the shawl knitted, so this was a little bigger project than the ones I did last week, but still not too bad. I thought I should be able to make a lot of progress on it in a week.

English Rose
Princess Alexandra of Kent rose in my garden.

I took the shawl out to work on in the garden, and there it was. One of my new roses was blooming, and the color was close to that of the shawl.  The name of the rose is  “Princess Alexandra of Kent”, and the colorway of the shawl yarn is  “English rose”. Wow! Synchronicity! Obviously this UFO was meant to be rescued at exactly this moment.

Knitted Shawl
The finished shawl in my garden. I just love how international it is. The pattern is Norwegian, the yarn is  from Uruguay, the yarn colorway is “English rose”, and I’ll be wearing it here in Colorado.

I named the shawl project “Princess Alexandra of Kent Shawl” on Ravelry and got to work. I knit like crazy all week, and the shawl was finished today. Time to prune the rose and to dive back into the UFO pile to find a project for the rest of the week. I think that I’ll do a sock next…

UFO Rescue: Week 1

Monday I waded into the pile of UFOs that I had located in my big hunt last week, and pulled out two projects that I thought I could finish fairly quickly. I’ll be honest: I was motivated by needle recovery more than anything else. These two items are pretty easy to knit, so I thought I would be able to work on them while watching television.  Here they are.

Ugly MItts

I really liked this yarn when  bought it. It’s a single ply yarn that is soft, soft, soft. I liked it so much that I  bought two skeins and cast on to make a pair of mitts right away.

Yarn for the mitt
Malabrigo Worsted yarn in the colorway “Deja Vu”

The mitts did not show off the yarn very well. I knitted one mitt thinking that maybe the next one would look better. Nope. Not so much. I lost heart and quit about halfway through the second mitt.

Mitts with ugly yarn.
I decided that the yarn on these mitts was just too ugly to go on.

Well, enough is enough! Time to face the UFO pile down! I made myself a nice caramel latte, put some cookies on a plate by the latte mug and then pulled the mitts out of the storage bag. There, that wasn’t so bad. I finished knitting the second mitt while reading (so it wouldn’t be too painful), and then took them out for their picture. Funny, I was wearing a pink top and some moss green pants, and the mitts actually looked kind of nice. I’m thinking of maybe keeping the second skein of yarn and might make a cowl from it. It sure is soft yarn…

Finished Ugly Mitts
Finished mitts. They aren’t all that I hoped for when I bought the yarn, but they look better to me now than they did. 🙂

Bronco Baby Booties

I started these booties using yarn dyed by Luna Grey Fiber Arts in Denver Bronco football colors a few weeks ago, and then put them aside while knitting some fun socks for myself. The trouble is that the booties use the same size double-pointed needle (2.25 mm) as most of my socks. Since I just finished those origami socks (June Beetle), I decided to complete the booties while the needles were free. These are square needles, and I just love them as my hands never get tired and the stitches come out looking really even.

Baby booties made from the family pattern in Denver Bronco team colors.
Baby booties made from the family pattern in Denver Bronco team colors.

I kind of like knitting these booties as they remind me of my grandma, and I got them done this morning while it was raining outside. Yeah! Two UFOs moved to the finished objects pile.

Only 14 more UFOs to go…

If anyone else has been inspired to attack their UFO collection, let me know what you are working on. This is kind of fun.  🙂

UFO Hunt

It seems like all of my stitch markers have gone missing, and there are several empty knitting needle holders in my needle drawer. This is the point where I have been known to go out and buy more needles, but today I decided to take my courage in hand and to go on an UFO hunt.

Pile of UFOs
Here they are! This is the pile of the 16 UFOs that I located in my stash and craft room.

UFOs are, as every knitter knows, UnFinished Objects. Those knitted works in progress that fell out of favor one day and were pushed to the bottom of the knitting basket or the back of the stash cabinet. Basically, they are kind of unloved and abandoned. It happens for a lot of reasons: the knitted fabric wasn’t what was hoped for, the color was icky, the fit seemed unflattering, a difficult pattern caused headaches, a disheartening knitting error, and so on.

Mitts with ugly yarn.
I decided that the yarn on these mitts was just too ugly to go on. UFO status was instantly obtained!

Well, I tore the craft room and the stash closet apart and recovered all of those UFOs. Wow! This is what I got:

  • 4 sweaters
  • 3 shawl/scarfs
  • 2 vests
  • 3 socks
  • 1 baby bootie
  • 2 mitts
  • 1 lacy wrist cuff

Good grief! Sixteen UFOs! No wonder I don’t have any more stitch markers in my knitting bag.  I organized the UFOs into groups and made some decisions.

Sweater and hat partly knitted.
Some items I just don’t like but the yarn is worth saving. I’m going to rip them out and get the yarn back.
Pink UFOs
Some items were abandoned because they were demanding too much attention. I’m going to suck it up and finish these!
Scarf and Mitt
This scarf and mitt are really nice, but the yarn wasn’t working right in the design. The mitt will get a different finish at the top and the scarf will be re-knitted in a leaf lace pattern.

The biggest UFO of all was this Alice Starmore cardigan/coat that I have had packed away for over 15 years. I think that the Hunter Green color went out of fashion and I quit working on it. What was I thinking of?

Sweater detail
Beautiful Starmore sweater left to languish in the back of the stash.

This definitely needs to be finished; I was doing the decreases at the neckline when I packed it away! The steeks at the armholes look almost large enough for the sleeves. I don’t even know where the pattern is at anymore, but I must have it somewhere. Another hunt! 🙂 I packed the sweater away again to save for the winter and cold weather knitting. In a perfect world I’ll have it done before the end of the year.

Today I started on the ugly mitts as I want to get those needles back. If I just do one UFO every week or two I should have most of my needles and stitch markers back by the end of summer. It’s a plan!