Fat Knitting Superhero, disguised as Mild Mannered Yarn Shop Employee.

Archive for November, 2011

Top-Down Socks – Cast-on (part 1)

It’s finally time!  Hooray!

First, a small bit of math to figure out how many to cast on.  First, look at the ankle and foot circumference measurements.  If they are within ½ inch of one another, we’ll use the smaller of the two.  Socks need “negative ease“, so we don’t want the bigger number unless it’s a LOT bigger.  If the difference between ankle and foot circumference is greater than ½ inch, use the ankle measurement alone.  Take that number and multiply it by 0.9 (to get the negative ease), then multiply that by your stitch gauge (stitches/inch).  Round the results it to the nearest whole number.

Ankle or foot measurement (whichever is smaller)___________ x ___________ sts/in ≈ ___________ sts for cuff

If you’re lucky, this number is exactly what you need for your stitch pattern to work out.   Say you want to do k2p2 ribbing for the cuff and your math gave you a number divisible by 4 – that’s LUCK!!  Most likely, it’s not.  So, round it again.  In most cases, you want to round down to the necessary number of stitches, but if the stitch is particularly inflexible, you may need to round up.

Tomorrow: techniques for casting on

Well, that’s today blown to heck

It has been a crazy busy day today! The dentist has been visited (No cavities, Mom!), the grocery store has been emptied into my cupboards, packages have been mailed, gifts for Youngest Son’s teachers have been planned, and the house has been tidied.

So, I hope you’ll understand if I wait until tomorrow for the sock casting-on post!

Top-Down Socks – Measurements

So, you’ve swatched and measured and done some math (stitches ÷ inches = sts/in).  Now what?

Well, now you measure the foot and do some more math.  Start by tracing the foot in question, holding the pencil perpendicular to the floor (betcha thought you’d never have to do that again after 3rd grade, huh?).  Now measure the foot from the tip of the biggest toe to the back of the heel.  Why trace instead of just measuring?  Two reasons: 1) it’s easier to measure a flat piece of paper than a foot held awkwardly at a decent measuring angle; and 2) tracing automatically adds a tad to the length of the foot which will make for a better fit lengthwise.

Now the circumference measurements – you want to measure snugly just behind the ball of the foot and around the ankle, just above the ankle bone.  For most people, these two measurements are nearly the same, varying only by about ½ inch.  (Occasionally, there will be a larger difference, usually because of an injury or edema.  In that case, you’ll have to fit the foot and ankle separately)

Those are all the measurements you need.  If you want further refinement, you can do one more – a heel height measurement.  To do this, hold a ruler behind the heel while standing and measure from the floor to the place where the heel and ankle join (where the back of the heel bends).  It may help to put a wee mark on the bendy spot first and get a helper to do the measuring, as this one is quite difficult to do on your own foot.

So, your measurements are complete: Ankle circumference, foot circumference, foot length, heel height (that last is optional).

Next: Casting On!

Top-Down Socks – Swatching

There are two possibilities for swatching when it comes to socks.  You can be traditional and swatch first, then cast on, or you can be a rebel and just cast on and think of the first 4 inches of the sock as a swatch.  As always, there are some things you should think about first.

Cuff As Swatch: For most basic socks, this works pretty well.  The idea is that you make a (hopefully educated) guess about the number of stitches to cast on and appropriate needle size and just cast on.  Work in pattern for 3 or 4 inches, then check the gauge and, perhaps, try it on over the ball and arch of the foot to see if it fits properly.  If it doesn’t fit, or isn’t working in any other way, rip it out and start again.  It’s usually easy and time-saving, and this is how I swatch for most socks.  BUT!  It isn’t for every circumstance.  Times not to swatch this way:

  1. If this is your first sock ever, please do a real swatch, unless you’re going to a Yarn Harlot event soon and you want her to take a photo of you and your Sasquatch-sized sock.  It’s worth the time!
  2. If the cuff has one pattern and the foot another, like a ribbed cuff and stockinette foot.  Ribbing cannot tell you if the stockinette will fit.  Most of us have a somewhat looser gauge for ribbing than for stockinette, so using a ribbed cuff to stand in for swatching a stockinette foot could lead to a very poorly fitting sock.
  3. If you’re doing a fancy stitch pattern, or doing multiple patterns, you need a separate swatch for each stitch type, so a sock with an inch of twisted rib, then a lace leg and stockinette foot will need three swatches.  Unless, like one of my early mistakes, you want a sock that cuts off the circulation in your leg and is still baggy in the foot.

Actual Real Swatch:  To make a meaningful sock swatch, it must be knitted the way you’ll knit the socks, which means – in the round!   Cast on 40 stitches (this makes the math easier), then, with your chosen needle, knit until it’s about 3 inches long.  As you’re knitting, consider whether you like the yarn/needle combination.  Is it too floppy?  Change to smaller needles, work a purl round, then re-commence knitting.  Too stiff?  Do the same, but change to a bigger needle.  Too splitty?  Try a blunter needle, or change yarns.

Keep going this way until you have a decent-sized swatch.  Then wash and block it and measure.  If it’s lace, pin it out well.  If it’s ribbing, stretch it a bit.  Then measure the width.  Remember that we started with 40 sts?  That means that the laid-flat stitch count is going to be 20 sts (half of 40).  So, to figure out stitches per inch, we divide 20 by whatever measurement you get.   “Per” means “divided by,” if that helps you remember.  Remember that for most sock yarns, you want to aim for at least 7 sts/in, so if you get only 6.5 sts/in, you may need to try again with a smaller needle.

Stitches_____________  ÷ Inches______________ = ___________________sts/in

Next sock post, we’ll talk about what to do with those numbers, once you have ’em.  Meanwhile, Happy Swatching!

FIBER FESTIVAL!!

We’re going to Kid-n-Ewe today!!

http://www.kidnewe.com

Today is “Addenda Day,” apparently…

So, an addendum to the Sock Yarn post, brought about by a discussion with Jim (the world’s greatest husband) about his favorite sock yarn, Malabrigo Sock:

Malabrigo Sock is certainly luscious and beautiful and silky and soft and is a perfect sock yarn EXCEPT – it has no reinforcing fiber. It’s 100% merino with no added nylon or silk. Having said that, it has almost all the other qualities of a good sock yarn. It has multiple plies and is smoothly and firmly twisted. Go ahead and use it, but be aware that it may develop holes faster than some other sock yarns. You can mitigate the consequences by adding a strand of wooly nylon or sock reinforcing thread, especially in the wear-prone areas of the sock.

I’ll address Noro sock yarn another day…

One more comment on needles…

I forgot to mention this the other day, but it’s an issue that comes up frequently at the yarn shop.
Sock needles will almost always end up curved a bit. Most wooden, bamboo, and metal needles (and other natural materials) will, with the pressure, moisture, and warmth from your hands, curve a bit. This is absolutely fine and nothing to worry about. It just means they’ve become “real,” sort of like the Velveteen Rabbit.
Certain materials won’t bend much (if at all): Carbon fiber needles (like those ProgrammerAtArms mentioned in his comment yesteray), laminated hardwood needles, and glass needles are unlikely to ever curve at all. That’s because they are made from bend-resistant materials, not because they’re better.
I, personally, LOVE a really curved DPN. It feels personal and loved!

NaBloPoMo – another fail!

I’ve been doing pretty well with the daily posting and have really been enjoying it, but today (er I mean yesterday – it’s after midnight) was super busy and I just got overwhelmed. So… No post right now, but I will do the sock swatching post tomorrow, um I mean later today. After I sleep.

Top-Down Socks – Needles

What needles to use for your sock-knitting needs is very personal.  It depends on how tightly or loosely you knit and what materials feel good in your hands.  Basically, though, you need to make 3 decisions:  needle size, needle material, and needle configuration.

Needle Size: Many people just go with the recommendation on the ball band of the yarn they’ve chosen, which usually suggests a US size 2 (2.75mm) needle.  With apologies to all the sock yarn manufacturers, that’s just too darn big.  Socks need to be knitted tightly if they’re going to last.  That means that if you use fingering weight yarn, you need to get a gauge of at least 7 stitches per inch (unless you like holes in the toes).  8 or 9 sts/in is even better!  Unless you’re a SUPER TIGHT knitter, you won’t be able to get that small of a gauge with a size 2 (2.75mm) needle.  I generally use a US size 0 (2mm) needle, sometimes a US size 1 (2.25mm) if the yarn is on the thick side.  In order to find YOUR sock needle size, I’m afraid you’re going to have to swatch.  I’ll have swatching instructions later in the series.

Needle Material: Wood?  Steel?  Bamboo?  Plastic (oh please no)?  Bronze?  I’ve seen and used them all.  This is mostly a personal preference issue.  I, personally, hate plastic needles for socks.  They’re not strong enough and they suck.  All of the others are quite nice!  I usually suggest that sock beginners start with wood or bamboo.  Wood/bamboo needles aren’t as slick nor as heavy as metal needles, making them less likely to slip out of the stitches on their own and thus making sock-newbies less nervous.  Once you gain confidence, do experiment with metal needles.  They can be delightful!  Metal needles are also better for both very tight knitters and very loose knitters.  Tight knitters like them because they let the stitches slip better and very loose knitters need them, because the slippery metal forces them to tighten up.  Moderately tight to moderately loose knitters can choose whatever needle they like!

Needle Configuration:  There are four ways to make small diameter knitted tubes (like socks).  I’ll address each one briefly, but they really each need their own post.  Even though almost all sock knitters (including me!) have one definite preference, I really suggest that you try each of the three “good” ways.  You don’t know which you’ll like until you try them all (like ice cream – you have to try all the flavors before you know your “favorite,” right?), so I hope you won’t let my own preference influence you too much!  And I welcome comments about your favorite method!

  1. 9″-long circular needles.  Don’t use them.  Period.  I know some people like them, but they have some problems.  First, the “needle” section is far too short – usually only just over 1″ long, which is just plain awkward to work with.  Second, most socks are less than 9″ in circumference, which means that they’ll have to be stretched HARD around the needle, which will make the knitter unconsciously knit them too loosely.  They just suck and they’re not worth it.
  2. 2 medium-length circular needles.  This works extremely well for working 2 socks at a time, since there’s usually plenty of room for both socks.   It’s a little tricky to learn, but once you understand the process, it’s fairly straightforward.   For some knitters, using 2-circs helps prevent loose stitches (ladders) where you change from one needle to the other, though, to be honest, for some knitters, they make the ladders worse.  Basically, the idea is that you knit half the stitches with the two ends of one needle and the other half with the other needle.  For looser knitters, this is often a fairly easy method, though tighter knitters may become frustrated with pushing the stitches up from the narrower cable section of the needle up to the bigger needle tip section.  Others will find the “flying spaghetti monster” aspect of all the dangling needles annoying.
  3. 1 long circular needle – Magic Loop.  I find Magic Loop easier to teach than 2-circs, but the two methods are very similar.  Choosing between them is purely a matter of personal preference.  With the Magic Loop, the entire sock is on one needle, but a loop of cable is pulled out between the two halves and that loop maintained throughout the sock knitting process, essentially making the one circular needle function as two.  Magic Loop has all the other pluses and minuses of 2-circs, but has two advantages.  One is cost.  Buying one needle is cheaper than buying two, obviously!  The other is that with Magic Loop it’s a little easier for beginners to see where they are.  The other is that there is no dangling “spaghetti monster.”
  4. The Old Classic – Double-Pointed Needles (DPNs).  These are classic for a reason.  It’s the easiest method to teach, the easiest to learn, and favored by the majority of sock knitters (about 60%, in my experience).  They come in different lengths, and I find the 6″ length best for socks (and mittens).  Tighter knitters prefer them because they don’t have to push stitches over the “bump” between cable and needle tip as on circular needles. Show-offy knitters like them because they look much harder to use than they are.   They’re simple and basic.  They’re also my favorite, so I’m a bit biased, and that’s what I’ll be using in the upcoming posts!

So?  Want to know my favorite needles for socks?  Mostly I use wood or bamboo DPNs.  My current sock-in-progress is on size 1 Knitpicks DPNs.  I also frequently use KA bamboo DPNs and HiyaHiya steel DPNs (available in sizes down to 000000).  I also use KA and HiyaHiya circs occasionally.  (KA and HiyaHiya needles are available through Yarnivore.)  My husband (yes, he knits, too, and makes all his own socks) has a drool-worthy set of hot-forged bronze DPNs from Celtic Swan Forge and I’m hoping for a sterling silver set from them one day.

Tomorrow: Swatching!

Top-Down Socks – yarn

As promised, I’m finally doing a sock post!  This is for EvaBla on Ravelry who hasn’t yet successfully knit a sock.

Let’s start with a basic top-down sock.  The first step is…  Picking yarn, of course!  And actually, that’s the least understood part of the deal for most knitters.

Yarn for socks should have multiple plies – at least 4 IMHO, and should be firmly spun and smooth-textured. It shouldn’t be terribly squishy or fuzzy. That smoothness and firm twist are what give sock yarn the strength to resist abrasion and avoid pilling or developing holes too quickly.

Another important issue is fiber.  Yarn for socks should be made of a fairly elastic fiber, like wool, and should contain about 15-20% of a something strong and abrasion resistant, like nylon or silk.  Wool gets a bad rap sometimes because people think it’s itchy.  Luckily, the same firm, smooth twist that makes sock yarn strong also makes wool lie down and behave and NOT ITCH.  Others will say that wool is too hot.  Not so.  At the same weight, wool feels cooler than cotton.  This is mostly because, unlike cotton, which feels wet instantly, wool absorbs about 30% of its weight in water before it even begins to feel damp.  This means that the average 50 gram wool sock can absorb 15 grams of sweat (that’s about a tablespoon) before your feet will start to feel damp.  The wool will also allow the moisture to move through the fabric, so that perspiration absorbed at the toes can evaporate outside the shoes from the sock’s cuff.

Lastly, size.  Most yarn sold as “sock yarn” in North America is fingering weight (Craft Yarn Council’s size 1) and many yarn stores put all their fingering weight yarn together and call it all “sock yarn.”  It isn’t.  Even if it’s in the sock yarn section, if it’s fuzzy or single-plied or lumpy, it’s not sock yarn.  Go ahead and buy it, but do me a favor and use it for hats or fingerless mitts or scarves.  That way, you won’t have to darn your socks quite so soon!

Tomorrow – NEEDLES for socks!

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