Saturday, January 31, 2009

Socks, Part 3

Though I'm guessing I won't write about socks again for a while, there may indeed be a "Socks, Part 4." But for now, this'll be it. This is the entry about knitting and socks. If you have no interest in knitting, you may want to skip this one.

Knitting socks must be quite popular. On the Knitpicks site, there are 53 different books on sock knitting, and their bookstore, while extensive, is far from the largest on the web.

As much as I like to knit, and as enticing as all those beautiful photographs of socks are, it wasn't until fairly recently that I truly enjoyed knitting socks. The reason I didn't enjoy knitting socks was pretty straightforward - I found juggling four or five doubled pointed needles to be a pain. Here's what it looks like, for you non-knitters:

This photograph shows the knitting on three double pointed needles. One needs a fourth to actually knit. But wait: most people who use double pointed needles to knit socks use five needles. It's certainly not as hard as it looks, nor is it complicated, but that's a lot of needle juggling. One also has to make sure that the stitches don't fall off the ends of the needles and the the first and last stitches on each needle aren't too loose so that the knitting is even. Yes, it's the traditional, time-tested way of knitting socks, and most people still knit them this way, but it's just a big annoyance to me. I had a terrible case of SSS (Second Sock Syndrome):
". . .Knitters with SSS happily knit the first sock of a pair. . .When that sock is finished, they then find themselves completely and inexplicably unable to knit the second sock. . . .knitters with SSS feel boredom, monotomy, and the overwhelming urge to begin a new and unrelated pair of socks. Sadly, SSS is a repeating disease, and when the knitter casts on a new pair of socks, the cycle begins again. . ."
-from "At Knit's End"

There's a woman at my knitting group who knits socks at an amazing speed. It dawned on me one day that she wasn't using double pointed needles. What was she doing? She was using two pairs of circular needles. I won't even bother showing you a photograph, for if you're not a knitter, you won't have a clue what you're looking at. And if you are a knitter, you'll either know this method, or if you don't, well, just wait (for what? You'll see). Anyway, dispensing with the double pointed needles was a thrill. I've knit a few pairs of socks since my five minute mini-lesson.

Then I heard about two new things: knitting both socks at the same time and "The Magic Loop Method." Here's snapshot of the the Magic Loop Method:

I realize that this photograph will mean nothing to both knitters and non-knitters alike. If you're a knitter, the Knit Picks tutorial page on different methods of knitting in the round is the best I've seen (and it's free!)

The thing about the Magic Loop Method is that it indeed seems like magic. Even if you're a non-knitter, doesn't knitting a tube on one needle seem impossible? It did to me, but after I followed the directions on the link above, I knit up a pair of socks quicker than I'd ever done, and all the while I was thinking "wow." Now, I haven't yet knit two socks at once while using the Magic Loop method, which would be even quicker, but I've got a more than a few projects to finish first. They're not socks, so I don't know what syndrome I have now. I certainly have a problem with knitting the sleeves when I'm done with the body of a sweater, not finishing a sweater for myself after gaining enough weight to render said sweater unwearable, and the I'm-really-sick-of-knitting-on-size 0-needles syndrome. The shawl I just put aside for a while, well, if I hadn't used a yarn so thin that when you hold it up to the light you practically can't see it, those who-knows-how-many hundreds (or thousands?) of rows would be over twenty feet long by now. As it stands, I'm only about halfway done.

On the non-technical side of things, sock knitting has been more fun since yarn companies starting selling self-striping yarn. This stuff is amazing! The example at the top of the post is for simple stripes, but there are many companies that sell fair isle style balls of yarn, which produce results like these:

It's pretty amazing that this design was created using one continuous strand of yarn. Humans design it, but computers generate the "instructions" for how the yarn is dyed.

For more pics of Berocco Sox yarn, click here.

I'm still not a huge fan of sock knitting, though I often wonder why not. It's a short lived project with beautiful and practical results. What's not to love? I can't quite put my finger on a good answer to that question. Maybe I like more impractical knitting projects, like the endless shawl on size 0 needles (and for you non-knitters, size 0 needles are very thin, though there are also 00, 000, and 0000 needles, which I have knit on, thus proving how crazy I am).

Photo note: Knit Picks Felici sock yarn

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