Monday, December 11, 2017

Handspun Sock Showdown

Time for a re-examination of some of my better handspun socks. I'll let you guys see the "before-and-after" photos. These are all socks that have held up well after at least a year of heavy use. My other handspun socks have mostly felted and/or shrunk and/or worn faster these, so I won't be using those fibers again. Yes, that includes UK wears fast.

Number 1: UK superwash BFL / nylon (70/30) blend

The yarn was spun very fine - 4 ply - since at the time I was really trying to reproduce commercial sock yarn. The yarn felt quite nice - quite comparable to a millspun yarn although a little tighter plied. I didn't go out of my way to knit them tight. These socks are by far the best of my handspun socks, in terms of longevity. They haven't felted appreciably, and there has been no need to darn them. The dye has faded in the laundry, over time. I would highly recommend this blend for those who don't want to agonize overmuch about TPI, grist, or knitting gauge. In fact, I'd recommend this blend to myself. Self: please get more of this stuff.

[superwash BFL/nylon before]

[superwash BFL/nylon after -
note fading but stitch definition still good. 2.5 yrs old.]

Number 2: UK shetland / mohair (70/30) blend

The yarn is 3-ply and very dense, not very thin though - heavy fingering/light sport. The yarn is rather different to knit - it has very little elasticity, and I knit it supertight, so the resulting fabric is probably not what people are used to in a sock. They're a bit stiff, smooth, and rather slippery. That's the mohair talking! They are very, very warm and comfy though. The socks have been darned once (they wore through at the toe very quickly) but since then have been performing well. They have felted and shrunk a tiny bit. This is a good blend for those who eschew the use of nylon and superwash.

[shetland/mohair blend, before]

[...and after. Minimal fading. 1 yr old.]

[there is felting on the inside, on all my handspun socks, 
but much less on the superwash ones]

Both fibers from number 1 and number 2 socks came from Hilltop Cloud, a favorite indie fiber dyer of mine. I'm pretty sure she uses UK-sourced fiber. She does not always carry sock blends. I love her sense of colour, and I keep an eye on her shop so I can order from her when she does carry my favorite blends.

Number 3: local Romney, 100% pure wool

The fiber is local, not UK Romney, and was pindrafted roving (not combed top), so these are true woolen spun socks (for those purists out there). Like the socks above, the yarn was dense, and I knit them at a tight gauge, so the socks were not as elastic as you'd get from a commercial sock yarn, but they were super warm. I loved them!! They were tough as nails, but now have started to wear out at the heel, and have been darned twice at the toe. They currently reside in my darning basket...

[local romney, before]

[...and after. 2 yrs old. Note fading and pilling, 
and you can see the darning spot on the heel...]

[...with more required!]

That gives me a pretty good choice of sock fibers to pick from! 

Of course, I'm still trying other fibers and blends...the fun never stops!

Monday, December 4, 2017

In Which I Go To Vogue Knitting

OK, I'm not one who regularly attends knitting fairs. I like going to the odd Fiber Fair to fondle the fleeces and see the sheep, but even those I don't attend on a regular basis. I think I've been to Knit City - which is my local fair - maybe twice? I've never attended any lectures or classes there.

But. Then. I was sent the link for this year's Vogue Knitting "conference", to be held in Bellevue (basically Seattle), and I had a look at the classes....Yep. I signed up for the full-meal-deal, "Sleepless in Seattle".

The experience was truly "sleepless" for a bunch of reasons:
1. I got so jacked on all the inspirational instruction that I couldn't calm down,
2. I got so inspired by all the beautiful stuff on display in the marketplace that I was dreaming about it all night, and
3. I got food poisoning from the hotel restaurant. Really.

I spent all my money on goodies from the market - specialty yarns for tvåändsstickning, some tencel to try, some new sock yarns from a variety of vendors...

And, I took classes from Xandy Peters ("stacked knitting"), Cecilia Campochario ("sequence knitting") and Stephen West (does this guy even need a link??). All of these inspired me to no end, even Stephen West (whose stuff I have never knit, but after one class I am feeling more empowered than ever to ditch the patterns). And I learned how to improve my intarsia. And I learned about the history of the Knitting Belt - a technique that I now want to try.

So now my brain is so full it is going to essplode. I swear.

Here some photos to pass on at least some of the goodies to y'all:

[oh-so-simple granny squares using fluffy yarn]

[stacked knitting, easiest variety]

[sequence knitting, this one's not hard]

[from a shop specializing in my fave: scandinavian scratchy wools]

[this is like a flat pompom on a quilt, easy to do and looks fun!

[gotta love those cables...]

[fur and wool - what a combo!]

I have socks based on all these learnings percolating in my brain right now, and I'm hoping that over the next few months I can distill some good blog posts and/or sock creations out of all of this. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Stitch Markers

I don't use stitch markers a lot for sock knitting - although sometimes I will use one on either side of my magic loop, as "handles" to use for yanking the loop out again if it sucks into my knitting - but I have come to realize that I have some pretty distinct preferences for those that I DO use.

...and here they are:

1. I prefer small, lightweight markers. To mark my place in shawls, I typically use those cheap 200-in-a-box gold or silver rings. I prefer metal because they slide better than plastic. I carry them in a breathmints box. They are great for bulk use in lace, and big enough to use on 4mm needles when I knit the odd sweater.

2.  I like beaded ones, too - but here's where I get picky. The markers must be made of wire or "tiger tail", and must only have 1 large bead - no bigger than 1/4" -  on them and at the most 2 small ones, and the loop can't be any bigger than 1/2" (approx. 1 cm). I've made a bunch of my own, and have found that over time, my hand reaches for those that fulfill these characteristics, and I never use the others. 

3. The marker may not use a jump ring, under any circumstances. 

4.  The marker may not use one of those wire posts that thread so easily through beads, because this forces the marker-maker to then use loops of wire to get the dangly creation onto a ring of some kind, thereby violating rule #3.

You can make your own bead markers. It's not hard. Here's how:

You need some tools: a set of fine wire cutters (I use them for my guitar strings too!) - I like the Fiskars ones - and a set of fine needlenose pliers that come together with a flat edge (crimpers) - ie. not the completely round ones. 

You need some materials: "tigertail" (beading wire that's flexible), crimping beads, and focal beads (I prefer mine to be no bigger than 1/4" in diameter, and completely smooth). 

You can get most of this stuff at Michael's. 

[materials, top left clockwise: crimping pliers, fine wire cutters, 
"tiger tail" beading wire, crimping beads, and small focal beads]

To make a marker, cut a piece of the tigertail that's about 3-4" long and double it. Thread it through your focal bead and then through a crimping bead. Then use the crimping pliers to flatten the crimping bead, and the cutters to trim the tigertail. That's it!

[thread the doubled tigertail through the beads]

[a few completed markers, done to my own exacting specifications]

It turns out I'm ridiculously sensitive to both the size of the loop, and the size of the bead on the marker. Really. In the picture below, the markers on the top are too big, and I find I never, ever use them. See how small the differences are???

[top: markers I hate - too big, or too catchy]
[bottom: marker I like]

Most of my knitting circle buddies do other crafts as well, and some of them, like me, do the odd bit of beading. So we have periodic "marker making sessions" where we pool our kit and have fun making a bunch. Everyone goes home with half a dozen new stitch markers!