Thursday, 20 November 2014

Basic Toe-Up Socks, Part 2

So, last week's post left me in need of yoga to restore my calm after finding that the 64 stitch basic toe up sock with the decrease bind-off from the ill-fated Origami Socks pattern was too tight to get onto my foot. As you may have seen from this post, I didn't even get to yoga class because of the severe weather. Oh, well, these things happen.  At least I could put my feet up and have another go at the socks!

Having unravelled back to the last row of the foot, I increased by 8 stitches (to 72) and then set the heel up over half of those stitches (36, over two needles, so 18 on each). I redid the heel, transferred the stitches onto a cable and checked the fit. Yay! So I finished the leg and this time did my usual cast off in rib (knit or purl 2, pass first stitch over, then knit/purl the next and pass previous stitch over) which turned out rather stretchier than the other bind-off. I pulled the loop out wide and left the yarn ball attached, to try it on. Oh no! It may be stretchier, but not stretchy enough! I couldn't get the sock on. However, this time, I knew it was a problem with the cast-off (bind-off), so went in search of something stretchier.

I found a video for Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off (JSSBO) and it made sense. It adds more yarn into the cast-off row by releasing each stitch off the needles with an accompanying yarn over. It took me a few moments to work out which way to wrap the yarn overs to be correct for the next stitch, as the video is demonstrated by Cat Bordhi working in continental style and she picks the yarn up around the right-hand needle so quickly, it's difficult to follow. For future reference, the trick is: put the yarn in the correct place to work the type of stitch which is next on the left needle (so at the back for knit, at the front for purl). For knit,. it then follows that you have to bring the yarn forward over the right needle and around to the back again. For purl, you have to take the yarn back over the right needle and around to the front again. (Note, Over the needle.  They're not called yarn-overs for nothing!) Once you're sorted with that JSSBO is easy. Okay, it takes a bit longer, and uses two rows' worth of yarn, and the resulting corrugated edge is quite visible (I've discovered some people are into invisible bind-offs). But, and this is the essential thing, it is surprisingly stretchy. And crinkly, squooshy and comfy. I tested it with the yarn ball still attached and it was easy to put the sock on, and lovely to have an edge which doesn't dig in.

So, I started the second sock straight away and finished it in just a few sessions. I sorted out the angle of my needles to make Judy's Magic Cast On (JMCO) less fiddly on dpns. I increased by 4 stitches on the last two rows of the foot, placing the increases a stitch away from the ends of the instep and either side of the heel needles (thus on the inside and outside of the foot). Having done Cat Bordhi's Sweet Tomato Heel a couple of times on the first sock, there was no need to refer to a pattern. Rather than put all the heel stitches on one needle as the pattern suggests, I worked then over two needles, dividing the 36 stitches by thirds, so 12 (6 on each needle) as the centre set of stitches. Easy, and it seems to fit me well. And having done JSSBO once, and got my yarn-over directions sorted out, that was easy too. Success, at last!

The only thing I might change is the width of the toe and therefore the number of cast-on stitches, as it is just a little long and pointed, but I haven't decided on the best number of stitches per needle to start with. At least 12, I think, rather than 10. I might have to have a play with that when starting another pair of socks.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Rain Stops Play

Although I wish for higher numbers in class, I have a lot of sympathy for those who take one look outside on these dark, cold nights and decide that snuggling on the sofa with a mug of tea wins against going out to class. The other night while I was changing to go out to teach, I had to fight down the urge to change into my pyjamas and just go to bed with a mug of cocoa. It was windy, pouring with rain, dark and dismal, and it was only the thought of my dancers having to brave the same for their love of the dance that got me going.

I rarely cancel a class, or skip one myself, but sometimes the weather is just too much. Yesterday was a case in point.  Ready to go, I stood at the back door and watched soaking wet birds in the garden. The chaffinches and blue tits were irritable and squabbled constantly. The robin and blackbird were finding some tasty bits from the compost heap, and a couple of song thrushes were pecking at fallen crab apples. I meant to make crab apple, ginger and mint jelly this year, as the fruit set on the apple was very heavy. But it's been raining for weeks, turning the little golden apples from under-ripe to splitting and mouldy within a week.

I set off for yoga class at 4.00 pm, and quickly realised that the deluge I skipped through to shut the hens away and dive into the car had evidently been going on for hours. Ah, the joys of living in the country! There are a few miles of back roads in every direction before I can get onto a main (A-class) road. The roads were starting to resemble a series of streams and lakes. I had to turn back on my first choice of route, because although I have a Fiat Panda 4x4, it's still quite a small car in comparison to a Land Rover, and I met a flooded section I wasn't confident about; I knew the road dipped, but how deep was the water?

After 25 minutes' driving, I was still only 4 miles from home. The water on the roads was getting deeper, it was getting dark, if I did manage to get to class I would be quite late, and I knew the heavy rain was forecast to continue through the night. In the dark, with floods across the roads getting deeper and difficult to see, the return journey would have been a bit stressful, to say the least, even in my relaxed, post-yoga state!

I sent a text to explain and apologise for absence, then turned around and headed home. Already, there was more water across the roads, as it fountained up out of drains, poured off the land through field gates and overflowed the ditches, washing leaves, wood and stones out onto the roads.

Once home, I looked up the weather forecast, mug of tea in hand. The yellow weather warning for heavy rain was in place until 9.00 am this morning. Last winter was extremely wet, so I hope we're not in for a repeat. This is from the Met Office summary:

'Winter 201[3-201]4 was an exceptionally stormy season, with at least 12 major winter storms affecting the UK in two spells from mid-December to early January, and again from late January to mid-February. When considered overall, this was the stormiest period of weather experienced by the UK for at least 20 years. An analysis of pressure fields by the University of East Anglia suggests this winter has had more very severe gale days than any other winter season in a series from 1871.
The persistent heavy rainfall through the season resulted in this being the wettest winter for the UK, England, Wales and Scotland, and the equal-wettest winter for Northern Ireland in series from 1910. It was also the wettest winter in the long running England and Wales Precipitation series from 1766. There were more days of rain during the winter than any other in a series from 1961.'

Residents in the Somerset Levels, which were under water for weeks, may feel that this is an example of British Understatement.

The horrible weather has reminded me that I need to take a look at my severe weather policy for class cancellations. Out here in the Wild West of Wales, even a yellow warning can make road conditions quite dangerous.  I asked to cancel an adult education class back in February when there was a yellow warning, but with a forecast for wind speeds increasing to hurricane force later, and was met with a certain amount of scorn and derision. 'It's only a bit windy. You won't get paid, you know, and you'll have to make the class up at some other time.'  By the time the class members had been contacted, the severe weather warning had changed to amber, and the centre was closed because tiles were beginning to fall off the roof and there was a risk of being hit by flying debris. Only a bit windy.

Needless to say, if an amber weather warning is in force, the class will be cancelled. I don't want anyone to risk driving to class in severe weather like that. In those circumstances, snuggling down on the sofa with a mug of tea is fully justified!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Basic Toe-Up Socks, Part 1

Learning to do toe-up socks, even without the magic loop, two at a time, is proving to be more of a learning curve than I expected.

I hate having to frog (unravel) items, so I was in great need of yoga after the Origami Socks Failure. Feeling far more peaceful, I started the Basic Toe-Up socks. Judy's Magic Cast On is rather fiddly on dpns, so the toe seemed to go on forever. Eventually I gave up on just two needles and added in a third so that half the stitches were on one needle, and the stitches for the heel were divided equally over two needles.

70 rounds later, I was ready to set up for Cat Bordhi's Sweet Tomato Heel. Just to check that I understood the instructions correctly, I found her video instructions for the heel.  Yes, I was doing it right, the only difference being that the pattern made the heel from half the total number of stitches, whereas Cat Bordhi set it up to use two-thirds of the total stitches, with the remaining third for the instep/front of ankle.

The heel looked lovely, and I was so lost in admiring it that I forgot to transfer the stitches to a cable and just check that the sock actually fitted. Off I went, for another 40 rounds up the leg (I don't like my 'everyday' socks long) and then did 10 rounds k2p2 ribbing. I went back to the Origami socks to try the different bind off (K1, slip the stitch back to the left needle, k2tog tbl, *slip resulting stitch from right to left needle, k2tog tbl*, repeat until all stitches have been cast off). Neat bind off, but although I did it quite loosely, it wasn't stretchy enough for the ribbing underneath it. Aaaargh! Unravel it and cast-off loosely in rib. Stretchier, although still not quite as stretchy as the ribbing underneath it.

Leaving the last loop pulled out and the yarn ball still attached, I tried the sock on. Or at least, tried to. Although the toe looked too pointed, I was surprised to find that it fitted quite well. The problem was, the cast-off edge wasn't stretchy enough to go over the widest part, the heel to instep/front of ankle. Try as I might, I couldn't get it onto my foot. Here's an idea, let's stretch the heel-instep part of the sock and see whether it actually stretches enough to meet the measurement, which means the cast off might be the issue. Nooo! I don't know what I hate more about unravelling, whether it's the fact that I haven't got it right first time, or the time taken just to find that it's wrong, or the fact that you can unravel in a fraction of that time. Perhaps it's all three.

Oh look, time for yoga class again! Then I'm going to have a hot bath, change into pyjamas, cook dinner, and have another go at the heel, having increased the number of stitches in an attempt to cope with my bulky heel/ankle measurement. And try to remember to try it on this time! I'll crack this yet!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Time for the Toe-Up Challenge?

A friend asked, why bother knitting socks? Fine-gauge, cotton-rich socks are easy to find and cheap to buy, easy to wash, dry quickly, comfortable to wear and last for years. This is a good question, and the answer was initially, to learn how and prove I could. A few years ago, I couldn't imagine myself knitting socks, then decided it was a skill which I lacked and should acquire, although I still couldn't see the fascination. Since then, I've discovered that these small items in which you invest time and, yes, more money than you would when buying mass-produced socks are lovely, personal and individual in a way that the mass-produced ones cannot be. I feel as thought I've knitted a piece of myself into them.

I've done a couple of pairs of socks since I told myself that my next pair would be to learn to do them toe-up (instead of cuff/top-down). Time for some new skills.  While I was thinking about it, I realised that I would be learning a new technique for the toe (Judy's Magic Cast On or JMCO).  As these are otherwise 'vanilla' socks, with no pattern, I thought I would go the whole hog and try to learn how to do two at a time on a circular needle using the Magic Loop technique, and throw in Cat Bordhi's Sweet Tomato Heel while I was at it, perhaps. Why not? I had earmarked some of the Drops Fabel for this, so I have two balls to work from, instead of trying to knit from an outer and centre end of a 100g ball (and, knowing my luck, becoming irretrievably tangled!).

I've had a little go at magic loop before, using DK (at the start of the seven colour socks) and found the business of transferring half the stitches around from the needle to the cable or vice versa a bit strange. I ended up unravelling what I'd started because the tension was rather uneven, with a ladder between the stitches either side of the cable loop. Still, practice makes perfect, right?

So, dig out wool, pattern, stitch markers, circular needles ... ah, problem. No circular needles the right size, except one old set of 2.5 mm with a very short cable which wouldn't loop effectively or hold two pairs, although the short cable was presumably designed for sock knitting. The law of stash rules again.  I feel another wool and needles order coming on. Note to self - buy some 2.5/2.75 mm circulars with an 80 or 100cm cable for doing two at a time magic loop.

In the meantime, I looked for other toe-up patterns with instructions for dpns. There were a few, including one for 'Dummies', which seemed to make a lot of assumptions about the knitter's knowledge of techniques and involved references to wrapped stitches. As I read through the patterns, I became increasingly baffled by the instructions.  I could get the technique for the wrap and turn, but couldn't wrap my head around things like double wraps and picking up the wrap instead of a stitch or ... I don't know what. I evidently need to find a video. When it comes to knitting, I'm more of a visual learner than I thought I was.

I ended up with two patterns earmarked; one for basic toe-up socks which could be done one at a time on dpns as well as circulars and an intriguing pattern for 'Origami Socks'.

Still feeling baffled by the issue of wraps, and how much of a dummy I might be if I couldn't understand the pattern designed for dummies, I went with the seemingly simple Origami socks. I found a 100g ball of Rico Superba Bamboo, which I couldn't remember buying, but was rather nice. Since I would be doing one sock at a time, a single ball was fine.

I was a little confused by the instructions, but decided that since the heel shaping resulted in a sort of triangle, the shaping would start when the foot tube measured from toes to point of heel, 100 rounds after picking up from the toe ‘strip’ for me (size 39, 24 cm foot). The 100 rounds, plus the fiddle of picking up stitches from the P2tog decreases, was enough to start me wondering about second sock syndrome.

Once I’d finished the heel shaping and had started working in the round again, I looked at the shape and size of the sock and wondered if I could actually get it onto my heel, so transferred my stitches to a cable to try it on. My fears were born out; the shaping is too ‘subtle’, and with no gusset and only a shallow heel cup, I couldn’t get the tube of the sock to stretch enough to manage the front of ankle-back of heel measurement (33.5 cm on me). This sort of shaping issue is something I’m going to have to watch for with other toe-up patterns.

Yes, it could probably be fixed/made to work by increasing the number of stitches and/or doing some sort of hybrid heel shaping, but I’ll leave that for someone else with more experience to play with. So lesson learned, frogged and abandoned. A few hours work, unravelled in a few minutes. Hopefully yoga class this afternoon will help me feel less irritated and ready to start another pair of socks this evening.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Cable Entertainment

I had planned to start some toe-up, two-at-a-time, magic loop socks (to learn how!) but finding, as per the law of the stash, that I didn’t have the right circular needles, and unable to resist casting on for another pair of socks, (and generally loving cables) I went for the Candy Twist Cable Socks pattern on Ravelry. When I queued the pattern, I thought maybe I would need to buy a solid-coloured sock yarn in perhaps a turquoise (NOT pink!), but in the end decided to use the Texere Jura ‘Leather’ in my stash. I don’t know why it’s called ‘leather’ as it’s a lovely golden-green-brown, ticking all my boxes for colours which don’t know exactly what they are.

I planned a little knitting session on 12 October and looking at the pattern reminded me that I had queued a project for a cable needle holder. Out came the remnants of the old, cream Aran yarn and the cable needle holder was whipped up in no time at all. Such a good solution for holding the cable needle between rounds.

That reminded me about another queued project, an owl bookmark as a gift for a friend. Using a little of my stash DK and a couple of shirt buttons, unravelling a length of yarn into singles to use as thread to sew them on, it also took no time at all. I got a bit bored with the long section and despite slipping stitches as directed at the start of each row, I can’t get it to lie flat. I think it will need steam blocking before I wrap it up. No tassel - I think it looks better without.

Then I made a start on the first sock. The ‘candy twist’ cable is not very stretchy, so while the number of stitches seems a lot for the ankle, it’s right. The heel and toe both seem a little long and narrow, but the number of stitches as per pattern gives the correct size for my foot on 2.75 mm needles. The first sock was finished in a week. After that I was a bit too busy with other things to sit and knit, so the second sock wasn't finished until the end of the month.

They look a bit strange, lying there on the blanket, but it's only because the ribbed and cabled leg looks narrow compared to the stocking stitch foot, which hasn't been blocked.  It took me a while to work out why it was called a candy twist cable. Then I realised the design looks like an oval boiled sugar sweet in a twist of cellophane.

I'm finding the 'Jura' quite a coarse yarn. It's okay to wear, just feeling a little hard when I first put it on, especially the square heel. This 'leather' colour is a little softer than the 'pistachio' I used on the Estonian Crossroads socks.  Time will tell how well it washes and wears, and whether it will soften a bit (although the Estonian Crossroads socks have been washed a few times now and don't really feel any softer). I'm not sure I'll buy any more. The colours are lovely, but I was a little shocked to see that the 100g cones I bought for £3.99 each in June are now £6.50!