Dear Past Hester…

…I know, you wrote that letter to your sweater, berating it for not going the way it was supposed to, being part of a conspiracy of poorly written patterns, and generally wishing that the knitting faeries would come along and finish your sweater for you.

The trouble is, your sweater was not to blame. You were. Remember how you screwed up the project at the very beginning by having difficulties with counting? Well, this time, you have difficulties following directions. (This is rather a shock to me, since I know that you are by and large compliant in a way that makes you occasionally appear terribly naive.) I know, I know, Little Birds was difficult and wore your nerves down to nothing, and so you’ve had trouble getting into bed with this pattern and fully trusting it to be cohesive and well-written. Boo freakin’ hoo – that was years ago, lady, get over it! (Please note for the record, this is not a sentence I ever use when therapist-ing my clients.) This pattern does not have any flaws or faults in it that I can find. Oh sure, there are parts that could be expanded on, maybe an instruction added here or there to keep people from second guessing their knitterly instincts. But as far as errata goes, nada.

If you had just followed the directions for where and how to join the sweaters to the body from the beginning, it would have been fine. It all would have made sense, and you’d probably be up to the neckline by now because you wouldn’t have put the sweater away in frustration for over a week. Heck, maybe you’d even be finished! (Okay, that one is a stretch…) But for some reason, you couldn’t see the grand vision of how the cables were supposed to run up along the armholes…and so you thought that the placement of the sleeves was cutting into the 4-stitch cables and rearranged where they should go. I know, it was only by 2 stitches on each side, but that was enough to throw off the whole concept. And what happened because of this mistrust? You have now ripped back and rejoined the sleeves to the sweater 3 times. This time, it had better be right because if it isn’t…well, we’ll just bind it off and claim that it’s an off-the-shoulder sweater, a la the 80s.

Past Hester, I know that I can’t possibly recall what you were thinking at the time – you put this sweater into cold storage so long ago that the memory of the what and why and wherefore is a distant illusion of a memory. All I can do is urge you to get in touch with Future Hester and remind her that in the future, if a pattern is giving her difficulties, she should set it aside for 2 days, cast on something new, and then come back to it again. We all need to step away from our knitting to time to time. That’s what helps good knitters become great knitters.

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Letter to a Naughty Sweater

Dear Vivian,
First, I’d like to thank you for giving me something to write about. It’s been quite some time since I visited my blog, and now, you’ve caused me to return to the fold. Well done you. I believe it was The Yarn Harlot who at some point said of her own blog, “The only thing that keeps this interesting is my uncanny ability to make massive mistakes” – or something of that sort. Vivian, you are currently that massive mistake.

I know what you’re thinking – but Hester, things were going so well when you put me into hibernation for the winter. You had gotten the arms attached, only having to rip back once to adjust their placement since the pattern wanted you to armholes in spaces that would have cut the cables in half and didn’t really make a ton of sense. And you’re on the decreases, which attaches the arms to the sweater – Hester, this is the good part!

I know, Vivian, I know. The trouble is, your decreases aren’t really making a ton of sense to me either. It wasn’t just the armhole placement and the arms themselves. This entire issue of trying to cleanly attach the arms to you is driving me bananas. And as usual, Ravelry has failed to provide even one other person that is saying, “Um guys…does this make sense to you? Because I feel like the pattern is missing something.” Really, if I could just get the pattern to clearly state how many stitches I want at the end of all of these decreases, I’d be able to figure it out. Am I decreasing across the cable? Just across the sleeve? Are you trying to get me to do a centered double decrease, or should this blend in with the seed stitch? I just don’t know!

And of course, Vivian lies there scarlet and beautiful and warm and still unwearable. Oh my darling sweater, I know you’ll be done before the first snow hits…but I hate the idea of needing to rip you back just to make that happen.

Sigh.

I just don’t get why this is where I always get lost with Ysolda’s patterns. She designs some of the most beautiful sweaters I’ve ever seen…but her arm attachment just baffles me. I don’t know what quirk it is, what it is that I’m not getting that everyone else seems to understand. But for some reason, I can never fully comprehend at this point in the pattern how she wants me to get from point A to point D.

So right now, I’m going to just take this off the needles, rip back the 7 or 8 rows that I completed on Saturday at knitting, pop it back on the needles, and pray to all the Rulers of Knitting that when I pick it up again, I’ll understand what I’m supposed to do with the decreases and why I should do them that way.

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Simple math

A word problem:

If you start a sweater in March (say 3 months ago) and work on it just a little on and off between the other projects (say, 10 WIPS) as kind of a good “toss this one into the car, can work on it in the dark of movies and in meetings” sort of project, and you work on it until you hit row 52 on the cable chart that is so confusingly framed because it includes stitches that AREN’T in the cable panel even a little and yet, kind of makes them look like they are because of the way the decreases are done (factor in that you have tried to do this patten about 5 times before and gotten confused about this blasted cable layout every single time, and yet, this is the first time that you decided to actually mark off the stitches so that you won’t be confused next time) – divided by the fact that you needed to cast on 299 stitches initially (143 for the back, 78 for both front panels) and then multiply by the fact that you somehow only cast on 293 stitches and missed 6 on one of the front panels, meaning that the cable panels are in two completely different spots on your body when you finally have to rip back after making way too many mistakes knitting in the dark of the movies and it’s only when you’re putting the stitches back on the needles and trying to make sure you have the right numbers between the stitch markers – how many hours will you spend cursing that you began this project at all?

Wait, that’s pretty confusing – let me frame it a different way:

3 months sporadic knitting / 10 WIPs = 52 rows completed x 299 stitches (- 6 necessary stitches on Left Front Panel)

Yeah, this project.  This is going to be one of those projects that once I finish it, I am going to love wearing it.  It’s one of those sweaters that I look at and it instantly makes me want to curl up in a chair with a good book on a rainy day by a toasty fire.  The yarn is just a wee bit scratchy, the colour is so perfectly calming and relaxing, and there is nothing complicated about the knitting itself, just the wording and the charts…but for some reason, this is about the 6th time in my life that I’ve cast this on and I have nothing more than about 2 inches of knitting to show for it.

I know, I know, I could have just reconciled myself to the cables not being symmetrical…but I really just couldn’t.  Not after all this time.  Not after all this effort.

Let’s just say that for now, this sweater and I are both happy that it’s going into hibernation until the fall when I actually want to wear a sweater again.  Because really, if I had to look at this for much longer, I think I would shove it into the back of my yarn cupboard, rather than leaving it to rest quietly in my WIPs drawer.

I swear, I did learn counting at an early age, as well as the importance of double checking my work… 

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Joining Can Really Kill You

For the second time in a row, I’ve tried to join the sleeves onto my Vivian sweater.  In part, it’s because I want to at least have the body and sleeves connected before I lay it aside for the season.  That way, it’s at a good stopping point and when I pick it up again as the seasons cool down, I won’t have to wonder where I’m supped to be beginning.  No matter how many notes you take on a project, if you give it long enough, you will forget what the scribbled note of “117 rows in, begin at second decrease” meant to you way back when.  My other reason for so fastidiously sticking to this project is that I feel like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to things I’m working on that already have a pattern.  I have 3 or 4 things floating around right now that I’m in the process of designing myself, but let’s face it, that can be an arduous process.  I need to pick those projects up, really study them and focus on them to figure out not only where I am but also where I need to be.  (It does not help that I have not been the most organized note-taker when it comes to these designs…I’m amazed I have *any* designs finished!)  Because those require so much energy, it’s just seemed easier to pick up the projects that have ready made patterns.  We’ve hit the point in wedding planning where I feel constantly busy with it, and so I want something a little more brainless to work on when it’s just me, sitting on my couch.

Yet this sweater, Vivian, is turning out to be anything but brainless.  It was already somewhat complicated – lots of cables = lots of charts.  But it had definitely hit that point where I knew what was coming next for each chart and could follow along without really looking.  Then on Wednesday, I finished the second sleeve and started trying to attach them.  First, I ripped back that night because I didn’t like what the pattern was telling me to do in terms of the right vs left sleeves.  I wanted the sleeve to be near the part of the body with the same cabling, and for some reason, the pattern instructions told me to do the opposite.  That sort of dissonance is not something I could handle, so I detached the only sleeve I had put onto the sweater to fix it.

Tonight, I picked it up again.  Now, I’ve done one other sweater pattern by lovely Ysolda, and I had this exact same issue back then.  I don’t know if it’s her instructions, or if it’s the editor describing how the joining and decreases should go, but somewhere in that equation is my confusion.  To start with, it’s not made clear at this point how many stitches should be on each front panel and the back panel.  (I know, this sweater is all in one piece and doesn’t actually have panels, but still, it’s about to get armholes at this point.  It would be nice if it would give a head count, as it were.)  I think that creates the initial confusion.  Then, somehow between the instruction to knit x number of stitches on the right front, then knit across the sleeve stitches to attach it, then knit across the back before joining the second sleeve and knitting to the end, everything just gets kind of messy.  It’s so hard for me to know where the issues lie – is it me, having not counted correctly?  Is it the wording of the pattern?  Is the description not setting me up well to complete this part of the sweater, so that by the time everything is connected, it’s already too late?  I just can’t put my fingers on it.  But I will say this – for most knitters, joining sleeves to a sweater is similar to dismantling a bomb.  (Ok, I’ve never actually done that, but humor me.)  It’s something that no matter how many times you’ve done it in you life, it still feels a little different every time.  Every sweater has its own personality, its own unique needs and requirements.  You have to be patient, to listen to the sweater.  It’s something that’s terrifying but also exciting and that you’ve been wanting to do – joining the sleeves is when the whole concept of the sweater becomes real.  And in both of these situations, the most helpful thing is to give the most information possible.  It helps me way more for a sweater designer to over explain these things.  You should have 53 stitches on both front panels and 106 stitches on the back.  You will be putting 5 stitches of the sweater on scrap yarn at each armhole.  After doing that, you should have 50 stitches on each front panel and 102 stitches on the back.

To me, that’s helpful.  Because otherwise, here’s what happens – I struggle.  I look at the pattern instructions when I get to where it claims my armhole should be and I wonder – did she really want me to chop a cable in half so that 2 stitches are on the body and 2 are on the sleeve?  I mean, I can do that but it seems like an odd placement.  Then I dither and try counting stitches and a few other things that are totally useless except to make me feel like I’m doing something.  Then I decide to just shut up and trust the pattern and keep going.  It looks pretty good, so I do another row.  And then, on the next right side row where I need to start doing centered double decreases to continue joining the sleeve to the sweater, it becomes obvious that there’s just something off about the sleeve placement of at least one sleeve.  Then I reread and recount and bitch and moan and complain because I know that once again, I am going to need to remove the sleeves to make this sweater work.

That’s my exciting Friday night – it’s been awhile since I was this low-key, and I’m enjoying it.  I just really desperately wish that instead of having a basket full of sweater that still needs to be tinked back so that I could fix it, I had a basket full of sweater with correctly attached arms that I was about to put away for the summer.

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Why Is This On My Needles?

We’ve hit that time of year, here in the MidWest, where the weather is positively unpredictable.  The morning will start out cold enough for you to wear not only a jacket, but a scarf and hat too, and by afternoon, you’re wondering how many layers of clothing you can strip off before you become indecent.  Cold and wet and rainy and gray, then suddenly blue skies and no jacket needed. 

This is the time of year when I try to figure out what the heck I’m supposed to be knitting.  Right now, I have two sweaters on the needles, and I’m trying to figure out what to do next.  Do I keep knitting them, knowing full well that I’ll be thrilled to have them finished and ready to wear once winter comes along?  Do I set them aside and cast on something more springy, a nice tank top or skirt or short sleeved sweater?  I mean, I love this sweater that I’m about halfway through:

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That’s Vivian, by Ysolda Teague, in MadelineTosh Vintage.  I swore after my hideous experience with that Little Birds pattern that I wouldn’t do an more of her sweaters, but I’d been wanting to make this one forever.  I really couldn’t stay away, and honestly, the pattern hasn’t given me issues this time around.  Well alright, the set-up rows were just kind of a mess to translate and get on the needles, which feels more like a few key words were removed in the editing process than anything else.  And I did wind up cursing up one side and down the other of those first half dozen rows or so, but that was really my own incompetence more than anything else.  I had somehow forgotten how to count higher than 8 – I hate it when that happens.  But that was totally my own fault, not the pattern’s.  Once I was about 10 rows in, I definitely found my rhythm.  The trouble is that with all of those glorious cables, it’s definitely slow knitting.  I need to follow multiple charts at any given time, which means that despite having started this on New Years Day, I’m still only about 50% of the way through.  That’s one completed sleeve that you see and what barely counts as a cuff for the other.  The body is completed up to the armholes…really, I’m sure that the sweater would just fall off the needles once the second sleeve is done.  I’ve been wanting this sweater for so long now – I bought that yarn about 3 years ago as a holiday gift for myself.  (This turned out to be a wise choice that year – it was a very hard winter, and I was happy to have that yarn to look at and plan for.)  But let’s say that I finish it in the next few weeks – highly unlikely since I’ve finally gotten the yarn I need for the chuppah and that now has my full attention.  Even if I do finish it – so what?  It’s not like I’m going to get to wear it.

By the time I finish this or that other sweater, full Cleveland springintosummer will be upon us, which means damp, humid weather, sunshine and heat.  The only time that you find yourself needing a sweater is when you go into one of the establishments that has the hideous habit of making the air conditioning so high that you forget why you bothered wearing that sundress out of the house.  Do I really want to finish a sweater just in time not to wear it? 

Of course not – the joy of being a knitter is finishing a project and being able to immediately make it a part of your wardrobe rotation.  But do I really want to be so fickle as to set this beautiful project aside?  Come September, I would be happy to find it completed and sleeping in my sweater drawer, just waiting for the day that comes when I start to notice a chill in the air.

What about you?  Does it ever hit that point where the seasons make you want to abandon your current project of choice?  And if you give in, how do you deal with those feelings of guilt?

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Don’t Step On the Mome Raths aka Stop Choking Your Yarn

A few weeks ago, I started knitting a shawl for myself.  I’m making up the pattern as I go along, just kind of feeling it out.  I have an idea of what I want it to look like, but I know that sometimes what one sees in their head does not translate into something that one can actually create through knitting, so I’m definitely leaving myself open to changing this vision as I go.  The one thing I know is that this project will work with several different yarns and have STRIPES – after all, everyone loves stripes.

I’m working with a few different yarns, all the same base – Madelinetosh Sock.  I really adore Madelinetosh, and this is one of my favourite yarn bases.  It’s just the right amount of twist and sproing, without being so tightly twisted that it hurts to work with, as some yarns do.  I started by using this skein:

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As you can see, it’s an older skein – just look at that tag!  The colour is Scarlet, and it’s just the right shade of red for what I have in mind.  I bought this off of someone on Ravelry, and it came to me in that caked form.  Now, I’m not a fan of yarn that has been previously caked by someone else for several reasons.  To start with, caking stretches out and stresses the yarn fibers if it is either caked too tightly or has been sitting in its caked form for too long.  I cake yarn just before I’m going to begin a project, and if it’s a project that will take multiple skeins, I typically only cake the first skein at the beginning.  I know that I can be easily distracted by other projects, the change in weather, or that I can suddenly realize that this yarn and this project are not going to work out at all.  If I had caked all 6 skeins that I needed for a sweater from the beginning, I would be left with sad little cakes that were slowly losing the bounce in their yarn.  In this type of situation, it’s best to reskein the yarn so that the fiber isn’t being stretched and stressed – my friend Sarah did this amazing post on how to skein your yarn for free, no equipment needed.

In this instance, I didn’t reskein that cake because I thought I was going to cast on for the shawl much sooner than I did…now I realize I probably should have just reskeined it because that cake was definitely wound too tightly.  This is something that I’ve seen people do before, and it always frightens me.  I’ve seen people choke up when balling yarn by hand, and I’ve seen people wind a cake of yarn so swiftly on a ball winder that the fibers have no choice but to be stretched by the process.  I’ve known people who wind the yarn *so* tightly by hand or by cake that you could probably bludgeon someone with their finished ball and do some serious damage.  Years ago, someone on Ravelry posted a fantastic picture of what happens to yarn when it’s been wound only once on a ball winder, and Sarah explained the differences beautifully:

“I know someone who has a trick for keeping her yarn caked but making sure that it is done loosely enough so that it doesn’t stretch the yarn. According to ______, you recake your yarn by first caking it on the swift and then you remove it from the swift and recake the cake. Wow. That sounds confusing. Here’s what she has to say about it:

Basically the tension it takes for the ballwinder to turn the swift around stretches out the yarn.  If you leave it caked in the original cake, the yarn stays stretched out – but will return to its original state once you wash it.  Which will mess up your gauge.  If you recake, you take that tension off the yarn and it’ll stay in good condition.  Once I finish the first cake, I take it off the ballwinder and rewind from cake to cake.

Here’s a picture of a two of her yarns, one caked originally and the other already recaked. Isn’t that CRAZY how tightly the first cake looks in comparison to the second?! The really interesting this is that the first cake isn’t badly done – it’s nice and squishy and seems nice – but it is actually too tight.”

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Crazy, right?  Look at those two cakes next to each other – it’s like the one on the right has doubled in size simply by allowing the yarn to breathe. 

I kept thinking of this image as I was starting to wind up the second ball of yarn at knitting this Saturday.  I like to handwind my yarn using a nostepinne - something that occasionally baffles the women in my knitting group, no matter how many times I do it in front of them or explain it.  I like to interact with the yarn before I knit with it – hand winding it gives me that chance to see what it feels like, how it moves, what the structure of it is like and how that might translate into a garment.  I like to see if there are knots or splits, is there a ton of vegetable matter, parts where the yarn things out….basically, what is this thing that I’m going to be working with.  I do have a ball winder and swift, and they’re both high level, professional grade items – but I don’t really like to use them that much because I love hand winding more.  I pull them out when I have multiple skeins to do for bigger projects – sweaters and blankets and the like – and have already gotten to know one of the skeins from hand winding and knitting it before.  After all, no one really wants to wind up 2000 yards of yarn, 100 yards at a time!

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Personally, I always like to ball the yarn before I begin to wind it up on my nostepinne.  I’ve just discovered that I can wind it more easily that way.  Sometimes skeined yarn sticks to itself and then can tangle, and it’s hard to deal with all those little moments of strings crossing over one another when you’re trying to wind an even cake on a nostepinne. 

(BTW, how pretty is this skein?  I love it – it’s the Citrus colour of Madelinetosh, and it just glows.)

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Now, I knew that the Scarlet had been caked for too long and had probably been done on a ball winder – just look at these two cakes side by side:

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Notice how much taller the Citrus is in comparison?  It also just looks more tidy, in my opinion, less likely to collapse in on itself as you work with it.  But it wasn’t until I started knitting with the two yarns together that I realized how stressed the fibers in the Scarlet had been – I had suspected that it was wound too tightly as I had been knitting with it already.  Every now and then, the yarn would get stick coming out of the center pull, trapped on the tightness of the inside of the ball, and then a huge yarn barf would pull out as it tried to release itself.  In my experience, yarn barf is generally a sign that the ball was wound too tightly.  But when I looked at the yarns side by side, I realized that the Scarlet was most definitely damaged:

ImageJust look at how thin and stretched out the Scarlet looks compared with the Citrus.  It’s almost like I’m holding two different weights of yarn, isn’t it?  The big difference is that the Citrus still has breathing room, still has elasticity.  The Scarlet was wound too tightly and then held in that position for too long, so it’s elasticity has gone away.  I’m hoping this doesn’t result in something insane happening when it hits the water for the blocking process.  The crimping in the Scarlet is in large part due to it staying in the cake for too long – and really, who knows how long it was caked like this in the previous owner’s stash before coming to me – but it’s also a reflection of how tightly something was wound.  You want your yarn to draw easily out of a center pull ball – that’s one of the main reasons for making it into that form!  If you can’t easily put your fingers into the hole in the middle of your center pull ball, it’s probably wound too tightly.  You want to be able to be able to squish it, to feel the ball moving when you give it a squeeze.

So please, please please – don’t strangle your yarn.  Some people naturally wind tighter than others do, just as some people have much tighter tension.  If that’s the case, use props – wind your yarn around a ball, then pull it out, or use a nostepinne or lint brush or a ball winder.  All of these things are designed to help give your yarn space to breathe once you remove it from the tool.  And if you still wind up with a cake that’s hard as a rock, just rewind it again.  Re-caking yarn usually results in a larger cake the second time around…and really, who doesn’t want more cake?

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Mistakes That We Love

Sometimes, I think that non-knitters misunderstand what knitting is actually about.  I think that they look at what we’re creating and honestly believe that we are going to always create perfect finished objects.  That sweater we’re working on will always fit like a dream, the hat will be just the right amount of tightness, softness, and warmth, and the mittens will fit…well, like a glove. *Wink*

Anyone who believes that has probably never really created something by hand.  You know what makes perfectly sized garments every time?  Machines.  Machines can make the same socks in the same size with the same tension over and over and over again.  They will always fit the same way, always have the same thickness.  That’s what a machine is for.  When you make something by hand, you suddenly belong to the “good enough” school of thought.  As in, “Shoot, I don’t have enough yarn to do full-length sleeves on this sweater…oh well, I guess I’ll do elbow length sleeves…yeah, that’ll be good enough!”  As in, “Darn it, I made a huge mistake when I was reading the colour charts on this sweater, and now I have this wacky motif way down at the bottom edge…I guess I’ll just do it on the edge of the sleeves too, so that it looks like part of the design…that should be good enough!”  We have to constantly reinvent, tinker, riff like we’re scatting on a jazz melody in order to get our projects to work for us.  And sometimes, dear reader, we have to come up with that creative decision making only when the project is fully finished.

 

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These socks are a perfect example of that.  These are my Jaywalker socks, and I love them.  I just love those colours, love that they look a little bit stripey but also a bit flash-y in certain spots.  The yarn is Neighborhood Fiber Co Watershed, and I love the way it wears, the way it was to work with it.

The issue with these socks isn’t in the way they fit, or the way they wear, or they way they feel.  They don’t do that obnoxious things that some socks do of falling down and pooling in your shoes.  No, friends, the problem with these socks is putting them on.  Many people before me have commented on the tightness of this stitch pattern.  Because of the way the increases and decreases work and line up, they make for a very tight fabric, very non-stretchy.  I had heard this before I cast on and started working on these socks, so I tried to be mindful as I was going.  I tried on the first sock several times as I was making it, but it all seemed to be going well.  The problem didn’t come until halfway down the foot part of the sock.  What has been going on easily up to that point suddenly became overwhelmingly tight.  Something about the combination of the stitch pattern, the non-stretchiness of the bamboo in the yarn, and the entire thing being joined into the 3D bend that is a sock suddenly made that tightness so obvious it wasn’t even funny.  I had worried about casting on 76 stitches, about that being way too many, but suddenly, it didn’t seem like enough.  For some reason, I completed both of the socks anyway without ripping back or changing it…I don’t remember why now, maybe I was just ready to be done.

In order to put the socks on, I have to do what I call ballerina toes – I have to point my foot down, perfectly straight, trying to make my heel vanish as much as is possible.  I have to inch that fabric up and over my heel a little at a time until it can slip on all of the way.  When I take them off, I do the process in reverse.

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But here’s the thing…I love these socks.  They fit like a dream once they’re on.  They look fantastic with everything, and they’re usually at the top of the pile of socks that I wear after laundry day.  Would I knit them differently if I had to do it over again?  Totally.  I would probably bump up to a size 2 needle.  But would I ever rip them out or trash them or give them away for being difficult to put on?  Never.  These socks take me a full minute apiece to put on sometimes.  Think about the absurdity of that statement – when is the last time that it took you that long to put on a pair of socks, let along a single one of them?  But these socks are worth it.  They’re a little extra struggle in the getting on, but once they’re on, they’re just heaven.

These are the mistakes that we love.  These are the problems we have because we are not machines…but in my heart, I know that it makes me love these socks all the more.  These weren’t created by a mindless, soul-less piece of metal.  These were made by me, for me, out of yarn that I loved and petted and treasured.  These were socks that I was excited to complete and now, they’re socks that I’m excited to wear.  These are lovely, beautiful, durable, and imperfect – just the way a handknit item should be.

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