Thursday, October 22, 2015

On the "Normal" Heel Turn

I gave a presentation at the Toronto Knitter's Guild last night, and I talked about (amongst other things!) sock heel.

A woman came to me after the presentation and asked me why I didn't do a "normal" sock heel. I laughed a little - I knew what she meant. There are lots of heel turns, some newer and some traditional.

The heel turn I use is known variously as a German, Dutch, band or square heel. 'Band' or 'square' are good names for it, as it creates a square under your heel. The thing is, it's not the most common - perhaps not the "normal" one this knitter was used to seeing.

Band heel - in miniature

I choose this one for two reasons: it's easy to work, AND it's easy to resize. It's easy to work, in that you're always working the same number of stitches back and forth in the middle, and always placing the decrease in the same place each time. I find that helps me keep track of where I am, and reduces the need to count.

There is another popular heel turn, called the "Half Handkerchief" - chances are you've encountered this one before. It creates a little triangle shape under the back of the heel. It's easily identified by the fact that on each heel turn row, you work one more stitch each time after the decrease. It's always "knit a few stitches, ssk, k1" on the right side, and "purl a few stitches, p2tog, p1" on the wrong side. (There's also a variation called a Round Heel that works the same way - the difference between the two is just how many stitches are in the center at the back, and therefore the shape the results - is it pointier like a folded handkerchief shape, or is it more round.)

Half handkerchief

Round heel
These both fit nicely, too.

And these turns are utterly interchangeable. I like mine for the two reasons that I mentioned above, but if you prefer another, you can certainly use that in my patterns.

And indeed, that's what I said to this knitter: if you like a particular heel turn, then it's easily substituted. That's one of the great things about sock knitting: you can combine elements from other patterns.

(There are some limitations, in that both of these heels are flap-and-gusset-heels; if you want to substitute for a short-row or flapless heel, a little bit more work is required, but not a lot.)

And hey, if you like my favourite heel, you can use that in other patterns, too.

Update: Christine asks a sensible question, below...
I've found that they have slightly different shapes. With you saying that they're utterly interchangeable, I assume it's just placebo effect that makes us think that one fits better than the other? 
Yup, they are different shapes, as per the pictures above. And yup, they do fit a little differently, it's true. But the fit difference - for most people, for most feet - isn't all that noticeable. When I said "interchangeable", I meant that in the patterns you could chose to work one in place of the other, with no larger effect on the pattern. The point is that you can find one you like best - in terms of working and wearing and fit - and use that.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The "Better Elsewhere" Collection

If you’re a sock knitter, you like to buy sock yarn. But sometimes the “sock” yarn isn’t right for socks: sometimes the yardage is too short, sometimes the colours don’t work out, sometimes it’s just too pretty (or too much fun) to hide.

I offer a solution: three not-too-challenging garter-based wrap patterns, designed specifically for showing off socks yarns that might be better used elsewhere. These aren’t delicate precious lace pieces, they’re intended to be worn casually, every day.

Somewhere Wrap: Instead of mis-matched socks, show off the entire colour progression in a full skein of gradient yarn in this sideways shawl. Simple lace and easy short rows, explained thoroughly – suitable even for beginner lace knitters.

There There Shawl: Why waste those colours you fell in love with on the insides of your shoes? Tame that wild variegation in a triangle shawl with a little-known garter stitch variation and enjoy all that colour as a frame for your face, or a way to brighten up your dark winter coat.

Nowhere Cowl: Yardage too short for adult socks (Noro Silk Garden Sock I'm looking at you) is perfect for cosy and stylish neckwear. The lace pattern is easy to work and memorize, and the pretty results can be worn as a traditional scarf or seamed into a cowl.

They're all easy knits, suitable for working on during stress-full baseball games, or election night TV. And I bet you've already got some suitable yarn in your stash...

The collection of three patterns is available for $7.50 on Ravelry, (and soon on Patternfish and Craftsy).

Many thanks to Meredith Sexton and Anne Blayney for their help with the photos. Meredith for her wizardry behind the camera, and Anne for her willingness to dress like me for a day...

Monday, October 05, 2015

Book Review: Short Row Knits

Being a knitter of a technical bent, I rather like a good short-row. Short rows are useful for turning corners, for shaping shawls, and for adding bust shaping. (And if you've ever taken a garment sizing or alterations class with me, you'll know that I am very pro-bust shaping.)

I was very happy to get my hands on a copy of Carol Feller's new book, Short Row Knits.

It's a great combination of technique and pattern book. If you're looking for a guide to short rows, how to work them, and what to do with them, look no further. If you're looking for a nice combination of accessories and garments that are shaped in interesting and intelligent ways, this is an excellent choice.

I use short rows in a number of my own patterns, and I teach the technique in a few classes, and over the years it's become pretty clear that short rows often inspire confusion and fear. But as with many techniques, the problem is mostly because of how patterns are written. Not because the designers and pattern writers are doing a bad job, but they're surprisingly hard to describe and explain. Once you know how to do them, they're easy, but they can be tricky to learn. There's an added complication because there are so many different ways to do them: wrap & turn, Japanese short rows (turn and pin), German short rows (yo and turn), and even for these different techniques there are variations. (I had have some very lively discussions about the order of the steps in wrap and turn: move the stitch or the yarn first?)

I think they're also extra confusing because the purpose of the short-rows (and how they work to do what they do) isn't addressed or explained.

Carol's instructions are clear, precise, easy to follow - and entirely straightforward. She cuts through a lot of of the clutter and confusion, explaining not only how to work short rows, but why, and how they work. She explains the theory and the practice, in a way that is entirely accessible.  She explains the different methods, and how to work them, how they work, and how to change between them in a project. She addresses using short rows to create interesting shawl shapes, and to add bust and ship and hem shaping to garments.

And to make it very practical - because not everyone enjoys learning knitting
techniques for purely academic purposes! ;-) - she includes a variety of projects that use the techniques, for different effects. There's shaped shawls and a sideways hat and flattering garments worked in different ways, all with smart shaping.

I'm particularly fond of the Riyito sweater, pictured at right. A lovely shaped hem and a really nice shoulder line. Enlarge the picture by clicking on it, to see the details.

She also includes two sock patterns, using a a short-row heel. Now, I'm not normally a fan of this method because in their standard form they lack a gusset and don't fit very well, but Carol understands fit, and has created two very nice gusset options for better fit.

Carol's book is an excellent addition to the technically minded knitter's library - and to the library of any knitter who enjoys a nice collection of patterns.

Find it at your favourite LYS, or order it from one of the usual online sources.