Sunday, February 21, 2010

Socks - Top Down vs. Toe Up

The results of last week's poll are:
44% use DPNs, 44% prefer 2 circs, and a lonely 11% responded with Magic Loop! i must confess myself surprised by the results.

A note on the following article: the toe up method that i use is not... normal. Most toe up socks have short-row toes and heels, which i'll talk about later, but the pictured example has a "star" or "Turkish" toe and heel.

Let's talk about the more common method of construction first: top down. A top down sock is cast on at the upper edge, the cuff and leg are then constructed, followed by a heel flap, a heel turn and a gusset, and finished with a foot and a toe.

The following sock is top down, with a flap-and-gusset heel, and a wedge toe finished in Kitchener.

The pros: Top down patterns are more readily available, the sock is constructed more logically, and it's easy to try on as You go (You'll know within inches if Your cuff will fit, and You can put it on to check foot length)

The cons: Heel turns can be mystifying and heel flaps maddening to some. Alternative heels are available, such as short-row and afterthought, but You may have to adapt Your pattern. Yardage needed is difficult to determine as You won't know You don't have enough yarn until You run out half-way down the foot of Your second sock, and unless You want a lumpy toe (i learned to accept this a long time ago) You must do Kitchener Stitch to close the toe.

An excellent book on top down socks is Cookie A's Sock Innovation. The example sock was knitted with Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock using the Twists and Turns sock pattern in Shannon Okey's How to Knit in the Woods.

Toe up socks begin with either a short-row toe or only a few stitches worked circularly outward, followed by the foot and short-row or Turkish heel, then leg and cuff.

The following sock is toe up using Cat Bordhi's Personal Footprint method, with a Turkish toe and heel.

The pros: No Kitchener stitch is needed, if You want to economize yarn You can divide Your skein in half then knit each cuff until You run out of yarn and, along those lines, if You get tired of knitting or are doing a rush job, You can stop sooner than the pattern suggests.

The cons: Toe up socks are harder to fit as You go and many people find the short-rows required for toe and heel confusing (some patterns do have a gusset and heel flap but those patterns are few and far between), and it is imperative to work a stretchy bind off if You want to be able to wear the socks.

A good book for learning toe up socks is Socks from the Toe Up by Wendy D Johnson. The pattern for the photographed sock is Bumpy Socks from Cat Bordhi's Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters with Colinette Jitterbug.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Socks - DPNs vs. 2 Circs

Knitted socks have been around for a long time. While non-knitters and even some in the knitting community don't understand the purpose of labouring long hours to make something that can be purchased in packs of 5 for 2 dollars, those of us who have tried it know better. It's not about economy of time or money - it's about enjoyment... the beautiful yarns, the delicious patterns, and the way they just feel better on Your feet.

While there are many techniques employed in making socks, i'll focus on just two today. i'm a 2 circs girl, but i'll try to be objective. :)

Let's start with DPNs. Double pointed needles are the traditional way to go. Using 4 or 5 long "toothpicks", one travels in a triangle (or square) around the outside of the sock using the 4th (or 5th) "free" needle to knit with.

Pros include: Most sock patterns are written for DPNs and will detail set-up (so many stitches on each needle, chart breaks, and so on). i would also guess (but i'm putting up a poll to confirm, so please vote!) that there are more sock knitters out there who use DPNS, so if You get into trouble it may be easier to find someone who can help You. And knitting with a bristling wreath may allow You to knit in peace. ;)

Cons are: If You're not paying attention, it is unhappily easy to pull out a needle instead of using Your free one, thereby forcing You to rescue a lot of tiny loose stitches. Along the same lines, if You toss the sock haphazardly into Your knitting bag You are liable to lose a needle (there are, at least, devices made for safe containment during transit). Also, the more needles that are involved in a project, the more places You can have ladders, pesky spaces created by the gap where two needles join.

Star-student Jessie (who learned to knit at January's LTK class) demonstrates how to knit socks on double points at our class Saturday:

When using 2 circs, the stitches are evenly divided between two circular needles - You then knit with one set of needles at a time.

Pros: With only two points of join and the fact that the cable is thinner than the actual needle (enabling You to pull needle-transition stitches tighter) there is less likelihood of developing ladders. The length of the cable also means that Your stitches are more likely to stay put - You can tie the cord in a knot, if it makes You feel safer. And finally, since everything is hooked together You won't drop a needle, making it easier to knit while waiting in line or sitting somewhere You don't want to lose a needle, like an airplane or a movie theatre.

Cons, however, are: Since most sock patterns are written for double points, You will likely have to translate Your pattern from a number designed to be divided by 3 to one divided by 2. It is possible as well to knit with the wrong needle, producing one free circular and a convoluted S-twist. And circular needles themselves are more expensive, especially when You have to buy 2 sets (this is particularly bad if You only knit socks with needles that size - otherwise You can get 2 different lengths and use them for other projects).

Another recent convert to sock knitting works with 2 circs:

Next week, we'll discuss top-down vs. toe-up!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, All!

Love - Joy, Colleen, Sasha, and Sarah Jo!

Watch for details on our upcoming sale, and in the meantime, enjoy this pattern!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Spinning Their Wheels

Over the weekend, Cecilia Jaffe from the local spinning guild taught a 2 day workshop at the store on her craft.

The parts of the wheel were discussed

As was proper care. A "thirsty" wheel will squeak and split, so everyone got down to oil their wheels.

Since feeding the fiber while treadling is akin to rubbing Your stomach while patting Your head, treadling was practiced first.

Then the fiber was "attenuated" to make the spinning easier, and to produce a more even yarn.

The attenuated fluff was loosely twirled into "bird's nests"

Once the wheels' needs had been taken care of and the desires of the fiber listened to, the spinning began. Cecilia demonstrated first, to make it look easy

Then everyone else tried.

It was swiftly found to produce an intense desire for alcoholic beverages - cookies and books on spinning were an inadequate substitute.

Day 2 began with plying the yarn, then putting it in to soak.

Wet sheep smells almost as bad as wet dog,

And tends to get handled gingerly.

Coats were donned and everyone tromped outside. Cecilia demonstrated

Then everyone else gave it a go. (Yes, she is slapping a wet hank of yarn against a down-spout) This is an important step because, besides removing excess moisture, it also evens out the twist.

Cindy contemplated her attack

But Fawn dove in energetically.

The completed yarn was hung to dry while the class reviewed the more troublesome topics.

At times it was frustrating, and while these students may be producing "art yarn" for awhile, they've already boldly taken the first step toward becoming Spinners.