Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sock Insomnia

Four nights in the past week, I've lain awake thinking about toe up socks. It's pathological. But I've felt close to a breakthrough on a new perfect sock pattern, one that incorporates all the best ideas, requires minimal pre-planning, and carries a clever elegance for a dash of intellectual delight that will keep me faithful to it for years to come.

Oh, and while I don't mind devoting lots of mental energy to construction and technique, I don't think I should have to work very hard to make it fit. What I'd really like is to find a way to knit fantastically fitting socks just by knowing the recipient's shoe size.

I was thinking that the answer might be some sort of mash-up between Widdershins and Queen Kahuna, with maybe a few dashes of Charlene Schurch, Nancy Bush, and Priscilla Gibson-Roberts. I expected to draw on the work done by Mel and Tallguy: Mel's work makes the Widdershins instructions more generic than the original, while Tallguy is working out a version that relies more on percentages.

(Mel, I love your adaptation. I just have this feeling that for larger feet, you'd want more gusset increases and that the heel turning instructions would somehow vary depending on gauge and foot size).

There's a chance that someone beat me to it. It seems that K2Karen has been on the same quest I have, following pretty much the same guides. She does the same toe that I do, and she's worked out a chart for adapting the Widdershins heel to different sizes. When I tried it, my sock came out shorter than I expected, the heel somewhat blockier, but I still think there's potential there.

I goofed on the heel flap, but I was so tired of reworking this sock (I've frogged and reknit the heel six times already, trying to make different sets of instructions work), that I tossed it aside and picked up another pair in progress. This one follows Schurch's idea to knit a heel flap for the sole of the foot. Good but not great. I'm generally pleased with these, but this will not be my preferred sock construction method going forward.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Enormous Green Thing

Yesterday we held a staff potluck at work, and the staff wore green. I don't seem to own anything green anymore, except for the enormous green Aran sweater. Even after asking a seamstress to take in the sides, and reknitting the collar into a turtleneck, this sweater is just too big to wear, even as a jacket.

Which is a shame, because it's gorgeous.

So I'm going to ask another seamstress to take another crack at it, removing the moss stitch side panels completely and significantly narrowing and re-shaping the sleeves. I'm thinking something like this...
Tell me if you think this plan won't work. And what about the underarm gussets: bad idea? This is just a sketch; I'm hoping in the actual execution, the sewing done on the inside of the sweater, the gusset diamonds will go flat or stay on the inside.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Queen Kahuna, revisited

When I finally settled down and began reading Queen Kahuna's book, I realized I was going to have to take back some of the snarky things I said in the last post. There's good stuff in there.

First of all, I should say that Mary Ann Beattie does a good job of justifying her style. "Crazy Toes & Heels" is purposefully written for the visual learner. She is deliberately careful to write complete instructions and provide illustrations for every step. And I have to admit, sometimes this was helpful to me. Her "no wrap - no gap" short row method is identical to the Sherman Sock stitch encroachment technique, but the illustrations explain it much better, and I think I'll give this method another try.

The book really is packed with gems to add to your sock-knitting arsenal. I'm particularly taken with her suggestion to knit the first round of the toe with both the working yarn and the cast-on tail, then in the next round working some of those doubled stitches separately to effect a rapid increase. The result is a very attractive, round toe. The next time I do a cuff-down sock, I think I'll try finishing it off with "Cathy's Creation toe," which creates a band across the front.

Last night I began experimenting with the Queen Kahuna techniques using some Interlacements Tiny Toes. I still think Turkish cast-on can't be beat -- what can be easier than wrapping the yarn around your needle? And I like the speed of increasing with yarn-overs rather than the lifted increases Beattie recommends (she makes a good case for them, though).* I decided to give her fan toe a try, and I like the effect.

I am disappointed that she offers no guesstimating guide for when to start the gusset increases -- like, begin gusset increases when you have knit 60% of the planned sock length -- but I expect that really does depend on gauge and actual foot measurements. (Hmm. Maybe what I need to do is create a website where people I knit for could enter their foot measurements and the results would get emailed to me, like my own version of the Sockulator V.)

In short, reading the Queen Kahuna guide is like taking a class from an affable, experienced teacher, who will patiently explain every step to you while also offering you handy tips for making things a bit easier. Is it really worth $25 plus shipping? Probably not, but in the final analysis, I'm glad to add it to my own knitting library.

* Update 3/18: Beattie's variation on (and explanation of) lifted increases is the best I've ever seen. I've tried lifted increases before, and never liked them. Her method involves a different way of picking up and manipulating the various stitches, and the effect is very clean.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Backwards and in high heels

My boss asked me to clarify a knitting point that cropped up in the book she's listening to. Three times in a character's life she has made the mistake of turning a heel twice, and each time it portended some life-changing event. Boss wanted to know what "turning a heel twice" meant. I explained, we discussed what a twice-turned heel might look like, and she asked further questions about sock construction.

I told her that while socks usually are knit cuff-to-toe, I prefer knitting them the other way, toe-up. In fact, I said, I tend to be drawn to odd construction techniques, to knitting things the opposite way. Toe-up socks, top-down hats. I convert sweater patterns to the round so I don't have to sew. "I like to do things backwards and in the round," I said. "I am the Ginger Rogers of knitting."

I completed the Lillehammer hat with no fancy adaptations. Just in time for spring to finally begin breaking through. I think of this as my "Robin Hood" hat, since I was watching the new series when I started working on it. The ribbing flares out a bit at the bottom, which makes this particular hat a bit too flapper-ish.

My hopes are still high for Tallguy's toe-up gusset and heel flap breakthrough, but meanwhile I might just make Widdershins socks for Nancy. Based on a comment on Tallguy's blog, I bought the Queen Kahuna Crazy Toes & Heels Sock Book. Good if you like verbose, detailed, step-by-step instructions, but I should've known it wasn't for me.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

New Project-itis

I've got three active projects right now. The Camel Gansey is zipping along, and I'm at the point that I need to decide how long the plain area will be (all the way up to the sleeves?) and then chart out the patterned area for the chest. It's a critical part of the project, and I have to be careful not to lose momentum. However, I've already started two new projects.

I snagged some Cider Moon "Glacier" skeins at their trunk show a couple weeks back, and started a pair of socks.

The black toe is in "Johnny Cash" colorway, and the red is "Cayenne." I'm planning to give these to Mike's mom, who will like the bright red (being legally blind, she doesn't see much color) and who has yet to get a decent pair of socks from me. I hope Tallguy posts notes on his new toe-up gusset and heel flap method soon. I'm dying to try it.

Working on these from both ends of the skein has given me an idea for a center-pull ball holder which can make such a task easier. I've sketched out some concepts for everyone's favorite knitting contractor to think about.

At the trunk show, I saw their Lillehammer hat and got a copy of the pattern. I'm not wasting this yarn on a hat, so I picked up some Brown Sheep "Nature Spun" and started working on that last night. The picture isn't great, but I'm digging the ribbing band: K1P1 rib, with the knit stitches in one color and the purls in another. Neat effect.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


As I indicated last year, I'd love to have a personalized plate. I'm contemplating this one.

What do you think?