Double, Double Toil and Trouble -Two at a Time Socks

I definitely didn’t win the lottery last night, so I’m on the road again and stashed in the travel gear is a sock project, my ever faithful travel partner…well…as long as the pattern is simple enough.

There’s a set at home that are in the UFO (unfinished object) cabinet that requires 6 pages of cable charts.  Those are NOT good travel partners.  Having neglected knitting virtually all summer I got a wild hair to work up a quick, simple pair based on the Time Traveler Socks (simple toe up – Fleegle heel) , before jumping back into Area 51 – the unfinished object cabinet – to finish a sweater, two tops, multiple shawls, the complicated socks, a blanket, and a few stuffed animals.  Yeah, I know, I might have a problem.  A lot of those projects were left over from when I was teaching on a more regular basis and as the class ended they went on the back burner to finish at a later date as time allowed.  My gut hunch…this winter is actually going to feel like winter with appropriate weather to stay home on cold days and catch all this stuff up.

So….those socks.

I had kidnaped a friend from a car dealership while her car was in for a bunch of regular maintenance and we just played the day by ear until the car was ready to go. Both of us being craft nerds found ourselves in Yarn Junkies in Hoschton, GA. We didn’t plan on going to a yarn shop…it just happened…money was spent, it happens, despite swearing I wouldn’t buy any more for at least a year.   Yarn Junkies is a well stocked shop with a good selection, and on the new arrivals wall, I saw a box with two balls of yarn.  Attention grabbed!  It was Uneek Sock hand-dyed self-striping sock kit by URTH designed to make two matching socks.  I’m lazy when it comes to matching stripes, if the yarn doesn’t do this magic trick on it’s own I’m not bothered with it.  The shop only had two boxes left in two different color ways.  I did notice something immediately though, the sample photo on the boxes does not seem to remotely match actual colors of the yarn.  I picked up sock kit 59 which shows yellow, black, purple, red, grey and maroon striping on both the packaging and the URTH website.  The colors actually in the box were purple, black, mustard, lilac, rust, and green.  My friend, purchased the second kit, and it had very different colors than the indicated photo as well.  From a review standpoint, this would be a huge turnoff if I had ordered yarn offline and received colors so vastly different, but coming straight from a shop and seeing what I was actually purchasing didn’t cause a bother.  The yarn itself is soft enough to be comfortable on one’s feet, but has enough nylon included that it should wear well for quite a while.  The quality of the Uneek lines have improved under the URTH brand name, but I’m still curious about the link between URTH and Feza, but that’s some research for another day.

pCaxb63hRN6uKjaNol96PASince these kits were split into two even balls of yarn, I thought it would be a good time to try knitting two socks at a time using the magic loop technique.  I’ve seen it done a few times, and get the logic, but oddly enough have never tried it, which is a little surprising since I have experienced Second Sock Syndrome on a few patterns.  There’s quite a few videos out there explaining the technique and how to start, this is one of the few times I’m going to let you find a video instructor that works best for you (until I get around to making a video – wink wink).

My friend and I both picked up Size 1, 40″ circular needles and headed off to go cast-on until the car was ready.

So how’s it going?

So far, so good.  Cast-on, and the first two or three rows were a little odd getting started with a toe up pattern. I would imagine this would be an issue with any experienced knitter but one that can be worked through with a little patience and practice.   Let’s be honest, the beginning of a single sock, on either circulars or double pointed needles can be a bit fiddly.  I used Judy’s Magic Cast-On.  I set up sock one, and then tied a very simple knot with the working yarn and the tail to keep sock one from running away while I set up sock two.

Eventually, you’ll fall into a rhythm with managing two separate balls of yarn and having two separate parts going at the same time.  I thought a 40″ cable would be overkill, but it does allow ample room to manage both socks without risk of sliding your project to the very end of the cable loop and loosing that divide between the front half and back half of the sock.

Even the most simple of sock pattern will require just a touch more attention, once you accidentally forget to drop the yarn from the first sock, and knit it into the second sock and realize you’ve begun to knit the crotch of tights instead of separate socks, you probably won’t make that mistake again.  The technique will begin to feel like you’ve done it a thousand times after you get a an inch or so into it.

For the heel in this case, I will have to work one heel completely and then slide over to sock two and complete that heal, I don’t see a logical way to work my favorite heel without having to move unworked stitches around from one side to another on every pass.  I could, it would insure 100% consistency in this case, but personally, I’m not sweating it.  As long as the the foot, and leg are even, I’m happy.

At least there are a few obvious benefits to taking the wee bit more effort to manage two socks at a time.

  • No Second Sock Syndrome! You’ll either have a pair at the end of this process, or you just won’t.  LOL
  • Row counts and measurements will be consistent between both socks, which should eliminate a lot of time measuring or counting between the traditional one at a time process.
  • Did I mention no Second Sock Syndrome?
  • Gauge will be more consistent between the two – there’s been an odd occasion or two that a second sock has been a half to full stitch off on gauge no matter what I do.  Same needles, same yarn, just slightly different.  It’s not greatly impacted fit for me, but it can be frustrating when you can see a slight size difference, especially if you’re gifting a pair.
  • If you make a change in a pattern you can carry it right over to the second sock then – you know – just in case you forget to write it onto your pattern (cough, cough, guilty, cough)
  • And again, no Second Sock Syndrome

If you’ve not given two socks at a time a shot, get experimental on your next pair.  If the magic looping two socks at a time doesn’t work for you, throw one sock on a stitch holder and work one at a time.  No harm done.

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Blocking: A Necessary Evil

You’ve finally cast off a project that has taken ages to complete. You hold it up, and it looks, well, kinda blah. It sorta looks like the photos from the pattern but, it isn’t, quite right, even though you followed the pattern to the letter.

Well…

That’s where blocking comes in.

It’s like making gauge swatches and weaving in ends, no one really enjoys it, but if you want your handiwork to look amazing it just has to be done. So what is blocking? Blocking uses moisture to align all your stitches correctly, and the case of lace knitting, opens up all of those yarn overs.

I’ve had a small pile of finished work that need to be blocked, and an older piece that needed to be re-blocked after some cleaning (coffee soaks into wool pretty quickly, just saying). So I thought it was a good time do do a little tutorial on wet blocking. Yes, folks there are several ways to block but wet blocking seems to be the most universal.

First things first, you need to find a large, flat space away from the family pets and small children. In my case, I use my bedroom floor and shut the door. You can block on carpet, cardboard boxes, I’ve used my own bed to block large pieces, but the easiest thing is to pick up a few of those puzzle piece children’s play mats. You’ll be pinning your knit work, so the play mat surface holds pins well and since they are plastic, moisture won’t bother it at all.

For wet blocking you will need to soak your finished project. So grab an appropriate sized bowl, fill it with water, and a bit of specialty detergent. I prefer Soak, it smells great and it seems to get things a little cleaner. Eucalan has it’s own benefits but surprisingly I’m not a huge fan of the smell of wet wool and Eucalan seems to amplify that smell. These detergents condition the fibers and gently clean while soaking your project. There are a few other options out there, so find whatever you like the most. Just look for detergents that don’t require rinsing. Okay, so why are we getting everything wet? Natural fibers can stretch quite a bit more while wet, and as the fibers dry while in a stretched state, they will lock into that position. After drowning everything for about 15 minutes you’re ready for the next step.

After your items have finished their bath, it’s time to start getting them dry. You’ll need to squeeze all the water you can out of your work by hand. Whatever you do, DON’T WRING IT. Wringing can do some irreparable damage, so squeeze, squeeze, and squeeze some more. To get out additional water, lay your project flat on a towel, roll it up and either stand or kneel on it. Your project should feel damp to the touch when you’re finished.

Now to the fun part. Besides your flat surface you’re going to need quilting or T-pins at a minimum to pin your project into the its final shape. If you’re an avid knitter, one of the best investments you can make is in blocking wires. These are just simple metal wires that you can weave into the flat edges of your work to guarantee a straight line on your finished projects. For this tutorial I’m using both quilting pins and wires. My wires have taken a beating over the years and have gotten bent here and there when I was first learning how to do this myself. I was bad for over stretching on yarn weights that were a little too heavy for the wires. They still work fine. I’ve used three wires to define the flat edges of this cowl, and used pins to shape the points at the top edge. I only needed to stretch this project enough to open up all the lace work. In some projects, blocking will require you to stretch to certain dimensions or shapes. This cowl is actually the project that is being re-blocked after the coffee incident. Re-blocking does need to happen from time time after an item has been cleaned, or if an item looses its shape over time and use.

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There are also another handy tool out there for larger pieces. Knit Blockers are several pins mounted into a flat plastic handle. They let you cover a large area quickly and evenly, used with wires, they are a time saver as well.

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Now that everything is blocked out the way I want it. What’s next? Nothing. Well for a while anyway. You just go find something else to do for a few hours, because these projects will need to be bone dry before you do anything else. You can speed things up a bit by blocking in a warm room with good airflow. Good airflow = big ol’ box fan. Don’t go overboard and try to use a hair dryer or a space heater to speed things up, bad things could happen, like shrinkage. Once everything is good and dry, remove your pins, pull out your wires, and you should see significant improvement in how your project looks. With lace, the improvement can be downright dramatic. Weave in your ends and call it a day. Your item is ready to go!

The Return of Mosaic Knitting

Trends are cyclical and mosaic knitting is on it’s way back into the spotlight.  It’s a trend that unlike jelly shoes and eyelash yarn I’m happy to see reappearing.  A cult classic since the late 70s mosaic Knitting (also called slip-stitch knitting) is amazingly easier than it looks.

In mosaic knitting, you alternate between two contrasting colors, but instead of working every stitch in the row, some stitches are slipped, and you only have to manage one of those colors at a time. That’s really all there is to it.

For a beginner that thinks fair isle knitting is a little intimidating for a first attempt at color work, mosaic is a good starting point for chart reading and managing multiple colors.  More advanced folks may find mosaic patterns faster for those “emergency gift” projects that pack a punch.

A great deal mosaic patterns out there are variations on the patterns established in the 70s, BUT over the past year I’ve begun to see mosaic mixed with other techniques.  In fact Barbara Benson (another Georgia knitter that I’ve yet to run into) is releasing a new book, Mosaic & Lace Knits: 20 Innovative Patterns Combining Slip-Stitch Colorwork and Lace Techniquesdue out at the end of the month, mixing mosaic with lace, and the teaser pieces I’ve seen are drool-worthy.

I’m currently working on a sample for a mosaic technique class I’m hoping to get on the img_0730schedule in April or May at Yarn Rhapsody in Gainesville, Georgia.  I began working on this sample last night during one of those time-change caused sleepless nights.  Don’t get me started on what spring time-change does to my sleep schedule, and as expected I’m blazing right through the mosaic pattern portion.  I’m also using a new yarn carried at the shop. It’s Harvest Fingering Weight by Feza Yarns.  The colorways are organically died rubia and oleaster and the photo does not quite do the colors justice.  This is certainly one of those yarns that would feel great in a garment of any sort.

If you happen to be in north Georgia or metro-Atlanta and are interested in attending classes or are interested in private lessons please feel free to contact me through the form below.  If you are interested in group classes, I will send a reminder email with upcoming classes, dates, and times.  If your interest is private lessons, this is just a little ice-breaker.

 

I Need a Knitcation

I’m having one of those weeks, okay, more like one of those months.

My full-time job won’t be referenced here often (social media and employers don’t necessarily get along sometimes), but the small company I was working for merged into a larger one, and man, that’s not been the easiest of transitions.  Change isn’t always easy, but we’re better off in the long run.

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My brain is fried, like a bologna sandwich on white bread. 

It may be Tuesday but I’m looking forward to the weekend, a mini knit-cation is planned.  All the typical weekend chores will be done before Saturday.  I’m taking a crack at designing my first pattern for a technique class I want to teach hopefully at the end of February or early March.  I’m leaning towards mosaic knitting, which doesn’t seem to be an entirely common but interesting way to do two-color work.

Have I mentioned this is the first group class I’ll be teaching?  I’ve taught other non-craft related subjects before, but if there are any knitting teachers out there that would share a tip or two I’ll be greatly appreciative.