Two at a Time

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So, remember when I complained about how much I hate knitting two items on the same needles at once? Remember my frustration over yarn tangles and boredom?  My steadfast refusal to never ever knit two things at a time again? Okay, maybe I kept that last part to myself, which is probably a good thing because I’m about to flip flop. That’s right, people: I’m officially endorsing the two-items-at-a-time knitting strategy. Not for every item, of course… I still maintain that trying to do those two sleeves at the same time was a bad idea, not least because it killed my desire to ever finish that sweater (I will finish it, though, dammit! I will!). The problem, I see now, is that sleeves are far too large an item to knit comfortably at once without a long enough circular needle to do magic loop. Socks, on the other hand, are just right.

I was inspired to give this technique another go when a knitting friend (yes, I have those now) showed me a pair of fingerless mitts she’d just finished. These mitts, knit in a Noro yarn, were absolutely gorgeous, and I imagined that she’d probably been anticipating wearing them all summer. There was one very obvious problem with them, though: one mitt fit her hand perfectly while the other was comically large. It wasn’t because she’d changed her needles, and the yarn certainly didn’t get fatter or anything like that. Unfortunately, it’s just a sad fact of knitting that your gauge can change if you’re not paying attention (and sometimes even when you are paying attention), especially when you’re trying to create two identical items separately.

Fast forward to last weekend, when Keith and I found ourselves in Hamilton for the annual Supercrawl. My favorite Hamilton yarn store was having a sale on Koigu KPPPM, so I grabbed two skeins with the intention of making a pair of very special socks for Keith’s birthday (I was actually going to make Keith a sweater for his birthday, sweater curse be damned!, but, one day, Keith turned to me and said, “I know you really want to make me a sweater, but what I really want is socks. No, really. Just socks. Lots of socks.” And I am nothing if not obliging…). This Koigu yarn can be mightily expensive ($14 for 175 yards), and the smaller yardage means you need two skeins to make a proper pair of socks. And because it would bother me to no end to waste even a little bit of this precious yarn, I decided to take a crack at something that had been intimidating me for a while now: knitting socks two at a time from the toe up.

So, I’m here to eat crow because, now, I love knitting two socks at once (I’m using this tutorial, by the way). Sure, yarn tangles are still a minor annoyance, and it’s definitely a bit slower  to knit two at a time than it is to knit one top-down sock on DPNs. But there are several advantages to knitting socks this way that have me thinking I might abandon my DPNs forever. In no particular order, here are some of the reasons why I’ve grown to love this style of sock knitting:

1. The socks are both of uniform size and shape.

2. When the pattern I’m using to make socks is fairly plain and easy to manage, I don’t need a row counter to keep track of my work. If I want to know whether or not the socks are the right size, I can simply slip them on my feet and know instantly whether or not I’m ready to turn the heel. Once the heel is done, I can keep going up the leg until they’re as tall as I want them to be.

3. It is obvious which side is the front and which is the back.  The picture at the top of this post is obviously the front, whatever Keith will see when he looks down and admires his custom socks. Here’s what the back side looks like:

First toe-up socks back

Plain, easy, obvious, and no fuss.

4. No laddering! This is possibly my absolute favorite thing about toe up socks because, try as I might, I can never seem to avoid the big gaps in the fabric where my needles join whenever I use my DPNs. Sometimes the ladders go away after a wash or two but, very often, they distort the fabric and make my socks look raggedy. When I make my socks toe up, on the other hand, my stitches are uniform and beautiful:

First toe-up socks side

So, them’s my reasons. I am definitely a convert to toe-up sock knitting and I plan to make many pairs of socks this way in the future.

Fellow knitters: What are  your favorite ways to knit socks?

Winning Hearts and Minds

ImageBy now, most of my coworkers are aware that I’m an avid knitter. I’m fairly certain that my being a knitter has also led them to imagine me at home alone in a junk shop-style apartment (which isn’t too far from the truth, given how little space Keith and I have to share) knitting brightly coloured tea cozies while surrounded by cats and imaginary friends. One of the interns in my office even described me as the nerdiest person he’s ever met (in a fond way, I think/hope), largely because of the fact I that I tend to always carry a small knitting project with me. This is all to say that convincing my coworkers that knitting is awesome and not just the domain of little old ladies and loners has been something of a hard sell. People have such limited experience with hand knits these days that it’s no wonder they have trouble imagining that knitting can be anything other than tea cozies and eccentricity. I think I may have changed a few minds with my latest finished project, though.

What you see me wearing above is my Still Light Tunic, finished for the Summer Sweater Knit Along with 11 days to spare! I am so pleased with this sweater/dress for so many reasons. Despite the fact that this is largely knit in stockinette, there are many little details that make this garment really special.  My favorite detail is the keyhole at the back, closed off with a cute little button that I found on etsy.

ImageOf the more obvious design elements of this sweater, I’d like to draw your attention to the functional and stylish front pockets. These pockets are both sturdy enough to hold small items without being in danger of losing anything and deep enough to warm your hands when it’s cold outside. And, seriously, this puppy is warm. I used KnitPicks Stroll Sock Yarn in the Jackrabbit Heather colourway and, so far, it’s holding up nicely. I’ve worn this tunic three times already and have yet to see any sagging or pilling. Plus, the price can’t be beat. I used six and a half balls of yarn to get a bust circumference of 35.5 inches, which comes to a grand total of $32.83. When was the last time you saw a merino wool sweater dress for that price in any store?

Finally, check out the fit! Isn’t it great? I’ve had some fitting problems in the past (remember Miette? Too big now… sob!), so it feels like an incredible coup to have made a garment that fits me so well. With one inch of negative ease around the bust, this sweater is figure hugging around the upper body and comfortably loose without being flow-y around the bottom. I only made slight modifications to the fit by lengthening the body by two inches (can you imagine this being any shorter than it is right now? My coworkers would be scandalized!) and shortening the sleeves by one inch. Otherwise, I followed the pattern to the letter.

So, there you have it: my first sweater of the fall. It was totally worth the discomfort of knitting it in the summer and I will definitely make another one of these in the future. Plus, I think I may have won over some of my coworkers with this sweater. With any luck, this will mean that they’ll start to think of me as a style-savvy yarn maven and not as a crazy cat lady.

Fellow knitters: How are your SSKAL projects coming along? Are you going to make it before the deadline?

End-of-Summer Antidepressant

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Between you and me, I’m not all that upset about the end of summer. Sure, I enjoy a string of very hot days every now and then but, generally, I find Toronto’s heat and humidity really strength-sapping. The simplest everyday activities–cooking, walking, shopping–leave me obviously, embarrassingly sweaty and, until this week, my office has been completely without air conditioning. I’m telling you this not to beg for sympathy, but so that you can see (I hope) that I’m not being a hater for no reason. I just haven’t had much relief from the heat and, as such, I’m more than happy to see the other side of summer.

I understand that not everyone feels the same way I do about the summer, though. Some of you, I hear, love the summer. You look forward to it every year with great anticipation and, apparently, feel sad knowing that cooler weather is just around the corner. Well…. it’s my turn now, summer lovers! Maybe this will go without saying, but I’m a big fan of the fall.  For me, few things are better than the crisp air, the vibrant, changing leaves, the food, the sunsets, and the warm layers it feels okay to start wearing again (this is my first fall as a knitter, by the way, and I plan to make the most of this by cloaking myself in beautiful woolen goodies). Despite my excitement about the changing seasons, though, I am sympathetic to the plight of all of you summer lovers out there.  (I’m not a jerk, after all.)  So, in the spirit of goodwill between lovers of any and all seasons, I come with a peace offering:  a mild antidepressant in the form of a beautiful, date-studded banana bread.

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Okay, okay, I know that the internet doesn’t really need another version of banana bread. Everyone has their favorite and they’re no less deserving of your attention than mine is. But, here’s what: this is a really, really good cake. For one thing, there are far more bananas in this cake than there is flour, sugar and butter. Not only does this serve to put the banana front-and-centre, it also creates an incredibly moist cake, one that remains fresh for days and whose flavour most definitely improves with age. The dates scattered throughout the batter are like little brown sugar bombs, just sweet and substantial enough to lend a sort of caramelized note to the cake without being cloying. In fact, there is so much fruit in this cake that, with the right sort of imagination, you might be able to convince yourself that this cake is *actually* a piece of fruit and not a cake after all. Plus, the internet tells me that bananas are mood elevators, an honest-to-goodness and extremely tasty antidepressant! If that’s not reason enough to make this cake, I don’t know what is.

So, dear readers, join me in embracing the start of fall. Whatever it lacks in heat is more than made up in being able to turn the oven back on to bake this amazing cake!

Banana-Date Tea Cake

Adapted from Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Yield: 1 large loaf

Note: if you plan to use frozen bananas, make sure to bring them to room temperature. If the bananas are even a little bit cold, they will stiffen the butter and the texture of the cake will not be right.

Cake Batter

155 g All-purpose flour

2 tbsp Corn starch

1 tsp Ground cinnamon

2 tsp Baking powder

1 tsp Baking soda

3 Very ripe bananas, about 285 g

2 Large eggs

1.5 tsp Vanilla extract

1.5 tsp Salt

85g Unsalted butter at room temperature

90 g White sugar

60 g Brown sugar

115 g Lightly toasted walnuts (I omitted these)

225 g Pitted dates, coarsely chopped

Topping

1 Banana, sliced lengthwise in 4 pieces

2 Tbsp Brown sugar

1. Preheat your oven to 325˙F. Lightly grease a loaf pan and line with greaseproof paper. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (except the sugar and salt) and mix well. Set aside. In a second bowl, peel and mash 3 bananas to a chunky puree. Add the eggs, vanilla and salt and stir until well combined. Set aside.

3. In a third mixing bowl, beat the butter until creamy, about two minutes. Slowly add the sugars and continue to beat until the mixture becomes fluffy. Slowly add the banana mixture and continue to beat until incorporated. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Then, fold in the dates and nuts, if using.

4. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and smooth the surface. Top the cake with the sliced banana and brown sugar. Bake in your preheated oven for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool the loaf in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack at room temperature.  Serve with butter and enjoy the start of fall.