Monthly Archives: April 2013

It had to be done

So, remember that time last week when I said that even though I was bored with the socks that had been on my needles since February, I was totally going to push through and finish them before starting any new pairs of socks?

Yeah.

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I was full of it.

It’s a weekend of family festivity for me, and I don’t care how many partial pairs of socks I bring with me to fit in a bit of time with. If they all end up waiting for me on Monday in the exact same state, well, that’s fine too.

Have a good weekend full of knitting – and I’ll catch you next week!

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Pattern: A Nice Ribbed Sock (on 60 sts instead of 64)
Yarn: Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks That Rock mediumweight, ‘enchanted forest’


Pattern: Jaywalker (Ravelry link)
Yarn: Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock, ‘valentine’

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For the Sock Curious

It just goes to show a person that what you’d think would be a sort of boring post about winding up sock yarn would turn into something that leads to a bunch of questions. Internet hive mind, you just keep on keeping things interesting! I had several questions last time about yarn winders and sock knitting and so forth, so here you go, knitter friends, with some answers.

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First, the yarn winding. I’ve owned my own swift and ball winder for long enough that I can’t remember how many years it’s been. A lot of yarns come in un-wound skeins (because this form tends to be easier to pack & ship, and less stressful on the yarn itself over extended periods of time), but in order to work with it more easily you need to wind it. The lowest tech version of how to wind yarn is to hold the open skein across a chair or pair of chairs and do it by hand, but the swift and ball-winder combo is much faster. (Both of these make good gift suggestions, in case you have a birthday coming up – that’s a little tip from me to you). Most local yarn shops will carry them. My ball-winder came from a Toronto shop and the wooden swift came from Knit Picks.

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Next, if you’re new to sock knitting, one of the things you’ll encounter pretty soon out of the gate is the wide variety of “sock yarn” that exists in the yarn landscape now. Most yarn shops will have a section of yarn just for “sock yarn” – yarn that has been spun finely enough that you can knit it at a fine gauge to get socks that can be worn inside regular shoes. You can knit socks from a lot of different yarn weights (Worsted weight socks are popular for quick, warm socks for winter days or to double as slippers. I probably draw the line at bulky yarn, a the upper end, and laceweight yarn at the finer end), but sock yarn, or fingering weight yarn, is intended to be knit up at a gauge of about 8 sts to the inch, or thereabouts.

Sock yarns are often pretty colourful. I like this generally, because even if you’re knitting a pretty plain sock pattern you can still keep the interest alive with some fun variegation or bright colours. You can tend to find neutral or dark colours as well, of course, but I still notice them more in the minority these days. I’m pretty okay with this, and will happily wear socks with just about any colour, but your mileage may vary. Additionally, a lot of sock yarn (though not all) will include an amount of nylon in the fiber content – perhaps 10-20% – to lend stability to the yarn when it is worn on your hard-working, constantly-moving feet. On the other hand, a lot of sock yarn (though not all) also tends to use merino wool in the superwash wool content, which is happily soft and feels ever so comfortable but is unhappily not the sturdiest of wools. So, at the end of the day take that information into consideration and do as pleases you.

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As far as sock patterns go, well, if you are new to sock knitting this is a convenient time to be so. Sock knitting exploded about five or six years ago and now there are a wealth of yarns and patterns at your disposal. A browse of sock patterns on Ravelry (I’ve even done a basic search string for you there) will put many popular patterns into your path, as will a browse of Patternfish (for sale patterns) or Knitty (for free ones).

If you’d like my personal favourites, well, I can direct you to my Weekend Socks (free pattern at Canadian Living) if you’d like a worsted weight pattern that you can work up more quickly than one on sock yarn. The two most popular socks in my own sock drawer, though, are my own Nice Ribbed Sock pattern, which is a ribbed sock pattern that uses sock yarn, and is free. It is the one I use most often because it’s just interesting enough to not make me fall asleep (because of the ribbing), but simple enough that I can do it in a dark movie theatre if I have to (because I’ve done it so many times that my fingers know what k3, p1 ribbing feels like). There was also a while there where I knitted more than a week’s worth of Jaywalker socks (Ravelry link), because I really like the way they look and feel and they play well with both solid and variegated colours of yarn. The Jaywalker pattern is free and has actually been around since well before Ravelry (though I know sometimes it feels like nothing in the knitting internet existed before Ravelry), on an online publication which is now no longer available and so is now housed there.

I also really recommend Stephanie’s book Knitting Rules. She does a chapter on the basics of all kinds of knitting things, including socks, and the Top Five lists are a scream. She explains basic sock knitting from the cuff down in a really approachable way and while her book wasn’t my first foray into sock knitting, I would absolutely say it is what made me into a Sock Knitter.

There are a lot of ways to knit socks. My preference is top/cuff-down on 4 double-pointed needles for plain socks, or Magic Loop for complex ones. You can also knit bottom/toe-up, on 2 circulars, on 5 double-pointed needles, some will even start you at the heel and have you work outwards from there. Explore and see what you like best and knit as pleases you, I say. There are lots of good yarns out there waiting to be knitted into socks, and you could be just the knitter to do it. (As with many things in knitting, though – starting is the easy part. Stopping is a whole other question.)

Have a great weekend, knitter friends!

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When a young knitter’s fancy turns to…more knitting

Lately I’ve been getting more of an impulse to knit socks. I’m chalking this up to spring, and the impulse to knit New Things That Are Also Portable. Also, I think it might have something to do with the fact that the floor space I use to practice yoga also faces my yarn stash shelf, and the cubbies that hold the sock yarn (because of course there is more than one sock yarn cubbie) are right about eye level with me when standing. And thirdly, as the winter comes to a close I’ve been noticing a bit more wearing and bits of felting on more of the socks in my sock drawer – I knit them less rapidly than I wear them, these days, and the sock drawer is always in need of new pairs to take the edge off.

I’ve still got the same pair of socks on the needles that I have had since February, though, so I’m trying not to sabotage my progress by casting on another one right away. (But Tuesday nights continue to yield a bit of knitting time while sitting in Photoshop class, so that’s helping). But since I am the sort of knitter who, some days, gets held up starting new projects by the simple act of having to wind the yarn, I decided to do my Future Sock Knitting Self a favour by winding up some new yarn to wait patiently until I get to use it.

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This morning after yoga I grabbed a couple of skeins of Socks That Rock from the stash, and then a couple of more just fell out onto the floor so I grabbed those too. I figured if they were going to put so much effort into making themselves noticeable, I might as well consider them as well. (Sometimes being me has its privileges. Like having a sock yarn stash cultivated over many years for just such moments. This is not an unenjoyable thing, I’m here to report).

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I wound up two of the skeins in the most spring-like colours in the bunch, and now will happily be able to just grab them at a moment’s notice when the new-sock-knitting moment should happen to arrive. Interestingly enough, one skein is among the newest in the stash (a Rhinebeck 2012 purchase), and the other is among the newest (purchased several years ago at Lettuce Knit in Toronto), so that’s pretty neat.

So now I just have to finish a bunch of things on the needles and then I’ll totally get to one of these. Soon, sock yarn, soon.

I hope you’re knitting something delightful this Wednesday!

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“Do I have to swatch?”

If you’re a knitter who knits sweaters or shawls, or other items intended to fit either a large portion of your body, or to be worn over a portion of your body in a very fitted manner (sweaters apply here, also knee socks or long gloves), this means you’ve encountered the directive to pay attention to gauge. Usually this means that before you start knitting the pattern, you’ll need to make a gauge swatch. Or a tension square, depending on your lingo.

Much of the time, this step can deflate some of the New Project Joy we get from sitting down with a new pattern and a (possibly large, possibly expensive) pile of yarn, possibly at the beginning of a shiny and bright day off, or at the beginning of a full hour of obligation-free time after dinner. Maybe you envision casting on the project right then and there and magically having half of the body of the sweater done before bedtime, because man, this project is going to be so awesome. And then, perhaps, you read the notation about pattern gauge or an accompanying note about the need to work a gauge swatch just to be sure, and wonder out loud, “do I have to swatch?”

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(Gauge swatches, above, from about 75% of the Urban Collection Vol 2. Some for projects still to be revealed!)

Now, this is knitting world. In knitting world, no one really has to anything. If you truly have to do something, chances are you don’t really need to ask yourself about whether you need to do it – you’ll just go ahead and do it. So it is with swatching. You might know exactly what gauge you will get with a particular combination of needles and yarn, and you can skip swatching. (So it is with me and Cascade 220 – I know that 4.5mm needles + Cascade 220 = 18 sts/4 ins, quite reliably. I’ve swatched enough times to confirm that in the past, and I feel comfortable skipping the swatch, with that knowledge in mind). On the other hand, (and more likely) you might not be entirely sure of your gauge, and in this case your swatch will do much to inform the success of your project.

The truth is, you could skip the swatching step and see how it all turns out, provided you are willing to live with the consequences – and those consequences could very well reveal themselves in the form of a sweater that does not fit you the way you intended. However, the more I knit (and design), the more I am personally in favour of swatching. You get a lot of information out of those little squares, and if you keep them around after you finish the project, you can still have access to that information later. I have started tagging my swatches with the needle size I used to work it up, and that helps me out if I want to use that same yarn again another time.

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(Swatches from my Northside Pullover, in Tanis Fiber Arts Green Label Aran, in ‘olive’.)

I have now come to look at swatches as end results in themselves. It’s okay if I don’t turn the swatch into something else later on (though you could, if you wanted – patchwork quilts out of many swatches, mini change purses out of single swatches folded over and sewn up along the sides, and so forth), because it has done its job just being a swatch. Swatches will tell you your gauge, give you a sense of how the yarn feels in your hands, how pleasurable (or not) it is to work with, how nicely (or not) a variegated colour looks in knitted fabric as compared to the skein, how well the yarn drapes (or doesn’t) when worked at that gauge, and can help you to knit both a stockinette swatch and a pattern swatch (like in the Northside pullover swatches, above). If you’ve got a pattern that tells you both a stockinette gauge and a pattern gauge, that’s something worth paying attention to.

Swatching does take up yarn, though, so there’s no way around that. Committing to swatching means being willing to buy a little bit of extra yarn for the project, or otherwise be willing to rip out the swatch to put back into the project if you haven’t got the extra to begin with. Or, you could even just buy one ball of yarn up front, swatch it up, and then go back for the project’s worth of yarn (or not) if you’ve decided you like it well enough (or not) to commit to it for a whole sweater.

Are you a swatcher? What’s something you’ve learned from a swatch lately?

Have a great weekend, knitter friends!

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Knitting saves

I’ve started my next and possibly last round of photography courses this week, and mostly in support of completing the courses required to submit for a ‘certificate’ from the photography program at the school. (I like having pieces of paper like that, plus I’ve taken enough courses by now that I’m most of the way there, so I’d like to close out the last few requirements). One of these is a course in Photoshop, about which I have heard universally mixed reviews from other people in the courses. So, I lowered my expectations accordingly, and made sure knitting was in my handbag.

Oh, knitting friends. We hit the 2 hour mark (out of 3) before even turning on the computers. It was a test of my patience, and the actual practical stuff we did (finally) learn in the end was new and useful, but man. I now have a new benchmark for what I consider a slow pace of classroom learning.

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I thought briefly that maybe it was just me, that maybe I was being overly impatient. At one point I looked around and the nice retired lady sitting behind me met my eye and nodded at my knitting with a very envious expression. “You’re really smart,” she said, “I wish I was a knitter.” (Perhaps, then, it is really not just me.)

I think we shall be classroom friends. And also, I think I shall, if nothing else, achieve some sock knitting progress along with a few tidbits of Photoshop knowledge! And it’s a good thing, too, since my travelling pair of ribbed socks has been sorrily neglected since I started them two months ago. Thank goodness for knitting.

Have you had any knitting projects come to your rescue this week? What kind of “carry with you” is your favourite lately?

Pattern: A Nice Ribbed Sock
Yarn: Sweet Georgia Yarns Cashluxe Fine

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The system works

The other day last week I was putting away some little ends of fingering weight yarn from a finished project. I have two bins in my stash shelf that are those cube-shaped drawers that fit right into the cube-shaped shelves from that Swedish store that many of us seem to get our stash shelves from. So, the fingering weight ends (essentially, sock yarn remnants) have their own bin that they also share with a few laceweight remnants, and the worsted weight and almost-worsted-weight remnants (DK and bulky get shoved in here too) have their own.

I’m not entirely sure why I keep the leftover bits like this, to be quite honest. It’s a bit of an X-factor. I do know that there are limits to what I will keep. It’s got to be a sizeable enough amount to do something with. A little Christmas cork elf, for example, or maybe mini mittens (Ravelry link) for an ornament or bookmark. Anything that’s well over half a skein still stays in its regular stash place with its full-skein friends, though, so this isn’t a holding station for just anyone. It’s just the little bits of potentially useful stuff, and I hate getting rid of useful stuff.

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It turns out that my sock yarn remnants bin is shockingly tidy, even more so since I allowed myself to be distracted for a few minutes that day by winding a few of the more errant bits into proper balls. So I then turned a few procrastinatory minutes to the worsted weight bin which was, well, more of a tangled mess, to be honest. And it’s a remnants drawer, so really, it’s allowed to be messy and I left plenty of mess still behind, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to tend to it a little bit.

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I was however, starting to question my system a little bit. I considered to myself that maybe fussing over stash remnants like this was not the best use of my time, and also starting to wonder exactly how many other knitters have their stash remnants organized by weight and neatness, when I got an emergency Tweet from my friend Jo. “Do you have any leftover bits of Tanis DK?” She was trying to finish a baby hat and had literally only 2 inches left to go but had run out.

And you know, I did have that yarn. And friends help out friends with things like extra yarn.

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So I sent it off to her and she finished the hats, and all was well in knitting world. The End.

This system works fine.

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New Designs: Charlotte St. Mitts and Cowl

All anyone can talk about around here is the weather. I include myself in that ‘anyone’, because man, Mother Nature got us good this weekend. We had a couple of sunny days of +10C, just in time for Easter, and we all thought, “ahhh, how nice, spring might actually be on its way now.” We started thinking, “hey, maybe the down coats don’t need to come out of the closet any more, we can go dig up the light jackets now. Maybe the cold times will be done now.” Hah. This week around Southern Ontario we are back down to freezing or just below, and for the last couple of days the weather has been rotating back and forth between sunshine and snow squalls. Even the sky can’t seem to make up its mind.

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I figure the best way to deal with this (as with so many other things), is just to keep knitting, and I’ve got 2 more accessory patterns to add to my Urban Collection Vol 2. They pair nicely with the Jackson Creek cardigan I released last week, or with any outfit really, for just a little hit of coziness and warmth. Presenting the Charlotte St. Mitts and matching Cowl (currently available on Ravelry – individually and as part of the whole collection. Will also be available later in May on Patternfish once the collection is complete.)

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Each pattern uses a single skein of Tanis Fiber Arts Purple Label cashmere sock (70% superwash wool/20% cashmere/10% nylon) or your preferred equivalent. They are shown here in the brick colourway, which I think I can pretty much count on using again, it is delicious.

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The mitts are written for 2 sizes (6.5″ and 7.5″ circumference), use a nice little lace pattern down the back of the hand, and are meant for a slightly slouchy fit. The nicest feature for me, though, is the long ribbed cuff that folds over at the top of the mitt. It gives the mitt a nice comfortable finish while still being a bit fitted around the knuckles, and makes for such a cozy feel – without having to knit little mitt fingers. Full disclosure: I generally like the things I design, but it’s not all the time that I cast off a design and immediately wish I had more yarn to start it again. I want these in twelve colours. And I don’t know why I haven’t got twelve more colours of this yarn in my stash. I plan to rectify this soonest.

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The accompanying cowl pattern is a nice quick little accessory, and features the same lace motif as the mitts. It’s written for one size, about 26 inches in circumference, but I suggest a few modified larger sizes that will still use only 1 skein of the TFA cashmere sock. Overall, I like this set for a friendly little hit of colour! The time commitment for either of these projects is fairly quick, just right if you need a colourful distraction from other projects on your needles (or just from the weather outside).

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Enjoy, dear knitters! And whatever the weather where you are, I hope you’ve got some fun projects to work on! I’ll be back to report on other ongoing knitterly activities later this week.

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