Fiber Sprite Podcast Episode 005
Here is the fourth episode of the Fiber Sprite Podcast! On this show, I'll talk about projects I've been working on and my visit to the Taos Wool Festival.
These socks are finally off the needles, after about six months of working on them! They're basic stockinette socks - the stripes are due to how I dyed the yarn. Worked form the toe-up with a short-row heel, there's nothing really different about these socks than the dozens of other pairs I've made over the years.
Except that they took so long to make! Normally, a pair of socks takes me about 16-20 hours of knitting, spread out over a few weeks or a month.
I dyed the yarn in April, at a dye workshop with my local guild. I cast on sometime last summer, and was delighted to find I'd inadvertently created a self-striping colorway!
One of the reasons these socks took me so long was that when I started working on them, I was also suffering from a lot of fatigue in my hands. So even though I was loving the colors, they didn't get worked on much. I know that I was close to finishing the first sock in September. By the end of December, I was halfway through the cuff of the second sock, and decided the ribbing was the last thing I wanted to work on.
Last week, I finally finished the ribbing, and then it sat for yet another week waiting for the bind off (tubular bind-off, my favorite), weaving in ends, and blocking - a silly wait, since all those tasks took me less than twenty minutes.
Besides the literal pain in my hands when I first started working on these, I think one of the reasons this pair of socks took so much longer to make was that I didn't really need another pair of socks. Over the last couple of years, I've knit more than 20 pairs of socks. Adding that to a collection of SmartWool socks that I bought almost 10 years ago when I was working at a shoe store, I have a sock drawer that is pretty well-stocked. At this point, having socks on the needles is less about filling the need to put socks on my feet, and more about having a simple, portable knitting project ready to go at all times.
Which brings me to the question....
Should You Kon-Marie Your Works in Progress?
I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up way back in 2015 when it was just a book and not a Netflix sensation. Now that Marie Kondo has been invited into the living room of just about anyone with a Netflix account, there are lots more people talking about tidying up. Which isn't a bad thing. One of the things I took away from reading Kondo's book was that I really needed to be more thoughtful about how and why I acquire stuff - including yarn and knitting projects.
It's easy to take Kondo's "spark joy" approach and twist it into a consumerist excuse for throwing away too much, with no regards for the consequences.
When my hands hurt, these socks didn't spark joy. They made me feel a little hopeless, really, that one of my favorite hobbies was bringing me pain.
When I had ten rounds of ribbing left to knit, these socks didn't spark joy. They made me downright bored.
But when the socks were finally finished, that sparked joy!
Here's the thing about creative projects - they're not always joyful all the way throughout the process. There are challenges in every project, no matter how small or simple. Sometimes those challenges are draining, and sometimes they're fun. But they don't always "spark joy" immediately. Sometimes that joy is delayed, like with these socks.
As fiber artists, it's really up to us to think deeply about the projects we take on, the ones we hold on to despite the challenges, and the ones we decide to let go. Each of us has different priorities and needs, and we should all take those into account when we are considering our works in progress.
Sometimes, like with my socks, a period in "hibernation" is exactly what the project needs. Sometimes the knitter needs some time to think through the challenges, to heal sore hands, or time to work on other more pressing projects.
Sometimes, as Felicia Lo of Sweet Georgia Yarns said in this excellent video, casting on for a new project might just be about learning a new technique and not making the thing itself. Or a sweater that you started a year ago might not fit with your wardrobe now. It's perfectly fine to let these projects go. The bright side - it's just yarn, and can be easily unraveled and re-used!
How do you decide whether you should tidy up your works in progress?
Like many other knitters who just so happen to knit socks, I suspect I'm a bit of a sock snob.
Most knitters ascend to sock snobbery when they catch the sock knitting bug. Why buy socks when you can make socks that will fit perfectly and last longer? It's an easy choice for most sock knitters.
But I was doomed from the start. My nickname growing up was "Socks." (Really.)
I loved all the different cute little socks. There was a different pair of socks for every occasion, every outfit.
And then in college for three whole years before becoming a sock knitter, I worked in a store that sold SmartWool socks. And you have to know the merchandise, so I bought a pair in just about every color. (For you non-sock knitters, they're pretty durable. I still have almost all of them, and they're still in great shape.)
With all these predispositions to sock snobbery, the minute I got the hang of sock knitting, I was a goner. Now I have no fewer than 18 pairs of handknit socks in my sock drawer, in every color of the rainbow.
For years after I started knitting socks, I made them or less as directed in the pattern. I managed to learn a few different methods of heel and toe shaping, but that was about it. Socks always went up to the normal mid-calf height, and that was that.
But that's not really my sock style. If I had to choose, it would be ankle socks almost every time.
Early on in my sock knitting adventures, I tried to knit ankle socks and failed miserably. No matter what I did, handknit ankle socks always slipped down into my shoes and drove me crazy.
I figured handknit ankles socks just couldn't be done.
I was wrong.
To make non-slippy-sloppy ankle socks, you simply need to make the cuffs just a little bit longer than you think you should have to. My cuffs usually end up somewhere between 2 and 2 1/2 inches from the top of where I turned the heel (using short rows).
Somewhere between ten and twelve rounds of K1, P1 ribbing on the cuff seems to be the magic number for me, but if you wanted more elasticity, you could work in K2, P2. I do like to have at least a few rounds of stockinette between the heel and the cuff, just because it gives that smoothness inside the shoe.
That's it. It's that simple.
You could use this technique for just about any sock pattern. Nine times out of ten, though, I'm using a super simple pattern, since socks are my #1 mindless knitting/movie theater knitting project.
Here's what I do, more or less:
Size 2 needles
The tubular bind off is about as fancy as I get with this pattern. I just like the way it looks, but you could use any stretchy bind off you like. I'm also quite fond of the ssk bind off.
If this pattern is way too basic for you, there are some great simple sock recipes out there. I cut my sock-knitting teeth on the Yarn Harlot's pattern in Knitting Rules. Other folks swear by Wendy's Generic Toe-Up Sock pattern, which I have vague memories of maybe using once upon a time.Either way, I don't think you can go wrong.
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