Matching Self-Patterning Socks…

I really like sock yarn, for a number of reasons.

One, it’s generally pretty affordable. A couple skeins of sock yarn isn’t going to break you.

Two, it’s an excellent choice for “souvenir yarn”, that yarn you buy because you’re visiting somewhere and you must visit the LYS (Local Yarn Store), or you won’t have any idea what the place you’re visiting is really like. You wouldn’t want to buy a “large project” amount of yarn, since you can’t easily go back to buy more (if you run out), or to return the extra skeins you buy (so you don’t run out). So, a couple of skeins of sock yarn are good for something you can knit up pretty quickly (before you forget where you got them – maybe even while you’re still on the trip!) and then you’ll have a useful souvenir of your visit.

Three, it’s usually available in some pretty interesting colorways and patterns. Now, here is where we get into a tricky part about sock yarn. I’ve used some self-patterning yarn in the past, with varying degrees of success. Here is a little project I did that I would call less than successful:

Photographing knitting projects is an art… sometimes it’s just a LIE…

I had several skeins (looks like it might have been at least 3, probably 4) of this great kind-of-ugly self-patterning sock yarn. I wasn’t knitting socks at the time, just wanted to see how it was to work in that weight and scale (smaller needles). One thing led to another, and I just started the mindless, long, long, loooong, zone-out kind of knitting. Ended up with a scarf (tie? muffler? noose?) about 6 inches wide and 7 feet long.

Sadly, the sock yarn doesn’t have enough body to make this scarf practical. It’s too narrow, and since it’s primarily stockinette, it also tends to roll itself into a seven-foot-long 2″ tube. Yes, I did work garter stitch on each edge, but it was clearly not enough to keep it from tubing itself. Most unsatisfying. What’s really incredible about this (scarf?) is that the pattern actually appears to have come out just about right so that the ends actually match. I have NO IDEA how that happened. Obviously, the pattern wasn’t meant for a scarf – it should have been knit up as socks, then it would probably look more uniform. I am seriously considering frogging the thing and actually making socks out of it. What a concept.

I am ambivalent about self-patterning yarn – when it works, it looks like you’ve really accomplished something, when all you’ve done is go round and round. No special counting, no charts, no joining, no keeping track of every row and stitch, and no massive amounts of ends to weave in. It’s ingenious – and kinda sneaky. I love the convenience, I respect the planning that goes into the making of the yarn, and there’s no way I would actually knit a pattern in socks that would require that much end-weaving-in. Or any, if I could get away with it. But I do feel just a little guilty about the whole self-patterning thing.

On the other hand – it can be pretty difficult to get TWO socks to come out THE SAME. Well, for me, anyway…

I knitted this sock.

Incidentally, knitting in the late summer at a coffeehouse with your daughter and a lovely cool cider – Priceless!

[I haven’t finished the toe yet – same issue as last pair, I’m just not confident that I have enough yarn to get all the way to the end of the second toe, so this time I’m planning to use some wildly unorthodox color for the toes. My daughter, Good Day Howard, suggests orange. I’m not sure…]

So now, I needed to find that same place in the yarn pattern to start the second sock. I determined this by closely inspecting the previous and following colors and combinations of colors at the beginning of the sock and in the remaining yarn. I noted that there were 12 distinct colors/combination changes in the pattern, and the celery appeared twice. I noted that the pattern from the top of the sock went celery-grey/celery-grey/white-pea-moss-white-celery-pea-etc., ending in white-grey/white. I looked at the yarn before the celery color at the top of the sock in the long-tail remnant and determined that it was a grey/white combination, then looked for a grey/white, then celery portion in the remaining yarn. Bingo! There it was!

Celery – grey/white, meet celery – grey/white!

Now, I thought the hard part was over. HA!

I checked and re-checked, and checked again. Once I made absolutely certain that I had the right spot to start my second sock, I moved the first one onto a piece of waste yarn (still need to pick a color and do the toe), and picked up my needle to cast on the second one. But, WAIT! Where do I start my Long Tail cast on in order to make sure the celery stripe is four rows long; not 3, not 5, but four rows long? Otherwise, the stripes will not really match, don’tcha know!?

Oh, crapski!

I do love the Long Tail cast on for socks – stretchy, simple, and with ribbing, the top just looks very pretty. But how would I know where to start the thing to match the length of that first stripe?

It took quite a while. I love Downton Abbey, but I watch it with subtitles because sometimes I need them, even though everybody is speaking English – so working out a knitting problem challenge while watching is probably not the best idea… did it anyway. I tried trial and error, which was mostly error. Time-consuming error, because casting on 64 stitches may sound fast but it really isn’t, especially if Mary or Sybil or Bates are having a difficult time of it, and you miss the dialogue and/or lose count and have to rewind, or start over, or recount. And if you do it enough times, you begin to lose your sense of humor about the whole thing.

So then I checked the Internet to see if I was missing something about figuring out how long the Long Tail should be. Huh. Nobody seems to have a very clear idea. Of course, they’re not trying to hit a particular teeny-tiny spot in the yarn (I tied a knot in it where my first stitch had to be) at the end of the 64 stitches to be cast on. Because they aren’t crazy.

Crazy? Heeeyyyy, maybe Math is the answer! I cast on 20 stitches, pinched the end (beginning?) between my fingers, pulled the stitches off, then measured the amount of yarn it took to make those 20 stitches. It was 22 inches! So I divided 22 into 20, which is .91. So that’s the ratio of stitches to inches. For me. On these particular needles. With this particular yarn. Last night.

Multiplied .91 times 64 stitches, and it would seem I needed approximately 58.24 inches of yarn to make 64 Long Tail cast on stitches. Gets a little tricky to say here: Take the 58.24 and divide by two, for 29.12 inches. I measured from the little knot to a point 29.12(ish) inches down the yarn, and made that the very starting point of my Long Tail cast on (the place between your thumb and forefinger where you first place your needle). And darned if it didn’t actually work. None too soon, either. I was out of Downton Abbey episodes.

Okay, then. Here’s the best part. If we plan this ahead of time, we won’t have to do the math or spend the evening casting on repeatedly to hit one tiny particular spot! Here’s what we’ll do: Wind the self-patterning yarn into two 50g balls. Look at the first skein of yarn, figure out where we are in the pattern – then find the corresponding spot in the second skein. Then, use whatever cast on we prefer, but somehow MARK the starting point on both pieces of yarn. On my next pair, I plan to cast on both socks immediately and set the second sock aside.

I can’t begin to express how happy this makes me…

Perhaps I will frog the weird scarf/noose thing and that will be my next pair of socks…


Socks… specifically, Toes

I don’t know about you, but my toes are not symmetrical. My feet are not shaped like most socks, or even like most sock-knitting patterns. I have a left foot, and a right foot. Like shoes. Huh.

So I was thinking the other day, why don’t socks follow the curve of my toes? Is it because then we’d have to look first before we put them on? Is it because it would mess up the evil plan of all those folks who suggest that you only buy one color of socks, so you won’t have to match them at all when you take them out of the wash? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I got to the toe section of that sock I was knitting in my head* at work last week (when things at the cafe get stressful or too hot or slammed, I imagine I’m sitting somewhere knitting; last week it was the sock). Anyway, when I was really knitting it at home (you may recall, the sock for which there was almost enough yarn in one skein – did I do a swatch I don’t remember? not likely), after I changed to the purple and charcoal yarns held together, and started the toe, I decided to do a little research on why sock toes don’t look like people toes.

One of the rules in my house has always been “There’s always money in the budget for books.” So I have a nice little library of knitting books. I didn’t look in every. single. one., but I checked a few that talk about socks. I looked at a lot of sock toes. They were all symmetrical, except for the toesies (you know, the ones like gloves for your feet). I haven’t graduated from fingerless mitts to gloves yet, and I’m certainly not ready to try that action on something as non-standard as my pinky toes.

So I sat and gazed at my feet for a while. I observed that, at least on my own feet, the big toe is reasonably straight up from the foot, while the tops of the other toes form a slanted, somewhat curved line from the little toe up to the full height (or length) of the big toe. Well, here, it’s kinda like this:

Better or worse than the real thing? You’ll never know…

Forgive the graphic – it’s a bit crude, but not as crude as actually putting a photo of my toes on the Internet. My daughter (Good Day Howard) made me promise I wouldn’t do that.

So anyway, given that description and that graphic, why would we routinely make toes that symmetrically reduce on both sides? Round toes, star toes, origami toes, wedge toes… every one I looked at did that! To my mind, that would mean there’d be a big empty space over the last couple of toes to form a lump in your shoe, or there’d be a too-tight area on the big toe – and maybe both of those things would happen. Well, I decided that this sock would be different.

Elizabeth Zimmermann (Knitting Idol) “unvented” stitches, techniques, etc., with the thought that probably many, many other knitters had come up with them before her. I’m sure that people must have made socks that follow the contour of the toes more closely. Seems to me that back in the days before pantyhose we had stockings with feet that looked more foot-like. (Yes, I do remember the days before pantyhose. Or should I say “tights” now?)

So – with my 32 stitches on each needle (I like to use the Magic Loop for socks, and anything else circular), I did a regular Classic Toe (usually: K1, ssk, knit to last 3 sts on needle, k2tog, k1), but only decreased on one side of the foot, until I was about halfway up the big toe. I also eliminated the 2nd row of plain “Knit” usually called for in the Classic Toe, to allow the decreases to be more definite and follow my own foot more closely. (I tried a couple of double decreases on one of the socks – it was too much and caused a lump, which has mellowed after washing and some vigorous tugging, but it wasn’t really necessary, so I don’t recommend it.) You might find it helpful to put a locking stitch marker on the “decrease/little toe” side, just to keep it in mind – I need that kind of reminder, myself. And PLEASE – make sure you’re not making two right socks, or two left socks. I don’t want any nasty emails. 😉

Once I was halfway up the big toe, I started doing the decreases on both sides of the foot, but alternated decrease rows with “Knit” rows only on the big toe, to allow it to decrease more gradually. I tried the sock on about a million times while knitting it, to keep it as close to the contour of my toes as possible. Last few rows, decrease on both sides, every row. Gauge how much decrease you need as you go. Good reason to knit barefoot. And if you’re knitting for someone else, how about a picture of their toes? Or, sit with them and drive them crazy trying the sock on repeatedly. Whatever they’ll put up with…

Keep going till you have only 16 stitches, 8 on each of the needles. Graft, weave in ends, and enjoy your custom socks!

And now –

Voila! Absolutely individual, custom-fit socks!

Next time, because I’ve started another pair of socks today, I’ll be exploring the joys of trying to make two socks with self-patterning yarn that actually look alike…

* Knitting in my head – I tweeted about it. I don’t think anyone saw it. Oh well. @uptownknitting

Knitting Idols

Listing “idols” can get you in trouble – not only with readers, but with yourself. Let’s just say that today, these are my top three idols in the world of Knitting, for a number of reasons.

First, the immortal and beloved Elizabeth Zimmermann, the Mother of Modern Knitting, the Goddess who came up with the Baby Surprise Jacket and the Pi Shawl, who made knitting logical and enjoyable, a veritable Julia Child of Knitting. I am in awe of her vision, her contributions to knitting, fiber, and publishing, and her empowerment of knitters, all while apparently retaining a wonderful humility. “Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.” – EZ

Second, Joan McGowan-Michael, author of Knitting Lingerie Style and contributor to My Grandmother’s Knitting, owner of White Lies Designs. Joan has done what we all want to do, and then some – she knits for a living! What could be better! She designs, she teaches, she is published – and she’s a real live person who I actually know, who comes to our Cafe with her lovely family. Her designs are lovely – feminine, flattering, scrumptious things. Okay, I’ll probably never knit myself a bra and panties (because honey, the world just isn’t ready for that), but Joan made me realize that if I want to, I can. Those, and lacy camisoles, and bed jackets, and all tailored to fit me. She understands the female body (used to design for Fredericks of Hollywood, no less), and she also understands that not all knitters look like fashion models. Go figure (ha ha). So she teaches classes in how to fit your knitting to you. Yay, Joanie!

And last, because she deserves the emphasis, I am in complete awe of the Yarn Harlot. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, big-K Knitter, blogger, author, philanthropist, and kick-ass bicyclist. She’s kept me up late at night laughing at her spot-on depictions of the knitter’s life. Her comic timing, in print no less, is impeccable. I have rationed her books, not allowing myself to buy all of them at once (the last will arrive sometime this week – joy tinged with anxiety). The Blog is like going to a knitting group and having wine and laughs and empathy with oh, hundreds of people all over the world. I even love her Tweets. I was disappointed when I found she isn’t actually on Facebook – yet – but kind of glad because really, how many hours can she have available for that?

Recently Steph (may I call her Steph? I feel like I may) completed a 600k bike ride (Americans, that’s about 372 miles) from Toronto to Montreal (Friends for Life Bike Rally) – to raise money to help people living with Aids/HIV. She and her team did a phenomenal job of raising donations, and Steph kept the Blog involved all through her training, falling, worrying, figuring out how to take knitting on the bike, the ride itself, and after… The Blog responded by donating beyond all expectations, and Steph raised over $52,000, her team totaling over $162,000. Wow. She also started Knitters Without Borders, which raises money for Doctors Without Borders. Knitters Without Borders has raised $1,102,556 to date, since it was started in response to the tsunami disaster in December of 2004. Wow.

She makes knitting seem not only cool, which it is, but normal, which some people might try to tell you it’s not. She validates my feeling that really, all I want to do is knit, and why is all this other stuff getting in the way – but by doing so, she makes me realize that yeah, I guess the other stuff needs to get done, too. Let’s just not go overboard with the dusting, okay?

AND – she put the greatest little sock “pattern” (instructions, really, that I can memorize and use forever) in her book, Knitting Rules. And here is my little sock:

“Little blue sock, little blue sock,…”

My little blue sock, for which there is apparently not enough yarn in this ball… Oops. Which means there’s probably not enough in the other ball for the other sock. So last night, I decided that I will make the toes a different color. I wonder if that isn’t why some socks have different colored toes, anyway… Regardless, this pair of blue/charcoal socks will have purple/charcoal toes, because they’re my socks, and as the Yarn Harlot says, “There are no knitting police”!

Do-Over, part iii


I said “Success!” not “Perfection!” Stop staring at it!

I finished it Friday evening. Knitted, grafted (after a fashion), blocked – And I can say that now, after the fear, anguish, and blind hope of this process, I truly LOVE this shawl. Before, I was ambivalent at best. Now, it’s flat killing me that we’re in the midst of a slew of triple-digit days, and wearing a shawl would absolutely out me as a crazy lady.

But I do love it – I even bought it a shawl pin! I have serious reservations about shawl pins – they look dangerous, to me – but this shawl needs and deserves one.

It’s going to be 104 degrees today. The Babe can wear it for now…

And I really couldn’t wait to blog about it, but that’s something you’ll notice – I won’t be blogging on the weekends. I am a very lucky woman – I “work” just two days a week. I am the Toast Whisperer at our cafe. This means that I, yes, make toast. I make really beautiful toast. And fill creamers. And set up sides of applesauce, salsa, sour cream, etc., etc. And make coffee. And open champagne (this is a lovely place to have a mimosa and while away your morning. I assume.). And get buckets of ice. And clean up spills. Well, you get the picture: I’m an indispensable part of the team!

We call Saturday “Family Fun Day” (thanks, FlyLady! more about her in a later post…). Sunday is sometimes “Family Fun Day, Part Deux”. Sometimes it’s just not. But it really is a great thing to have a family business, most of the time.

But I’ll admit, sometimes, when I’m there, I am knitting in my head. Lately, it’s been a sock. This sock:

A simple sock…

Just a simple sock. K2P2 rib, flap heel. 32″ 2.75 addi Turbo Lace circular (heaven!). Making good headway – more about it in the next post… when I will tell you about my knitting idols…

Do-Over, part ii

One little snip – then it was time to pull out, oh, eight or nine repeats of the edging – and, of course, the bind off, and the ends that were so beautifully woven in. And Fray-checked. And all of this would have to be accomplished without actual coffee, just a lovely organic green tea… Because I am still in that never-ending quest for better health and a slimmer body, sounder sleep, etc., etc.

Almost instantly, instead of two loose ends, I had at least four. And they weren’t where I expected them to be. And two of the pieces were nicely unraveling but didn’t have ends. I did not panic. Apparently, however, I do not possess a poker face, so my daughter Tracy had plenty to worry about, as every thought I had was graphically displayed. Calmly (ha!) I continued to pick at the bind off, finding that, oh yeah, the yarn (Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift) tends to, uh, pull apart when you pull on it, and, oh yeah, of course it’s charcoal, so I can’t really see where it goes or which way to pull…

One little snip, that’s all it was.

One little snip…

Discretion (and an appointment for lunch) demanded that I set it aside to be addressed later. I laid it gently back in the bag, put away the sharp little scissors, and promised it and myself that I wouldn’t forget to come back to it, intentionally or otherwise.


Later that same day (I’m becoming much better about the procrastination thing), I cleared off the dining table at home and started anew. It took an episode of The Big Bang and all of a pretty bad indie movie, a little bit of the ***mpics, plus two shows on the DIY network, none of which really had my attention.

Seriously, are you sure the bind-off looked that bad?

Perseverance. Just like knitting, which happens one stitch at a time, again and again, to produce something wonderful, picking out has to happen again and again, and frickin’ carefully, to unproduce something not-as-wonderful. 

Success? – I mean, Success!

Looking reasonably good!

There seems to be just one end on each section! Yay! A place of calm and rational thought!


Now, having actually figured out where I am in the edging pattern, and finding (after some fiddling and ripping back a few more repeats) what direction the needle needs to be pointing (okay, I’m a little-k knitter, not a big-K Knitter just yet) – I can actually re-knit this wedge of edging (a Barbara Walker pattern, btw, which I got from E. Zimmermann’s “Knitter’s Almanac”) – and by the time I have filled in the wedge, which I think I will make a little fuller this time so it kind of ruffles, I will also learn how to GRAFT the ending to the beginning. The whole idea of grafting makes me want to cry, but it’s time to put on the big-K pants and start learning stuff like grafting and short rows and Fair Isle. Well, maybe not Fair Isle, but finishing that Noro entrelac scarf should be on the list, too… Hey, if I can figure out how to put pictures in this post, I can do ANYthing!

Wait! I’m not ready!

I guess I can’t call a do-over on a blog post when it’s already up… But let’s just say this is my toe in the water.

I’m in the midst of a do-over on the shawl I’m knitting. It was done. It was blocked. All the ends were beautifully woven in, absolutely invisibly. But I just didn’t feel good about it.

The edging was beautiful. And endlessly, interminably, mind-numbingly dull – until the end, when I had to figure out how to join it to the beginning. I was so sick of the whole thing that I just did a three needle bind off and said to myself, “No one will notice…”  WRONG. Not only was it totally noticeable, but I did it on the right side, which is to say it was the wrong side to do it on, because there was this nice straight un-stretchy bind-off on the prettier side of the shawl. Blocking just made it more obvious. But I pressed on, weaving in the ends, hoping that the beauty of the wool and the edging and the rest of the knitting would overcome the glaring strangeness at the bottom point of the triangle. Yes, the mess would be sitting right on my butt. Not usually where I want to draw attention.

I put the shawl in my bag to take to coffee with my daughter. I also put in my sharpest little scissors, because I knew in my heart what was going to happen.

I pulled the shawl out of the bag, there on the patio of the coffee house where we meet each Wednesday morning. I flourished it, I waved it around, I watched her face…

She saw it immediately. And I knew what I had to do. Out came the sharp little scissors, I held my breath, snipped one stitch, and descended into madness.

to be continued…