Saturday, January 19, 2008

Toques - and STICKS!

First, one down! I've finished a toque, the one made out of that lovely Nashua yarn. It has a bit of alpaca in it, and I chose it because it was the closest color to what le voyageur said he wanted, a sort of orange-y, rusty red. Mr Dearling was in tow when I went to get yarn for this one, and he clearly had a different image of what "rusty red" was than I did. So I wound up sending three little samples to the voyageur, asking him to select his favorite, and he chose the Nashua. (Nevermind that no voyageur's path EVER crossed that of an alpaca in any way, shape or form, I'm quite sure.) NOTE: you're safe - I've managed to quell a desire to rant about the bane of a reenactor's life, the expression "If they'da haddit, they'da used it." Nevermind.

As you can see, this is a LONG toque; it seems as though the last few requests have been for these. In case it's hard to tell, these look like knitted footballs, closed on both ends. One end is stuffed inside and the extra "bag" is worn flopped to the side in a jaunty way. Generally, the bag just sort of topples - in fact, sometimes they sort of stand up - think "Liberty Cap", which you can see in your doubtless huge collection of illustrations of the French Revolution. The usual length of the untucked toque is about 23"; the long ones are as much as 28".

Here it is, the dramatic END! One more row, then "draw yarn through remaining stitches and pull tight". That's my favorite song, I LOVE drawing the yarn through. Because then I'm done (and can start another). When I'm knitting toques at home (and this is a Confession, don't tell anyone, OK?) I move from the final INcrease to a circular needle. When I get to the other end, of course, it's back to the DPNs to finish up. What this means is that, during the Circular Period, I can knit in the car, in meetings, while watching movies or stuff on the tee-vee. Last night I knitted through a play at the theatre. (A very FUNNY play, by the way: "Noises Off". If you get a chance to see it - or the film version - go for it, but go to the bif first.) I believe I've knitted on a toque while dozing - I could swear I've awakened to find myself closer to the stitchmarker than I remembered being. THAT is scary. I may have got to the point where I'd be well-advised to refuse commissions for a little while. NOTE: would it be weird to ask to be buried with a toque on the circulars in my hands? Seems fitting.....) That was too weird even for me. Nevermind.

Here's his dear self blocking out, and Monday he will be on his way to northern Minnesota, where he will be keeping warm a pair of ears participating in a sled-dog race. When I send these lovely caps out (and they're all going to reenactors who portray men *generally* of the Fur Trade) I include an article by a friend on the history and wearing of the ubiquitous toque by the French-Canadians of New France. I also send a sheet of simple washing-up instructions (although the likelihood of the voyageurs intentionally laundering their toques is probably unrealistic); lastly, I affix a Ste Anne's medal to the bag of the toque with a replica 18th century straight pin and a sheet describing the voyageurs' belief in Ste Anne as the patroness of the canoemen. Ste Anne is the mother of Mary, and there was a tiny chapel dedicated to her just past Trois Rivieres where the canoes paused to offer a mite for a safe voyage. They also stopped on their way home, to offer thanks for a safe return....those who were there TO return.

Oh, and yes, I DO have the next on the needles. In fact, it's 10" already, and the lad asking for this one (may his name be blessed unto the tenth generation) only wants a short one!

But my intention today, before being distracted by all these toques, was to discuss my STICKS. I don't know about you, but I have a lotta knitting needles. A LOT.

I "inherited" a bag of old straight needles from a friend who'd got them in at her antique shop and didn't want them. Most of them are 10.5, interestingly. Many of them are turquoise or pink-y salmon-y; they're plastic or metal, very long and some are crooked. A couple of the sets had been taped together with scotch tape, before it was "magic", and it left icky residue. I've been able to get most of it off - but these are being kept for their nostalgic value. In this, the 21st century, I tend to the bamboo.

I keep my straight needles on my dresser. They're divided between the Long Ones (seen here) and the Short Ones (below). Why yes, those ARE a couple of bamboo backscratchers in there with them. And your point is......?? (OK, OK - see, I have this one spot on my right shoulder blade. It itches sometimes. I scratch it myself when Mr Dearling's not at hand.) NOTE: Mr Dearling knows precisely where that itchy spot is, and gets it every time. There's MUCH to be said for 24 years together - and 20 of 'em married. We lived like crazy hippies for four years on account of, we were crazy hippies.

You can clearly see my size Gazonga needles there. I got them to make something. I cannot recall what it was. I cannot recall if I ever made it. I cannot recall if I plan to ever make anything on them. Unlike the talk, which says they're "lightning fast" and you can "make an Imperial-size afghan in 34 minutes", I find them cumbersome. Having said that, however, - Lovely Daughter made an 8' scarf (yep, EIGHT FEET LONG) in about two hours one Sunday at the Sow's Ear on her size Gazonga needles. I know, I was there, I watched her with these selfsame eyeballs resting even now in my eyeball holes.

I inherited my darling Mother-in-Law's (of blessed memory) sewing box, and I keep DPNs and knitting gewgaws in it. It was in the basement of the house in Franklin Square and when we went, Mr Dearling and I and his two sisters, to sort out the house after Mr Grandpa Dearling passed away, the sisters said they didn't have any use for it. I think I've mentioned being sentimental? Well, I am SO loving this box. It now sits in my living room where I can see it from where I sit on the couch blogging, knitting, watching the teevee. So I keep my DPNs in it, and some circulars; I have my point protectors, stitch counters, stitch holders - and so on.

I do have other DPNs, this isn't the whole wad. C'mon, admit it - I bet you have more than one pair of some size needles too. I have three pair of # 7 DPNs, and probably at least two pair of # 8s. I also have multiples of other needles - what happens is, you're happily cranking along on a project while hanging out at the LYS surrounded by your peeps, sipping chai latte (well, a demure cup of Earl Grey, get real) when someone walks by with a new purchase of yarn. NOTE: the Sow's Ear has wonderful heavy-weight clear plastic bags for new yarn, which can be re-used for lots of other stuff - and through which the yarn shows, even if the fumes are contained.

Time slows, everything goes into slow motion. You can see nothing but that yarn, and you just happen to have, in your nifty Rolling Yarn-y Knitty Thingie, the PERFECT pattern for that exact and precise yarn. There is a moment when everything becomes a blur, and when time returns to normal you find the pattern on the table in front of you, three skeins of that jaw-droppingly beautiful yarn in your hands - and nothing for it, you have to buy new needles because, nevermind you have four pair in two lengths at home, you need to start the new project This. Very. Minute.

I keep my toque needles in here, and as you can see - the aforementioned doo-dads; in the lower part I have my short circulars. I guess one could say that, while I do have needles in various parts of the house, the sewing box holds my needle stash, the best ones. I have some that look like tortoiseshell (some kind of plastic, I'm thinking) that are somewhat flexible and as grippy as bamboo even if they look slippery; I have some old DPNs made of bone that are so sharp it's almost painful to use them, but they're so cool-looking!

Oh - and you did notice the white glass jar of crochet hooks next to the short needles. I do know how to crochet, I have made some crocheted things; at the moment, I use them primarily for edging or to rescue some errant hooligan of a stitch which manages to escape and attempt a getaway. I have a crochet hook that belonged to my mother (!) and a couple of those fine black walnut Brittany hooks and a couple of very old bone hooks. I use small crocheted drawstring bags to keep precious little things in, and one of my Pet Tools is a crochet hook (fairly small) which has a cover. You can affix the cover onto the end making a long handle for the hook, and it's proven incredibly useful for all manner of chores, some of which involve knitting.
NOTE: my friend and weekly "knitting" partner Donna crochets, but doesn't knit. May I say (as there are sometimes separations made between the two crafts) that she is a Master Crocheter and has made great large heavy luxurious afghans on the one hand and airy, delicate beaded doilies on the other. She is also incredibly FAST, and our weekly sessions are a source of great pleasure to me. I doff my (knitted) toque to her.

Anyone have any stories about knitting needles? Funny ones, sentimental ones? I still haven't found a 14" black walnut Brittany size 9 straight needle; eventually I'll find one on E-Bay to replace the one I lost in Colorado. Like geese and swans, knitting needles mate for life, but I think if I can replace the missing one, Mr #9 Brittany will be restored to his former contentment and tranquility. In the meantime he enjoys a place of honor in the Tall Needle Vase where he is consoled and cossetted by the other needles.

Sticks and string - what a source of pleasure. The tactile sensation of smooth needles working in one's hands is right up there with the delicious tactile sensation of stroking the elegance of silk blended yarn - or the comforting oft-present Knitter's Cat. On that note:

I'm watching, Mom - close up that laptop and get back to that toque, you still have four to knit....


sophanne said...

Sticks Sticks Sticks. What a good thing to think about- oh how I wish I still had my expanding sewing box. What a great use for it.

More than one set of needles??? Ever since I bought a groovy cool bag to put my dpns in, I think that I don't have any. Out of sight out of mind. I need to see them to believe I have them. That's a little bit o.k. because then for every pair of socks I think I'm going to knit, I buy another pair.

Alwen said...

I have, er, more than one set per size. I love to pick up old needles in thrift stores. Goo-Gone (orange oily fluid) will take the sticky off metal needles.

I was just thinking I need to re-do my needle inventory, but maybe not while my husband is at home!

Jane said...

I know I've seen photos of those toques in history or fiction books, but never stopped to consider them. I had no idea they were made to be so long! I love the red one, and how cool that you include all that history. I have quite a few sticks myself. Lots of long aluminum ones in blue, pink, and purple. Those are stored safely away in a beautiful needle roll that my mother made me in the 1970's. My bamboo straights are in another, store-bought, roll. None of the straights see the light of day from year to year, as I prefer my Addis, both wood and metal. My favorite dpns live in a pouch in my knitting bag, close to hand by the side of my chair. And of course, there's the sets of wood and metal KnitPicks interchangeables. Just in case.

kmkat said...

1. Noises Off: that play is hilarious! The professional theater in St. Croix Falls did it a few years ago; #2 son was a stagehand at the time. He was too young to drive himself to work, so I would take him and, instead of driving 25 miles home and 25 miles back, I'd do cataloging in the library that is underneath the theater. Every night I'd wonder at the thundering footsteps overhead during act 2. Then I saw the play and understood. What a great play!

2. I too have my MIL's expanding sewing box on legs, just like yours. It is still filled with many of her sewing notions, but you may have inspired me to re-purpose it for knitting supplies.

janna said...

I too dislike the Gazonga-sized needles -- I feel like I'm rowing a boat when I use them!

And the toque -- I think I need a picture of someone wearing one (and possibly of him putting it on) to understand how it works....

OH -- and you SO could do a colorwork hat! The trick is to find one with more "plain" than colorwork, and only two of the colors on a single row.

Iron Needles said...

Wonderful post.
I understand how the toques are made more clearly now.
And I, too, was cheering for Bret and the Packers. Alas.
Keep warm!

Marjorie said...

Go toque! Go Toque! Go Toque!

Cheerings, in groups of three (of course) from the toads, kitties, & me.

groovy granny said...

My mother has HER grandmother's knitting needles--which really just look like wire with sharp points on each end. I'm sure they were homemade. Granny was born just at the end of the Civil War and lived to be almost 100 years old. She spun her own yarn and with those needles she made socks and other warm clothes for her family of 9 children. My mother was a knitter (she can't anymore--hurts her hands too badly) and taught me to knit--but I'm lefthanded and I struggled with the instructions. In my early 20s I learned how to crochet--right handed--and have enjoyed it immensly over the years,(MY grandmother crocheted)but have never really picked up the knitting again. However, my oldest daughter taught herself to knit about 3 years ago and NEVER goes anywhere without her needles and some yarn. My mother intends to leave Granny's needles to her--and the love, traditon, and history goes on!!

Mea said...

Hey!! I have that same sewing box. It would seem yours lacks the "broken" feature that mine has. It was my great grandmother's (my Oma's) and I hold out infinite hope that my DH will fix it. I love how you are using yours as I have oft wondered what I would do with said box were it fixed (for some reason, thread bobbins are too large for most of it. . maybe they used to be smaller?)

ranchrob said...

I've been looking for a pattern for a voyageur toque just like that! Could you give me a few hints, like yarn weight, stitches at full width, etc.? My husband is into reenactments and I love to knit. I'm planning a traditional gansey when I work up the courage. If you can't give me the pattern, could you direct me to a source? Much appreciated.

anna n said...

i'd also love to know how to make these toques. i want to make one as a xmas present for a quebecois friend of mine.

thanks for the information about ste anne. that will add a special meaning to his toque.

lsaver28 said...

where can I get a pattern for the toques?