Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Holiday socks

How do you knit a sock? Let me count the ways. From the top cuff down? from the toe up? and then there's two at a time? either top down or toe up?  What about our choice of needles? Double pointed (DPNS, 4 or 5)? small circular? one long cable? or a pair of medium cables? and the new (to me) Addi flips. I think I have tried them all, including a version of two at a time that you will find on Ravelry, called War and Peace** socks (where you knit two at a time on one set of DPNS one sock inside another - yes, really). Lastly there is a choice of yarn, maybe pretty much anything goes as we all need socks for all sorts of footwear, from smart ones, to walking ones to wellies (you just need to match your needle size to your yarn and the tension/guage you want).

But this post is not about The Right Way To Knit a Sock, I don't really believe there is one and for me, I am not a monogamous sock knitter, I change the method from time to time as the mood takes me! 

No, this post is about knitting socks on holiday and chatting to friends over coffee about how I do it, which at the moment is top down one at a time on DPNs.

This is where I have been on holiday (lucky me)

And this was my view as I sat with my knitting

I sat at Kiki's Kafenion, Romantica in Lakka Paxos for an hour or so in the early morning knitting, drinking coffee, and chatting to Kiki's daughter Maria, and my friend Mary who works for a lovely local travel company.

Maria and Kiki


As we sat and knitted I rambled on about my sock knitting and before I left for home I promised I would write a post with links to all the places on the internet where I have found help and information on making socks. If you are an absolute beginner I would suggest having a look at Kate Atherley's patterns for training socks, all the techniques are there in miniature (basically fewer stitches and far less straight knitting) . If you actually knit up a pair they could make a sweet present for a new baby. 

A quick word about Ravelry - it is a fab resource for knitters of any level. To get the full benefit you need to register but its free and the search facility for patterns is fab, also the ability to log your knitting projects is so handy.  You can see my projects here. There are lots of free patterns on Ravelry, the sock pattern I follow for Vanilla socks is this one I like it but there are plenty of others. I'm not going to give pattern instructions here (they are all in Very Vanilla) just photos and lots of the links that we talked about last week.

Of course there is so much else to do on holiday, reading, swimming, snoozing, and eating - even walking a little! so I didn't quite get to finish even one sock, I got this far... The yarn is from West Yorkshire Spinners in the Blue Tit colour way with some plain blue for rib, heels  and toes

But I have finished the first of my Red Top socks 

So to show Maria and Mary what each stage of the sock process looks like (Kiki already knows, although she prefers 5 DPNS) here are some close ups

Casting on - most sock patterns suggest casting on a certain no of stitches, usually divisible by 4, then joining in the round at once. I suggest knitting a few rows, maybe 3 or 4 then joining in the round, this avoids accidentally twisting the stitches and if you make sure to leave a tail as you cast on you can use this to sew the first few rows up later. I cast on my Blue tit socks with a long tail cast on but for the Red Tops I have used a tubular cast on, there are a number of options suggested in various patterns but what is important is that it stretches as much as possible 

The ribbing is just like everything else sock wise - a matter of choice! I have done a K1 P1 rib on the blue tit socks and a K2 P2 on the Red Tops - there are also some fancy sock-top patterns out there. What is important is that the rib needs to be long enough to give the top of the sock some grip, I don't always measure but 2-3cm is about right then it plain sailing - knit stitches all round until you reach the back of the heel (no purl stitches in a plain sock as in the round you are always  have the right side facing you).

How long should the leg be? As long as you want, I like my socks to come to mid calf, just hold the knitting up to your leg and stop when they reach your ankle bone. 

By the way, I am knitting the Red Tops in a fancy vertical stripe but in all other respects they are vanilla socks

And so you have reached the heel flap - this style does not look like commercially made socks. Hand knit socks traditionally have a straight flap knitted on the back half of the sock only, back and forth.

Row 1, slip one knit to the end 

Row 2, slip one, purl one right across.

(Repeat 1&2 as per pattern)

This makes the heel flap thicker and harder wearing.  Then you need to turn the heel so that the foot will be almost at right angles to the leg - it is all in the pattern!

After the heel turn comes the big stitch pick up, again it is all in the pattern. Don't forget to place stitch markers when the pattern tells you to. You can see how important it was to slip the first stitch of every row on the heel flap as you will pick up and knit each slipped stitch. The stitches will look like a neat chain slightly turned to the wrong side. For a strong join slide your needle through both legs of the slipped stitches.

If you find it hard to see the slipped stitches try hanging a bulb pin type stitch marker on each of the slipped stitches, taking them out as you go.

Sometimes it is hard to avoid a little gap at the point where the picked up stitches meet the front stitches. There are lots of tricks to avoid a hole, this is one of the simplest ways I found on youtube.  

You will have lots of stitches on your needles, before spacing them out evenly on your needles it is helpful to knit one complete round. As you go knit into the back of each picked up stitch. You now continue to knit in rounds, decreasing stitches to make the heel gusset until you have the same number of stitches as you originally cast on. The sides of your sock will look as though they have darts in them (the vertical stripes in my black and white sock above shows this up nicely).

You have reached the foot! To check you have the right foot length you can try the sock on carefully,  this may be where five needles come in handy. You should have knitted to the base, not tip, of your toes. Your pattern will explain how to shape the toe, decreasing until you have about 14 - 16 stitches and then it may just say, 'finish off the toe by Kitchener stitch'. Dont be scared, follow the links here or here, people have been there before you and will show you the way.

I don't think anyone really knows why this way of finishing off sock toes is called Kitchener stitch, though some think it may have arisen from the campaign to knit socks for soldiers in the UK in the first world war (sometimes called Kitchener's Army, after the minister who introduced conscription) the method leaves a seamless finish, less likely to cause a soldier on the march to have store toes.

However it is not essential to finish toes this way (maybe I am odd, I like Kitchener stitch and also like picking up stitches around a heel flap!) Kate Atherley in her patterns will decrease till fewer stitches, maybe 8 and then thread a double length of yarn through the stitches twice, drawing them up together. Which ever method used sew in your ends securely!



PS **Tolstoy really did describe knitting socks this way in War and Peace - near the end of the book the children watch Anna Makarovna finish a pair of socks with a flourish, as if she were a magician! 


Monday, 27 July 2020

2020 lockdown gallery

The last few months have been so strange, dystopian even.  With all usual activities (classes, gyms, fabric and yarn shops!) closed and a virtual stay at home order, it should have been a time of huge productivity.  

I know this was true for some  but although initially I had a burst of energy and finished a few things, the current "return to the new normal" (how can you return to something that is new???) left me feeling that I could have done a lot more.  Yes I did do a bit of sewing, making myself a couple of new things to wear this summer, and finished a big project (more of that in a future blog, though there is a teaser it the end of this post) but I hardly knitted anything and read less that a book a week.  

Knitting or reading always feel a bit of a luxury, something you can do when all the important (or boring stuff) is done, something for the afternoon sitting in the garden or on the sofa. Well, I got to the sofa or garden chair bit, then I fell asleep... Was it anxiety? Those early days were a bit scary with news coverage from around the world and at home of scenes from intensive care, rising death rates and deserted streets.  It seemed that as a retired person with no essential work or work at home to do; in fact nothing but to avoid getting sick and thus save one more person entering the already overburdened hospitals, sleep was the natural thing to do

To summarise, the message I got was "please keep out of the way!"

Then I thought about my painting and actually there I had achieved quite a lot, helped by a weekly zoom class.  So this is my 2020 gallery - some were painted in the last three months, others, already begun were finished off and some a bit of slicing and dicing, (where I don't particularly like the larger picture but am able to cut it down to show off small parts that I like a lot better!)

The animals were painted as presents and have, together with Weymouth Beach, already gone to their new homes but the rest are for sale, if you are interested please let me know in the comments (or by direct message on Instagram where I am @cath_ode). The pictures are various sizes and framed in Ikea's white frames with mounts.

1. Misty lake


2. The Ionian and the mainland


3. Genteel decay


4. Weymouth Beach




5. Lakka

6. Olives (fragment)


7. Poppy field


8. Fjord


9. Julian Bridge


10. Orchid

11. Bella's Buddy


12. Silva's leopard


13. (Fursty) Ferret 



PS - the teaser - a quilt of improv curving colours, appliqué and freehand embroidery, designed as a wall hanging and inspired by the view depicted in painting no 2 (as is the bedcover)


Thursday, 12 March 2020

Disaster averted

We all have knitworthy friends, don't we?  Those nice people who don't ask for hand knitted things because they think its cheaper to get a scarf or sweater that way or that you love knitting so much you will happily spend all day for a few weeks making something that will be worn a few times then forgotten in a drawer, but friends who are always delighted to receive something and are seen wearing it - often.  Lizzie is one such friend and from time to time she will wear something that I have made that attracts the attention of someone else.  So much so that a scarf or pair of gloves mysteriously disappears from Lizzie's house and reappears at MB's 

A couple of years ago I knitted a brioche shawl for Lizzie, in grey and black cashmere silk mix and was amused to see it appear in a very fine photograph on instagram, by @theodoraw8 

Very much not Lizzie

I was rather pleased, there's nothing I like better than to see my work appreciated. But it is a shame to make these two appreciative friends share, so I decided to make MB something of his own.  After a bit of stash diving I found some wonderful fingering weight alpaca from Triskelion . (The yarn I had was in deep stash but they have something similar here )

A bit of searching on Ravelry and I came up with Celtic Myths by Asita Krebs.  Knitted, blocked and posted - to Lizzie for onwards transmission to MB .  Unfortunately I did not warn her to expect a parcel from me and over enthusuiastically opening a parcel she thought was one expected from her publisher she stabbed it rather too deeply with a sharp pair of scissors. I received a text to ask if I had any left over yarn as she needed to mend the 'teeniest nick' in the scarf - my friend is a writer of fiction...

After much begging for a proper photograph of the damage, and at MB's insistence, the scarf was sent back to me. I took a little time to work out the best way to repair it.  

Damage limitation

Firstly I grabbed as many stitches above and below the cut and parked them on a pair of DPNs and crocheted a chain down the cut sides


Then I created what in plastic surgery terms would be called  a pedicle graft (approximately!)


Matching the stitch pattern of alternating sections of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch I kitchenered the pedicle in place at the top and stitched the sides with a sort of duplicate stitch

But it also seemed right to honour the repair, rather in the style of kintsugi (or knitsugi if you will) 

The structure of the shawl-scarf is such that it can be worn with the repair on view or hidden. I gather it is usually worn on show



Monday, 10 February 2020

This Quilt

Remember this blog post back in December 2015? I wrote it as I contemplated repairing a very precious quilt.  All that remained of the ancient english paper pieced (EPP) quilt (given to my daughter by her godmother) was a large ragged top, full of holes and with its tatters held together by rusty safety pins! The reds were particularly badly worn, in some places nothing left but a thin fringe of the original fabric, in all probability due to the type of dye used.

The task was pretty daunting.  I needed to fill in the gaps, sew down the tatters, put in new batting, a new back, and quilt!  I had a few ideas of my own too. But firstly I had to ensure that I did no further damage, the entire thing was so fragile, and large, that although all the work was going to be by hand I could not risk working on my knee.  

I bought a king-sized, organic cotton sheet, washed (in non-bio detergent) and rinsed it several times  to be sure there were no residual chemicals in it.  I also bought several half metres of Liberty Tana Lawn in similar colours to the quilt pieces and treated them to the same laundering process

Next to lay out the quilt top over the sheet, the sitting room floor is the only space I have that is big enough, but even then it was pretty tricky trying to avoid standing on anything fragile (I must be a conservator's nightmare!!)

Once this was done I attached the assembled quilt to a home-made quilting frame (home-made by JTH). Most of the top is wound around the rollers running along the long sides, leaving a nice flat working space which can be rolled up and down as a section is completed. The assembled frame took up an entire bedroom (thank goodness our children have left home!)

I cut tiny pieces of (near enough) matching lawn and inserted them behind the holes then stitched them down with tiny stitches, through all layers.

In some places I could sew down the rips without patching from behind.  The very edge of the quilt was in such a poor condition, with long rips and some rust marks that I reluctantly decided I needed to cut it off, making the quilt about 4 inches smaller all round.

I don't know a lot about the quilt, I can only trace its existence back 100 years to the 1920s with any certainty, but  then the quilt gave up a secret.  Some of the papers used in the original construction (EPP consists of wrapping small pieces of fabric around paper shapes) had been left behind. I carefully removed them with tweezers.

A mystery. I could see Latin, Greek, Phonetics as well as English - what had been used for the templates? A clever friend did some research and in all probability the papers are from an ancient thesaurus called the Gradus Ad Parnassum, a reference book that would have been part of many household's library (along with a bible, a dictionary and some medical hand book).  It still does not give me a good reference date as the book was in publication from the 18th century for about 200 years, and maybe it would not have been cut up until it was no longer considered to be of any use.  This brings me back to the 1920s

The initial repair work took over a year. Then it was back to the sitting room floor to lay out another sheet, sandwiching unbleached heirloom cotton quilt batting (from Lady Sew and Sew) between it and the repaired quilt top.  Having decided that I would, as far as possible, hand stitch everything and use only natural materials I also decided I would finish the quilt with quite light stitching, using specialist quilting thread in a dark cream for the centre and dark red for the border.

I added my own pieces too (on the back of course) .  A Passacaglia medallion using the left over Tana Lawn

A panel giving some brief details of the quilt's story

A pocket for a little book with more details of the repair and reconstruction

And a little bag with the scraps of that Thesaurus

Finally a bright red border

And so, it's done, I wonder if it will fall to another mother to make repairs to it in another 100 years?