Having reduced my woolly projects sensibly (and unusually!) to one – the crochet Coast blanket – it’s amazing how much progress I made over a couple of weeks. This is quite surprising given that I didn’t have time to sit around doing serious rippling, there were just too many other things going on. It’s still a case of five minutes here and there, usually with a mug of tea or coffee, but I’m now over two thirds of the way through and it really is starting to feel like a blanket. I can’t wait to see how it’s going to look dressing up our old blue sofa but I need to be patient: the sofa, which we brought back from France a few weeks ago, is still sitting on the trailer on account of the fact that we can’t get it into the house because of the scaffolding all over the steps! Ah, all in good time.
Much as I really, really love this crochet project, I suppose it was inevitable that eventually my knitting fingers would start itching and twitching for something to do. Despite the fact I have more than enough to occupy my hands – crochet, gardening, harvesting, cooking, painting and decorating, shifting building rubbish, etc, etc – there’s nothing quite like the feel of those woolly little stitches slipping off the needles and I was missing it. Face it, I needed to knit. At times like these, my default project is always socks because they are relatively quick and easy, and forever useful . . . and I had just the project in mind. It’s been a fact of our lifestyle for many years that we spend a lot of time wearing wellies, and in winter that tends to leave Roger with cold, sore feet. He won’t wear the hand-knitted socks I’ve already made for him, partly because he doesn’t want to trash them in wellies but also because he is sensitive to ‘wool itch’ and prefers to wear them in very cold weather over thin cotton socks – not practical in wellies as it makes them too tight. So, I am on a mission to try and create a pair of itchless, hardwearing socks that he will wear.
My starting point obviously needed to be the yarn. Most commercial sock yarns are a blend of 75% wool and 25% nylon (for strength); when I spin sock yarn, I replace the nylon with kid mohair or silk as I prefer natural fibres. Trying to find a reduced wool sock yarn without going down the 100% synthetic route wasn’t easy but in the end I chose this Rico Superba Bamboo. I really rate bamboo as a fibre: it’s natural, renewable, biodegradable, silky and antibacterial – but perhaps a little on the ‘soft’ side for welly socks? However, I was hopeful that this combination of 25% bamboo, 50% wool and 25% acrylic would hit the spot, although I had a slight doubt about elasticity. Nothing for it but to knit and see.
For a pattern, it was back to default mode once again. When I first started knitting socks many years ago, I found a free knitting pattern calculator on the Violet Green website and printed off several basic sock patterns which I have used so many times that I practically know them off by heart. Just look at the state of that pattern! The website has changed a fair bit since then but the pattern calculator is still there and it’s an amazing resource. Sock pattern calculator No fancy stuff planned for these socks, just a case of plain old stocking stitch all the way and letting the self-patterning colours do their thing.
At the beginning of the year, I challenged myself to try new skills . . . which is how my whole crochet adventure began. One of the things I have continued to back away from is knitting socks on a circular needle so I decided that the moment had finally arrived to bite the bullet. From choice, I like to work with a set of four very short double-pointed needles, but having cracked the ‘magic loop’ method when knitting Annie’s hobby horse head, I know it’s time to give it a go. No toe-up business for me, though; I’m definitely sticking with top-down socks for now – there’s only so many changes a person can make to her favourite routines! The first few rounds were really tricky and I could feel the negative vibes beginning to buzz . . . but they’re always a bit tricky on double pointed needles, too, so it was only fair to plough on (even if my teeth were ever so slightly gritted).
So, this is what it looks like now and in some ways it’s going rather well. On the down side, I’ve found the needles make my fingers quite sore – just a different way of working, perhaps? It also felt strange working the instep gusset decreases on two needles rather than three, meaning that I needed to use markers which I wouldn’t usually bother with. (In fact, I don’t even own proper knitting markers, I tend to improvise with small safety pins which seem to do the job.)
Otherwise, it’s been plain sailing: the yarn is beautiful to work with, so soft and knit-able and the one thing that has really surprised me is how much faster I’m working. So fast, in fact, that I was halfway along the foot before I really stopped to think about size: didn’t this sock seem a bit small for a mansized foot? I went off to find a sock from a pair I’d previously knitted for Roger in order to compare . . .
Mmm, now this always fascinates me in knitting: same weight of wool, same gauge of needle, same pattern, same knitting nit and yet two different sizes of sock appear! I can’t believe it’s the magic loop method, I think it must be the yarn. Roger suggested I carried on and knitted theses socks for me which defeats the object really but I have to admit I really don’t want to undo it all and start again. I suppose I can at least test-drive the finished socks in wellies on his behalf but I have a sneaking suspicion they will be too soft, so it’s back to the drawing board once again.
I also feel slightly guilty at walking off with his socks because when I bought the wool, somehow another ball fell into the basket. Well . . . I couldn’t remember the last time I knitted myself a pair of socks from commercial yarn and this is super budget stuff (King Cole Zigzag).
I love this colour combination which I think will look great in my cosy winter boots: I could have chosen ‘Summer’ or ‘Harmony’ but in the end, I had to go for ‘Wacky’ which probably says it all, really.
On which theme . . . I’ve had a slightly crazy idea knocking about my head this week, one which a huge part of me hoped would fade away as I know it is pure madness on my part. Why don’t I knit myself a beautiful lace shawl as something a little different to wear to Sam and Adrienne’s wedding? It’s a knitting project I’ve thought about several times over the years but always backed away from and in all honesty, if I go for it then in personal challenge terms it will be the woolly equivalent of running the half marathon. I’ve never knitted any kind of shawl before. I’ve never followed a shawl chart, and have always preferred written instructions to any kind of chart, anyway. I’ve never knitted with laceweight yarn. I’ve never had 400+ stitches on my needle at once. I have never ever ever got on with or enjoyed lace knitting; in fact, in my experience it would be better to call it ‘lace unpicking whilst muttering loudly and looking for a different pattern’ as that is what I spend most of my time doing. A sensible person would walk away now, but . . . I am so in awe of the gorgeous creations on blogs and websites, I dream about making something from a truly luxurious yarn and I love a good challenge. So, something I have been doing this week is having a little trial run – after all, if it turned out to be a non-starter, that would be that. Armed with a slightly bigger gauge needle than the pattern requires and some spare merino/silk yarn from my leaf lace socks, I settled down with a pattern chart . . . and fell at the first hurdle. ‘Cast on 3 provisional stitches’, read the instruction. Three what????? Thank goodness for the internet, I say (why have I never done provisional cast-ons before, it’s such a clever trick?). Anyway, I must admit I was truly surprised at how it all went: of course, there was a bit of unpicking here and there, but on the whole, I managed to follow the chart without any problems. I only increased from 3 to 69 stitches which is a far cry from the 405 I will need in the real thing, but I worked far enough to start repeating blocks of pattern, making little mathematical jottings on an old envelope as I went.
I think I might go for it. After all, I have plenty of time and it would be something so different. Now all I have to do is find the courage to order the rather beautiful, totally luxurious and astronomically expensive hand-dyed yarn I have fallen in love with. Well, it is a wedding after all! Happy knitting! 🙂