Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions: Sock Knitting. Number umpty-seven in a series of several million.

I had a great Twitter conversation this morning, and I thought it was worth summarizing here, as it touched on a couple of great points.

A knitter asked about whether it was possible to convert all sock patterns to be worked two-at-a-time, toe up.

The key tweet was this one...

It wasn't directled specifically at me, but I couldn't NOT reply.

My first reply was "Why?" (The unspoken follow-up being" "Are you trying to kill yourself?")

Two-at-a-time toe-up is so not where I would start a new sock knitter, no matter how experienced or talented. I like working toe-up socks, and I find two-at-a-time very amusing, but the start of a toe-up is pretty fiddly for a new sock knitter,and then to compound that by having to keep track of two socks and two yarns... well, it just seems less than fun.

The entirely reasonable reply was that the knitter had been told that toe-up gives you a good way to try the sock on as you go.

Aha, I said! AHA!

This is one of my favourite myths about sock knitting: that there's no meaningful way to try on a top-down sock as you go. Not true!

After all, the sock typically has the same number of stitches in the leg as the foot (given that most people's ankle circumference is pretty close to their foot circumference), so you can put the leg on your foot to check fit. Easy!

And related myth: there's no way to adjust a top down sock foot. Equally not true!

You can try the sock on again after you've turned the heel and you're working the gusset decreases. And you can adjust the fit of the foot by working more (or fewer) gusset decreases. Easy.

And it's actually easier to get the foot length correct for a top-down sock than a toe-up.

Controversial Opinion Alert!

Really. I'll say that again.


Here's the thing: to get the foot length right in a toe-up sock, you need to start the heel at the right place. And to start it at the right place, you need to know how long the heel turn is, and then start working the heel that distance short of foot length. Thing is, I haven't seen many toe up sock patterns that explicitly state that length.

So it's often a guess, or a vague instruction about placement on the foot, or worse, a set length (e.g. 'work foot until sock measures 6 inches, then turn heel'). And if you get it wrong, you've got a fair bit of knitting to undo, and it can be tricky knitting to redo.

It's more common to see a top down sock pattern that tells you when to start the toe(usually, 'work foot until it measures 2 inches short of full foot length'). And if it turns out you've messed it up, there's less knitting in a toe (and it's usually more straightforward), so it's less painful to undo and rework.

To the intrepid knitter on Twitter, I suggested a "walk before you run" approach. I strongly believe that a top-down sock is easiest for a new sock knitter, as you get a chance to build confidence with the tiny yarn and tiny needles working on a set number of stitches in the leg, before you have to start worrying about the tricky stuff. With a toe-up sock, you're immediately thrown in the deep end: you start with a small number of stitches (which is trickier) and straight away have to start shaping the toe.

Once you've mastered top-down, then try toe-up, and then when you're comfortable with toe-up, try two at a time. I also strongly believe a knitter should try both styles to see which construction they enjoy more - and which fits better. They don't fit the same, and feet can vary wildly.

(Totally new to sock knitting? Start here, with my Top Down Training Sock! And if you're ready for toe up, here's the Toe Up Training Sock!)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

If I Knew Then What I Know Now...

Wow. This is both the best and worst thing about the internet.

Back around the dawn of time - well, October 2005, I was knitting the Rogue hoodie, and I blogged about grafting the hood.

It was my ninth post on this blog. 9th!

Rogue is an amazing pattern, a fabulous cabled hoodie with cables that flow into the hood. The hood has to be seamed at the top, and the designer recommended grafting it, although if memory serves the three-needle BO was also suggested as an option.

Not to be one to resist a challenge, I forged ahead with the grafting. It wasn't easy, working across the cables. After all, cables are ribs, and therefore there are combinations of knits and purls.

The standard instructions for grafting that are offered are for stockinette stitch fabrics, and it doesn't look right if you blithely follow them across reverse stockinette stitch (or indeed garter stitch) - and it looks even wonkier if you try to make it work across a ribbed fabric that changes between knits and purls on a single row. I spent a fair bit of time figuring out how to do it for the ribbing. It worked, I was happy with it, and I blogged about how to do it.

I received a very nice email last week from designer and teacher Joan Schrouder. She informed me that my blog post was being discussed on Ravelry, and she very politely and very gently took exception to it.

The bit that's wrong is that I made a couple of sweeping statements about how to graft in reverse stocking stitch and garter stitch. And I was wrong.

Not totally wrong, but wrong enough. What I offered did indeed work for Rogue, but was not the global solution I thought it was.

I wrote the post in 2005 and hadn't read it since. My knowledge and experience have grown significantly since then, and I now understand better the technique of grafting and all the possible situations and required variations.

Once the embarrassment wore off, I was thrilled that Joan took the time to get in touch, and I thanked her profusely. And I promised her I would update the post - which I will.

So yes, the best thing about the internet is that it's forever; everything is preserved so that it can always be found. This is also the worst thing about the internet: that my naivete is still there to be found.

I'm just glad I was informed, so I can fix it.

Ever growing, ever learning...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Being Mid-Atlantic; Whither Stocking Stitch? The Eggcorn!

I've lived in Canada some time, but my language often reflects my UK upbringing. Both my accent and choice of words have been described as 'mid-Atlantic'.

It's totally unconcious, "tom-aaah-to", "yog-urt", my overuse of "lovely", that sort of thing, but I do feel like I am pretty bilingual, with equal capacity to function and be aware of language on both sides of the Atlantic.

This week, however, I had a surprise...

In the last little while, I'd heard more than one knitter clearly enunciate "stocking-knit", to describe the fabric you get when knitting on one side, and purling on the other.

I asked on Twitter if this was just a mis-reading of "stockinette" (as I felt it might be), or whether it was a regional pronunciation.

A Canadian in my tweet-stream suggested that it might be a sort of portmanteau of "stocking stitch" and stockinette", a sort of compromise pronunciation, somewhere between the two. This seemed to me a reasonable answer: after all, if you're learning a word that you haven't seen written, you are led by how others say it (witness common mistakes like "I should of done my homework last night", and my confusion about the name of the Canadian film director Ruba Nadda - until I saw it written down, I honestly thought it was a man, called Rueben Atta.).  (This led to a different discussion, too, about the phenomenon of the "eggcorn".)

Anyway, I retweeted this reply about the portmanteau theory, and received a number of puzzled replies back, questioning "stocking stitch".  I was quietly amazed.

Stocking stitch is the UK term; and stockinette is the US term for this fabric. (There is debate about whether you need "stitch" after stockinette; my preference is not, e.g. "Work 10 rows stockinette, then bind off" (bind off vs. cast off is a dicussion for a different day))

I had believed that Canadians tended towards the UK usage, and that the US audience would be familiar with both terms, even if they preferred one. From the replies on Twitter, it seems like I'm totally off-base on both of those assumptions...

Brits & Canadians: What name do you use?
Americans: Have you ever encountered "stocking stitch"? Did you know what it meant before I mentioned it?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

September: Hitting the Road with My Knitting

Good grief - how did it get to be September already?

My calendar is filling up with all sorts of excellent events this fall.

First up, this weekend, I'm at the Kitchener Waterloo Guild Knitter's Fair. I'll be prowling the floor, shopping, and spending some time with my girls in the Shall We Knit booth, signing my book. Talk about opening the season with a bang: this event is a major highlight of my year.

Amy will also be there, selling excellent new Knitty project bags. Look for me wearing my TARDIS shawl... and I bet you Kim will have some of her fab yarn in just the right colour...

The following weekend I'm off to Ancaster, to visit my friends at the Needle Emporium, to teach two classes: Cabling without a Cable Needle, and Introduction to Lace Knitting. More info here.

And the weekend of the 29th I'm off to Collingwood to Grey Heron's fall Knit Fest. I'm teaching two fun classes: Continental Knitting, and The Perfect Fit. More info here.