Wednesday, July 27, 2011

French Market Socks--Band Heel

Well, I made my way through the unusual band heel instructions. This is a pretty bad photo, but you can see that the colors alternate stitch by stitch along the heel flap and heel turn. For this type of heel, a "band" of heel flap stitches continues around the bottom of the heel. It is ideal for the striped pattern Nancy Bush choose for this sock.

After the stitches are picked up for the gusset, the peculiar shape of the heel is evident: There is a bit of a dimple at the back of the heel and the base of the heel appears as a bulge at the bottom of the foot. Unblocked, it looks like it wouldn't be very comfortable.

Here's a summary of my changes and what I've learned so far:
  • I like to read my knitting one a chart is established so I don't have to keep referring back to the chart or use a row counter. For the diamond pattern on the lower leg and foot, things went much more smoothly once I realized that color B (gold for me) always starts as a single stitch, then grows to 5 stitches. The other two colors (A and B) do the opposite: they begin as 5 stitches and decrease to 1.
  • Because these socks are coming out a little on the small side, I added one repeat of Chart 4 before beginning the heel.
  • When purling the WS rows of the heel flap, be sure to bring the working needle behind both strands of yarn. Otherwise, one of the colors will show as a horizontal band on the RS of the work. 
  • The edge stitches on my heel flap were quite loose and sloppy (a result of my poor two-color tension), I decided to pick up both loops of the gusset stitches and work them through the back loops, as shown on page 178 of Sock Knitting Master Class. This helped tighten up the pick-up edges.
  • Because the gusset pick-up round results in the desired number of foot sts (i.e., there are no gusset decreases), the sock looks unusually narrow where the stitches are joined again for working in rounds. I assume the stitches will have to stretch a lot when pulled on a foot. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why I'm a Spoiled Brat #16

On Wednesday, I board a plane for Portland, Oregon, where I will be teaching at the second Sock Summit (the first was in 2009). This is the most amazing event dedicated to sock knitters, from first-time newbies to die-hard veterans. I used to think it odd to tell shuttle drivers that I was going to a knitting convention. You can imagine how their eyebrows raise I mention I'm going to a sock convention.
But I digress.
Last week I got an email from Jordana Paige, maker of some of the most beautiful and functional knitting bags on the market. Jordana wondered if I'd like a new bag to carry my knitting and class notes at Sock Summit. My first thought was that this was a hoax by one of many mischievous friends. But it was for real.
Yesterday, the UPS truck stopped in front of my house and the man in brown brought a box to my door.
I now have a spanking new bag to show off at the convention (and everywhere else)!

If you see me and my bag at Sock Summit, be sure to say "hi," And if you need a knitting bag, check out the ones by Jordana Paige!

Friday, July 22, 2011

French Market Socks--Making Progress

I'm slowly making progress on Nancy Bush's French Market Socks.
My changes and tips:
  • I decided to work the solid-color rounds at the beginning of the sock on size 3 (3.25 mm) needles and the colorwork section on size 4 (3.5 mm) needles. I thought that this would help maintain even tension between solid-color and colorwork sections. 
  • I also decided to use a set of four dpn instead of the five that Nancy specifies. This gave me one less boundary between needles, which I thought would help me keep consistent gauge. (I tried working the magic-loop method to reduce the number of boundaries to just two, but for some reason, it was more difficult for me than working with dpns.)
  • I used the Old Norwegian method (page 39) to cast on 68 stitches on size 3 (3.25 mm). 
  • Because the color patterns require specific numbers of sts, I opted to follow the stitch counts as written instead of adding sts to make a sock that would fit me. If I decide I want to make a pair for myself, I'll use yarn that will give me fewer sts to the inch (perhaps 12 or 13 sts to 2") to end up with a larger size.
  • When I got to the twist row, I got confused by clockwise and counterclockwise directions, so I'm not sure I twisted the needle in the proper direction. I rotated the left needle tip to the back, under the rows of knitting to the front, then into position to work again, because that seemed the easiest to do. But I think the you'll get the same look if you rotate the needle to the front, under the knitting, then to the back, too. 

  • Although the instructions say to position the sts so there are 17 sts on each of four needles, I used just three needles and I adjusted the sts so that each needle began with k2 and ended with p2 to make it easier to work the rib at the beginning (I always find it easier to begin a needle with knit sts instead of purl sts). This meant that I had 16 sts on the first needle, 36 on the second needle, and 16 sts on the third needle. 
  • I tried holding one yarn in each hand, but my right hand just can't get the hang of working the English method and the tension between the two colors was way, way different. I settled on holding both yarns in my left hand and knitting both yarns using the Continental method. I consistently held one color (always the gold when it was involved) over my index finger and the other color over my middle finger. At this point, I'm only dropping a needle every 6th needle change or so. 

Unlike Nancy's originals, the colors are mottled here and have a more impressionistic feel. I love the regal colors!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

French Market Socks

The second pair of socks in Sock Knitting Master Class is Nancy Bush's French Market Socks (page 56).

Now, I have a confession to make: I struggle with stranded colorwork patterns. I like the look of stranded colorwork, but I never learned to tension two yarns at the same time--either one in each hand or both in the same hand. Every time I try to learn, I've gotten impatient and gone back to my primitive method of dropping one yarn, then picking up the other yarn and re-tensioning it in my hand. It makes for slow progress and my tension always suffers. So, the French Market Socks will be the first bit of color stranding that I've attempted in several (maybe many) years and I'm a bit apprehensive about the results. But because so many of you are joining my crazy idea to knit all the socks in the book, I'm determined to give it a try.

For her socks, Nancy used Elemental Affects Shetland Fingering Yarn (100% Shetland wool at 115 yd/oz) in shades of blue and gray. This is a gently twisted two-ply yarn that, according to Clara Parkes (page 60) is perfectly suited because Nancy worked it in a stranded pattern that creates a double layer of fabric throughout. Clara also notes that the slightly fuzzy nature of the woolen-spun yarn helps conceal the colors being stranded along the back of the fabric and that if they were worked in a smooth worsted-spun yarn yarn, the gauge would need to be "spot on." Uh-oh. I think I'm in trouble.

I don't have any gently twisted two-ply yarn in my stash (I wouldn't normally consider it for socks). The closest I have in three colors is Dye Dreams Luster Sox (100% superwash Bluefaced Leicester at 415 yd/100 g). Sadly, Dye Dreams, er, well, "died" last year. It's a tragic loss to sock (and other) knitters. This yarn is a smooth worsted-spun three-ply, which, according to Clara, is going to give much louder, brighter shine and clarity. I hope that the small bit of fuzzy halo in this yarn as well as the color variations in each "nearly-solid" ball will help to obscure my irregular stitches, but based on my gauge swatch (which I knitted in the round to match the way the socks will be knitted), I think every nuance is going to show.

I tried several needle sizes before settling on size 4 (3.5 mm) for these socks. Normally I like to knit the upper legs on a size larger needle, but this fabric became too loose and wimpy on size 5 (3.75 mm) needles so I worked the entire socks on size 4. It turns out that several decreases are worked along the leg so the calf is automatically a bit wider than the ankle anyway.

Nancy's instructions are for using a set of five double-pointed but I lost one of my size 4 needles and work with just four needles instead (I combined the stitches on Nancy's Needles 2 and 3 onto a single needle). I tried the magic-loop method, but, inexplicably, I found it easier for me to work the stranded colorwork on double-pointed needles.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Asymmetrical Cales--Both Socks

I finished the second Asymmetrical Cables sock from Sock Knitting Master Class! As usual, the second sock of a pair was easier for me because I'd already found the stumbling spots. I was careful to make these socks fit me (I added 4 stitches to the cast-on to make them 1/2-inch bigger than the middle size. Read my previous posts (July 1, 6, and 8) for all the adjustments and tips I discovered along the way.

Next up are Nancy Bush's French Market Socks. I think I'll use the gold, burgundy, and raspberry Dye Dreams Luster Socks yarn that I have in my stash. (Sadly, Dye Dreams closed last year and this yarn is no longer available.) This tightly spun, semi-solid 3-ply yarn is quite different than the softly spun heathered 2-ply that Nancy used in the original so I expect that my version will look quite different.
I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Taking a Spinning Break

Because KnittingDaily is posting my comments about knitting my way through Sock Knitting Master Class (it's one of the forums), I've been asked to slow down until people have a chance to get the book and search their stashes for yarn. I never expected people to actually join me in this crazy venture, but I'm delighted to see that it has drawn some attention. Wouldn't it be wonderful if a whole group of us knit every pair of socks in the book?!
To keep my fingers busy while I take a break, I've started spinning some of the alpaca fleece I bought from Stargazer Ranch Alpacas a couple of weeks ago. (Every morning I log onto their website to watch the live cams of the mothers and babies.) So far, I've spun half of the "barn blend" I bought and I love it! (I apologize for the blurry photo--I must have been shaking in my excitement.)

I don't know how much I'll end up with yet so I'm not sure if I will ply it on itself or with some luscious wool/silk blend (I'm thinking Jaggerspun Zephyr). This has the makings of a gorgeous scarf or shawl.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Asymmetrical Cables--First Sock Completed

I finished the first Asymmetrical Cables sock and I love it! What you can't see in the photo is how the left cable panel travels across the top of the foot and that the other side of the leg is all stockinette stitch. But because the other sock is a mirror image, you'll be able to see both sides at once when I finish the second sock and take a photo of the two together.

Here are my notes and changes for the lower leg, heel, and toe.
  • Because I added 4 stitches to the original cast-on for the middle size, I modified the instructions to have 37 stitches between the the last stitch of the one cable panel and the first stitch of the other panel (the instructions called for 33 stitches in this section). 
  • At the beginning of the heel, I had 70 stitches (instead of 66). I worked the heel on 34 stitches (instead of 32), leaving 36 stitches for the instep (instead of 34).
  • This heel flap is worked a little different than most--it has the slipped stitches worked on wrong-side rows and the right-side rows simply knitted. My muscle memory wanted to do the opposite (slip every other stitch on right-side rows and purl the wrong-side rows), so I stumbled a few times when I wasn't paying attention.
  • To make a firm join between the heel flap and foot, I picked up the gusset stitches through the back of both legs of each selvedge stitch, as demonstrated on the accompanying DVD.
  • I wanted a wider band on the wedge toe than called for in the instructions so I worked my decreases one stitch in from the end of the needles (i.e., "k1, ssk" and "k2tog, k1") instead of at the end of each needle ("ssk" and "k2tog").
  • The toe started to look a bit long so when I had decreased every other round to 36 stitches, I changed to decreasing every round until 16 stitches remained. Then I worked the Kitchener stitch to finish it off.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Asymmetrical Cables--Making Progress

I'm making good progress on Cookie A's Asymmetrical Cables in Sock Knitting Master Class

I have made a few changes and came up with a few tips so far that might help you if you decide to knit these socks for yourself (and I heartily encourage you to do so).
  • The finished sizes are for 8" or 9" foot circumference but my foot measures 8 1/2". So, I added 4 stitches (the gauge is 8 sts/inch) and cast on 68 sts instead of 64. This adds a full repeat of the k2, p2 rib and the extra sts will be worked in stockinette so they won't interfere with the cable pattern. I worked the Inc rnd at the beginning of the cable pattern as: k1, p6, k1fbf, p6, k38 (instead of 34), p6, k1fbf, k1, p6, k1 to end up with 72 sts for the leg.
  • I used the Old Norwegian cast-on to ensure a stretchy edge. 
  • To make the upper leg a little bigger to accommodate my calf muscle (well, there's not much muscle, but there is a bulge), I cast on and knitted with needles one size larger than needed to get the specified gauge. For this yarn, I got the correct gauge with size 2 (2.75 mm) needles so I started with size 3 needles for the top half of the leg. The photo above shows where I'll change to the "real" needles. 
  • At first I didn't notice the difference between the Left Cable Panel and the Right Cable Panel. They are the same except for the direction of the cable twist on the first row, so as long as you get the first row right (which I didn't the first time), you can read your knitting to know which way to turn subsequent cables.
  • Another thing I noticed after a few rounds is that garter st is worked inside the cable medallions. If you remember that these center sts are knitted on the rounds that involve cable turns, it will be easy to remember when to knit and when to purl them. 
  • I rarely use a row counter. I kept track of the number of rows worked even in the center of the medallions by counting the purl ridges. There will be 4 garter ridges between Rnd 5 and Rnd 13 of the cable panels.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Socks--A Personal Challenge

As I worked on Sock Knitting Master Class, I found that I wanted to knit every pair of socks. Not only are they all good designs, but each one has at least one lesson in technique or design application. I am certain that anyone who knits all of the socks in the book will end up a veritable master (hence, the words "Master Class" in the title). And who better to give it a go than myself? So, I've decided that I will work my way through the book, knitting each pair of socks (well, maybe with a few exceptions or modifications to suit myself) and hopefully using up some of my stash yarn in the process.
I'll write posts about my experiences as I go so you'll get even more insights into these fabulous designs.

First off is Cookie A's Asymmetrical Cables (page 48), which are shown in Pagewood Farm St Elias (80% Bluefaced Leicester, 20% nylon) knitted at a gauge of 8 stitches/inch in stockinette, worked in rounds..

In her note on yarns (page 53), Clara Parkes says these socks are best knitted with "a yarn that has three or more plies to render the raised cable pattern." She also suggests keeping to a "solid or flickering semi-solid that won't distract from the flow of the cables."

The yarn in my stash that best fits these criteria is Spirit Trails Frija (80% superwash merino, 10% cashmere, 10% nylon; 377 yd/4 oz) in a beautiful combination of blues and teals. I'm certain that I'll appreciate that 10% of cashmere! To begin, as I always begin, I knitted a gauge swatch. 

I get the correct gauge on my Signature size 2 (2.75 mm) needles. I decided to use double-pointed needles because the extra-sharp points on the Signature needles will make easy work of the traveling cable pattern. Tonight I'll cast on for real and start my first sock of this "master" journey. I can't wait!