One Way to Say I Love You

It’s no secret that we’re big Daniel Tiger fans in our house. Recently, N has glommed on to an episode on the holiday DVD whose key song says, “Making something is one way to say ‘I love you’!”

For N, this means cards. This is easily the most rewarding result of our hobbyist homeschooling. She’s a nice clear hint-dropper too. “You know, Mom,” she said one day, “making something is one way to say I love you.” I agreed, and started talking about how I liked to knit things for the people I love most. She listened for a while, then said, “Actually, you should make me a card.”

Her idea was quicker.

When I started Jared’s Noro coat back in October, it was largely a matter of convenience. I needed a knitting project that was brainless, long, and monochromatic. This is back when certain colors were making me sick, and I was honestly too sick to spin. Jared had bought this yarn back when we were first married, when he bought yarn to make pretty much every item in Michael de Veccio’s Knitting with Balls. Since he knits through an average of half a skein a year at this point, I had talked him into letting me make it for him sometime.

It quickly became a labor of love. Not because it was laborious – indeed, it was so easy that the pieces seemed to fall off the needles of their own accord. Gotta love a bulky sweater. But I put a lot of thought into every stage.

I didn’t mean to knit it on the sly; it just seemed to happen by itself once I got going. This is the only picture I took of the thing while it was in progress.

See, I’ve knit my husband a goodly number of sweaters over the years. The first was given to him on the day he gave me a diamond ring. I’ve made him at least half a dozen pullovers and cardigans, and every one of them has ended up too big. The arms would be too long, or the shoulders would fit funny, or the arms would look like bat wings. Bat wing sweaters never having made it over to the male side of the fashion show, he has never worn any of my handknit sweaters for him more than a couple times after they were finished.

So I quizzed him thoroughly about this pattern, even as I went along. He had picked the yarn and the pattern, with a knitter’s knowledge, and was quite sure he wanted this sweater in this yarn. But I kept quizzing. “What sweater do you have whose sleeves you like? How do you feel about shawl collars? Are you really sure you want it to be this long?”

He insisted that he did.

Mercifully, careful swatching resulted in a sturdy enough fabric and a gauge match, so I could just follow the pattern for most of the sweater. But I made plenty of adjustments:

  • I could not handle the way the bottom of the sweater and the sleeves ended abruptly in cable pattern, giving it a ruffly sort of raw edge. And I could not believe that it wouldn’t roll. I replaced the last two inches of sleeves and body with honest, trustworthy 2×2 ribbing.

No rolling here.

  • I have perennially weird row gauge, which mattered most of all at the sleeve caps. I rejiggered the decreases so that my actual knitting resulted in the actual correct shape. And lo, set-in sleeves that fit my husband perfectly!
  • I made him try it on a few of times. This meant I had to reknit a sleeve cap when the first sleeve was too long, and had to knit four or five button bands between pattern and user errors.

  • The last major change I made was the collar. I’m not quite sure with the designer was going for, but there were some strange goings-on with three separate pieces only partially joined. As far as I can tell, that would mean sticky upper corners at the back of the neck. There are no pictures in the book or on ravelry that show what the sides of the collar actually look like. I decided to scrap it and just make a shawl collar that continued the button bands as written all the way across the back. As there’s no way to disguise the off-set join in grafting 1×1 rib, I did a garter stitch graft so it just looks like a neat seam.

I’m going to give you a clear view of the collar. And oh, that beautiful sleeve cap!

Overall, this design (“Knee-Length Coat” by Michael del Veccio) is very metropolitan, but the details make for a more casual, trendy look. For the more conservative dresser, those little details might make a big difference in the maturity of the design and its wearability for someone like my spouse. The yarn, a sadly discontinued bulky called “Big Kureyon” by Noro, will be judged over time. It’s lovely, and that colorway lives on in many other yarn lines. But I am worried about wear. Thankfully the local sewing/craft/hardware store always has elbow patches on hand, and I have plenty of leftover yarn.

We’re going through some transitions in our family. For a long time, we were sharing one position, assistant priests together at our parish. That worked well for a lot of reasons, for quite a long time. Now I’m staying at home full time, and Jared is in charge of the cathedral as an interim for a while. Suddenly we are much more focused on our respective areas, which are in the process of becoming much more intense for both of us.

Very sportingly spent a few minutes hatless in -30 C for a few pictures. In the winter, it’s hard to find a few quiet minutes together when it’s also light outside. 

Even though our tasks are much different now, I think that because we spent the last two and a half years part time in each others’ spheres, so to speak, we have a much better understanding of the demands we each face. Having worked as a priest, I understand much more what he’s carrying, and I’m much more invested in what he deals with every day. I’m also much more thankful for the opportunity to stay at home, while he’s thankful for the freedom to focus on work.

We’ve been married for almost ten years now, and we’re still learning how to say “I love you” in everyday meaningful ways. The details mean so much: coming home a few minutes early, asking thoughtful questions. Attending. I was so pleased this morning when I found his new sweater rumpled up in a pile at the foot of the bed. Why did this make me glad? Because that’s where all of our most-used garments live. Rumpled where we dump them, ready to pick up in the morning. I hope that more attention to detail, and to understanding his needs, have resulted in an “I love you” that isn’t just a thing, an idea, or a sentiment, but something that he reaches for that reminds him. It’s one thing to hear that you are loved. It’s another thing to know that you are heard and feel that you are understood.

Made of Blendlings and Learnings

Have you ever noticed that big projects tend to wrap up around the same time? In that vein, I finished a sweater last week.

Remember the Blendlings? My blazing re-entry into the spinning world in January and February of this year? (First post here, last post here) These wee skeins mean a lot to me, hand and heart, and they deserved to be used.

This was a leisurely project. It seems odd to me now, in my present state of urgency and indecision, but this was a project where I took my time, followed my gut, and persisted until I got it right.

My basic plan was to make Elizabeth Zimmerman’s “Scandinavian Ski Sweater” from a very early issue of Wool Gatherings. I was inspired by this sample sweater from The Opinionated Knitter, a book which fills me with nostalgia for a mid-century midwest I never remotely knew:

I considered my contrast yarn very carefully. I went with Imperial Stock Ranch Columbia 2-ply, because it was one of a very few 2-ply worsted yarns I could find. It’s woolen spun, so it’s a lot lighter than the dense worsted-spun Blendlings, but in the end that meant the sweater is a lot lighter than it could have been, and it was very adaptable to the varying gauges.

I knit a swatch in which I measured each yard used in different rows of fair isle, so I could estimate the yardage of a given band of stitch patterning, and choose a Blendling with sufficient yardage. These estimates were very successful.

It traveled with me at first- even to the dentist.

I kept hearing that the best way to learn from your handspun is to use it – in my case, to knit with it. Boy was that true.

This project could even be decent company for a card game – if the stitch pattern was simple enough.

The Blendlings are all 2-ply, some kind of nondescript British wool (likely BFL), and somewhere in the remote vicinity of worsted weight, but that’s about all they have in common. Some were underspun and overplied; some looked dull but were soft and balanced; some were tightly spun and plied into a plump, colorful rope. Some were noticeably thicker than the contrast yarn; others were so thin that I had to double them. I got to see them all knit up, and how they each acted in a fair isle pattern with woolen-spun yarn.

Gotta love the wrong side of a piece of fair isle.

The long and the short of it is that handspun is very forgiving. My least favorites were the ones that were so ropey that the stitches looked like jagged teeth, or so underspun and overplied that you could see a visible lean in the band of patterning (see the sage green S pattern below). But honestly, both of these came out fine in the wash. Colorwise, I learned that the yarns with the highest amount of color contrast within themselves (see the Xs below, and the flowers below that) were the most ungraceful in a fair isle pattern. But these complaints were exceptions. Overall, I was happy with how the yarns performed, independently and together.

Pre-steeking. I briefly considered leaving it as a tube top…

Now, the really great thing about Elizabeth Zimmermann is that she encourages the knitter to be an independent thinker. She gently chides those who ask for very specific directions by addressing them to “mindless followers.” I was looking forward to trying one of her sweater patterns and embracing the spirit of her work by putting my own spin on it.

However, I overdid it a bit. I got so excited about being an independent, knowledgeable knitter… that after a certain point, I didn’t actually read or follow any of her directions. (So much for my caution of the early stages.)

I thought to myself, “I know how to make a hemmed collar.” So I did. Then I thought, “I know how to do a steek.” So I did one. Then I thought, “I know how a sleeve is shaped.” So knit two of them. Without reading a word of what the actual pattern said about them.

Apparently, I know none of those things. Hold your breath, then look below at the horrible tragedy that was the initial steeking attempt.

I have steeked before, but apparently it was so long ago that I quite forgot how to do it. My crochet chains were too loose and too close together, but my really big mistake was that I picked up stitches (thinking to knit the sleeves top-down, since I’m oh-so-independent) right next to the crochet chain. That pulled the short cut floats right through the crochet chain and turned my neat cut into a gaping wound.

I did recover, but only after hours of delicate work that could have been avoided. EZ, it turns out, sewed down her steeks three times with a sewing machine before taking scissors to her work. Good grief.

The sleeves were… well.

I wanted to knit the sleeves top down, so I could use up the largest amounts of yarn on larger stitch patterns near the top. Fair enough. And I thought, reasonably, that I knew what a sleeve should be shaped like; I have enough sweaters and have knit (and designed!) enough of them myself. Well, first off, I did not have an accurate idea of my row gauge, so I was not decreasing fast enough. Second, I know how a sleeve is shaped on a fitted sweater… but this is a bag sweater. My mom is a bag-sweater master, so I grew up in and around the things, but it never occurred to me: have never made a bag sweater before. In a bag sweater, the top of the sleeve has to be enormous to be comfortable.

As a result, after two weeks of careful two-at-a-time work, I had two perfectly matched sleeves which squeezed awkwardly on my upper arm, and flapped stupidly around the wrist, while bunching up from being four inches too long.

I took my medicine. I ripped one out entirely (except for the cuff, which I had forcibly decreased down to the correct size), and followed directions this time, knitting from the bottom up. Increasing every four rows still sounded drastic, but I complied, and barely came up to the correct number of stitches at the top! What do I know, indeed.

It went very quickly, though. It turns out knitting one sleeve goes much faster than knitting two. I left the other sleeve intact while I was knitting the first over again, and used it as a pattern. It helped a great deal that I had already made my decisions about what patterns and colors to use, and so wasn’t stopping every half-dozen rows to dig through my bag of Blendlings and leaf through the pattern book.

Old sleeve on the left, new on the right. I also got the chance to flip those blue birds around which I had inadvertently knit upside-down.

The second sleeve was re-knit in a trice. A hearty blocking evened everything out, though it took a full four days to dry through all those layers. I had to deepen the steeks for the wider sleeves, but a couple evenings of careful work had it all put together.

This sweater is so… wearable. I don’t wear handknit pullovers much because I get sweaty, then the thing has to be handwashed, which means it never gets worn again. But I threw this on over a long sleeved shirt on a mild arctic August day, and wore it comfortably all day. There isn’t a gram of acrylic in this thing, and with all that woolen yarn mixed in, it’s so light.

About the hem collar – I didn’t follow those directions either, and made the hem all the way around the top, rather than just around the collar (which is what EZ actually describes). As a result I have a much thicker area at the shoulders where the doubled portions were sewn together. It creates a very shoulderpad-like effect. But I think I can live with it, as a reminder to pay at least some attention next time.

I love it. Both because it works, and because it is doubly made of learning experiences. I hope I wear it to bits.

Reflections in the Mirror of Galadriel

On a mid-December day in 2002, a few friends and I went to an opening-day showing of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. But we didn’t just go: we really went. We’d spent the previous several months deciding on characters, making costumes, buying accessories.

It was the first and almost-only time I cosplayed. We were homeschooled, we were nerds, we were glorious. And we were by no means the only ones who went all-out. I’ll never forget a middle-aged paunchy fellow who I think was supposed to be Aragorn, who approached me to show me his Nenya ring. I was mostly terrified of him; I don’t even remember if I said anything.

Illustration by Fabio Leone. Click for link to page.

For reasons I forget, I dressed up as Galadriel. Probably because the other two girls in our group wanted to be Arwen and Eowyn, and that was the extent of the female cast. One of them was the sort of ridiculously talented person who could measure me, freehand a dress pattern on some butcher paper, and produce something that would fit. Her mother donated lace she had used to make her wedding dress. The rest was down to me: I bought liner fabric, sewed the thing together, even hand-beaded the belt.

I had a really good go at unearthing the incriminating picture. I’m almost sad I failed.

2002 was the year I got into the Lord of the Rings. I saw the first film and read all the books before the second came out. As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into the books, I can appreciate their maturity more and more, and the ways that the films’ attempts to make the characters more relatable made them profoundly less mature. But the experience of the books and the movies remains intertwined in my mind, and I will always look back at that December day as the moment when my devotion went over the top and never looked back.

Image from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings. Copyright New Line Cinema. Image taken from Lotr Wikia. Click for link.

Galadriel’s Mirror” is the penultimate pattern in my knit-through of Susan Pandorf’s Fellowship of the Ring series. I confess, I’ve really struggled with some of these knits. Usually because of my choices, many of them have come out wonky or unusable, and all of the best ones I’ve given away to some special people. I was determined that Galadriel’s Mirror would be different. It would be a wearable piece, and it would be for me.

I started it back at the beginning of Lent, in the fool’s dream of completing it by Easter. After a few weeks I realized I would not be able to continue knitting it at all. There is just no time in my life for this kind of intensely intricate knitting, requiring a chart and a couple hours of time to make any appreciable progress. I set it aside, and committed it to be my vacation knitting.

That was definitely the right decision. On vacation, I have one thing that I never have in the arctic: lots of time in the car. In airplanes and automobiles, I clocked in hour after hour of knitting time. On my solo trip to Yellowknife, I even had time in airplanes that didn’t involve entertaining a small person! I haven’t had that since 2009!

Just for this project, I developed the unusual habit of marking off my rows with a different color every time I sat down to work on it. You can see the sessions getting shorter and shorter as the shawl grew, then really take off again on Chart 3. That’s when vacation started! The really good day from Charts 3-4 was, I think, our five-hour drive to Pittsburgh. The last several rows are all different colors, because that was after we got home.

On the last flight, from Rankin Inlet to Iqaluit. Around 700 stitches per row.

By the time I landed back in Iqaluit, I had maybe a dozen rows left. That meant a dozen hours, but I was determined to fit that in. I even overcame running out of yarn twice, contacting Ravelers who had used the same yarn, and who sent me their leftovers for the cost of shipping.

On a chilly August day, probably not much warmer than that first day in December, I used nearly every straight pin I own (I had six left) so she could reach her final shape. It blocked to about six feet wide, though I didn’t measure.

Little pin-removing helpers. They haven’t graduated to putting the pins in yet, of course.

This is one of the most beautiful and taxing patterns I have ever tackled. Susan’s patterns are always lavish, intricate, original, and tasteful, and often quite hard. This one, with its combination of twisted stitches, bobbles (how I dreaded the bobble rows!), odd wrong-side things going on, wrapped stitches, and complex increasing areas, was intense. It wasn’t difficult to execute, per se, but it demanded attention. It took ’till chart 3 for me to even sort of memorize the main motif, and I was still checking the chart every row.

If this sounds like a criticism, it isn’t. Someone should be making things this amazing. I just have to accept that it isn’t usually going to be me anymore.

Water is everywhere in these stitch patterns. The main motif, in the sharp relief of twisted stitches, looks like sinuous ripples interrupting each other at the wrapped points. There are droplet bobbles.

The ripples eventually branch out and join together as the energy disperses.

Towards the border, the ripples deconstruct and re-form into leaves, maybe mallorn leaves that have fallen on the mirror’s edge.

And finally, additional in-repeat increases and merciless twisted-stitch openwork create dramatic undulations along the edge.

The way these complex patterns emerge from the center in a large triangle remind me of the endless complexity that can be created by a single disturbance at the edge of a quiet pool.

There is sharpness there, too – a reminder of the hidden strength Galadriel represents, and the fall that could have been if she had taken the ring.

The yarn I used was Araucania Huasco, also known as Botany Lace. Mum had bought it for me when I specifically asked for a blue fingering weight for Christmas, maybe four years ago, hoping for something to make this very shawl.

What made this yarn an excellent choice was its roundness. It’s a superfine Merino, spun into a three-ply light fingering, and it’s very bouncy. This would normally be a terrible choice for lace, as it would erase most of the openwork. But for this pattern, I was more interested in a round yarn that would make the texture stand out than a flat two-ply that would open up the yarn overs. I may even get the best of both worlds, as the yarn overs are quite visible after my severe blocking.

Naomi took this picture for me. I couldn’t wait for her daddy to get home. She always wants to play with my DSLR, and managed at least one with me in the frame! (I cropped it.)

Dressing up as Galadriel felt impossibly pretentious fifteen years ago. I was an insecure high school student pretending to be the last representative of the Noldor race of the Eldar on the eastern side of the sundering seas. One who had lived in the undying lands. I went with it, but I in no way inhabited that character.

In the intervening years I’ve read the books another half dozen times. I’ve tried to understand the Eldar as Tolkein wrote them. I’ve become convinced that their ancient mystery, which seems so glamorous onscreen, is not more important than their inherent playfulness. They were sometimes quite serious, but only the worst of them took themselves very seriously, and they don’t desire power like men do. As for Galadriel, what her agelessness gives her is an unconscious inner strength, a perspective and presence bordering on timelessness. What outsiders call “magic” is just the inherent power of her integrity.

I still can’t pretend to inhabit that kind of character. But wrapped up in intricate merino, which seems now too intricate to even be something I made myself, who knows. Maybe I will remember to lay aside the insecure sixteen-year-old, and inhabit instead the ageless future I look forward to in undying lands.

Fuzzies in Flight

One day, N is going to figure out that I will knit her absolutely anything she asks me for. On that day, I will be in trouble.

The girls literally call the multiple balls of mohair, from the Mitered Majesty, my “fuzzies.” They ask to hold them, and under my nervous gaze, they parade around the room with them, cuddle them, find the hole in the middle and make them into “bracelets.”

N had been bugging me for a few days to make her a hat. Er, I’m in Canada now, so I need to call it a toque, I think. (Rhymes with “Luke.”) Anyway, she has a few toques, but she described to me how she wanted a small hat that would fit under her hood. This made sense; her main hat toque that she likes to wear outside is kind of large on her, and probably gets shoved around under her hood.

I immediately thought of Aviatrix, which I’d filed away in my library ages ago. It’s adorable, but I never made it. It comes with directions for a bundle of sizes and weights of yarn. N approved the picture I showed her.

What she really wanted was a toque made out of the green fuzzy. No dice, I told her. I needed that yarn for the project it was in! I finally talked N into coming up to the cedar chest to pick something, and she seized on a single ball of sock yarn that we will charitably call “mustard” and not “dried pee.”

It's an ancient ball of 60% wool / 40% acrylic from who knows where. The rest of the ball band is nigh unto indecipherable. Who knows what it's doing in my stash.

It’s an ancient ball of 60% wool / 40% acrylic from who knows where. The rest of the ball band is nigh unto indecipherable. Who knows what it’s doing in my stash.

“Do you like yellow?” I asked.
“No, I like blue.”
“Do you want me to make you a blue hat?”
“No, that yellow yarn.”

We went back downstairs, and she proceeded to lose her mind because I didn’t produce a toque that instant. What can I say? Being three is confusing, and it was dinner/nightmare child time.

When the nightly marathon of dinner and bedtime were over, I sat down to swatch for said toque. She’s picked a fingering, which wouldn’t officially work with the pattern, and I didn’t think I’d have enough with it held double. Besides, when I tried it out, I found that the yarn felt sort of dusty and squeaky in my hands. By itself, it would feel like wearing a dry sponge.

I glanced back over at the bag of fuzzies. After all, I thought, I’ve knit more than half of the Mitered Miracle, and the balls look barely used. I looked up their yardage, and it’s ridiculous: Rowan Kidsilk Haze has 229 yards in a 50 gram ball. If I used 100 yards of each, I’d have 900 yards in the shawl, and I probably wasn’t using that much. Even if I was, the remaining 129 yards would be plenty for a little Aviatrix.


From the bottom: mustard held double, mustard held single, mustard with kidsilk haze green (#569 Jelly), mustard with kidsilk haze gold (#578 swish).

So I swatched it in. The green with the mustard looked like something a cat might produce after eating grass, so I switched to the gold, which is quite close in hue to the mustard. It gave me gauge for the DK pattern, and felt lovely, so I cast on.


I sneezed and there was a toque.

This was so fun to make. The fabric made by the kidsilk haze with the fingering was just… it was a dream. It has the substance of the unyielding wool-acrylic blend, but the softness of kid mohair, and the silk keeps it from being stiff. The two slightly different shades in very different textures interacted to create a depth of color neither of them had alone. (As an aside, I appear to have plenty of gold kidsilk left to finish the Mighty Mitered Mohair, if you were worried.)

The pattern was highly entertaining. It’s hard to put down in the middle of a section, and I kept wanting to start just one more. It’s well thought through, and the way the rib blends down into the garter stitch ear flaps entertains me exceedingly. The pattern is no longer free, but is worth buying.

My main mod was that I added a seventh short-row section, both because my row gauge was short as usual, and because I wanted to err on the side of it being lower on the forehead.

I finished first thing on Saturday morning, and N explored my Button Rejects Bag and picked a big ol’ black button. Which, of course, makes this hat Steelers colors. My Pittsburgh girl. She even tried to wear it like a football helmet.


She doesn’t quite understand the strap, but seems to be able to fasten it OK by herself. I’m hoping it’ll help keep it in place under her hood.

The first pictures make the hat look quite green, but that’s CFL lighting for you. When it was finished, we had some glorious golden light that set it off perfectly. Sunrise at 9 AM in Iqaluit!

img_2868 img_2872

She only looks grumpy because I’m making her sit in the bright light. She loves the hat, and it was so effective that she went to the playground today in -30, and played happily until Daddy noticed her cheeks getting overly red.

That has me wondering if this fabulous knitted fabric could be adapted to a bottom-half-of the-face-mask shape. Maybe it could be backed with gore-tex to be wind-proof. And of course M wants one now. Hmm…. the fuzzies may multiply again.

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


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


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.