Wednesday, March 31, 2010

the case of the super annoying socks

On Sunday night, we were invited to the home of a new friend for snacks and intelligent conversation. It was really fun, and beyond that, mentally stimulating. The host asked me how I designed things. I found the question hard to answer. I tried, but I could tell that for a non-knitter, it was hard to grasp. I'm still thinking on that one. My process is sort of, well, varied from one design to the next.

Also, I come to ideas in different ways. This pair of socks was conceived of back in June, 2009, if not before. Note: Upon reflection, this isn't "world's longest sock project" because when I did some knitting related research at the Kentucky Museum a while back, I saw a half-finished sock in their collection that was still on the needles. I suspect it had been donated in 1939, so I've revised the name of my -now finished-socks!

What inspired these socks were two things. One was a curvy little geometric design that I found oddly seductive. I sketched it out on knitter's graph paper...what you see here is roughly sketch number 47, but who's counting? The other thing that attracted me were some interesting sock yarns. You might know this yarn under the names of Knit Picks Risata or Patons Stretch or Hot Socks Cotton Stretch. It's all very close to the same kind of yarn, a blend of cotton, wool, and a bit of nylon. I found many of the color variations oddly suited to my spring, summer and fall wardrobe, and ended up with one ball each of a lot of colors.

Then I started mixing and matching. I came up with these two colors (perfect for jeans) and dove into the knitting. I did toe up socks since I wanted to use every last bit of yarn. When I got past the heel of the first sock (which took months, for reasons listed below), I started the second sock to make sure I would have enough yarn to make a reasonable length cuff. By the time I realized I'd have more than enough yarn, I'd already cast off the cuff of sock #1 twice, and I wasn't going back another time. Now I know better for the next pair...which will definitely have much longer cuffs.

You'll note that the little graph I did there is my only guide. I know about how big my feet are, and I had a print out of a toe up pattern I'd designed previously (Ploughed Acre Socks) for Knit Green. What got in the way? Well, even simple two color patterns require some attention. If you've been reading along with me for a while, you'll know that I moved from Kentucky to Manitoba since June of 2009. I had just a few other things going on. I also had other designs on the needles. I put down these socks multiple times. I picked up the project again. Every *^$%#&&$ single time, I screwed up the pattern repeat.

If you're a knitter, and even if you aren't, you may see why I always made a mistake following the graph in one place. See that red arrow? That indicates the row that done me wrong. See, the pattern is 2 rows of 2 stitches each of Color A, 2 of Color B. Except for that one lone row...that's not like the others... Ouch. Since I am a deluded perfectionist when it comes to color patterns, and for a while I thought I might try to sell this design, I ripped it out-- every single time I made an error. When I wasn't making an error, I was in a two color knitting groove that skipped along soothingly--except for that one row, which caused me needless anxiety every time. I kept having to check the chart to make sure I wasn't doing it wrong.

Also, the stretchiness of the yarn made me think that the cuff would be ok without a special bind off. When I bound off the first sock in the traditional fashion, I just about cut off circulation to my foot when I tried that on, so I again had to go back, rip that out, and bind off in a way that offered more elasticity so that the cuff wouldn't cause any kind of inadvertent foot amputation.

So, what have I gotten out of this?
--A design I will never knit again, because my chart's lack of symmetry about threw me over the edge. Plus, without additional changes to that graph, I'd never make anyone else try it, for fear they'd come after me with a butter knife in the middle of the night, hoping to cause a slow and painful death. (This is the level of frustration it seemed to cause me, anyhow, but maybe I am a symmetry addict.)

I have maybe 6 more pairs of sock yarn matched up, waiting for me to make myself new socks with these two colors, one solid and one variegated. By the time I do that amount of knitting, all the color lines of this yarn will have changed, and that would affect my ability to sell the pattern, were I to write it up. Also, although these yarns are very nearly exact twins of each other, aside from color, they are sold by different companies. This makes it inconvenient for other knitters to conveniently match up the colors. My guess is that they are being produced by the same spinning mill but being sold by a variety of different yarn companies, or maybe just it's a common sort of sock yarn formulation.

Now that I've talked to you about these socks, I'll wear them. I'll try to block out why they were world's most annoying project, and try to enjoy them. Of course, it's back to the drawing board with that sexy little curve I graphed out. There's got to be loads of easy ways to make the chart fun to knit. I just haven't found it yet.

How often is creating a design this persnickety? More often than you'd think. I think designers try to shield knitters from this type of experience, for good reason. It'd make a lot of people give up knitting and try badminton....

but I'm bad at badminton, so I'll stick with knitting. :)

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Blogger GrandmaMoo said...

Your post had me laughing, since I do the same thing- it seems that if a pattern is easy, I'll find a way to make it not work!
I was doing a scarf with a 4 row pattern, and screwed it up every time I picked it up, and it really showed, so I couldn't get away with it, even if I wasn't writing a pattern!
Now, the 32 st repeat, 8 rows worth, I expect to screw up on. I've only torn it out 4 times so far in a week, and I have 18 more inches on the back to do...
Thanks for making my day better!

March 31, 2010 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

I think I am a pretty good knitter but for the life of me I cannot knit anything without a pattern. It is alot harder then it looks to design and knit something. I commend you :)

April 1, 2010 at 8:02 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

But those are really really cool socks!

Still working on designing the shawl that was my Knitting Olympics goal...

--AlisonH at

April 1, 2010 at 1:47 PM  

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