The House of Tatterdemalion


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A Tale of Two Socks

October 28th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

half of the one and half of the other

I had planned on writing something witty and profound this weekend. Somehow it had something to do with this picture, or I wouldn’t have taken it. But I have managed to completely forget what it was I had intended to write, so you all will have to make do with second rate material. Please excuse me while I drege the recesses of my mind to come up with appropriate text. . .

. . .socks. . .socks. . .socks. . .

Here’s a bit of pointless text—the bucket my feet are resting on (I was supposed to be cleaning my room when I took this picture)? That is not a bunch of junk. That is my “You Never Know” bucket. Technical type people would label it “Assorted Trims”, but that’s really not as accurate as “You Never Know”. You never really know what’s in there, and you never really know when you’ll need it. When I sorted through it to move the contents from a hard-to-get-at drawer to this container, I found all sorts of things I’d forgot I had. I’d tell you what they were, but I’ve forgotten again already. But I know enough to look there when I need something to finish off a project.

Now, back to thinking about relevant text. . .

Oh, you may have noticed I’m knitting two totally different socks. They aren’t meant to be worn together, but one pair is really, really complicated, and the other is really, really straight foward. When I get bored of the plain one, I work on the complicated one, and when my mind gets tied in knots with the complicated one, I work on the boring one.

The green one is your basic top-down sock.

The Green Sock

It’s made from DK weight super-wash wool that I got from I’m using 2.5 mm needles and 60 stitches. It’s a mind-numbingly boring sock, but it’s a good sock to work on when I’m at my grandparents, because I can drop it instantly whenever Grandpa needs help going the bathroom or some other such thing. And when I come back to it, I still know exactly what I need to do: knit. No purls, no counting, no yarn overs, just knit until it’s long enough to fit my foot.

The white one is with the leftover yarn from my kool-aid dying experiment. It’s fingering weight merino wool, undyed. It’s a cross between this pattern for the lace design and this pattern for it’s instructions on how to knit socks toe-up.

the white sock

the knitting pattern

See, I don’t really know how much of this yarn I have left, and I know I want to use it all up. So if I suddenly run out, I want to just have short socks—not toe-less socks. And if I have a lot more yarn than I thought, I want to keep going until I have knee socks. And I didn’t want to mess around with dying the rest of this yarn, so I wanted a pattern that looked good in white—and it had better be a pattern, because I didn’t want to knit plain, white socks.

I chose to pay attention only to the part of the description where it says “These socks use a 12-row lace pattern that looks complicated but really is not!” and some how missed the fact that it also says “Difficulty level: Advanced.” This is only the third pair of socks I’ve ever knit after all. I figured that since I could read the instructions (it’s only simple yarn-overs and decreases and normal knit stitches), it really couldn’t be that hard.

And it isn’t really that hard. Except that I decided to do it toe-up, as well, and I’ve never done toe-up socks before, and my knitting teacher, Bub, has also never done toe-up socks.

This is where it gets funny.

So Bub has been knitting since before I was born. In fact, she’s probably been knitting since before my mother was born. She is very thrifty, so I was really surprised that she’d never knitted toe-up before, since it’s such a great way to use up every last bit of yarn. The thing is, since she is old enough to be my grandmother, she doesn’t get these “new ways”. If you wanted to learn something, you found a living human being to get you started. If you wanted to buy something, you walked down main street in town, and bought it.

Old arts and crafts pretty much dyed out—she teaches people at the senior citizens center how to knit, and there basically isn’t a lot of people around who do knit. So she basically can’t learn from the people around her (she’s teaching them) and so what ever more learning she wants to do as far as knitting is concerned she only finds out by buying books from the brick-and-motar Barnes & Nobel. Yarn shops fizzled up and died (along with most other stores in the this area, which is now quite depressed, but still has a Wal-Mart if you drive out 40 minutes). Thus she knitted with arcylic for many years because “that was all you could buy!”

Enter me, the tech-savvy (ha, ha, ha) youngster who does new-fangled things on the internet. I find free patterns online at places like and MagKnits, I find mail-order yarn stores that sell NOT-ACRYLIC yarn, and subscribe to VogueKnitting in which I find extensive yarn-directories and discover there actually is a place, kinda sorta locally, where one can buy real yarn. I look up all the hot new knitting books, and inter-library loan them, just to see what can be done.

And I decide to knit toe-up socks.

So she thinks this is perfectly brilliant idea, and asks for the instructions, because I don’t have time to get started on them at the moment. So I print the instructions out for her. Next time I see her, she is griping that she couldn’t make any sense out of them at all, and that it’s all too complicated for her.

Undeterred, I finally get some time, and cast on the toe of my sock.

So then she gets all excited, because it all makes sense now, and can I please leave her with the instructions for casting on (again). I leave her the instructions.

Shortly, she is asking how one goes about doing the heel gusset. I tell her I don’t know, because I haven’t even gotten started on the lace part of my sock, but I will be glad to print out gusset directions for her.

Next time I see her, she has ripped out all of her work, because those instructions “didn’t make any sense at all” and she can’t see any way of it working the way they described. She sounds uncannily like my brother when he’s insisting his math book doesn’t make any sense at all, because there is no way that will work.

Months pass, but I finally get to the point I am beginning to work on the heel gusset. The instructions seem rather straight foward to me. She sees me working on it, and gets excited all over again, because now it all makes sense.

So, she promptly re-casts, and re-knits up to the gusset (without telling me), and the next time I see her, she says she’s going to need my help with turning the heel (because the instructions just don’t make any sense at all and she can’t tell what it is they’re trying to get her to do). This statement of needing my help produces an awkward pause.

“. . .or haven’t you gotten there yet?”

No, I haven’t gotten there yet. In the time it took her to once again re-cast on, knit up to the gusset, and knit the gusset, I have yet to finish knitting the few inch that compose the gusset. But since she is trying to make these socks for her grandson before she goes down to visit him shortly, I say I’ll make every effort to finish the gusset, and turn the heel that evening.

So she calls my bluff, literally, and calls me that evening, saying “Okay, now what?”. A friend had called, and I had spent quite some time talking, so, um, I haven’t looked at the heel yet. I’ll take a look at it and call you back.

After about 45 minutes of meticulous charting on grafting paper, I’m pretty sure it’s easy to do and that directions make sense. I call her back, but of course it can’t be explained over the phone, so she promises to stop by the next day.

Needless to say, I spend quite some time the next day actually turning my heel, just on the off-chance I don’t have it all understood and when she actually does what I tell her to do it doesn’t work. Besides, I have to have it figured out well enough to scale it down, because the pattern was written for a woman’s foot, and she’s making a sock for a 6 year old.

It takes hours to explain it to her. Hours and hours. She just can’t wrap her mind around it. Oh, she can understand what I’m telling her to do, but she can’t understand how it will work. She keeps thinking it can’t work when it can, and I know it can because I’ve just turned my heel. Half-way though, as she stares off in an effort of concentration, she notices a piece of high class art-work that one of my brothers has drawn, which she says accurately describes how she feels. Me, too.


She finally does come to terms with it. And she goes home.

Next time I see her, I have realized that I turned my heel too early, and I really need a bigger gusset, and will have to take out my heel and continue working the gusset. She has finished a sock and half—she’s in the middle of turning the heel on the second sock.

Being the modest type (tongue firmly in cheek), I have to say that yes, I am clever and creative and determined to work on whatever I want to work on, despite all the red warning flags srcreaming “Trouble! Hard! Difficult! In over your silly little head!!” But I am slow. Veerrrry slow.

And I’m still not done cleaning my sewing room.

Posted in Knitting | 1 Comment »


October 20th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

I’ve kind of been Absent Without Leave, haven’t I? Though I prefer to think of it as M.I.A. (Missing In Action), because just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing things and thinking things. I was doing so well, for a while there, keeping up on posting once a week. But little things kept piling up and piling up, and after a while, you have to stop what you’re doing and deal with the anvalanche of little things. I don’t know exactly when I’ll get back into more regular posting, besides saying “when I get my boat back on an even keel”. In the meantime, here’s a few brief (for me) comments.

The largest, most time consuming thing I’m working on right now is cleaning my sewing room, and please feel free to send sympathy to me. It’s a highly unpleasant task, and one that I have to do with dreadful regularity, usually about once a year. It’s not that I have trouble cleaning up or being organized. I’m very good at cleaning up and getting things organized. People pay me to help them get cleaned up and organized. I’d pay myself to clean me up and get me orgranized.

There is, of course, the issue that all creative spaces are messy. That’s basically a necessity. Creativity is drawing meaning out of chaos, and basically the more creative the endeavor, the bigger the mess that’s left behind. But that doesn’t mean one can’t clean up after one’s self.

The real problem is that I have limited time in which to involve my sewing room. I can spend that time sewing, or I can spend that time cleaning my sewing room. And after spending the majority of my time doing all sorts of practical and often times very boring things, it just doesn’t seem like a very hard choice. I push away the pile of creativity-leftovers, and do something. And the next time I get a chance in the sewing room, I am faced with the same question and invariably make the same choice. And the piles grow larger and larger, and sooner or later I am ankle deep in rubble and out of space to work in for all of the stacks of stuff.

In other words, eventually it all comes to a head. I must either clean my sewing room, or give up on sewing. I might do the latter, except that if I don’t clean up the sewing room, I don’t have the space to do anything, leading to a life sitting in front of a flickering screen while my brains dribble out me ears. And that thought is one of the few things that is more distasteful to me than cleaning my sewing room, and so the dreary task has been begun.


Another thing I’d like to say a few quick words on is the Corning Museum of Glass, which I recently visited. Although it’s terribly cool and watching the live glass blowing makes you desperately want to become a glass-blower, it really doesn’t have all that much to do with the normal, textile related content of this blog. Except for, I guess, this piece, although that’s certainly pushing the definition of textile.

glass dress

glass dress from the front

glass dress from the side

glass dress from the back

Curiously, the items that I spent the most amount of time on where the ones that were, well, the most primitive (I was far to rushed to be able to take notes; it will have to be sufficient to say that the glass displays were arranged chronologically and these items were very, very near to the beginning):

old glass jars

more old jars

even more old jars

They’re lopsided. They have ragged and uneven rims. They’re tilted. They look practically childish. Or at the very least, perhaps someone’s first attempt. And yet, the little placards tell you how valued they were, how expensive and rare and treasured any glass work was. Which I don’t doubt. But it made me think.

My first thought, of course, was the machine made glass of today, how it is formed so much more “professionally” but is of so much less worth, which I suppose is an obvious train of thought.

But beyond that, and especially as I continued to look through the history of glass, I thought of what it took to get glass making started. It took swallowing one’s pride. I have no doubt that the original makers of the glass realized how misshappen and lopsided their work was. Imagine trying a new method of working with glass, and seeing such obviously tilted and off-set results. Imagine your frustration and embarrassment, and the temptation to give up since the glass seems so uninclined to give promising results.

But they didn’t. Obviously. In my mind I am sure they continued to work in glass, to improve, to continue to strive to higher levels of skill. Some might say that they were working for future generations to build off of, and in some ways I suppose it’s true. But I guess I take it as a more personal challange to those of us with a perfectionist bent (naming no names, but namely me).

What things are we held back from simply because we “can’t do them good enough”? And is that really any kind of a good reason? Is it really better to stay within in the confines of what is known, what has already been studied, what can be taught to you by some other person? Or should the same thing that drives us to desire perfection—or at the very least, a high level of skill—also drive us into the unknown, the things we do embarrassingly bad at? Or even to the things that other people can do—and do far better than us. Is there any worth to avoiding the embarrassment of reaching beyond our skill level? Or is that something that serves only to hobble us?

Posted in Contemplations | 3 Comments »