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Around the House

Sock Hop

or How I Spent My Winter Lockdown without Losing My Mind

by Nyssa

Pile of Socks Image

After surviving the pandemic’s summer lockdown that saw us get a record amount of rain that limited outdoor activities, the thought of facing more indoor lockdowns during a cold, damp winter had me scrambling for ideas of what to do to keep myself occupied during the coming months.

Whatever I chose to fill that need had to be challenging with useful and productive earning bonus points.

Rooting around in various closets, bookshelves, and storage bins, I found a couple of sock kits that I had bought years ago when visiting the Classic Elite Yarn mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. Maybe these would fit the bill?

I’d knitted a few socks and slippers in the past, but found using the traditional multiple double pointed needles a real pain. Experimentation with the newer methods of using an extra long circular needle with the Magic Loop method or the two circular needle method wasn’t much better. All the pushing around and repositioning the stitches and needles every few stitches was time consuming and frustrating.

Getting the Right Tools for the Job

But help was on the way. I’d heard that a line of one of my favorite knitting needle brands, Addi Turbos had come out with shorter circular needles in lengths perfect for sock knitting at twelve or eight inches in length. The size needles ranged from US 0/2mm to US 9/5.5mm.

Addi Turbo 
Short Circular image

I found a website that carried the entire line of Addi Turbo circular needles, including the newer lengths, at Twitchy Hands Creative. Not only were their prices the best, they also offered free shipping within the US. Fast service too.

I opted to order one needle to try out, since they are pricey (but worth it) before plunging into a whole range of sizes. A size US 6 in the 12 inch size would work for both of my Classic Elite sock kits, so it was an easy choice to make.

The needles arrived quickly, so I was ready to give them a test drive with the first of the sock kits.

Short Addi
Turbo Circular Needle image

OMG! These shorter circulars made the sock knitting process a dream rather than a chore. Why did it take the manufacturers so long to come out with these short circular needles?

Double pointed needles are still required for working the heel flap and turning the heel, but using only two needles for that section is much easier than having to untangle four or five double pointed needles for the rest of the sock. I can live with that. Just don’t take away my Addi Turbo short circulars!

Getting Started

Once I got used to handling the short circular needles, the only things that slowed me down on my first pair of socks were multiple errors in the pattern that came in the kit. Talk about a challenge! A sock knitting beginner would have been totally lost trying to find and fix where the pattern fell short.

Bad move on Classic Elite’s part. People who buy a kit with errors probably would be discouraged enough to drop the whole project and would not be buying more yarn or kits from you folks.

Tweed Socks Image

There was an unintended bonus for the frustrations of figuring out all the pattern errors though. There was enough yarn leftover to make a second pair of the socks with a slightly shorter cuff. My neighbor got the bonus pair of socks.

The next sock kit had errors too. Plus I think the yarn wasn’t what the pattern was originally written to use. One error is chance, two or three is a trend. Shame on you, Classic Elite Yarns!

Fluffy Socks Image

But I was bitten by the sock bug. I’d found the perfect pastime for my coming Winter of Lockdown.

Feeding the Urge

I needed more supplies, so I ordered more of the short circular needles in sizes I’d be needing from Twitchy Hands Creative and started trolling the Internet for a yarn source, finally choosing Knit Picks for their range of fingering, sport, and DK weights of wool blend yarns that would be perfect for all sorts of socks.

There are several books on my shelves that have sock patterns, but I chose to concentrate on the wide array of sock styles in Nancy Bush’s Folk Socks for my winter projects.

Folk Socks Book 
Cover image

The new needles arrived, but the yarn shipment was delayed, so I dug out some Shepherd’s brand wool sport weight yarn from my stash closet and got started with a pair of Welsh Country Socks in dark brown and ecru while I waited.

Addi Turbo
Circular Needles image

The clock was ticking and I had Christmas and birthdays coming up on the calendar. All of my upcoming projects were destined to become presents for those special days.

Managing the Details

The Knit Picks order finally arrived as I was nearly finished with the Welsh socks. One warning to new customers of Knit Picks. Many of their yarns come in hanks rather than pre-wound balls, so you’ll need a ball winder and swift to get them ready for use. If you’ve got a patient friend or two who won’t mind holding the hank while you hand-wind it (you’ve probably seen this done in photos or old movies), you can skip the ball winder and swift. After finishing that arduous chore, you and your friends will be more than happy for you to buy the necessary equipment to do it the easier and faster way.

Welsh Country 
Socks in Brown and Ecru Image

The Folk Socks book turned out to be a good choice. The patterns were clearly written and offered an array of types and techniques for heels and toes. Each of the socks in the book were recreated from historical socks, often found in museums around the world. There really was something in there for almost everyone’s taste or style.

There was one problem with the patterns as written for knitters like me who are using circular needles rather than the traditional array of double pointed needles though. Many sections of the directions refer to first needle, second needle, and so on when specifying decreases, increases, and pattern stitches. I found that the simplest way to get around this problem and still use my new short circulars was to place extra markers between stitches on the circular needles to indicate where the double pointed needles would separate the work. Problem solved as long as you remember to move the markers as the number of stitches change as the sock progresses.

Determining sizes to make for the people on my list of planned recipients turned out to be easy. The most important measurement is the length of the sock from the back of their heel to the tip of their toes. An easy measurement to get, either by hook or by crook, crook being defined as having an insider get the measurement for you on the sly.

The other handy measurement is the circumference around the widest part of the foot. Length of the sock up the leg is more of a personal preference, so use your best guess as to whether to make the cuff long, short, or somewhere in between when matching up a sock pattern to your intended recipient.

Luck was on my side with most of my friends’ target feet being around the same size, varying only a half inch or so. It made the calculations much easier and also allowed me to check the fit on my own feet, which pretty much matched everyone else’s sizes. What are the chances of that?

Getting to Work

First up from the new yarn order was a pair using the Country Socks pattern done in navy blue and natural. I chose to use Knit Pick’s Galileo yarn in Lunar for the blue. I had never tried a wool and bamboo fiber blend yarn before and this was a good excuse to try it. The color was deep and luxurious looking and the yarn felt lush and warm. Paired with bare (undyed) Stroll sport weight wool blend yarn, it worked up into a handsome pair of calf-length socks.

Country Socks Image

I was so happy with the Galileo yarn, I decided to use what was left over in the Finnish Socks pattern which featured intarsia color work. Again I paired it with the Stroll undyed sport weight wool blend yarn, this time using it as the main color.

Finnish Socks Image

Color work can be difficult to manage what with trying to keep two (or more) strands of yarn from getting tangled, managing your floats on the back of the work, and avoiding holes when changing yarn colors. If you’re using multiple double pointed needles at the same time, it can be even more frustrating. The short Addis proved their worth again by giving me one less thing to worry about. No getting poked with the ends of one or more needles and no stitches slipping off the ends to go into dropped stitch limbo. Fewer gotchas to worry about, for sure.

Oh, but having all of those extra yarn ends from the color changes to weave in at the end! Not my favorite part of knitting.

The lacy Latvian socks were the last ones I had planned to make as a gift. No color changes. YAY! For these socks, I chose Knit Pick’s bare undyed Stroll yarn, this time in fingering weight.

Latvian Socks Image

The picot edge on the top of the socks is formed by knitting a round with yarn-overs, knitting a few more rows plain, then folding over the top of the sock when finished and sewing down the hem as part of the finishing work.

I found that instead of using a regular cast-on, I could eliminate the sewing-the-hem part of the job by doing a provisional cast-on with waste yarn. That way I could fold the top edge down to form the picot edge and knit together the top round of knit stitches below the waste yarn to the round of live stitches, removing the waste yarn as I knit the two rounds of stitches together. Not only did this eliminate the sewing step, it formed a neater, smoother join that was less bulky.

The provisional cast-on option was mentioned in the pattern, but not at the beginning, so it was easy to miss on first glance. I ended up ripping out my first try and re-doing my cast-on for the first sock once I realized that the provisional method was the better option for this sock. It was worth the extra time to go back and rework it.

The lace pattern itself was a simple repeat and knitted up quickly. The result was a lovely feminine pair of socks that suited the intended recipient perfectly.

Welsh Country
Socks in Grey and Winter White image

There was still a bit of winter left lurking, so I started on my last pair of socks, going back to the Welsh Country sock pattern I had worked previously. I used the same Shepherd’s brand all wool sport weight yarn that was already in my yarn stash, this time choosing a silver grey and winter white.

Familiarity with the pattern meant that this pair knit up even faster than the first pair. These socks are sturdy and warm, and would be a good choice to wear with boots.

Winter Lockdown results: Eight pairs of socks knit. One mind saved.

A few things to keep in mind before you dive into a similar sock knitting marathon.

Most importantly, be certain that your potential giftees will appreciate the amount of work that goes into a pair of hand knitted socks.

There’s nothing worse than spending your time choosing just the right pattern and yarns then carefully knitting a complex pattern only to have your recipient toss them into the washer and dryer and ending up with a mangled pair of baby booties. Will they take proper care of your gift? Are they willing to hand wash and lay them flat to air dry them after each wearing?

If not, choose another gift.

The other important consideration is the cost of the yarns for your sock projects. Knitting your own socks is not a frugal enterprise.

Quality yarn is expensive. Using cheap, inexpensive yarn isn’t frugal when you factor in your time either. You’ll spend the same amount of time in the knitting, but end up with an inferior product that will not wear well or keep feet as warm as the natural fiber yarns. A well made pair of socks made with good quality yarn will out-wear and outlast the inferior product every time. But is the cost too much for your budget? Are you going to cut corners on quality to save on price?

If so, stick to other knitted projects such as afghans, scarves, and hats that may be more suited to good quality acrylic and acrylic blend yarns for washability, yet are still useful and can be challenging depending on the size and complexity of the pattern you choose.

A Repeat Performance?

Will I be doing another round of sock knitting next winter, lockdown or not? Probably.

I’ve still got some yarn left from my Knit Picks order. And they keep sending me their catalogs loaded with new colors, new yarns, and new ideas. New inspiration! New temptations!

Bunch of Socks Image

I’ve already been asked about knitting some fingerless gloves for next winter. And a hat.

And I’ve got a parka that needs a scarf, hat, and gloves set knit to match it. Matching socks would just be so cool too.

And all my friends’ feet still need to be kept warm. They’ll need at least another pair each so they’ll have a fresh pair to wear while the first pair is being washed and dried.

Yeah, it looks like I’m hooked.

Note to self: order sock blockers to go with the yarn next time.