Sunday, August 28, 2016

Where've I Been?

So it has been a while since I've posted! I've been on vacation, doing an epic trip through the scandinavian countries: Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. I tested out some handspun hiking socks, saw many woolly critters, visited museums loaded with folk knitting and assorted handicrafts, and purchased some materials for new projects! I'll be sharing bits and pieces here over the next few weeks.

But let's start with the results of some hiking sock tests. I have 2 pairs of handspun, handknit hiking socks:

[4-ply local Romney knit into hiking socks]

[...and these Southdown 4-ply ones, recently completed]

The orange Romney socks have been hiking before. The pink ones I finished right before this vacation. I knit them up to replace similar (blue) Southdown socks that got shredded on the Appalachian trail last fall. Those blue ones were my first-ever handspun socks, so I thought perhaps the problem was my spinning technique (the socks were not very uniform), and I so made a new pair. Anyways, these two pairs of socks went with me to scandinavia for some serious testing...

My family and I did a 6-day trek on the Laugavegur trail, which is among Iceland's most scenic. It was a "supported hike" and we hiked about 15km per day with day packs (so, lightly loaded) on pretty mountainous terrain (through some amazingly spectacular scenery: if you like to hike, I can recommend this trek), but with excellent trails. Then, while in Norway, we did an 8-day trek through the Hardangervidda. This tour was from hut to hut, and food was supplied, but we did have to carry all our clothing - so I was more heavily loaded than in Iceland. The terrain, while flat, was much more uneven and wetter than in Iceland, which made for very exhausting days and a lot more strain on the feet. I certainly felt them much more on this trip!

I wore each pair of hiking socks for 3-4 days, and then switched to the other pair. (They did get washed between the two hikes.) This sounds gross, but in fact pure wool socks are pretty good about repelling odours. My socks did not stink! My feet stayed warm and dry; not sweaty. I got zero blisters. Both handspun pairs provided excellent cushioning; I did a test day just in the city with a pair of Asivik trekking socks that I purchased in Denmark, and these were nowhere near as comfortable (far less cushioning).

[Asivik brand trekking socks]

OK, so the results:

Both pairs developed holes. The Romney ones after the last day in Norway - so after a ton of abuse - but the Southdown pair after a mere 3 days of hiking in Iceland. I had to darn them basically right away! In other words, the Romney socks outlasted the Southdowns by about a factor of 3, taking into account that the Romneys have seen trail action before. 

So, sadly, the next time I make Southdown socks, I will be adding nylon, at least in the heels and toes. The pure Southdown fiber I can get my hands on (which is from the UK and commercially processed) simply isn't long-lasting enough for my tastes. The Romney is of local provenance and so likely coarser than 30 microns, and this seems to make a big difference. I have not tried UK Romney (yet); that may be finer that what the local shepherds here in BC are providing. The socks are not as springy as those made with Southdown; they feel smoother - and they are sure a lot tougher!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mosaic Patterns

I love the look of colourwork socks, but I don't love knitting them. I find that stranded knitting, where you use multiple (usually 2) colours per row of knitting, is too tight for socks. I really struggle to get the tension right, and even with very loose floats my socks frequently are too tight to get on. After howling in frustration and ripping many times on different pairs of socks, I've now basically given up on this technique. The only exception I'll make is if the floats are not longer than 2 stitches. Then I can still get it to work. But that's a pretty tight limit!

There are, however, many patterns that use more than one colour that are NOT stranded.

Mosaic knitting is such a technique. With this type of knitting, you never knit more than a single colour per row. Many patterns alternate two rows of one colour with two rows of a highly contrasting second colour, and use slipped stitches to create the illusion of stranded knitting. Not only is this technique easier than true fair-isle knitting, it almost eliminates the issue of tight fabric, because there are no floats. I say almost because mosaic knitting is a bit tighter than regular knitting, so the socks tend to fit small. The slipped stitches make the socks thicker and a little less elastic, and they pull in a bit. Think of those flap heels in eye-of-partridge stitch - that's what you're getting in mosaic knitting. And, as a bonus to spinners, this is a great way of combining more fragile handspun with robust millspun sock yarn!

Here are some of the mosaic socks I recently finished. I just love the eye-popping patterns you can get!

Pair number 1:  this is a pattern from General Hogbuffer, one of my favorite sock designers, and it's free on Ravelry. It looks horribly complicated, but it's not all that bad. Not a beginner pattern - you do need to keep track of the rows - but well worth the effort, in my opinion. I think it looks absolutely spectacular in a bright colour combined with black.

[Pucker by General Hogbuffer, done in pink and black commercially spun sock yarn]

Pair number 2: these are my own unvention, I just used a 16-stitch mosaic pattern from Barbara Walker's stitch dictionary (I think volume 2) called "Cesar's Check". I used it in my own afterthought heel pattern, leaving a line of waste yarn where I wanted the heel, and coming back to knit it in afterwards. This is an easy way to maintain the integrity of the mosaic pattern - you don't have to think about the heel at all while you're knitting the sock. However - and this is important - if your beginning of row is at the middle of the sole of the sock, break both your main yarn colours before you knit in that waste yarn, and start with fresh ends on the row after the waste yarn. If you don't do this, you will end up with ridiculously short yarn ends to tie off and work in when you open that heel slit. I know this because I've made this mistake!! Obviously, another thing you can't do is to slip stitches over that waste yarn, so the slit has to fall between pairs of rows of the same colour. But that's not usually a big constraint.

[Cesar's Check socks with improved afterthought heel]

As I've stated, the socks will be a bit thicker and tighter than regular knitting. To take care of this, either make a size larger than you normally would (ie. instead of 64 sts, use 68 or 72), or go up a needle size. 

These socks are so much fun that I've started combing through stitch dictionaries for appropriately-sized mosaic patterns. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

My Favourite Sock Patterns, Men's Edition

I don't knit a lot of socks from published patterns, but sometimes I find one that I really, really like. Oddly enough, they tend to be less complicated than one might expect. Here are 3 patterns that I have all knit multiple times - thus proving that I really like them. These are all rather toned-down designs. They are most definitely suitable for the men in your life, being not too "fancy", but still afford enough variation so that you don't go insane with boredom while knitting them. Click on the orange text to zip over to Ravelry where you can purchase the patterns (and also see who else has made them!).

1. Treppenviertel Socks by Nicola Susen : not a free pattern (costs 2.5 Euro or about CAD$4), but I've knit this one three times, and I'm planning on at least a couple more. I do them toe-up so that I can make them longer (the pattern is a little on the short side, especially for men). It's an easy pattern involving nothing but knits and purls, is easily scaled to accomodate larger and smaller sizes, and can take any kind of heel you like. It looks very classy when finished, best done in a solid yarn with no halo (ie. not fuzzy or wooly). Self-striping, marled, or heathered yarns tend to kill the design.

[Treppenviertel socks, image copyright Nicolor on Ravelry

2. Porthos by Caoua Coffee : this one's free (as are all of Caoua's patterns), so what is not to love?? This pattern eats yarn, so watch out. I've knit it twice and again am planning a few more iterations. I do it toe-up so I don't run out of yarn. It's nicely elastic and looks very complicated, but is actually nothing but knits and purls. The only downside is that it doesn't resize easily because of the pattern repeat, and I find it too big for me - it fits men beautifully though. Again, this looks fantastic in a solid yarn with no fuzziness. Not suitable for stripes, heathered, or marled yarns, IMO.

[Porthos socks]

3. Wedge Sock by Cookie A. : this one is pretty pricey at US$6.5, but you might find it in her book called Knit.Sock.Love. in your local library. It's interesting enough done in plain yarn, but turns absolutely super-fantastic when done in a self-striping yarn, especially if you take care to "edit" the yarn to enhance the contrast between the stockinette and garter sections. Of course, this makes for some wild 'n' crazy socks! The pattern is very difficult to do 2AAT because it requires back-and-forth knitting. It's also hard to translate into toe-up. I don't use her instructions for the toe; instead I do a standard wedge toe in garter (K1 row, P1 row in the round). While not the easiest of patterns, it looks so amazing in basically any Schoppel Zauberball colourway that it simply flies off the needles. I've knit it 3  4 times! I find that the shorter version fits best (the longer version slides down my leg in an annoying fashion).

[Wedge socks]