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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Beginner sock knitting: Sockalong - anatomy of a sock

We're on countdown now ... this is the last pre-Sockalong post and there are only 4 more sleeps until the Sockalong!

Today, we're going to take a look at how we're going to go about creating our pair of socks and how the Sockalong itself is going to take shape.  

There's really not a great deal to how a sock is put together.  As we're going to make a pair of top-down socks, we're going to cast on for the cuff and work our way down the sock, turning the heel as we go and finishing at the toes.  

The majority of the sock that we're going to make is just plain knitting (as opposed to the patterned version pictured), and I'll be posting lots of pictures with the tutorials so that you can see exactly how I'm doing everything as we go along.

I'm going to split the tutorials up over three weeks to give everybody plenty of time to work on their socks without feeling that they're having to rush to fit it all in or are being left behind.  Don't worry if something comes up and you have to put your knitting aside for a while; you can still continue to follow the posts as and when you can as they will all be available on the blog on this page.  Even if you've found the Sockalong way after the "official" start date, feel free to follow along anyway and ask questions - I'm always happy to answer them.

This is how we're going to divide the tutorials:

Week 1 - casting on for the cuff, working the rib section and then knitting the leg

Week 2 - creating the heel flap, turning the heel and creating the gusset

Week 3 - working the foot section, creating the toes and grafting them with Kitchener stitch to make a seam-free toe.

My plan is that if you can knit this sock, you can knit pretty much any sock that takes your fancy because you'll be confident with the basics.  At some point, you might even feel confident enough to design your own socks, and wouldn't that be wonderful?  The sock pictured is my Neat Ripple sock and although it involves pattern stitches, it's still created in exactly the same way as the basic sock pattern that we're going to use for the Sockalong. 

For those of you on Facebook, I've created a Winwick Mum Sockalong group to ask questions (although please do continue to ask questions through the blog as well) and share pictures - the great thing about the group is that everybody can share their experiences so don't be shy about joining in.  It's a closed group to try to stop spammers but feel free to add friends who want to knit socks as well - let's get as many people knitting socks as we can!

There is now also a Ravelry group too so if you would like to join that one, then please do!

Don't forget that it's Yarn Shop Day (have I mentioned that before? ;-) ) so I'll be at Black Sheep Wools if you've got any last-minute questions before our first tutorial Sockalong post on Sunday 3 May.  I'll be taking a few sock samples on different needles with me for people to try out so if you've still not decided which needles are for you, then come along and give them a go!  You can still use the code WINWICK10 to get 10% off in the Craft Barn or online too.

Right, I think that's us done now until Sunday.  Any questions?  Ooh, I'm itching to get started now!

These Sockalong tutorials are free and will always remain so, but if you have enjoyed using them 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

More Sockalong posts:

Sockalong - yarns

Sockalong - needles

Sockalong - tension squares, casting on and stitch calculations

Sockalong - accessories and matching yarn

Sockalong - Week 1 - Cast on, cuff and leg

Sockalong - Week 2 - Heel flap, heel turn and gusset

Sockalong - Week 3 - Foot, toe and grafting the toes

Sockalong basic 4ply sock pattern

Sockalong successes

Facebook Sockalong group for help, advice and encouragement

Ravelry Sockalong group

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Beginner sock knitting: Sockalong - accessories and matching yarn

There's just a week to go now before we start our Sockalong.  Excited?  I certainly am!  It's been great to really think about what goes into making a sock and in which order to talk about it all.  I hope your tension squares are coming along nicely, and thanks again for all the comments and questions you've left me this week.  I've created a tab at the top of the page for the Sockalong so that it's easy to find all the posts instead of searching through the blog - there are quite a few Sockalong posts now!

Today, we're going to talk about matching sock yarn and the last few accessories that you will need before we get going.  Later in the week will be the final pre-Sockalong post and we'll be looking at the anatomy of a sock (which sounds more technical than it actually is) and how we're going to work on the socks over the weeks of the Sockalong itself.

Matching socks are one of those things that some people can't live without and others don't think twice about.  I fall into the first camp; I can't stand it if my socks aren't the same!  Plain sock yarn is no bother at all, but I will spend a long time matching the colours from my self-patterning balls of yarn to make sure that my socks are going to be identical twins.  I can see that some of you are nodding in agreement and I can hear the rest of you making a rude pfftt! noise in disgust that anyone can get upset about such a thing - I say that if we were all the same the world would be a very boring place!

The thing about self-patterning sock yarn is that it’s almost impossible to tell what the socks will look like before you start knitting unless you have a picture on the ball band, but the good news is that often the yarn has been dyed in repeats so that you can match the stripes if you want to do that.  So, if like me you want your socks to be the same, then this is how I take the ball apart to match the yarn.  Remember that I'm knitting with a 100g ball of yarn; if you've bought two 50g balls, you can start matching from the beginning of each ball without needing to pull the centre out.

To match the yarn for your socks, you will need to unravel the ball to find a colour repeat far enough into the ball to give you enough yarn to knit your first sock.  Do this by inserting your fingers into the end of the ball, grasping the yarn inside and pulling it out.  You are going to start knitting from the end of the yarn that was inside the ball (it’s always a good idea to do this anyway as you are unravelling the ball from the inside and it won’t roll about whilst you’re knitting).

You might even find it useful to weigh your two balls of yarn so that you know they’re roughly about the same weight; this will give you a guideline of where you are looking to start your colour repeats for the second sock.

You can see in the next picture that the tail end of my yarn is orange in colour, followed by a large section of yellow, then pink and finally yellow and green stripes.  I’m going to use those colours to match them with yarn further into the ball.  It’s important to keep using the colours in the same direction otherwise if you start to match with yarn from the outside of the ball, you’ll find that your stripes become reversed for one of the socks.

Now it’s just a question of matching the yarn colours from your two balls of yarn.  Let’s call the two balls that you have the “inside ball” (that’s the one you pulled out) and the “outside ball” (that’s the original ball).  Take the tail end from the inside ball of yarn and try to find the matching pattern from the outside ball of yarn, pulling the yarn out from the centre of the ball as you do so.  Take care that your yarn is pulling from the same direction so that your pattern goes in the same direction for each ball.

Sometimes you have to pull quite a lot of yarn out so that you can be sure that you’ve got the right pattern repeats, so be careful not to get your yarn tangled up.  Just take your time and you’ll be fine!  If you feel that it's not working and you're losing the will to live, then stop, take a break and come back to it later.  It's only yarn and it's only a pair of socks.  Sometimes, close enough is good enough, even for me!

You can see in this next picture that I've found a match with my two balls of yarn.  It is never exactly perfect but you can see how I've found the point where the pattern changes at the same time on both strands of yarn.

Once I’ve got the colours matched up how I want them, I make loops at the ends where I want to cast on.  As you'll know from the last pre-Sockalong post on tension squares, I use a cable cast-on so I need to start with a loop over the end of my needle.  If you use a different cast on, that’s fine, but you may still want to create a loop to put a safety pin through so that you don’t lose the point where your yarn matches.

If you want to, you can cut the yarn so that the two ends start at exactly the same point.  A word of warning, though - DO NOT CUT YOUR YARN UNTIL YOU ARE QUITE SURE THAT IT IS EXACTLY HOW YOU WANT IT!

Finally, you can wind the yarn back into two balls.  If you want to wind it into neater balls or cakes, just take care that you don’t wind from the wrong end and reverse the pattern.  I've recently discovered how to hand-wind yarn into a centre-pull ball (I know, where have I been all these years?) using this website and it's much better than having your ball roll all around the floor when you're knitting.

Phew!  Sometimes it can be a bit of a frustrating job and sometimes it works brilliantly well and you're done in ten minutes, it all depends on the pattern in the yarn.  For me, it's always time well spent as I will be wearing my socks for a long time!

Finally, let's take a quick look at any extra accessories you're going to need and then we're done for today.  If you've already done your yarn and needle shopping, you'll be pleased to know that all of these are either items you'll already have around your house or you can improvise without having to buy anything else.

First of all, a wool or tapestry needle for sewing in ends, a pair of scissors and a tape measure (a ruler will work just as well if you don't have a tape measure).

Next, stitch markers.  Mine have been collected over the years that I've been knitting.  All of them except for my lovely Herdy ones came free with various knitting magazines, and my Herdy ones were a Christmas gift one year from my brother and sister-in-law.  You can see at the bottom of the picture that I've even used pieces of knotted yarn and they work as well as anything else.  You don't have to have technical or expensive stitch markers; you just need to see where your round starts and ends.

Finally, you need some way of tracking your rounds so that you can make sure your socks are equal in length.  I have this rather scary-looking sheep counter (another magazine freebie!) and you can buy similarly scary-looking counters very cheaply as well as many other styles.  Before I had this, I used a piece of paper and a pencil and this worked extremely well!

And that's it for today!  Don't forget to ask any questions, and if you're close enough to come to Black Sheep Wools on Saturday 2 May 2015, then it'll be lovely to see you.  I'm officially listed as being around from 9.30am to 12.30pm but I'll be there for most of the day as I want to see some of the other demonstrations too!  This is the programme for the day (it's a bit of a skew-whiff photo as I was so excited to see my name up there when I called into Black Sheep the other day that I didn't hold the camera straight!)

Because I'm proud to support my local yarn shop on Yarn Shop Day, Black Sheep Wools have given me a code to share with you to get 10% off anything in the store.  You can use it online and in the Craft Barn as well, which is handy if you're coming to Yarn Shop Day.  Just quote WINWICK10 at the checkout to get the discount.

If you don't live near to Black Sheep but your local yarn shop is taking part in Yarn Shop Day then do pop along and support them - as much as we can buy on the internet easily and cheaply, we still need our bricks and mortar yarn shops!

These Sockalong tutorials are free and will always remain so, but if you have enjoyed using them 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

More Sockalong posts:

Sockalong - yarns

Sockalong - needles

Sockalong - tension squares, casting on and stitch calculations

Sockalong - anatomy of a sock

Sockalong - Week 1 - Cast on, cuff and leg

Sockalong - Week 2 - Heel flap, heel turn and gusset

Sockalong - Week 3 - Foot, toe and grafting the toes

Sockalong basic 4ply sock pattern

Sockalong successes

Facebook Sockalong group for help, advice and encouragement

Ravelry Sockalong group

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A new toy!

When it comes to shopping, I'm a bit of an SAS shopper - get in, get it, get out.  I don't usually feel the need to spend hours window-shopping, although I do make an exception when it comes to yarn - and also the Lakeland shop.  

I've been buying gadgets from Lakeland for many years.  Their catalogue is one of the ones that I will actually spend time looking at before it hits the recycle bin, and I do like spending time in their shops looking at the gadgets that have taken my eye in the catalogue in "real life".  So when small daughter, my husband's cousin and I went to Liverpool last Friday, I made sure that I steered us towards the Lakeland shop.  I had some vouchers to spend (a Christmas gift, believe it or not!) and although I could have spent them on something useful for the house, I had spotted something in the catalogue that I wanted to take a closer look at. Something useful, certainly, but something for me.  It felt very frivolous to be choosing something that I didn't necessarily need but did think that I wanted - but isn't that the joy of vouchers?    

This is what I found:

It's a silicone bread maker.  

I don't need another bread maker.  I've got my Dad's which works very well for our Soup Night loaf.  I've got my cake baker tin which cooks my sourdough loaves in the Aga.  But I do like making bread and I'm a bit of a sucker for gadgets which help the process along and I was very taken by the look of this - although a little voice in my head told me that this was surely just a gimmick which looked great in theory but would never really work.  

I picked it up, and put it down again.  I looked at the display loaf and poked at it, wondering if it was real bread or not.  I ummed and ahhed and said that I should probably buy Something More Sensible.  Cousin Carol said that I should most definitely not, because vouchers aren't always meant for buying Sensible things.  She picked up the bread maker and put in my basket.

Dear Reader, I handed over my vouchers and brought it home.

And this is what I did next.  I followed the recipe in the little book to make no-knead bread.  Oh, I love no-knead bread so much - it appeals to the lazy side of me perfectly!  You weigh your ingredients directly in the bread maker, mix them up with a spoon and ta-dah ...

... your bread is all ready to be left to prove.  All you have to do is close the flap, cover the whole thing with a tea towel and leave it for six to eight hours (I left mine overnight).

The next morning, the dough had risen and I put the bread maker straight into the oven to cook. No bowls or sticky hands to wash.  Oh yes, this is my kind of bread!  

The loaf that came out was a rather strange shape - like a torpedo or a boat, perhaps.  Not your usual loaf shape at all.

Cousin Carol and I examined the loaf.  It certainly smelled good, and despite the unusual shape it looked pretty bread-like.  

"We'd better wait until it cools down before we cut it," we said.  

We waited.  For two whole minutes, and then we cut the loaf.  The texture was perfect and once I'd turned it over so that the flat bottom sat firmly on the chopping board, it was also super-easy to slice.

"We'd better let it cool down before we try eating it," we said.

The butter melts so much better on straight-from-the-oven bread, don't you find?  

I was quite amazed.  Far from the bread maker being a gimmick which didn't work at all, this loaf was one of the nicest non-sourdough loaves that I had made for a while.  And best of all - it tasted fabulous!

In the interests of research, we had to try a couple of slices.  No scientist ever does just one experiment, do they?  And then we had to toast some to see what that was like.  And then we had to toast some more to try it thickly spread with marmalade.  The result of our experiment was that it makes very good toast, and it's even better with marmalade.  We started to run out of bread to do any more testing.

"We'd better make sure we save some for lunch," I said.  

My husband helped himself to the final crust.  

I'm very glad now that I didn't spend my vouchers on Something More Sensible instead.  I've made several loaves since that first one and each of them has turned out as well as that one did.  I'm going to try out the other recipes in the little book, and I'm going to see how my sourdough loaf cooks in the silicone mould.

Isn't it great when a purchase turns out to be so much better than you expected?  It's almost enough to tempt me to go shopping more often!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Beginner sock knitting: Sockalong - tension squares, casting on and stitch calculations

It's our third pre-Sockalong post ... the start date is getting closer!

If you are looking for the sock stitch calculation, scroll down!

Hello to everyone who's already said they're joining in, and if you're finding these posts for the first time, it's not too late.  The Sockalong starts on Sunday 3 May so you've got time to have a look at the pattern, choose some yarn and make sure you've got some needles.

Today, we're going to look at how to create a tension or gauge square (also known as a swatch). No, don't sigh, it's important that you know about it even if you choose not to do one.  I must confess that I'm not the world's greatest at doing tension squares for myself but I've learned that with a new yarn it's worth taking the time to check my knitting - or I find myself doing a lot of frogging!  (Technical term for when your knitting has gone wrong and you have to rip-it, rip-it, rip-it out!)

Let's start by taking another look at the ball band on the yarn.  This the yarn I'm going to be using which I talked about the other day.  You can see the symbols panel with the washing instructions and the gauge information quite clearly. 

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - reading a ball band

If we take a closer look again then you can see that in the red oval is the recommended needle size - 2.5mm - and underneath that the number of rows and stitches the manufacturer says you should get knitting on 2.5mm needles.  Based on a 10 x 10cm (4 x 4 inches) square, you should get 30 stitches (M) and 42 rows (R).

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - reading a ball band

If you know that you will get that number of stitches and rows without checking, then that's fine and you can put your feet up until the next post.  However, if you've never knitted with the yarn before or you're not quite sure, then it's always best to check.  Knitting in the round gives you a different tension to knitting on straight needles so it's worth taking the time to see exactly what gauge you're knitting to.  Additionally, you can use the number of stitches in your swatch to help you work out how many stitches you will need to cast on for your sock.

For a sock, the most important thing is to know the number of stitches per inch so working out the number of stitches to expect to get in one inch (using the ball band above: 30 stitches ÷ 4 inches = 7.5 stitches) is helpful before you start.  It’s not essential to make a huge swatch – just big enough to measure your stitches is fine - but I’m going to show you the process below. Generally, I use 2.5mm needles for any sock yarn even if the ball band suggests differently, and it usually works out at 7-8 stitches per inch.

I'm going to show you the swatching method used by Elizabeth Zimmerman which makes shorter work of the gauge swatch than having to cast on enough stitches to knit a whole sock.  In this example, I'm going to cast on 35 stitches to give me a margin at each side of my swatch (remember the ball band says I should be getting 30 stitches to 10 cm?).  This will make it easier when I come to measure the stitches.  

First things first, you need to cast on, and it's always best to use the type and size of needles with which you're going to be knitting your sock then you know exactly how your knitting will work out.  For this example, I'm going to show you how to knit the square using DPNs but the process is the same whichever needle you use.  There are no hard and fast rules about casting on for socks; you can pretty much use whichever cast-on you like and you might find that you change your mind from sock to sock depending on the pattern you use.  My preference is the cable cast-on and I'll show you how to do it in case you've not come across it before, but it really doesn't matter as long as you cast on the right number of stitches.  

1  Make a loop and slip it over your left needle.  Put your right needle into the loop knitwise.

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - cable cast on

2  Put the yarn over the needle and pull it through as if you were creating a knit stitch, but instead of sliding it off the needle, put it over the end of the left needle to create a second stitch.

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - cable cast on

3  Put your right needle between the two stitches and pull the yarn through …

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - cable cast on

4  … putting the new stitch onto the left hand needle again

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - cable cast on

5  Continue until you have the number of stitches you require, remembering not to pull the stitches too tight on your needle.

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - cable cast on

When it comes to your sock, you'll need to take a view of how tightly you cast on - this might be dependent on the cast-on method you choose.  I cast on with a size bigger needle and others cast on over two needles to make sure that you don't pull the stitches too tight.

Once I've cast on the right number of stitches for my swatch, I work two rows of garter stitch (knit both rows).  This helps to stop the end of my work rolling up too much.

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - tension swatch in the round

Next row: knit across all the stitches, but instead of turning the work and purling back across the row, leave a long length of yarn, go back to the beginning of the row and knit the row again.  This gives the same effect as knitting in the round as you don’t have a purl row.

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - tension swatch in the round

It looks a bit messy on the back but it does the job!

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - tension swatch in the round

Once you have worked the size of square that you need, you can measure your work.  It's quite acceptable to work less than the required 10cm as long as you do the maths to work out the number of stitches per cm to get the number you should be working to.  If the number of stitches in your tension square match those on the ball band, then you’re knitting with the right size needles.  If you’ve got more stitches, try going up one size to a bigger needle and if you’ve got less, try going down one size to a smaller needle.  If you're not able to change your needle size, another alternative is to cast on more stitches so that you get the right diameter for your foot;  you will need to increase the pattern we're using by 4 stitches each time.

Beginner sock knitting - Winwick Mum Sockalong - tension swatch in the round

Some people like to keep their tension squares and collect them to make into blankets, but I never do.  Once I know the information I need, I just unravel it and wind it back onto the ball ready to use for my socks.

That's all there is to it - it's not hard, is it?  My problem is that I'm usually too impatient to get started to want to knit a tension square but experience has taught me that being too impatient to get started often leads to having to start more than once!

Sock Stitch Calculation

Finally before we finish today, let me show you how I use the gauge information to work out the sizing for my socks.  If you search the internet, there are plenty of methods for working out the number of stitches you will need, some of them based on foot width and others on calf or ankle size.  A good method, which can be adapted to any sock yarn, is this one which takes into account the size of your feet and the tension that you knit to.

The number of stitches that you choose to cast on must always be divisible by 4, so choose the nearest multiple of 4 to the result that you get from your stitch calculation. 

Measure around the ball of your foot (in inches) and multiply that measurement by the number of stitches per inch from your swatch.

In my case, it would be 8 (foot measurement) x 8 (stitches per inch) = 64

Next, you need to allow for the negative ease (stretch in the knitted fabric) so take 10% off the total – in my case, 10% of 64 stitches would be 6.4 but it’s easiest to round it up or down to the nearest whole number.  This would make the new calculation 64 (original number of stitches) – 6 (10% negative ease) = 58.

Remember that the number of stitches that you cast on needs to be a multiple of 4, so I could cast on either 56 or 60 stitches – I think that 56 would be just bit too tight so I am going to choose to cast on 60 stitches.  It’s generally better for your sock fabric to be tighter than, say, for a jumper as that makes it more hard-wearing, but you don’t want it so tight that it pulls across your foot.

In the end, the gauge becomes a matter of preference – some people like tighter socks, others prefer looser socks and as you complete more pairs, you will see which you prefer for yourself.  The nice thing about hand-knits is that you can try your socks on at every stage to make sure they are going to fit perfectly. 

You can use this calculation for any weight of yarn and the pattern and tutorials will also work with any type of yarn, so there is no limit to the socks you can make!

Next week, we'll talk about accessories and then the countdown really begins!  Don't forget to ask any questions - it's helpful for everybody if you've thought of something that I've not mentioned. Thanks again to everybody who's going to join in whether you've commented or not; it's great to think that lots of pairs of socks are going to be ongoing at the same time!  

These Sockalong tutorials are free and will always remain so, but if you have enjoyed using them 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