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Friday, 23 May 2014

Basic 4ply sock pattern and tutorial - easy beginner sock knitting!

Looking for the Winwick Mum Sockalong basic sock pattern?  Scroll down ... or read the whole post first!  If you're a beginner, you might find it easier to follow the step-by-step Sockalong tutorials here J  

The idea of knitting socks can be quite daunting if you've not done it before.  The whole thought of turning heels and grafting toes can be quite enough to put you off before you even pick up your needles - and I know this because that's how I felt too!  Now, of course, you know all about my love affair with socks ... here's my latest pair.  I just love the colours in this yarn, definitely my favourite combination!

Beginner sock knitting - basic 4ply sock - here's a pair I knitted earlier!

I knitted my first pair of socks for my beloved Uncle Harry when I was about 16 years old.  My Aunt Ella had always knitted his socks for him and when she died, he asked whether I'd be able to make some for him as he didn't want to have to buy any.  What a performance!  The pattern was quite awkward, involving sewing gussets and side seams, and I wasn't sure they were anything like up to my Aunt Ella's standard.  I decided I would not be making any more socks.

Fast forward to when small daughter was a baby.  I was in a local yarn store buying wool for yet another baby cardigan when I spotted balls of multi-coloured yarn on the counter, along with leaflets showing knitted socks.

"They're new in," said the lady, noticing my interest.  "They make lovely socks."
"Oh, I made a pair of socks a long time ago," I told her, shuddering at the memory.  "I'm not sure I could face another pair."
"This is a good pattern," she said, "and you get it free with the yarn."

Ker-ching!  I left the shop with baby yarn and multi-coloured yarn to make my husband a pair of socks.  And this time round, the pattern was much more straight-forward.  No sewing up and a heel that magically created itself thanks to some nifty decreasing.  I was hooked!

A couple of pairs later, I just happened to search for sock yarn on the internet. WOW!! I had no idea there was so much sock yarn available, that so many people knitted socks, there were so many fabulous patterns out there - or that there would be so much help.  I joined a knitting forum, discovered Ravelry and the couple of pairs of socks turned into something of an obsession.  Now, it seems incredible to think that I ever thought there was anything difficult about knitting socks, but anything new takes some thinking about and certainly anything new that involves four or five double-pointed needles and 4ply yarn!

I know there are many sock patterns and tutorials on the internet aimed at beginners, but sometimes you just need one basic pattern that you can use to get started, increase your confidence and then adapt to suit your own feet.  I'd like to share mine with you - not the free one I originally got but an amalgamation of a few versions, altered over many pairs to get it just the way that I like to wear my socks, and still being adapted to suit other members of the family.  

This pattern is now the basis of the Winwick Mum Sockalong tutorials and you can find detailed instructions with lots of pictures here.

Beginner sock knitting - basic 4ply sock heel

Now, before we get started, a quick word about needles.  I use both double-pointed needles (DPNs) and a small circular.  Mine's a 30cm Addi but Hiya Hiya also make them although in a 23cm length and you can find smaller lengths and other brands too.  It's simply a matter of preference as to which one you'd choose.  (More info here)  I always cast on using my DPNs as trying to cast on with a tiny circular is a disaster - it just doesn't work for me with the cast on that I use.  

Beginner sock knitting - basic 4ply sock - casting on

Then, after a couple of rows of rib, I transfer my stitches to my circular and off I go.  I find it so much easier than knitting a whole sock on 5 needles and you don't get join lines down the socks either.  Some people like the magic loop method using a longer circular and I have used that, particularly for knitting two socks at a time, but it's not my favourite method.

Beginner sock knitting - basic 4ply sock - changing to circular needle

Beginner sock knitting - basic 4ply sock - knitting in the round

Another thing that you'll need for knitting socks is stitch markers.  Apart from my lovely Herdy ones, mine were all free gifts from magazines but you can buy them from yarn stores, online or you can simply make your own from a knotted piece of yarn.  All a stitch marker needs to do is show you where your round starts and finishes, and the start and finish of any pattern section you may have so they can be as fancy or plain as you like.  (More info on accessories here)

Beginner sock knitting - basic 4ply sock - stitch markers

What else?  Oh yes, yarn!  It's best to use yarn that's specifically for knitting socks because it will usually have a proportion of nylon in the yarn which helps to hold the socks' shape and make them more hard-wearing.  Some of the gorgeous hand-dyed skeins that you can buy don't have any nylon in their content but that doesn't mean you can't use it, just that your socks might wear out a bit sooner, especially if they get a lot of use.  Most sock yarn is 4ply but you can also buy 8ply (and thicker) which is great for boot socks.  (More about suitable yarns here)

Just in case you're interested, my new stripy socks are knitted in Regia Design Line "Random Stripe" shade 02904 Delphinium and the red socks for illustrating this tutorial are knitted in Regia Galaxy shade 1559 Jupiter Red.

A quick word about gauge before you get started - the tension required for sock yarn varies from ball to ball, even with the same manufacturer, but I usually find that knitting on a 2.5mm needle gives me the size of sock that I require and the tension is pretty much what it states on the ball band.  I haven't given a gauge on the pattern for the simple reason that it will vary from yarn to yarn, but if you're knitting to the tension stated on the ball band then this pattern should work for you, even if you need to go up or down a needle size to get the required tension.  (There is more about tension here)

Basic sock pattern - you can download a PDF copy of the sock pattern here

This is the pattern that's being used for the Winwick Mum Sockalong.  You can find more detailed step-by-step tutorials for knitting this sock here and you can join the accompanying Facebook group for help, support and showing off socks here, our knit n natter group here and the Ravelry group here

These socks are constructed as top down socks with a gusset heel.  The heel is knitted in heel stitch which creates a durable, cushioned heel.  This pattern will create a medium-sized sock.  If you want to make the pattern bigger or smaller, simply increase or decrease the number of cast-on stitches by 4, but remember that you will need to make adjustments when you turn the heel.  If you need help working out how many to cast on, have a look at this tutorial from the Sockalong.


2.5mm needles – I use a 30cm circular needle but DPNs or magic loop will also work
1 x 100g ball of 4ply sock yarn (or 2 x 50g depending on brand)
1 pair DPNs size 3.0mm
1pair DPNs size 2.5mm
stitch markers
tapestry needle

Note: I cast on using DPNs then change to my circular needle  –  it’s not possible to cast on using the circular as it’s too small.  If you want to use magic loop you will be able to cast on with the larger circular needle.  If you use DPNs, you might find it easiest to cast on and work 2 rows before dividing the stitches across the needles.

To adjust the size for this sock, just add or remove stitches in blocks of 4 from the cast on total.  For example, if knitting a man's sock I would cast on 64 or 68 stitches.  Remember that you will need to make adjustments when turning the heel if you use extra stitches.  There's a calculation for working out the number of stitches you need here.


Cast on 60 stitches using 3.0mm needle.   Need help?  Click here!
1st row:            K2, P2, repeat to end, turn
2nd row:          K2, P2, repeat to end, turn

Change to 2.5mm needles.  At this point, change to a small circular, magic loop or divide the stitches across DPNs and join into a circle, place marker.

Continue in K2, P2 rib for 14 more rounds or until desired length of rib (I knit 16 rounds of rib).

Continue to knit each round until desired length before start of heel (for me, this is about 75 rounds in total including the rib).

Heel flap  

Change to 2.5mm DPNs.  You are going to create the heel flap from half the number of stitches that you cast on, so if you have cast on more or less than 60 stitches, remember to adjust the number of stitches when you start the heel flap.    Need help?  Click here!
1st  row:          K2, *Sl1, K1* until you have 30 stitches on your needle, turn
2nd row:         Sl1, P  to end, turn
3rd row:          Sl1, *K1, sl1* to end, turn

Beginner sock knitting - basic 4ply sock - heel flap

At this point, I usually tuck the ends of my circular needle down inside my sock so that it doesn't get in the way.  If you are using DPNs for the entire sock, you may prefer to put the spare stitches onto a stitch holder whilst you work the heel.  

Repeat rows 2 and 3 until heel measures approximately 2 inches, finishing on row 3 (approx 35 rows) .  If you want to make the heel flap longer, continuing knitting rows 2 and 3 until you reach the desired length, but remember that you will need to pick up more stitches to create the gusset.

This is what the heel flap looks like when it's finished.  Slipping every other stitch gives a raised texture that is thicker than just knit and purl which is ideal for a sock heel.

Beginner sock knitting - basic 4ply sock - heel flap outside

This is what it looks like on the purl (wrong) side.

Beginner sock knitting - basic 4ply sock - heel flap inside
Turn heel

Now, this is the fun part and the one that puts a lot of people off, but it's quite easy as long as you take it slowly.  Need help?  Click here!

*For a larger or smaller sock, you will need to alter the number of purl stitches in the first row of the heel (marked in bold below), increasing by 1 stitch for each block of 4 stitches extra that you cast on, or decreasing by 1 stitch for each block of 4 stitches less than 60 stitches.  For example, if you cast on 64 stitches, your first row would be Sl1, P17, P2tog, P1, turn*

Row 1:             Sl1, P16, P2tog, P1, turn
Row 2:             Sl1, K5, SSK, K1, turn
Row 3:             Sl1, P6, P2tog, P1, turn
Row 4:             Sl1, K7, SSK, K1, turn

Continue in this way, increasing one stitch between slip stitch and SSK or P2tog on each row until all of the heel stitches are used.

As you work these rows, you'll notice that there's a gap between the end of your knit or purl stitches in the middle and the remaining stitches to be worked into the heel.  This will help you to work out where you're up to.

When you work the SSK or P2tog stitches at the end of each row, you take one stitch from each side of the gap and that's what pulls the heel round into the right shape.

This picture illustrates the SSK stitch - slip the first stitch as if to knit, the second stitch as if to purl, slip them both back onto the left hand needle and knit through the back of the stitches.  This gives you a much neater decrease stitch than K2tog.

This is what the SSK looks like on the right side of the sock ...

and this is what the P2tog looks like.  It gives a nice neat finish to your heel with no gappy holes.

Knit across heel stitches if required to bring you to the left hand side of the heel ready to pick up 19 stitches.  Remember that if you made the heel flap bigger, you will need to pick up more stitches. 

The reason that you used a slip stitch in the heel flap is to make it easier to pick up the gusset stitches.  You can see in this picture the slipped stitches are the row of larger stitches lying flat against the flap.  I pick up the inside loop to create my new stitch.

This picture shows how the row of slip stitches looks once you've picked up all the gusset stitches.

Once you have picked up the stitches, place marker.  Knit across the top of the foot (I usually knit back onto my circular needle at this point), place marker, then pick up 19 stitches (or more if required) up the other side of the heel.  Knit across the top of the heel and then shape gusset as below.

Note: If you are using DPNs and/or have placed your stitches on a stitch holder, you can arrange the needles as follows:  Needle 1 for stitches across heel, Needle 2 for picked-up stitches down side of foot, Needle 3 for stitches across top of foot (knit stitches off stitch holder if required), Needle 4 for picked-up stitches on other side of foot.  You may find that stitch markers are not required at first.

Shape gusset

Round  1:      K to 3 sts before the marker, K2tog, K1, slip marker, knit to next 
                          marker, slip marker, K1, SSK, K to marker.
Round 2:       Slip marker, knit to next next marker, slip marker, knit to 3 sts before
Round 3:       K2tog, K1, slip marker, knit to next marker, slip marker, K1, SSK, K to marker.

Repeat rounds 2 and 3 to shape the gusset and continue in this way, decreasing by two stitches at the gusset on every other row until there are 60 stitches on the needle.  Need help?  Click here!

You can see the line where the decreases create the gusset quite clearly in this picture.

Once you have 60 stitches again, continue to knit each round until you reach approximately 5cm before the desired length ready to start the toes.  For my size 5 feet, this is about 45 rounds.  Don't be afraid to try your sock on before decreasing for the toes!


At some point whilst decreasing for the toes, if you are using a small circular you will need to change back to DPNs as the number of stitches becomes too small for the circular.   It's up to you when you choose to do that, and how you distribute the stitches across the needles; just keep following the pattern as set below.  Need help?  Click here!

Create the toes as follows:

Round 1:       K1, SSK, K24 sts, K2tog, K1, place marker, K1, SSK, K24 sts, 
                          K2tog, K1
Round 2:       Knit one round, slipping markers as you come to them
Round 3:       K1, SSK, K to 3 sts before marker, K2tog, K1, slip marker, K1, 
                          SSK, K to 3 sts before marker, K2tog, K1

Repeat rounds 2 and 3 until you have 28 stitches left and divide these between two needles so that front and back of socks match (14 stitches on each needle).

Graft toes using Kitchener stitch.  This is another part of the sock-creation that some people aren't so keen on, but again it's not too bad if you take it slowly.  Cut a long length of yarn and thread it onto a wool needle.  I'm giving you right-handed instructions here.

1  Hold the two DPNs with your left hand.  Insert the wool needle purl-wise into the first stitch on the front DPN and pull the yarn through.  Don't take the stitch off the DPN.  

Next, insert the wool needle knit-wise into the first stitch on the back DPN. Don't take the stitch off.

2  Insert the wool needle knit-wise into the first stitch on the front DPN and slip it off. 

Insert the wool needle purl-wise into the second stitch on the front DPN and don't slip it off.

3  Insert the wool needle purl-wise  into the first stitch on the back DPN and slip it off.  Insert the wool needle knit-wise into the second stitch on the back DPN and don't slip it off.

4  Repeat 2 and 3 until you get to the last two stitches on the DPNs.  You will already have taken the yarn through the front stitch so after you have taken the yarn through the back stitch, you can slip both stitches off the DPN.  The single yarn thread through the first stitch will be strong enough to hold it and it will sit flatter when you weave the end back into your sock.

5  Weave the end securely into the sock and cut the yarn.

And that's it - you're done!  Make two socks if you don't want to hop everywhere and wear them with pride!  If you're on Ravelry, please link your project to the pattern here so that I can see your socks - I always love seeing new pairs of socks! 

This sock pattern is free and will always remain so, but if you have enjoyed using it and would like to make a donation towards future projects, it will be gratefully received!  You can find the donation button on the sidebar on the left hand side.
  Thank you! xx

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Beer garden

It's not often that I get my husband all to myself for a lunch date, but that's exactly what happened today.  We visited a village outside of Chester called Tattenhall and decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the local pub, The Sportsmans Arms.

Oh, the joy of sitting in the beer garden, feeling the warm sun on our faces and with a cool beer close at hand!  I can't remember the last time we did this, just the two of us.

We were able to chat uninterrupted, to sit and not speak at all if we wanted to, and just to enjoy each other's company and the brilliant blue sky of a beautiful day.

The menu was full of mouth-watering choices but we both decided on a posh fish finger sandwich each and some chips to share.  Oh my, it was absolutely the best fish finger sandwich we'd had for some time!

We could quite happily have stayed there all afternoon, but there were daughters to collect from school and jobs that needed doing at home so we reluctantly took our leave and headed back to Winwick.  We know we'll definitely be making a trip back to Tattenhall another day, though!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Back to Black (Sheep Wools)

Wouldn't it be great if your local yarn store had a huge range of stock to choose from at a range of prices to suit every budget?  Debbie Bliss, Sirdar, Hayfield, Rowan, Regia, for example ...

What if it also sold other craft essentials - cross stitch kits galore ...

And fabric in wonderful, vibrant colours to make beautiful snuggle-me-up quilts?

You'd want plenty of accessories to choose from - crochet hooks and knitting needles ...

pom pom makers and fun knitting tools for children ...

even shawl pins to complete the look once you've created your fabulous accessories ...

Unusual knitting kits ...

and lots of samples so that you could see exactly how a yarn knitted up, complete with an idea of how much it would cost you to make.  

Ooh, and of course you'd want a sale every year, wouldn't you?  A sale that offered huge discounts on whole packets of yarn, as well as just one or two balls ...

And after all that, wouldn't it be wonderful if your local yarn shop had a friendly, welcoming cafe that sold the most amazing locally-baked cakes?

Wouldn't this be just the best place to have right on your doorstep?

Don't you wish that my local yarn store was your local yarn store?  The good news is that even if you live miles away, it can be.

Black Sheep Wools has been an independent family-run business in the village of Culcheth, just a few miles from Winwick, for over thirty years.  Although they also have a strong on-line presence these days, through their website, Facebook and Twitter, Black Sheep are regularly seen at shows throughout the country where along with their enormous range of cross-stitch kits, their famous Yarn Dive piles of yarn packs draw huge crowds in search of bargains.  They moved to the Craft Barn a couple of years ago which has allowed them to expand their range of yarns and craft kits, run workshops and provide that all-important space to sit, relax and eat in their cafe.

It's hard to believe that it's been nearly a year since I wrote the post about their Sirdar open evening.  I have visited quite a few times since then, but always in a dash to pick something up and it was nice to have time for a less hurried visit.

I arrived at lunch time, intending to pick up a quick sandwich before spending some serious quality time perusing the bargains on offer during the annual sale.  On my way to the cafe, I was delighted to bump into Sara, Black Sheep's Marketing Director who, along with her brother, is the second generation of the family to be involved in the business.  I've known her for many years and was really pleased that she was able to sit and join me - and the quick sandwich turned into a much more leisurely event as Sara and I were able to catch up on family news and other ladies in the cafe joined in our conversation as it turned to more woolly matters - it's clearly a very friendly cafe where people are connected by their love of crafting. 

This was my lunch - an egg and cress sandwich (my favourite!) with a freshly-made salad, a choice of mayo or salad cream, a pot of tea and a slice of extremely yummy lemon cake.  "The Bakewell tart is fabulous," Jayne, who works in the cafe, told me after I'd already taken a bite of my cake.  "The jam just oozes out, it's lovely."  It was a bit late at that point to change my mind over the cake (and to be honest, I'm not sure I would have wanted to hand back my lemon cake anyway!) but it's a good excuse to go back another day to try it out!

One of the ladies that I met in Black Sheep was this lovely lady; we started a conversation about socks, I happened to mention that I wrote a blog and it turns out that she reads it!  I was so pleased to meet her I just had to give her a big hug!  She had brought in some crochet that she is making into a tunic, intending to ask a question of one of Black Sheep's staff.  They have a drop-in session every Friday called Save Our Stitches where you can ask for help on any project that you have - sometimes you just can't get it right on your own even with a YouTube video!

After lunch, it was time to take a good look at what Black Sheep Wools had on offer - and boy, there was plenty of it!  I headed into the new fabric section drawn in by the rows of fabrics in jewel-bright colours.  

I was really taken by these quilts, especially the fabulous Kaffe Fassett quilt in the bottom picture, and even more so when I realised how soft it was.  My attempts at quilting have never resulted in a quilt like this one, which is why until now I've always considered knitted or crocheted blankets to be the thing to wrap up in.  I think I may have changed my mind!

There is a good range of books for both patchwork beginners and the more experienced, and all the tools you need, including rotary cutters and quilting rulers.  I was very tempted to try another quilt - but think I need to finish a few other projects off first!

Colette was in the fabric section.  Whilst I was browsing, she was serving another customer who was marvelling at the wonderful service she always receives at the Craft Barn.  "It is wonderful here," agreed Jayne, who had come in from the cafe during a quiet moment.  "It's a good job I don't knit, though, or I wouldn't have any money left!"

Once her customer had left, Colette showed me how to make a no-sew cushion cover from just a metre square of fabric.  

Two folds and a knot gives you this ...

It's a brilliant way to create a cushion cover that matches any decor and is easily washable - and replaceable whenever you want to change your look. Colette hasn't been working for Black Sheep that long but loves it.  "Even when there aren't many people in the shop, there's always something to do," she said, adding, "It's a really friendly place to work." I have to agree with her there; there was always laughter coming from the warehouse and everybody in the shop, both staff and customers, was smiling.  That's not a bad way to spend your day!

One of the things that I like about Black Sheep Wools is the number of completed garments that are around for you to look at.  You get a much better idea of how a yarn will look when it's knitted up, you can feel the texture and you can even try a garment on to be quite sure that it's the one for you.  I loved this shawlette called "Starry Starry Night" in Rowan fine lace and kid silk haze.  Many years ago, I used to knit Rowan sample garments for a yarn shop and this would have been right up my street.  

I moved on along the rows of bright ribbons (aren't they scrumptious colours?),

finding a new treat around every corner.  Barbara, another member of staff, told me how wonderful it was to work in such a lovely place that was so close to home.  "Is it like working at Cadbury's though?" I asked.  "I mean, do you find that after a while you don't really notice all the yarns as much because you're in with them all the time?"  "Not at all," she smiled, "there's always something new coming in so I always have to have a look." Then she told me about her queue of projects and I had to agree with her that it's definitely not like working at Cadbury's!  

I had to show you a picture of this yarn because I have a confession to make. It's Rowan Alpaca Colour and I'm a bit of a sucker for alpaca yarn because it's so soft.  So I had to have a squidge.  Just for scientific research purposes, of course.  And it was sooo soft - so soft in fact, that I had to have another squish, and another, and then I put my whole hand into the middle of this pile of yarn skeins and squished some more.  It's very lucky that there wasn't a Yarn Dive pile of this yarn as I probably would have dived in and never come back out!  Beautiful!  I've got my eye on a skein (or two) of this for the future, but because I don't really like buying yarn to leave out of sight in my stash box for too long, I'll look for the perfect pattern first - which of course is yet another good excuse to visit Black Sheep again!

I put the yarn down and continued on along the rows of yarn in their rainbow colours.  Rows and rows of them, which led me nicely round the sock yarns. Of course.  You didn't think I'd go to a yarn store and not look at sock yarns, did you?!  Black Sheep stock quite a few sock yarns -  Rowan, Noro, Regia and new Sirdar yarn that I've not seen before amongst others. And look at this one - Regia yarn for baby socks - now who could resist tiny toes in these lovely colours?

These were my purchases - Regia  yarns in block stripes (I do like a stripy sock!) and wait for it - zebra stripes!  Zebra striped socks - how fantastic!  I can't wait to knit these up!  I also bought a some cross-stitch kits which will go into my "present box" where I keep a small stock of presents so that I'm never caught out for a birthday (something that seems to happen quite regularly with a teenager in the house!).

It was almost time to go.  In fact, I had spent so long at the Barn that I was in danger of being late for the school run!  I just took a last look around to make sure I hadn't missed anything and spotted this sign in the cafe which made me smile. 

It fits in perfectly with Black Sheep's policy on buying yarn too.  If you're putting lots of time and effort into making something to wear, then it's only right that you match your efforts with your yarns.  Sara told me over lunch about how they always choose good quality yarn and whilst they might not stock the whole range of, say, Debbie Bliss, they pick enough yarns across the range to make almost any garment might want, even if it involves some yarn conversion - and that's another thing that Black Sheep can help with.  Whilst I was in the store, one of the staff was advising a customer on which yarn to use instead of the one stated on her pattern, explaining how to read the yarn ball label to work out how much she would need.  There is handy information on yarn conversions, needle sizes and tension squares on Black Sheep's website too, which is very useful if you need to check something but don't want to have to search the internet to find it.  There's also information the workshops and exhibition appearances, both of which are hugely popular.

"We're very proud of the shop," Sara told me, and rightly so.  They get visitors from as far afield as Dundee, especially during sale time, and even coach trips with people eager to see the delights of the Barn for themselves.  It's a lovely place to visit.  Barbara summed it up perfectly when I had to dash back to take some more photos after accidentally deleting some of mine.  "Well, you're all right now," she said, as I waved my camera and new photos in relief.  "Just absorb the Yarn Calm."  Yarn Calm.  That's what we all get from creating our projects, and Black Sheep is just the place to provide it, whether in-store or online.

Thanks to the internet and the good old telephone, Black Sheep Wools can indeed be your local yarn shop just as much as mine.  I'm just not sure whether they'd post you the cake!

This post was sponsored by Black Sheep Wools who very kindly provided my delicious lunch - and also the opportunity to meet up with friends old and new, squish yarn and generally have a lovely afternoon.  Thank you! xx