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!
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?
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.