Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sock Summit Day 4: Photos, photos, photos

I had the distinct pleasure today of taking Franklin Habit's famous and wonderful "Shooting Yourself in the Foot" class... oh no, wait... that's "Photographing your Fibre". But he did spend a few minutes on photographing your socks on your own feet.

Any of my friends (and readers of my blog) will know that I'm desperately in need of improvement in the area of photography.

So I spent the day playing with my camera...

Things We Learned at Sock Summit Day 2

I am a pick up artist. I did a demo on the show floor today about how and where to best pick up stitches for the gusset. Just one "aha" from the audience would have been enough, but I had a couple. Yay!

It is possible to go to the Oregon Brewer's Festival and still successfully take one of my classes. And not just any class - my War & Peace Two Socks One Inside the Other Class. You know who you are... Seriously, girl, you got chutzpah and mad skillz. I also love that the beer festival has a craft table, where you make pretzel necklaces.

And Knitgrrl scares hipsters. Dinner at Doug Fir restaurant, surrounded by pale, tattooed young men with sideburns.

It's been a busy day.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sock Summit Day 2: Teaching & Bacon

Honoured to be here.

You know, here, in Portland, at Sock Summit.

Portland is a town that loves bacon. They have bacon donuts, bacon ice cream and bacon yarn!

So far, only one skein of yarn purchased - a jaunty orange and black stripy number from The Amy Lee Show.

How absolutely perfectly me is this? Cannot wait to knit it!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Because Size Matters: Foot Size Survey

I've been talking a lot about sock sizing of late.

When sizing socks, foot circumference is the key measurement. For the vast majority of sock designs, the length of the foot is controlled simply by working fewer or more rounds in that section- totally independent of the number of stitches you cast on.

When sizing shoes, foot length is the primary measurement. This means that all of the information out there in the world about foot size is focused on foot length.

Since foot length is remarkably unrelated to foot circumference - small feet can be wide, long feet can be narrow - telling me your shoe size tells me very little about how big your socks should be. A lot of the time, when designers are creating socks, we're guessing about how they should be sized.

With help from my friends and collaborators at Sock Summit, Knitty and Cooperative Press, I'm trying to change this. I'm launching a foot size survey, and I'm hoping you can help us out.

Send email to with the following info:
  • Your shoe size: US or European size & gender (e.g. US Women’s size 8)
  • Your foot length
  • Ankle circumference around the narrowest part of your ankle
  • Foot circumference around the ball of your foot
  • Circumference around your foot at your ankle
  • Diagonal measurement around your heel, from the base of your heel up over the top of your foot
  • Circumference of your calf six inches (15cm) up from the ground

And if you can talk your friends and family into letting you measure their feet, we’d love that info too.

We'll crunch the data and come up with a set of measurements that we will publish here, through and the Cooperative Press website, for all sock designers to use.

Thank you! Your reward for participation will be better sized sock patterns for everyone - and our eternal gratitude, of course!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

On Matters of Size: Flash Your Stash

I was planning and packing for the Sock Summit trip yesterday. The key consideration for any knitter when planning a trip is what knitting to take.

And for Sock Summit, that's doubly important - sure, it's gotta be socks, but it's gotta be cool socks. Cool yarn, and a cool project.I knew that I needed a plain and simple stocking stitch sock, for times when I'd be chatting. That choice was easy - the coolest yarn in my stash is a skein of Wollmeise in Birkenrinde (birch bark) that was purchased at the actual Wollmeise shop (oooh!) by a student of mine. (Thanks Andrea, if you're reading!)

But I also wanted an interesting sock project to show off my chops. I had a stitch pattern in mind, but wasn't sure about the yarn. So I went digging in the stash.

It's fun to rummage through one's own stash once in a while, to remind yourself of what goodies you have. And because I am going to Sock Summit, I figured it was a good idea to see what was what, so I knew what I didn't need to buy... and to see if there was anything I wanted to buy more of.

Now, I've already confessed in public that I keep a spreadsheet with a stash inventory, but I knew that the sock yarn section of inventory had got a little out of date. I therefore took the opportunity to pull it all out, admire it, and list it. And count.

And I 'fessed up on Twitter: not including WIPs and leftovers, I have 43 pairs' worth of socks in yarn.

This caused a little storm on Twitter among some of my very good knitting friends, necessitating the use of the hashtag "#flashusyourstash", naturally.

And so my friends, they also counted. Now, these ladies are all excellent knitters, and keen sock knitters, specifically, and each of them has a close and long-standing relationship with a LYS that has a rather terrific selection of sock yarn.

What I learnt from this exercise is that, apparently, I am a rank amateur when it comes to stashing sock yarn. No-one else had a number less than 100.

I have some serious catching up to do. Hey... I know just where I can get that problem taken care of.

Sock Summit 2011, here I come!

Monday, July 18, 2011

On Sock Sizing, Part I: Choosing Which Size to Knit

I've had some terrific feedback in response to my last few posts - thanks! I'm glad people are finding the training socks helpful.

I promised that I would also tackle the topic of sock sizing... I'm going to divide this up into two: sizing as it relates existing sock patterns, and how to customize.

This will not be news to people who know me well, or have had a sock knitting class with me, but it's true: I have small feet. I wear a US women's size 6 shoe. Now, these feet of mine aren't extremely small; I can still easily find shoes to fit, but they are small enough that sock sizing becomes an issue.

Also well-known about me and just as true: I get very cranky about sock patterns that come in one-size-fits-all. Because it's just not true. One size does not fit all. I've got narrow size 6 feet; a good friend of mine has wide size 11 feet. The idea that the same sock would fit us both equally well is silly: there's a good 20% different in both foot length and circumference between my feet and my friend's. Yes, that's right: 20%. Put into terms that are easy to visualize, that's like expecting the same swimsuit to fit a size 4 and a size 12 equally well. Sure, the fabric stretches, but it won't be comfortable.

So when knitters are asking me for sock pattern recommendations, I tend to point them to sock patterns that come in multiple sizes.

And how to choose which sock size to knit? The first socks I knitted were all too big for me - by the end of the day they had stretched out and would fall off.

The thing is that wool and wool-based sock yarns (which most of them are) have natural elasticity (up to 25% or even more, depending on the breed of sheep!), and with the heat and moisture of your feet, your socks stretch out during the day. To ensure they stay up and on, they need to be made with negative ease. That is, the socks should be smaller than you - about 10 to 15%. Your socks should start the day a little tight - not circulation-constrictingly tight, but snug - so that when they stretch out, they stay on. Think about your commercially-bought socks - they all stretch to fit.

So when choosing a sock pattern, if you're choosing a pattern sized by finished measurements (which I think is a very helpful idea, are you listening, designers?), choose a size that's about 10-15% smaller than your actual ankle/foot circumference. For an adult sock, that's about an inch/2.5cm smaller.

And the same thing applies to foot length, too... I always knit my socks about a quarter to half an inch (a cm) shorter than foot length.

And after a long day of wearing socks, they're still comfortable and they stay on when I take my boots off!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Toe-Up vs. Top-Down Socks: Why Two?, Which First?, Which is Better?

In follow up to my last two posts, the toe-up and the top-down training socks, I thought I'd tackle some questions I get asked often.

Of the two methods for knitting socks, top-down vs. toe up: Which should I do first?Which is easier? Which is better?

Which should I do first? I like to recommend new sock knitters start with a top-down sock, for the simple reason that the start is easier.

Which is easier? Hmmm... a tough one to answer. They both have their tricky bits: the toe of a toe-up sock can be fiddly, and the gusset pickup can be challenging for a top-down sock. In either case, don't believe what the muggles says - the heel is not the hardest part, in either case! As long as you have the right number of stitches, and you follow the instructions precisely, the heel is easy! Honestly, they are about equivalent in overall difficulty level.

Which is better? The easy answer to this is, simply, whichever one you like knitting best. They both have their pros and cons, and their defenders and detractors.

Reasons to be excited:
If you're worried about running out of yarn, working toe-up is the answer. As long as you've got enough yarn to get past the heel, you can just work the leg until you run out. Divide up the yarn evenly into two balls, and you can use up every last yard of each.

Things to be aware of:
Toe-up socks demand special cast-ons and cast offs. None of them are difficult, but make sure that you have access to your favourite resources (books or the internet) as you work. That is, don't do what I did, and attempt to knit your first toe-up sock on a 5 hour flight without any reference books.

There are two types of toe-up heels: with and without a gusset. A gusseted sock tends to fit most feet better, because it adds fabric around the arch of your foot. A non-gusseted sock fits best on a foot with a flatter arch. I use a gusset in my toe-up socks, as does the goddess mother of the toe-up sock, Wendy D. Johnson. I would recommend you look for toe-up sock patterns that do have a gusset.

Reasons to be excited:
Top-down is the "traditional" and therefore more common way to knit socks, and there are more top-down sock patterns out there. (This is changing over time, but many of the masters - Ann Budd, Nancy Bush, Cookie A., Hunter Hammersen - design top-down.)

I've published a lot of very cool top-down sock patterns... :-)

Things to be aware of:
You have to pick up stitches. This terrifies some people. Again, it's not difficult, but make sure you have reference material handy if you are uncertain about how to do it.

You do need a stretchy cast-on. Long tail works brilliantly.

This is a bigger discussion. Some sock knitters feel that it's easier to custom-fit a toe-up sock. I'll address this in a later post.

No matter which you do first, I highly recommend you try both constructions to see which you enjoy, and to see which fits you best.

Once you've tried the top-down training sock, consider my Basic Ribbed Sock pattern - free from Ravelry: download now. It's designed to be very accessible to newer sock knitters.

And once you've got the hang of the toe-up training sock, try Deb Barnhill's Back to Basics toe-up pattern from Knitty, here. It's terrific, well-written, and very accessible.

And re: whether to knit socks on DPNs, magic loop or two circulars: work with what you know! I don't recommend trying to learn a new type of needle setup at the same time as you're trying to learn sock knitting.

Once you're comfortable with socks, then experiment with different needle configurations to see which you like best.

And then once you've figured that out, then try two at once.

Friday, July 08, 2011

And now, the Toe-Up Training Sock

Fancy going the other way?

The Toe-Up Training Sock. An ideal way to try toe-up sock knitting.

Version for DPNs: download now

Version for Magic Loop/2 Circulars: download now

As with the top-down version, this is designed to be a one-evening knit, and takes you through the entire process of knitting a toe-up sock, without driving yourself mad with teeny-tiny needles and teeny-tiny yarn. Uses a scrap of worsted weight and 4.5mm needles of your choice.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

New & Improved Training Sock Pattern: Top-Down, for DPNs & Magic Loop/2 Circulars

Long ago, I published an article on Knitty, designed to be an introduction to the whys and wherefores of Sock Knitting.

In the article, I included my Training Sock pattern.

I've been using this pattern for years, as a quick and easy way to learn about sock knitting. It's designed to be a one-evening knit, and takes you through the entire process of knitting a top-down sock, without driving yourself mad with teeny-tiny needles and teeny-tiny yarn.

The pattern itself hasn't changed, but I've updated the instructions recently. In particular, I'm becoming fairly insistent of late that sock patterns should be written to support whichever needle configuration the knitter prefers: dpns, magic loop or two circulars.

With that in mind, I've got two versions of the new and improved Top-Down Training Sock Pattern, one for DPNs and one for Magic Loop and 2 circulars. PDFs available for free download from Ravelry. If you want to learn how to knit a top-down sock, start there!

DPNs version: download now.

Magic Loop version: download now.

(Toe-up Training Sock Pattern to follow.)