Monday, October 09, 2006


"Yah, yah, yah, yah!!! Drinken unt stricken unt beer ..."

Uh ... something like that, yah? Tessie is wondering, in her own groggy, nap-disturbed way, why her cozy bed has been invaded by yet another pair of Noro Kureyon Socks In Progress.

"It's so your Mum can take a silly blog photo, my dearest old girl. Now just lay there and look cute. Tuna is forthcoming. Thank you. What a fantastic model you are."

I've been seeing some talk about Socktoberfest again on the knitting blogs when I read them over my morning coffee, so I thought I'd throw in my own two copper coins on the subject.

Socktoberfest comes around every fall, just like Octoberfest.

Octoberfest is all about beer and beer-related activities, and, even though we drink beer all year long, Octoberfest seems to be the time when people get the most excited about it, whether they possess German DNA or not, mainly because it's getting past the time of year when hot weather alone validates copious beer consumption. So the Germans invented Octoberfest, and now everybody has a darn good excuse to drink more beer, even when it's not seven hundred and eighty-three degrees outside.

I suppose that knitting socks is kind of similar, in that we knit socks all year long, but wearing them in October with sandals (like the Germans do) while drinking beer (like everybody does) .... well, hey .... I'll buy any excuse to combine drinking beer and wearing handknit socks, except make my beer a Guinness, please.

To make up for my cultural stubbornness, please pass the bratwurst and some sauerkraut. Thank you.

Lolly at Lollyknitting Around has some interview questions for those who want to participate in Socktoberfest. So here ya go, Lolly ...

When did you start making socks? Did you teach yourself or were you taught by a friend or a relative? Or in a class?

It's hard to say with certainty when I started making sock-like objects. When I was small, my grandmother taught me to make a little slipper-thing that was like knitted origami.

You made a ribbed rectangle, then you did K2tog all across one end, and then drew it all together. You left a long tail, which you mattress-stitched halfway up the top front of the slipper to make a foot opening, then you folded the other end in half, vertically, and stitched it together to make the heel. If you wanted a little cuff, you picked up stitches around the edge of the foot opening with DPNs, and went up as high as you wanted. The result looked like an elf bootie. If you wanted a girly look, you picked up a crocheted edge around the foot opening, and it looked like a ballet slipper. I also learned how to use DPNs at that point in time.

When I was about eleven or twelve, one of my Mom's friends, who was a nurse, taught me how to make a double-knitted ribbed tube sock in worsted yarn on two straight needles -- it was like a magic trick.
I loved them.

Sometime shortly before Granny died I learned how to make a proper heel-flap as well.

I made a lot of thick slipper socks with turned heels -- knitted slippers were my "signature gift" in junior high and high school. I just guessed at sizes. When I was fifteen -- after Granny died -- I found "Knitting Without Tears" at the library and wrote to Elizabeth Zimmermann asking for help with writing my own instructions to make socks in better proportioned sizes to better fit people besides myself. I was stunned when she wrote back, and of course I still have the letter. At some point in there, when I was about sixteen, I finally made myself a pair of "real" socks from proper sock-weight superwash fingering wool from the dime store.

What would you have done differently?

I would have paid more attention to symmetrical decreases sooner, and I would have listened to Granny sooner about using fingering weight yarn for socks.

When I was a kid I made lots of worsted weight hats and slipper-socks and scarves and mittens because they were Not a Big Deal Like A Sweater. I really had difficulty wrapping my brain around the importance of left-leaning and right-leaning decreases, and then I would be disappointed because my slipper-socks looked funny around the ankles. I did not have any sense of symmetry at all, although Granny taught me the basic techniques and the shaping.

Of course, I thought the point was just to decrease equally on each side of the ankle, and I thought that Granny was just being persnickety about matching the decreases, the way she was persnickety about sitting up straight, acting respectful, and not dog-earing books (of course. it turned out that she was right about all those things too).

So if I could go back in time, I would have paid attention to the importance of symmetrical decreases sooner. I didn't catch on to why SSKs and K2togs are placed the way they are until I made a striped raglan sweater when I was about fourteen -- then I finally had that moment under the Bodhi tree, when I had to rip back half a sweater -- of course the whole tree and not just a leaf had to fall on me -- and, at last, saw why it was worth the trouble to put SSKs and K2togs in the correct places, and do them consistently on socks as well.

If I was more patient, I would have listened to Granny and would have made socks in the limited number of fingering-weight colors available at Woolworth's, but I was impatient and wanted thick socks in bright colors, right now.
If I could go back in time, I would not have made my first properly constructed heel-flap socks from worsted acrylic. They stood up by themselves and were too hot and thick to wear inside of shoes, except for boots or sneakers on really cold days. They ended up being slippers, but that was okay. I made lots and lots and lots of these for gifts, mostly out of rainbow-colored Red Heart "Mexicali" yarn, and other 1970's ombre yarns in shades of tan, avocado and orange, which enchanted me for a long, long time.

Please don't scorn me. The '70s were not my fault.

I also confess to making a considerable number of these ghastly socks in red, white and blue Red Heart yarn for birthday and Christmas gifts throughout 1976. Bicentennial hats and scarves, too. I still feel the need to apologize for that, and I remain grateful to any friends or relatives who actually were kind enough to wear them, even if only when they were alone inside their own homes with the doors locked and the curtains drawn. That is true love. Funny, I can still remember the nice lady at Woolworth's -- Miss Leah -- who used to help me out when I was splurging my allowance on this stuff. She had a blue smock with her name on it.

By the time I got to college I had discovered knitting and weaving supply shops, with decent superwash wool, and began making socks in the cool superwash fingering-weight tweed and ragg yarns I found there. But I was almost thirty before I found actual yarn made expressly for socks, with "sock yarn" right there on the label. What can I say? I was slow on the draw.

What yarns have you particularly enjoyed?

Koigu has been my favorite sock yarn for total footoid yummy comfort, but not for durability. I have to run a second strand of wooly nylon to reinforce the heel and toe, even though I knit socks densely. Opal is my all-time standby sock favorite, and I have made lots of colorful sandal socks and boot socks from Noro Kureyon. In fact, such a pair, very simple, will be my Socktoberfest socks, because I happened to cast on for them while waiting for the eye doctor on October 2nd. See photo above.
I am completely and helplessly addicted to this stuff. Kureyon is like a Lava Lamp for otherwise drug-free adults to trip on the colors:

"Wow, like what color comes out of the ball next? Green, man. Far out...."

I also discovered a skein of Socks That Rock yarn at Stitches in February of this year, and it is divine, too, but I can't yet report on its durability.

Do you like to crochet socks? Or knit on DPNs or two circulars?

I have crocheted exactly one pair of adult socks just for the hell of it, in plain single crochet with short cuffs, just so I could say I did, and just in case Lily Chin ever asks. They are not stretchy enough for adult socks, but they make nice enough house slippers and are thick enough to be durable for that purpose. I think crocheted socks are good choices for babies and toddlers because they can double as slippers or booties. But generally I don't think crochet is the best way to make socks. I have nothing against crochet, in fact I enjoy it, especially filet crochet and South American techniques. I just don't like it for socks.

I have tried all the new sock-needle techniques at least once or twice -- two circulars, one long circular, etc. -- just to learn something new, but I learned to knit socks on DPNs, and I own enough DPNs to wage war against a small medieval kingdom if I used them in crossbows, so DPNs are what I still prefer to use, and I am as adamant about that as I am about not using a bread machine. If I'm gonna make bread, I'm gonna knead it, dammit. You hear? That's half the fun. I don't like instant coffee, either.

It's nifty to learn a new technique, but I just don't like the two-circs thing for socks. The dangling ends make me nervous, and they attract far too many feline volunteer sock-knitting assistants. I do, however, employ the two-circs method when making a plus-size sweater in the round, or when making a center-out afghan, or a circular shawl with eleventy gabillion stitches. The two-circs method is sheer magic for managing large numbers of stitches that would otherwise be crowded on one long needle.

I have never had a problem with "ladders," which seems to be why most people like the two-circs method for socks. This is not due to any special technique that I can discern, except that I usually knit socks rightside out (so the yarn travels a shorter distance across the inside of the "hinge" between needles) ... and, for the sake of durability, I usually knit socks at a gauge approaching the specific gravity of fruitcake.

However, I do confess to liking super-short 11" circs sometimes, for Fair Isle or other stranded colorwork, just because it keeps all those loose color ends from geting tangled in the other six DPN points I am not using at any given moment. I have supershort circs in sizes zero through seven. They are also good for sleeve cuffs and baby things and preemie hats. For Fair Isle socks I knit wrongside out, so the carried yarn travels incrementally further around the sock, and thus does not bunch up and give the effect of smocked socks once they are turned rightside out.

Which heel do you prefer -- flap or shortrows?

Like the line from the old Apple Computer Flying Toasters screensaver song, "Flap, Flap, Flap! Now help is on the way..." I just love turning heels. This is certifiably goofy, I know, but I love it. I have made some afterthought heels, and a few pair with shortrow heels. It is fun, and I do like the bull's-eye effect it gives with self striping yarn so I do short-row-heels occasionally, but I really want a hand knit sock to look handcrafted, and to me, the short-row heel looks too much like a commercial heel. So I prefer flaps.

I have also unvented a refootable sock -- "The Ultimate Refootable Sock" -- which is published in XRX's "Socks, Socks, Socks." It has a flap heel, too.

How many pairs have you made?

I honestly have no earthly idea. Lots and lots and lots and lots. Way lots. I'm forty-five, and I learned to knit before Woodstock, and if you count all the slipper-like objects I made when I was a kid, and the goofy sock-things I made in high school and college, and the fact that I always have a pair of socks in progress with me wherever I go -- I mean always, the way Sigourney Weaver always has a hungry alien monster with her -- maybe, squillions?
Does my calculator go that high?

What Lolly seems to have failed to ask (or else I failed to cut and paste it) is:

Why do you knit socks?

Socks are small, portable and can be worn in any season. You can make tall ones, short ones, thin ones, thick ones, colorful ones, plain ones, wool ones or cotton ones. If you live in a mild climate you get a lot more sock-wearing days than you get Lopi-sweater wearing days. They make great gifts. Everybody needs socks (except maybe Gail). They don't take up much room, so you can always have one going along in your pocket or purse. They are also good for showing the dentist how long you have been waiting -- hold up your sock and declare, "I have been waiting for a whole cuff!"

Lolly, you would not believe (or maybe you would) how many people stop me in public to inform me that ready-made socks can be purchased at Wal-Mart and even at the drugstore. I was suspicious, but I checked out their claims, and imagine my astonishment when I discovered this was true. I have tried these ready made footcoverings, but few have made me happy, so I think I will stick to making my own.

Imagine that, though -- socks in stores. Next thing you know, somebody will figure out how to put the outhouse inside, so I don't have to get rained on when I gotta go.



At 2:39 PM, Blogger LizKnits said...

your post made me smile and laugh out loud today. Thanks for sharing!

At 1:01 AM, Blogger Jo said...

And you made me choke with laughter all the way over here in Ireland, and go on reading your blog, even though I should have been writing copy for an urgent piece due ten minutes ago.

Oh yeah - noted that you have sufficient dpns in your armoury for small medieval battle. Want to trade arms with a friendly nation desperately in need of same? Old fashioned here, prefer wooden stakes (if all else fails, they burn well so you can make toast over the campfire). Will trade yarn bargained for with strange men in lonely valleys.
Celtic Memory Yarns

At 8:41 AM, Blogger Wendy said...

I bought some new shoes on Saturday when I went to Taos for the wool festival. Now, they are blue and green Danskos, but best of all, they are wide enough to wear with my handknit socks. My dog, Holly, got to go into the shoe store and help me shop. She also had a great time at the festival, visiting bunnies, sheep, goats and all her adoring fans.
Wendy in NM

At 12:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dez, This has NOTHING to do with this particular blog-post but a giggle should always be shared:

Was checking out the handcraft magazines at our local newsagents. Nothing of interest there so wandered around the other side of the display to look at the mags. pertaining to dogs and other important subjects.

And my eyes beheld an anomaly:

What the heck was a handful of the latest Handwoven magazine doing in the Dog section? Lift magazine up so all is revealed: can only assume that the magazine unpacker and putter on shelves only saw the Italian Greyhound in the cute hadwoven vest on the cover and did not see the TITLE of the mag.
Especially amusing and delightful for me - we have two IG's.

All the best,

Gae in Callala Bay

At 3:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just LOVE the photo of Cat sleeping with the socks. You should submit it to


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