Tap… tap… tap… is this thing on?
It’s probably best if for once we just skip the whole routine about how long it’s been since my last post, right? and just cut to the chase?
(Incidentally, though, I really do still believe it is possible to get back on the blogging horse and stay there, even though I don’t seem to have done that yet. Might be different if I didn’t happen to love blogging - but I do. I remind myself that I also love knitting - and yet just before Tsarina-hood swept me off my feet there was a long, lo-o-o-o-o-ong period when I didn’t knit. At all. For years. And I’m back on that horse, glued in the saddle, right? Right. So where was I? Oh yes, cutting to the chase.)
The chase: Yesterday and the day before I Mailed All the Things. Tsock #1 for the 2012 Art for your Feet Tsock Club, winging its way at last.
That “at last,” for anyone who hasn’t been following this saga on Ravelry, is the final dreg of a bitter pill we refer to around here as The Great Bead Crisis of 2012 - if it hadn’t been for which I could have been making this post a month ago, and a lot of people could have been a lot less frazzled. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, just a bit. Yes, some of you have waited a long time (and with remarkable patience, may I say) to see what’s coming up in a few long-winded paragraphs or so, and speaking of cutting to the chase there’s no real reason for you to wait any longer if you don’t want to; you can just scroll down until you get to the actual tsock itself. Me - I have to mark some of the way-stations, so I’m going to begin by telling you a little of what I was going to post two months ago, and then a month ago, and then a couple of weeks ago.
I’ve been wanting to show you a few glimpses of what goes on behind the scenes in the Tsarskoe Tsocko of the New Empire, and I think this is a good place to start:
That is one of Betty’s working tools, the live color wheel, in progress. It’s actually grown quite a lot since this shot was taken (enough so that I need to start splitting it into families and putting them on separate rings), but this is enough to give you an idea. There are two of these - Betty has one and I have the other - and they are the foundation of our working palette and our communication for color development. Those are sample mini-skeins of Tsilk Tstocking. Every sample is labeled, every label keyed to a particular formula and depth of shade… and every result reproducible.
Besides - who doesn’t love a spectrum of pretty colors to play with?
That picture was taken in November, and as I said the palette has expanded greatly since I failed to blog about it. Actually, the picture was taken very shortly after an even more spectacular display of Blog Fail - wherein I managed not to get around to telling you about our adventures at NEFF where we acquired ROBO-SKEINER. (There are some bad pictures somewhere. I may or may not have felt absolutely obligated to buy a fleece - you know, for padding, to protect Robo-Skeiner on the way home. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
Robo-Skeiner is our new hero, in these parts. How we got through Rhinebeck without him, how we ever lived without him at all, I’m really not sure. He is a motorized 6-skein Multi-Skeiner from Ball & Skein, and Betty and I have jointly adopted him… but actually I think everyone on the team wants to marry him. Look at how handsome he is!
That’s Robo-Skeiner in action, on the right, with Liz running his smaller older sibling, the manual 3-skein version, on the left. And this is the Skeining Party for Tsock #1.
Please to notice, in these pictures, the seasonal telltale. See all those little bits of Christmas tree here and there? Yes, this skeining party took place in December. And by the end of the day we had all the yarn for Tsock #1 ready to dye.
All of it.
And then some.
Please to notice, also, how sane and organized this process was. We had checklists! We had spreadsheets! We had people actually checking the checklists and studying the spreadsheets!
Also present and accounted for - sample mini-skeins (in duplicate, of course) for final adjustments to the colorway.
At this stage of the proceedings we were so ready it was almost ridiculous. Dye-days scheduled. Prototypes designed and re-designed. Pattern mostly written. Charts mostly charted. Tweaks being tweaked. Test-knitter standing by.
And then. And then came the beads. No, what am I saying? What I really mean is… then DIDN’T come the beads.
You wouldn’t think it would be that difficult to round up a half-kilo or so of silver-lined purple beads. It isn’t as though the bead in question was particularly esoteric; granted it took more hunting and sampling than I expected at the audition stage, but when at last I did find the right one I congratulated myself loudly on having chosen a standard item from a major manufacturer, something easy to source in bulk.
I passed the spec and the numbers off to my bead-wallah. She ordered beads. Everybody was happy.
Then the beads arrived. They were even the right beads. The size was right. The color was right. The only thing that wasn’t right… was the quantity. It was about one-third of what we needed. One-third of what we had ordered. One-third of what we had paid for. One-third of what we had been led to expect.
The other two-thirds? Suddenly and mysteriously unavailable. And this is when things started getting silly, because we called around to every supplier we knew and we got a different polite runaround from every one of them. The upshot was that while one supplier clung to the hope of being re-supplied in about a month, a second one told us the bead in question (standard! silver-lined! purple! non-weird!) had been discontinued. Another was sure that it hadn’t actually been discontinued but that the manufacturer was re-numbering its entire line and that for some reason this particular bead happened to be untraceable as a result. To this day I am not sure which of these stories (if any) was true; I only know I felt as if I gone out to buy a ream of paper, only to be told that paper had gone out of style, so nobody was selling it any more.
Frustration. Frenzy. Fulminations and gnashing of teeth.
We snapped up the last few small lots remaining on eBay - that brought us up to nearly half. Then the bead-hunt went nationwide. Everyone we knew was co-opted to seek and suggest - a mighty volunteer army (including a number of helpful club members) pounded pavements all over the country for us, checking out their local bead stores. I can’t even count how many bead suppliers we talked to. (Or tried to talk to - who takes a vacation and closes a shop at the end of January? Why, the one supplier who probably has what you need.) Some of them had suggestions, or thought they might have the right thing or at least something comparable. (Some of them didn’t even know for sure which bead they had, because many distributors make up their own item numbers and don’t specify which beads come from which manufacturers.) But what none of them could supply was the audition turnaround time we had already budgeted and used. I mean… you know the drill - monitors vary, and what you see ain’t necessarily what you get. You can’t just look at a digital picture on-line and know whether the color is going to be right. There is a REASON I do such extensive sampling and testing months ahead of time. (Not unconnected to the REASON that as of a couple of months ago I own more than a dozen different types of purple bead, most of which I will probably never use.)
And meanwhile all the poor Flock members checking in on Ravelry day after day with their half-wistful-half-hopeful posts of “NAO?” or “Tsoon?” or “BEEEEEEEEEDZ?????”
I’m still not convinced that the original bead (purple! silver-lined! beautiful! totally non-weird!) is not out there somewhere; I believe that one of these days the supply will start flowing again, and when it does we will be there to fill our coffers. But we couldn’t keep waiting around for that, so at last a week or so ago we called it and we cast the understudy. It may not have been my first choice but it’s also a very lovely bead - silver-lined dark amethyst - and it’s in plentiful supply, and it may be going out a chorus girl but I firmly believe it’s coming back a star.
So - about half the club will be getting the bead pictured here (your monitor may vary!), and the other half will see something in a darker and warmer shade when they open those packages… starting tomorrow. (Tomorrow!!!!!)
Before I show you the actual tsock, one more thing: I owe an apology to one clever club member who accurately guessed the theme based on only a couple of meagre hints. I did not tell her she was wrong - because that would have been, you know, a lie - but I fear it was a little disingenuous to put her off the scent with “now THERE is a cool idea for a tsock.” Q.E.D. - I think it is a cool idea, have long thought so and long wanted to do it - and I hope that for love of the theme itself, if nothing else, she will forgive me for wilfully misleading her.
Without further ado, then, here it is. The first in a two-part miniseries (or miNIZZeries, as my dear friend Dennis Flanagan used to day) based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Love-In-Idleness (better known today as Viola Cornuta, Miniature Pansy, or Johnny Jump-Up) is the flower accidentally struck by Cupid’s arrow, “before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound” - whose juice “on sleeping eyelids laid / Will make or man or woman madly dote / Upon the first live creature that it sees.”
It is the pivotal plot device - to the extent, at any rate, that the play can be said to have such a thing at all. A plot, I mean. Define it as you like it, it is what you will: a comedy of errors that winds up being much ado about nothing; the main point being that love’s labour’s lost and all’s well that ends well. But what can you expect? Once interfering fairies start latching mortals’ (not to mention each other’s) eyes with love-juice, you have to assume that the course of true love never will run smooth. And so it does not, for a full midsummer night during which everyone wanders through the woods desperately trying to make sense of an incomprehensible situation: Right woman falling in love with wrong man, right man falling out of love with right woman, wrong man falling in love with wrong woman, wrong fairy falling in love with wrong ass… oh, wait, that’s a story for another time.
Suffice it to say that Oberon, king of the fairies, uses the juice of this flower on his sleeping queen Titania for nefarious purposes of his own; along the way, despite the best of intentions, he also manages to turn a set of overlapping human love triangles into a highly irregular inverted tetragon in which nobody is happy and everyone is at daggers drawn. At last he resolves the whole mess by means of yet another mystical plant (as Oberon says when conducting repairs with the antidote, “Dian’s bud o’er Cupid’s flower/Hath such force and blessed power” - and Dian’s bud in translation turns out to be none other than wormwood, the subject of quite another tsock), which just goes to show that fairies are about as incapable of learning from their errors as the rest of us. Or, as Puck might put it - Lord, what fools these fairies be.
It is, in short, some of the loveliest and most inspired nonsense imaginable - all shadowy woods and pale moonlight and fairies and flowers and fantasy, entirely insubstantial. (Well… almost entirely. But that too is a story for another time.)
The tsock is worked toe-up from a toe-tip cast-on; foot and ankle are covered all over in lacy leaf mesh.
A deceptively simple start, designed to lull you into a false sense of security. But beware: When you reach the rise of the instep… that is when I pounce on you with my latest obsession. Yes, I have been playing with Estonian-inspired lace stitches, and this depiction of the fairy queen Titania is the result:
See? She has beaded wings, and a beaded crown, and what I really love about her is that the unbalanced decrease/increase combinations between her wings supply ease for the heel turn.
(I wish I could do justice to this colorway, “Midsummer Night.” Your monitor may vary. Trust me, the real thing, as rendered in Tsilk Tstocking, far surpasses the best I can do with color-balanced digital photography.)
On the back of the short-row heel I have placed the most optional device imaginable - really I can’t possibly stress enough how utterly optional it is.
If (and ONLY if) you are dead-sure-100%-positive that this sock will never see the inside of a closed-heel shoe… well, then, in that case why NOT put a beaded lace flower on it?
If you can’t be sure of that, however, all is not lost; you’ll have plenty of further opportunities to work the same Estonian-inspired pattern, as it makes up the entirety of the lace overlay. Yes, I said “lace overlay.”
This is where Cupid’s Flower comes into its own as an allover pattern; it’s a highly stylized flower shape worked in a fine pale silver laceweight, purple beads denoting “love’s wound” on each petal, covering almost the entire ankle.
The lace overlay is joined inline to the top of the sock, lace stitches passed over sock stitches in a maneuver a little like a three-needle bind-off - except that nothing is bound off. The cuff ends in a leafy edging that is worked as a continuation of the sock, not a perpendicular addition;
a similar edging is added at the bottom of the overlay, its beaded leaf tips hanging just above the head of the fairy queen.
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.