Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Shine On: Reflections on the Moon

Public Domain Image from Google Images


The Moon was amazing last night-near full, bright, large and beautiful.  Donna pointed it out to me as we drove home from yoga classes; it was so low on the horizon, so unexpected, that I wasn't sure I was looking at a celestial object.  The sight of Her was a perfect ending to our practice of Breath and Meditation, then a Level 2 class in which Heather spoke of cycles of creation, experience and destruction, in which nothing remains except the core which is our True nature, the Watcher who takes in all.

This morning, I mentioned the Moon to a friend of mine who is currently travelling in Asia. We chat back and forth via email on a regular basis; she tells me of her experiences in whatever hot, balmy and humid place she's in at the moment and I keep her informed of what is happening at home.  (It's NOT hot, balmy or humid.)  She emailed back that she had seen the same Moon-wasn't it breath-taking?

Well, yes She was and not just for the visual beauty of it.  Reading that email, sharing an experience with a friend who is half a world away reminded me of how we are all connected. No matter how different we are, no matter how far apart, or how different our perspectives, we all share a common planet under the same skies.

It's such an obvious thing and yet how often I forget it. It would have been helpful to remember our shared experience in class last night, as I was shaking and toppling over in my efforts to balance on one leg.  (At one point, it must have looked as though I was practising yogic collapsing.) Rather than feeling frustrated at my lack of skill and grace, I can remind myself that we share a practice, building our pose, enjoying it for a brief time and then letting it go.

The Moon shows us the same cycles of creation to destruction.  From Earth, it appears that She waxes and wanes, sometimes discreetly, occasionally in spectacular fashion as She did last night.  Sometimes, we can't see Her beauty, because She's hidden by clouds or city lights.  Whether we see Her or not, we know that She is always there, affecting the ocean tides, the rhythms of the Earth and the Beings on it.  Just like the Watcher within us, She takes in all.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Sounds of Silence: An Experiment

I love words. (I hear some of you saying, "No, really?  That comes as a shock."  Then you crack up laughing.)  In university, I was an English Literature major (with just enough Psychology classes thrown in to ensure that I will question people's motives for the rest of my life).  I've kept a diary or journal since I was able to print.  (There are stacks of these things.  Most of them should be burned.) Back in another time, I wrote long, rambling letters to friends and family; I still fire off profound and thoughtful Letters to the Editor on occasion. I post to this blog. When I teach, I talk.  And talk.  And talk. In most cases, this works well, especially since I also demonstrate techniques and provide notes for those who process information in various ways.

Sometimes, though, words are not effective.  When we are profoundly happy, or sad, we often realize that words can't communicate our experiences.  When we are attempting to teach something that must be absorbed through muscle memory, such as knitting or spinning or yoga, words can block our path.  Only by experiencing those processes can we come to full understanding of what is happening, in our bodies, in our minds.

I decided to do an experiment in the two weeks between teacher training sessions.  Since I'm inclined to take extensive notes in class, retyping them later in order to filter and organize what I've learned, I decided to spend the time instead making an effort to listen and observe, rather than write and talk.  Apart from the written assignment due this week, I've taken few notes, in classes or in discussions with other teacher trainees.  Instead, I've paid close attention to how bodies are moving, what the instructor says and does in class, how she physically corrects postures.  I've kept my ears open and my mouth as shut as possible (which is really, really difficult for me), asking questions only when I'm utterly confused.

I'm not looking for a particular outcome, but I have discovered that not talking and not writing makes me very, very nervous.  I feel as though I'm not doing my job, not fully participating in the yoga teacher training programme, in spite of the fact that I've been at the studio or some yoga event nearly every day this past two weeks.  Not talking, not putting words to paper feels as though I'm missing something, despite knowing that the practice and repetition of the asanas will move me further along my path than all the words I pour onto the page. Despite repeatedly reminding my students that reading or watching videos about knitting will not help them as much as a daily ten minutes of actual fibre time, it is uncomfortable to follow my own advice.

What have I learned from the experiment so far?  Apart from the affirmation of my reliance on words, I'm not sure I've learned much, but I have had the growing sense that keeping my mouth shut and my fingers off the keyboard and pen has sharpened my intuition. Something keeps telling me that, when I need to act, my mind and body will know what to do.

Am I right? It's hard to know anything more than it was time for a shift in perspective.  I'll let the results, whatever those may be, settle the rest.

Google Images:


Thursday, 24 January 2013

Grounded: More Thoughts on Tadasana

There's a storm howling outside our windows.  Wild winds have blown a good-sized section of the neighbour's tree into the driveway and there are more branches coming down.  That poor old tree was hit by a drunk driver some years ago; everyone survived, including the tree, but she got the worst of it, losing a large section of her trunk when the car sailed off the road and slammed into her.

At that time, tree experts from the city came out to have a look and to decide her fate-should she be cut down or left alone to see if she recovered?  In this city, the removal of any tree causes a fuss, so the experts opted for painting over the damage and monitoring her status.  Ten years later, she still stands, although she never produces much foliage in spring and every year, she loses a few more branches.

I've grown quite fond of her.  I see her daily from my front window and there have been times, when I've been housebound on the couch, that her solid presence has given me hope.  This past week, I've been grounded by another nasty cold and even nastier winter weather, so the old tree and I have been watching one another quite a bit.  She stands and, however sparse her branches, it's easy to see that her roots are firmly planted, although not so solidly that she can't adjust to those howling winds and pounding snow squalls.  (Watching her this morning, it seems to me that she's standing in Tadasana, rather than the more expected, more obvious Vriksasana.  Right now, in the storm, her focus is on grounding rather than balance.) When the weather eases, squirrels and birds sit high in her branches and scold everyone passing; old and feeble as she is, she provides some shelter and safety yet.

We all have times when we're feeling low, whether those times come from illness or weather or circumstance. Sometimes we're too weak to practice Tadasana as we stand, but it's not the posture that's so important as it is the sense of grounding attached to it. We can practice Tadasana anywhere, any time-standing in a grocery line, walking to work, flat on our backs in our sickbeds.  When we bring energy through our feet, into our legs and along our own trunks to the tops of our heads, when we make the effort to stand tall even when we've been laid out flat, when we breathe fully, we rekindle life.  Acting in passivity allows us to begin the healing process.  Like that old tree, we marshall what we have and find a way to heal, despite our wounds, in the presence of the storm.


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Stand Tall: Walking the Mountain, Making Connections

As a prairie girl, I find being surrounded by mountains more than a bit claustrophobic.  I appreciate their beauty and their presence, but I always grit my teeth when we drive through them, especially at points such as Roger's Pass, Kicking Horse Pass or the Crow's Nest. 

When I was a kid, our family visited the site of the Frank Slide.  I'm not sure how it's marked today, but decades ago, you could park on the highway and walk on the rocks.  I remember scrambling over the boulders to read the historical marker, only to discover that I was walking on a mass grave site.  (Most of the victims of the slide remain under the rock.)  I think that's where my respect and fear of those mountains began, at the moment I realized that something as massive as a mountain could come down on you in your sleep and you'd never know what hit you.

Those same mountains are my favourite places on this planet. Each time we reach the foothills heading into the Rockies, my heart lightens.  I've learned to control the fear by taking pictures on the drive, by paying close attention to particular formations, noting how they've changed since we last passed and by choosing to stay in places where I can watch these magnificent creatures at a safe distance.  I do think of them as creatures; mountains are living, breathing entities, carrying winds of constant changes, feeding life in what initially appears to be barren ground.  No one mountain or set of mountains, is like any other:

A section of the Rockie Mountains in Alberta

The Grand Canyon
We were given our first assignment this week, which was to practice and study Tadasana in as many situations as possible. Tadasana is named "Mountain Pose" for obvious reasons: in this asana, we ground ourselves through our feet into the Earth, bringing energy into our legs, our hips, our trunks, through our spines to the top of our heads, as well as through our fingertips up through our arms.  We think of ourselves as solid, rooted.  We practised this in class-when you are grounded in Mountain Pose, it is difficult for someone to move you.

The pose is deceptive; in full Tadasana, you are never still.  Like those mountains, your body makes constant adjustments, to the air, to the ground beneath you, to each unique facet of your being.  Like those mountains, when you are solidly grounded in Tadasana, you can be an imposing body, but you can also be a source of calm, a means of bringing peace to a tense situation.

One of my favourite ways to practice Tadasana is while knitting or spinning.  Spindle spinning lends itself to Tadasana, since standing is a productive way to use a drop spindle.  If you are grounded while you work, you are able to spin for longer periods and you notice shifts in your yarn more quickly.  Spinning in Tadasana requires simplicity.  This is the perfect time for making meditation yarns or for spinning plain singles or smooth, plied basic knitting yarns. 

I admit to a bit of a cheat when I'm knitting; I modify Tadasana into a seated pose, but my feet remain grounded and my body energized as closely as possible to how it would be in full Mountain Pose.  When I knit in Tadasana, my stitch of choice is garter, that basic one stitch pattern of knit stitch following knit stitch after knit stitch.  Many knitters find garter stitch boring (as do some practitioners of Tadasana), but if you pay attention, that simple stitch opens a world of possibilities for body, mind and practical purposes.  Many of us have been or are warmed by garter stitch scarves.  For first time knitters, it is usually the first stitch learned after casting on. When we're tired, or worried or need something to soothe our hearts, knitting in garter stitch provides calm and rhythm to our frantic lives. 

Like Tadasana, garter stitch grounds us.  Like Tadasana, just when we think we have garter stitch mastered, we discover that we've gone off track, dropped a stitch or faltered in a row.  Like Tadasana, garter stitch keeps us humble.  In Tadasana and garter stitch, we discover that we may never master the subtle points for complete grounding, but the journey is always interesting.

Garter stitch with holes is still garter stitch, is it not?


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sarah's Soxy Legwarmers: The Finale

We spent a full day in the yoga studio yesterday, which marked Day One of our Teacher Training Programme.  Twenty two potential teachers from all walks of life gathered for introductions and a study of our first asana, Tadasana, the foundation of all standing poses.

It was a good time to put theory into practice and test the legwarmers I had designed for Sarah.  I wore them throughout the day, mostly to keep warm, but they stay in place during practice and don't slide on the wooden floors in the studio. They are quick to knit and fit a variety of sizes; remember that they will stretch, so you want them to fit tightly on your feet. 

If you're using the recommended yarn, or any other non-superwash yarn, you will have to hand wash the leggings.  I don't mind washing hand knit socks with care.  I enjoy it and take pleasure in blocking my socks to the size and shape I require.  If you leave them near a hot air register to dry, the leggings will be ready for your next trip to the yoga studio.

Sarah's Soxy Legwarmers

 I designed these legwarmers with some shaping in the leg, ankle and the foot, so that the sock would stay up when worn.  Both toe and heel are open so that the sock can be worn during practice; the shaping at instep and arch keeps the foot secure. These legwarmers use 2-50 gram balls of Noro Bonbori, a blend of 94% wool, 6% nylon.  The socks will stretch when worn, so be sure to knit them to fit tightly.  The socks fit a variety of people—this pair fits nicely over my straight-legged yoga pants, while Sarah wears hers over leggings.  Try them on as you go.  It’s easy to add or subtract stitches to get the perfect fit for you.  Remember that socks are knit with negative ease, smaller than your foot and leg.

2-50 gram balls of Noro Bonbori, 94% wool; 6% nylon.  80 metres per ball.  I used almost all the yarn for this pair.  Be sure to buy sufficient yarn to complete your project.  If you are lengthening the legwarmers, you will need at least one more ball of yarn.
Double pointed needles; 2 circular needles or 1—40 inch/100 cm long circular needle to work the sock using the method of your choice.  I used Magic Loop for this pair.  Size 4 mm or size required to give correct gauge. Blunt Tapestry needle, stitch marker.

Gauge:  4 sts/inch/2.5 cm on 4 mm needles in stockinette stitch.  (Knit every round.)
Finished size after blocking at top: 11 inches/27.5 cm, at ankle 8 inches/20 cm, at foot 7 inches/17.5 cm.

Using the needles required for your technique, cast on 40 sts.  Place marker on right needle and join to work in the round.
K1,P1 for 8 rounds or to desired depth of ribbing.

Knit 10 rounds then begin decreasing by K2tog after the marker, knit to 2 stitches before marker, SSK.  Continue decreasing  every 4th round until 32 stitches remain.  Work 16 rounds even, then knit 4 rounds in K1, P1 ribbing for the ankle shaping.
Cast off for heel:  Arrange your stitches so that you have 8 stitches on either side of the marker and your working yarn is at the right hand side of those stitches.  With the right side of the work facing you, bind off 16 stitches in K1, P1 ribbing.  Work around instep in K1, P1 ribbing.  Turn work.  With wrong side of work facing you, work across the instep stitches to the gap created by the heel bind off.  Turn work and continue in ribbing around the foot to the other side of the heel gap.
Cast on 10 stitches in K1, P1 ribbing,  placing a marker after the fifth stitch to mark the beginning of the round. (Note: If you have a wide foot, cast on 12 stitches and work the rest of the sock over 28 stitches.)
Work in K1, P1 ribbing over these 26 stitches for 4 rounds.  Continue in stockinette stitch for 10 rounds. (Note: You can continue to work in ribbing throughout the foot.  I found that doing so added extra bulk.)  K1, P1 ribbing for 4 rounds.  Bind off loosely in ribbing.
Using your tapestry needle, weave in all ends, reinforcing any loose areas between heel and instep stitches.
Wash the leggings in a no rinse wool wash product.  Roll the leggings in a towel to remove excess moisture.  Dry flat, blocking to shape.  Enjoy!

©Deborah Behm, January 2013


Note added December 2013In typical Noro fashion, this yarn has now been discontinued.  You can substitute any wool yarn with the approximate yardage (88 yards/50 grams) and a stitch gauge of approximately 4 stitches per inch.)

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Come Together: Sarah's Soxy Yoga Legwarmers

I've been knitting socks and knitting socks and knitting socks--for the class I'm teaching, for my feet, as yoga/meditation practice.  I'm still playing with the perfect yoga sock idea, but hadn't made much progress in fitting my version of the no heel/no toe yoga sock.

The shaping in the cotton socks was interesting and it worked, but it was still a bit sloppy for my tastes.  I knew that, if I worked it in a bulky wool, the little diamond in the centre of the instep would pop up and look very strange indeed.  Since it's been constantly cold and snowy here, now is not the time for cotton socks; I really needed a winter version, because we've had quite a bit of snow this season:

The view from my back door  yesterday.  It's snowing again today.

Last week, Sarah, co-owner of Bodhi Tree Yoga and one of my teachers, mentioned that she needed  legwarmers that had just a bit of a strap for extra warmth on her feet.  (Sarah loves legwarmers; lately she's been wearing lovely ones which Samantha (also in teacher training) made for her.)  This was the incentive I needed to revisit the yoga sock fitting issue.  Home I went, to my stash of Noro Bonbori yarn.  Like all Noro yarns, Bonbori comes in lovely colours.  It's a bulky weight, wool with just a touch of nylon (6%), which may add a bit of strength to the yarn when worn in a yoga sock, although not enough to recommend it for a classic boot sock.

There was one small problem with starting the socks: I'd left all my double pointed needles at the LYS to save myself the trouble of carrying home my supplies. Now, I do not enjoy knitting socks on two circular needles because I find the constant clicking from the dangling needles to be an annoyance.  I'm not fond of the Magic Loop technique, either, because pulling out those loops in order to keep knitting breaks my rhythm and slows down my knitting. I have a few 9 inch and 12 inch circulars for sock knitting, but they're so short that working with them is painful.

I've knitted several pairs of socks using two circular needles and am quite convinced I don't care for this technique. ("Despise" would be more accurate, but as yoga practitioners, we're not supposed to hate/despise anything, are we?)  That left Magic Loop, because not knitting was not an option.  I've used Magic Loop once or twice; in fairness, I hadn't used this technique enough to assess it accurately.  Out came my Knitter's Pride interchangeable needles and a 40 inch cable.  I cast on 40 stitches and away I went:

If you're interested in Magic Loop, check for videos on YouTube.  This is one technique I could not learn from a book.

Using Magic Loop technique isn't difficult, but it does slow me down.  Rather than look at this as a problem, I decided to take advantage of the slower pace of knitting, to pay attention to my stitches and the shaping of the sock.  Slowing down helped me to prepare for areas that required attention.  For example, I needed to shape the leg so that the legwarmer stays tight without binding and so that it stays up during practice.  The shaping for the foot needed attention, too, because increasing and decreasing gradually would not work with this yarn.

I discovered that keeping the foot snug and comfortable required simplicity.  The addition of some ribbing, extra rows at the instep and casting on fewer stitches after the heel cast off kept the foot secured; the fancy shaping I'd done on the cotton sock wasn't necessary.  Here's Version #3 (Sarah is testing the second version), Sock #1, fresh off the needle:


I'll wash and block the set when it's finished-Sarah's socks looked better and fit more closely after washing. She'll let me know how her socks do in class; I'll test this on my own and Version #4 will be a combination of our results.  I'm hoping to prepare a template from our tests, so that my students will have other options for their sock knitting adventures and we'll all be able to keep our feet warm on studio floors.

Cold weather, the need for warmth, a comment from a yogini, a stash of Noro and a lack of access to my usual sock knitting equipment-everything came together to teach me a lesson in attachment, attention and habitual practice. We're not looking for it, but sometimes, "no goal practice" leads to tangible results.


Saturday, 12 January 2013

Yoga of Sock Knitting, Part 4: Knit to Fit

Did you spend some time thinking about socks, what you like about certain pairs, what you don't care for?  It may seem rather silly, but paying attention to what you wear on your feet is a lesson in applied mindfulness (assuming there is such a thing).  When I focus on how a sock fits and feels, I discover that:

  • I prefer that my socks fit tightly, not enough to constrict movement or circulation, but snugly enough so that they don't shift on my feet or fall down. I like extra fabric in the instep, just enough so that the sock heel doesn't feel as though its pulling.
  • I like a broader toe, because I don't want to cram my toes inside a sock or a shoe.
  • My socks should not have seams, especially at the toe.
  • I'm not a fan of knee-high socks; I'd rather have them long enough to end just below my calf.  I don't want them so short that they slide down into my shoe.
  • I like a range of weights in my socks, i.e., thinner socks for shoes, sturdy, heavy weight socks for winter boots.  Yoga socks need to be thin, tight, with an open heel and toe for movement and with good grip so that I don't slip on my mat.
When you knit your own socks, all these preferences can be met, but the first step (!) is to learn basic sock structure.  In the classic top down, turned heel with flap sock, we start with ribbing.  Using either K1P1 or K2P2 ribbing will help the sock shape to your leg and stay up on your leg.  Some sock knitters recommend using fewer stitches and smaller needles for the ribbing; I use fewer stitches, but work on one needle size for the entire sock. 
Whatever you choose, cast on very loosely-too tight a cast on is uncomfortable.  If you cast on tightly, you may not be able to get the sock over your foot.  I start with a cable cast on; others recommend long tail. If you consistently cast on tightly, cast on over two needles or on needles two sizes larger than you'll be using in the sock.  I cast on to one of my dpn's and then knit in pattern so that my stitches are distributed evenly over 3 needles.  (I knit with the fourth.)  Since you need to place a marker at the beginning of the round, work a few stitches beyond that required number on your first needle, i.e., if you need 18 stitches on each needle, work 20 on to needle number l.  When you come to the end of your round, you will place your marker and work those 2 extra stitches from needle 1 on to needle 3, securing the marker.

There are many videos on working with double pointed needles.  Here's one by The KnitWitch.  She works a bit differently than I do, but you may prefer her method of knitting with 5 needles instead of the 4 that I use:

The number of rounds in ribbing is up to you; in fact, the entire sock leg and top of the foot can be done in rib if you choose.  I like to knit at least 2 inches/5 cm in ribbing, so that I can turn down the sock top.  After the ribbing is complete, increase to your required number of leg stitches and place a moveable marker in your fabric.  I count rounds because I find this a more accurate way to keep track of length.  Work the leg in stockinette, which in rounds means knit every round.  Try your sock on frequently and don't skimp on the leg length.  Too long a sock is less of an issue than a sock which slides down into your shoe and bunches up on the foot.  

The heel flap is worked back and forth on half the stitches after the leg is completed, often while using a slip stitch pattern for strength, such as Sl1K1 on the right side, and purling on the wrong side.  Again, measure the flap depth frequently.  The standard recommendation is to knit a flap as deep as it is wide, but you may prefer a more shallow heel flap or a longer one.  By the same token, the heel can be turned over more or fewer stitches: working across the heel for more stitches before you begin your short rows will give a wider heel cup.  If you want to narrow the heel cup, begin your short rows after working fewer stitches past the marker in the centre of the heel flap.  

Conventionally, the slip stitch heel pattern is discontinued when the heel is turned, but because my socks tend to wear through at the heel turning, I extend the heel pattern through the heel turning, just at the bottom of the foot.  After that, you will pick up an equal number of stitches on each side of the heel flap for the gussets; the gussets accommodate the instep and can be adjusted to fit a wider or narrower foot.  When you've decreased the gussets back to the original number of stitches on the leg, you then continue to knit the foot in rounds of stockinette stitch.  Again, I place a marker at the end of the gusset decreases and count the rounds to the toe.  

If your foot is very narrow, you can provide a tighter fit by decreasing more stitches or by switching to smaller size dpn's (or both).  Broader feet may require fewer gusset stitch decreases.  I don't recommend going up needle sizes to accommodate a wider foot, because doing so may make the sock less durable.

We're making plain stockinette socks, but if you're working in pattern, I recommend that you place the pattern on the top of the sock only, keeping the heel, sole and toe in stockinette. Patterns around the entire foot can be uncomfortable and may not fit in your shoe or boot.  Cables on the soles of socks can feel as if you're walking on ridges.  Some of us still remember what fishnet stockings did to our poor feet-sexy as the stockings looked, the netting cut into our soles and were torture on our toes.

Decreases for the toe are usually started somewhere around the point where the sock foot reaches the base of the big toe. It may take a few attempts at knitting socks to find the perfect point for your toe decreases, so take lots of notes and be prepared to rip back or knit more rounds on the foot to suit your own requirements. 

Because I prefer a wider toe box, I have only a few decrease rounds, which are made every other round.  On a sock which is knitted on 60 stitches, I decrease until I have about 15 stitches remaining on the sock top and 15 on the bottom.  These stitches are grafted together (no seams, remember!) for a fairly wide toe.  You  can decrease more toe stitches, but don't leave so few for grafting that you end up with leprechaun pointy toes on your sock.  (Unless, of course, that's the look you're going for; it's up to you.)

Once your sock is finished, start the next one right away, as you are less likely to fall victim to "Second Sock Syndrome" in which the matching sock never is completed.  Check your gauge.  Don't assume you'll knit the second sock the same size as the first.  It's quite common to knit one sock much larger or smaller than the original of the pair.  Washing and blocking can accommodate some changes, but don't count on this to rectify major shifts in sizes.

Your first pair of socks will not likely be perfect, so again, note what you like and what you would change in the next pair.  Experiment with a few pairs of plain socks before you start including fancy stitch work.  Think of those first socks as samples to give you the perfect template for a well-fitting sock and then use this template to custom knit socks to please your heart's desire.

This is one nicely fitted sock.  Yes, I made the mate to match!


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Let Go the Line: Changing Habitual Practice

We all rely on habits to move us through our day. Using the shortest route to work allows us to arrive on time. We choose our default cast on technique for knitting because we are more likely to knit a successful garment. Without habits and routines, we and the world would not function efficiently. At the same time, we we rely on habits for comfort, to delay changes which will come to us. In some cases, our habits can be dangerous, but we are caught in the habit of thinking that those habits are too difficult or not worth breaking. (I'll bet you're tired of my habit of the use of the word, "habit," aren't you?)

I attended a Level 2 Yoga class last night at Bodhi Tree Yoga.  The instructor, Heather, teaches the Breath and Meditation class there. She's a wonderful teacher, knowledgeable, gentle, relaxed, with a quick and quiet sense of humour.  I'd heard great things about her Level 2 class; since these classes are part of teacher training, I thought I'd drop in, despite my concerns that I might not be able to keep up with the asanas.

Heather's approach to this class was very different than other classes I've attended.  As is common in many Iyengar yoga classes, we used props; however, these props were there not so much to support us in our efforts, but rather to challenge our regular practice.  Using a wall in triangle pose did help us stay upright, but Heather's goal was to show us how quickly our bodies find ways to "cheat" and adapt so that we can rely on habits to get us through our routines.  In this class, the wall was there to help us stretch into awareness of where we are going, not to allow us to fall back into our comfort zones.  A racquet ball held between the knees while twisting in chair pose, raising our elbow just slightly away from our bent knee when we are twisted-each change was a call to awareness.

Heather noted that it takes about 3 short cycles of Sun Salutations before we slide into doing what we know, moving through the sequences in a fashion which is more about "getting it done," than being mindful.Changing small things-lifting the foot and leg before we move back into lunge position, for example-makes us aware of how we tend to drag ourselves back carelessly in order to "get there." Shifting weight into our fingertips during Downward Dog keeps us mindful of how we rely on parts of our bodies to avoid challenges. One of the practices, moving in and out of poses quietly, was a wake up call for me because I tend to move any way I can in order to keep up with the rest of the class.  I know that "keeping up" is never the goal, but ego and pride tend to cloud that knowledge.

I'm sore this morning, but in a way that allows me listen to my body and makes me grateful for what it can do, rather than worrying about what might be difficult.  Every pleasant bit of stiffness reminds me that we didn't attempt massive changes to expand our practice.  Our shifts in attention were tiny, but every small change made an improvement in my poses.

The next time you head to a yoga class, don't set your mat down in your spot.  Practice in a different part of the studio and pay attention to your perspective from that vantage point. Use a wall in order to increase the stretch in your pose, not to relax into your asana or to keep you upright.

The next time you start a knitting project, choose a different way to cast on before you knit that sock.  Do you habitually use wool when you spin?  Try spinning cotton or linen or recycled plastic bottle fibre.  How do your routines change?

We don't need to take big leaps to spring into action. Small steps, one after another, can move us away from our lifelines, far enough so that we can find a different perspective but still close enough to grab those lines when necessary.

Thanks, Heather.


Sunday, 6 January 2013

Yoga of Sock Knitting, Part 3: Of Gauge, Needles and Yarns

Although they're small and portable, hand knit socks involve time and effort: knitting a pair of socks is roughly equivalent to knitting two sweater sleeves. There is a considerable amount of planning and shaping involved in order to knit socks that fit and wear well.  It makes sense to buy the best materials you can afford, yarns which are durable and needles which make knitting a joy.

In theory, socks can be knitted from any material, but practically, you will want to choose yarns which fit the following criteria:
  • The yarn must be elastic enough to accommodate the varying shapes of a foot, without restricting movement or stretching out to make the sock sloppy.
  • If the sock is meant to fit inside a shoe or boot, the yarn should be thin enough to accommodate your shoe/boot size.
  • If the sock is intended to wear inside a shoe or boot, the yarn should be smooth enough to allow this and be comfortable.  In other words, you may want to avoid knitting pompom yarns into the sock foot.
  • The yarn should be durable and able to withstand abrasion.  This usually means that the yarn will contain a certain percentage of nylon or be made of a longer wool breed or a blend such as cotton/wool, wool/mohair, etc. If all other factors are equal, more plies in the yarn means more durable yarn.
  • The yarn should be comfortable.  Good socks should not itch, rub or make your feet sweat. They should meet your standards of warmth and keep heat in your body, not draw it away from your feet.
  • Socks should be easy care, either machine washable or hand washable without fuss or bother.  Sock yarn should not felt easily, unless you are making felted socks.
No one yarn can meet all these requirements for every person, so it's up to the knitter to set her priorities for good sock yarn.  Someone with foot problems caused by diabetes may value softness; a superwash Merino wool yarn will not wear as well as a yarn made of mohair, but it will be softer and more suited to that purpose.  A person who works outdoors in work boots will find that socks knit from Merino or cashmere will wear out quickly, so she may want a more durable yarn.  Wool socks may be too warm for hot climates; cotton yarns will not make for comfort in -30C temperatures.  Look for a yarn which best suits your needs.  (If you spin your own yarns, you can customize your sock yarns, but this is outside the scope of these notes.)

Once you've chosen your yarn, it's time to consider needle size and gauge.  If you've purchased a yarn intended for socks, look at the gauge and needle size suggested on the ball band.  If your yarn is not specifically designed for socks, the recommended needles and gauge will probably be too large, since those yarns are usually based on gauges for sweaters.  If you knit loosely, be prepared to work socks on needles which are several sizes smaller than the recommended size.  I find that knitting on square dpn's helps tighten my gauge. Most of the time, I prefer to knit with wooden needles; however, wooden needles in small sizes break. Metal needles won't break, but may not be comfortable to use. Double-pointed needles are sold in sets of 4 or 5.  If you become a devoted dpn user, you'll find that the kits containing dpn's in sizes from 2mm to 3.25 mm  are more economical.  I like Knitter's Pride products.

Tight knitters have an advantage when it comes to sock knitting, because there is hardly such a thing as knitting socks too tightly.  Priscilla Gibson-Roberts writes of knitting socks at a gauge of 12 stitches per inch (Simple Socks: Plain and Fancy), while Nancy Bush, in Folk Socks tells us of a pair socks worn by Gustavus II Adolphus, during his coronation in 1617:

They are hand knit of white silk and measure approximately 26" long.  There are 25 stitches 32 rows to an inch, indicating craftsmanship of amazing skill. (p.15)

You will not likely be knitting socks at such tight gauges, but, as long as the sock doesn't abrade the skin on your feet or legs, you can not knit socks too tightly.  I aim for a working gauge of 8 to 9 stitches/inch for yoga socks, or socks which fit in shoes, 7 to 8 stitches/inch for a slightly heavier sock for shoes or Birkenstock sandals.  My heavy boot socks are knitted at about 5 to 6 stitches per inch; I full them for extra warmth and durability.

You may find that your working gauge is quite different from the blocked gauge of your socks.  I've discovered that my working gauge is much tighter than my blocked gauge. For example, the striped purple socks below were knitted at a working gauge of 8 stitches/ inch, but they blocked out to 7.25 stitches/inch.  This gauge relaxation occurs in all the socks I knit; as a result, I know to knit socks a size smaller than required because they will grow when washed and worn.

The photograph here shows 3 pairs of my socks knitted for the Sock Knitting Class.  From left to right, are hand dyed 2 ply 100 % wool boot socks, which have been machine washed and dried.  They are knitted at 5.5 stitches per inch. The middle pair is a hand dyed 80/20 blend of superwash Merino/nylon, fresh off the sock blockers, at a gauge of 7.25 stitches/inch. The yoga socks are knitted from a blend of 41/39/13/7 cotton, wool, nylon and elastic; their unstretched gauge is 8.5 stitches per inch on the leg; 9 stitches/inch on the foot. (The socks in the basket are pairs that I have knitted from a variety of handspun yarns over the years.)

Are you ready to begin your own hand made socks?  I hope so.  The next post will discuss how to make socks that fit your feet.  (If you are in the Sock Knitting Class, you'll be provided with templates and additional notes, including a book list.)


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Yoga of Sock Knitting: Best Foot Forward

I teach a classic form of sock knitting: top down, using 4 or 5 double-pointed needles, slip stitch heel flap and turned heel, grafted toe stitches.  I use these techniques because so many patterns are written for this sock style.  I enjoy the rhythm of working with the 4 needles and I find this sock technique is well-suited to providing a custom fit for the wearer. Once you understand this basic sock form, you can adapt your template to other types of foot and leg wear, such as legwarmers, pedisocks and yoga work socks.

There are 52 bones in the foot, which is about one quarter of all the bones in the body.  All are intended to assist you in standing, walking, balancing, performing tasks at home and in the studio.  It's no wonder that, if your feet hurt, your entire body hurts, which is why proper foot care is important in all stages of life.  The foot is designed to use all its bones, which means that a healthy stance will be broad, with points of contact balanced equally (or nearly so) on the inside and outside ball of the foot and the inside and outside of the heel.  

We ignore the structure of our feet in favour of artificial standards of beauty.  We sacrifice health and comfort in favour of style.  We deplore the idea of foot-binding, but that is what we do when we squeeze our feet into shoes that are too short and narrow, with high heels and pointed toes.  We wonder why our feet ache, our ankles are weak, our arches fallen and our backs twisted and sore.

What does this have to do with sock knitting?  A basic understanding of foot anatomy will help you knit well-fitting socks which fit smoothly and tightly on the foot and leg without reducing circulation.  Socks that are too small will pinch and rub your skin and will wear quickly through the toes and heels. You can avoid socks which are too big, or which stretch so that the foot slides inside the sock or the sock bunches in a shoe.  Both of these things are hazards in balance-if the foot can't feel the floor properly, you are more likely to fall.  

Step 1 in basic sock knitting is measurement.  Find a tape measure and a ruler.  Measure both  bare feet; keep the tape measure snug but not tight.  You want your socks to be about 10 percent smaller than your foot size (negative ease) so that the sock will stretch and fit smoothly.  Record the following measurements:

  • The length of your foot from the back of the heel to the big toe.
  • The circumference of the ball of the foot.
  • The depth of the heel, from the back, from the top of the ankle bone to the floor.
  • Your ankle circumference.
  • Your shin circumference.
  • Your calf circumference, if your socks will be longer than shin length.
Don't assume that both feet will have the same measurements.  You know that one of your feet is bigger than the other-after all, you probably buy your shoes to fit the bigger foot. Since you're custom knitting your socks, you can knit a sock fitted to each foot.  (Most people don't bother, although if you have individual foot issues, the option is there.)

I measure my feet in the morning, before daily activities expand my foot size.  If I knit the sock to fit my foot after it has been working, the sock is too big.  Knitting to fit my smaller foot size allows the sock to grow comfortably with the foot during the day.

My apologies for the glare, but measuring foot length with a ruler  will give the most accurate measurement.  Be sure your tape measure is fairly new so that it hasn't stretched.  The one shown here is just out of the package.

Find a pair of socks which fit you well and another pair that you wear, but which could use some changes.  Spend the next while examining and wearing both sets of socks.  Note what you like about both and what you could do to make them fit and wear better.  In the next post on Sock Knitting Yoga, I'll give you some suggestions about choosing yarns and needles to knit hard-wearing, well-fitting sock fabric.