Earlier this week I launched my latest pattern, Winding Leaves mitts. They're worked from the cuff up, using the stranded colourwork technique, with a thumb gusset. The two mitts are made identical to one another but with different patterning on each side, resulting in a fraternal pair once you've got them on. The colourwork pattern is charted, and they are sized to fit an average size woman's hand.
There are various different ways to construct socks, but the most common are either toe-up or top-down. They each have their advantages and their disadvantages, and I have been musing recently about sock construction.
My personal habit is to knit socks toe-up. I wouldn't say it's a preference, because I really don't mind either direction, but the first socks I made were toe-up so that set the norm for me. Of my own designs, I currently have nine pairs of socks in my pattern portfolio, with two more in progress. Of the eleven in total, seven are toe-up and four top-down.
The photograph above left shows my No Flies On Us which are worked toe up, because of the stitch pattern. The way the flies are constructed means that if the socks were worked top-down, the flies would be upside down!
The photograph above right shows Wengwings, which are top-down socks. They could be worked in either direction, but I wanted to get to the colourwork (i.e. the fun bit!) straight away, even if it does mean knitting the penguins head first!
The main issue knitters seem to have with the direction of sock construction is the toe, closely followed by the heel.
Toe-up socks begin with a provisional cast-on, which can look scary until you get used to it. There are a number of different methods, of which I tend to use the figure-8 cast on most often as I can work it without having to check a reference to make sure I've got it right to start out.
Conversely, top-down socks, which end with the toe, need the toe closing up, commonly using Kitchener stitch. Again that's a bit of a Marmite issue with some knitters loving it and some hating it. Personally I love the magic of it every time.
The other sticking point is the heel. Top-down preferrers sometimes say they have difficulty knowing where to start the heel on a toe-up sock. Yes, I will admit the start of a heel on a top-down sock is easier, but like many things it comes with practice. From experience I know how much foot I need to work before I start my preferred heel. A bit of maths helps too. If you know your row gauge and how many rows the heel is worked over, you can work out how much of the foot the heel will use.
For me, the advantages and disadvantages of each are as follows:
Advantages: more practice so greater familiarity, the sock is worked the "right way" up, if I'm short on yarn a shorter leg is better than a short foot (!)
Disadvantages: it can be tricky to get the cast-off loose enough without being too loose, by the time I get to the leg I'm getting bored (I must admit to at least one pair of socks with legs that ought to be an inch longer really!)
Advantages: no fiddly cast-on, easier to work out heel placement
Disadvantages: grafting the toe, need to know you have sufficient yarn, personally I find it tricky to know exactly where to start the toe shaping
As an experiment I recently designed a pair of socks which I originally intended to work toe-up (yes, I'm a creature of habit, what of it?!). Having finished the first one, I decided to see if it was easy to reverse the pattern instructions and make the second sock top-down without it being obvious. The answer? Even I can't tell which sock I worked in which direction without looking very closely! I'll be writing up that pattern very soon!
How do you prefer to work your socks? Top down? Toe up? Or some other construction?
I'm a fairly monogamous knitter on the whole. One WIP (work in progress) is the norm for me, with a possible second if I need something small to take out and about. At the moment I have three WIPs, and here they are...
First up is my latest sock design. Not much more than a cuff so far, but the design for this one was inspired by a repeat of Ice Road Truckers! The truckers were driving to a remote town that could only be reached by driving along a frozen river and I had an idea that a frozen river running down a sock would be a fun thing to represent in knitting.
Second one is another sock! This one is a test knit for a friend. I haven't done any test knitting in a while - I've been too busy knitting up my own designs to knit anyone else's - but I saw this one online and I like the designer's work so I was keen to test it. Once the pattern is launched, I'll post with more information, but for now I'm really enjoying this test sock.
Finally here's a sneak peek at another one of my in-progress designs. It's basically a very large shawl worked sideways with a pattern of eyelets. So far so good, but I think I'm in for the long haul with this one!
There have been two ongoing discussions on Ravelry recently about the best things and the worst things about local yarn shops (LYS). A discussion has also been started by someone planning to open a LYS, asking what "wishlist" people would like to see in a new LYS and that made me think about my own wishlist, and it seemed like a fun exercise to write one.
I've been lucky enough to visit a number of LYSes in different parts of the world. The main ones that stick out in my mind are WEBS in Northampton, Massachusetts, the Purple Purl in Toronto, Wooly Minded in Corning, NY, and the Wollmeise shop in Pfaffenhofen in Bavaria.
I must admit I tend to buy my yarn online, mainly for reasons of choice and cost. It's rare that I need yarn RIGHT NOW as I keep a stash, and I plan my projects far enough ahead that if I do need something I don't already have, I have time to order it. LYS purchases tend to be treats, souvenirs. Aside from my stashing habits negating the need for instant yarn acquisition, I don't actually have a really local shop (I don't count Hobbycraft!) The LYSes in London are all at least one train ride away and would need a special journey. I'm not going to make one for a single skein of sock yarn.
However, this is about a wishlist, a dream LYS, so what would I like from a LYS if dreams could be reality? Let's see....
1. Parking or public transport accessibility - if I'm going to have to travel to get to you, I need to a) be able to actually get there easily, and b) park when I find you if I can't walk from a train station. (Actually my dream LYS would be within walking distance but hey...)
2. Discreet staff - I know different customers like different things in shops, and unfortunately customers don't come into shops wearing T-shirts with their shop staff preferences emblazoned across them. Some want chatty friendly helpers who pass the time of day with them. Others want to know you're there if needed but otherwise to be left alone to browse and make their choices. This introvert is very much in the second category. If I need you, I'll let you know! This stand-offishness would not need to be clique-y or exclusive, though. Just because I'm browsing today or making a small purchase doesn't mean I won't come back for a bigger one in future, and I might look young (I got ID'd buying alcohol recently - I'm 40 but apparently look under 25!) but I know what I want to buy and how to use it.
3. Yarn displayed by weight, or by brand - My first preference is for weight. Please display your lace weight together, your 4-ply together, your double-knitting together, your aran together etc. If you're going to display by brand, then please display by weight within that. I have heard of stores where the yarn is displayed by colour although I've never seen it in person. Why would anyone do that?! I'm sure it looks amazing but how on earth a lay-person shopper would find anything without a map is beyond me!
4. Price - now this is where the dream bit really comes in. In the real world, it's very difficult, nigh on impossible, for a brick-and-mortar shop to compete with the internet. If I need yarn immediately I will pay the premium to buy it in person rather than ordering it online. I'm willing to trade off the extra cost of buying it in a "real" shop to be able to use it straight away against needing to wait for a cheaper internet purchase to arrive by post a day or more later. But in my dream LYS, prices would be comparable with internet prices. Dream on, me...
5. A wide range of yarns - the village where I grew up had a wool shop. In the days before the internet, if you wanted wool (and I mean that in the British colloquial sense, meaning anything you knit with that may or may not have been anywhere near a sheep!) you went to the wool shop, or possibly a market stall, or you went to John Lewis in town. The range of yarns available now is much much greater, and unless your store has elastic walls (or is the size of WEBS) you're going to have to limit what you can carry, but I am disappointed to see the traditional "wool shop" offering. A whole wall of pastel shades in 4-ply and DK, some of it entirely synthetic, some being wool blends, in 50g or 100g balls. Ideal if you want to make baby clothes or blankets, perfect for those, in fact. If you're lucky you might even get a small selection of solid coloured wool yarn suitable for socks. What I'd love to see would be the full range of yarn weights, in bright colours, multicolours, different fibre blends, dishcloth cotton (why is that so hard to procure in the UK? Does no one knit or crochet dishcloths here?!), stuff you want to squish and admire just for its beauty as wool first before you can bring yourself to finally knit with it.
6. Something to sit on - for my long-suffering-but-sneakily-enabling husband, and my generally-well-behaved-brought-up-respecting-yarn children if I'm making a short visit, or as somewhere to put things down so I can see two (or more) colours side by side to pick out combos or rule out too-similar shades. I don't mean enough sofas to rival DFS, but one or two sofas, or even a couple of dining-type chairs at a table or ledge would do.
7. Decent lighting - big windows or white artificial light. If I'm looking for navy, I want to be sure it is navy and not black or charcoal or dark brown or dark purple.
8. I don't need a cafe in my yarn shop - if you've got the space for drinks and cakes and the like, you've got space for more stock! I've never quite grasped why the purveyors of something as easily stained and damaged as yarn would allow spillables or sticky things near it.
I think that's enough for now. I'm sure I could think of more ideas but I realise I am dreaming the impossible dream. Off now to fight a windmill!
What would you like to see in your "perfect" LYS?
This week saw the launch of my latest cowl pattern - Celia's Bellflower Loop. It is a pretty loop scarf, with an option for making a flat scarf in a longer length if you prefer. The pattern is based on the Bellflower Lace stitch pattern and it came about from flipping through stitch dictionaries looking for ideas for what to knit for my mother in law for Christmas. Celia (my mother in law!) likes to wear scarves and other similar neckwear. Almost every outfit she wears is accessorised with a pretty scarf draped around her neck, so I knew what sort of thing to make. As soon as I saw this stitch pattern I knew it would make a perfect scarf for her.
The cowl is knitted in the round from a provisional cast-on that is "unzipped" at the end to allow the two ends to be grafted together to form a seamless loop of 34" of cowl. Alternatively, make it as a flat scarf, using the simple end border instructions and wrap in the usual way.
As well as the blue sample in the top photograph, I made Celia her own cowl using this
One of the things I love about knitting is that there's always something new to learn. One of the things about learning is that sometimes you have to learn by your mistakes. However, sometimes even the most experienced knitter can make the dumbest mistakes! Here is a round-up of my most ridiculous ones from the recent past.
1. Playing yarn chicken..and losing. One of the things I'm still learning about designing is exactly how much yarn a design will use. When I set out to design my East Farleigh Bridge shawl I intended it to use one full skein of Wollmeise Pure. What I like about that yarn is the generous yardage. For starters you get 150g in each skein, and then each one is often overweight, giving you between 550 and 600 yards of fingering weight to play with. Unfortunately I cut it just a little too fine on my sample shawl and ended up having to cut off my cast-on tail and use that to finish my cast-off when I ended up with about 30 stitches left to cast off and about two inches of yarn left to do it!!
2. Calculating yardage using the wrong brand of yarn. This one is related to the last one. Not wanting to run out of yarn for a pair of socks I was making from leftover yarn from another project, I weighed what I had. I had 80g. Popping the figures into a calculator I reckoned I had just over 300 yards of fingering, which should be enough for socks for me. I have small feet and I don't like long legs on my socks. So I just couldn't understand why I got to the end of the first sock and found I'd used 50g of the skein, leaving me with only 30g and not enough yardage for the second sock. And then the penny dropped. 300 yards is only the length of 80g when you've got close to 400 yards in 100g. It's no good calculating the yardage you have based on the yardage of yarn you're not actually knitting with! When the yarn you're using is advertised with more like 340 yards in 100g, you're not going to have enough.
3. Not swapping the needle size where indicated in the pattern. Last year I made a pair of beautiful colourwork mittens. They begin with a ribbed cuff in a smaller needle size before moving up a size to work the rest of the hand. I had done that correctly on the first mitten, but I only realised when I tried on the second mitten and found it to be noticeably smaller than the first that I had forgotten to change the needle size all the way back at the cuff second time around. Luckily I was able to "grow" the second one a little by blocking and they do both fit, just one more loosely than the other. Read the pattern, people!
4. Not fully appreciating the qualities of what your yarn is made from. I made the same mistake twice in two cardigans in the same year. In my defence, one was actually made using the recommended yarn for the pattern, and both contained an amount of silk which I hadn't worked with before, so I hadn't realised how much silk relaxes once it's washed and worn. I also concede that the swatch I knitted clearly wasn't big enough to allow for the effect of the weight of a cardigan in wear. However, I wasn't expecting that the cardigan that started out as a UK size 10 (and fit well) would end up a generous size 18 (and would have allowed room for a second person in there with me!). I somewhat optimistically tried blocking it back down (nope!), tried stabilising the shoulders and across the back with crochet chains (nope!), and in the end donated it to my size 18 sister - and it has now grown further and is too big for her as well! What makes it worse is I made the same mistake on another cardigan (different pattern, different yarn) not long afterward, and have been sworn off both silk yarns and cardigans ever since!
5. Biting off more than I could chew. Last September I got a notion to design a headband. I'm not usually a headband wearer but it seemed like fun, and it was. By the following day I had a second headband design finished too. By the third day I not only had a third headband designed and finished, but I also had the idea for an entire collection of headbands. I would use different construction methods, different yarn weights, different stitch patterns, and I had already thought up six so I thought "why not make it seven, one for each day of the week?" I set up the ebook on Ravelry, put up the first three patterns, and set it so that customers could buy the individual patterns, or the entire collection which would be at a reduced price while the collection was still incomplete, increasing gradually as the patterns were added until the final price when it was complete. It went really well until I got the fifth one loaded up and then I hit what I can only describe as "headband fatigue". I still had a sixth idea but was drawing a blank on the seventh. I didn't really want to make up the sixth one there and then as there are other things to knit in the world besides headbands. Problem being, I had already had two customers buy the complete collection so I had to go ahead and finish it. It was a month before number six went in, another month before the seventh and final pattern was added, and now I think I'm going to take a rest from headbands! I only have one head, after all!
And finally, while I'm talking about errors, I'm going to include one near miss as well. This was only last month and I can't believe I nearly managed such a rookie mistake! I was going away for a knitting weekend with friends which we had been planning for literally months. The weeks and days before departure had been filled with online chat about which projects and yarns people would be bringing to work on and to swap with one another. I had narrowed it down to three projects (bear in mind, this was only for one weekend, but it's good to have a choice, right?!). I'd packed my yarn, I'd packed my patterns, I'd checked my notions bag for tape measures, scissors, stitch holders, markers, pen, post-its, safety pins, darning needles. I'd packed the yarn I was giving to a friend to finish off her own project. I'd packed clothes, toiletries, food. It was only as I was about to set off and made one final check of my "things to pack" list that I realised I hadn't packed any knitting needles!! Not one! I had no works-in-progress so wouldn't even have had needles in those. I'm sure it wouldn't have been a disaster, as when you're going away with 12 other knitters, surely one of them will have a pair you can borrow, but really?! That would have been an epic mistake!!
What's been your funniest knitting mistake?
I love to knit, to design patterns and to talk about knitting!