Saturday, October 08, 2005

In praise of sock knitting

Hi. My name is Carol and I’m a sockhead.

Now, I don’t want everyone who’s ever attended a ten-step group to email me – I mean no offense – but anyone who owns as much sock yarn as I do will have to entertain at least the possibility that there is something, well, addictive about sock knitting.

Especially since there are so many reasons to not do it: sock knitting generally requires fiddly work on small needles with thin yarn; you can buy socks for peanuts at any major retailer; socks endure hard wear, especially at the heels and toes, so they wear out relatively quickly (as compared to, say, a Lopi sweater); and let’s face it: you put them on your grungy feet.

So why do I like to knit socks so much?

Let’s take the objections one by one.

It’s true that except for the occasional pair of thick boot socks, or the dreaded “bed socks” (which is really just a euphemism for “what the hell do I do with this cashmere or angora yarn I forgot I bought”), you do have to work on relatively small needles, with relatively thin yarn. I usually do fingering-weight socks on about a size 2 (US) needle, although occasionally I have to downward depart to a 1 or even a 0 (but only for Opals). I never was able to get proficient enough with double-pointed needles to avoid major laddering in between needles when I knit in the round, and all too often I heard a loud clunk (which was the sound of the 4th needle falling onto the floor). Then I discovered the two-circular method. It was a sock knitting epiphany. All of a sudden, I really enjoyed working socks, and the quality of my knitting improved dramatically. If you aren’t crazy about sock knitting, or about dpns, I’d suggest playing with either the two-circular method, or the one-long-circular, a.k.a. “Magic Loop” method, and giving it another try. Another technique may set you free.

I don’t have anything against thin yarns as a rule, except for the fact that they require teeny tiny needles, and take forever to finish whatever you knit in them. But I was able to overcome this roadblock when I discovered the array of yarns out there that were perfect for knitting socks. One word: Koigu. I have a pair of Koigu socks that I knit ages ago, and between the colors and the great feel of the yarn, I’d happily knit twenty more pair.

But let’s not stop there. Schaefer’s Anne or Mountain Colors Bearfoot combine gorgeous, one-of-a-kind colors and buttery soft yarn (a blend of wool and hardwearing nylon and/or mohair). Other hand-dyed yarns, though not the same blend of fibers, make wonderful socks; anything all wool or wool/mohair is a good bet, the tighter the twist the better. There are plenty of traditional sock yarns, like Trekking or Supersocke, which have added nylon or some other hard-wearing acrylic in the blend for durability, and blends like Sockotta which are part cotton for three-season wear. Best of all, you don’t have to limit yourself to solid colors or muted tweeds to use a sock yarn. There are neon brights, crayon colors and pastels, too. The development of self-patterning yarns, yarns which knit themselves into a multi-colored pattern without the knitter having to change yarns or colors, has transformed sock-knitting. You can pick from stripes, jacquard patterns or even fair-isle-ish patterns, and it seems that every month, yarn manufacturers think up some new pattern or colorway to tempt us. You don’t have to stick to fingering-weight yarns, either; I made a pair from Naturewool (Lisa is betting they’ll felt, but they haven’t so far) and they are warm and comfortable, and were quick to knit. If you want to try out a yarn without a big investment of money or time, socks are one fun way to do it. (Witness my Mastercard bill after Stitches.)

It is true that you can buy socks for a pittance at any big-box retailer. I say to this: So what? You can also buy big granny underpants that go all the way up to your armpits for a pittance at a big-box retailer, and I wouldn’t want to wear them.

Socks wear out more frequently than other handknit items, but not nearly as often as you’d think. I have yet to wear out a pair of my handknit socks. Which means that mine have a lifespan of at least four years and counting. On the other hand, I’ve worn store-bought socks and found rubbed patches and holes just months later.

There are other reasons why sock-knitting appeals to me – if I gain (sigh) or lose (ha!) weight, my socks will still fit; they are relatively quick projects that I might finish in this lifetime; they are great portable projects for car rides – but probably the biggest is because I marvel at how utterly ingenious they are. It amazes me that someone (or probably several generations of someones) figured out how to engineer the darn things, taking a flat fabric and fashioning it into a tube, then adding the genius idea of using short-rows to make a little rounded cap for the heel, and so on. Maybe it’s my inner nerd, but the creativity and ingenuity amaze me anew each time I finish a sock.

Hum-uh-nuh, hum-uh-nuh, you say (running out of objections), but you put them on your feet! Well, far be it from me to pass judgment on your feet, or your squeamishness about said feet. Apart from a few hours exploring the wonders of www-dot-footfetishdirectory-dot-com – the contents for which I take no responsibility and please be advised you enter at your own risk – I throw out this thought: your feet carry you around all day, and nothing, nothing feels better on them than a pair of socks you’ve knit yourself, custom-fit to your very own feet and all their quirks. Got a wide foot like me? Increase a couple of stitches at the foot. Long legs? Knit longer socks and/or longer cuffs. Lose a few toes in an unfortunate hunting accident? A few artful decreases will take care of that problem. Maybe it’s a chicken or the egg problem: if you start taking care of those poor feet, clothing them in a glorious colorway of Koigu, maybe they won’t seem so gnarly and grungy.

Or you can at least cover them up with some gorgeous yarn so the rest of us don’t have to look at them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Socks are like exotic underwear; nobody else knows (or needs to know) that you spoil yourself in this outrageous fashion.