Category Archives: Socks

The lure of multi-colour sock yarn

Basic gusset heel socks in Studioloo Bootsie (elephantgirl)

Basic gusset heel socks in Studioloo Bootsie (elephantgirl)

I just finished these socks in my favourite basic sock pattern, gusset heel basic socks by Wendy Johnson. They were made from impulsively purchased Studioloo Bootsie (yarn spun and dyed by a local artist) in elephantgirl. I loved watching the colours materialize, although I did hope they would pool a little more organically. Admittedly, the stockinette got a little tedious, but I’m a dedicated sock knitter. There’s something very satisfying about wearing a handmade pair, especially in this unseasonably cold and wet weather.

_AWN3315Whenever I drop in to a yarn store without a specific project in mind, I’m inevitably drawn to yarn like this; there’s something irresistible about the skeins of soft, gorgeous, striped, multi-coloured sock yarn.  Nearly every impulse purchase in my stash is a single skein of sock yarn in several saturated hues.

The problem (other than the obvious cost): what to do with them?  When I buy them, I tell myself I will find a choose a challenging new sock pattern, but in reality, most textures look muddy in multi-coloured yarn.  There are some rare exceptions, like Cookie A’s fab wedge socks, but there’s only so many pairs of those I can make.  And so I have a number of flat socks and an even larger number of gorgeous, unused stashed skeins.  What are your favourite patterns for multi-coloured sock yarn? I’d love to hear your suggestions for this part of my stash!

Some of my sock stash: (left to right) Studioloo Bootsie in Birthday Cake, Cascade Heritage Paints in Wild Roses and stashed yarn of unknown origins

Some of my sock stash: (left to right) Studioloo Bootsie in Birthday Cake, Cascade Heritage Paints in Wild Roses and stashed yarn of unknown origins

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I think I found the best use EVER for leftover sock yarn!

My hexipuffs (or 1.3% of a quilt)

My hexipuffs (or 1.3% of a quilt)

I’ve struggled with what to do with all my leftover sock yarn.  Each pair of socks results in smallish balls of lovely scrap, and it didn’t take long for me to develop a pretty major stash.  I’ve made newborn hats and contemplated wild striped socks, but I’ve never found a really satisfying use for these leftovers.  To add to the urgency, we’re looking for a house, and the upcoming move has motivated me to deal with every bit of clutter that I will otherwise have to eventually pack up and move.

Tiny Owl's beekeeper's quilt (photo copied from the pattern website)

Tiny Owl’s beekeeper’s quilt (photo copied from the pattern website)

So imagine my delight when I came upon this gorgeous Tiny Owl Knits pattern, The Beekeeper’s Quilt.  It’s a pretty popular pattern with over 5000 projects on ravelry, and at least 5 how-to videos on youtube.

The pattern reccommends 384 of these tiny little “hexipuffs” for a full size quilt, so I may be working on this one for the forseeable future. However, each little puff knits up in less than an hour, so they’re perfect in between projects.  So far I have 5 puffs (or 1.3% of a full size blanket!), but I’ll keep you posted as I work my way through my stash. I’ve made

A hexipuff in madelinetosh merino

A hexipuff in madelinetosh merino

hexipuffs with ONline suppersocke (from my Wedge socks), white Dream in Colour Starry, and pink and black madelinetosh merino (from my Hederas, and the Monas I made for my husband at Christmas), and they all look lovely. I’m so happy to be converting clutter into something beautiful for our new home, what a great pattern!


Happy Valentine’s Day to … Me!

My pink Hedera socks in madelinetosh merino

My pink Hedera socks in madelinetosh merino

This year, I’m stuck working late on Valentine’s Day (which is also my birthday!), so I decided to treat myself to a little gift: these holiday coloured-pink socks (Hederas free on Knitty and in Knit. Sock. Love).  Like many knitters, I often get caught up in working through a long list of Christmas and shower gifts and toddler sized sweaters are so fast and satisfying, I haven’t knit a sweater for myself in almost two years. When the last socks I knit for myself wore through earlier this month, I realized it was time to make something just for me.

So when I noticed the Knit. Sock. Love. knit-along on ravelry, I decided it was a perfect oppurtunity indulge.  I love how soft and cozy the madelinetosh merino is, even in this pretty, simple lace. I’m happy that they’ll be keeping me warm at work tonight.  And don’t worry, I have a little something for my long-suffering husband too,  I just didn’t knit it this year.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

All the Old Showstoppers (Part 1)

What keeps us coming back to the same patterns over and over again? Certainly, a familiar pattern is always faster and usually made with more technical proficiency, but there’s more to it than that.  A really great pattern demands to made over and over again.  Some patterns have that perfect mix of beauty, versatility, practicality and reliability that has you coming back to them again and again. These patterns are the ones that I love to make over and over again.

The worsted weight version in Debbie Bliss Cashmerino

The worsted weight version in Debbie Bliss Cashmerino

Favourite hat:  I’ve written a few of my own hat patterns and tried countless others over the years, but the one I come back to again and again is the Dean Street Hat, which is available as a free ravelry download.  The pattern comes in chunky and worsted weight and every size from toddler to large headed adult, like me.  The texture has a nice density that keeps you warm. The cables are simple enough to knit swiftly but attractive enough to be special, and I’ve gotten countless compliments on the three that I’ve made.  All in all a classic.

My first Rocketry cardigan in Dream in Color Classy

My first Rocketry cardigan in Dream in Color Classy

Favourite baby sweater:  While my recent experience with Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles, had me second guessing this choice, Dream in Color’s Rocketry Baby Cardigan edged it out.  The advantage went to the Rocketry cardigan purely on the basis of it’s unisex appeal.  This adorable cardigan works well for boys and girls, and it’s a great stash buster.  The stripes keep the knitting interesting and make ensuring uniform sleeve length a breeze.  I’ve made it four times, twice in the suggested (but expensive) Dream in Color Classy, and twice in much more reasonable Lamb’s Pride wool.  It’s reliable and seamless, and works equally well as a six colour rainbow sweater and in simple three colour combinations (I’ve tried pink/white/black and red/navy/white).

Gusset heel toe up socks in unidentified stast yarn

Gusset heel toe up socks in unidentified stash yarn

Favourite socks: As a dedicated sock knitter this was a tough choice.  Lately, I’ve worn down the spine of Cookie A’s knit.sock.love and I was tempted to choose one of her innovative designs.  In the end, however, I went for simplicity: Wendy Johnson’s Gusset Heel Basic Socks, published in Socks from the Toe Up are fantastic.  The directions have an admirable clarity and they are perfect for showing off multicolour yarn or as a basis for your own experiments with texture.  The gusset heel is elegantly simple, providing lots of space for good fit across the top of the foot, without all of the slip stitch heel fuss.  I’ve had lots of knitters look at these and ask how I made such a clever heel, if only I could take the credit.

Fisherman socks and Canada’s Rock

Towards the end of One Week, on the beach in Tofino, a pair of German tourists tell Joshua Jackson’s character that he lives in a beautiful country.  On the one hand, it’s a little on the nose, but as Canadians sometimes we need European tourists to remind us of the total awesomeness of this country.  Too often, we look south or east for travel destinations, and miss the beauty, culture and adventure closer to home.

Chesterman beach in Tofino, BC

A few summers ago, in the spirit of patriotism and wanderlust, my husband and I decided to see both ends of the TransCanada highway.  Given our limited travel time and budget, we decided to fly to Newfoundland and drive across the province to St John’s in July, and to fly to Vancouver and drive to Tofino in August.

A carnivorous pitcher plant  in Grosse Morne, Newfoundland's provincial flower

A carnivorous pitcher plant in Grosse Morne, Newfoundland’s provincial flower

Newfoundland has been on my mind this week, as I cast on these fisherman socks (my second last Christmas gift!).  My father’s favourite travel destination is Newfoundland, so it seems appropriate to make him a pair of fisherman socks to keep his feet warm on his twice daily dog walks (surprise, Dad!).

Newfoundland is a place of stark beauty and contradiction.  The landscape is harsh and cold, and the people are warm and friendly.  Many people in Newfoundland have been hard hit by the collapse of the fisheries in the 1990’s, and will tell you how happy they are to have found seasonal work in the tourism industry. However, their hardships have done nothing to diminish their spirits. Everything you have heard about friendly, open and easy going Newfoundlanders is true. They also have fantastic knitwear to keep them warm on their cold and beautiful rock in the North Atlantic, and I came home dreaming of creamy woolens, cables and gansey.

We started our trip camping in Grosse Morne and the landscape must be seen to be believed.  It was worth the total lack of groceries anywhere near by.

A lighthouse on the West coast of Newfoundland

A lighthouse on the West coast of Newfoundland

The spectacular beach at the end of the Green Gardens trail in Grosse Morne

The spectacular beach at the end of the Green Gardens trail in Grosse Morne

From Grosse Morne, we traveled east to St John’s. We missed a lot in Newfoundland’s north, including the Viking settlement at isolated L’anse Aux Meadows, but it’s always nice to have a reason to go back.  In St John’s, we walked the brightly coloured streets, got a sense of Newfoundland’s history at Signal Hill, and saw first hand the reason for Newfoundland’s hard partying reputation on George Street.

The bright painted houses of St John's

The brighty painted houses of St John’s

Puffin!

Puffin!

We also had one of the most spectacular travel experiences of my life in Bay Bulls.  My parents tipped us off the Colbert’s Puffin Tours.  A friendly former fisherman took us out in his fishing boat to tour a landscape that I cannot believe wasn’t covered in BBC’s Planet Earth.  I was awestruck and humbled by the beauty and power of nature, as we toured the bay, spotting puffins, terns and a humpback whale and calf.  I cannot wait to share this experience with my son, who I hope will one day be as transformed by it as I was.  It is impossible to see nature in this way, and not feel a desperate need not to protect it.

Humpback whale in Bay Bulls

Humpback whale in Bay Bulls

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Puffins!

We have no immediate plans to go back (writing this post has put Newfoundland on my summer shortlist though!).  For now I’ll have to content myself with fisherman socks and those PC holiday commercials!

Update (December 16):

Fisherman's sock in Cascade Superwash Sport

Fisherman’s sock in Cascade Superwash Sport

I’ve finished the first fisherman’s sock.  The pattern was really small, but the 5 stitch repeat and the 1×1 ribbing made increasing the size a little tricky.  I cast on 46 sts, decreased to 45 sts in the first row below the cuff, worked a 22 sts heel flap and decreased down to 44 sts through the gusset (so that the top of the foot is 22 sts – 1 purl, 4 repeats of the pattern and 1 knit). It was a little twisted before blocking but warm, cozy and attractive on a foot!

My wedge socks are done

My third pair of holiday socks are done!  It is now looking increasingly likely that I will not finish the remaining three pairs before Christmas (and I may, gulp, have to brave the mall at the last minute), but I will perservere.  Overall, these socks (Wedge socks from knit. sock. love.) are clever and I love the way the short rows look in multi colour yarn like this.  The socks are worked in a series of short row (back and forth) wedges that give it the garter stitch sections.  The beginning of the row is rotated 180 degrees each time you repeat, so that the thin and thick ends of the wedges alternate.  I have no idea how Cookie A conceives of inventive ideas like this, but I really like it! It’s hard to find a pattern that works well for multicolour yarn, or one that is as co-ed as this one is.

Wedge socks in ONline Supersocke (1167)

Wedge socks in ONline Supersocke (1167)

I did encounter a couple of technical hiccups that I will avoid next time:

1. The garter stitch wedges are really stretchy.  I made these in medium and I’m a tight knitter, and they are easily the biggest socks I’ve ever made.  Make them at least 1 size smaller than you think you need.

2. When I got to the first toe, I was convinced that I had made a mistake, since the pattern made it seem as though the toe short rows should be worked off-center.  I checked ravelry and googled errata, and there is no mention of a typo or mistake in this pattern, so I will assume the mistake was mine.  I’m still not sure if the toe short rows are intentionally off-center here or if I made a mistake when rotating the rows (you mark a new beginning of the round at least 8 times in this pattern, so if you make one mistake, it will be translated all the way down).  Rather than make myself crazy searching for the source of the problem, I just lined the short rows up with sides of the toe (working the toe across the sole stitches) and they look great.  On the second socks, I was much more careful with couting the rotations, but still had the same problem.

3. They absolutely, positively must be blocked. They’re an absolute collapsing mess when they come off your needles.

Musings on a Wedge sock

Wedge sock in Online (colourway 1167)

Wedge sock in ONline supersocke 100 (colourway 1167)

I’m halfway through my third pair of holiday socks, and I’ve come down with a bit of a case of second sock syndrome.  As I cast on my second Wedge sock and flipped through knit. sock. love. to pick a pair for to cast on for my great-aunt, I imagine that I felt a little like Julie Powell felt about Mastering the Art of French Cooking: a heady mixture of awe and inspiration, with more than a touch of stubborn determination to complete the task at hand, no matter how long it takes (because I’m not crazy, right?)

Much like French cooking, sock knitting is the art of making something mundane truely beautiful and special.  Like cooking someone a fantastic meal, the time and care involved in knitting a pair of socks is a way of making something quotidian memorable and fantastic.  And like French cooking, sock knitting has it’s innovators.  These wedge socks are one of the few patterns that has made me stand back and ask, “How did someone come up with that?”  Like moebius knitting or Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket, these socks are not simply a clever variation on an existing pattern – they seem (at least to me) wholly new.

Innovating in knitting is not easy, it involves a deep understanding of knitting as a mathematical discipline, and an ability to craft really lovely clothing that people want to make and give.  It is also not always something that comes with credit: the genius who developped the kitchener stitch (a method for grafting the toe of socks that I used to finish this wedge sock) remains the stuff of urban legend.  Herbert Kitchener, the 1st Earl of Kitchener is credited by wikipedia with devising it for use in Red Cross sock knitting, during the First World War.  However, there is a major lack of evidence to support that; the kitchener stitch, may in fact, have originated on this side of the Atlantic at sometime between the wars.

Before the contemporary era of ravelry and knitting blogs, knitting skills were passed down orally, through families, and so their origins become nearly impossible to trace.  Like me, many knitters still remember their first time picking up needles on their grandmother’s couch or across a well worn kitchen table.  It’s part of what is so appealing to me about knitting – skills and ideas are rarely owned, but shared across generations, so that they can be used and improved.

My grandmother before she passed, and my son (he's wearing a Rocketry Cardigan in Dream in Color that I knit when I was pregnant)

My grandmother before she passed, and my son (he’s wearing a Rocketry Cardigan in Dream in Color that I knit when I was pregnant)

When I knit, I feel like I am in conversation with my departed grandmothers, and the grandmothers that taught them to knit, on and on backwards through a community of women (and men) who took the time to think about how to do things better and differently and who crafted beautiful, practical objects to keep people warm – whether they were for the small children in the backyard or for the young men on far off battlefields in Europe. Today, I’m grateful again, to have had such magnificent grandparents, who continue to share their skills and their wisdom.