Category Archives: Knitting

Handspun socks in use 1 & 2 PLUS Knitting in a patch

I thought one thing I could do to complete the feedback loop on the toughness or otherwise of my sock spinning would be to ask people I’ve given handspun socks to whether they could return them for inspection.  One of the hard things about the fact that I–gasp–can no longer wear handknit socks, is that I don’t have the capacity to see and feel for myself how my handspinning fares in daily wear inside a shoe or boot.  In return for people showing me how their socks have worn, I’m offering to mend socks that come back to me to close the feedback loop.  So if you happen to be reading this and you think you have a pair of handspun, handknit socks I gave you, bring them in and if they need darning, I’ll do the honours!

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I think it is worth considering the question of wear.   It is a striking feature of most conversations I have with people about how hand knit items are wearing, that they feel they need to apologise if something I knit has worn out or worn through.  I don’t think so.  Sometimes it is obvious enough that the fault was with the spinning or knitting or fibre choice (so if anyone should apologise it should be me; or perhaps there could be shared acknowledgement of how wonderful the alpaca socks felt, but that they were never destined to last decades).  On the whole, though, I tend to think that it is rather flattering that people like things I made enough to wear them until they fall apart.  And unless I know what happened to them, sometimes I am not in a position to learn what might make me a better sock spinner (for example).  Nylon is permanent, it will never biodegrade, and therefore we should think seriously before we use it.  But the flip side of this recognition is awareness that socks without nylon will not wear as well as those with nylon.  There is a reason it came into use in the context of socks.  And–now that I have lived long enough to understand how a plastic bag will “degrade” into squillions of little bits of plastic, I think it may be time for a thoroughgoing recognition that when your #tuffsocksnaturally wear out they will biodegrade, so the compost or the worms can take them, especially if you dyed thoughtfully too.

But I digress.  This sock came home recently with only one hole!  I made these socks a little over a year ago (follow the link for details),  so they have not had a huge amount of wear.  But the hole was quite big, and clearly resulted from the fabric wearing right through in a large area. Given the fact that the other sock had not worn through in the same place, I’d say there was a weak patch in the fabric, likely caused in this case by the blending of the fibres (Suffolk, mohair and silk) being uneven, or by the spinning being on the thin side, or underplied.  I decided on a knit-in patch rather than a darn.  So I picked up stitches at the base of the heel flap (above) and began to knit, joining on by picking up a stitch on each side of the patch each row, and knitting it together with the edge stitch of the patched section.  The under-heel section will be thicker than the surrounding fabric, and the patch is generous, but I think under the heel is about the least sensitive place to put a patch and clearly reinforcement is needed!

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To finish the patch, I picked up the same number of stitches , knit right up to them, and grafted them together (kitchener stitch, if you prefer).  If you’d like to see that mending strategy again, I’ve blogged it before here and here (on cardigans) and here (another pair of socks!)

Another pair of handspun and handknit socks came home the same day.  These had two tiny, neat darns in red thread, a lovely application of visible mending (and I think I found the remainder of the skein in my stash subsequently, which may explain the yarn choice another way).  One darn was up by the cuff, where it may have been a breach in the spinning or perhaps a munch from a m*th.  The other is here on the toe, where wear is to be expected, in my view.  All our feet (and shoes) are different, of course!

 

I found the post about knitting these socks here.  They were knit in 2014 and have gone from son to mother in their lifetimes thus far.  And yest so little obvious wear??

I spun them from… Superwash Merino/Bamboo/Nylon blend.  I bought it at a spinning workshop as the recommended blend for sock spinning, and did a class on spinning for socks.  the other thing I note with interest is that I knit them on 2.75 mm needles.  I think that was partly because the yarn was finer than I anticipated, but it dies also suggest a  finer gauge than my usual, and that is another long-wearing-sock-strategy handed down through the ages. So–the combination of nylon content, tight gauge, machine prepared fibre and handspinning produced a higher wear sock–but not a nylon-free sock, and let’s not pretend that industrially produced bamboo fibre is kind to the environment–though I do assume it would biodegrade at least.  So there you have it!  My first two worked examples of handspun handknit socks in wear for review.  What are you learning from reviewing your spinning and knitting?

 

 

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Hat-o-rama

In among Joyce’s no-longer-needed craft stash was a significant number of bottles of Queen brand food dye.  Eventually I also found instructions for using it to rainbow dye yarn. In my opinion, a much better use than dyeing food with it!  I chose some pale oatmeal handspun yarn and tried it out.

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I am sure it was the Joyce connection—it wanted to be hats. I knit one beanie.

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Then another and another.

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And eventually there was a hat. And another hat, and another. Until–I ran out of yarn. But not food dye!

 

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Tuff socks, naturally: The project

My friend-in-blogging-and-making, Rebecca from Needle and Spindle, has had the exciting idea of a shared project on handspun socks without superwash treatment or nylon.  They would make use of the properties of breeds of sheep that were preferred for socks [by those who wearing wearing socks at all] in the swathe of human history in which nylon did not exist, superwash had not been invented, and the merino had not yet become the overwhelming giant of industrial wool production.  I give you the Suffolk!

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Adele Moon will be joining us for some sock spinning and knitting and posting. As you know, I love to knit socks, and I love to spin, and I’ve often thought I should be doing more spinning for sock knitting.  And of course, like a lot of people who read this blog, I think a lot about the industrial production of textiles and the pollution it causes, the permanence and harmfulness of plastics of all kinds (I’m considering nylon just this moment), and about the burdens of my own decisions on the earth and all who share her. There can’t be any pretence, in my case, to having all the answers; or to proving up to the challenge of making right decisions on all occasions.  I should think my readers all know that I can’t do that yet.  But I don’t think that can be a reason not to look for solutions or to make the changes we can figure out how to make.

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Full solutions to the issues of pollution and plastics require change on way more than personal level.  There’s no real point, to my way of thinking, in getting overinvolved in our own feelings of self-blame or failure, on these questions. Better to keep focused on how to move forward, and how to spread awareness and action more widely.

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At my place, the recently acquired Suffolk fleece will be part of the experiment.  I’ll be sharing what I know about knitting socks that last, and maybe we can spend some time on what to do when they disintegrate too!  I have begun to call in surviving socks that I hand spun and hand knit for friends and relatives so that an inventory (and some mending) can be undertaken. I’ll be spinning, and of course, dyeing with plants and knitting socks on public transport and in meetings.

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The tech minded spinners will have company in Rebecca, and there will be somewhat less well planned spinning at this blog, as you may have come to expect.  It sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  Feel free to offer your tips and inspirations!

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This is an open project, anyone can join in. If you are interested in being part of the Tuff Socks Naturally Project, please share your experiments or link to your project pages on this blog in post comments, or on Rebecca’s blog, Needle and Spindle, or with any of us on Instagram: @rebeccaspindle, @localandbespoke or @adelemoon and use the #tuffsocksnaturally tag.

 

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Logwood purple socks

Dear reader, you know how socks go in my life.  I knit them at bus stops and train stations, on public transport, and oh, goodness!  I knit them in meetings.  In my new job, there are more meetings for the day job than ever.  I am all in favour of well run meetings.  They can be forums for collaborative decision making about things that matter. But, well, I have my flaws and some days the flow of wool and colour through my fingers is just a pleasure and other days it stands between other people and my impatience.

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Things are challenging in the place where I am lucky enough to have a job while many other people are currently much less confident about their future.  So when I could see grafting the toe of the rainbow socks coming into view, I wound a new ball of sock yarn before bedtime just to make sure I could keep fingers entertained and brain engaged prior to use of my mouth the next day at work.  Here’s the cuff emerging on the train!

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This sunny day on the bus, I must have been going somewhere very serious indeed, because I can see I’ve abandoned my backpack for my satchel. Below, I am knitting down the heel on a cold day.  It rained that day and the smell of the eucalypt India Flint used to dye that coat rose up!

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And finally, here I am ready to graft the toe.  Yes, on the bus.  I remember one of the first times I grafted a toe, I took two different knitting books on a train journey to Port Adelaide and read each description of kitchener stitch a lot of times before making an attempt. Now, I can do it in the middle of a meeting or on public transport.

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And finally, the socks, finished and ready for recipient… whimsical cables…

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Wool and silk yarn, dyed with legacy logwood from my Guild where it was left by someone who no longer wanted it or needed it.  An astonishing colour to be able to get from wood!

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Hats and heartbreak

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One of my darling friends has hit a rough patch in life.  Maybe the last she will have to face, but you know how hard those things are to predict.  You may have detected this from the knitting in hospitals that I’ve mentioned a few times.  But now we’ve passed that stage.  Her family decided to move her to a nursing home nearer where they live, and far from where I live.  It’s one of those tough situations where my friend isn’t able to make big decisions for herself at present, and she has been fragile and struggling for too long.  It’s likely she will not be able to live independently again, and supporting her from far away has been very hard for her family, while many of her friends have struggles of their own that make it difficult for them to visit her.  Some of them are no longer very mobile themselves.  In this way she will be nearer three generations of her family and meet great grandchildren she has never been able to see.

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I met her at handspinners’ guild, and when I first met her she was knitting a complex Aran sweater for one of her sons (her sons are about the age of my parents, some of them are older). In recent years she has knit the same distinctive hat over and over again, and then sometimes I’ve driven her to Guild and she has enjoyed the company and sat with her knitting in her hands.  She has been unable to spin for a few years now, and couldn’t face knitting in the recent times I’ve visited her in hospital wards and nursing homes.

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Finally one of her sons and one of her daughters-in-law came here to clear out her beloved and now empty home. They were overcome by the task of figuring out what to do with her fibre stash and it was something I could do to help, to figure out how to manage that.  I spoke with her a couple of times about what she would like to happen but she couldn’t bring herself to care much.  Those wishes that she expressed to me or to her family, were all honoured.  I met that part of her family, we shared a little of our mutual grief and some of our happy experiences of our shared human treasure, and then I took away fabric, spinning equipment, wool in every stage from raw fleece to rovings and batts to spun yarn, and so much more.  Like the inside of her home, everything was impeccably organised and meticulously stored.

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I’ve organised for equipment to go to people who can use it or to the Guild for resale.  Yarns have gone to knitters–the vibrant rainbow-dyed yarns she favoured creating in the last few years to people who love colour; the mohair collection to someone who delights in mohair; fleeces were sold at the Guild to people who will appreciate and spin them; and equipment for all manner of crafts she enjoyed over the decades has been passed on to people who will use and enjoy it.  Her sewing machine is in the shop for repair prior to rehoming.  The electric spinner she never really made friends with has gone to someone else who is finding treadling harder and more painful (just as she did) and who can return to loving spinning as I result, I hope.

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In the meantime, I’ve found myself spinning all kinds of fibres from her stash, starting with small quantities of things that didn’t seem sensible to try to re-home. I’ve also been knitting hats from smaller quantities of her undyed handspun and some of the small balls of rainbow dyed yarn that didn’t fit into the packs that went to people who love to knit.  It has felt like a way to hold her in my mind in these times when she is suffering and yet hard to reach.  She has suffered a further injury and is back in hospital far away and in such difficulty she is hard to understand on the phone.  So, here’s to Joyce, her sense of humour, her enjoyment of wool and her love for a snug hat.

 

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Rainbow socks

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I posted a picture of these socks while in progress on Instagram and a friend said that the word “lurid” came to mind.  Well, yes!  Nothing naturally dyed going on here.  She also asked if they were a statement on the times–for those outside Australia, our nation is currently debating whether the law should be changed so that people of the same sex can marry.  And despite the well-established reality that more than half the nation supports this change (as established by opinion polls) we are having an expensive but non-binding postal survey on the matter at the moment.  It has been a time of some very heart warming moments but also some thoroughly unpleasant public debate.

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I admit, I had not been thinking of that when I cast on.  But–really–my friend was right on both counts.  These socks are going to live with a friend whose favourite colour is lurid (bonus points for neon or dinosaur prints), who has been in a same sex relationship for over 20 years.  She isn’t enthusiastic about marriage, in the way that those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about the history of women’s rights, domestic violence and such like often aren’t.  Of course, we know people who have wonderful marriages.   But we’ve seen a lot of the ways that marriage can go wrong, and that sure makes marriage  as an institution less romantic.  We remember its role in treating women as property and limiting women’s rights to bodily autonomy, working rights, equal pay, voting rights, engagement in the economy and so much more.

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However–right here right now, for many people who support same sex marriage this is really a debate about whether everyone should have the same legal rights.  That’s a very easy question to my mind.

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Meantime, the socks are packaged up with laundry requirements and darning thread and ready to go to their new home.  I cannot control the national debate, but I can show the love to y near and dear and keep people’s toes warm in their gumboots, shoes and boots!

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Garden colours jumper

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This is the Orphans for Orphans sweater from Knitting for Peace.  This is the third time I’ve knit this design and it is an ingenious, easy pattern that lends itself to wool in odd amounts and various colours.  This one is made from handspun local wool and dyed with plants from my garden: woad, coreopsis, eucalyptus, woad + coreopsis.

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Where the woad vat was running out, the natural grey of the wool shows through. I cast it on, on an excitable day of knitting confidence when I decided it would fit someone I know!  I think in fact the likeliest candidate is the daughter of the sweethearts who gave me Knitting for Peace. She is no orphan but a delightful and extremely well loved small human.  And if not her, then some other treasure…

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Sometimes it happens that I look at a random selection of yarns and suddenly see what it could become.  This was one such case.  It has some wonkiness to be going on with, but quite frankly, any jumper that isn’t wonky before it goes onto a small person hopefully becomes wonky through sheer activity soon afterward. I’m reliably informed that the recipient is a fine appreciator of knitwear and that she held it close all the way home.  That’s a lovely start!

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Rost

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I knit another design by Kit Couture. This design is called Rost.  I admit, I chose it without asking my dear friend if he would like it, but I was very relieved when I checked in with him and he agreed he would like it!  Quite appropriately, I finished it while he was in Norway, much closer to Denmark than usual.

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I love the design.  It starts at the neck and is knit in the round from the neck down, so the yoke is one of the earliest steps.  It was so much fun knitting this part, though I look at designs that are colour work all the way to the hem and that doesn’t seem like fun to me. This was a great match of (pattern) challenge to (my knitting) capacity. I still have some colour knitting tension issues.  My last effort was, if anything, too loose.  This time, it is a little tight.  When he tried it on while in progress, my friend admired the corrugation in the yoke and marvelled over how I could be so clever as to create it.  I decided against making a big issue out of it being a flaw!  But it did not block out (as I had hoped it would) so it’s lucky that he likes it and it looks great unless you’re examining it as a fault in the knitting.  I can live with imperfection, as it turns out. It was reassuring to try it on him a couple of times as it progressed–it is a great fit and looks fabulous on him (in my humble opinion).

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After the yoke, the body is knit down to the hem, and then each sleeve is knit on in the round.  For me, knitting in the round is the obvious way to proceed (because socks), and this is the knitting strategy I have adopted on some garments I have designed myself, learned from books adopting Scandinavian knitting processes.

If I had this design in black and white and had to choose colours for it, I would never have chosen these colours.  I think this is one boon of knitting from a kit (or from a pattern and using the prescribed yarns, something I don’t remember ever having done).  In all honesty, part of what has been so interesting about these two Kit Couture knits has been having almost all the choices made for me.  Knitting with handspun is not like this at all, and knitting these has felt so easy!  It turns out it is not the complexity of the knitting that feels hard for me in making up my own patterns or knitting with handspun, it’s the decision making. This is an extraordinary freedom, but I think I had already noticed that the degree of challenge is sometimes more than I can easily manage.  Either I lack the confidence or I just feel too tired to decide in the pieces of time in which I knit.

Repetitive, simple knitting makes up a lot of the knitting I do, and it has to. In the environments in which I knit,  counting is impossible or rude and referring to the pattern all the time, likewise inappropriate or not manageable.  Colour choice is not my strength either.  I only make wild colour choices where the risk is low.  Garments that won’t be seen (socks–I am knitting some lurid socks right now); things that will not be worn (tea cosies), recipients who make decisions for me or are excited about my random colour ways, bless them one and all.

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The kit is also unspeakably cute: all those balls of wool lined up in cute little rows in a beautiful card board box, with a darning needle, picture, instructions and some Danish liquorice treats.  And this wool was cushy (merino, my friends) and fat and even.  I love knitting handspun and some of mine is very even (while some is certainly not). Cushy is harder to achieve for me, and I haven’t knit a garment on 5.5 mms before.  Fast! Sensational, especially on something so big.  Entertainingly enough this garment required only the same kind of frankenfitting for father as Sotra required for son: everything needed to be longer than the largest size but only as wide as the smallest. This is the simple kind of fitting I can mange without difficulty.  I can’t wait to hand it over, even though today is the last day of winter! And, something about knitting these kits has made me want to knit and knit and built up my confidence for big knitting (jumpers, not socks).  There was a rash of casting on as soon as I finished it…

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Indigo and cochineal Jaywalkers

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A while back I acquired some merino-silk 4 ply (fingering) yarn to use as a no-nylon sock yarn.

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Of course, it all started out white.  Over time, some was dyed in legacy logwood.  Some with legacy cochineal, and some with indigo.  Then I decided on overdyeing the cochineal to create stripes and spots, creating some deep pink-purple and some blue sections where I had tied resists during the first dyeing in cochineal.

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There was hospital knitting, nursing home knitting, public transport knitting as ever, meeting knitting.

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There was even knitting during an experimental opera!

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And now there are socks.  The pattern is an old favourite, Jaywalker, by Grumperina.  It doesn’t stretch much but it stays up and it looks great.

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They are destined to be added to India Flint’s collection… bless her creative mind and nimble fingers and keep her toes warm, I say!

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More socks!

As usual, the latest pair of socks spent quite a lot of time on public transport. This is a local train service knitting opportunity.
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They came on some pretty tired and sad visits to hospital and nursing home as one of my dearests has been having a very tough time and I have been doing what I can to accompany her.  Knitting on public transport was a big help on a few visits when I took trips to visit her and she had already been taken by ambulance to some other place.

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Socks don’t care about your worries.  They just keep growing as you keep knitting, and that works for me.

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As you can see, it’s another pair of socks made with the same fibres.  And roughly the same size.  And there the resemblances end!  I managed to finish the skein with only this tiny ball of wool left!  But did get two pairs out of my naturally dyed Suffolk handspun.

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They have already gone to a dear friend who spends more time in gumboots than pleases her sometimes, and finds a hand knit sock an asset in her gumboot (wellington boot? galosh? wellie boot?  rubber boot? you get the picture, I hope).

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None of the pictures really came out right, with some too washed out and some a little overdone.  But I am sure you get the idea!  And in these times of considering mortality and suffering, I thought I would share this little gem taken as I ran through the cemetery one morning.  There were four magpies perched on this statue but two flew away as I approached. Camera shy.  I understand.

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