Lots of socks

January didn’t shape up as I expected.  I did knit quite a bit…just not on the things I had intended.  Somehow, though, you can either roll with it, or allow yourself to be steamrolled.

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I didn’t feel well over the first half of the month, which put a bit of a crimp in things. I didn’t really have much ability to concentrate, so I stuck to socks.

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I made a valiant stab at getting a pair of mittens done, but I lost confidence after having some difficulty with the liner. I’ve been making liners using fingering weight yarn. Kroy is a bit heavier than that. It caused a lot of bulkiness and extra stitches that I had to try and account for. It took about two nights to get the liner to a point I was happy with it. I’m also realizing that the thumb hole on the outer mitten was knit a couple of rows too high. It makes the mitten a little too tight across the thumb, and there’s no way I can easily repair it unless I want to rip back the liner so I can get into the mitten so I can start picking it apart at the fingertips and thumb, re-knit the mitten….I’d be better off just re-knitting the mitten from start to finish.

So….mitten drama.  I put the mittens aside and worked on…

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Socks!
I started these on Christmas Eve while during a family party. I cast them off on January 24th. We were “social” during the second half of the month, so the only thing I could work on was something portable and dead-simple….like socks. They aren’t the ugliest pair of self-striping socks I’ve worked on, but they’re close. They never seem to look like they’ll be bad when you see them in a ball under store lighting…it’s only once the sock starts to take shape that you realize you’ve had the equivalent of a yarny Rick Roll.

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I guess I figured correctly that these will make excellent Hallowe’en socks — they’re bound to scare anyone who looks upon ’em.

I have another pair of socks on the needles. More about those as we go through February.

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No spinning for January. As mentioned, being sick and then being out of the house isn’t conducive to spinning. The two nights I was setting aside for spinning wound up being taken up by laundry and fixing the mitten mentioned above.  February, however, will have spinning! I just have to decide which fiber to start working on, as I have some pretty wonderful bags of fluff to choose from.

Koigu: Squooshy Goodness

Koigu is not only a yarn that’s fun to knit, but the name is fun to say too. I was really pleased to find out that it was a Canadian company…according to their website, they are based out of the Georgian Bay area in Ontario.

I recently finished a pair of socks using Koigu. I know I went a little bonkers with my stubborn refusal to knit with anything else, and had a lot of real concerns about whether or not I would have enough yarn to complete them. It’s not that I’ve actually run out, it’s just that I’ve used Koigu before

 

And what I found was that starting at the toe and working my way up was probably the best way to go. I think I only had a couple of yards left, if that, when I was done.

One of the things I love about the multicoloured Koigu sock yarn is the surprise you sometimes get. I remember this yarn as being very pretty in the skein, but I had no idea what it would knit up as. When this is the case, I generally will just knit in plain old stockinette. Sometimes you have to make a decision: Pattern or Colour? Sometimes you need to make a choice that flatters the pattern, so solids or subtle variegations are probably your vest yarn choices. Sometimes you have a yarn that is absolutely gorgeous, but patterning might cause the beauty of the colours to be lost or muddled.

Koigu KPPPM

This is the skein that I originally picked up for those socks up above. I wound up calling them my “Yule Socks”, as they had the definite colours of Christmas. The striping that just happened to occur was a pleasant surprise.

Recently I’ve been picking up solid-coloured Koigu. I do have a bit of the wildly-coloured stuff lingering in my stash, but I find that the solids are great for stitch definition.  I’m not sure if it’s the fiber content or the twist of the yarn, but I’ve noticed that some patterns just seem to pop. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to use the Koigu for my Sleepy Hollow socks in October. Sure, they came out bright green, but the definition on the leaves came out wonderfully. So wonderfully that I have yet to actually wear the socks. Sometimes you knit something so beautiful that you can’t bear to part with it, but you just can’t bring yourself to wear them yet.  That’s where I am with these socks.

I know that here in town, Pudding Yarn tends to carry Koigu, but I’ve also heard that The Loop is also carrying it.  This is a good thing…it will hopefully keep the price competitive, and I’m sure that anything that’s missing from one store will wind up being carried by the other. This is never a bad thing in my books!

 

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A Saturday Yarn: Zitron Trekking XXL

I am of the opinion that while men will wear atypically-coloured or textured socks, most men prefer relatively conservative socks that wear well. I would like to think that I’m relatively well-qualified to make that statement, considering I regularly knit socks for my significant other, and have been known to knit for our respective Dads. Last week I talked about Kroy, which is a pretty sturdy yarn. This week I’m looking at Trekking XXL from Zitron.

please remember to knit responsibly

Trekking’s texture is much like that of Kroy, only in an actual fingering weight. The content of the yarn runs along the lines of 75% superwash, 25% nylon – sturdy, but stretchy enough to have just enough give. It’s neither the smoothest yarn, nor is it the nicest-feeling. The texture is moderately coarse, at least to the point of feeling a little bit rough on the hands while knitting. The good news is that it softens up a wee bit in the wash.

The yarn on the far left is Malabrigo. We're just going to ignore it for now...

Where Trekking does best is in colour choice. I have seen examples of solid-coloured Trekking online, but I don’t think I’ve seen it in real life. Most of the time, there’s a base colour with subtle variegations and highlight colours. In the first photo above, the base is dark blue with minor variegations, highlighted with burgundy. I have another similar skein of yarn in the house at this time, but it’s closer to a dark purple – almost black – with wine-coloured accents (second photo). The skein pictured alongside is also Trekking in shades of reddish brown.

I often find myself surprised that I concentrate as much as I do on socks for men, but I find that there are a lot of folks who would like to knit for their parent or spouse, but choose entirely the wrong yarn. Trekking is just one of those kinds of unisex yarns that you can wear whether you’re male or female. That is, of course, unless it’s a colourway specifically marketed to women. I’ve been surprised to find the odd pink-and-purple stripe or variegated rose colourway.

I think I can forgive the girlie colours. after all, there are just so many others to choose from!

If you’re interested in trying out Trekking, you will likely need to visit your local yarn store or do a little online shopping. It’s not the same kind of stuff I generally find at Michael’s crafts. Sometimes you have to go a little farther afield. The versatility of the product, however, is what makes it worthwhile. I often find that where I find Trekking, I will also find other yarns and accessories from Skacel/Zitron. If they have Zauberball or Addi Turbo needles, chances are pretty good that you’ll find the odd skein of Trekking. The texture isn’t for everyone, but they’re definitely worth a try!

A Saturday Yarn: Paton’s Kroy Sock

Kroy is one of the old standby sock yarns of commercial “big box” craft stores like Michael’s. That’s where I usually find the stuff, and I get the impression from most other knitters that it’s a “substandard” type of yarn. Very rarely do I see it on a knitter’s list of “go to” brands. I think it has to do with the price point and the retailer, as I’ve seen scratchier, harder-to-work-with yarns sell for much more and have much higher reviews.

My first exposure to Kroy yarn was through my Mum. When she realized that I had been truly bitten by the sock-knitting bug, she went through her own stash and found some yarn that she had originally set aside for making handknit socks for my Dad. Mum has always given me the impression that while she loves handknit socks, she’d rather not knit them herself. I’m not sure if it’s the yarn or the tiny needles, or the tiny stitches, but the fact of the matter is that she’d rather knit a baby sweater than a pair of socks.  I’m not saying she *can’t* knit socks, just that she chooses not to. Apparently she’s tried, and it wasn’t for her. Fair enough…her loss was my gain.

The ball bands label the yarn as “Lady Galt” Kroy, and the graphic design on them is very reminiscent of the 60’s or 70’s. I doubt the yarn is that old, but it does make me suspect that before Patons bought the brand, it had a previous life of its own.  I’m down with that. I tried finding out more about it at one point, but I have to say that I couldn’t find much.  The yarn itself feels like a light fingering, while still having a relatively high wool content. Part of the reason I haven’t used it yet is because I’m not sure what gauge to use, and whether or not it might not be more suited for something lacy and girlie rather than a man’s (relatively plain in comparison) sock.

I know that for some of my friends, Kroy is the stuff the buy on sale, but never seem to use. I know that for myself, the gauge has been something I’ve had to get used to. I generally knit socks around 8 stitches per inch over size 2.5mm needles. This gives a fabric that, for most fingering weight yarns, is neither too tight nor too loose. Kroy, however, is deceptive. It makes you think that it is normal fingering weight yarn, but it has a tendency to be just that wee bit plumper than you think. At my usual gauge, it creates a fabric that I find difficult to work with. I’ve actually had to go up a couple of needle sizes. I think I currently use Size 3 needles (3.25mm), and change the amount of stitches in a round appropriately.

I’ve found that Kroy is great for socks for the men in my life.  They’re thick and warm, and the solid colours are generally very male. Lots of light brown, light and dark greys, blues…definitely nothing that most Dads will dismiss as being “too wild”. They make a wonderfully conservative sock, and because I knit mine at a lower gauge, they move a little quicker on the needles.  Think about it…if you’re ditching approximately 20 stitches per round, you make much better time. Great socks for a gift that you don’t have a lot of time to devote to knitting.

I’ve also found that the striping Kroy socks make wonderfully warm socks for *me*. I will often start them from the toe-up, and my latest trick has been to put in an afterthought heel.  This means that my stripes can be continuous, and I can either save back a bit of my striped yarn for the heel, or I can use some of the neutrally-coloured solid yarn for toes and heels. This gives me a much higher cuff, as I can just keep on knitting. It also gives more “fashion” to this humble workhorse yarn. I don’t need my Kroy to be lacy.  The odd cable is fine, but on the whole, this is my go-to yarn for plain, ordinary, warm woollen socks.

Yep.  I’m a knitter, and I’d like to think that even with my limited exposure to different “brands”, I’m a bit of a sock yarn connoisseur, but I would have to classify Kroy as a Go-To yarn. I don’t always put my Kroy socks in my Ravelry project page because they’re not a major project for me, but I generally have at least one pair on the needles. They’re not flashy, and they’re not the most photogenic of socks, but I love the fact that I can stick some needles and a skein into my purse and have a pair of socks in just a couple of days.  They’re fast, and they’re perfect purse knitting.  In fact, they go fast enough, you may just need a second project just to slow you down!  Also, due to the larger gauge, they’re also perfect for the younger set and those just learning how to knit socks. 60 to 80 sts around can be daunting for someone just learning how to knit socks, and anything you can do to bring that number down just gives more of an aura of easysauce. I can’t argue with Easysauce.

Over the course of this month, I plan on walking through the basics of sock knitting for those of my readers who are interested. I’ve had a few personal friends express interest, but claim to be boggled by the physics involved (I’m looking at you, Zoe). Consider Sundays as your weekly December Sock Class.  For that, I’d recommend picking up at least two, if not three skeins of Kroy (or comparable) sock yarn, and a good set of circular needles that you find you can get a comfortable gauge with.  I’ll be working on my 3.25mm needles at a gauge of 7 sts / inch, on a sock that should fit either a large woman or an average man (approx 50 sts around). We’ll start off with the cuff and leg. Because these should knit up fast, you can always catch up if you start a little late.

And for the love of Pete (whoever Pete is), choose a colour or stripe that you’ll like!  You won’t finish if you don’t like what you’re knitting! 🙂

 

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Rainy Day cozies

This is what it looks like outside, so there will be no wonderfully naturally-lit photos this week.

I thought the drizzly window was wonderfully moody

Instead, you get to marvel that my carpet has actually seen a vacuum cleaner in recent days (I love my Dyson).

I’ve gotten quite a bit of work done on Robin’s “Theoretical” sweater. He has named it the “Theoretical Sweater” because I’ve started attempts but never finished. I think this is the farthest I’ve managed to get, to date. The body is sitting at about 8 inches long, and I cast on a sleeve for those times I need something quick-like to work on (7.5 inches).

I’m also working on a sock design that you can’t see yet as I don’t know if it will be submitted to a knitalong, or whether it will just be released when I say it’s released. All I can really say is this: Malabrigo.  Oh yes, I could happily knit with Malabrigo all day.  Even better?  Malabrigo and BEADS.  The label on the tube I’m using says “Gunmetal”, and I think they’re downright pretty.

Aside from that, I’m getting ready to start my September socks.  Since we’re going into the last quarter of the year, getting closer to Christmas, it’s time to think about socks other folks would like to recieve. This month’s choice is Stephanie Pearl-McPhee‘s Earl Grey socks, which I’ve knit before with great results. Manly-type socks require manly-type yarns, so we went shopping today.

The cable needles were an impulse purchase, but I already love them.

Some folks are happy with Trekking.  It stands up to pretty hard wear, looks attractive, and softens up nicely in the wash. Others (like Robin) veer off and bring me more Malabrigo.  As I said, I’m totally not going to complain about knitting with Malabrigo. He can bring me Malabrigo anytime he likes.

My other work-in-progess that I almost never talk about (my weight) is back on. I’ve been having real trouble with this for all sorts of reasons. I’m not going to shift blame entirely off my own back, since I’m the person who decides what food goes into my mouth and how often, and how I work it off. I think that things finally came to a head in the past week or so, and both the Husbeast and I have decided that we need more good meats and veggies and less processed stuff that tends to hang around.

So…just a warning that you’ll probably wind up seeing more food and diet related posts. For those of you who like seeing vegan-cupcake posts, I’ll just let you know right now…my way of eating doesn’t include cupcakes (too much sugar) and I’m the farthest from vegan you’ll get. Probaby the closest I’m getting to cupcakes is my RSS feed. 😉

Now I think it’s time to cozy down and play with some more yarn. Looking forward to seeing what everyone else is up to!

At the corner of acrylic and boucle

I was pleasantly surprised today by our local Michaels. There is usually one small aisle of yarn, and a bit of pegboard with some notions on it. A few months ago, I recall them posting signs indicating that they were going to upgrade the section of yarny goodness.

There’s a heck of a lot more yarn. Behind the rack on the left is another rack the other side of it, and then another rack against the back wall. The rack dead ahead is actually another wall (the yarn section is tucked in a back corner).  They’ve essentially doubled or tripled their yarn.  They also now have more than just the Paton’s Kroy and Stretch sock yarns. They now carry the Lion Brand Sock Ease (I admit I picked up a coffee-coloured ball), as well as something called Thread and Loop (I think…I didn’t take all that close a look).

They have also expanded some of their notions (more small-sized DPNs, for instance), and there are a ton more novelty yarns. One would think that someone noticed that knitting has gotten a lot more popular, eh?

As an aside…Netflix has at least one Very Early Doctor Who First Doctor serial – The Aztecs. It’s…uh…quite a change from where I first started viewing.  Amazing how, in 1963, Aztecs looked like British gents in silly hats….

A Tale of Two Yarns – 2KCBWDAY1

Day One: 28th March. A Tale of Two Yarns.
Part of any fibre enthusiast’s hobby is an appreciation of yarn. Choose two yarns that you have either used, are in your stash or which you yearn after and capture what it is you love or loathe about them.

Tips: It is a good idea, if possible, to choose a yarn that you adore and a yarn that just didn’t work for you. You do not need to be critical of any yarn if you do not feel comfortable in doing so, but perhaps you came to realise that one yarn wasn’t suitable for a particular project, if possible you could blog about what you have come to learn about choosing the right yarn, or your love of experimenting with fibres.

Sometimes you need to make a change.  I mentioned at the beginning of the month that I had started my Shur’tugal socks out of wondrous Malabrigo.  Let me say right now that if a sock yarn could be likened to really good sex, Malabrigo would be the brand name. I love the way it flows over the needles, and the feel in my hands. There’s just something very satisfying about the softness and the pliability.

The unfortunate thing with the Malabrigo is that it is so beautiful that you don’t want to waste it.  After finding I was having some issues with gauge, I decided to rip back the sock and start over with a yarn that I wouldn’t mind losing to someone else for Yule if they just wouldn’t fit. Yes, there was a part of me that gave a very heavy sigh on that day, because I’d completed the heel turn by that point and was well on the way to starting gusset decreases.

But starting over didn’t take much, and I can’t think of many other yarns I’d rather use than Shibui sock yarn. It’s a firm, yet soft two-ply that plumps up quite nicely on slightly larger needles.  I finally settled on knitting the cuff and leg on size 2 Addi Turbo (3mm) needles, and switching back to my usual size 1 Addis (2.5mm) needles for everything from the heel flap onwards.  Sock #1 is now off the needles and looking (and feeling!) awesome. I think I’ll even get to keep them!

We won’t get into the additional cat hair that is requisite in every knitting project. I keep trying to convince myself that kitty is simply ensuring that my yarn is properly inspected and approved.

Yarrrrn!

Him: “Something squooshy came for you in the mail.  I’m thinking it is either yarn or a puppy”
Me: “OooOooo! I hope it’s yarn…coz dead puppies aren’t much fun!”

Yep.  That was the conversation (via text message) this morning.  I am glad to say, it wasn’t a puppy.  Instead…I got yarn!

three ewes twisted in fiber order parcel

My order from Three Ewes Twisted In Fiber, to be precise.  I had ordered sock yarn in a self-striping 100% BFL in green, black, and cream called Green Eyed Monster; and a variegated merino/nylon blend in browns and neutrals called “Buttered Popcorn”.  Robin was right…the package *was* squooshy!

The contents of the package are absolutely beautiful.  The self-striping yarn looks to be a fine fingering weight, so I may have to go down a needle size, but I’m looking forward to playing with it.  The Merino/Nylon is a little thicker and looks like it will make some gorgeous socks for the Husbeast. Both were wrapped with a pretty fabric ribbon, and there was a little baggie of candies to sweeten the deal.  The colours are wonderfully vivid, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they hold fast after washing.

three ewes twisted in fiber yarn

I got the idea to order from Carin’s videocast.  They had sent her a sample skein, and she couldn’t resist casting on a pair of socks almost immediately. Considering Carin has a sizeable stash of BMFA Socks that Rock, this speaks volumes.  They have storefronts on both Etsy and Artfire, so ordering was really just a matter of deciding what I wanted.  It took a little longer than I would have liked, but apparently the ladies dye-to-order, and I really can’t complain about that. Truth be told, that part didn’t take long.  The only possible complaint I might have is that they’re not in Canada, and thus I had to wait for my parcel to clear customs.  Boo!  While yarn, I suppose, can be explosively good, I somehow don’t think my order was incendiary! (hint: it’s not that kind of “Yarn Bombing”!)

More at a later time when I’ve actually been able to play with it and can tell you what it’s like for reals 🙂

Quiet Birthday

As I alluded a couple of days ago, there was a birthday in the household recently.  Actually, there were two (kinda).  I would have posted something up on the actual date, but things were a little out-of-the-ordinary around here.

Last weekend we had a weather warning for heavy snowfall, so I had headed out to the store to pick up anything we’d need for a couple of days.  It just turned out that my birthday, February 7th, was the day we wound up being “snowed in”.  We were also under self-imposed quarantine due to Robin’s shingles.

Luckily, Robin had gotten his birthday shopping done earlier in the week (before his condition presented itself) with the help of our friend Chelsea.  Together they found the only Independant Bookseller in town & also hit the yarn store.  According to Robin, his directions to Chelsea were to show him “The good stuff.  The stuff that Maire always looks at, but never buys because she doesn’t want to spend too much”

So, the books are: On Tender Hooks by Isabel Samaras (an art book that combines classic art with pop culture and pinup art), Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and The Portrait of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. I’ve never gotten around to reading the latter two, and the art book is the kind of interesting that Robin and I enjoy, and our friends would find awesome, but might not be suitable for the older generation to pick up on the coffee table (though they might surprise me).

The Yarn!  The Yarn is Handmaiden Camelspun, and Malabrigo sock.  Chelsea knows that I drool over Handmaiden whenever I get a chance and have been wanting to try the Malabrigo for quite a long time.  I’m glad that Robin had her guidance!  I’ve been instructed to use the yarn for my own purposes instead of being “nice” and making gifts for other people out of it (which I am known to do…set aside my own yarny wants & desires to give to others).  I figure that the Camelspun will make a lovely shawlette & the Malabrigo will make wonderfully cozy socks.  Squee!

This is my niece Georgia.  She turned 5 on February 7th.  Georgie and I have been sharing our special day now for awhile, and I think we’re finally starting to get the hang of it.  Her Dad (my brother) gave a call on Monday and Georgie and I got to have a chat.  While I think my yarn and books are great, I think she figures she got the better part of the deal.  She got a fairy costume (I really can’t argue with that). Interesting Trivia: Georgie and I not only share a birthday, but we’re both redheads who love the colour pink.  You’ll often see us from a mile away if you get us together in the same place!

What I did on my March Vacation

Well, this isn’t the sum total of what I did on my vacation, but it took up a good part of last weekend.  I had a couple of sweaters-worth of yarn hanging around in my basement.  One lot was from Robin’s Grandfolks.  They had bought it on a trip to Ireland, and nobody had ever made use of it.  There was an attempt at the start of a sweater, but the aran pattern was definitely lost in the richness of the colour.  It looked like a muddy steel colour, but in the sunlight it showed hints of all kinds of blues.  The other yarn was from my mother — it had survived a basement flood in our old home in Yellowknife, where Mum had been storing it in a cardboard box (since then, any yarn stash in our family exists in Rubbermaid.  Just sayin’).  It looked to be a nice yellowish off-white.

Both yarns were in dire need of washing.  I picked up a bottle of SOAK at one of the local yarn stores ($16 at Pudding Yarn downtown) and got to it.

Domo-kun yarn heaven!

First things first, some skeining had to be done.  As can be seen in the picture above, most of the yarn (at least from Mum) came in factory-wound balls.  You’ll notice that the ball-bands are home-made, and just have the number “23” on them.  I am not sure of the significance of the number (neither does Mum…I asked her when she first gave me the yarn), but the original ball-bands were lost in the aforementioned basement flood.  Far as we know, the light-coloured yarn is wool.  That’s about *all* we know.  Domo-kun is wearing a home-made skein as a stylish hat.  This is easily done by wrapping the yarn around a couple of chair backs.

Skeining the yarn. Domo and the Yarn

Once the yarn has met the Domo-kun seal of approval, into the wash it goes!  The instructions on the bottle of SOAK indicate that a capful of SOAK should be enough for about a gallon of water.  Doing things the usual Maire-way translates to “squirt soapy stuff into sink & fill with cold water.  If you’re lucky, you get bubbles.   Bubbles, yay!”

Soaking the yarn II Muddy waters

Here we have the Yellowknife yarn, and what was left over after the Yk yarn came out of the bath.  GROSS!  Yes, this is why the yarn was kinda yellowish.  And a little stinky.  And more than a little rough on the hands.  Ewwwww!  I didn’t get a chance to get a picture of the water after the Irish yarn had finished soaking & had been wrung out, but that’s because there was very little water left in the sink. I have a dual-basin sink, so I had actually wrung out the Irish yarn in the empty basin.  Mainly because the skeins were so very heavy.  The Yk yarn?  Not so much.  Smaller skeins mean greater ease in wringing.

Of course, all this washing and wringing reminded me of my Grandmother Smith’s old soaker washer with wringer.  While I love my clothes-washer & dryer, and wouldn’t give them up for the world, there are times (usually when I’m washing hand-knits) that I would love a wringer-washer.  I wonder if they still make them, and if so, whether they have any smaller, portable, pack-away-able sized wringers?  It would get rid of about 95% more water, and not felt the fabric.  This *is* a concern 🙂

Hanging the yarn to dryBig basket of dry wool yarn

Toss the now-clean skeins into a laundry basket, truck ’em on out to the patio & hang ’em on your handy-dandy portable clothes-dryer.  If you’re like me and you live in the suburbs, chances are pretty good that there’s a bylaw that states you can’t have a clothesline.  Far as I know, there’s no law against using a portable dryer.  As long as you’re not flying the flag of Fruit of the Loom, I don’t think your neighbours are going to mind too much.
When you’re done, you’ll probably have a nice, big, pile of dry yarn.  You’ll notice in the picture on the far right just how fluffy and…downright HAPPY…that yarn looks.  It took about 2 days to dry properly.  We were lucky to have a very sunny, very warm weekend when I pulled off this little stunt (as a comparison, I woke up to snow on the patio this morning).  You’ll notice, also, that the dark-coloured yarn in that middle photo is most decidedly BLUE.  A very lovely deep blue.  As I look at the wound balls in my little office this morning, they look more neutral-grey.  It all depends on the light.  Whenever possible, look at your clean yarn in honest daylight.  It will tell you more about the yarn than you thought.  While the colour looks kinda blah to me right now, I know that the Husbeast will have one kick-arse blue sweater when I’m done.

Swatch!

Here’s my gauge swatch.  Looks like we have a winner!  After I finished knitting this, I washed it again, stuck it on the porch railing to dry, and measured it again.  We have gauge.  Robin will hopefully have a sweater sometime in the next decade.  Huzzah!

(special thanks to Chelsea, who provided run-on commentary and hand-holding where necessary)