Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Study in Socks - Progress

The other day I wore one of the earlier socks I've knit. I can't recall exactly when I knit them, but it was early in my sock career. When I comb through the hand knits in my sock drawer, it's like an archeological survey of my education as a sock knitter.

The early layers, the furthest back in the drawer, rarely see the light of day. These socks don't fit. They're either too tight or don't fit correctly. When I was learning, I followed the instructions meticulously, but with a tension so tight you could bounce quarters off it. I was trying to prevent that pesky laddering problem between needles, and to create a fabric as tight and smooth as commercial made socks. The socks I wore this week were of this vintage, albeit later in the era. They fit around my leg and foot, but the toes and heels were off. The toe on one sock kept sticking out and didn't conform to my foot properly.

One other characteristic of this early foray into socks is the hit and miss quality of the yarn I used. I was experimenting and usually buying cheaper yarns. I hadn't discovered a blend that felt good on my feet.

The middle layers of sockitude begin to get more varied. As I gained experience I learned what size my foot was and how to adjust the toe and heel shaping for my foot instead of the pattern's ideal foot. The yarn became more varied. I tried self-striping yarns and bought the pricier commercial yarns. I was seduced by variegated yarns that look great in the skein but disappointed me when knit up. I also had a bit of a fling with Handmaiden Casbah sock yarn. This more adventurous era provided more learning opportunities in matching fiber blends with patterns, as well as lessons in gauge.

I learned which yarns felted if you looked at them in an agitated manner (I'm looking at you, alpaca blend). I learned that some yarns bloom when washed - and that this, combined with a lacey pattern means that your socks will grow a size or two. This is also when I experimented with a few different techniques: toe up, magic loop, two at a time (TAAT). I learned to relax my tension and tighten up the second stitch after changing needles, not the first, to reduce laddering. In addition - I learned cast on methods to ensure that the cuff of the sock wasn't too tight for my leg. In other words - I learned to step outside the strict instructions of the pattern to make socks that fit me. This may have also been the start of my enormous sock stash growth.

The outer layer of socks, the ones I reach for most frequently have all been made in the past two years. They fit perfectly. They are made of the "good" yarn in my stash: the indie dyers, Wollmeise, and Cascade Heritage. I realized that these yarns shouldn't sit unused in my stash. If I was going to spend 30 hours (or more) knitting a pair of socks, it should be with the good stuff. I began designing socks as an incentive to reduce my stash (hah!), so most of these socks are of my own creation. I even learned to enjoy knitting socks toe up! And there are a lot of socks missing from this layer - the socks I designed, knit and gave away to family and friends.

Perhaps it's just that time of year for reflection, but there's a lot to be said for looking back to see where you started and just how far you've come. We tend to focus on what we can't do (yet), but it's worth taking a moment (or three) to look at your accomplishments too. Well done, you!

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