Thursday, August 11, 2011

Happiness is... tenure, and my very 1st pair of handknitted SOCKS.

OK. It's high time that I started catching up with myself around here, as I'm sure everyone will agree...

First and foremost I need to write about socks, so naturally (?!!) the place to start is with news from my professional life. A few months ago I became a tenured member of my college's faculty. This represents a major milestone in my academic career, and comes about as a result of many years' hard work and dedicated service, but apart from a blessed sabbatical this fall and slight rise in pay that will be VERY welcome when it kicks in at the start of the new school year, the fundamental nature of my work hasn't changed much at all. I will still be dividing my time between teaching, research, and other campus commitments as before. Oddly enough, the most noticeable difference so far has nothing to do with my job, and it's one that I manufactured myself by deliberately linking the tenure process to my initiation into the mysteries of sock knitting.

Remember this post from about a year ago? In a nutshell, "No socks until tenure!!" had been my personal mantra since graduate school in the 1990's. The inevitable corollary was that tenure finally meant SOCKS, and so over the course of the fall and winter, at each stage in the process -- submitting my dossier (August), getting a favorable ruling from the Faculty Evaluation Committee (October), meeting with the Dean (November), and finally receiving the official stamp of approval from the Board of Trustees (February) -- I began amassing a collection of sock yarn and sock patterns, in preparation for the big moment of casting on for the first pair.

I knew offhand that I would feel more comfortable using dpn's for socks, as opposed to either two circulars or Magic Loop, despite the popularity of both these other methods. It's not a dogmatic thing for me, but a matter of personal preference and comfort. I just happen to like dpn's, having gotten over my once-upon-a-time phobia of the dreaded "prickly porcupine" by making various hand-warmers over the years. Of course one drawback is that you can't really knit two socks at once with dpn's, but there's a terrific approximation with two balls of yarn and two sets of needles, where you switch back and forth and knit the pair in tandem by stages: first both toes, then both feet, then both heels, and then both legs, or vice versa for top-down construction. Works like a charm. And due to what turned out to be a happy accident with my KnitPicks shopping cart a couple of years ago, I already had two sets of nickel-plated dpn's in typical sizes for socks (2.0 - 3.25 mm, US 0 - 3). It was the easiest thing in the world to form a good habit from the get-go and avoid "Second Sock Syndrome" altogether.

For the inaugural pair, I chose solid, dependable Brown Sheep Wildfoote in the colorway called "Bark Cloth" (= brick red, see left), and a very simple pattern from Charlotte Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks: Garter Rib Socks. The Dean of my college actually called me right after the Trustees voted to grant me tenure, and I cast on that very evening (February 12th), using a 2.0 mm (US 0) needle, because I had heard from the friend who recommended Wildfoote to me that it wears like iron but does best with a tight gauge. Wow. Knitting an actual sock after so many years of build-up where sock knitting was Something That Happened To Other People made me feel light-headed, but the project itself was fairly uneventful. Since the pattern was top-down and I had no personal experience to guide me, I fussed a bit over estimating how long to make the leg so as not to run out of yarn at the end, but it all came out alright. For such a momentous event, I took LOTS of pictures. Here is a gallery documenting the various stages of completion. Click on any one of these thumbnails to see a larger view.

The entire project took about 2 1/2 weeks from start to finish, and the socks turned out to be gratifyingly comfy and warm, although the fit is perhaps not quite as snug as I might have ideally preferred. Definitely good enough to be getting on with, though, and especially for a first attempt. I felt so proud of myself as a newbie sock knitter that I wore them pretty much continually until the second pair was ready to join in a rotation. :-)

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