Posts filed under ‘socks’

Socks on the go

So, I like knitting socks an awful lot. But my knitting time is not so copious these days, so I make sure to always have a project with me on the go so I can make use of those precious oft-wasted minutes waiting in lines, sitting on buses, or just waiting for my gosh-darn computer to finish loading whatever it is that’s taking so long. I find that knitting is especially useful in helping me avoid the black hole of internet distraction while writing my thesis. If I need a break to decompress or gather my thoughts, I knit a few stitches and let my brain settle, rather than checking Facebook or Ravelry and suddenly finding that a half an hour has mysteriously slipped out of my grasp.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, I really like knitting socks on double-pointed needles (DPNs). But traveling with DPNs can be tricky. Knitters worry about the needles slipping out of the work, or getting crunched by the other things in your bag, and for good reason! I’m fearless (and really good at picking up lost stitches), so this doesn’t stop me, but I can see why others are less eager to throw a sock with its 5 toothpick-needles into a backpack and pull it out on the bus.

So what’s the solution? This is my roundup of options for keeping your socks safe between bouts of knitting in public, including my own prototype DPN sock holder (DIY all the way, baby).

First, the solutions you don’t need to buy:

Wrapping your needles up in the yarn. This has long been my preferred method of transportation. You fold your sock up, squish the knitting to the middle, and wrap one end with the working yarn. Then, you wrap the other end. Then, you do a little figure 8 back and forth, and secure by catching the working yarn between the needles on one end. Voila, you’re good enough to go.

Rubber bands. This is too much effort for not enough class for me, but you can put rubber bands of any size (actually, I recommend fabric-covered hair elastics, so they don’t snag your yarn) on the ends of your needles, bundling them all together. Be careful not to make them too tight on small needles, though, or you could warp or even snap the needles.

Solutions from your LYS, or online:

CloverHolder

Clover needle holders. These little plastic coils work like the rubber bands, except they’re cuter, and will set you back $5-7 a package. They come in two sizes, and the size you choose will depend on how big your needles are and how many you’re bundling together. I actually think the flexibility of the rubber band wins in this case.

RockSocks

Rock Your Socks by NeuroticNeedles on Etsy

Rock Your Socks holders. This is available on Etsy from seller NeuroticNeedles, and I’ve seen similar (or the same) in a  yarn shop locally. They’re two plastic caps that fit over your needle tips, with an elastic that connects them and holds them together. Sometimes they have cute little charms in the middle. It’s a nice concept, and will stop dropped stitches or missing needles and accidentally poking through your bag, but if you shove your laptop on top of your sock, this isn’t going to offer any protection. But, a good concept, worth trying out. $6-8 on Etsy, depending on how fancy the charms are.

Knitpicks Sock Knitting Needle Holders. I’ve personally used these, and liked them. They are a pair of paperboard tubes that sit snugly inside one another, with a slit that allows your sock knitting to come out the middle. You can store empty needles in them too, by just rotating the tubes so that the slit is closed. The way they’re designed means they fit a wide range of needle lengths, and you don’t have to worry about elastics snapping. But, the quality is chintsy. They’re paper, after all. After using them a short time, the layers started to come apart. I taped them back up, but then my toddler found them, and that was the end of that. Advantages are the price ($5 for two sets of tubes). I’ve only seen these on Knitpicks.com, and I’m still boycotting Knitpicks because of their unprofessional security and customer service practices. But they’re an affordable product and do the trick for light use.

Tin holder – discontinued? Way back in 2006, the Yarn Harlot blogged about a tin needle holder that she’d gotten, that originated from Woolworks, Ltd. I’ve contacted them, and received no reply, nor does their website mention awesome needle holders, so I have to assume that they’re no longer being produced. Too bad, because they looked great.

KnitziFlow

OMG gorgeous – http://www.knitzi.com

Knitzi. This is the gold standard of sock knitting needle holders, and I want one so badly. They’re hand-carved wooden tubular cases to do essentially the same thing as the Knitpicks case, except gloriously. Instead of two nested tubes, there is one tube with a threaded cap. Because of this, they come in a few different sizes. Unfortunately for me, this makes my life trickier, because I have a few different lengths of needles. I’d rather get the smaller, 5″ one, to keep weight and bulk down, but I sometimes knit with 6″ needles. Dilemma. It’s okay, the beautiful “Flow” case in walnut above is $109. Regular Knitzis come in sizes ranging from 4″-8″, are in the $30-40 range, and are custom made, so they have a greater turnaround time, but only a couple of weeks. Not exactly instant gratification, but we’re knitters, we’re not in this for instant gratification. Covet, big time.

So, my own prototype looks like an absolute monstrosity following that thing of beauty, but I’m still pretty proud of it. Meet my 50-cent sock DPN holder:

P1060164

Yes, that’s a toothbrush case. I got it from the dollar store, 2/$1.

P1060166

And I cut openings in each half, and smoothed out the edges with an X-acto knife.

P1060165

And then I threaded fabric-coated elastic through the drainage holes and tied it together at tension, so the two halves would stay connected and have enough pull to keep closed in my bag.

And you know what? It’s great. I’m thinking of some modifications, to drop some hot glue in those holes to prevent extra needles from slipping out, and maybe finding a slightly better elastic. But it’s perfect. The hardest part was finding the toothbrush case, because CVS didn’t have this kind, just the over-the-head type.

Anyone else have stories of successful sock knitting hacks?

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January 16, 2014 at 12:13 pm 1 comment

A love letter to sock needles

Probably my all-time favorite thing to knit is socks. I love their portability, their practicality, and the way that no matter how outrageous your sock yarn is, you can make a very wearable garment from them. Case in point:

Yum, socks. Yum, sock yarn.

But knitting with great yarn is only part of the equation. The needles are a big deal too, and the point of this post is to talk a little bit about my preferences and experience with a variety of sock needles. Hopefully some of you can find this helpful in your own knitting ventures! A note: I’m not affiliated with any of the companies or products I’m about to mention, and anything I own I’ve purchased out of my own interest with my own money.

Here’s my (long) roundup of sock needles!

When I first started knitting socks in 2003 (goodness, that long ago?), I did it with big-ish needles and heavy yarn, because it was less intimidating that way. My LYS, A Stitch Above in Providence (long-gone), turned me on to Brittany needles, which were beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, and so my early socks were knit on size 4 Brittany DPNs.

These needles hold a special place in my memory, and are very functional and aesthetically pleasing. The tips are not too sharp but not too blunt, and the surface is just a tiny bit waxy, which gives a nice resistance to a slippery yarn (although possibly annoying if you’re a tight knitter. I’m not).

So, when I wanted to make “real” socks, I turned again to Brittany DPNs, this time in a size 2. And wouldn’t you know it, very soon in, my DPNs started to break. This is how I learned something fundamental about the composition of knitting needles – grain matters. The Brittany needles are made out of a sustainably-harvested birch, chosen for its tensile strength and stability. But, at a small diameter, the fact that it’s a hardwood with a grain means that it has inherent fault lines and is prone to breakage, particularly in conditions of heat and moisture causing swelling/distortion, and applied pressure. Oops, that sounds quite a bit like my knitting experience. Brittany was amazing about sending a replacement free of charge as soon as I contacted them, and these days they include a 6th needle automatically, because they’re not surprised that they break. For me, I decided there had to be a better option. (For the record, this is also the main reason why I don’t recommend people snag the very affordable KnitPicks sock needle set. I have other beef with KP too, but in this case, it’s a simple problem with small diameter wooden needles, and I suggest you avoid the hassle.)

On a trip to Russia, I picked up some random 2.75mm DPNs, which I used to make my Clessidra socks. They’re possibly Pony or Inox, or something like that, a painted aluminum, and about 7.5″ long. Uncomfortable, but they let me make a hat and some socks, so they served their purpose.

My next sock needles were Susan Bates aluminum needles. I was in a big craft store one summer break, and saw that the set ranged from 000-1, and was pretty cheap. To be fair, they’re not bad needles. They bend, as aluminum does, and the smaller gauge needles seem too flimsy for the job, but they work. My biggest complaint was actually the length. They’re 7″ long, which just feels unwieldy in my hands with an average sock on them. They also sort of hurt my hands Fun (gross) fact – one of the size 1s punctured my calf during a car crash in 2009, while I was knitting these Interlocking Leaves socks on a trip to Quebec! Fun times!

I didn’t really like the Susan Bates needles so much, and by that time, I was working part-time at Stitch House, so I had access, and discount, to other varieties of needles. My next choice were the Clover Takumi DPNs, which came in an appealing 5″ length. These became my go-to, and still are in many ways. They are made out of bamboo, which don’t have the same grainline problems that the Brittanys had, but are still warm to the touch and have a nice friction unlike the metal needles. The length fits perfectly in my hands, long enough for the palm of my hand to have some power, but not too long to be awkward. The slight bend they take is nice, although they can indeed break from time to time. Still, much less often than the wooden ones. I now have the Clovers in size 0-2, and tend to reach for these first for socks.

On a whim, I picked up a set of Lantern Moon Sox Stix, which are beautiful. Sadly, one broke (wood! grain!), but customer service was awesome and sent a new one pronto. They are made of rosewood, and are just a delight to work with. Sharp tips, smooth finish, nice feel, and gorgeous to look at. If I were made of money I’d have lots of these, but probably no smaller than a US 2, because of breakage. And I so seldom knit socks on anything larger than a 2. Alas.

During the Great Rhody Yarn Crawl in 2009 I bought a set of 4″ HiyaHiya steel DPNs in size 0. They were so cute! Unfortunately, I realized that 4″ is just too short for the way I knit with DPNs, and the back end of the needle pokes me in the flesh of my palm. I’ve kept them around for glove fingers, but that’s all they’re good for right now it my book, which is too bad, because they’re adorable and nice needles with a good feeling otherwise.

Then, there was Sock Summit, in 2011, and I got a chance to see and try out some needles I’d only heard about – the Signature stilettos, and the Blackthorn Carbon Fiber needles. Swoon. I really loved the Signatures – the feel, the sharp tip, the warm fuzzies you get from a small American company…but I just could not justify the price tag. At $47 for a set of DPNs, I had to pass. The Blackthorns were interesting, though. Carbon fiber meant lightweight, unbreakable, and still warm to the touch unlike metal. Like a high-tech bamboo. I caved in, and when I got home ordered a set of 5″ size 1s, for $35. I wanted to love these needles, and yet… Two issues. First, there was the squeak factor. Knitting with these needles felt unmistakably like writing on a chalkboard, with the way the needle tips rubbed against each other. Not so nice. And also, I’d often get the uncanny feeling that a sliver of carbon fiber had gotten stuck in my hand. It wasn’t visible, but I’d get these red irritated spots and it felt just like a tiny splinter. So, I moved these along to a new home.

I was delighted, then, to discover the new Knitters’ Pride Karbonz needles – carbon fiber, with nickel tips. I’m really happy with them – they’re tough, and light, and pretty. The only thing that bothers me is that they absolutely don’t flex – which isn’t a fault, but more a realization about what I like in a needle. The rigid straightness of the Karbonz is part of what makes them so tough, but I think that my hands prefer a gentle bend after all. So I may be more of a bamboo lover after all. However, if I ever need to knit cables or anything where I’m applying pressure to the needles, the Karbonz are going to be great. And, they were pretty affordable at only $14 for the set.

So that’s a lot about DPNs, but what about Magic Loop? you may ask. Yes, I magic loop, and although I haven’t sought as far and wide for the perfect  circular needles, I have some thoughts.

My go-to? Addi lace. For socks, I’ll use a 32″, and I like the Addis because they are sharp and the cords are very flexible. The brassy finish tends to tarnish in my hands a bit, which is a disappointment, but in the interchangeable set (which only goes to size 4, unfortunately), they’ve swapped out a nickel finish.

I don’t particularly like the joins and cords on the Clover circular needles, so I’ve stayed away from them for socks. I find the cables are too rigid and thick for my liking. I have stayed away from small hardwood circulars, like the KnitPicks, because I’m pretty certain they’d break. And KnitPicks and I are in a fight anyway.

After hearing great things about Chiaogoo, I bought a fixed circular (red lace), and honestly didn’t like it as much as I was hoping. The cord is a plastic-coated braided steel, and is more rigid than I’d expected. The whole set is just a bit heavy, although the joins are great and the red cord is very pretty. I got to play around with a Chiaogoo interchangeable set, and I was impressed by the swivel joins, which I imagine are necessary with the rigid cords. I think these would be fun to work with, but probably not the best for magic loop.

I’ve had my eyes on the Dyakcraft Heavy Metals, and am waiting to try them out. They come in sizes 0-3, and are a steel tip with a flexible cord. At $155 for the set, I’m probably not going to get them, considering how much I prefer DPNs for socks, but you never know! I do love that they’re handmade in the US, but to be honest, I’m sure I have all those sizes of circulars somewhere in my house. Maybe someday.

And that’s my roundup of sock needles – for now! Do you have a favorite sock needle to talk about? Something I should really try? Leave a comment!

May 22, 2013 at 11:00 am 10 comments

Heck yeah, socks!

So, I like socks. I like knitting them, wearing them, buying them, fondling sock yarn, the little itty bitty sock needles, all of it. And I love teaching other people how to knit socks, too. The problem is, knitting a sock can take a while. Sure, there are some people who crank out a knitted sock a week (ahem, Yarn Harlot), but the sheer number of stitches on tiny needles can be daunting for a new sock knitter.

For my beginner sock classes, I like to have students work with worsted-weight wool and larger needles, so they can knit up a finished product faster and see their stitches easier, too. Despite the fact that this is a pretty basic project, I wasn’t totally satisfied with the patterns available to me or my students, so I set about writing my own.

This pattern comes in 6 sizes, from a woman’s small through a men’s large (that should fit through a size 13+ shoe, if you’re brave enough to knit socks that big!), and the sizes are color-coded throughout to help you keep track of your project numbers. All the instructions are spelled out with particular clarity in the notes, so even a very beginner knitter can feel comfortable taking on his or her first pair of socks. You should be able to knit and purl and join in the round in order to knit these.

The pattern is for sale on Ravelry for $4 (click “buy now” below), and I hope you check it out! Soon, maybe you’ll be as crazy about knitting socks as I am!

-Katie

March 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm Leave a comment

A Wrap-and-Turn Tutorial

Who could have predicted the popularity of the Nose Cozy? It’s a funny little cone of stockinette, worked using short rows, and perfect to use as a beak, or a false nose, or a witch hat for Barbie…

Well, in my post on the Cozy, I talked a bit about the specifics of wrapping and turning short rows when working in stockinette, as you do for that pattern. But, when I wrote that, I didn’t have the time to go through and make a photo/video tutorial as I would have liked. This, dear readers, is that tutorial. Read on!
A preface: this tutorial is specifically addressing the smoothest way to handle w&t short rows in stockinette, which is not only what you encounter in the Nose Cozy, but also short-row toes/heels when you’re knitting socks, and also the vast majority of short rows in garment shaping (bust “darts” and such). In my experience, the following procedure also works just fine for most lace short-rows where the front side is the “pattern row” and the reverse is mostly purls across. When we start getting into ribbing or garter stitch, however, with purls on the facing side, you may want to seek variants. This is something I hope to tackle in the future, but for now, a tried-and-true approach to stockinette short-rows.

  • Following Directions: Work X number of stitches OR until X stitch; wrap and turn (also written w&t).

With short rows, you will have stitches left over on the left when you turn your work around. It may only be one, or it may be most of your row. Keep this in mind.

Now, for the fun part. Once we’ve worked the requisite number of stitches, up to the appropriate place, we’ll be wrapping the following stitch on the left (in the case of the Nose Cozy and most short row toes, the only stitch left on the left). In doing so, we’ll be making a loop that sits snugly around the bottom of the stitch like a choker necklace. This stitch will not actually be knitted or purled, just wrapped and returned to the needle.

what we’re aiming for – a triangle of stitches, with wraps and turns at each edge

1. Start out by bringing the yarn to the opposite side of the work, between the needles. If you’re on the knit side, that means back to front, if you’re purling, then front to back.
2. Slip the unworked stitch to the righthand needle.
3. Bring the yarn back between the needles (knit side – to the back, purl side – to the front). In our case at the end of the row, we’ll just bring the yarn around to the back.
4. Slip the wrapped stitch back to the left needle.
5. Turn your work around, and continue following your pattern, starting with the next stitch on the left. You will inevitably have some stitches on the left and some on the right, unlike normally when you start a row with an empty needle on the right. This is what makes it a “short row” – you don’t work every stitch in the row, but rather turn at some point before the end, in our example, one stitch early.

So we’ve mastered the “wrap and turn” part, following these directions for both the knit and the purl sides. My mantra? Move yarn first. That way, you don’t get confused about what order things happen in – you just move the yarn first.

Move the yarn, move the stitch. Move the yarn back, move the stitch back. Turn.
ommmmmm….

But now you have all these wrapped stitches, and as you continue on, your pattern will ask you to do something like, “work wrapped stitches with their wraps.” Whatever do they mean?

Permit me to take a step back to talk about this conceptually. If you start knitting at one end of a row and only go partway before you turn around and come back, that’s in essence a short row. But in that scenario, you’ll end up with a big ol’ hole at the place where you turned. This is why w&t was invented; the technique eliminates the hole by creating an extra piece of knitting that joins the end of the shorter row with the knitting that continues beyond it. If we wrap and turn all the necessary stitches, we’ve solved part of the problem. But then we have those wraps, which make gaps and sit like purl bumps on our stitches. We can’t have that! So, to have a more flawless appearance, we work the wraps with their stitches – the extra yarn disappears to the back of the work, and smooths everything over.

Let’s look at this in practice.

On the knit side, you knit up to the wrapped stitch, and then, using your right needle, scoop up the wrap from the bottom. Keeping the wrap on the right needle, insert the right needle knitwise into the wrapped stitch. You’ll want to knit these two pieces together, so first readjust so both pieces are on the left needle. To do this, pull your left needle out of the wrapped stitch, and reinsert it in the same direction (toward the front) into both the wrap and the stitch. You should be in k2tog position, so go ahead and work those two together. the wrap is the horizontal piece just below the stitch on the left;
I’m picking it up from the bottom, and will work it together with the stitch

On the purl side, it’s a bit trickier. If you pick up the wrap like you did on the knit side, from the side facing you (the purl side, in this case), you’d end up with an unsightly bump on the face of your knitting. No good. So, we need to approach from the other side. Using the right needle, reach around the back of your work (the knit side) and scoop up the purl from the bottom. Bring the needle around toward the front of the work, and insert it purlwise into the wrapped stitch. Again, you’ll probably need to readjust your left needle, so remove it from the stitch, and reinsert it into both pieces, making sure the left needle ends up in the back, in p2tog position. At this point, you can purl those two pieces together.

looking over the back side (knit side) of the work, and scooping up the horizontal wrap from the bottom (further away from the needles)

For our nose cozy pattern, and for short row toes and heels, after picking up a wrapped stitch, you’ll be asked to wrap and turn the next stitch, which results in a double wrap. Picking up and working a double wrap is just like working a single wrap, except, well, you have two pieces to pick up, so you’ll end up working 3 together, either knitwise or purlwise.

    
a double wrap on the knit side and the purl side

Some techniques benefit greatly from seeing it done – this is one of them. Have a look at the following video to watch the picking up and double-wraps in action:

And there you have it! All the steps needed for making a wrap-and-turn nose cozy. So how does this relate to, say, a sock heel or toe?

Well, if you wanted to start a pair of toe-up socks with a short-row toe, you’d start off by provisionally casting on half the number of stitches you hope for in the final foot (we’re assuming here that you’re making a basic sock where the foot and the ankle have the same number of stitches, not compensating for any sort of stitch pattern. If you are compensating for a stitch pattern, base your stitch number here on stitches/in in stockinette, not in pattern). As an example, we’ll imagine a 60-stitch sock (sock yarn, size 1 needles, should make something like a women’s medium sock). You’d make a provisional cast on of 30 stitches, and my preferred method is the crochet cast on, but you could even do Judy’s magic cast on or a Turkish cast on, and leave the other stitches on another needle…I just prefer not to have that extra needle floating around.

Using those 30 stitches, you’ll work exactly as above. So, in this case, knit across 29, w&t. Purl 28, w&t. Knit 27, w&t…you get the picture. Do this until you have a small number of stitches unwrapped in the center – 10 or so – and then proceed to step two, the picking up and double-wrapping. Once you’ve gotten through all of the stitches, up and down, you’ll have a little toe, and you’re ready to join in the round, unpicking your crocheted cast on or using the other half of Judy’s Magic or the Turkish cast on.

Simple as that!

August 28, 2011 at 8:52 am 5 comments

Sock Summit – A debriefing

It’s been a week since Sock Summit, and while my life will never quite be the same, things have returned to a sense of normalcy, such that I’m in a position to fill you all in on the wonders I saw, the experience in a nutshell, and my reflections.

In a word, I had a wonderful time.

I arrived in Portland late at night on a Tuesday, and had an hour and a half to go 20 miles, to get to my hostel before their registration closed. I’d chosen this hostel because it was in a nice, vibrant neighborhood, cost an affordable $31 a night (even cheaper if you’re a HI member), and was only a couple of miles from the Oregon Convention Center, where Sock Summit was taking place. It was a great decision, and I absolutely loved the hostel and the neighborhood it was in, as well as the commute back and forth (more on this in a minute), but getting to this hostel at 11pm was tricky, because the MAX, Portland’s light rail system, doesn’t run with much frequency at night, and by Google Maps’ reckoning, I wouldn’t make it on time. So, I investigated cabs, but seeing that I’d be charged something like $50, I found that the Blue Star transport company runs a downtown express shuttle on the half hour for $14. And then I’d be only half a mile from the hostel, and could walk or taxi from there. It was a great plan, and having previewed my walk on Google Street View, I felt comfortable with hoofing it, even at 11:15 PM. I got to the hostel, settled into my bunk bed, and fell asleep to the oceanic sounds of a sleeping lady, snoring loudly across the room.

The neighborhood near the NW Hostel, between the Alphabet and Pearl Districts

Wednesday had three goals – to pick up my rental bicycle (aka trusty steed), meet my Aunt Christine for lunch, and to get my registration packet at the Convention Center. These were all uneventfully accomplished. I took a lovely walk in the sunshine to the waterfront where I found Waterfront Bicycles (aptly named, that), picked up my little hybrid, and tooled around the waterfront bike path a bit. I did end up swapping the bike out for one a bit larger, and without squeaky disc brakes, but then I was off! I went back to my hostel to meet Christine, and we had a lovely lunch at Papa Haydn (the best part was the Marionberry Lime tart we shared for dessert – delicious!). I spent some time resting up at the hostel, then biked down to the Convention Center to start the Sock Summit festivities! I grabbed my registration materials, and met up with a group of knitters who’d prearranged to go out for dinner. I was about to join them, until I realized that the wave of exhaustion had truly hit me, and that I wouldn’t be able to hold up particularly well. I dashed off home instead, made a run to Trader Joe’s to stock up on provisions, and called it an early night.

Thursday was Day 1! I didn’t have anything at the CC until 1:30, so I spent the morning exploring the neighborhood a bit, and visiting the famous Portland Food Carts downtown. Lunch was a gyro from a mediterranean cart, and was enjoyed on the grass by the water. Then, for the knitting to begin!

My first class was Making the Next Monkey with Amy Singer, editor of Knitty. She’s a wonderful conversationalist, and really compelling to listen to. The information she gave was, admittedly, a bit specific to her publication – less about how to be Cookie A and make revolutionary, world-changing, über-popular designs, more about how to take your awesome design and get it into the format that Knitty needs. Still very interesting. The best part was seeing the “before” shots of popular designs, including those by Cookie A. The girl really didn’t know how to take an interesting photo, which would be surprising for anyone who’s familiar with her iconic Pomatomus and Monkey shots.

Then – the MARKETPLACE. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, knitters, but the line was incredible – stretching down the corridor, around the corner, into a different exhibit hall, looping back on itself a few times. I’d make a conservative estimate of 500 people in that line at the point when I joined it, waiting for the marketplace to open. Could have been much more than that who arrived in the minutes after the place opened up.

Waiting patiently…plopped down on the floor and knitting, the way things should be.
But see how the line just..keeps..going?

And when the doors opened, it was like the gates of paradise – you could hear harps and the angelic host… and the screams of the mob at GothSocks, being trampled and squashed (and elbowed, scratched, and shoved) as the dyer tried to meet demand, lobbing skeins of fluorescent-and-black striping yarn to the feverish mob. I kept my distance, and having heard some of the horror stories of those who met bodily harm in the chaos, I’m glad I did! On the way into the Marketplace, we were greeted by the Sockgate…just to prove that yes, some knitters are big dorks, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We were sharing the CC with OSCon, the Open Source convention, so I think the east side of Portland was mightily geeked out for a few days.

Yes, those are charted knitting symbols around the perimeter…

I made my way with bated breath to the Blue Moon Fiber Arts booth in the back corner, home of Socks that Rock. I picked up two skeins of StR lightweight – one in a summery blue and green, the other with green, purple, and fuchsia, and fondled a whole lot of others. But, the marketplace was large, and I didn’t want to burn out too quickly – in the first minutes! I did end up returning to this booth on a later day to snag a skein of StR in “Pond Scum” green – a perennial favorite of mine.

Pond scum never looked so lovely.

Next I picked up my “swag” – a tee-shirt and button I’d purchased at the time of registration, and then started my more aimless wandering around the marketplace. One of the first stops I made was the Ancient Arts Fibre Craft booth. The proprietress, Caroline, was warm and helpful, and I was immediately taken by their “Tibetan fusion” Russian supported spindles. Like a Russian, but with a more angular whorl, and made out of a variety of woods, not just the super-light woods that Russians traditionally come in. I was playing around with them, when one span right out of my control, and as I thrust my left hand out to catch it, I pricked myself on the spindle’s tip! Luckily, no Sleeping Beauty story ensued, just a little bit of blood loss (that I tried to hide for fear that people would freak out about bodily fluids and injuries…). But, for those of you who wonder how Sleeping Beauty could have possibly pricked herself on a spindle, it’s because when you use some spindles (including those used on certain spinning wheels without orifices, c.f. walking wheels), you draft off the sharp, pointy tip of the spindle, not off a hook or orifice. And, as the adjectives “sharp” and “pointy” would imply, these things mean business, and can puncture you if you’re being clumsy. Lesson learned.

Pointy, right?

I took home this Bubinga wood beauty (incidentally, not the bloodthirsty one), and continued my tour de marketplace.

The place was too large and overwhelming to go into much detail on, as you can imagine, but I did get to see some beautiful yarn, much of which I let someone else take home. Hazel Knits was one shop I was very impressed with. Jennie the Potter had a mob scene (selling limited-edition Sock Summit coffee mugs), but I managed to get a lovely knit-patterned pendant. Sanguine Gryphon had the longest line I’d seen, but it was an orderly chaos, and I took home a skein of orange Skinny Bugga. Signature Needles had a line to rival Sanguine Griffin, with their hand-machined needles. Ultra-precise, carefully crafted for the knitter in mind. $55 for a set of 5 DPNs! I decided to wait (and unfortunately, when I returned on Sunday, they had sold out of the size I wanted! You snooze, you lose!). Blackthorn needles was there too, representing the other approach to high-tech knitting tools, with their carbon fiber needles. These were seriously impressive. I loved the stiletto tips of the Signatures, but the lightweight flexibility, and warm natural texture of the Blackthorns was really tempting. But, alas, they didn’t bring many sets of 5″ needles (their standard DPN size is 6″, and I really prefer the shorter length), so I ended up passing (and ordering them online when I got home…).

My ceramic pendant from Jennie the Potter

Some local folks had also made the journey out West! A big shout out to Stephanie at Dirty Water Dyeworks, who is based out of Arlington, MA, and who I keep running into – at Common Cod’s Fiber Camp, at the Great Rhody Yarn Crawl, at Gather Here’s Pints and Purls, and now, in Portland, OR! She makes lovely colors, and if I didn’t have 2 skeins of her wool sitting in my yarn basket, I probably would have taken home more! Also, I was pleased to see WEBS of Northampton, MA making an appearance, showing off the fact that not only are they an internet powerhouse, but also a yarn shop with real, nice people and good stock. East Coast represent.

The Marketplace was also home to the demos – I caught a bit of the Fastest Knitter competition between classes on Friday, but missed everything else, including the amazing Fleece to Foot competition, where they went from Sheep to Sock in a day’s work. No team actually finished their socks, but it made for a good show, I hear! The Oregonian did a nice writeup of the highlights here. For those of you who haven’t seen sheep shearing, you can see the Sock Summit shearing videos on Youtube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. Also in the Marketplace was the World’s Largest Sock project. It’s about 7 meters around, and is a large circular project with a dozen or so needles in it that keeps moving around from fiber festival to knitterly event. The currently-sleepy blog documenting the project can be seen at big-sock.blogspot.com.

That’s one big sock…

I’ve already commented on Amy Singer’s class, but that wasn’t the only one I took. On Friday, I was in class all day with Cookie A herself, talking about how to take sock knitting off the grid, and make a stitch pattern travel around the foot in an interesting manner. In retrospect, it wasn’t all that earth-shattering, but I did get some good ideas about sock shaping, particularly around the gusset. Here’s the little sample sock I made, that has two traveling patterns intersecting at the side of the foot:

Hard to see, but there’s a pattern traveling diagonally across the ribbing,
and one also starting at the picked-up heel flap and moving up over the front of the foot.

Saturday I had a day with Nancy Bush, who was teaching us Twined Knitting. Well, I should have done my research, because it turns out that I know how to do twined knitting already. In fact, my friend Doris had asked for help with a twined pattern (called, in this instance, a Latvian plait), and I dissected it and even posted instructions on YouTube for her, so one could say I’ve even taught twined knitting. So, perhaps a waste of money. But, I met some great knitter friends, and did enjoy Nancy Bush’s quaint pseud0-traditionalism. A side-note from the files: somewhere I’d gotten the idea that she was ancient, but no, she’s just a regular middle-aged woman, probably in her late 50s or very early 60s (she maintains a very small internet footprint, so I’ve been unable to dig up anything to confirm her age, except that she started her fiber arts company, Wooly West, in 1980). I will say that I’m pleased to be able to make the lovely embossed chain stitch from the twined knitting, but the “technique” that we spent 6 hours working on (and $150, plus materials fees for which we were overcharged) can mostly be summed up as, “like 2-color fair-isle, except that you twist the yarn at every stitch like intarsia. And you don’t need 2 colors, you can use two ends of the same color.” Not rocket science.

The chains are pretty, though.

My fourth class, on Sunday morning, was the most wholly informative, full of new information: Introduction to Natural Dyeing with Kristine Vejar, of A Verb for Keeping Warm. It was great – she had lots of yarn, plants, extracts, and information to share, as well as a powerpoint to walk us through the Indigo dyeing process. It certainly would have been better to get the hands-on experience of working with her in her studio, playing with the dyepots and mixing colors, but sometimes you can’t bring in hotplates and chemicals and drying racks and dyes into a convention center. I get that. (Although, they did manage to bring in live sheep. Just sayin’.) I’m particularly excited to give this a try now that I learned that, with the exception of the indigo dyeing process (and wode, another insoluble dye that also makes an excellent blue), the dyestuffs are totally non-toxic, so I won’t be so shy about playing with them. And, Sock Summit had a silent auction to benefit Doctors Without Borders, and I “won” the natural dyeing kit that Kristine had put together, with madder root, logwood, and fustic, as well as more instructions and some bare superwash merino. So, I’m soon to be on my way!

Hooray for dyestuffs!

Outside of the classes, I had some great experiences with my fellow knitters. I visited some lovely yarn shops in Portland, a city that is embarrassingly rich with good yarn shops. Urban Fiber Arts, Knit/Purl, and Happy Knits all got visited, and at Knit/Purl I took home a cone of Habu Textile’s Bamboo Copper, which shines beautifully now, although I fear it may oxidize to green! Happy Knits hosted a wonderful party on Saturday night, with beer, cake (amazing cake), fudge, karaoke, raffles, and the one thing that surprisingly had been lacking in my Sock Summit experience – a social venue to chat and knit. The space in all three stores, but especially Happy Knits, was amazing (so, too, is Yarn Garden, down the street, which I didn’t make it to this trip, but visited in 2008). I envy Portland for its affordable real estate and sprawling spaces…and wonderful community of knitters that makes it possible for all these stores and more to thrive in close proximity to one another!

This fellow Raveller enjoyed Voodoo Donuts’ “Cock and Balls.”  I opted for the slightly less risqué Bacon Maple bar (with strips of real bacon) and French Cruller.

Thanks to Ravelry, I was able to visit some great (and delicious) meet-ups – one to Voodoo Donuts on Friday morning, and then to a Dim-Sum lunch on Saturday afternoon. Having a bicycle made it particularly convenient to duck back and forth over the bridge to the Convention Center and back downtown, and the weather couldn’t have been nicer. When I last visited Portland, I’d noticed how omnipresent the biking infrastructure was – bike hitching posts at both ends of every block downtown, bike lanes colored fluorescent green in particularly tricky spots, separate lanes and paths for pedestrians and bikes to share. In my 6 days on bike in Portland, averaging 5+ downtown, high-traffic city miles each day, I never once felt like my person was in danger. Anyone who bikes the greater Boston area will know how opposite that is from the situation in our city, where you’re often lucky if you can go a mile on city streets without having to drive extremely defensively to avoid aggressive (or clueless) cars, jaywalking pedestrians, and other cyclists who show blatant disregard for the rules of traffic. It was a lovely change of pace (and helped restore my blood pressure to its normal, mellow levels, after Boston started to invoke more and more rage)!

The final segment of this chronicle is, of course, a recounting of the FLASH MOB. Wh-what, you may ask? Yes, the flash mob. For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon, the idea is, in a crowded place, all of a sudden, a group of people appear from nowhere, do something together, and then disperse, bewildering onlookers and making a sensation. Choreographed dances are particularly good for this, as they make it seem like suddenly you’re in the midst of a lyric opera…pretty cool, right?

The idea was a good one, but the problem is that it was organized, well, by the Official Sock Summit Organizers. And the Organizers have liabilities. So, while the coolest thing would have been to have renegade knitters appear in the center of downtown, or at the Brewers’ Festival, and do their thing in front of completely unsuspecting strangers, it didn’t make organizational sense. How do you get everyone there and back efficiently? What happens if someone sprains their ankle or has heat exhaustion or some other medical concern? We need to have it somewhere near the Convention Center for transportation efficiency (even though the CC is in the middle of nowhere). And that way, we can have the music set up in a safe place, and have EMTs on hand in case they’re needed. More responsible…and less awesome. But I dig responsibility, and I don’t want to knock it. I’ve been in that place before. I’m just saying that the Flash Mob was really more a pre-arranged demonstration of sock knitters’ choreographed singing and dancing, and less “flash” “mob.” Because 15 minutes before the scheduled start time, everyone was filling the area, lining up, making it perfectly clear that something was up (and obvious enough that CC management went around warning people not to fall off walls and into ditches). So, we were sunk into a recessed area away from the street (and shielded from view), subdivided by a pagoda with a bell in it (such that you can’t see our true numbers).

But, the hour came, and by golly, if we didn’t have a knitterly flash mob of our own!

August 8, 2011 at 4:09 pm 5 comments

Socks on the mind

First things first – they’re done!

Eunny Jang’s Bayerische socks had been in my “to knit” list ever since I found them…in 2006. In January 2010, I bought the yarn for them off a Ravelry user – 2 skeins of Malabrigo Sock in Tiziano Red – and earmarked them for a Ravelympics project. We may need to back up for some of you; Ravelry is an online community for knitters and crocheters, and is awesome. The Ravelympics happen whenever the Olympics are on – you commit to knitting a project during the course of the Games. Well, I didn’t quite expect to get these done during the Olympics, but I had hoped to use that as an impetus to get started on a long-awaited project.

So, in February of 2010, I set to work. Newly-enamored with the Widdershins heel from my Interlocking Leaves project finished the month before (pattern here, my project on Rav here), I decided I’d work the pattern toe-up. And, because I’m a loose knitter and drop down a needle size on everything, I figured I should go from a 0 down to a 00, just to be safe. And set to work…and got pretty far:

And then, I realized I wasn’t happy. One problem was the size. I’d been so anxious to turn the heel that I did so just a bit too soon, and the toes felt cramped. And on the 00 needles, the luscious softness of Malabrigo Sock was lost, feeling stiff and inelastic. They were like cardboard compared to the Interlocking Leaves, and people couldn’t believe it was the same yarn. I was feeling dejected. So I put them away for a while…

side note: this is a teachable moment – gauge is not absolute. The gauge given for a particular pattern does not correspond to some golden mean, it most likely corresponds to the designer’s own gauge, particularly in a self-published pattern that hasn’t been test-knit and run through an editorial board. And, in this case, I’d forgotten that although Eunny Jang is a superstar and an amazingly fast knitter, she’s also a loose knitter, just like me, and that her gauge and mine are pretty interchangeable on her patterns. D’oh!

And then I took pretty pictures, and ripped them out. Rip rip rip. My husband was cringing, asking if I couldn’t salvage them, but no, I couldn’t, and away they went, back into the skein, into the sink to soak, and rolled back into a new ball to start over, top-down, size 0. Re-started sock 1 in September ’10, finished at the end of April ’11 (amidst a flurry of other knitting in the middle, Sylvi coat included).

Then, I realized I had a deadline – Sock Summit! You’ll certainly be hearing more from me about this convention of sock knitters (only 2 weeks away!), but for now, suffice it to say that I wanted my knee-high beauties done for the end of July. So, I balled up skein #2, cast on, and went at it, full force. I got to the calf decreases, compared to the first sock to make sure I’d done the same number of repeats, and noticed something horrible. Terrible!

The second sock, with the exact same number of rows, was about 1″ too short, at only a third of the way completed.

ARGHHH*&+@^~*+&%$=#<@#!>!&kersplat…

But, denial is my friend. Oh yes. “Maybe it’ll stretch in the wash.” “I haven’t tried it on as many times as the other one, so it’s probably going to stretch out.” “It doesn’t bother me.” Ha…ha..ha. So, I continued knitting on the sock for another month. And then I bit the bullet, and ripped it all out again, skeined up the yarn, washed it, dried it, rolled it into another ball, and set out for the last time.

I started sock #2 on June 12ish, while on vacation at J’s parents’ house, and I had a couple of hours of uninterrupted knitting each day, which helped significantly. I was in the zone, knocking out an inch of Bavarian twisted cable stitches an hour. I kept at it solidly (well, knitting a few things in the meanwhile), and finally, they’re done, with plenty of time for Sock Summit!

July 11, 2011 at 2:04 pm 2 comments


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