Posts tagged ‘socks’

The sock yarn spinning is still ongoing, but in the meantime I started a sock with some of the yarn I bought. I’m doing a toe-up with a figure-eight cast-on, which went ok. Of the toe methods from Knitty, it’s the one that made the most sense for me. YMMV, I’m sure, as lots of people hate/are scared of the figure-eight cast-on. I have that feeling about waste yarn crochet chains. I liked the fabric knit on 2mm dpns, but I went up a size to get closer to the recommended gauge. I think it looks nice around 32/10cm (8/inch.) But the manufacturer recommends 28/10cm and at least 2.5mm needles, which is no way going to work for me. Knitting is like that. Hey, it’s not like I’m really following a pattern anyway. I’m using Wendy’s toe-up sock pattern as a guide. I’m only accidentally using the same number of stitches. Based on measuring my ankle I expected 72 stitches but started the foot after 68 because it appeared to be getting alarmingly large. I finally ripped back and went with 64 because I didn’t like how it looked.

The yarn is Lana Grossa Meilenweit Fun&Stripes, the most normal sock yarn I could find in sufficient amounts at Carolina Homespun. (I also got two skeins of another color for some taller socks.) It’s mostly regular color changes with little blobs here and there. I looked around at sock yarns for a couple weeks, but wasn’t happy with what I saw. The fake Fair Isle stuff gets weird if you start changing the number of stitches and I really didn’t want all that anyway. I also wasn’t happy with the odd muted colors I saw several places. What is so wrong with basic solids? What I got was shades of blue, which I can live with. The other one is blue and green.

100g is supposed to do a pair of socks, so I’m doing toe-up to get as much as possible out of it. I intended to knit from both ends of the skein at the same time, but I’m beginning to wonder if it will work. I have to knit a little more to see if the stripe pattern comes out symmetrical. If it’s not, then I’ll just keep going until I use half the skein. This wouldn’t be an issue if I could find some plain normal yarn, but apparently I’m a stodgy old crank who isn’t keeping up with the latest styles. Feh.

The heddle sorting continues. As does the spinning of solid color singles for sock yarn. I’ll spare you the details, other than to say I’ve got a bobbin and a half done. The president of Spindles and Flyers, a friend of mine, has been trying to talk me into submitting a skein for the San Mateo County Fair. The entry form deadline is coming up fast and items must be delivered near the end of the month. I don’t know if I will have anything finished by then. I have a day or so more to think about it.

So, of course, I went shopping at monthly spinning night instead of actually getting any spinning done. I’ve been thinking I should try some socks from commercial sock yarn before I set out to do with handspun, so I can contemplate what I want. I’ve only done a couple socks and it’s been a while. So I picked up enough to do two pairs, one short and one tall. I’ve been looking at sock yarns but not happy with what I’ve seen in a few other shops, the colors were oddly muted and mostly they were the instant Fair Isle stripy things. Stripes are ok, but I didn’t want funky patterns that would only get weird if I don’t work on the recommended number of stitches. After pawing through an entire bin, I found some I could live with at Carolina Homespun. Everyone was amazed that they were not gray. (There was only one skein of gray in the yarn I wanted.) Now I just have to work out the toe-up thing so I can knit until I run out of yarn.

I took a workshop this weekend, spinning for socks from Judith MacKenzie McCuin, and as usual Judith is a blast to hang out with for a fiber geek. She has an interest in traditional textiles and primitive sheep, two things I’m rather fond of. But she also knows industrial textiles and judges competitions, two things I am still trying to figure out. In class we talked a lot about what makes a good sock yarn. I’d like to do more socks, and I might yet get around to that, but mostly I wanted to take this class to learn more about yarn structure. Most of what I knit is with sock-like yarns.

I always come away with something to think about, and some of it seems to have little to do with the topic under discussion. Because I’m mostly self-taught, I don’t know that I’m not supposed to see the gaps between the so-called conventional wisdom and my own experience. Sometimes they are quite wide chasms and I’m baffled as to why. For as much as everybody likes my knitting, my range is rather limited. I know the basics of textile history concerning knitting but it’s more recent than my primary areas of study. So I don’t really understand why knitting yarns are the way they are. I had my suspicions on this point but after conversations with Judith apparently neither do all that many other people. Including nearly all yarn manufacturers. She says that the things we find in the stores are really yarns designed for weaving. I’m not entirely clear on why, exactly, but I’ll work on that.

We threw away some much-trumpeted beliefs about sock yarns, the major one for me is that fine wool does indeed make great sock yarn and you don’t have to blend it with nylon. My own commercial Merino blend socks end up with huge patches of nylon as the wool wears away. I’ve heard that so many times that it makes me wonder if it’s been pushed by the nylon manufacturers. (Things like this have happened, in textiles and elsewhere. DuPont didn’t have much interest in encouraging natural fibers just like General Motors didn’t have anything good to say about urban rail transit.) You can blend all you like, and nylon is a rational choice for blending with short wools, but it’s not by any means required. The important point is that longer fibers make better sock yarn and to get smooth and even yarn it should be spun worsted. Lumps and bumps have their interesting uses, but you don’t want them on the bottom of your feet.

Wool has many useful properties that make it a good option. Wool for socks should have a lot of crimp, to make elastic yarn. Elastic yarn makes elastic fabric. Elastic fabric doesn’t sag or wrinkle. If it isn’t moving around inside your boot, it isn’t causing blisters on your feet. As one who wears boots a lot, this is a big deal.

Another important feature about sock yarns, and also knitting yarns in general, is that they be three-ply or more. This makes a round yarn and produces a smoother knit fabric, something I already knew. But I wanted to know about twist. There is this huge fuss about balanced plied yarns but all over the place there is traditional knitting that has never heard of the balanced yarn. Balanced yarn is very pretty, but it leaves the individual fibers more prone to snagging and wear. It’s entirely possible to make successful socks with less than three plies. But you have to think carefully about the construction. We passed around some socks from various countries and they were quite different from the modern American idea of what a sock should look like. Some were very stiff, from strongly twisted yarns knit very firmly. They would most compare to slippers rather than something that goes inside one’s tennis shoe. One was knit of singles from a horrid scratchy goat fiber that seems like it would be impossibly uncomfortable. But it fit so closely and so well that it is very wearable, something Judith didn’t discover until some time later. If they don’t move around, they don’t scratch.

The reason I make knitting yarns with a firm twist in the single and 3-ply is to get a finished product that is dense and hard-wearing. More twist in the single means a more tightly twisted plied yarn, so the fiber is held in place more securely. Better still is to add a little more twist in the plying, so there is not the chance of loose fibers hanging about, they are all held in place with twist. But that violates the fundamental tenet of the balanced yarn. I’ve never really understood that, so I asked. After all, in a previous workshop Judith talked about how woolen yarns are best with a low twist in the single and more twist in the plying (and nearly useless as singles alone.) Those pretty balanced yarns look great hanging up for display at wool shows, but she has her doubts about their practical applications.

So there it is, I’m not crazy. This has been bugging me for years, with all the books, teachers and yarn judges that go on about balanced yarns. I was very careful about what I said about plying as to not be immediately branded apostate. I spent hours finishing plied yarns wet with a spindle for the COE because I knew that was the first thing a judge was going to look at. And the one yarn that wasn’t, intentionally and for a specific purpose, was marked off for exactly that. I understand the mechanics and I entirely don’t get why it is such a big deal. Slightly unbalanced yarns work fine in normal modern knitting and highly twisted yarns make fabrics that wear forever. So if unbalanced plied yarn is indeed heresy, at least I know I will have good company in Spinner Hell.

There are many other things from this weekend, ideas to contemplate and techniques to practice. I think I may now finally really understand the difference between short forward draft and short backward draft and why it matters. I’ll write more on these things as I work through what I learned and discover how to apply it to my own spinning.

The Learning Exchange samples are going in the mail, The Boyfriend is off for the long weekend, and work is being relatively tame. I even already took care of my mother’s birthday present. I can hang out and do all the fiber stuff I want.

I’ve started spinning for some legwarmers, but not the kind you think. You see, I like the idea of handknit socks, but I don’t actually like knitting that fine so they fit in my shoes. But it’s Summer once again in San Francisco, so my legs are freezing all the time. I’m going to make just the leg part of some knee socks, out of one of the black lamb fleeces I got last summer. It will probably take a little elastic in the top cuff to make it work, but that’s really no different from the sock variety.

In the I-Have-A-Loom-Now department, I ordered some cotton weaving yarn. One is a big cone of singles blended natural green organic cotton, which I will probably ply with itself the same way I did with the stuff I found on pirns at the surplus craft store. It’s all really fine, presumably intended for weaving sheeting. I now have white, brown and green and I think somehow dishtowels will happen. I just need to get the studio cleaned up.

It hit me today, as I was cleaning out the sock collection. I know what to do with those old socks! I’d been trying to come up with some practical re-use of the wool blend socks I wear year-round here in San Francisco. The feet are all worn out, but the tops still look great. But I don’t sew sweatshirts or anything in need of a cuff.

But yesterday I was at an outside spinning demo where it was cold and windy, an unusual thing for the East Bay this time of year. I was fighting the wind to keep my fiber under control, so I tucked it into the sleeve of my sweatshirt. Now I have a nice wool-blend wrist distaff for spindle spinning. And I don’t have to feel guilty about throwing away those old socks. You can read about it here.

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