More Fuzzies!

Wasn’t that fun? I really enjoyed doing a series of short posts on a theme. As a reader, I find series more engaging and fun to read, and as a writer, it spreads the workload of what would have been one long ridicu-post. I will look for more opportunities to do that in the future.

Meanwhile on my needles, fuzzy things continue to grow. I’ve been hit with a lot of knitting inspiration lately, from reading more blogs to poring over my pattern books to updating my stash. Last week I managed to channel some of that passion onto the actual needles.


Check it out! That’s repeat number six of the mitered monster-halfway done. I was on a tear, and since my next day was a day off, I set my mind to doing the next row of squares in a day.

That was when I learned that you should at least check your work twice when staying up that late.

I mean, wow. My favorite part is how I didn’t even notice what had happened until the square was completely finished and I was trying to pick up for the next one.

I considered leaving it, and adding one more sort of rectangle stripe, but that would have been way too noticeable, even to my incredibly non-perfectionistic knitting approach. The consolation was that it was much faster to knit the second time, what with all the colors pre-cut to the right lengths and wrapped on one ball. No checking the pattern and hunting for the right color every ten tiny rows.

Somehow, between naptime and letting the kids watch a little extra TV, I still managed the seventh row of squares in 24 hours. (Yes, sometimes I sacrifice good parenting for the sake of sanity. I think of it as a long-run investment in all of our mental health. It’s also January.) I think you can see the graded rainbow-ish effect start to play out; the most red is on the right end, more orange and yellow in the middle, and green is taking over on the left end, which is the most recent. With five rows to go, I’ll finally start seeing more of the cooler colors.

(Sorry for the horrible phone photos. They let me get the blogging done. I am getting a lot of blogging done while lying in bed nursing a demanding teething sleeping toddler, even though it’s doing strange things to my joints to hold my phone at that angle.)

It’s funny: lots of color changes are what make this shawl fun, both to knit and to look at, but they are also the most annoying thing about it. At least I’ve worked out how to weave in nearly all the ends in as I go, so I only have six ends to weave in at the end of a row of squares instead of 40. That’s not an exaggeration. There are literally 20 color changes in a row of squares, and you have to weave in both ends.

I am still enjoying this shawl, though, especially now that I’m using needles I like.

Tomorrow: the fuzzies have multiplied.

 

What I’m Looking for in Sock Yarn

So, having reflected on these bakers-dozen of old socks, what have I learned? Next time I go to buy sock yarn, what should I look for? What are heads-up, warnings-off, and all that?

Really, it comes down to sturdiness. Socks get the hardest wear out of any item of knitwear, unless you knit sneakers or something. What makes the hardiest yarn that still looks and feels good after being rubbed around between a shoe and a foot all the time, and being repeatedly washed?

1) Yarn construction is very important. The best-wearing high-end sock yarns, which had no nylon in them, seemed to have these things in common:
a) They tend to have many plies: e.g. Malabrigo Sock, Socks that Rock, Shelridge Yarns, Kraemer’s Alison base.
b) Those plies tend to be tightly spun: e.g. all four above, especially Socks that Rock, which had so much that the yarn tended to kink while I knit with it. KPPPM only has two plies, but they are bouncy and plied at a very high angle of twist.

2) You can break the rules if there’s lots of nylon in it. The cheaper yarns I used (Knitpicks Stroll, Lion Brand Sock Ease) were both fairly loosely plied, and the Sock Ease was even pretty thin, but plastic persists. The Crazy Zauberball was a looser two-ply, but it took five years of very hard wear to thin out and need darning, and it’s got 25% nylon. I have yet to try regular Zauberball, which is only a singles; I’m quite nervous about using it in socks, but it’s got that nylon content, so I’m willing to give it a try.

3) Use caution with luxury fibers. I had a very bad experience with Merino-Cashmere-Nylon, but that’s just one yarn, and one type of luxury fiber, so your mileage may vary. I have never used any other base of MCN for socks, or anything like Alpaca Sox (Classic Elite); maybe they’re wonderful, I don’t know. I do know that after my bad and costly experience, I would want to find some trustworthy good reviews of that yarn used for socks before I did anything of the kind. Super-soft yarns are always prone to pilling, so save them for things like hats or neckwarmers. My feet don’t need that much babying.

4) Leave other hardy wool for different hardy uses. I love 100% wool yarn, but unless it’s specifically spun for socks (or otherwise obviously suited for it), I’m not making socks from it again. Lots of wools, especially toothy traditional wools, will pill, but only for a while, then you can pick them off and wear them forever. That works for sweaters, where there’s lots of abrasion but not a lot of weight being pressed on them; for socks, I want something more specialized for abuse. No more toothy traditional wool on my feet.

5) Tightness adds strength. Tight knitting and tight fit. Regarding tight fitting: I don’t mean tight enough to fight with your stitches, but tight enough that your stitches are very secure. My best results tended to be on my Addi Turbo US 1.5/2.75 mm, 32″ circulars, magic loop, to make a fabric that was decidedly unified but not stiff. If the fabric is floppy, the stitches are rubbing against each other in addition to your foot, and there’s more surface area of each stitch open to being rubbed against. Tight fit on your foot is helpful for similar reasons: A loose sock sliding around your foot is going to be rubbing around a lot more than a sock firmly in place. Tightness in these two areas won’t make a weak sock yarn into good socks, but it will make any sock last longer than it would otherwise.

It is worth noting that sweaters also get a lot of wear (especially under the arms), and obviously, they are much more visible than socks. I know that for myself, I will be paying a lot more attention to item #1 above when purchasing yarn for sweaters. I would swatch and wash thoroughly, though, before using any superwash sock yarn for a sweater, because it’s known to grow when wet. Especially because that would mean knitting a sweater out of fingering weight! Yikes!

These are my observations based on these 13 pairs of socks, and the other 20 or so pairs that I’ve knit in the last eight years. These ideas are mine and mine alone; no one paid me to make them, and they haven’t been reviewed by an editor or an actual expert who knows what they’re doing. (Hence the subjective title of this post.)

If you want an expert, you should really consult Clara Parkes. Halfway through this series I decided to read through the archives on her blog, Knitters Review, and wow. Reading her blog, yarn is suddenly like wine in all its subtle complexities of enjoyment. The appreciation and discernment I have built through years of stumbling intuition is suddenly given a vocabulary and a structure, and amplified with a lot more useful information that I could never have found on my own. I have been going back and forth between her blog and ravelry, fav-ing all kinds of yarns I’d like to use someday.

I haven’t read it, but based on what I’m seeing of her work, I can say that if you really need to know about sock yarn, you should probably check out The Knitter’s Book of Socks. She knows what she is doing, and she actually tests her swatches with abrasion to figure out how they fare under hard wear. I’d like to read her sock yarn book just to for the information, but as I don’t plan on knitting socks any time soon, it would probably not be a good use of my time. (But if anyone wants to buy me The Knitters Book of Yarn, I’m all over that. I think my mom has a copy, and she might want to lock it up when I come to visit.)

Yes, I’m done with socks for a while. I mean, I have a little more sock yarn kicking around (see what I did there), and a sock design I need to get out of my system before I die. But I finished my last pair of socks over a year ago, and I still feel socked out. Me, I’m hankering to knit some sweaters… How glorious it would be to know and dress the contours of my torso as well as I do my feet!

Sock Yarn Longevity: Shelridge Farm

A daily mini-series in which I give an updated review of some sock yarns I have used, having given the socks some wear. For first post and longer explanation, click here. Pattern link below is to my original review of the yarn when the socks were completed; yarn link goes to Ravelry.

Patterns: “Canada” from Knitting on the Road by Nancy Bush
Yarn: “Soft Touch Ultra Solid Colors” by Shelridge Yarns

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Years Worn: 2

Verdict: I’m bringing this series to a close with a yarn from the country that is now my home. When I knit these socks, back in January of 2013, I had a serious crush on Canada, but no prospect of actually living here. It’s still a little shocking to realize that I live in the same country as the likes of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee or Amy Singer or Kate Atherly or the rest of them. (Then again, I actually live farther from them now than I did before. Like, a lot farther. Canada is kind of big.)

I knit these Canada-inspired socks with the Canadian yarn recommended in the pattern, from a small company in Ontario that my mom was already a fan of. They mostly do these big sweater kits that are pretty cool, and are hard to find outside of shows, but you can get their yarn from their website, and more info on how to find them.

This yarn is a really good one. It was very smooth and soft to work with, very bouncy, looks beautiful in both texture and colorwork, and is spun in such a way that it’s proved quite sturdy despite being 100% merino. You can see the pills, but then again, all these pictures were taken in lighting that highlights the pills, to make them honest. I don’t notice them when wearing, and that colorwork pops and makes me cheerful. This is worth investing in for a sweater, I think. Two thumbs up!

Tomorrow: What have I learned about sock yarns?

Sock Yarn Longevity: Crazy Zauberball

A daily mini-series in which I give an updated review of some sock yarns I have used, having given the socks some wear. For first post and longer explanation, click here. Pattern link below is to my original review of the yarn when the socks were completed; yarn link goes to Ravelry.

Patterns: “Hat Heel” by Kathleen Sperling, published in Knitty Fall 2009
Yarn: “Crazy Zauberball” by Schoppel-Wolle

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Years Worn: 7

Verdict: These were one of my earlier pairs of socks. In fact, they are probably the oldest pair that I still use.

They started as a ball of funky sock yarn that I fell for in a yarn shop in Cape Cod, back when I was still using Xanga, so the pictures from that post are long-gone. In that ball, all the fall colors I love were blended in a funky way. It said it was sock yarn, and at that point in my career, that was all I needed to know. I knit them with an amusing pattern I found online, did a horrible job guessing what calf increases should be like.

In the years since, I have thrashed these socks. I wore them all the time, put them through the washer and dryer without mercy. Can you believe they’re still kicking? It’s not very thick stuff, but that 25% nylon does its job. There are plenty of pills, but you can see they’re pretty discrete; I could pick them off if I thought it was worth my time.

Eventually, the balls of the feet did wear out; that’s where I tend to use my socks the hardest. Back then, I kept all my yarn scraps. Amazingly, the teeny tiny leftover bit from these socks (remember, I used this pattern so I could use up as much of it as possible) had survived three moves and six years in the scraps bag. That meant that the patches on the bottom at least coordinated, even if the construction of the yarn from two plies of slow self-striping singles meant that the exact combo of colors was not available to patch with. I wrote about my sock-patching experiments here.

I’ve worn them another two years since that patch, and the yarn around the patches is getting pretty thin now, too. I will have to say goodbye to these socks eventually. But by golly, I have loved them. So if you like your socks a little goofy, and if you don’t need your self-striping socks to match, I would highly recommend Crazy Zauberball. It has hung in there for me. Two thumbs up.

Sock Yarn Longevity: Malebrigo Sock

A daily mini-series in which I give an updated review of some sock yarns I have used, having given the socks some wear. For first post and longer explanation, click here. Pattern link below is to my original review of the yarn when the socks were completed; yarn link goes to Ravelry.

Patterns: “Traveler’s Stocking” from Knitting on the Road by Nancy Bush
Yarn: Malabrigo Sock from Malabrigo Yarns

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Years Worn: 2

Verdict: I. Love. This. Yarn.

This is hilarious, because when I was knitting these socks, I hated them. I was done with socks, but wanted to finish my knit-through-a-book, so I grumbled and fussed my way through this pattern in its complexity. I grumbly acknowledged that they were gorgeous, but I was never excited about them.

But now, every time I pull them out of the drawer to put them on, it feels like it’s going to be a good day. Just look at them! There’s a bit of pilling, but you can hardly tell on that pretty semi-solid surface, can you? The surface of the stockinette fabric has a great sheen to it, the stitch definition is great, and they’re quite elastic. I’ve not noticed any thinning in the balls of the feet yet (where I wear my socks the hardest), and there’s no nylon in it. This is just a well-spun, beautifully-dyed, hard-wearing yarn. (I’m sure it helped that I knit them down on US 1.5s. On larger needles, say in a sweater, it might behave differently. Always swatch, but with superwash wool, swatch extra-thoroughly.)

I’d go back to this in a flash. This is the pair I hope are still in my collection in another five years, like the Crazy Zauberball socks from yesterday. Two thumbs way up! And a big toe!

Sock Yarn Longevity: Brown Sheep Nature Spun

A daily mini-series in which I give an updated review of some sock yarns I have used, having given the socks some wear. For first post and longer explanation, click here. Pattern link below is to my original review of the yarn when the socks were completed; yarn link goes to Ravelry.

Patterns: “Highland Schottische Kilt Hose” from Folk Socks by Nancy Bush
Yarn: Brown Sheep Company’s “Nature Spun Fingering

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Years Worn: 6 (infrequently)

Verdict: This is an interesting one. Brown Feet Nature Spun Fingering is not marketed, as far as I know, as a sock yarn. It’s just a fingering weight wool, a good ol’ toothy wool, good for fair isle and things. No nylon content, not at all superwash, loosely plied, so not particularly hard-wearing in a direct sense.

My motivation for using this yarn, originally, were these: 1) These socks took up a lot of yarn, and I wanted something cheap, 2) I wanted something still natural, since it’s a pretty traditional sort of pattern, and 3) They certainly didn’t used to put nylon into sock yarns back in the day, so I wanted to know what it’d be like to have socks knit with less specialized yarn.

I did this twice: on was with Jamieson & Smith 2-Ply Jumper wool. I gave them away (hence no re-review in this series), but I know from my mom’s report that they were a disaster. They wore holes almost instantly. This is no critique of J&S; their jumper wool is one of my favorites in all creation. It was my silly idea to try it out on socks, and not their fault that it didn’t hold up. (Who knows, it might have done better if I knit it down on size 00s or something, but I value my time and wrists more than that.)

By contrast, this Nature Spun Fingering has done pretty darn well.

I admit, I baby these socks a little. I only wore them maybe once a month for years, only washing them by hand (so in other words, almost never). Now I just throw them in with all my socks in the delicate cycle, and lay flat to dry. These socks have always had more than their fair share of pills. You can see that they’ve definitely turned into felt with holes, rather than a lace pattern.

But by golly, it’s pretty solid pilly felt. The holes are all ones that I put there on purpose. You can see on the balls of the feet, wear I give my socks the most wear, the layer of pills and felt have been worn away, and there’s still sturdy knit fabric underneath. The felting means they’re a bit shorter than before, but they were so long before, now I just flip up the cuff and they come up to my knees. (They’re always hidden underneath trouser legs for me anyway. Yep, I knit these gorgeous things, blog about them, then hide them away.)

So, make of that what you will. I’d go back to this yarn for a sweater I wanted to last (keeping in mind I’d have some pilling). I wouldn’t make socks out of them again. But it was an interesting experiment, no? 1 thumb up as sock yarn; 2 thumbs up as yarn in its proper context.

Sock Yarn Longevity: KPPPM

A daily mini-series in which I give an updated review of some sock yarns I have used, having given the socks some wear. For first post and longer explanation, click here. Pattern link below is to my original review of the yarn when the socks were completed; yarn link goes to Ravelry.

Socks: “Spey Valley” and “Canal du Midi” from Knitting on the Road by Nancy Bush
Yarn: “KPPPM” by Koigu

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Years Worn: 2
Opinion: You might think, after the last few posts, that cheap yarns are the best, and expensive yarns aren’t to be trusted. Let me put that conception to rest with this post. Koigu Painter’s Palette Premium Merino, better known as KPPPM, is everything I had hoped from a high-end yarn, from a small company but well-established in the yarn world. Koigu is a small family-based dyeing company in Ontario, and they specialize in these multicolored sock yarns. They come out with these patterns that are at once entrancing and frankly ridiculous. From working on the store side, I knew that they are hard to stock, so I snapped them up when I found them.

It was a joy to finally work with these yarns. They are 100% merino, with no nylon in sight, but have proven very hardy wearers. The yarn is a soft and sprongy two-ply, and the finish socks are very elastic (though the patterns helped with that), and pilled only minimally. I would definitely use this stuff again. I’m even fantasizing about one of those ridiculous coats people make with them. (I’d have to make it for my mum though.) Two thumbs up!