Tag Archives: Wendy Johnson

Spring socks in fall

There’s no denying that winter is on its way here.  Fortunately, the first frost has been late, and I was able to scatter crocus bulbs around in our front and back gardens, late last month.  This is our first fall in a house and it’s been exciting for us to go through all the rituals of the seasons in our first real family home.

I’ve never planted bulbs before, but there’s something about this fall ritual that feels wildly optimistic.  As the leaves tumble around you, and the garden falls into its long, slow, autumn decay, you are already thinking of spring, picturing these brave little stems poking through the last of the winter snow.  I was so inspired by the thought of these brave little purple flowers, that I cast on Wendy Johnson’s crocus socks from Toe-up Socks for Everybody to take my mind of the grey November weather.

My crocus socks in Cascade Heritage Silks

My crocus socks in Cascade Heritage Silks

I knit them in a very spring-y green Cascade Yarns Heritage Silk.  I’m not usually a fan of colours this solid, but the pattern and yarn were a perfect fit.  The silky yarn is a slippery pleasure to knit, I just hope they stand up to frequent wear. The yarn can allegedly be machine washed and tumble dried, but our hand knit socks get washed in Soak and line dried.

The lace pattern here got a little tedious, it was the first pattern I’ve ever knit where I couldn’t memorize the chart, but I think the end result was worth it. The lace is beautiful and intricate, and like most lace patterns, it’s not difficult; the chart simply has the be tackled line by line.

I’ll be approaching the grey weather in the same way, day by day, until those crocuses come up.



My favourite knitting books

Now that we’ve got a little more space, my knitting books and patterns have a space all of their own.  While the paper patterns need some love (they’re currently just shoved haphazardly into a binder), I love seeing my books organized and accessible.  Which got me thinking about my favourite knitting books.  Not all books are created equal, there are some I regret buying, and others whose cracked spines bear witness to how much I love them (and how useful they are).  So here’s a round-up of my favourite titles (so far!)

My knitting reference shelf

My knitting reference shelf

Mitered mittens in Noro Taiyo 11

Mitered mittens in Noro Taiyo 11

Favourite classic: Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitter’s Almanac.  There is a reason that Zimmerman’s name is synonymous with knitting for many people.  This book is full of fantastic patterns (mitered mittens and baby sweater on two needles are two of my all time favourite patterns!). But what seperated the Almanac from her other titles is that it’s a great read on its own.  Zimmerman shares her thoughts and life as a knitter. Her directions are by her own admission “pithy,” but for me that just highlights the history of knitting as something shared (often orally) through families and amongst a community.  A must read for any enthusiastic knitters.

Favourite sock books: I’m going to cheat here and name two Wendy Johnson’s Socks From the  Toe-Up and Cookie A’s knit.sock.love. Socks From the

Gusset heel toe up socks (from Wendy Johnson's book)

Gusset heel toe up socks (from Wendy Johnson’s book)

Toe-Up was one of the first books I bought. It is a fantastic beginners book – she explains every necessary technique clearly and concisely, and there are enough variations to keep any knitter busy for years. I still return to this book when I want something to knit in the car or while travelling (the type of project you can knit without consulting the pattern very frequently.)  I have knit nine of the 23 patterns in this book, several of them many times, and I keep coming back.

Monkey socks from knit.sock.love (pattern also available free on knitty)

Monkey socks from knit.sock.love (pattern also available free on knitty)

When I started to outgrow Toe-Up, I began looking around for a more challenging toe-up book, since by that point I was convinced that toe-up was the only way to do it.  When the owner of my LYS suggested knit.sock.love, I was skeptical, since all the patterns are cuffdown. However, one look at this beautiful book changed my mind.  Gorgeous enough to be a coffee table book, knit.sock.love is a book that inspires ardent admiration.  There are regular knit-alongs for this book on ravelry, and a surprising number of people have conquered all 19 patterns, including the cabled knee highs (there are 2!) and intricate diagonals.  I see knitting through this book in the way that many view reading all of War & Peace (which I have done!) or running the Boston Marathon (which my knees will never agree to!). It’s a big project requiring patience, perserverance and time (hopefully one day I’ll have enough of all three).  I have made my way through HederaWedgeMonkey, and Mona, and they are so beautiful; it’s no surprise that so many people love this book.

My youngest niece and her Project Linus blankie

My niece and her Project Linus blankie

Favourite beginner book: Betty Christiansen’s Knitting for Peace. This was actually my first knitting book, and it’s one I highly reccommend for beginners ready to branch out from their first hats, scarves and mitts.  The book contains great, simple projects for blankets, shawls, hats, toys, sweaters and socks.  The basic patterns don’t require special or expensive yarn to look good, so it’s also great if you’re still at the stage where you’re reluctant to drop significant money on yarn, or your hometown doesn’t offer more than the selection at Michael’s and Wal-Mart.  It’s full of information on how to use your knitting to make the world a better place. Inspirational, simple, useful.

Narragansett sweater by Thea Coleman. I can’t wait to make this!

Favourite imaginary book: Thea Coleman’s Baby Cocktails.  Ok, this one doesn’t exist (yet?), but it should, my ravelry queue is filled with her patterns, and Vodka Lemonade is on my needles now.  Her directions are clear, concise and accurate.  Each design shows a clear attention to how they will fit on a woman’s body, and each pattern has a wider variety of sizes than you are likely to find at the mall (I’m guessing sizes 0-20).  I love that her patterns are simple and plain enough to be wearable and fashionable.  Each one has simple embellishments or details that make it special and different, without making it fussy or dowdy. Somebody in publishing please offer this woman a book deal!


I’d love to know what books you think are missing from my shelf – What are your must-own pattern books?

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…