my first afterthought heel

I’ve wanted to try knitting an “afterthought heel” ever since I first heard of this intriguingly named construction technique. In essence, socks are long tubes of plain knitting, broken up by one bit in the middle which requires concentration and skill. Don’t get me wrong, I love heels, I think they’re all sorts of magic and I love trying out different ways of doing them, but the truth is, they can be fiddly, they require that you look at your knitting and concentrate, and somehow the need to knit them usually seems to appear at the most inconvenient time, like just when you’ve plonked yourself down in front of the latest episode of your favourite tv show and you just want some plain mindless knitting.

Well, what if you could move that fiddly bit to whenever it suits you best, rather than interrupting your smooth knitting when the sock tells you to? That’s exactly what an afterthought heel does. It lets you put in a sort of placeholder (a line of waste yarn) in the sock, where the heel will go, and go on with knitting your plain tube. You can return to your heel and complete it whenever you feel like it. The added bonus is that it helps maintain even stripes on striped socks.

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So, after years of knowing all this in theory, I finally tried it out in practice last week, and I’m pleased to report it was simple as pie and worked just as I had imagined it. Yay for afterthought heels!

As for the rest of this project, I’ll show and tell you more when I’ve finished the second sock. No one has yet invented a magic cure for Second Sock Syndrome, unfortunately… ;)

the trouble with sock sizing

Here I am, sitting with my two favourite books on socks, both informative, educational, detailed, well thought-through. And yet, they are both utterly useless in helping me out of my conundrum. You see, I’m knitting socks for my mum, whose foot size is totally different from any of the feet I have close to me.

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And yet, the thorough introductory sections and the 38 patterns included in these two books all say the same: Work even until the foot is approximately xy cm shorter than the desired finished length. Assuming, of course, that you have the foot at hand and can therefore easily slip the sock-in-progress on and check them against your desired finished length. So what if you don’t?

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Is there a better answer than the only one that comes to mind now, which is try to eyeball it and keep your fingers crossed until December, when I plan to hand over loads of socks to loads of family members (as a surprise), all with vastly different foot sizes? Is there an obvious thing I’m missing? Or a magical chart somewhere on the internets that will tell me everything I need to know, if only I’d be bothered enough to google for two minutes? Help!

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p.s. This is another pair of plain vanilla socks knit from the toe up, in the magnificent
Ancient Threads Sockittome Select, one of my all time favourite sock yarns.

the socks that started it all

Here they are, the socks that reminded me that knitting socks is easy and that I love it.

For this first pair, I kept it simple and easy – the so called “plain vanilla” socks: all stockinette, no special features, letting the yarn tell its own story. For these kinds of socks I usually turn to Wendy Johnson’s Socks from the Toe Up book, which helped me make my first steps in sock-knitting and remains a trusted resource. While I have nothing against cuff-down socks, toe-up knitting can be really handy in certain situations, for example when you’re not sure how much yarn you will have exactly. You get the non-negotiable part of the socks (i.e. the length of the foot) knit first, and then for the cuff you can just keep knitting until you run out of yarn.

I really love that Wendy presents a number of different toe and heel techniques, and these kinds of simple socks are perfect for experimenting and finding your preferred option. For these socks I went with the short-row heel, which I think of as “the standard” heel type. The finished heel was fine, but I did find the process rather hard on the fingers (lots of tight wraps to pick up and knit), so it’s not my favourite heel type.

Further experiments in sock construction techniques to come…

a could-be-better pair of socks

I’ve been loving the Paraphernalia sock design for a very very long time. Just simple enough, with a perfect measure of interest and scrunchiness, it comes as close to sock design perfection as I can imagine. So when my Mum’s beloved first pair started falling apart, I jumped at the opportunity to finally knit this perfect design.

Well, I must report a bit sadly that I soon learned the difference between design perfection and pattern perfection. Now don’t get me wrong, the pattern is not bad. It gets you more or less what you want in the end, but, it could be better. It is written in a somewhat confusing manner, primarily because the author assumes you will be knitting on DPNs. Now, I know this is sometimes the case with sock patterns, and I have knitted from sock patterns written in such a way before, finding it quite easy to adjust them to my preferred sock technique, magic loop (I have no bias towards one or the other technique in general, and often prefer using DPNs on small circumferences, but for socks, after trying both, I just enjoy magic loop much more for some reason).

In this case it was not easy to adjust at all. I kept getting more and more confused, and this led to a very obvious mistake, whereby on one sock the cable is centered and on the other it sits to the side (as it is supposed to be) – look just above the toe section on the photo and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The worst part is, I noticed this mistake already when I was knitting the first sock, but for the life of me couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong or how I could adjust the second sock to fix it. So I was a bit sad, not so much for my own pair, but for the pattern itself. It could have been better. I might knit it again, as I still love love love the design, but I would rewrite the pattern for myself first.

As for the socks themselves, they could have been better too. I could have put in much more time to try to fix the mistake. I could have chosen a less variegated yarn to show off the cabling better. But I won’t cry over it too much. From the point of the knitting perfectionist in me, they could have been better. From the point of the gift-giver, they will be worn and loved, and that’s all that matters.

slipper socks

Happy 2013! Are you enjoying it so far? :) Mine has been off to a rather bumpy start (including literally falling on my ass and getting some pretty bad bruising), but I’m not giving up my optimism! But before we lift off with 2013, I still need to show you some leftover Xmas knits.

For a while now, I’ve been dreaming of finding the perfect pattern for slipper socks. I come from a culture which firmly believes that walking around the house only in your socks leads to all sorts of horrible diseases (and as for completely bare feet, well, it is likely that even thinking of doing that will give you life-threatening pneumonia). Of course, nobody particularly likes searching for their slippers every time they need to get off the couch for a moment or two, especially since slippers’ favourite passtime is sneaking off under the couch and hiding from you, preferably each one separately. (Missing socks? They’ve got nothing on slippers, I tell you! Slippers pull that shit off about 8 times a day.)

Now this is where slipper socks come in. They’re perfect: they stay on your feet just like socks, the whole time, so you can’t lose them, ever, and yet no one can complain that you’re not wearing your slippers, ever. Not to mention how warm and cozy they keep your feet at the same time…

When I was a kid, my whole family used to persistently harass my grandma to knit us slipper socks. When they were delivered, we all wore them with fervour and then proceeded to immediately start harassing her for a new pair (the old one would be worn out by the time she was finished knitting the new one). But grandma stopped knitting a long time ago, and is no longer with us. This makes me the one and only resident family knitter. And I’ve been dreaming of becoming the provider of the same simple joy of slipper socks as my grandma used to be.

The Colour Block Slipper Socks by Jessica Biscoe were a good start in my search for the perfect pattern. (You’ll be seeing some more candidates in the coming months.) Knit in aran weight, these slipper socks are quick, thick and snuggly. And I suspect this might serve as a great blank-canvas pattern as well: simply use a different cable (already on this first version I chose to mirror the cable on the second sock to make them symmetrical), play with colours, alter the length of the sock… The variations are endless! The pattern is simple and well written and might be a good beginner sock.

And my sister was very happy with them! Now the harassing by other family members can start… :)

Do you have any slipper sock patterns that you love? I’d love to give them a try!

gray is all around me

I’m busy busy busy with my Xmas knitting, and I’m enjoying it too! This evening I decided to take a break from life to do things that refill my batteries instead, and used the time gained to photograph some of the things I have in progress (albeit in crappy artificial light). I was a bit surprised to discover that all of them contained at least a little bit of gray! It seems to be my colour of choice for knits this season! Here’s the proof…

You’ve already seen Millwater (which, in the meantime, has been finished). Then there’s another completely gray item.

And after that there’s all sorts of gray combos.

Medium gray and dark red.

Baby gray and baby yellow.

Dark grey and dark purple.

You’re getting detail shots only on purpose. All of these are gifts, so more to be revealed in a few weeks… But considering the amount of gits I’m knitting, this is going to be one busy blog after xmas day!

Have you noticed any patterns in your colour choices this season?

studying is great for knitting

This weekend, while I was preparing for my big exam, I remembered a universal truth from my student days: studying is great for knitting. That is, whenever I’ve had to close myself off in my room for a whole weekend and cram cram cram, my knitting has benefited greatly. Because breaks are necessary. Both to get some energy and to reward yourself for all the hard work you’re doing. And when you don’t want to get out of your pyjamas for the break, or lose too much time on it, knitting is ideal. And 7 or 8 breaks of 20 minutes in a day ends up resulting in A LOT of knitting.

So here’s what I have to show for this past weekend of cramming. One of the socks had been finished since August, the other had been languishing ever since. Well, not any more!

p.s. Before I started knitting, in those breaks I would usually end up cleaning. The current arrangement is highly preferable, I think you’ll agree.

WIP week: baby socks

I have a confession to make: I think I’ve become a sock addict. Ever since I finished up and sent off my Mom’s socks (which she adooores, by the way, yay!), I’ve been itching to start a new pair. I’ve been looking at patterns, scheming, dreaming… Unfortunately, those socks also convinced me that the only way to go is to knit socks with Proper Sock Yarn, preferably one of those wonderfully soft yet sturdy wool-nylon blends. Why unfortunately? Well, because I have no such yarn in my stash, nor easily available in my surroundings. At least to my knowledge.

So I am appealing to the European sock knitters out there: please tell me, which sock yarns do you use? When I think of sock yarn, most things that come to mind are US-based, and quite difficult to access from Belgium. Can you recommend some UK or European-based brands? And secondly, where do you get them? I am notoriously bad with online shopping (I confine it to Amazon and Etsy – yes I am still living in the dark ages), and I know absolutely nothing about buying yarn online. Please enlighten me with your links!

In the meantime, I’ll get whatever quantum of solace I can find. For example, these baby socks in the leftovers of Malabrigo Sock from my Whippoorwill. Just holding the 2mm needles in my hands again made me all giddy! The only problem with newborn socks is – they’ll be done in no time at all… So hurry up with your advice, please! :)

FO Monday: I love these socks!

Last week, I finally forced myself to part with my most recently completed pair of socks. They were knit up for my mom, as a birthday gift. In that capacity they are more than a month late, but I am hoping that their awesomeness in all other capacities will make up for that little detail…

I loosely based the socks on Wendy Johnson’s “Lace and Cable Socks“. And by loosely based I mean: I completely left out the lace (probably the key element of the design), but otherwise used the toe-up construction, the stitch-counts, and the cables.

The yarn I used was a proper sock yarn, i.e. a yarn that was conceived of and created specifically for the purpose of making socks, as opposed to just any fingering weight yarn. It was the first time I did this, and I can tell you the difference is palpable. Literally. These are just yummy, scrumptious, lovely, squishy, and any other such yarny adjective you can think of, while at the same time having perfect stitch definition and an unmistakeable feeling that they are going to last.

I intended to keep knitting these until I ran out of yarn, but at some point they just felt long enough, so I left it at that. I knit the last five rounds of ribbing and the bind-off with yarn held together with elastic thread, because I was scared the socks would be falling down. I probably should have done it on the whole ribbing, but I didn’t think of it on time.

And the final result, my friends? Well, if you ask me, it’s just the perfect socks! My mom is seriously lucky that her feet are several sizes larger than mine, otherwise I really don’t know how I would have parted with these… I want more of this yarn and I want to knit more plain stockinette socks with it, and I want winter to come just so I can snuggle up with them on my feet and a nice cup of tea and a book. When I look at them and put them on, I can think of nothing but coziness, coziness, coziness…

I love these socks!

Cookie A rocks my world

So, the finished socks. You know, the ones I finished out of order (fourth before third) cause they were so much freakin’ fun to knit. You wanna see them?

Frankly, I think they’re awesome. Now, this may sound like tooting my own horn, but all the credit goes to Cookie A here. Her Sock Innovation book really just keeps thrilling me. This pattern is called Lindsay, and I made absolutely no modification to it. It was perfect as it was. And it was an total joy to knit.

You start off with a few rounds in garter stitch, and then go on to the lace pattern. I’ve found that I love lace patterns that create a sort of “ladder” effect. You know, where you repeat the same motif over and over, and it sort of stacks up. Ah, let me show you.

Now, I know you won’t believe me, but it is actually really easy to do. And that’s the best thing about it. When you get a motif which looks so lovely and complex, but is actually simple enough to memorize after a few repeats and work on almost mindlessly during knit night, then you know you got a winner.

But you know what? Despite the yummy motif, my favourite part are the soles.

I love the contrast that the stockinette creates to the lace and the garter stitch heel. It sort of pulls you in, and says “Relax. Rest from the busyness of that lace. Just come here and be still for a minute.”

And there’s garter on the other end as well, to keep those chilly toes extra warm.

All in all, this pattern was satisfying in every possible way. It was enjoyable to knit, difficult to put down, and the end result is ever so pleasing. I would highly recommend it. And it didn’t even use all that much yarn! I’d say I still have about 35% of the skein left. And that with the shopkeeper having told me that there was no way this skein would be enough for a full pair of socks…

Well it was. Enough for a pair of very awesome socks indeed. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go look up some more Cookie A patterns… ;)