PunkconformityLife, history, and the pursuit of knitting.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lamps and Existential Crises

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The vagaries of the economy being what they currently are, it has been brought home to me that renting a place with a yard is probably not the wisest choice at this point in my life. Especially considering that I'd like to buy a house eventually, and wasting at least an extra $200 a month (not to mention lawnmower and weed-eater costs) just so I can have the puppies with me is extravagant and not financially sound. So I will continue to be an apartment dweller for at least another year. I think I have found a place, and will hopefully be housed again sometime in the next two weeks.

Which is good, because I start working full-time in eight days. This is equally exciting and terrifying, as are so many things in my life right now. I love my job, and I will work my backside off to be good at it, but because I care about it so much I know that every mistake I make is going to upset me horribly. Not to mention, I am stepping my foot onto the path of adulthood. This is not a job that will be over in a semester. I don't get to do it for a time and then come home and be lazy again. This is my career. This is what I will be doing at least until I have children (I don't know if I'll be able to be a stay-at-home mom, though that is definitely my goal), and there is no telling when that will be - it's looking like at least three or four years from now. Having been a student for 19 years, that's kind of a big transition to make, and it makes me as nervous as it makes me excited.

So. Pretty soon I will have a place to put all of the stuff I have been making, and I will have significantly less time for making. But until then, have another one of my projects. Lamps!

I got two of these lamps free from my thesis mentor and his wife when they moved house a couple years ago. I love them, they are the perfect size and the ivy reminds me of my grandma's kitchen. Unfortunately, the yellow-green of the ivy didn't exactly match my blue and grey decor, so I decided to paint them.

I used 3 shades of acrylic paint, and then sprayed them with several coats of sealer. And after all that work, I couldn't just leave the lampshades plain white, so I decorated them, too.

The shades look a lot bluer when the lamps are on because they're covered with two layers of fabric - a sheer grey over a light blue. It's a really cool (and totally unintentional) effect.

What I'm listening to: "These Bones" by Dashboard Confessional
Sunday, May 30, 2010

El Elefante

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The Boy and I had a conversation the other night, and it went a little something like this:

Him: What are you doing?
Me: You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.
Him: …Try me.
Me: Baking an elephant.
Me: Yes. His ears have mocked me one too many times.

(Not without result has Miguel teased me about my big ears all these years.) But I was, in fact, baking an elephant.

Awhile back I saw a really cute wooden elephant ring holder at World Market, but they wanted an outrageous $12 for it.

Rather than fork over all that cash for a piece of balsa wood painted to look like an elephant, I took this crappy camera-phone picture with the intention of making one myself when I got home. Well, needless to say, as is the case with so many projects that require the use of Daddy’s tools, that never happened. So the other night, I sat down and made one out of some of the Fimo that we had in the studio.

It took three of the small, trial-sized blocks of Fimo (in three different colors, no less) to produce this baby, but I think he’s absolutely adorable. I didn’t like the way the ears were just painted on the other one, so I attached a pair that stick out the way elephant ears are supposed to do. I baked him for about 17 minutes at 275, and he came out perfectly.

Then I painted him dark grey, with black eyes. He looks just like a little baby elephant enjoying his bath, which means he fits perfectly in the center of the blue dish I use to hold my post earrings, which is exactly where I wanted him to go.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Maybe we should up and leave this town..."

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It is too hot to knit. At least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with for why took me three weeks to finish Steven’s golf club covers, when it should, by all rights, have taken me three days. We’re trying to save money by not turning on the AC too early, and thus, by the evenings, the temperature upstairs (where I usually do my knitting) more nearly resembles that of the surface of Venus than any place on earth. Now, I’d rather be too hot than too cold, but I’m not going to exacerbate the issue by knitting when my palms are already too sweaty to hold onto the needles. So needless to say, it’s slow going on getting all my knitting-for-other-people out of the way. I think Adin is about to despair of ever getting his mitts.

The woes of house-hunting have come upon me. I am not complaining about having to look for a place – that aspect of the whole experience is wonderful, as it means I am employed, something I could not be more grateful for and excited about. I’m complaining about the fact that it is next to impossible to find a decent place, in a decent neighborhood, with a fenced-in yard. Who knew it would be so difficult to keep big dogs in a part of town that does not have drug-dealers, murders, and thieves? Apparently – according to the rental home industry, at least – only sketchy people have dogs larger than 25 lbs. And supposing you do find a place in a decent part of town that claims to have a fenced-in yard, this is no guarantee that the area that is fenced will in any way resemble a “yard.” I looked at one place the other day with a “fenced-in yard” of – I’m not exaggerating – two feet by two feet. What kind of dog can you keep in that, a tea-cup Chihuahua? But I have until the end of June to have found and moved into a place, so I’m trying to have patience and keep looking.

Something I learned recently: Milk paint is difficult stuff to work with. Or, let me rephrase.It is difficult stuff to use on furniture that has already been painted. It’s hard to get the mix to come out with the right consistency, without lumps, and close to the same color as the previous coats. Even after following the instructions, sanding my side-tables down to almost bare wood and using the extra bonding agent, I’ve still had to put on four coats of the stuff to get it to even remotely resemble paint. The problem may only be that I’m trying to paint something with spindles, which is never easy, no matter the paint, but it’s hard to even get the flat surfaces to come out right. And the thing that bothers me the most about the whole experience is that it cost $30 for a pint of the stuff, and it’s not even coming out the way I want. I feel really bad about wanting to wuss out and use real paint after forking over all that money for the milk paint, but I would also like to get these tables painted some time before I die. It’s a conundrum. I suppose I’ll wait to see how it looks in the morning before I make my final decision.

Here. Have a picture of the puppies to make up for all the whining.

What I'm listening to: "A Little More" by The Audreys
Sunday, May 2, 2010

Necklace Holder

In case you were wondering why I've only been blogging about the things I'm making/fixing, it's because that's really the only interesting things going on in my life. Not much happens when you live at home with your parents. I could tell you all about the applications I've turned in that have been totally ignored, or the interviews I've had that have gone nowhere, or all the laundry I've folded, but who wants to read about that? I sure don't. Living it is boring enough.

There was an interview two weeks ago that I'm pretty excited about, with the advising center I worked with previously. Getting it would mean I'd be getting started on the career path I've been dreaming about for years, not to mention I'd have a reason to move back to the 'boro, which I really want to do (despite the fact that so many people have moved away in my absence). I'm fluctuating between excitement, nerves, and total uncertain misery. It's a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and I feel marginally stupid for being that invested in just a possibility, but it's my dream job, so please keep your fingers crossed for me.

With all that boring, whiney stuff out of the way, let's get on to the latest project. My necklace holder.

I took an old picture frame, painted it white, drilled some holes roughly half an inch apart along the top and screwed in some small brass cup hooks. I had originally intended to knit a lace insert for the middle of the frame, but the list of knitting projects is already miles long, and what with the recent slow-down in knitting output, I decided a picture would be the quicker option. So I played around on Photoshop using some images from the Graphics Fairy, some old jewelry ads from the 20s, and Dorothy Parker's poem "Observation," until I came up with an image I liked.

I printed it out on a piece of fabric-covered cardstock (I really like the texture that gives the image) and fitted it into the frame.

Unfortunately, now I have to repaint my earring holder because the whites don't match. Ooops.
Friday, April 23, 2010

The Christmas Llama

I'm not quite sure where the Christmas Llama originated, or if it's even a tradition outside of my family. My best guess, based on some superficial googling, is that the Christmas Llama is the Andean version of the reindeer - Santa packs the presents on their backs and they haul them up the sides of the Andes to give to all the good little girls and boys (why the Andes, which actually have snow even in December, would get llamas, while the American South, which does not have snow, gets stuck with the unrealistic reindeer and sleigh, is unclear to me. Santa works in mysterious ways). But I'm not sure. If anyone can tell me more, I'd be very happy to hear it.

All I know for certain is that when I was small, my great-aunt went to Peru and brought me back a Christmas Llama ornament for our tree.

The Christmas Llama became one of my favorite ornaments (along with GusGus, from Cinderella, and the tacky silver tinsel, but that's another story for another time). In 2000, Bas Bleu published their winter catalogue with a Christmas Llama on the cover. So of course, I ripped it off and have been saving it with the Christmas decorations ever since. Every year, it gets taped to my door or pinned up on my bulletin board, and every year I say to myself, "It's going to get ruined. You should really put it in a frame."

So a few days ago, I sat down with some Christmas sheet music I had lying around (Christmas carols are the best things to play on the piano because everybody knows them and there are four hundred different arrangements for each song. These were some of the more basic ones I don't use any more). I spray-adhesived them to a picture frame. This took some concentration, some expert folding (ha! more like I bent and twisted the pieces until they looked kind of like they fit), some patience, and an emory board to poke at it with (I imagine that last part is optional). I then rubbed some ink over it in spots, and painted over other portions with coffee.

Then I gave the whole thing two coats of Mod-Podge, attached the Christmas Llama to a mat, and slid him into the frame.

Now he's happy and protected from any further injury. I think he's going to look great on the wall come Christmas time. And who knows, maybe Santa will be so pleased that I'm finally giving the Christmas Llama the honor that's been denied to him all these years by the greater fame of the reindeer that he'll leave me even better presents than usual.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

(Re)Construction: Side-table

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For Christmas, I wanted to give J a coffee table and TV table. Unfortunately, troll the Goodwill though I might of a Saturday morning, I couldn't find anything worth converting. A stop by TROSA resulted in the purchase of Broyhill side-table that looked like a promising start for the TV table (as J's TV is fairly small).

But, a) I could never find anything that matched for a coffee table, and b) after thinking things through a little more, I realized it would be very hard to add a shelf to hold the DVD player to this table's rounded legs. So I made J's coffee table from scrap wood (more about that eventually), and decided to give the Broyhill to Kenzi, who is sadly lacking in furniture. But before I could turn it over to her, I needed to personalize it slightly. So, after pondering and combing the paint collection for ideas, I slapped on a couple coats of Kilz (I learned my lesson after the pink bed incident. Everything gets covered in Kilz first).

Then a coat of the same white paint that adorns my bookcases (Rust-Oleum American Accents in gloss white. I love this stuff with an unhealthy passion, and am heartbroken that they no longer make it). And then, to make it truly Kenzi-fied, I used Kenzi-blue (the color she most frequently has in her particolored hair) to apply this paisley stencil to the inset on the top.

The result:

I almost don't want to give it away.

(Re)Construction: Bookshelf

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I am a book hoarder. One of those people who, with good intentions of clearing up some clutter, takes a bag of books to the used book store, only to walk out with twice as many as I came in with. Needless to say, all these books require storage space, and so roughly half of my furniture was either intended to house books or has been repurposed for that use. So when Mom said I could have the bookshelves that currently hold my parents' VHS collection, I was extremely excited. There was only one problem. They looked like this:

Which doesn't, exactly, suit my style. So, three coats of a white paint later, it looked like this:

Which was much prettier, but somewhat boring. So, after trolling some of the crafting blogs (This post at Twice Lovely, to be exact), I decided I wanted to do a little damask detail up the sides. So I made myself a stencil

and did a few repeats on each side of my bookshelf in a slightly yellower white. It's so subtle it's difficult to photograph, but it looks a little something like this:

3 repeats up both sides, and one in the center of the top. It turned out exactly like I wanted, and I couldn't be happier.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Collection of Oddments

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I posted a few of my patterns (r-link) to Ravelry yesterday, and have been compulsively refreshing the page to see how many people have added them to their favorites. It's just my armwarmer patterns so far, but I'll be adding other stuff as I finish setting up the patterns. Though I was proud of them before, it's kind of ridiculously gratifying to see that other people like them, too. Especially when I have been feeling rather dejected about my abilities over the last couple of weeks, it's nice to see that even though I can't manage to get a corporate-type job, I can at least produce a product people appreciate. I can't wait now to get the yarn for my baby sweater designs and see if they go over was well as the armwarmers.

The Swallowtail is doomed. That's the only possible explanation for why, ten minutes before I was going to unpin it from its blocking, the cat threw up all over it. Now the process must be begun all over again. Which I don't mind in theory, as I could certainly use the practice in blocking - it is a skill which does not come naturally to me. But in practice, I'm sick of the sight of the bloody thing, and would shred it into bits if only it wasn't intended as a gift for my mom.

Some other things I have finished lately include my lovely Lady of Guadalupe pillow. I quilted the image and then sewed it to a piece of fat-quarter and stuffed it with fiberfill. I had initially planned on appliqueing it to the front half of the fat-quarter and then sewing the whole thing up, but that resulted in an even more oddly shaped pillow, which I did not like. So this worked better, and I ended up with a very cute little pillow that cost me about $4.

On another snow day, I painted and decorated my earring holder, which Daddy built for me several months ago. White paint and the same purple and turquoise flowers that I put on those picture frames a few months ago, and the result is perfect. It made me realize, though, that I've lost several pairs of earrings, which makes me sad. I can't wait until I move and have to go through everything again, because I'm hopeful they're just hiding in the wreckage of my current half-life.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ravelympics: Conclusion

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Well. That didn't go quite as planned. It began well, with the mass mass cast-on during the beautiful, yet extremely cold opening ceremonies. By day three I had completed pair number one, Julia Tedesco's July Socks (r-link). I recognized that this speed was not quite fast enough to get me to my goal, but I resolved to knit a little faster and persevere. Seven days of knitting, and I had three and three-quarters socks knitted, out of a total necessary twelve. The Julys, one beautiful Hanging Vines, and 3/4 of a Tadpole. Even I could recognize that math was problematic. I blame myself, for choosing patterns with so many knit/purl combinations. It takes time to pass the yarn back and forth like that! So I resolved to be content without meeting my goal of six pairs, but instead being content with four.

That didn't go quite as planed, either. Having weighed the importance of a social life against the importance of completing four pairs of socks in 16 days, I realized the social life won out, and so I spent the last Thursday and Friday nights of the games out until ungodly hours, necessitating massive amounts of recovery sleep on Friday and Saturday that substantially cut in to my knitting time. Thus, I only completed three and three-quarters pairs by the end of the closing ceremonies, despite spending Sunday in a knitting frenzy, trying to complete the last sock.

So what can I say? It was a great experience. I learned a lot about my endurance as a knitter. I also learned to be slightly more realistic about my speed and abilities. But I, just like Lindsey Vonn, fell down a couple times, and there's nothing wrong with that. Though I aimed higher, I'm content with what I managed to accomplish, because it's more than I ever did before.

Man. I sound like a motivational infomercial. Eeesh.

So, to end on a more realistic note, and be a poor workman who quarrels with her tools, The Cathedrals were unlikely to get completed during the deadline, if for no other reason than the Frohelich Wolle is just what it says - wool - and it hurts us, precious. I couldn't knit something on a deadline when I was having to stop every thirty seconds to scratch. But I probably should have realized that sooner.
Monday, February 8, 2010

(Re)Construction: The Bed Saga

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In my ever fruitless quest to encourage my dad to finish the construction upstairs, I decided to tackle some of the furniture that will eventually go in the bedroom I floored this past summer. It's going to be a guest bedroom, and after much arguing between my parents about the size and type of the bed/beds it ought to contain, my mom prevailed and we agreed to use the two twin pineapple-post beds we had up in the attic.

We've had these bed-frames for close to 25 years now; one of them was my first big-girl bed when I was 3. They originally came from the old tobacco farmhouse of a friend and neighbor, and are consequently of indeterminate age, although I would hazard a guess of at least 55-60 years old. When I got them down from the attic, they looked something like this:
I tried sanding them with 80-grit sandpaper, but nothing doing. The paint would not budge, but the wood that showed was getting worn down to nothing. So I went at it with a paint scraper, which was actually a lot of fun. I discovered that sometime in the past, both beds had been painted pitch-black, and that was covering a burgundy stain (remember this, it will be important later). After getting most of the paint off, I glued down the loose pieces of the headboards, filled in the really obvious holes, sanded the whole thing down with 220-grit sandpaper. The result?

Because I knew I was just going to paint them, I wasn't as worried about getting every bit of old paint off. I just made sure the edges were smooth.

Then I started to paint. And paint. And paint. Because it was quickly becoming clear to me why the past-someone who had painted these suckers black had been so avant garde for their time - it was the only color that would cover up the ridiculously strong burgundy stain that had been originally applied. I applied the first coat of the ecru paint - it turned pink. So I went at these babies with Killz primer, which I usually find is strong enough to take on God himself, and after three coats of it (so, four coats of a paint-like substance), the beds still looked like this:

It took three more coats of the ecru paint before the beds finally came out ecru-colored and not pink. But they're done, now, and aren't they pretty?

I can't wait to put up the rest of the trim and get the room finished, so they can be put in their place of honor.
Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Swallowtail

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There are some patterns out there that are the knitting equivalent of the pop-culture fad - like sorority girls love ugg boots, or scene kids are drawn to neon, there are some patterns that have been made by pretty much everyone interested in that kind of knitting. For lace knitters, that pattern is the Swallowtail Shawl. A complete stranger, upon seeing my Melusine shawl at RenFaire, stopped me to tell me about the Swallowtail she had just completed. She broached the subject confident that I would know exactly what pattern she meant, and I did. At last count there were 6229 completed Swallowtails listed on Ravelry.

It's popular not only because it results in a beautiful lace shawl, but because the pattern is so clearly written out. Fairly often, lace patterns resemble nothing so much as the ramblings of a Japanese lunatic that have been translated into Russian by a French speaker, and then translated into English by a native speaker of Urdu. Some very important details get lost in the translation, and unless you're either extraordinarily brave or a mind-reader, these patterns are not always much fun to attempt. The Swallowtail pattern is not like that. If you follow it line by line, it is as easy as a basic dishcloth pattern. And this is something that everyone comments on. "Oh, start with the Swallowtail for your first lace project. It's so easy!" "You can't go wrong with the Swallowtail, it's so simple!"

Ha, I say, laughing the laugh of the bitter and potentially stupid.

If you do follow it exactly, I'm sure it really is easy. But, supposing, instead of using size 4s and lace-weight yarn, you end up using size 1.25s and some thread-weight cotton of unknown origin, which gives you a gauge of roughly 700 stitches to the inch (okay, so, maybe 25 stitches to the inch, but still...). Then, dearies, the Swallowtail is not easy. It is not simple. It is MATH. And MATH is something we all know that I, as a good History major, loathe.

To illustrate my point: If you should decide to knit more repeats of the body pattern than the 14 that are called for, that's all well and good. Other people have done it, and it turns out fine. But if, and only if, you repeat in multiples of 5. If you knit 19 repeats, or 24, then you're good, and the Lily of the Valley pattern comes out perfectly with no finagling. If, however, you are too stupid to check your math and just pick a random number of repeats and go with it, you will find that nothing will work out right for the next 21 rows.
Supposing, of course, that you manage to catch the first little problem and spend twenty minutes doing the math to determine that the number of stitches you need before you start the Lily of the Valley chart is a little formula that looks like the total number of stitches - 5 border stitches - 34 set up stitches + 4 stitches from the set-up row = a multiple of 10, you are not home free just yet. There is still the problematic matter of the Lace Border chart, which is not worked across a multiple of 10 stitches, but a multiple of 8. So having spent another twenty minutes doing some math, you should realize that you must now have another formula that looks like the total number of stitches - 5 border stitches - 14 set up stitches + 4 set-up row stitches = a multiple of 8. This was a problem for me, as I had increased exactly 100 stitches, resulting in a number that was not a multiple of 8, and could not be a multiple of 8 no matter how hard I willed it to be.

So, in the tradition of all those who have gotten this far into a lace pattern and decided, "screw it, I refuse to rip the bloody thing back again after all this work," I fudged it a little, and did a second "set-up" row in which I increased the necessary stitches evenly across. And now, hopefully, fingers crossed, I can finish the damn thing without having to do any more MATH. Of course, I'm not holding my breath.

I still haven't figured out if the pattern is just not as easy as is claimed, or if I am really just not as smart as most knitters.
Friday, January 15, 2010

In sickness and in lace

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I am sick. As it has been nearly a full year since my last cold, I just wanted to take a moment to announce my misery, and at the same time write a paean of adoration for my vitamins, which - through the magic of folic acid - have kept me from feeling this miserable for the past ten months. As someone who was used to succumb to epic illness if someone so much as looked at me wrong, this has been a wonderful experience, and I cannot recommend folic acid enough to any and everyone who wishes to stay healthy. My latest failure in this regard is due to solely to my inability to remember to take said vitamins regularly, and I exonerate them fully of all wrong-doing in having failed to prevent my getting sick. Today's lesson, children? Take your vitamins every morning, or face the dire and misery-making consequences.

But you know the thing one shouldn't do when one's head is stuffed up like a bag of fiberfill?

Attempt to knit lace.

Lace is the most magical of all types of knitting, for many reasons. One, because the lumpy piece of misshapen fabric you cast off your needles turns into a beautiful work of art when properly blocked. This is probably the most talked-about wonder of knitting lace, and it is a marvel. As the Wendy-lady described a few days ago, a shawl that comes off the needles measuring a lumpy 38 inches in length can become, when blocked, a smooth 52 inch piece of detailed imagery.
Two, because you take the two stitches all knitters know, and increase and decrease the number of them in such a way that amazingly intricate pictures and geometric designs appear where formerly there was nothing. It is exceptionally gratifying to make a dragon, or a rose, appear with two sticks and some string.
And three, because it is exceedingly logical, practical, and orderly. Once you understand how the pattern you are knitting works, it is fairly difficult to make a mistake without it becoming apparent almost immediately.

That is, of course, if you are paying attention. Which is something one finds harder to do when one is stuffy-headed and unfocused. So we'll blame the 45 minutes I spent tinking the Swallowtail a few days ago on the onset of this miserable head-cold, and not on my own stupidity. After all, we know I'm not stupid enough to notice and fix half the mistake, congratulate myself on my keen attention to detail and growing ability to repair mistakes without tinking, and knit four more rows before it became apparent to me that I had failed to fix the other half of the mistake. It must have been the cold. Right?

That's what I thought. I'm putting the Swallowtail aside for the duration.
Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ravelympics: Pre-game Update

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This just in from the Sports Desk of the Knitters' News Network:

Tragic Injury Could Lead to Sock Hockey Upset.
Team Austentatious athlete,
Punkconformity, split open her left index finger during the fifteenth repeat of lace warm-ups on Thursday. Though the injury appeared superficial at first, by the end of the sixteenth repeat bandages were brought in, impeding her performance drastically. It is unclear at this point whether this will impact her performance in next month's Ravelympics, but given the appropriate rest and care, the prognosis seems hopeful.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ravelympics: Committment

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Despite finding the Winter Olympics about as enjoyable as watching paint dry in the Antarctic, I'm committing myself to viewing at least the opening ceremonies, the figure skating, and snow-boarding (assuming those are on TV at times convenient to my viewing pleasure). Shawn White is, after all, just about the only thing that makes staring at a lot of snow worthwhile. I would avoid the whole thing, like I usually do, if not for the small fact that I have decided to participate in the Ravelympics.

For the uninitiated, the Ravelympics are the Olympics of Knitting, which takes place every two years, on the occasion of the actual Olympics. There are teams (Team Hopelessly Overcommitted, Team Bitchcake, etc) and events (Sock Hockey, Hat Halfpipe, Stash Jump), just as there are in the actual Olympics, as well as awards, prizes, and medals. The idea is, of course, to challenge yourself to complete many small projects or one large project during the two weeks the Olympics airs.

I have decided to participate in the Sock Hockey event, and will be attempting to complete 6 pairs of socks in two weeks.
  • July Socks by Lucia Tedesco
  • Norfolk Ramblers by Emma Haigh
  • Hanging Vines Socks by Kelly Porpiglia
  • Basket Rib Socks by Traci Heiner
  • Cathedral Socks by Shana Kreikemeier
  • Ribbon Candy by The Wendy Lady

That's right. 6 pairs. 12 women's size 8.75 socks to be completed in two weeks. Considering my average knitting time for a pair is a week, this is a bold goal, but I don't think it's beyond the reach of my abilities. With a deadline spurring me on, I think I can bash them out with little-to-no trouble, especially considering some of the patterns I've chosen are extraordinarily simple.

Then again, I may be hopelessly optimistic. But that's cool. Maybe that can be the name of my team.