socks

Socks - do you block yours?

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It’s always a bit of a tricky one and something that people can have strong opinions, on but I love the process of blocking in general and blocking socks in particular. There’s something very pleasing about seeing two weirdly shaped tubes suddenly and magically become sock-shaped on the blockers. And yes, I know that you can just block them on your feet (and I certainly do this with my kids socks) but it is much easier to take a photograph of your finished sock masterpieces when they are on blockers as opposed to when they are on your feet - ask me how I know?

For me, its part of the whole closure that comes at the end of a project. In the same way as you come to the end of a good book and you are reluctant to move on to the next one whilst the characters are still alive and kicking in your mind. Coming to the end of a much loved sock project is much the same. These socks in the photo - knit with yarn from London House Yarns - accompanies me on most of my summer journeys and our happy family memories (and a bit of sand) are knit into each stitch of these socks.

I like to take my time, tidying up the loose ends and emptying out the project bag of assorted bits and pieces. In an ideal world I’ll also put my needles neatly away but I know in practice they often end up randomly in a drawer waiting for me to rifle through them in a desperate search for elusive 2.5mm needles.

Do you have any “end of project” rituals or things that you like to do at the end of a project - or is it just me?

How to knit from a sock blank

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What on earth is a sock blank I hear you ask? Simply put, it is a machine knitted flat piece of fabric which you then unravel and knit with. It really is that straightforward. Rather than knitting from a ball or skein or yarn you unravel the yarn as you go and knit with it.

This always baffles my husband. "So you are taking a piece of knitting, and turning it back into knitting?" was his puzzled query when I showed him what I was doing. "Why on earth would you do that?". But he has been around knitters long enough to know not to argue and to accept that we are ingenious souls who come up with all manner of intriguing solutions.

By applying the dye to a flat piece of knitted fabric rather than the actual strands of yarn themselves, dyers can produce a fabulous range of colours and effects that would be very hard to achieve otherwise. A gradient-dyed yarn is much more straightforward to produce from dyeing a sock blank than it is to apply a gradient to a continuous 400m length of yarn, for example. Hand dyers can really go to town and have fun with the dye pots and then, as knitters, we get the inestimable joy of knitting with it, straight from the fabric. There is no winding or caking needed. 

The first thing to is to unroll the fat sausage-like sock blank and check if it is a double layer of fabric or a single layer. If it is a double layer it means that you can knit two socks at the same time (should you want to - don't worry - it isn't compulsory). If it is a single layer you will need to knit one sock at a time. Please don't try to unravel from both ends of a single layer - that way madness lies. The sock blank has a right end to pull the yarn from and a wrong end - it will quickly become apparent when you give an experimental tug and unravel a metre or two.

If you do have a double stranded sock blank and you want to knit with just one strand at once you will need to come up with a solution for dealing with the other strand as you work. Either wind each strand off separately into 2 balls before you start or wind the other yarn around a bobbin (or similar) as you work. If you aren't sure, check with the dyer before buying to make sure you get a sock blank that will work for the project you have in mind.

And that's really all there is to it. Unravel the yarn for a metre or so and cast on. The yarn will have the characteristic "kinky" appearance that you get from unravelled yarn and to be honest it can take a bit of getting used to, but the fun you will have from watching the colours play before your eyes will more than make up for it.

Do I need to reskein and soak the yarn to remove the kinks?

This is a matter of personal preference. For me, I'm quite happy to knit as it is but if you know that this would drive you mad then by all means then you can wind the yarn into a skein, soak, dry and then rewind. The only time that I have done this with a sock blank is when I was knitting from a beautiful single layer of rainbow gradient yarn for my Fuss Free Festival Shawl. Because I was knitting at quite a loose gauge (on 4mm needles) the kinkiness gave an unevenness to the garter stitch fabric that I didn't really care for and it didn't fully go away after blocking. Normally when you are knitting socks, the much tighter gauge used tends to eliminate this problem and any slight unevenness in the fabric is normally undetectable after the socks have been washed and worn.

Have I tempted you? If you do decide to go ahead and try a sock blank do let me know.

PIN FOR LATER

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Yewbarrow Socks

It makes me very happy to be able to send my latest sock design out into the world today.

Yewbarrow is a fabulous, accessible mountain in Wasdale in the Lake District. Perfect for our boys when they were smaller to stretch their mountain legs and get used to steep rock scrambles and uneven terrain.

Viewed from the lakeside Yewbarrow looks formidable but once the first rocky ascent is done it is actually a pretty easy walk. Likewise these toe-up socks look complicated but the cable pattern is actually a very easy repeat to memorise.

You can purchase the pattern and find all the details on Ravelry - please use code YEWBARROW20 for a 20% discount. If you are a newsletter subscriber though please check your email for an exclusive code.

 

 

Life isn't always pretty

And sometimes, socks aren't either.  I am showing you a 'warts and all' photo today to show that sometimes socks don't always work out how you imagine. I was trying out a new way of doing an afterthought heel - the Smooth Operator heel by Susan B Anderson and I think it's safe to say that I'll be going back to my normal afterthought heel method in future.   I like the idea of adding in an extra row or two of waste yarn to give more wiggle room when picking up stitches but overall I found the heel directions as written to give a much looser heel than I normally have. So much so that the front of the sock is a little too wide too.  No matter, the joy of an afterthought heel us that you can rip it out and redo it. But I might leave this one until the end before fixing it. I'd like to compare the two heels side by side and see what makes one work for me whilst the other doesn't.  Anyway, this is such delightfully cheery yarn that I'm happy to knit on it over and over again. Bright, clear stripes never fail to make me smile. Even when the end result is a little wibbly.

And sometimes, socks aren't either.

I am showing you a 'warts and all' photo today to show that sometimes socks don't always work out how you imagine. I was trying out a new way of doing an afterthought heel - the Smooth Operator heel by Susan B Anderson and I think it's safe to say that I'll be going back to my normal afterthought heel method in future. 

I like the idea of adding in an extra row or two of waste yarn to give more wiggle room when picking up stitches but overall I found the heel directions as written to give a much looser heel than I normally have. So much so that the front of the sock is a little too wide too.

No matter, the joy of an afterthought heel us that you can rip it out and redo it. But I might leave this one until the end before fixing it. I'd like to compare the two heels side by side and see what makes one work for me whilst the other doesn't.

Anyway, this is such delightfully cheery yarn that I'm happy to knit on it over and over again. Bright, clear stripes never fail to make me smile. Even when the end result is a little wibbly.

Invest in sock blockers

They really do make a big difference to the finished look of your socks. Yes they do cost a little bit of money but compared to all the time and effort you have put into knitting them it really isn't very much. If money is tight there are some great tutorials available online to make your own.

If the socks are for you there's absolutely nothing wrong with blocking them in the time honored fashion of bunging them on your feet. But if they are for a gift or, let's face it, if you want to photograph them and Instagram the heck out of them, then sock blockers are your friend.

Whether you choose wooden or plastic or whether you make your own, the blockers allow the stitches to properly relax under just the right amount of tension. Just pop you finished socks in to soak for 20 minutes, blot them dry with a towel, slip them onto the blockers and then leave them to air dry away from direct heat.

Then you can photograph the living daylights out of them.

A cunning use for dental floss

I’ve alluded to their use before when discussing toe-up socks and heel placement but one of the things I really recommend that every sock knitting bag has neatly stashed is a little roll of dental floss. It makes the perfect lifeline especially for socks where the stitches are likely to be very small. Using thicker yarn as a lifeline can distort the stitches and thinner yarn such as laceweight may not always have the required strength needed to stand up to being your lifeline.

A small roll of dental floss is brilliantly compact - and comes with it’s own little cutter. All you need to have to hand is a tapestry needle which your bag probably already has and you are good to go. Whenever you come a tricky point in your pattern or if you feel like you just need that little bit of extra reassurance, you can just whip in alifeleine in a matter of minutes and your sock progress is safe and secure.

 

A smoother SSK

The SSK is the most commonly used left leaning decrease but some people find that it never seems to lie as neat and flat as it's right leaning counterpart, the k2tog. One way to get a neater SSK (or slip, slip, knit) is to slip the first stitch knitwise and then slip the 2nd stitch purlwise, before knitting both of the slipped stitches together as usual.

And, hey presto - a nice, flat line of SSKs. 

 

Slip as if to knit then slip as if to purl

Avoiding ladders

Stripy socks in Britsock from the Knitting Goddess

Stripy socks in Britsock from the Knitting Goddess

Sometimes, despite all of your best efforts you find yourself with little ladders forming in your sock, where the fabric stretches between the needles. Some knitters find this is a  problem for them with DPNs but less so with magic loop so it’s often a good idea to experiment with different techniques to see which works for you. It might also be worth switching between different needle types - ie between wood or metal to see if that makes a difference.

One top tip to avoid ladders is to avoid over-tightening the first stitch on the needle as this can distort the fabric and actually make the ladders worse, not better. Instead knit the first stitch on the needle normally and then pull the yarn tighter than usual when knitting the 2nd and 3rd stitches.

I am often asked “How tightly, exactly” but there’s no easy answer to that. It’s a bit like “how long is a piece of string”. In answer I usually say to pull just a little firmer than you would do normally without strangling the stitch.

Sometimes, no matter what you do you can end up with a little bit of laddering but in most cases a good wash and block will even out the fabric and it will hardly be noticeable on the finished sock. I think that sometimes certain yarns are more prone to laddering - I particularly find it with those that have a higher than 25% acrylic or non-wool content - in fact I tend to avoid bamboo based yarns for this reason.

As with so many things in knitting this is all highly personal and subjective and as ever, the advice is to find the solution which suits you best. Or just embrace the ladders - as I often say - there are no knitting police. Especially not here.



 

The secret to getting a good fitting sock

A toe-up sock (Yewbarrow coming soon) in all its glory

A toe-up sock (Yewbarrow coming soon) in all its glory

I have taught a lot of people to knit toe-up socks and one concern which comes up time and again is the issue of getting a good fit around the heel. If you are used to knitting your socks from the cuff down it can take a while to adjust to the toe-up mindset and how a heel is constructed.

When you are knitting from the cuff down you don't really need to think too hard about heel placement. You knit down the leg until it is long enough then you knit the heel and as you work your way down the foot you can slip it on as needed to check where the toe decreases start.

With toe-up socks you need to be a bit more precise about where the heel placement is and I think this is where many new toe-up knitters suffer from a lack of confidence.

What I suggest, for a standard short row heel, is to start the heel once the finished sock is the total length of your foot minus 2.5". One thing that it is important though is that when you are measuring the sock length you stretch it really quite firmly. It's no use taking the measurement on an unstretched sock as you need a degree of negative ease. No one wants a baggy heel. The fabric needs to have negative ease so it will cradle the heel and give a good fit.

The problem is that if you are unusued to knitting this way the foot looks disproportionately short and knitters lack confidence in 'going for it'. So, to achieve the the perfect heel fit try the following:

1. Try the sock on as you go.

2. Knit until the firmly stretched sock reaches a point 2.5" away from the back of your heel.

3. Put in a lifeline (just in case of freak accident)

4. Work your heel

5. Knit a few rows up the leg and then try on again

If it has all gone to pot then your lifeline is there waiting to save you but 9 times out of 10 these simple steps will work. Depending on foot anatomy you may have to adjust the crucial 2.5" measurement (if someone has a particularly high instep, for example) but this would be the case with cuff down socks as well.

As with all these sock tips do let me know if you've tried them out, and more crucially, whether they worked for you.

 

 

 

Avoid heel flap holes

Everyone likes a good sturdy heel flap and gusset but quite often there can be gaps where you pick up stitches along the heel flap. The slipped stitches provide a great line to follow when picking up the stitches but they can be a little loose. But knitting them through the back loop on the next round helps to tighten them up a treat and gives a good solid heel flap which will be hard wearing and hole free.

 

 

Happy heels

Toe-up Have Fun Socks pattern with a fish lips kiss heel

Toe-up Have Fun Socks pattern with a fish lips kiss heel

If you've followed me on social media for any length of time you will certainly know that I am a huge fan of self stripe sock yarn. Toe up socks, knitted in plain stocking stitch with a fun stripey yarn are my go to project of choice. There is something about watching the stripes neatly line up as you knit which is immensely satisfying. The problem can come at the heels though, when the extra yarn needed to cover the back of the heel can interrupt the smooth flow of stripes along the front of the sock.

Sock tip #7: to preserve your sock stripes wind off 10g sock yarn before you cast on and use this to knit the heels. 

You can of course use a contrast yarn for your heels too but if you want your heels to roughly match the rest of your sock then simply wind off 5-10g sock yarn before you cast on. Whether you are working a short row heel (such as the fish lips kiss heel) or a traditional heel flap, most heel constructions require you to work back and forth (flat). When you reach this section of the sock simply join your spare 10g sock yarn and work the heel, before re-starting with the original yarn when you come back to working in the round.

This keeps the stripe sequence consistent along the front of the sock and will bring pleasure to your stripe-loving knitterly heart.

Not all ribbing is created equal

The cuff of the Catbells sock

The cuff of the Catbells sock

When it comes to sock cuffs a bit of experimentation can often help get the perfect rubbed cuff. Obviously you need a firm cuff which isn't too loose and saggy bit it needs to stay put without cutting off your circulation.

Sock tip #6: Try a twisted rib for a better fitting cuff.

Often a ribbed cuff just calls for a K1 P1 rib but I find that can be a bit too floppy unless I go down a needle size. And let's face it, by the time I reach the cuff I usually want the darned thing off my needles as quick as possible. I prefer instead to work a twisted rib - K1tbl, P1. The twisted stitch - whilst I know isn't everyone's favourite - really does add a bit of extra firmness to the cuff whilst keeping it sufficiently stretchy.

I'm not a huge fan of ribbing at the best of times but I can usually manage an inch or two of twisted rib before dashing headlong into the cast off. I think it was Elizabeth Zimmerman who once said that you should work your ribbed sock cuff for 1.5 inches or until you are sick of ribbing. I think she had it just about right.

Try a different toe increase.

If you like toe-up socks as much as I do, why not try a different type of toe increase? Most patterns have you start with Judy's magic cast on (or similar) and then increase by working Kfb ( knit into front and back) or M1 L/R make 1 left/right.

Now I don't know about you but I'm fairly confident that no one is going to be staring at my sock toes hard enough to be able to distinguish a make 1 left from a make 1 right. Life is far too short for that.

Instead, why not try a yo increase? On your increase round work a yo in place of the standard increase - usually 1 stitch in from each side of the toe. Then on the alternating plain rounds knit that yo through the back loop.

This gives a great unidirectional increase which is neat, tidy and doesn't involve trying to work out your make 1 left from your make 1 right.

How to avoid sock "ears"

Sock toes!!

Sock toes!!

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, whether you are doing your socks toe-up or cuff down, you sometimes end up with a little 'ear' or bump of fabric on the side of the toe? Here are a few tips you could try to avoid this happening.

Sock tip #3 How to avoid little sock ears.

Cuff down socks: before you start to graft the toe slip the first stitch on needle 1 over the 2nd, and slip the last stitch on needle 1 over its neighbour. Then repeat on needle 2.

This helps to draw the sock fabric in slightly at the sides and eliminates any excess bulk.

Toe-up socks: It sounds counterintuitive but a tight cast on can make the problem worse. If you are using Judy's magic cast on it is easy to work this quite tightly and this gives the central stitches of the toe very little give - hence the fabric can bulge slightly at the sides.

1. Try casting on with a needle 1 size larger and then switching up to your normal size.

2. Try working a yarn over increase (knit the you through the back loop on the next round). This type of increase can eliminate the slight lump that a Kfb increase can cause.

3. Try increasing on the 1st round after the cast on rather than knitting 1 round plain. This can help to loosen up the cast on slightly and give the stitches a bit more room.

Why not experiment the next time you come to do a sock toe and see how you get on. Alternatively you could decide that who the heck sees your sock toes anyway and go and get some cake instead.

As I've often repeated - There are no knitting police here.

February Sock Challenge

Following on from the success of January's Brioche Challenge, February is going to be all about the socks - a subject that pleases me greatly.

Obviously we are all at different stages in our sock journey and so the type of challenge you pick is entirely up to you. As long as it involves socks or sock yarn it totally counts. Some ways that you might participate include (but are not limited to):

  • A new type of sock construction for you - toe-up if you're a cuff down devotee
  • A new type of heel/toe
  • A new technique such as cabling, lace or even (dare I say it) brioche?
  • Challenge yourself to use up a long term resident of your sock yarn stash
  • Use a new type of yarn in your socks - alpaca maybe?

The choice is yours. There is always the option to 'double dip' and join in with the Ravelry UK Sock Knitters group who have a sock KAL starting shortly. And of course, with spring not quite making its presence felt here in the Northern Hemisphere, February sees the return of last year's seasonal #knityellowsocks project- because whose day isn't cheered up by seeing a pair of sunny yellow socks?

So, in short, grab your needles, chose some yarn and get ready for a sock cast on. There will be lots of links and resources over in the Facebook Everyday Knitter group so hop on over and join us if you haven't already.