I make both hand cranked socks and hand knit socks and I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s nice about socks. Many (perhaps most) people wear socks on a daily basis, so that makes them one of the most wearable items you can knit. When knitting socks on my antique reproduction sock machine or by hand, I feel connected with the past. Machine made socks are relatively new, hand made socks have been around at least since the Egyptians in 1000-1400AD.
I like the fact that there are so many choices when making a sock: what type of needles you use, whether you start at the toe or the cuff or somewhere in between, how you shape the toe and heel area, what kind of patterning you use. The possibilities are endless! If you are in the Santa Cruz, CA, area, and you want some motivation to try different kinds of socks, I’ll be hosting a monthly sock club at Yarn Shop Santa Cruz on the first Sunday of every month. Call the shop for details and to register!
Once you have a pattern, especially a “vanilla” sock pattern, that you like, it’s easy to memorize the steps involved. (A “vanilla” sock is one with no special patterning.) For a cuff down sock, just know how many to cast on and how many stitches to start with to turn the heel, and the rest pretty much takes care of itself! Make the first sock to your liking lengthwise and carry it around to compare to the second sock as you make it!
My biggest tip: always start the second sock right away! It’s easy to get “second sock syndrome” where your first sock never gets it’s mate, but if you’ve got it cast on, usually, it gets done!
Creating a pattern is a many step process. I’ve recently been playing with the project management tool Trello and setting up a master list of all the steps it takes to get a pattern from concept to publication. I created 17 items that need to be to be completed for test knitting alone!
This post is step 7 or so: announcing the test knit on my blog. So, on that note, I would like to show you the Vedru Shawl.
Vedru is a classic top down crescent shawl design perfect for using a special collection of mini-skeins. There are no complex stitches or purling in this lovely, peaceful garter stitch lace knit. The design works well with solid yarns, tonal yarns, or yarns with subtle variegation. The pattern includes directions for two sizes with six or eight stripes. All directions are written.
Like many knitters, I often have several projects going on at once. I always have a dishcloth going that I keep in my car for emergency knitting. I usually have a sock project that I take with me on trips. I have whatever I’m currently designing in another project bag. I usually have some project (often a garment) that was designed by someone else that I’m working on. And I often have some comfort knitting.
What is comfort knitting? For me, it’s a project that is easy but pleasant in pattern, soothing to work because it’s simple enough that I don’t have to think, and the end result is going to be enjoyable. Right now, that project is the Hue Shift Afghan from Knit Picks. I’m calling mine the Love Still Wins Afghan. In the end it will be 100 mitered squares in all the combinations of ten rainbow hues. Once you do the initial cast on count to establish a square, the rest comes pretty easily. The alternating colors and ever shorter rows make each square quite satisfying to finish.
So far I’ve made two sets of mitts on my circular sock machine and they are quickly becoming my favorite project. There are no heels to turn and they are smaller than a sock so there is less cranking. I make a hole for the thumb using this technique and do a bit of hand work to finish them with a hand knit thumb which is a comfortable thing for me to do as a hand knitter. They have also taught me a lot about using my ribber.
You can take a look at the checklist I developed to make these mitts. I’ve been using checklists like this for my projects because they help me remember to do all the steps for both items in a pair, and if I’m pulled away from the machine by family needs, I know where I am when I can return.
Since the mitts are ribbed from top to bottom and require starting with the ribber and then changing to less ribber needles and then back to more ribber needles, I had to really get more comfortable with my ribber. In no particular order, here are some things that helped me:
Slow down! Stockinette on all cylinder needles pretty much behaves itself at all speeds as long as your tension is right and the yarn is feeding correctly. At least on my machine, when the ribber and cylinder needles start working together, I need to slow down so the yarn feeds back and forth between those needles evenly.
Watch the first round or two carefully after switching needle formations. In addition to going more slowly, I carefully watched each needle close around the yarn after putting in the new needles. Although I carefully check the latches to make sure they are open, by watching each needle, I can make sure each one is going to do its job and I didn’t accidentally brush a latch closed somewhere.
Learn to do the needle transfers from cylinder to ribber as shown here. At first I was using a pick tool to move the stitches and it stretches them out just enough that they were more prone to dropping. This method leaves the stitch tight on the new needle.
Watch the latches carefully when switching to and from waste yarn. The other place I would drop stitches was when moving between waste yarn and project yarn because the knot would get in the way of a needle latch or the long tail pulled into the cylinder would change the angle of the yarn. So I’ve learned to watch those areas carefully and help the yarn into a latch if it misses.
(Some of the links in this post are to Ravelry forums. If you are working with a circular sock machine, there are several friendly and helpful groups on Ravelry– and joining Ravelry is free!)
Last weekend I taught a class on learning to knit socks. One of the things I love about socks is how they are so easy to customize and that even a plain sock can be interesting to knit. I gave my students a list of favorite sock knitting books, so I thought I would share them here as will with some additional annotations.
(Note: all links are affiliate links and if you purchase the book through that link, I’ll get a few cents at no extra cost to you!)
This is not strictly a sock book but rather a book of humor and recipes for knitting a variety of items including a great chapter on knitting basic top down socks. What I love about it is the conversational style that Stephanie uses to describe the process of making a sock and how she shows that you can’t really do it too wrong. I’ve tried to model my class a bit after her style– that socks are something that can make sense and everyone can do it!
This book is sort of the opposite in some ways to the previous book. It’s a very detailed and precise explanation of exactly how to make a perfect fitting sock with tables and charts for knitting both top down and bottom up socks with measurements and stitch counts ready for you to plug into a master pattern based on your gauge. It includes some variations on heels, toes, and leg styles and has extensive information about how to make a sock for all kinds of special fitting situations. Kate has a very scientific approach to sock making.
This book is a compendium of a wide variety of heels and toes and construction methods. It contains a collection of charts with numbers for different sock sizes from children to adults in a standard sock gauge. You can mix and match your favorite heels and toes with the standardized numbers included. It also information to help you decide which methods to use based on the shape of your foot.
Similar to The Sock Knitter’s Workshop, Lara’s book describes a wide variety of toe and heel variations, including some that are not part of the book above. Lara’s book does not give as much information about sizing and construction, but is a great resource for exploring new methods.
This week, I released a free pattern for a very simple mug rug— a square coaster to go under your tea or coffee mug. This pattern was designed for beginning knitters as a first project to learn the knit and purl stitch and make a useful object at the same time, but it’s also a great quick knit for more experienced knitters for gifts or craft fairs.
I’ve been enjoying experimenting with slip stitch knitting, which I find a very approachable and relaxing way to do colorwork.
I first read about slip stitch knitting in A Treasury of Knitting Patterns and A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns. Many of the patterns are mosaic knitting which forms a pattern of knit stitches on the outside of the garment and all the slipped stitches are on the back of the work. My first real exposure to actually trying slip stitch colorwork was in a workshop by Patty Lyons at the 2015 Knit and Crochet show.
Many slipped stitched patterns, like the common linen stitch, use a single slipped stitch with the yarn in front to make a textured fabric. This fabric is fairly inelastic and dense. Although this sample is in a solid yarn, linen stitch does some amazing things to break up variegated yarn.
Mosaic knitting and some other slipped stitch patterns use slipped stitches to somewhat emulate the look of fair isle knitting, where all the yarn floats across the slipped stitches are on the back of the work, so all you see is the knits.
My favorite slipped stitch patterns are those that use the yarn floats on the front of the work as a design element. I love the way those yarn floats are raised slightly from the rest of the knitting and how you can stagger them to create an effect, like in this swatch from my free pattern, the Aurora Cowl.
My current favorite resource for slipped stitch knitting is The Art of Slip Stitch Knitting. This book explores several different styles of slip stitch knitting and has projects to go with each one. It’s part designer’s guide to using the stitches, part stitch dictionary, and part pattern book.
(Note: Links to Amazon are affiliate links, I’ll get a few cents if you purchase through those links.)
I recently purchased some curved DPNs and for my first project I made a couple of pairs of fingerless mitts from a pattern by Clara Parkes in her Craftsy class, Stashbusting (it appears to be very similar to this pattern on Ravelry). I purchased the Neko Strickespiel curved DPNs from Candra’s Yarn Paradise on Etsy.
Basically, they are a set of three bent DPNs made from a slightly flexible plastic. Each of two needles has about half the stitches on it and you curve the waiting stitches around one needle while you push together the ready to work stitches on the other needle so that you have the triangle shape you would get working with three traditional, straight DPNs.
Advantages: I liked working with them because there are only two needle changes per round, similar to working with a magic loop, but without the extra cables hanging out. I like using magic loop, but with small objects like mitts or socks I often feel like I have more needles and cables than yarn in action! I felt like my rounds went faster than when I use a regular DPN set or magic loop. There were less pointy things sticking out than with straight DPNs, which made working on a small object seem easier.
Disadvantages: The needles have some gaps on the small end of sizes, missing some of the US sizes that are listed in patterns. I also had trouble with laddering where the two needles met in my work. I don’t usually have trouble with laddering on straight DPNs. Because of their shape, the trick of moving the location of your needles as you work was not easy to do. I found that if I tugged on both the first and second stitch each time I rotated to a new needle, the laddering disappeared for me.
Tricky bits: I watched this video on the Neko page to help me figure out how to hold the needles. With straight DPNs, I usually rotate the needle I’m working stitches off of to be on top of the other needles with a little under/over flip of orientation as I start each needle. With the Neko’s, I found that working one needle on top of the other two ends and one needle under the other two ends was the best strategy for fast changes between needles.
The Aurora Cowl was published today in the free online magazine Knotions. Aurora is a luxuriously soft cowl made with Malabrigo Mora, a 100% silk fingering weight yarn. It’s also a surprisingly simply knit. An easy to follow slipped stitch pattern in a color changing yarn across a solid background creates the impression of of arcs of color reminiscent of the Northern Lights.
Slip stitch patterns are one of the simplest forms of colorwork to learn because in each row or round, the knitter only works with one color of yarn. As you can see, though, you can create surprisingly complex patterns. Both written and charted instructions are available for the Aurora Cowl. This pattern is great for combining a solid yarn with a fast or slow color changing yarn.
The sample uses two skeins of Malabrigo Yarn Mora, one each in Black and Zarzamora.
First Adventures with a Hand Crank Circular Sock Machine
As a combination Christmas/birthday present last week, my dear mother in law gave me an Erlbacher Gearhart Circular Sock Machine. My machine is a Speedster, named so because it has a 1:1 gear ratio– one turn of the handle equals one turn of the carriage.
I started my adventures setting up the machine and doing lots of tubes and sample heels.
This sock has ribbing on the top of the foot but is stockinette on the sole and it’s fully ribbed around the leg. It fits really well and is surprisingly comfortable in a shoe. I made these just a tad short. You can see more details on my Ravelry project page.
My third pair of socks allowed me to try the final techniques I was interested in learning right away– toe up socks and mock rib stitch. I used this video and this video to make the toe and then used the heel I’ve been using for the other projects. I used this video to make the mock rib and this video to finish the hem.
These socks fit well in the foot (I finally found my magic number for rounds in the foot) and the mock rib held the socks up surprisingly well. You can see my recipe for this sock on my Ravelry project page.
Learning to use a circular sock machine requires some detective work. The manual that came with the machine has lots of the basics, but some things are better explained in the company’s videos and in videos by other “crankers”. I found some great support in the Erlbacher Gearhart Ravelry Group, which is quite active, and also in the Circular Sock Machine Knitters 2.0 Facebook group. I also started a Google Doc where I’ve been collecting names of methods with informational links as well hints and tips that seem useful. There are a few things that I’ve read about but haven’t found a good explanation for yet. You can see that document in view only format here— I’ll be adding to it and reorganizing it as I continue to learn.