Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Socks special

Socks are some of the easiest and quickest things to knit, even in 4ply with 2.5mm needles, so long as the pattern is kept simple. I use a sock formula I worked out to make my soft top socks. There are several pairs I've made for myself, but usually I make them for my dad - he is "modelling" the pairs shown here! The basic method for knitting them is here, in an earlier blog post.

Most of the yarns I use are German sock yarns - brands like Opal. The yarn for the pair above looked very festive, so these were the Christmas socks from a few years ago.

The more subtle stripes below were one of this year's presents. The mixture of wide stripes and flecked sections remind me of sedimentary rock layers.

I bought the yarn for these on my trip to Denmark in 2009. It is a little thicker than the usual four ply, so I knitted on 2.75mm needles and only 60 stitches. The second sock was knitted in less than a day. Curiously, the camera just did not want to focus on this yarn! The colour spacing on the yarn seemed to vary a bit too, as the spiral effect changed direction part way along the foot (after the heel).

I tried out a different heel method for the second and third pairs - a short row heel. The best proportions for this seem to be half the stitches on the foot, rather than two fifths which give the best "afterthought" heel (see post link above). I don't join in a second yarn although you could do this (pulling the yarn from the centre of the ball), which would mean the short row heel could be re-knitted with a narrower version of the afterthought heel if it wore through.

To knit the short row heel, you knit half the total number of stitches in stocking stitch except the last one, which is slipped onto the right hand needle. The yarn is then brought to the front of the needles and the slipped stitch passed back onto the left hand needle. This creates a wrapped stitch. The wrapped stitch remains where it is, the work is turned and purled back along the stitches you have just knitted, except the last stitch which is slipped. The yarn is taken behind the needles and the slipped stitch passed back onto the left hand needle, where it stays. So with every two rows back and forth, the heel becomes a stitch less at each end. This means that once you are about half way down the heel, there are a lot of stitches on the two needles holding the rest of the sock stitches (i.e. the foot) and the ever increasing number of stitches from each end of the heel, so once I am down to about twelve stitches in the heel section, I put all the heel stitches on just one needle and use the "spare" needle out of the set of five to hold some of the foot stitches. It just makes it easier to hold.

Once there are only 8 stitches left (maybe 10 if you have wide heels), it is time to knit the stitches back into the heel, knitting an extra stitch as you finish each heel row, slipping the next one and wrapping it. Once all the heel stitches are back in play, continue knitting in the round for the rest of the foot.

Why is the wrapping necessary? Well, if you didn't, there would be a row of lacy holes down each side of the heel.

Of course, just like the afterthought heel, it may be necessary to position the stitches used for the heel so the rib is symmetrical on either side, depending on the number of stitches e.g. so the heel starts and finishes on each side where there are knit rather than purl stitches on the main part of the sock, rather than starting on knit stitches and ending where there are purl stitches. That way, the part of the knit 2, purl 2 rib which continues down the top of the sock foot will be symmetrical at the toe.

The short row heel doesn't have the feature of two knit stitches forming a slight ridge pattern down the side of the heel, as seen in the pair below (click to zoom in).

It requires a little more concentration to knit (remembering which stitches to slip and wrap), but everything is OK so long as the same number of stitches are parked at either side of the heel after the end of the purl row.

I thought about trying to start each sock above at the same colour point in the yarn, but figured it would be out of sync by the toe anyway, and with the yarn below it would be impossible!

I suppose the next thing would be to knit the socks from the toe up. While it is possible to knit the garter stitch band at the end, slipping one stitch from the already knitted foot onto the end of every other row, it might be unnecessarily fiddly to do. Another option would be to complete the sock in knit 2, purl 2 rib and increase the number of stitches by 50% just before casting off the usual way with two needles, or do a picot cast off which is very stretchy. A normal cast off, even using needles a couple of sizes larger, is going to be too tight and the point about these socks is to keep the top comfortably stretchy. But increases, rather than decreases would make a neater toe... I changed the toe shaping on the two latest pairs by decreasing on either side of two stitches at each side of the toe, rather than simply having a right sloping and left sloping decrease at each side - this stitch structure seemed a bit "gappy" when I did it on my double knitting weight socks, although it works fine in 4-ply.

There are some brighter sock yarns in my stash for myself, so I may experiment with those.

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