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  • 42 norske kofter

    Today I'm thinking about kofter. This ubiquitous Norwegian word can feel difficult to properly translate, as it can describe several different pieces of clothing. Today I'm writing about it in the sense of "knitted cardigans" - you may have heard the word in connection with the famous lusekofte, or "lice jacket," from Setesdal. Kofte is the singular form, while kofter is the plural.

    Kofter are beloved here in Norway, and one glance at the knitting shelf of any bookstore will show it: titles like Kofteboken, Kofteboken 2, and Koftefest peer out at you. Last November another hit the shelves, called 42 norske kofter: fra Lindesnes til NordkappI saw it everywhere I went, and I finally picked up a copy for myself.

    This book was a project from Sandnes Garn, reworking many of their classic kofte patterns published in the mid-20th century by modernizing the fit, changing the sample yarn, or playing with the colors (while I don't have any of these old patterns in their original form, I do have a handful that were published by Husfliden and they're great fun). It also reflects the fact that patterns were often affiliated with specific regions in Norway, hence the subtitle "from Lindesnes to Nordkapp" (Lindesnes is at the southern tip of Norway while Nordkapp is the northermost point on the mainland). I've had some time to sit down with it this week and overall, I think it's pretty fantastic.

    Aside from the patterns, there's a lovely bit of introductory text at the beginning about kofter and their place in Norwegian history and society (seen in the photo above, with the heading "Kofter, yarn, and production"). It celebrates the resurgence of popularity these cardigans have experienced, and provides a nice quick historical overview as well as some information about the yarn production (specifically the production of Sandnes Garn, as they published the book). I love it when this type of information is included in pattern books, as it gets knitters thinking more about the production and sourcing of the materials they purchase at the yarn store, which can only be a good thing. Within the introduction, this quote stuck out (translation is mine):

    "Even though kofter are a Norwegian national treasure, the history of the kofte is actually quite international."

    I appreciate the acknowledgment that what's considered traditional to a place can often have far-flung roots. The authors write about the fact that the generally accepted origin for the word kofte is the Persian word kaftan, and they also note that the motifs and patterns used in these knitted cardigans sometimes came from or were inspired by people and traditions from abroad. 

    The patterns themselves are great, too. The forty-two patterns are effectively for 27 different cardigans, some of which are written up for both men and women, others of which are written up with two different constructions (one option for a drop shoulder cardigan and another for one with a round yoke). You get a glimpse of the original pattern photos and styling, which I think is fantastic too. 

    Eventually I'd like to knit at least one of the cardigans in this book, though I have a lot of knitting on my plate to finish before I can do that. Fortunately that means I have plenty of time to ruminate on my favorites and decide which would make the best addition to my wardrobe. (You can see photos of all the different cardigans on the Sandnes Garn page for the book.)

    The technical aspects are also fun to look at. Since this is a book full of cardigans worked up in stranded colorwork, you may have guessed that steeks are involved, and you'd be right. In the Norwegian tradition, though, two lines of reinforcing stitches are sewn by machine before cutting. In the case of a cardigan, it makes quite a lot of sense - machine stitches are excellent reinforcement for a button band that's going to see a lot of handling, and it's less bulky than a crocheted reinforcement. 

    Other technical information points to the self-reliance of Norwegian knitters. Having seen several patterns from the mid-20th century, I can say it's no wonder that the Norwegian word for a knitting pattern (as in "set of instructions to knit something") is oppskrift, the word for "recipe." The patterns in this book definitely contain more information than their original forms must have done, but still, only stitch gauge is given, not row gauge, and yarn quantities are listed in grams, not yardage or meterage (leaving the knitter to do some quick arithmetic if they plan to substitute yarns at all). I haven't actually worked from Norwegian patterns yet, so I find it interesting to compare these details with what I'm used to from the US.

    All in all I'm very excited about this addition to my knitting library!

  • currently

    The daylight walks continue to be lovely. On clear days, the colors are unreal. The photo above was taken from Telegrafbukta, the park on the southwest side of Tromsøya. It continues to be one of my favorite places, and at this time of year it's the perfect place to watch the sunset. (I also finally saw the sun again on Friday! Momentous. Glorious. The days are growing longer at a fast clip now - this is the fun part.)

    School is already busy, but that's no shocker. In my downtime I'm managing to get a bit of knitting done. I finished my Toatie Hottie (no photos yet, though) and I've been working on several other projects, but most of those are the kind I can't show you yet (aka future patterns). So in lieu of that, here's some things I'd love to be joining in on if I had the time:

    Bang Out a Sweater over at Mason Dixon Knitting - Kay and Ann are leading a KAL of Mary Jane Mucklestone's Stopover, a beautiful lopapeysa. Cast on is tomorrow (February 1st), and it's probably a good thing I don't have time to join in, because I don't think "new lopapeysa" is really one of my pressing needs at the moment.

    I'd also love to join in on the Anna Vest KAL hosted by Fringe, starting February 15th. This is one of my favorite patterns from Farm to Needle and while I'm not sure a vest/waistcoat like this would be a perfect fit for my wardrobe, I'd still love to knit it someday (perhaps I could add sleeves, since I am in need of cardigans?). I'm really looking forward to the versions that come out of this knitalong - I'm expecting to see some cool yarn and color choices and I'll definitely be following along on social media.

    Both the Stopover and Anna Vest photos are by Kathy Cadigan.

  • daylight walks

    Winter is dark in Tromsø. I wrote on back on November 21st that we said goodbye to the sun that day (and then I cheated, because I wasn't in Tromsø for the darkest four weeks of the year). Today, January 21st, is soldagen ("the sun day"), the day we welcome the sun back. All week the weather forecast for today has been cloudy, but we got lucky and the clouds stayed at bay just long enough for the sun to make its first brief appearance of the year.

    Unfortunately, I was in a classroom during the few minutes it came out (the photo above was taken on Monday). I watched it happen on screen via NRK's live feed (for the very curious, you can watch the playback here - the video is just under ten minutes). I was able to participate in other soldagen traditions, though, like eating solboller, which are sweet buns or donuts eaten on soldagen. In Tromsø the preferred type seems to be a frosted jelly-filled donut! What's called a "solbolle" can vary from region to region. I must say, I'm in favor of holidays where it's traditional to sit around with something warm to drink, eating donuts.

    Even though I didn't see the sun today, I'll see it again soon enough. In the meantime, I've been taking lots of walks during the daylight hours. For me, the two most important ways to cope with the long hours of darkness are spending time outside during the daylight, and getting plenty of exercise. Long walks around the island during the daylight does a wonderful job of feeding two birds with one seed.

    People's reactions when they first learn how little daylight we get at this time of year often aren't that far from "horror-struck." But somehow, I find it easier to really commit to darker days than to spend a winter with dark setting in at 4:00 pm all the time. I know it's going to be dark for the vast majority of the hours in a day, so the daylight hours become precious (it's part of why it's so important to spend as much of the daylight outside as possible). 

    The other thing, though, is that the light during the daylight is magical. It has an incredible quality. There is a time of day referred to by photographers as "golden hour" (or sometimes "magic hour") and while without the sun I'm not sure it's a true golden hour, it's no secret the light at the edges of day has a special quality. The light we get here in winter? It's like 4-5 hours of magic hour. On a cloudy day (and it seems my long walks have mostly been on cloudy days) there's a softness cloaking everything, while on clear days, the sky turns into a giant ombre cotton candy daydream. Pair that with the snowy mountains all around, and I don't feel sad about the darkness at all; on the contrary, I feel so lucky that this is the place I get to live and walk and breathe. And the snow makes it sound different too; the physical properties of snow make it a sound-absorber, which is why the world feels quiet when you're out walking in a fresh snow.

    Thinking back to Tromsø when we arrived in the summer, it feels like a different planet. And while I am certainly looking forward to the days growing longer, and eventually, warmer (because the Norwegian summer is glorious), for now I am incredibly grateful for my long daylight walks through this magic winter wonderland.

  • new year

    It's been a surreal start for 2016. Here's a glimpse:

    Emma Watson started an online feminist book club (it's called Our Shared Shelf, and you can join the group on Goodreads, if that's at all appealing). I read most of the first book, Gloria Steinem's My Life on the Road, on a flight to London over the weekend. My route back to Tromsø included an overnight stay in London where I got to hang out with Lydia of Pom Pom and some lovely folks at Loop. I didn't take any pictures until the train ride to Gatwick (that always happens these days), but I had a lot of fun. I love London.

    Monday morning I woke up at six (thanks, jet lag) and spent some quiet time hanging out in the tiny bed in my tiny hotel room. It was there that I learned about Bowie's passing, via Twitter. It felt absolutely unreal, and then I was just sad. It's still surreal.

    I finished My Life on the Road in the first hour of my flight from London to Tromsø. It was really, really excellent. I tweeted about this, and then Emma Watson replied and retweeted me (!). I've now had a (very) tiny glimpse of what it's like to be a celebrity on Twitter, and I'm grateful that's not my reality. Not only do I have a lot of respect and admiration for Emma, but she's an actress near my age who I watched grow up on screen, so the surreal score is off the charts for seeing my tweet right there at the top of her feed.

    I'm back in snowy, dark Tromsø now and the beauty of this place at this time of year is as surreal as ever. The days have been clear since I got back and the light's been incredible. In less surreal news, I've started classes for the new term and already have a stack of reading to do, but I've managed to get in a few stitches here and there on some small projects. I'm sensing a color theme; it might have something to do with the light outside. I love these wintry blues. Also, now that I'm thinking about it, the fern pattern and the tree motif have quite a lot in common...

    The embroidery is a kit I bought last summer at Urban Craft Uprising, from Studio MME. It's one of those fantastic and simple little kits where the pattern is printed right on the fabric so the stitching is relatively mindless but the end result is stunning (I'm sort of halfway through, so if you look very closely you can see the difference between my stitches and the printed bit I have yet to embroider). You can find this particular kit in their online shop (although it appears that it's now being sold with a round hoop, instead of the oval one I got). The knitting is another kit, a Toatie Hottie by Kate Davies. The pattern is for a hot water bottle cozy and the kit (not currently available in Kate's shop) came with yarn and pattern plust a mini-hot water bottle just for that purpose. I bought the kit ages ago and have actually used the hot water bottle several times, but I'm using it more regularly in Tromsø and I thought it was about time I actually knit the thing. I managed to knit most of it in an evening, getting through the whole chart with just the top bit and ribbing left.

  • a look back; a look forward

    It's the time of year when we're all reflecting, we're all doing recaps on our blogs and social media, we're setting goals for the new year. I think these are good things, but I've had an unusual year, so I'll be doing it a little differently this time. A year ago today, I rounded up all my FOs for 2014 in one blog post. I'm not going to do that this year because despite my goal to take things a little easier, I wound up with more FOs this year than last year (35 this year to last year's 32; oops). I also haven't gotten any better at managing my number of WIPs (current count: 11). Still, I do feel less burned out this year; I do still feel like I took it easy. I took a giant step back from Paper Tiger as a business with the decision to go back to school, and that meant it could become my creative outlet again. That's been amazing. And the continued support of all of you who read this blog or knit my patterns or follow my Instagram has been absolutely amazing too. I couldn't ask for a better community and I am so grateful for all of it. 

    I am hugely proud of my accomplishments this year - highlights included my first patterns published with Quince & Co. and getting to be a part of both Tolt Yarn and Wool's Farm to Needle book as well as the Fringe Hatalong. But I think what I am proudest of has been the biggest leap I made this year - the decision to go back to grad school and the process of moving to Norway. It's still very much an experiment and a work-in-progress for me and for Chris, but it takes a lot of courage and a lot of work to make a leap like that and I'm so glad to have the support of family and friends and this community alike. I've been back in Seattle for Christmas and there's nothing easy about having two homes you love - it's such a joy to be back and to see friendly faces and favorite places again, but at the same time I miss Norway terribly. 

    I'm so excited to see where 2016 takes me. I'm excited to see where it takes us all! I can't wait to get back to Tromsø and start a new term of coursework, but I'll keep knitting, too (obviously). Thanks for following along with this space this year and always. I hope you're all ringing in 2016 in as mellow or as fancy a way as you like best, and I'll see you in the new year.

  • aspen socks & legwarmers: making modifications & try on as you go

    My own copy of Farm to Needle came in the mail a week or so ago and I am blown away at how beautiful it is in person. I can't say thank you enough to Anna and everyone who made this book happen, and I am so incredibly grateful to be a part of it. I'm also completely in love with this Aspen legwarmer FO by Instagram user mandalu_who, knit in Snoqualmie Valley Yarn dyed with cabbage (and I'm amazed at how quickly she knit them up!). I can't wait to see more FOs, and to that end, this is a post I hope will be helpful for some knitters as they get ready to cast on for Aspen.

    A one-size pattern is difficult to pull off. It can be frustrating for knitters who need to hit measurements that differ from the schematic as written - and when it comes to legs, that's most of us. So perhaps Tolt and I were a bit crazy to publish a one-size pattern for high knee socks, but I spent a lot of time in the planning stages of Aspen considering the fact that this was a pattern that some people would need to modify. I did my best to construct the pattern in a way that would make it easier to tinker with, and I thought I'd outline a few of the things specifically designed with modifications in mind for any of you out there who need a hand with that step. I also drew up a quick sketch (very quick) to help with visualization.

    Customizable length: while I generally prefer to knit socks top-down, I decided Aspen should be toe-up (or bottom-up for the legwarmer version) so that the length was easy to customize. "Over the knee" for me, standing at six feet tall, is a longer sock than it is for someone who's five feet tall. A toe-up sock means that you can start the ribbing at the top of the sock wherever you want - mid-calf, below the knee, over the knee, wherever! The tubular bind off gives it a nice stretchy edge that should work for any length. Because the tubular bind off creates a reversible edge, the ribbing can be worn folded over, as well.

    Calf shaping: Both versions of Aspen feature a calf gusset that begins a few inches above the ankle. In order to create a gusset that would fit the widest range of sizes possible, I decided to work it in a 1x1 rib, so it would have a lot of give. If you find that the increase rate of the gusset as written isn't working for you, however, it's possible to adjust that, too. For a larger gusset, you can add extra repeats of the increase rounds - for a smaller one, you can omit one or more repeats. As written, the rate of increases corresponds to the diamond motif chart, but you can work increase rounds more often for a sharper increase angle, or less often for a gentler increase slope. Because the socks go over the knee, the gusset doesn't contain any decreases so as to fit over the lower thigh, but if the difference in circumference between your calf, your knee, and your lower thigh looks more like an hourglass, it's possible to add decreases to the calf gusset as well. 

    How to try-on-as-you-go with an afterthought heel: The sock version of Aspen is written for an afterthought heel, which means that the heel stitches are the last thing worked. Because waste yarn stitches are worked across the stitches where the heel will be placed, this typically means that the sock can't be tried on as you're knitting it. With a quick and simple trick, though, it is possible to try on a sock with an afterthought heel as you go.

    The two photos above show a sock in progress with a view of the sole of the foot/back of the leg. You can see a row of contrasting waste yarn stitches holding the place of the heel.

    The waste yarn stitches when working an afterthought heel act like a knitted in stitch holder. If you place the stitches in the rows direcly above and below the waste yarn on a new stitch holder, you can remove the original waste yarn and open up the heel. I like to use a new length of contrasting yarn to hold the stitches, since the yarn will remain flexible and it will be easier to actually try the sock on. Smooth yarns work best, particularly if you're knitting your socks with a grabby wooly wool. 

    First, thread the new length of waste yarn onto a tapestry needle (the new waste yarn is shown in red in the photos). The yarn should be long enough to go around both sides of the heel opening with extra length at the ends in case you want to tie a knot to secure the yarn.

    Beginning with the stitches on the sole of the foot (in plain stockinette), find the rightmost stitch knit in the original waste yarn - it should be in the form of a V. The sock yarn in the row below will have a stitch directly below this waste yarn stitch; thread the needle under the right leg of the V-shaped stitch.

    Skip over the left leg of the first stitch and thread the needle under the right leg of the next stitch to the left. Continue in this manner, working across the row. Picking up the right legs of the stitches will mean your stitches are oriented properly when it's time to work the heel and the stitches are put on needles.

    I like to thread the needle through a chunk of stitches and pull the yarn through - going in smaller chunks is easier than trying to pull the new waste yarn through the whole row at once. Make sure to leave a long enough tail at the end opposite the needle to be able to secure the waste yarn.

    The photo above shows you what it looks like when you've pulled the new waste yarn through all of the stitches on the sole of the foot. At this point, turn the sock 180 degrees so that the sole of the foot is farther away from you and the patterned leg is closer to you, as in the following photo:

    Now you can see that I have the new waste yarn coming from the right side, with my needle still threaded, ready to pick up the stitches from the leg side of the heel.

    This side is a little bit trickier, because when you begin knitting the heel, you'll be changing the direction of the knitting. It's a bit like picking up stitches from a provisional cast on to knit in the other direction. Don't worry too much if you wind up with an extra stitch or two on this side; you can always use a k2tog decrease on the first heel round to get back to the right stitch count (and it might even help you avoid holes).

    Begin picking up the right leg of each stitch as you did on the other side of the heel. It's a bit harder to see on this side, because the leg stitches are patterned in a mix of knits and purls, but as long as you get the needle through one leg of each stitch, you'll be okay. If any stitches wind up twisted when they're transferred to a needle, that's a simple enough fix.

    Once again, I like to pull the new waste yarn through periodically as I work my way across. At this point, it's easy to see why using two different colored waste yarns that contrast with each other can be super helpful - it's much easier to make sure I've actually threaded a stitch onto the new waste yarn (red) when it stands out so much from the original knitted-in waste yarn (blue).

    And here's what the heel section looks like after I've threaded all of the heel stitches onto the new waste yarn. You can see that the old waste yarn is completely surrounded by the new.

    At this point, we're ready to start pulling out the old waste yarn stitches, because the stitches in the rows above and below are secure.

    At this stage, I think slow and steady wins the race. I like to use the tapestry needle to unpick each old waste yarn stitch, one at a time. Going slow and paying attention means you'll be able to see if any of the heel stitches didn't make it onto the new waste yarn (if that's the case, pop a locking stitch marker or safety pin on the stitch so it doesn't drop). 

    As you work your way across the old waste yarn stitches, the heel starts to open up. It's easy to see now  on the open section how the new waste yarn acts like a stitch holder.

    When all of the old waste yarn stitches have been removed, the heel is completely open and the new waste yarn can be secured. I like to tie both strands together in a slip knot, which is easy to undo later on without scissors.

    Now that the heel is open, you can try on your sock-in-progress!

    When it's time to work the heel, you simply take the stitches on hold, slip them onto the needles, and remove the waste yarn acting as stitch holder. It's one of my favorite tricks!

  • phileas yarns

    Arthur's Seat, 2012

    This is going to be a post about yarn, but first I need to tell you a story. In my early twenties, I did a lot of solo travel on a shoestring budget, and one of the ideal ways to go about that is to couchsurf. Kind people offer up their couches (or their guest beds) to travelers and in return they sometimes host travelers at their own home. Admittedly I did more traveling than hosting, but it's a great way to meet like-minded or interesting people in new places. (For those of you feeling freaked out by this concept: don't worry, it was safe and secure, but I'm not going to go into those details here because that's not really the point of this story.)

    Several years ago, when I was living in Hungary, I decided to take a trip to Edinburgh. I didn't know when I booked my trip, but in Edinburgh I was going to meet the best couchsurfing host I ever had. I lined up a host for my first few nights, and her name was Sylvie. Sylvie went above and beyond when it came to hospitality - she even picked me up at the airport! And when we got into town, we stopped by her flat where she put a thermos and a container of cake in her bag, and then she walked me up to Arthur's Seat, where we watched the sun set over Edinburgh with tea and cake in hand. Is that not the most perfect thing you've ever heard? Part of what makes Sylvie such an incredible host is that she's a globetrotter herself - and who knows better what a lone traveler needs? And on top of all of that, it turned out that Sylvie was a knitter, too. Needless to say, we wound up friends and have kept in touch.

    Sylvie lives in York now, and she recently started up her own hand-dyed yarn business, Phileas Yarns. I was ecstatic when she got in touch and asked me if I wanted to try it out. She dyes five different bases, all with names based on that wanderlust we so keenly feel: Wanderer, Wanderlust, Globetrotter, Escapism, and Explorer. I decided I wanted to try one of her British Blue Faced Leicester bases, either Wanderer aran or Wanderlust DK. Her BFL comes from Yorkshire, so it's local to Phileas as well, which I found very appealing. So Sylvie popped a skein of Wanderer aran into the post (along with a few extra treats - thank you, Sylvie!) and I was so excited to receive it I got it wound and ready to knit right away.

    I don't usually go for reds, but this one I couldn't resist. It positively glows! The colorway is St Expedit, named for Expeditus, the Christian martyr who has a significant folk following on Réunion, an island off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Altars to St. Expedit on Réunion are always painted bright red. (Browsing the listings for the different Phileas colorways is like a history and geography lesson in one, I swear.)

    I wanted to knit something simple that would show off the subtle variegation of the semi-solid rather than compete with it, and since we live in the Arctic and my husband Chris didn't have a pair of hand knit mittens to his name (the cobbler's children have no shoes, as they say), I decided to use the yarn for a pair of Arched Gusset Mittens. It's a beautifully elegant and simple pattern, but the arched gusset makes it a bit more interesting than a traditional plain mitten.

    The end result is a beautiful and practical pair of mittens. I worked the cuff in a 2x1 rib, because I thought the rolled edge might be a bit annoying when it comes to staying tucked into coat sleeves, but otherwise made no modifications. These have been getting regular use every since they were finished! And though we do live in the Arctic, Tromsø actually has a sub-Arctic climate thanks to the gulf stream, so the BFL wool is completely appropriate for our +1/-1ºC temperatures at this time of year. BFL is truly one of my favorite fibers. When I asked Chris to describe it he said it was very comfortable to wear and "soft but not too soft," and pointed out how overly soft yarns can actually be distracting, particularly when it comes to workhorse knits like mittens. 

    Photographing reds is notoriously difficult, and made even more challenging by the low light at this time of year. The light tends to be very blue (especially in outdoor photos, as in the one above), but hopefully the photos still give you a sense of the beauty of this yarn.

    If you fancy trying out Phileas for yourself, head on over to the Phileas Yarns Etsy shop. Sylvie's currently offering free shipping on orders through December 21st; just use the code YARNTRAVELSFORFREE at checkout. You can also find Sylvie on Instagram, where you'll see a lot of photos of wool, but also travel photos and photos of her cat Miette. Thank you, Sylvie!

  • snow days

    It's been snowing off and on since Tuesday; at first just a dusting, but now, in droves. There's a substantial amount blanketing the ground outside; cars look like marshmallows. Since our first snow several weeks ago, I've been patiently waiting for its return (as a native North Carolinian, snow will always be pretty magical to me).

    The timing is good, because snow makes the dark season immensely more cheerful. And today, the dark season, mørketida, officially begins. November 21st marks the first day of the year in Tromsø when the sun doesn't rise above the mountains in the south. We've said goodbye to the sun until January 21st! The middle hours of the day will be filled with twilight, which means that on a clear day, for a few hours the sky will be filled with the most beautiful colors - an hours-long dramatic sunrise/sunset (for it is both but neither, of course).

    Christmas lights have started going up around town, too. For an American, it can feel like holiday lights before Thanksgiving is too early - but Thanksgiving isn't celebrated in Norway, of course, and as the sun disappears, lights around the city are a welcome sight. Tromsø's holiday street lights are absurdly charming: garlands of evergreens strung with soft white lights framing huge red hearts. It's hard not to love the warm glow.

    The city is also preparing its Christmas tree. This tree was brought in by helicopter just a few days ago; next weekend, the lights will be lit in a celebration. It sits in Stortorget ("the big square") in the middle of town. I remember the tree lighting in Debrecen, so I'm looking forward to seeing the lights go on next weekend. With any luck the snow will stick around.

    If it's cold where you are, I hope you're keeping warm! I'll be mostly snuggling up indoors (lovely) working on term papers (less lovely), but I'm also working on that blog post about making modifications for Aspen. It should be up soon!

  • aspen socks & legwarmers: the inspiration

    photo by Kathy Cadigan

    The days seem to be flying by at an alarming rate these days - I can't believe it's already mid-November. But the good news is that means last weekend Tolt Yarn and Wool celebrated their second anniversary with a big party! (A party, I should mention, that I was very sad not to be attending.) In conjunction with the anniversary, Tolt's new book Farm to Needle: Stories of Wool was finally released! Excited cheers all around! As I mentioned earlier this fall, I had the great honor of designing a pattern for this special book alongside some really talented folks, who can be seen in this fantastic photo taken by Anna's husband Greg (if you look closely, you may also spot my face in 2D, thanks to the creative genius of Anna and Lara). This was an incredibly interesting project to work on - they usually are, when Anna's involved - and so I thought it'd be nice to write a little bit about the process of designing my pattern, Aspen.

    When Anna approached me this spring about the book, she asked if I'd be interested in designing a pair of cozy over-the-knee socks (with a legwarmer option) in Tolt's own Snoqualmie Valley Yarn. One of the best things about working with the Tolt team is that Anna often already has a great idea to start with, and instead of building something from scratch, I get to build off of her idea and her vision. I love Tolt and I'd been wanting to work with Snoqualmie Valley Yarn since it had first been released, so saying yes was a no brainer (even though I had an international move on the near horizon). Once I had the yarn in hand, however - all five skeins of it - I realized that I'd signed myself up for a challenge.

    Anna sent over a few mood boards after I'd signed on: one to give a feel for the book as a whole, and one specifically filled with inspiration for my pattern assignment. It was full of beautiful pictures of all kinds of socks and legwarmers, most of which were textured in some way with cables or lace, all in neutral colors. It was beautiful, and I was excited to get working, but... colorwork is my muse. And here I was, with five skeins of undyed creamy white yarn, wondering where on earth to start.

    From the beginning the pattern was going to be written for one size. Because of this, I really wanted to keep things simple, initially. I wanted to. But once I started swatching, I realized my muse had other plans. I did more swatching for this design than I've done for any other pattern I've done, I think. I swatched all sorts of stitch patterns and combinations. I swatched cables - at the beginning I was so sure this design would have cables. The whole process got hung up for a little while during the swatching phase. 

    In the midst of this phase, I realized that tall textured socks made of undyed wool reminded me of something very specific - bunad strømper. Strømper is the Norwegian word for stockings, and the bunad is the national folk costume (which varies from region to region). The men's bunad typically features knitted stockings tucked into a pair of breeches.

    Bunadstrømper from Vest Agder (image source: norskflid.no)

    Bunadstrømper from Gauldal in Sør-Trøndelag (image source: norskflid.no)

    While they're not always this off-white color (the stockings for my region are black and white), many of them are, and as I started swatching I couldn't help but think about bunad stockings (which also bear a notable resemblance to Scottish kilt hose, right down to the sock bands tucked into the breeches). I enjoyed perusing this pamphlet from yarnmaker Raumagarn:

    Bunad Strømper og Luer ("Bunad stockings and caps")

    Even before I started filling my brain with Norwegian stockings, the motif I kept coming back to was one of the first I swatched: the eight-pointed star that features on the front of the Aspen pattern.

    photo by Kathy Cadigan

    Given my proclivity for colorwork, it's really not shocking that this is the motif I kept returning to. Using this as the main motif would mean the whole pattern got a little more complicated than I initially planned on, but in the end I realized it was going to be this motif or it was going to be a pattern I wasn't actually that stoked on. So I gave in. And I'm so glad I did!

    After I decided to start with this motif, I was able to choose a secondary motif to wrap around the back of the leg on either side, working in a calf gusset at the very back of the leg where the two secondary motifs met. Knowing that this pattern would only be one size, I designed it with modifications in mind, and I'm putting together a post that will give an overview of some of the ways you can modify the pattern if you find that you need to make changes. Look for that soon!

    photo by Kathy Cadigan

  • autumn days

    If October was "focused" last time I wrote, it got busy. Very busy. The last two weeks of October were my absolute busiest so far, and I'm hoping that the frenzied pace peaked with the two presentations I gave last Friday and I'm on the descent side of the slope now.

    In between and around a bunch of schoolwork and an extra three-day course I took (focused!), I've continued to enjoy life in Tromsø. 

    I made pickles for the first time. I used the light pickling solution from The New Nordic and these were a delight (that's radishes on the left and onions on the right). One of the bonuses of living in Norway is that I can basically find any of the ingredients used in that cookbook. I also made some fancy cookies which I can't show you yet, but more on those later (edit: the piece went live, so now I CAN link you to those fancy cookies!).

    I collected a few short video snippets I've been taking over the last couple of months into one video. It's just snippets, but for the curious, here's a glimpse of autumn in Tromsø:

    Mørketida, which I mentioned in my last post, draws ever nearer (or is already upon us, depending on how you look at it). Daylight Savings Time ended here on October 25th, which very suddenly made the days feel much shorter. The sun set today at 2:30 in the afternoon and it's really not long now before the sun disappears for the winter. One thing that makes the dark easier to cope with, though, is the northern lights that visit us when the weather's clear. I don't get tired of watching them from my living room window. I love how they often look like twisting green flames coming from behind the mountains to the east.

    Another thing that makes it easier to cope is snow. About a week ago we had our first snow in the city. It started snowing on the 26th and by the morning of the 27th there were several inches on the ground. It stuck around for a few days before mostly melting away, but man, it was beautiful. From what I've heard, the snow-melt-snow-melt cycle is pretty common here, but after Christmas the snow is more likely to stick around (and it also starts to get lighter again, so that's when skiing season really begins).

    This city is absolutely charming covered in snow. It's such a treat to see my daily landscape transform so dramatically. The university campus, too, looks a little bit more magical in the snow.

    So between the northern lights, the dramatic skies, and the snow, I think I'm going to get by okay during the dark season.