The forsythia have landed!

Every late March/early April, just when you start to think spring is really just jerking you around with 70 degree spurts followed by fridgidly cold mornings, the season throws some irrefutable evidence in your face that it’s not kidding. This evidence generally comes in the form of the blooming of the forsythia bushes.

I have always thought that forsythias looked like aliens. These hardy bushes have somehow become a staple of landscaping in my sub-biome. They’re unobtrusive most of the year, totally nondescript brown/green bushes, but when spring begins to spring, suddenly you’re wondering where all these FREAKISHLY BRIGHT YELLOW BUSHES came from. Their odd, sprouty, generally bulbous shapes suggested the perfect space-traveling vehicles for little green men with an aptitude for intergalactic horticulture.

Now, when groomed and trimmed into tamer bush-like shapes, blooming forsythia look less like visitors from outer space, but when groomed and trimmed they also look very sad and stunted in the blooming stage, so the blooming ones you notice are always the unkempt ones. And these are the ones you find in the neighborhood I grew up in. My mom has about five little yellow fountains that sprout out of her front yard every year, that made it into a fairly large percentage of our the-kids-are-dressed-up-for-Easter-so-let’s-take-a-picture Easter pictures. But the one that took the cake was in my grandmother’s front yard – taking up one corner of the fence, that sucker got as big as a conversion van. Finally they realized it might eat their entire yard if they didn’t take serious action, so they hacked it back to a more manageable size.

Anyway, I wanted to finally take some pictures of my stockinette sock for you, so Jared & I took a walk through our neighborhood in search of a particularly twilight-zone-type forsythia. Unfortunately, Columbia is known for its fastidious landscapers, so it took us rather farther than I wanted to walk in my flip flops to find a sizeable one that wasn’t beshaven of its alien glory.

Close up it's not half so strange.

Here they are, my nearly completed hat-heel stockinette socks! Pattern: Hat Heel Sock by Kathleen Sperling, published in Knitty Fall 2009. Yarn: Crazy Zauberball by Schoppel Wolle, distributed (if you care) by Skacel, in the fetchingly named farbe (that means “color”; knitting is almost as good as philosophy for making you learn German (don’t kill me for saying that, philosopher friends. it is a joke. yo nein sprachen zie deutch.)) “1153”. I didn’t know what I was doing with calf increases, so when they got to a length I deemed “pretty long,” I increased my stitches by half again as much by doing K2, M1 all the way around on one row.

These socks are chiefly boring stockinette, as I’ve said, but they’re a first for me in several ways:

First off, the hat heel pattern is a bit of cleverness well worth the effort, if you like doing the foot from the heel down but you want to use up every last gram of your fancy, über-expensive, sprachen zie deutch sock yarn.

The only real oops is that it didn’t occur to me, as I started these, that they do not include any kind of reinforcement for the heel. So, second, these socks will be my first time using reinforcing thread. What is this stuff? Basically, when socks wear out, it usually happens with a hole in the heel or toe. As the typical knitter’s sock darning technique consists of yelling “darn!” then dropping the sock in the trash, knitters and their suppliers have attempted various techniques to keep this unhappy event at bay as long as possible. For example, most sock yarns these days are not 100% wool, but have some small percentage of nylon or polyamide to add durability. But to add to the longevity of the heel itself, most knitters will do at least one of the following: use a sock pattern where the heel is reinforced with a slip-stitch pattern, which makes it thicker, and/or they will hold a reinforcing thread along with their sock yarn while knitting the heel. This reinforcing thread is generally nylon or something else particularly sturdy, in a color coordinating with the chosen sock yarn. If you do neither of these things in the midst of sock knittage, you can still go back after the fact with reinforcing thread and run it up and down your rows on the inside of the heel. That I will try to fudge somehow, as I will probably be too lazy to actually google how to do it.

Third, this is the first time I’ve ever done a figure-8 cast-on. And I think it’s the coolest thing EVAR! I want to knit everything from the top down now! With figure eights! Because now I can start FROM THE MIDDLE of ANYTHING!

Fourth, this is the first time I’m using the magic loop sock method. What is this loop? you ask. Why is it magic? That sounds so amazing! Don’t get too excited; it’s not as impressive as it sounds. There is no fairy dust or pointed hats integral to the method, which is really what I had been hoping. Actually, since you have these two big loops of needle hanging from your work, and you’re generally knitting a small tube from them, I think it should be renamed the “elephant ear” method.

Do you see it? The two ears? The trunk? Am I totally nuts?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Why magic loop? Okay, time to back up. The traditional way to knit socks is on four or five double pointed needles, basically short little needles with points on both ends that are in the neighborhood of six inches long. You keep one third (or one fourth) of your stitches on each needle, and use the extra needle to knit across one needle’s worth at a time. You fill up the spare needle with the stitches from one of the other needles, then you have a new spare to start on the next needle’s worth.

[A bit of cool knitting history – the oldest knitted-like thing ever discovered is actually a sock, from Egypt, with a division between the big toe and the rest of the toes for use with sandles. Cool, yes? Anyway, the oldest knitting ever, we think, was done on double points, and knitting archaeologists (or whoever thinks about these things; I want their job like you cannot imagine) think that knitting on double points in the round was invented first, then purling was “discovered” sometime later. Is that not so slick?]

So that’s double points. You’ve got your stitches divided in 3 (or 4) and work on part of them at a time. But with magic loop, you take a ridiculously long circular needle, divide your stitches in half, and keep half your stitches on one section of the circular needle, and one on another part, with a loop of the plastic cord taken out in between. Once you see it done, you’re like “oh duh!” I decided to try this because, as cool as it is to be able to use double points and commune with my knitterly forebears … I was stick of changing needles so much. Also, walking around NYC, I wanted to reduce the possibility that one of my essential tools would fall out of my work and down a sewer.

The verdict? I reeeally reeeally like Magic loop. The reduction in the number of times I have to change needles appeals to both the lazy and expeditious parts of my character. Even though this sock is knit with very fine yarn on size 1.5 needles, it zooms when you can just plough through half a round without stopping to fiddle with five little twigs. The main downside is that I only have one circular needle appropriate for socks right now, they are expensive, and I am actually wearing this pair out. Chipping nickel plating on the tips after one and a half socks? Really, Addi? But I think of my other pair of socks on the needles right now (poor windowpanes) and think… they’re on double points… I don’t feel like it. So I might be hooked.

I have a husband who will go on a walk with me for the express purpose of taking pictures of socks. And who will happily, when asked, sit on the side of a main neighborhood road and take pictures of my feet. All without once saying out loud that he thinks me two pints short of a six-pack.

This post is already way too long, but I want to show you the Pwetty Fwowers I took pictures of with my fancy camera. Most of them were just crazy naturalized daffodils, but there were several I didn’t recognize. I could just look them up, but why, when I have a blog? So I’m posting here in hopes that SOMEone (coughMattSicklecough) will just happen upon this page and tell me what they are.

Wee baby periwinkle pretties sprouting out of the leaf litter.

Wee baby periwinkle pretties sprouting out of the leaf litter.

We’re supposed to get rain tomorrow, but it should be warm and wonderful for the rest of the week. I hope you can go outside and enjoy it mightily. And if you see some forsythia, wave to the little green men.

3 thoughts on “The forsythia have landed!

  1. Your seventh picture is of Mahonia bealei (http://www.plantoftheweek.org/week450.shtml) This one could’ve been tricky since you didn’t show any of the structure of the plant and its leaves were blurred in the background, but don’t worry. I can handle it. I wouldn’t get any fancy ideas about this one since it’s a veeeery prickly shrub that will grow taller than you.

    Your eighth picture is NOT periwinkle (Vinca minor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinca_minor)but is much more likely Siberian squill (Scilla siberica http://www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/YGLNews/YGLNewsApr12007.html)

    Your final picture is of Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis http://www.hellebores.org/gallery.html)and, since its botanical name is so awfully unmarketable(Hell+bore?!), I’d stick to the common name.

    Glad to be of service and glad that Alyssa was looking at your blog today 😉

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  2. Linda says:

    I love the socks and the magic loop method! I just bought a book called “2 at a time socks” where you make both socks at the same time on long circular needles. I am going to try my next pair with that method. Ever heard of it?

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  3. […] “Hat Heel” by Kathleen Sperling, published in Knitty Fall 2009 Yarn: “Crazy Zauberball” by […]

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