Category Archives: Knitting

Finnish tough socks naturally?

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It all began when I finally managed to pick up a parcel that a friend who now lives in Denmark had left for me when she had passed through our town while we were away.  The contents were truly astonishing. Better than Christmas.  She had chosen some lovely wool, a book and a chocolate treat, all wrapped up in a bag! She delivered another Danish knitting kit as well. The yarn is Finnish wool dyed with plants and cochineal.  I couldn’t wait. I’d just finished a rather plain coloured sock and I wasn’t finished preparing my next Suffolk sock yarn.  I cast on!

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Here, a sock poses above Port Willunga beach on a summer outing. Is it just my imagination, or was this shot so peculiar my beloved took a snap of me taking it to preserve for posterity?

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Here, it graces a completed summer holiday puzzle.  My daughter brought Christmas gifts that were all second hand, wrapped in newspaper and tied with binder twine, designed to entertain us while in Melbourne.  One of the puzzles was unpacked immediately!

 

Here we have the second sock with many extremely ripe strawberries after a heat wave visit to the Farmer’s market.  And, on the side of a triathlon where I was cheering on my very fit beloved.  And now we have the frivolous images out of the way, here”s the lowdown.  I loved this yarn so much I wanted to knit it right away.  It’s the right weight for socks (4 ply/fingering) but I have no reason to think it is especially sock-worthy in terms of the breed or construction of the yarn.  On the other hand, my experience is increasingly telling me that adding silk into sock yarn is not an especially winning strategy.  As a beginner spinner I was so surprised to be told that silk was strong.  I had always thought of it as a rather fragile fibre.  But here’s the thing.  It’s both.  Silk has a high tensile strength.  If you try to snap a silk thread, it is really strong.  But I don’t think that tensile strength is matched by its capacity for abrasion resistance.  I’ve tested this by mending high abrasion areas of clothing with silk thread sashiko style–with lots of running stitches across the area of the patch.  The silk thread rubbed right off, and quite quickly.  I think that the high wear areas of a sock require a lot of abrasion resistance, and perhaps silk is not the best choice.  This was an experiment with doing all the engineering I know about to strengthen this pure wool sock.

I knit these socks cuff down, and I decided not to rib the leg.  I am not sure whether this wool will be a good match with the wearer’s skin.  It isn’t merino soft or silk soft, so I decided not to add any texture that might create unwanted friction.  Instead, I created a shaped calf.  These socks are for a woman who walks a lot.  So, since I made them quite long, some room for walking muscle.  As I reached the end of the leg, I started heel reinforcing stitch above the heel.  I notice this is a place where socks can wear through and there is nothing technically difficult about reinforcing the section of the leg immediately above the heel proper, where some boots and shoes rub.

When I reached the heel, I used heel reinforcing stitch as I usually would, and added some (ecru–offwhite) cotton/silk stitching thread in for reinforcement.  You can see the stitch and colour changes in the image above. The last time I received feedback on a pair of socks for this specific person, I saw she’d worn through the sole under her heel first.  So when I got to the heel turn and began the sole, I continued the reinforcing thread, through the heel turn and then running it across the sole and snipping it off when I came to knitting across the gusset and top of the foot.

I think the idea for treating reinforcing thread in this way came from something the wonderful Elizabeth Zimmermann (wise and ingenious fairy godmother of English speaking knitters) wrote, though I think she was using woolly nylon.  She wrote in a period when nylon blend sock yarn was not available or widespread as it is today, and she was needless to say, interested in a hard wearing sock.  I think she wrote a pattern for a re-footable sock, which I read once and found beyond me.  It might be time to look it up, because perhaps by now my knitting skills will meet it.  Here is how this strategy looks on the inside of the sock. Lots oof loose ends.  But they will be barely detectable to the wearer’s heel and will not work their way out of the knitting.

I changed down a needle size for the sole to give it more durability without impinging on the wearer.  That might be one of EZ’s ideas too.  The toe also received reinforcement.

And there we are.  I purled the recipient’s initials into the back of the calf for my own amusement and hopefully hers!

And there you have it.  A sock of unknown toughness, engineered for better wear, gloriously coloured and gleefully received.  When I am listening to the former knitters I meet on public transport, in cafes, at bus stops, in meetings, I am often saddened that they know no one who would welcome a hand knit and especially not a hand knit requiring hand washing.  That is the most common reason I hear for their abandoning knitting (followed by arthritis, scourge of knitters).  My goodness!  I am blessed by many lovers of hand knits, and while for me, knitting is its own reward in some respects… it is also like cooking someone a delicious dinner.  People who enjoy and appreciate are those for whom I’d cheerfully cook or knit again given the chance.  There is nothing like being really confident that someone loves that meal or sock or slipper or jumper so much that if you made another, they’d love that too… and I am especially blessed to know folk who will happily wear experimental garments.

 

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Possum wool beanies

Hello dear and patient readers! It’s been so long!  In short, I returned to work and ran out of scheduled posts.  I missed you, too.  So here is a little news about what I was doing in late December…

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We spent the holiday period with my beloved’s entire family, three generations of it.  I took plenty of knitting… and the beanie department of holiday knitting included a skein of handspun possum/wool blend and some eucalyptus dyed wool for contrast stripes.  The possum/wool appeared in my friend Joyce’s stash and came to my house when she was moved into a nursing home by her family.  Since last I wrote she has died, aged 92.  So there has been grieving to be done as well as the certain recognition she was living a mercifully short stage of her life that she never would have chosen for herself.

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In the top picture, casting on while enjoying sushi with one of my beloved’s nieces–that family have embraced me in a truly lovely way and it”s  privilege to be among them. Then in the second image, this is a family who love to play scrabble in a manner entirely different and far higher scoring than anything my family have ever done, and if you look closely I’ve improvised a stitch marker from the spring of a peg.  The other one might have been an elastic band.  Needs must!  The kind of distracted knitting done while playing scrabble goes well with a little nudge about when to decrease.

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In the end I had three beanies, one child size.  All based on Jared Flood’s Turn A Square, my go-to beanie pattern.  And while spinning the possum wool wasn’t all that lovely because the preparation was a bit strange and there were very many little bits of waxy cardboard carded into it… the yarn was wonderfully soft and will be very snug.  And one more part of Joyce’s fibre legacy is ready to go out into the world and keep heads warm, something she would have thoroughly approved of (though perhaps she would have asked me why no pom poms had been added to complete these hats!)

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Handspun socks in use 3

We visited a friend recently and of course, I was knitting away as we chatted.  I explained about the tuff socks naturally project and she brought out her entire sock drawer in which there were quite a few pairs knit by my own hands, some of which I don’t remember knitting!  There was just one hand spun pair, and they were quite recent.  Here they are finished in mid 2017.  They look very lightly worn indeed though she assures me she has been wearing them.  No signs of wear at all on this as-yet-young pair of tough knits.  Hopefully that speaks to the qualities of a suffolk/mohair/silk blend…

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And now for a little brioche knitting

What is it about brioche knitting?  I can honestly tell you that I do not know.  It is all over the internet of knitters.  There are designers who are all about the brioche.  And there’s more.  Like Stephen West’s videos of wildness.  Brace yourself if you’re new to Stephen West.  If someone had asked me if an over-the-top, camp, intensely colourful aesthetic could grip the imagination of thousands of knitters, I am not sure I would have seen this knitting phenomenon coming.  But I love that it is even possible. If you’re curious, follow him on Instagram! But he is not alone–there are calmer, gentler, more quietly coloured brioche patterns and books out there too.

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Then brioche started appearing in patterns I was proof reading.  One of Kit Couture’s signature designs is a brioche jumper (sweater).  I like it very much though I am not convinced it is designed for a person of my shape nor climate.  But reading the instructions made me think I needed to try it out with wool to understand.  I decided to try a hat to see if I could do it, and helpfully Stephen West has created one, and as a bonus, it uses up small quantities of yarn in a weight I use and spin a lot.  I took this to Marion Bay.  Oh, Marion Bay!

I didn’t finish it there, but in the end I finished it and improved my understanding a lot.  Ta da!

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Postscript: after I’d finished this hat and added it to my little stack of beanies, I had a call from a treasure who has some pet sheep.  I either spin her sheeps’ fleece, or find people who would like to spin it and gift it on.  This time she didn’t want yarn and I couldn’t figure out a return gift, until I suggested beanies.  I left the whole beanie stash for her to consider when she dropped off fleeces, and this is the one she chose!

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BFL/Texel/Silk socks

 

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Some considerable time ago, I bought a blue faced leicester/texel/silk blend roving designed for socks, and spun it into three-ply yarn.  A very fine yarn!  I seriously overachieved on spinning sock weight.  I finally decided to buy finer needles in order to knit it, and now it has become my first pair of no-nylon, no-superwash socks for the #tuffsocksnaturally project.

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Here it is at a coffee shop where I believe I was knitting while reading (some of the) hundreds of pages of papers for a meeting.

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Here it is at the Park-n-Ride (that’s a car park servicing a train station, basically) where I get off the train and wait for the bus. There is just no way to know what the other passengers think of all the sock shenanigans.  A few offer me shy grins and one bus passenger recently told me she used to knit a lot but no one wants her knitting anymore.  I feel blessed for my friends, all over again!

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Here it is on the wide open road headed for a long weekend at Marion Bay. The photographer may have leaned over a bit.

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Marion Bay was glorious.  Here, I’ll show you a little bit. But also there were dolphins, lots of dolphins, emus, lots of emus, kangaroos, and ladybirds, lots of ladybirds, and very many, very shy birds indeed.

And here the socks are, finished, in all their whimsically cabled glory.

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Grinda socks

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I know I’ve mentioned Danish knitting kits… and I finished another one.

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About to embark on grafting the toe  on the train.

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Stripes on a plane!

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Sunny day at my place of work.

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Knitting on Kaurna land…

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And the finished article.  There was a hitch in which I failed to recognise that the pattern called for a change of colour for the heel.  If I had actually done that (or gone back when I realised my mistake much later), I might have had enough yarn to make the toes match.  However, the dear friend whose very large feet these socks are destined for won’t be troubled, and I am guessing those mismatched toes will often be inside shoes…

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DIY knitting kits

My recent experience of Danish knitting kits had me in mind of Yarn Harlot’s DIY knitting kits. I seem to remember her setting up her own sock club, with yarn, needles and patterns already in her possession, tucked into bags, set up and ready to go the moment she needed a knitting project. So, I got out my empty project bags and prepared myself for weeks of meetings.

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This one is Bendigo Woollen Mills alpaca and some of Joyce’s handspun. That became a hat in one day.

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There was black alpaca left from that kit, so I switched it for the natural yarns in the kit below.

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That hat flew out in less than two days.

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Finally, I decided to use up the remainders of the jumper I made a while back.

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I made some random design decisions (I use the word “design” lightly here) in the middle of a meeting and that’s how this hat came about. At the end of this week of knitting kits, I decided I could probably set up a kit for a jumper provided it had lots of mindless simple knitting–and knit that in meetings.  So much casting on…!

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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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