Saturday, August 23, 2008

Baby Cable Rib Socks

This is a Best of post.

First, the yarn: the all-mighty Jitterbug from Colinette. A gift from Joan. I would never have known what a great yarn this is, if not for her. It's good to have friends who help you develop a fine taste for yarn. And who make the decision for you. (Remember my hyperventilating last year over Koigu and Habu Textiles at Stitches Midwest?) Colorway 85.

The needles: size 1 40" circular. Nickel plated tip. From KnitPicks. Why did I wait so long to try their needles? Awesome, pointy tips. Not a bad cable, though a little bit twisty on the first go-round. And the price? Less than a fancy-schmancy coffee drink at Starbucks at the airport. Complete madness - when did Frappucinos begin to compete with gasoline for sticker-shock value? If I could take all of my Addi Turbos and Skacel needles, sell them, and turn the money into KnitPicks needles, I'd have enough for much, much yarn. Does Craig's List take postings on knitting needles?

And the pattern: Baby Cable Rib Socks, from Sensational Knitted Socks. Designer: Charlene Schurch. All of the gratification of cabling without the angst of using a cable needle. Or, more to the point, without having to peer over the bifocals at the pattern to see if the cryptic coding for a cable means that you take the three stitches off and hold them behind the needle and work the next three and then pull the needle to the front to knit those stitches off, or are you supposed to slide the stitches onto the cable needle (or double point, my preferred instrument) and hold it in front, work the next three, then knit the three off the spare needle? With this pattern, you work three rows of just plain vanilla knit stitch. One the fourth row, you knit two stitches together, then slide the needle between the two stitches and reknit the second stitch. The only demanding part is figuring out whether it's time for that row or not. And if you miss it, you can just catch up on the next row. If someone is going to look that closely at your socks to see if you cabled evenly all the way down the leg to the toe, you have other more important issues to consider.

Gauge: 30 stitches and 43 rows to 4 inches, or 7.5 stitches/inch. The best thing that I can say about gauge is that with each pair of socks that I knit, I'm gaining a tiny bit of back history to save and refer back to in the future, so that I won't be starting every pair seven or eight times until I get the right mix of tight-enough-to-stay-up but loose-enough-to-go-over-the heel.

Stitches cast on: 56. (It seems like an odd number, but that's what worked. And I thought knitting socks was not about fit.)

Amount of yarn in the skein: Fine. Good. Unnecessary fussing to mourn the yardage in this skein. I worked a 6 inch leg and a foot that measures about 8 1/2 inches long, and had some yarn left over. Next time I'll add about 10 rows to the leg and waffle on the toe with a different yarn if I run out. See above regarding missed cabling opportunities.

And my favorite: the toe. Joan's Favorite Toe. (A different Joan than the giver of the yarn. Or else she's hiding her light under a Niagra Falls bushel basket.) Also my favorite toe. Just right for my kind of feet, and a bit like a mantra as you work it: decrease and work 3 rows even, one time. Decrease and work 2 rows even, two times. Decrease and work 1 row even, three times. Decrease every tow until you have 16 stitches left total. Kitchener stitch the ends. (Really guys, more unnecessary fussing. Just observe the triumph you feel when you work that last stitch and you have a finished object, no more seaming called for.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sitting Still

Sitting still is much more difficult than moving. And teaching imaginary students is much tougher than having real people in front of you.

Today, I worked up a sweat, sitting in a chair in a conference room, doing a dry run of a class for some folks at the hospital. It went well, I think, and we're going to do a test by holding the class for four to six weeks.

The room will be noisy, the patients will vary in the amount of movement available - including movement of the hands, people may fall asleep. This will be a great opportunity to really teach yoga as a practice of the mind and the breath.

But challenging. I realized yesterday, while preparing, that it might be more productive to teach these students individually instead of in a group class. And at the end of today's meeting, one of the staff asked if I ever see patients one-on-one. We talked about a particular patient who might benefit, and I'm hoping that there will be a chance to work privately with a patient or two. For now, though, I'm trying to keep things simple and stick to the plan we've come up with.

But today was definitely a day to test whether my yoga is working. Phew. Last night I woke up from one of my famous animal dreams. In this one, I had bag after bag - those large, rectangular brown paper bags that dry cement comes in - filled with turtles and mice and even some seal that I needed to take care of. Things were not going well when I woke up at about 3 am, and then was awake for most of the rest of the night.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


This week is a continuation of Everything that I Do is New to Me. Very tricky, not my favorite thing(s). This is why I must knit these days: so that I can look at one thing and have it be concrete, tactile, maybe even done. (Done with the Jitterbug socks! Pictures maybe this weekend? Started Whitby socks using a doubled strand of KnitPicks Essential Tweed.)

But all the same, today was very cool. I taught a teenager. And could he balance!

I had him step over to the wall, suggested that he keep one hand close to it so that he could catch himself if he wobbled. He gave me a look, which I thought might have meant boredom, but must have meant what the heck? Because I showed him Vrksasana, otherwise known as Tree Pose, and he could hold it as if he'd been doing it for years and years. So I challenged him to bring his hands over his head. Steady as a rock. Then I had him bring his knee into his chest, place his index finger and middle finger between big toe and second toe, and extend his leg. Still dead on in Utthita Hasta Padanghustasana.

Then he asked me about the ropes that we have attached to the wall. They are Iyengar props, and you can do lots of neat things with them. So we did Down Dog, using the ropes around the hip to support your weight, and then you can really reach out with the arms and extend the spine and lengthen the back of the legs. Then we placed one foot against the wall at hip height, pressed the other foot into the ground, and extended the leg. Then we did a crazy prep for Arda Chandrasana, where you put one foot against the wall, square hips and shoulders to the side, press one hand into a block beyond the front foot, and bring the other arm up.

What I learned today: that you need to have a bunch of poses under your belt when you teach a teenage boy, because they move really fast. And that it helps to count the breath aloud, instead of asking them to quietly focus on their breath. And that they can do many crazy balance poses without even realizing that they're doing something pretty special. Without any visible effort, my student could do this.

Tomorrow I'm doing a dry run of the class at the hospital. This will be an entirely different experience. Usually you start with the more concrete experiences, such as moving the body, as a way to focus the mind, and then gradually work toward the more subtle tools, such as breathwork or meditation, Tomorrow I'm jumping into the pool from the high dive, so to speak, and moving much more quickly toward the subtle stuff.

It'll all be new. Of course. Definitely taking my knitting with me to work on during the hours to kill between the class at 11 am and anatomy at 6.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Yarn Diving

I have one skein of Rowan Scottish Tweed DK. Three or four skeins of gorgeous Alice Starmore Hebrides 3-ply. They are not on the way to becoming a sweater.

What would happen if I tried something like this from the Jamieson's website? It takes the concept of making a warm shawl to the nth degree.

If you've tried a lace shawl in an aran or DK weight yarn, maybe you could give me a hint about needle size. The Jamieson's site suggests using a size 5 or 6 needle with the Aran weight.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Baby Cable Rib Sock Number 1

One sock completed.

Colinette Jitterbug: a new candidate for the Pegotty Yarn Hall of Fame. Springy, almost sproingy (a bit more spring than springy), a tight twist that gives the feel of holding onto something as you knit even though the yarn is a sock weight (meaning skinny), great stitch definition that reminds me of the corded texture of the Louet sock yarns. Good flow of color, too. Even after knitting and reknitting this sock four or five times, I was still surprised and pleased when a bit of smoky purple showed up, or a bright green, amongst all the blue.

Here's a close-up of Joan's Favorite Toe.This toe style leaves a lot of wiggle room for toes. My suggestion is that you measure your foot from the base to tip of longest toe and figure backwards as to when to start the toe decreases. Because the decreases are spread across several rows, this toe stays wide and seems to be longer than the basic but more pointy and narrow toe created from the directions in Sensational Knitted Socks.
And my toes. (See post below if you want to know why they're illustrated.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Joan's Favorite Toe

No, not an actual toe. The better toe for a handknitted sock for someone, like me, who has square toes. Literally. My sister and my best friend still derive enjoyment from pointing this out. We all need some entertainment, I guess.

The toes of my Jitterbug socks are all about process. I knit and reknit them several times until I turned to the trusty Internet and found a different option than the usual decrease on one row, knit one row plain, version. With that method, you get a fairly pointy toe which narrows quickly. I worked that one once. Then reworked it after adding some length to the patterned foot section. Still too claustrophobic for my feet.

With the Joan's Favorite Toe, you end up with a wider, blunter end to the sock. It narrows gradually until you Kitchener stitch the last 16 stitches on your needles.

Look here for Joan's toe. There are some other choices for those of you who do not have square toes or hobbit-like feet.

Tomorrow I teach in the morning, then meet with my mentor who's in Chicago for the weekend, then go to her workshop at the yoga studio, then possibly have some folks over for dinner or manage to squeeze in a few more minutes with my teacher, then teach Sunday morning, then meet with my teacher, then drive her to the airport - with the last chance to squeeze a bit more work in.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Drunk on Yarn

It started a few days ago with this pattern. And this yarn.
The plan was a vacation from the fine gauge of sock knitting. Something in honor of the days suddenly becoming fall: shorter, darker, that eerie quiet when you hear all the insects humming and preparing for winter. But it's only mid-August. . . how can this be?

At home, away from the chatter of new yarn and pattern books and sample sweaters and knitters talking (everything inanimate in the store was saying CHOOSE ME! and Icould not concentrate) I slowed down, read through the pattern. Lots of seed stitch in the yoke. Not good for my wrists or elbows. And a gauge of 22 stitches to 4 inches in seed stitch with the Scottish Tweed DK from Rowan. I found out that all of the knitting teachers worked on this yarn last year to prepare a sample sweater for Vogue Knitting by one of the designers, and no one could come close to the gauge called for on this yarn band. Most telling, on second glance, I noticed that the sweater looks big on the model. Not just in the body, but in the arms: they're wrinkly, kind of bunched up. Rowan usually runs tiny. But the sweaters in this pattern book have lots of ease - good for someone who wants a boxy fit, or a sweater to wear as a jacket, but not what I was planning.

Rode my bike over to the store today to try again. This time, I wrote a shopping list: Cascade Ecowool. Folk Shawls. The inspiration was Brooklyn Tweed's Hemlock Ring Blanket. And Joan's shawl for me. I've worn it both times that I've been in the city in the last few weeks and I love it. And back of mind: a red shawl, maybe the Peddler's Shawl from Folk Shawls.

Here's what I bought:
Misti Alpaca Hand Paint Sock yarn. In a rainbow of colors. My only explanation is that I was drunk on yarn.

I have a theory that there is a limited amount of space in the brain for information. When it becomes overloaded - say, by the sight of bins and bins of opportunity and newness and a fresh future - in other words, a yarn shop, there is no room left for the logical decisions that one wants to make in the face of all that yarn. Kind of the feeling that you had in high school when you got drunk for the first time. You only realize later that you were out of control.

Now, I know that I'm just talking about yarn. And as I tell people who question a yoga teacher drinking coffee: hey, in the grand scheme of things, things could be much worse. We're talking about an addiction to coffee or yarn: not really the big leagues, right?

And I did buy some red yarn and some grey yarn. I realized, as I was talking with one of the yarn store people about how beautiful Rovings yarn is, that what I wanted was the Polworth silk-wool yarn that I used for Anna's Swallowtail Shawl. The closest that I could come, today, was Cascade Pastaza: a llama-wool blend with a halo of softness around the core of the yarn.
I'm swatching (good knitter) with the rainbow for the Kimono Shawl or maybe Icarus. The red or the grey are going to be tested for the Peddler's or the Highland Shawl, both from Folk Shawls.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Breathing with your Brain

Have I mentioned the day that one of my yoga teachers directed us to breathe with the two halves of our brain?

It was one of those very humid Chicago July days. We had the air conditioning on, the windows closed, the fans blowing, and still the students, who were there for a therapeutic workshop, were working up a sweat. The teacher had us all stop for a moment and listen up. He then explained that the brain looks like two walnut halves with a crease down the center. When you get overheated, he suggested, you should reverse the normal pattern of your breathing. The location of the breath: where the two walnut-shaped halves of the brain meet together at the center of our skull. He assured us that this would cool us down.

I have immense respect for the teacher. But breathing with my brain? I walked by another apprentice and whispered: "can you feel your brain when you breathe?"

I was thinking about this yesterday as I was pondering how to bring yoga to students who cannot move much of their bodies. Usually, in yoga class - or more to the point, in Western culture yoga class - we use the body - twisting it, upending it, stretching it - as a way to help the mind find something to focus on. By concentrating on elements such as achieving a ninety-degree angle in the bend of a knee or placing your hands so that the fingers are spread and the thumb and index finger engage a bit more than the other fingers, the mind has something to hold on to. The goal is to find a momentary lull in the ceaseless dialogue that our brain conducts. Most of which is negative - what we are not. Not flexible enough. Not rich enough. Not a good enough brother or employee or friend. Very little about what we do well.

(An aside: yesterday, as I was deciding where to put my mat down for class, and then choosing which mat to use, I realized how many decisions that I make every day. I mentioned this to a colleague who teaches meditation. He told me that Deepak Chopra, who I've not read, says that we have 60,000 thoughts a day. And 40,000 of those are the same thoughts that we had yesterday. Scary, huh?)

But back to the brain breathing. I was thinking about this yesterday, as I was driving from my afternoon meeting to anatomy class. (Which turned out to be a lecture on the respiratory system. ) I will be teaching students who have slight to significant paralysis. I'm really excited about the opportunity. But the complications are many, including the fact that my students will be doing the practice in chairs, will not have a great range of movement at the beginning of the session, and have apparatuses which will limit the amount of movement or access to the places where I cue feeling the breath: the belly, the rib cage and the chest.

Then I remembered the breathing with the brain direction. And the times that my teachers have told me to lift the inner arch of my foot, or spread my shoulder blades, and I cannot feel that place in my body. But still, my mind searches for it. I have a mental image of what I'm looking for. I slow my breath down, concentrate on finding the elusive spot. And guess what? I'm doing yoga. Yogah citta vritti nirodah: Yoga is the process of finding a focus for the mind, and sustaining that focus over time.

And the brain breathing? Maybe my teacher was reminding us that all experience begins with our perception of it. Hot weather is just like everything else that we interpret as reality: it's a brain thing. Focus your attention on the source of the heat - our minds - and maybe you'll cool yourself off by thinking about that instead.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Origami Cardigan

Thinking of making this. Has anyone tried it?

I have an insane day today, which brings out the desire to make a decision in some small corner of my life. Sutra class at noon in the suburbs. Meeting at 3 p.m. with the hospital in the city that has expressed interest in piloting a yoga class. Anatomy class at 6 p.m. in a different part of the city. Lots of driving and very expensive parking and time in between appointments.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Green Zebras

Green Zebra tomatoes. Crazy. The skin is beautiful: I can think of several knitter-bloggers who love these shades of acid green and chartreuse. This is my first venture with an heirloom tomato. I thought that it was just hype - the rush toward all things artisanal and organic - like the scads of yarns that came out this spring that were organic and naturally dyed, and they may be great to work with, and but while I'm proud to be called an ex-hippie by some of my best friends, I just couldn't let my cynicism lapse at the sudden influx of yarns that are all things Green. But I wander. Back to a better green: the green zebra tomato.
When you slice into it, your mind thinks: green tomato. As in not yet ripe. Then you taste it. And it's mellow, a tiny bit sweet - but more like a well-rounded pear than an overly ripened cherry tomato or grape, and perfect just as it. I sliced up an Early Girl (or is it a Better Boy - we have four tomato plants growing and everything is ripening at once - why will Mother Nature not stagger the zucchini and tomato crops?) with the Green Zebra, threw them into the salad bowl, and will just toss them with some good olive oil and some balsamic vinegar, a sprinkle of kosher salt, and some ground pepper, and that's it. The salad will go with a zucchini frittata on the stove at the moment and a fresh fruit salad of cantaloupe, nectarine and plum.

And another domestic endeavor to show off: the loom, warped, threaded, and almost ready for me to start weaving.

One of my favorite discoveries is a better way to tension all of those individual threads that make up the warp. In this case, and this isn't even considered a piece of fine weaving, there are 488 ends, or threads. You can tie each of those threads into bundles of one inch, or 24 ends in this case. Then you retie the bundles over and over, until you can run your hand across the width of the warp and feel even tension throughout.

Or, you can use of a piece of cord (one that won't stretch, and you'll want to slightly burn the ends so that it doesn't fray, but that part is fun, for some reason) to help even out the tension of the many bundles that make up the width of the warp.

You make an overhand loop in each bundle. Then you tie the cord to one end of the sawed-off broom stick that will hold the end of the warp. (The broom stick is sturdy and won't flex the way that the lease stick that comes with the loom will, and a bendy lease stick means an uneven tension.) Then you snake the cord over and out of each loop, tie the cord to the stick on the left side of the warp, and start playing. It will take several adjustments - taking up slack here, distributing it there - until you either decide that enough is enough (that's the product weavers, and they will suffer in the long run because the slight laxity in one area of the warp will continue, and increase, for the entire 175 inches that are to be woven) or until you persevere (these are the process weavers) with the hope that now all warp ends will stay intact, no threads will suddenly snap, and the mistake that you made in warping will float away, like the clouds in the sky.

I'm a product weaver. I should have stuck with the tensioning for at least five more micro-adjustments, but I just wanted to start weaving. I put in a few rows of leftover Mason-Dixon cotton and started to adjust the peddles under the loom. Next up, a few more rows to even out the threads across the warp, then decide what I'll be using for weft.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Alice and the Lookingglass Theater

We went to see Alice last night at the Lookingglass Theater. Chicago is a theater town, but this was especially amazing.

Alice comes down a rabbit hole that is a hoop suspended in the air, through which she does a lovely acrobatic series of flips and twists and turns. Humpty-Dumpty sits atop a very tall ladder, wearing a white suit. When he comes falling down, it's atop the ladder, which goes slamming into the stage as the egg falls through a trap door in the stage. Caterpillar is three guys, dressed in striped long sleeve t-shirts and beigeish pants, and they work in a line, with each guy holding onto the hips of the one in front, raising legs on one side and then the other, or flipping over each other's head and into a forward roll.

The Red Queen is an actor in drag, and it works really well, because the Red Queen is a very aggressive and angry and vindictive monarch, strange even by the standards of Alice in Wonderland. At first he stands on top of something very tall, so that he's miles higher than Alice. Later he comes in wearing stilts under his long skirt, which he bounces on as he brandishes a red parasol. At the end, he's a tiny figure sitting in the parasol, with skinny little legs that cross and uncross, being washed away on the waves as Alice blows up a storm with her breath.

And I'm not usually a fan of audience participation, but it works in this production. Alice set her tea party up in front of a little girl in the front row, who did a lovely job playing along and pretending to drink her tea. Another actor literally climbs onto the shoulders of a man in the audience.

And the acrobatics are fantastic. There's a really nice image toward the end when the actors toss large globe-shaped balloons into the audience while they toss oversized colored bouncing balls to one another, and then Alice holds a red ball in her hands and a green ball with her feet and flips over and over on the trapeze, getting faster and faster with each flip. Years ago I had the chance to try out swinging on a trapeze at a Club Med, and watching this show made me wish that I had the time and the funds to go play at the Actors Gymnasium, which co-produced the play with Lookingglass.

It's here through September 7th. If you live in or near Chicago or are heading this way on vacation, you should grab tickets and go.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Planting a Seed

The Yoga Sutra-s are like Legos. They're connected, one to another, and it's hard to pick just one up at a time. Whichever one that I'm teaching, I always need to go back or forward a bit to establish a context. Yesterday, I taught Sutra I.25: Tatra nirtatishyam sarvatjnabijam. But to get there, I first circled back to Sutra I.23: Isvara Pranidhanadva.

This is a fast-track sutra. Having suggested several tools that we can use to improve clarity, reduce misapprehension, and help the mind to focus on one thing, Patanjali, midway through the first book, gets to this one. Keep in mind that there are 22 sutras before it and 28 or 29 after it. But this is a biggie. It says: if you're looking for a very strong way to find sraddha - hope, faith, belief - try surrendering yourself at to isvara. Isvara is something very major. At the same time, it's a neutral term. It can mean god or God, it can mean teacher, it can mean lord. My teacher says isvara is like the sun: omnipresent, illuminating, nourishing, helping things to grow, keeping us warm.

In I.25, Patanjali defines isvara as the extraordinary (niratishyam) seed of all knowledge (sarvajnabijam). Bija means seed, and bijam is the plural. Sarva means all and jnana is wisdom or knowledge. In other words, isvara is the gardener, who provides the seeds and sun and rain so that life grows and flourishes.

Given that I was posting early this week about the well being dry, it was a bit odd that now I was talking about seeds and growth and nurturing. But it gave us a great jumping off point for a conversation about the things or people we are trying to grow. It was a really comfortable class. There were two students and me, and we spent about 20 minutes talking about the seeds that we were trying to nourish, and how that was going for us. One of my favorite parts of teaching the Yoga Sutra-s is seeing how this ancient document really works for people in the 21st century. Another is learning how much we are all alike. Everyone has something that is growing or not growing, at seedling stage or growing into a nice, tall tree, and everyone has worries that maybe they aren't providing the food and sun and rain that the seed needs to flourish.

Here's some knitting to show off. My Jitterbug sock, heels turned on both socks and now working on the gusset decrease of one sock. The color of the yarn is wonderful: it will meander along in navy blue or a royal purple, and then, suddenly, there will be a tiny blip of celadon green or sky blue.

Next, this is the amount of yarn I have left to complete this sock. Will I make it? Plan B is to use the leftovers of Louet in dark blue to finish the toe.
Today I allowed myself to order another KnitPicks needle, this time a Harmony wood needle in a 40" circular to try to get my stitches tiny enough to use a conventional sock yarn like KnitPicks Essentials Tweed. Still looking for a good, worsted weight or DK yarn that would knit up like ragg socks for hiking, but so far, just still looking. I found a possibility in a Nancy Bush book, but the yarn has been discontinued, and the thread on Knitter's Review offering substitutions didn't take me to anything that was quite right. I'm beginning to think that it does not exist, and I was advised not to use a Cascade superwash because there's no nylon content.