Tag Archives: toe-up

I lost my knitting mojo.

Last week, I lost my knitting mojo.  I’m not sure if it’s because I was sick all week, or because I’ve been a little stressed at work. I’m usually pretty dauntless when it comes to trying new things, but the challenges I had with my Overby sweater,  and argyle socks left my confidence as a knitter a little dented.

Usually when I finish I project, I know exactly what I want to make.  Inevitably, there is something I just can’t wait to make.  Most of the time, the only challenge is narrowing all of my ideas down.  This week, however, I made three half hearted runs at Skew socks, but ended up frogging them. (I’ll try again this summer, when I have the stamina to concentrate on all those directional increases, which are currently my knitting kryptonite). After giving up, I couldn’t think of a single thing to cast-on.

I looked through my ravelry queue, browsed all of the knitting blogs I follow, and pawed through my stash, but remained uninispired.  And then I found this:

My very first knitting project, knit two decades ago on my grandma's couch

My very first knitting project, knit two decades ago on my grandma’s couch

my first ever knitting project, cast-on on my grandmother’s couch two decades ago. It’s just a rectangle of garter stitch in scrap yarn, cast-on for no particular reason, other than to knit it.  To engage in the process. To let my fingers repeat and master a simple movement. To spend some time with my grandma.

The simple joys of knitting: socks in Sweet Georgia Tough Sock in Summer Dusk

The simple joys of knitting: socks in Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Summer Dusk

So I did something unusual. I cast on a pair of simple garter stitch socks. It’s a pattern I’ve made countless times, and frankly a little boring.  I usually knit because I want to wear or give the project.  I mostly choose projects, because they will challenge me to pick up or develop a new skill, but these socks couldn’t be easier, and I have no recipient in mind for them.  I’m just really enjoying the process.  The reassuring repetition has calmed my unquiet mind.  My frustrated fingers are finding their confidence again in this familiar task, and I’m being reminded of knitting’s most significant gift: peace of mind.

Completed toe-up slip stitch heel socks by Wendy Johnson in Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Summer Dusk

Completed toe-up slip stitch heel socks by Wendy Johnson in Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock in Summer Dusk

Once More With Feeling: Completed Argyle Socks

My husband in his Sneaky Argyle socks by Wendy Johnson in Dream in Color Smooshy

My husband in his Sneaky Argyle socks by Wendy Johnson in Dream in Color Smooshy

After my struggles with these, I’m really happy to have finished them in time to give to my husband for his birthday!  The finished product was well worth the frustration, these are among my favourite handknit socks.  Something about this colour combination feels just conservative enough for his job at a bank, without being too boring or expected.

_AWN3894It’s a real struggle to find good sock patterns for men; I bought Wendy Johnson’s Toe Up Socks For Everybody because it included so many great manly socks.  I look forward to trying out some of the other great patterns in this book: I think the Basket Case socks will make another great pair of husband socks, and I’m toying with the idea of some Belle Epoque thighhighs for me.

I’m usually really pleased with Johnson’s instructions, and I’m a big fan of the clarity and simplicity of her first book, but be forewarned: these Sneaky Argyle Socks are described as a great beginner project, but there are some really long floats, and you will have to be very careful about making them too tight (as I learnt to my great dismay!).  I sized up 2 needle sizes (to 2.5mm) and knit the colour section inside out to ensure that they would fit over my husband’s feet. Now to find a great anniversary pair…

Knitting-fail: Sneaky Argyle Socks

Once more with feeling: my argyle sock, now in two pieces

My argyle sock, now in two pieces

When non-knitters and beginners tell me they’re intimidated by my finished objects, I try to tell them the truth: we all make mistakes. After all, I see what they don’t – the huge knitting-fails.  I was in love with these argyle socks by Wendy Johnson the moment I finished the first one: so beautiful, so perfect for my husband to wear to work, such a great use for leftover yarn…

And then I tried it on. The colourwork section didn’t fit over my foot; it wasn’t even close.  I tried blocking it over a soup can, but there was no improvement.  Of course, we can file this under avoidable mistakes:  the floats should have been looser, I should have tried the first few rows of colourwork over my foot, I should have done some research before attempting my first colourwork sock (one of the blogs I follow had a post detailing this exact problem, with this exact pattern). Woulda, coulda, shoulda – didn’t.

Once more with feeling, knitting the argyle section inside out

Once more with feeling, knitting the argyle section inside out

I didn’t want to lose the foot of this sock, nor did I want to waste all of that burgundy Dream in Color Smooshy (especially since my LYS stopped carrying it), so out came the scissors.  I’m going to take a second run at the argyle, but this time I’m switching to 2.5 mm needles for the argyle section and using this technique to keep the floats loose. I’ll keep you posted on how they turn out…

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

From the toe up

As a knitter, as in life, when something is working well, it can be hard to take the time and effort to try something completely new.  Doing something for the first time can be exciting, but it can also be so much harder.  I have a really hard time breaking my strong habits, especially when deciding  which direction a garment should be knit in.

My very first pair of knit socks were toe-up, provisional cast on socks that I knit in a class at my LYS, and I was hooked. Imagine my glee when I discovered Wendy Johnson’s Socks from the Toe-Up.  The book has lace, gansey and cabled variations of the toe-up sock, with lots of clear instructions on the required techniques.

A short row toe in progress, the yellow yarn is the provisional cast on

For creating the toe, I have always used a provisional cast-on with a crochet hook (demonstrated in this video) to create a short row toe.  The technique is really simple and doesn’t require much in the way of extra needles of notions, the way a Turkish cast-on does.  You use scrap yarn to cast on a temporary row.  After working short rows around into what my son labelled a little hat, you remove your scrap yarn to reveal live stitches, and begin knitting in the round across both sides.  This method is also really easy to modify, if you want to add additional stitches to a sock, simply work the toe until a little less than a third of the toe stitches are wrapped on either side.

The sock’s toe, after removing the provisional cast on

There are no end to textures or patterns you can use on socks, and I’ve done a lot of experimenting with a variety of patterns, although teeny tiny cables tend to cause more than their share of slipped stitches and split yarn.

When it comes to toe-up heels – I’ve tried three varieties of heels, and each one has it’s benefits and costs.  All three are outlined in the book, and there are examples of each in the free patterns available on Wendy Johnson’s blog.  There are short row heels, which are worked in essentially the exact same way as the toe.  They are quick and easy and look a lot like commercially produced socks (if you’re into that).  I have used them for thick, wooly camp socks like the one below.  However, on finer socks (knit on size 0, 1 or 2 needles)  they don’t really provide adequate space across the top and give socks a funny look (as happened a few years ago, with my first lace socks, which were too ugly to photograph).

A short row heel on wooly camp socks

Gusset heels provide a lot more space across the top of the foot, since they are created by increasing incrementally, and then knitting a flap up the back of the foot.  They are flat, easy and attractive, but wear out a lot faster than other varieties.  If you are making lacy socks that are unlikely to experience hard wear they’re a great choice.  However, my husband has worn out multiple pairs of handknit work socks made with gusset heels.

A gusset heel sock

Choosing a slip stitch heel appears to prolong the life of a sock significantly, and when you’re investing a couple weeks and some good yarn, you want those socks to be loved for years.  A word of warning though, these heels take more time and attention and are far less forgiving.  I lost track of which stitches I was slipping on my first slip stitch heel and the lovely ridges staggered raggedly up the back of my husband’s foot.  Turn off the tv and actually look at your knitting before attempting a toe-up slip stitch heel!

Slip-stitch heels, these have already withstood a number of trips to work and through the wash machine

I am trying to expand my horizons as a knitter, so for my next pair of Christmas socks, I have cast on my very first pair of cuff down socks: Monkey socks from Cookie A’s Knit.Sock.Love.  We’ll see how hard my toe-up habit is to break…

I’ll be knitting socks for Christmas

My husband in last year’s Christmas present (Traditional Gansey Socks in Dream in Color Smooshy)

Socks are my absolute favourite knitting project, especially for the holidays.  On a practical level, every adult needs more socks, and they are less vulnerable to issues with sizing and personal style than other articles of clothing. Yet, the appeal of knitting socks for my loved ones runs a lot deeper than that; there is something really significant about putting that much time and love into a mundane object.  Socks are among the most mass produced and disposable items of clothing in our society.  We are really seperated from their production, they are the type of thing we buy in bulk at drug stores and Wal-Marts. As such, socks are something that we rarely give much thought to.  As a result, knitting socks becomes a little eccentric. After all, who would devote 10 (or 20 or 40) hours to making something as humble as a sock? Someone who wants to transform an object as quotidian as a sock into something beautiful and meaningful.

I’ve been reading Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft, and his polemic on the significance of manual work has helped me to really understand why knitting socks, particularly as gifts, means so much to me.  He writes that “The satisfications of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy.  They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point.”  I would say the intimacy of creating an article of clothing for someone takes the act of knitting socks one step further – it’s not a simply a statement of competency or worth, but a statement of love.  They not only relieve the knitter of the need to offer interpretations of herself (or himself), but they also relieve the knitter of the need to offer explanations of her love and appreciation.  Handknit socks are so different from mass produced socks, because of the care that is required to produce them.  When I take out my toothpick thin size 0 needles and begin a pair of socks, I hope that the wearer will feel the time and care required for each stitch as a  testament of the love, appreciation and respect that I bear them.  I hope the socks will say what I cannot.

One glance at a pair of handknit socks distinguishes them as something that has taken someone a lot of time, care and competence to produce.  This is especially true of some of the more complex patterns available  (like those in Cookie A’s Knit. Sock. Love. and Hunter Hammersen’s Silk Road Socks – 2 books that I recently picked up and have yet to try out).  To own a pair of these socks is to be really loved by a knitter.

Serpentine socks in Dream in Color Smooshy

It is at this point that I should admit, I think I have bitten off more than I can chew this holiday season.  My list of holiday gifts includes six pairs of handknit socks.  For the sake of time, so far, I have stuck to the familiar, choosing patterns from Wendy Johnson’s excellent Socks from the Toe Up.  I’ve used this book countless times, knitting multiple pairs of the Dead Simple Lace, Traditional Gansey, Diamond Gansey, Mock Cable, Van Dyke, and Serpentine Socks.  For my first holiday socks, I chose her flat gusset heel basic socks, letting this beautiful stash yarn speak for itself (truth be told, I bought it so long ago, I don’t even remember what it is).  Given that I have only finished one pair so far, it may be time to scale back my plans. I’d love to hear some of your favourite (quick) knitted gifts.

My first holiday socks this year (gusset heel toe-up socks in unidentified stash yarn)