Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sock Knitting Basics & Spring-Tastic Socks Relaunch

This article and pattern originally appeared in Holla Knits, an online magazine produced by my good friend Allyson Dykhuizen. She has graciously allowed me to republish here on my blog now that Holla Knits is no more, and I am super excited to relaunch one of my favorite sock designs, the Spring-tastic Socks, which are now available here in my Ravelry store! This pattern is fun to knit and looks great in both semisolid and variegated yarn. 

The Spring-tastic Socks are shown here in the Periquito colorway of Manos del Uruguay Alegria Sock.

Sock Knitting Basics

Sock knitting is a pretty vast subject, so this article in no way purports to cover every aspect - but it will help you to tackle your first pair of socks with confidence and give you some ideas for future sock exploration.

First things first: let’s cover the terminology. Below is the basic anatomy of a sock, which you will see referenced throughout most sock knitting patterns.

sock anatomy

Generally, this consists of some sort of ribbing pattern - most commonly k1, p1 or k2, p1. An elastic cast-on or bindoff is recommended. For cuff-down socks, I like the Long-Tail Cast-On (which actually goes by several names - I’ve heard it also called the Turkish cast on and the German Twist Cast-On); for toe-up socks, I prefer using the sewn bindoff.

Leg: This is the easy part, where you begin working the pattern stitch!

Heel: Traditional sock knitting consists of a flap which is worked flat (usually with a slipped stitch for added durability), then short rows to create what is called the heel turn - that’s just a fancy way of saying you’ll be changing the direction of the knitted piece. After working the heel flap and turn, you will begin working in the round once again by picking up stitches along the flat on both sides as you knit around the socks. Sometimes, this process can change where the beginning of the round falls, so be sure to pay extra attention to the instructions, which may indicate that you need to account for this. Other approaches to heel-making include the short row heel, the afterthought heel, the OMG Heel by Megan Williams, the Sweet Tomato Heel by Cat Bordhi, and the Fish Lips Kiss Heel by Sox Therapist.

Gusset: In this section, you will begin decreasing on either side of the foot. If you are working a sock on 4 DPNs, these are the stitches which are on the first and last DPNs of the round (Needles 1 and 4), which hold the heel turn and picked up stitches. They will usually be knit in stockinette stitch; if you are working on magic loop, these are placed on one half of the needle.

Instep: This indicates the top of the foot, where the pattern of the leg is often continued. If you are working on 4 DPNs, there are the stitches on the middle two DPNs (Needles 2 and 3); if you are working on magic loop, these stitches are placed on the opposite half of the needle.

Foot: This indicates the section of the foot where you will be working even in established pattern - that is, stockinette stitch on the bottom of the foot, and the pattern stitch on the top (instep).

Toe: In cuff-down socks, this is where decreases are placed to create a rounded toe and finish the sock; to close the toe securely, grafting with kitchener stitch is recommended. In toe-up socks, this is the start of the whole thing! Judy’s magic cast-on or a knitted tab toe are often how toe-up socks are started; stitches are then increased to work the foot.

More Fun Facts About Socks

Now that you have the vocabulary down, it’s time to talk a little more about the specifics. Socks can be knit toe-up, cuff-down, and even side-to-side on double-pointed needles (DPNs) or on circular needles via magic loop. Lots of folks knit their socks two-at-a-time to avoid what is commonly known as second sock syndrome. They can also be crocheted if you’re so inclined!

Sock knitting is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years, and there are some very creative folks in the industry who are dreaming up new and interesting ways of exploring socks. I encourage you to try out each technique for yourself to see if it works for you!

The Spring-tastic Socks are shown here in the Poppy Field colorway of Knit Picks Stroll Tonal.
The great thing about socks is that they are fairly easy to customize, since you can try them on as you knit. Most sock patterns are written for a given circumference (usually ranging from about 7-9 inches for an adult-sized sock), which can be confusing to beginners. In most cases, this circumference can have you covered for both the leg AND the foot, believe it or not! While there are always exceptions to the rule, the circumference of your leg is roughly the same as the circumference of your foot when measured at the arch - and since most socks are designed with negative ease, the differences between these two measurements is negligible except in the most extreme cases - and if it’s not, you can always add or remove gusset stitches to accommodate for the difference!

Besides having an incredibly useful finished product (especially if you live somewhere with a cold winter), there are lots of compelling reasons to give sock knitting a try. Socks are a portable project that’s perfect for the warmer months since you don’t have to worry about having a hot pile of wool on your lap as you work. Plus, they are affordable to make, since you generally only need a skein or two of fingering weight yarn to make a pair. Many knitters claim that sock yarn doesn’t count as stash, so if you are trying to cold sheep this year - you may have just found your loophole! Finally, they make great gifts to give to that stitch-worthy person on your list.

I hope you are inspired to give sock knitting a try. Be sure to check out my other sock patterns here on Ravelry, too!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

I Went To YarnCon, And All I Got Was...

My favorite yarn/fiber event took place here in Chicago last weekend - YarnCon! I went with a friend to shop the marketplace for a few hours on Saturday afternoon and managed to make only 1 purchase: 4 skeins of gorgeous hand-dyed yarn from Black Cat Fibers, which I plan to use for another So Faded Sweater:

R-L: Vamp, Alchemy, Dirt Nap and Quarry

I don't think I've ever knit a sweater twice, but I really like how my first one turned out, and it fits me perfectly (especially now that I put a collar on it - no more Flash Dance sweater!). I still have the pattern with the numbers for my size circled, so I doubt it'll be long til I cast on....never mind that I am also currently working on a Comfort Fade cardi in some OOAK hand-dyed colors of Lhasa Wilderness. 2018 is the Year of the Sweater after all, right?!


As you can see, the YarnCon marketplace was full of temptation - it took quite a bit of willpower not to bring everything home with me. Thankfully, my recent spring cleaning exercise is still very fresh in my mind, so I was able to avoid a lot of random yarn buying in favor of something project-specific.

Note to self: I should make a list of possible projects I want to make and the yarn I would need for it BEFORE I go to a yarn or fiber festival. For YarnCon, I had no plan, and the only reason I thought to do another So Faded sweater is because I was picking out 3 coordinating skeins of sock yarn, figuring that it would be easy to find a pattern for them after the fact. Then I realized that if I added 1 more skein, that was basically a sweater quantity...and all of the colors were so pretty that I couldn't choose just one, hence another Fade sweater is now in the works!

Randomly: For anyone who is wondering/interested, I am working on some blog posts based on the reader survey from earlier this year (remember that?), and also some new designs for spring! I'm looking forward to sharing all of that with you soon;  most of my free time has been dedicated to my destashing efforts on Ravelry and Etsy, but I do want to shift focus back to the blog this spring. Thanks for hanging with me!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Who Owns Inspiration?

I know I said that I was only going to publish posts on Wednesdays this year, but I decided to swap days this week. Over the weekend, while most folks were celebrating April Fool's Day, Easter, Passover, or something sports ball related, a bit of yarn drama was unfolding on Instagram:

Whoa, Those are some heavy accusations (you can read the full post here). Since the above post, there have been a few instagram comments on this post from the Madelinetosh feed that make similar accusations by other users - who knows how big the brouhaha will get by the time this blog goes live?!

However, who said what an who did what first really isn't my concern here (that's for the named parties above to sort out); what I really want to ask the public at large is this: who owns inspiration, especially when it's sourced from pop culture?

Whether people are inspired by a true love for the movie/comic book/what have you or just want to cash in on a trend is not mine to say, but it seems like there's been no shortage of yarns inspired by the onslaught of comic book movies that have been coming out. For example, my LYS Firefly Fiber Arts is debuting an entire series of yarn colors and patterns based on these fandoms at C2E2 this coming weekend which looks pretty cool. Another indie dyer, Nerd Girl Yarns, has a "Heroes" collection of colorways. Specific to Black Panther, if you type "Black Panther Yarn" into Etsy right now there are approximately 8 other dyers offering colorways inspired by the movie.

I do, however, understand how it feels when you have an idea that is near and dear to your heart and you feel like someone has ripped it off. Several years ago, I had a whale colorwork chart on my business cards that I was handing out at TNNA (the yarn industry trade show). Not long after that show, a yarn company I'd talked to at the show (and had given my card to) came out with a pattern that featured colorwork whales on it. I felt totally ripped off and was pretty annoyed that they didn't at least mention me as their source of their inspiration. But then I was talking to a friend who very kindly pointed out that, while they were indeed similar ideas, it's not like they had taken an exact design of mine and replicated it. I'd put a colorwork chart on my card, did I really expect people not to use it?!? Furthermore, it's not like I owned the patent on whale motifs for all of knitting - let's be real.

Sometimes, when you are very close to something, it's hard to see the bigger picture....and that picture is sometimes that your great idea isn't as original as you thought (see: all of those "Fade" patterns that knitters can't get enough of, myself included).

Lastly, I don't think I can say it better than Seth Godin did:

Sure, it can be a bitter pill to swallow, but sometimes the alternative is even more so.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Know Your Sheep: Navajo Churro

Not too long ago, I was sent a lovely box of yarns from Antonio and Molly Manzanares of Shepherd's Lamb, a family-owned and -operated ranch in New Mexico. They raise a flock of Rambouillet and Navajo-Churro sheep to make organic their organic yarns which are processed and spun in the USA, then hand-dyed with low impact or natural dyes on site.


I've never worked with Navajo-Churro before, so I gravitated towards these 6 colors and decided to do a gamp-style woven scarf (for any curious non-weavers out there, here is a great definition of a gamp).


The mix of natural/undyed yarns and naturally dyed colors was really fun to work with, and I have enough yarn left over to each one which I can use in future projects. Now that i know how each color interacts with one another, that will make choosing colors a lot easier (click here to see what colors of Navajo-Churro yarn they currently have available).


I'm guessing that many of my readers have not worked with Navajo-Churro yarn or fiber before, or perhaps never even heard of it. While it's the oldest breed of sheep in North America, Navajo-Churro yarn and fiber isn't something you come across every day (unless you live in the southwest, I'd wager). In fact, this breed was nearly wiped out in the late 1800s and early 1900s by the US government in several attempts to control the Navajo tribe. That chapter of their history is quite sad, but the good news is that, against all of those odds, the Navajo-Churro bloodline has come back from the brink of extinction and these yarns and fibers are still used today by the Navajo people to create their traditional rugs and tapestries.

Navajo-Churro sheep grow a double-coated fleece, so there can be a lot of variation within the fibers, and some Churro I've encountered in the past has been quite coarse (mind you, that hasn't been much!). This yarn was much softer than I was expecting, though anyone who is sensitive to wool may experience a bit of the "prickle factor" when worn close to the skin. Navajo-Churro is known for being lustrous and hard-wearing, as well as incredibly insulating - I have a feeling this scarf will be an excellent choice for a blustery day when I need to double up on all of my winter woolens.


If you've ever wondered what it's like to manage a flock or sheep and manage a working ranch, this short documentary is a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at the good work Antonio and Molly do:

I'm excited to share more projects with these lovely yarns soon!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Challenge Accepted! 2018 Ravelry Project Challenge

Has anyone noticed this little badge in the top right corner of your Ravelry notebook?

From what I can gather, this is an informal, self-guided challenge to make a specific number of projects within the calendar year. There doesn't appear to be any official Ravelry group or thread associated with accountability or sharing progress, though I've noticed some groups dedicated to destashing or other KALs have picked up on it and are using the feature in conjunction with their event. There is also a discussion thread here in For The Love of Ravelry where people can ask questions about how everything works.

Joining is pretty easy: after you click on the badge, all you have to do is enter a number and click "sign me up!"


I've never really thought about how many projects I want to make in a year, so I set an arbitrary goal of 50 - I honestly have no idea if that is a reasonable or unreasonable goal, but it does look like you can adjust it at any point if you wish, and any project that has a finish date in 2018 (even if it was started in 2017) counts toward your goal.

What's fun is that you can also earmark queued projects for this challenge by setting a due date for any time in 2018:


I have been working on paring down my queue to things I think I might actually make (you know, someday) and have started adding in some arbitrary due dates so that I can focus my efforts for this year. Here's what projects I already have the yarn for and have designated for this challenge so far:

Will you be setting a goal for finished projects in 2018?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Spring Cleaning & Letting Go of the Yarn Stash

Do you ever feel like you might have too much yarn?

Most of us joke that there's no such thing as too much yarn, but on the other side of that coin is Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy (SABLE). It might be early for me, but I already have fears of SABLE, and to be perfectly honest, it makes me sad to look at so many beautiful skeins of yarn going unused, trapped in a storage bin. Perhaps I shouldn't have purchased the clear variety, or stacked them in my office so that I have a near-constant guilt trip as I work, but nevertheless, my stash is starting to bum me out.

It's all filled with yarn....and there are more bins not pictured! Eep!
Don't get me wrong - I've stashdived plenty for projects in recent years (Find your Fade and So Faded, I'm looking at you especially). The problem is that those efforts are a mere drop in the bucket. Yarn keeps showing up on my doorstep to distract me from my best intentions.

Now, let's add in one more factor: I'm a handspinner, and I spin yarn faster than I knit/crochet/weave with it. That is an unfortunate but undeniable fact.

So, on the average day, I feel as though I might die underneath a mountain of yarn. That may sound glorious or even romantic, but I assure you that the reality is far from it. I carry guilt for all of this yarn that hasn't realized its full potential because I simply don't have enough hours in the day (plus I'm very easily distracted).

This post on the Interweave blog pretty much encompasses my fiber-related existential crisis. Though I spent quite a bit of time in the "depression" stage, I think I have finally moved into acceptance, and with that, I have begun the slow process of rehoming these skeins of yarn which - quite honestly - deserve better than being stored in an airtight bin for eternity (click here to see all of the yarns which are patiently waiting for their forever homes. I'd love nothing more than to send a few skeins your way.)

A sampling of the yarns I've listed for destash. Think you can put a few to good use?
Yarn isn't my only weakness, however. I have an insane amount of knitting needles, crochet hooks, and project bags as well - probably more than any singular human should own. And until fairly recently, my knitting needles were a horrifically disorganized mess. This adorable sheep bin became a dumping ground for everything I'd used in a project and was too lazy to put back in its proper place:

Yup, that's another bin of yarn!
I should have take the "before" photo of the mess of needles, hooks, and interchangeable cords and tips, because it was a doozy. I'm not sure if I was too embarrassed or if I just forgot, but it conveniently slipped my mind before embarking on The Great Needle Reorganization of 2018. The good news is that I had plenty of cases to corral the mess, but there were two instances where I was at a loss for how to restore order: first, with my collection of DPNs, and second, with the variety of interchangeable cords that I've amassed.

So many needles - and what to do with those cords?!
The first challenge ended up being an easy fix - I treated myself to a Della Q DPN Roll-Up, and now all of my DPNs have a lovely little place to call home:

Loving this needle roll-up from Della Q - everything has a place now! 
The cord situation is still unresolved, however. For now, they remain a mess of spaghetti in the storage bin, although they're at least confined to just one corner. I'm really not sure how to restore order with them - does anyone have any clever solutions for this problem?

Needless to say, I'll be looking for ways to use up the stash that remains and have started by collecting possible knit and crochet patterns for mini skeins and leftover yarn here on Pinterest. If you liked this post, I'd love it if you pin the graphic below on Pinterest!


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Off the Needles: Slable Hat in Smitten

A few months ago when I was visiting one of my LYSes (Firefly Fiber Arts), I couldn't resist picking up a skein of Smitten from Why Knot Fibers. The rich red of the Red Spire totally drew me in, and once I felt the lovely squish of Finn wool and Alpaca fibers, I knew it would be coming home with me!


This skein of yarn has a pretty interesting story, too: the fibers were all raised, processed and dyed in Michigan. I'm guessing most of you are well-versed in the ways of alpaca fibers, but perhaps Finn fiber is new to you. Finnsheep (or Finn for short) are an ancient breed from Scandinavia, known for their soft & durable fleece that also feels a bit silky. These qualities really shine through in the yarn - Smitten is 70% Finn & 30% Alpaca - and since alpaca fiber is fairly similar, it's a great matchup overall.

Why Knot take this yarn for a spin?
Sometimes, choosing a pattern for such a special skein of yarn can be tough. I struggled with indecision for a bit, but then a friend of mine was wearing a lovely red Slable Hat (pattern by Woolly Wormhead) when she stopped by my house one afternoon. Not only had that pattern been in my queue for a while, I'd already purchased it and holy cow it was perfect for this yarn! I'd been planning to use a different skein of yarn from my stash but never cast on because it just looked too fussy and complicated. My friend assured me that was not the case, and I'm glad I listened to her.


The key for me was to place stitch markers in between each repeat of the pattern across the round - that way, if I got lost, I discovered it before getting to the end of the round and having to rip alllll the way back. The seed stitch was really easy to keep track of, so I was able to just follow the charted cable pattern (the seed stitch sections are only given in the written instructions, FYI). At first, I had a notion that I would add in a pattern repeat to make a slouchier version, but once I tried on the hat at the point where I would either start the crown decreases or continue on for another repeat, I decided that it was the perfect amount of slouch for me.

And let's take a moment to admire the stitch definition for both the textured panels and cables:


I'm really pleased with how this hat turned out, it's going to be my new lightweight everyday hat to conceal bad hair days (shhh don't tell!) and keep me warm indoors. I'm excited to try more yarns from Why Knot Fibers, too - I've always admired their yarns since discovering them at YarnCon a few years ago, and it looks like they'll be there again this year. I can't wait!