In Praise of Cookie A

I recently completed these Marlene socks for Z. I’m not sure how many pairs I’ve knit for Z at this point, but the number is probably near ten (I would count, but my 15-month old daughter likes to empty Z’s sock drawer every morning, and we haven’t put all the socks away yet today). A majority of those socks, like these, were designed by the notorious Cookie A.

All knitters are familiar with the obsession that sets in as an item nears completion. As we knit the final rows, heading for that bind-off, that grafting stitch, that last seam, pretty much everything falls to the wayside: eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, conscious thought, and taking care of one’s children. Time itself loses all meaning until whatever it is we’re working on is, at long last, off our needles.

The thing about Cookie A’s sock patterns is that obsession starts . . . well, pretty much right after casting on. Her lace patterns are addictive. Having knit more than a few of her designs at this point, I can now identify the features that put the monkey on my back:

  • Twisted Rib. Sounds like an injury, but it’s taking the ‘knit one’ part of k1p1 ribbing and turning it into ‘knit one through the back loop.’ Cookie A is really into twisted rib. On paper, it looks like it’s going to be a pain in the ass, not to mention that it significantly increases the amount of time it takes to work the ribbing, but there’s something freakishly satisfying about working twisted knit stitches over and over again. They slip off the needle with a tactile plunk that makes regular knit stitches seem wimpy by comparison. Also, twisted rib looks way, way better than regular ribbing.
  • Pattern Flow. In almost all of Cookie A’s lace patterns, the end of each pattern repeat sets up for the next one. Not only is this visually appealing, with all of the lines flowing together seamlessly, it makes it really hard to find a natural stopping point. I can’t tell you how many times, while knitting the above socks, I said, “Be right there, honey, just as soon as I finish this round.”
  • Spoing! This is my private vocabulary word for what the lace pattern does when the socks are off my needles and Z puts them on her feet for the first time. What was a scrunched-up collection of knit and purl columns suddenly expands into the intended result. Sure, all lace patterns do this—after you’ve soaked them, blocked them, and let them dry out overnight. Lace socks, on the other hand, do it as soon as you put them on. And not only that, they unspoing when you take them off, only to spoing again the next time you wear them! Cookie A’s designs are especially pleasurable this way. They spoing like no other socks.

So what’s left to knit after a pair of Cookie A socks? Plenty, after a few weeks in rehab. The problem is, Cookie A is quite prolific. There’s always another pattern to come back to . . .

There Goes My Savings!

A few months ago I was out for dinner with some friends, and the subject of that old TV show Babylon 5 came up. I hadn’t seen it, so I asked one of my friends for a quick recap. He provided the general premise, but he was vague about some of the specifics. There was a lot of “I don’t remember exactly,” and “there was this thing, but I’m not sure what it was called.”

This kind of science fiction detail avoidance is common among adult nerds. It’s a survival mechanism honed from years of being made fun of for having encyclopedic knowledge of the Dune series, for being able to recite large parts of the Star Wars script from memory, and for  knowing exactly what kind of crystals are decaying inside the Enterprise’s warp core. When I tried to out my friend by pointing out just how vague he was being about those Babylon 5 details, he said, “Well . . . I’m being sort of vague.”

So, although adult science fiction fans might be more secure in their love of the genre than we were as teenagers, most of us are still a little sketchy when it comes to celebrating it in a visible fashion. Well, dear reader, if you count yourself among these people, Justin Van Genderen has given us all a way out.

I didn’t ever expect my inner design freak to be united with my inner Star Wars fan, but this astronomically unlikely event has actually occurred. Mr. Van Genderen’s minimalist Star Wars prints are . . . dare I say it . . . beautiful? Check them out for yourself, and support this guy by buying one (or six). Better do it soon before George Lucas finds out that these exist, and that staring at any one of them for three hours is a much better use of your time than watching any of the prequels.

PS: I know I didn’t mention knitting even once in this post, but geekiness and designiness have been regular topics here, and I love giving a shout-out to cool stuff. So there.

Oh, Darn!

Okay, now that I’ve abused the word darn for the title of this post by making the most overused joke in the fiber arts, I’ve decided to look it up. I’m too lazy to haul out my Oxford English Dictionary (1929 edition), so I’m going to use the dictionary that comes with my computer:

darn |därn| verb [ trans. ] mend (knitted material or a hole in this) by weaving yarn across the hole with a needle.

For the purposes of this post, the crucial part of this definition is the word weaving. You see, when I give someone a hand-knit item, it comes with the Yarnboy Lifetime Guarantee (YLG), which allows the recipient of said item to return it to me for repairs at any time during the life of the item (or the recpient . . . thus far, all of my recipients are still alive*). There are a couple of reasonable limits to the YLG; for example, there’s no way in hell I’m going to repair lace. Secondly . . . um, gotta check the fine print.

Until recently, no one had taken me up on the YLG. Either the items I knit are so awesome that they never fray, or  my recipients hate their hats, sweaters, socks, and scarves never make it out of the closet (or off the rack at Goodwill).  Then, a couple of months ago, my friend Ned returned a pair of socks with the surest sign of a well-loved item: a hole worn in each sole.

When I composed the YLG, I didn’t actually know how to repair anything. Oh sure, I could sew up a single broken stitch, but holes? For that, I consulted this article, following the directions for a hole that occupies more than one row of knitting. Which brings us to the definition above. Strictly speaking, what I did to Ned’s socks was not weaving at all (an actual woven repair follows these instructions); it was a total reconstruction of the knitting itself. Here are the results:

It was much harder than that article makes it look. Matching gauge is nearly impossible, as is matching yarn that has been underfoot, quite regularly, for over three years. Well, no matter; I warned Ned that the repair wouldn’t be pretty, and it isn’t. Like any good friend, he assured me that comfort was more important than style. Besides, the repair is on the sole, and who’s going to see that? Right? Anyway, as a word freak, the real question that bugs me is whether or not, by definition, I actually darned those socks.


* After I wrote the first draft of this post, I turned off my computer and sat down on the toilet, at which point I suddenly realized this statement wasn’t true. At least one recipient of my hand-knit items is no longer among us. Thus far, I have not received any requests for repairs from beyond the grave.