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! 


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