Sunday, January 9, 2011

knitting socks

difficulty rating: moonprincess ravendark
or how to lose your mind and tear your project apart at least 4 times doing something much more advanced then it's "beginner" label:
i am a beginner knitter. or i was until now anyways. i think i get to call myself intermediate after this nonsense. i was making scarves and the like. big rectangles you can't screw up too badly on big needles where i could see what i was doing with big fluffy yarn that was nice to work with and created fast results. then i got the notion that i wanted to learn a few new skills and try making a basic sock. something comfy to wear on cold evenings around the house, you know? my knitting skills thus far included basic knit and purl, two types of cast on, two types of bind off, and one way each to increase and decrease stitches. i understood how knit and purl were put into different patterns to create moss, stocking, or rib stitch, and had made such challenging things as a simple hat (that ended up too big, lessons in gauge not learned yet), and a pair of bootie slippers (that's slippers like little boots, btw, not for your bum) wherein i learned how to read a basic pattern and use the "wrong" size in said pattern to make my gauge cooperate and make the right size. i think i've got a decent handle on things, no? oh no. i am very much mistaken. i am now about to learn:
-how to read a much more advanced knitting pattern with at least 5 abbreviations i've never heard of
-how to use double pointed needles (something akin to teaching a dyslexic porcupine sign language)
-how to basically create your own pattern from a template, after the 4th try
-how to work with loosely spun, very uncooperative yarn
-what slipping a stitch means
-what the hell a gusset is
-slip 1, knit 1, pass slipped stitched over decreases, and how it can create holes if you don't do it perfectly
-brush up on math skills and thinking 4 steps ahead in 3D knotwork
-how to pick up and knit
-that things that don't seem to make sense in the pattern make more sense when you just try them, sometimes in scrap yarn on much bigger needles
-that sometimes it really doesn't make any damn sense so figure out something that does
-not crying when you pull your project apart for the 3rd time
-solving your own damn problems, including when to say "screw that noise! i'm doing this instead because it works!"
-grafting the toe end so there's magically no seam
i was originally working with this template/pattern: which i don't recommend you do because it's written for psychics who are already expert knitters and can understand what the author is talking about even when large chunks of instructions are missing or completely incorrect. i got slightly better help from this series of youtube videos: since it's much better to learn knitting from videos then pictures and writing if you don't have someone to teach you in person. i've never written a knitting pattern before so bear with me but i still think i can do a better job then the original. i have taken the original and modified it to make sense to a real person:

The key measurement for sock sizing is the ankle circumference. For women, this is usually about 8 inches, for men about 10 inches. Measure the ankle of the foot in question for the best fit. From this key measurement, subtract 1 inch when knitting for adults and half an inch when knitting for kids. This assumes that you are knitting with typical sock yarn. If you are knitting with a much thicker yarn, do not subtract as much from the ankle measurement.

Get the gauge of the yarn you want to use. This is, of course, best measured from an actual gauge swatch (stockinette for 4"x4", generally)-- even better if done in the round rather than flat since that's how the sock will be knit. When using a yarn not originally meant for socks, use needles a size or two smaller than the label calls for. (i was using red heart soft touch which recommends 6mm needles but it worked much better on 3.5mm) Socks are knitted at a tighter gauge than other garments or they'd be so open weave you'd poke your toe right through them. think of the difference between how tight a shawl is knitted vs. a sock.

The number of stitches to cast on is the magic number, X. Once you've got that, you can create an entire pattern. X is the stitch gauge (per inch) multiplied by the ankle circumference, minus 1 inch or half an inch, as the case may be.

For example: If your yarn provides a gauge of 30 sts over 4 inches, divide by 4 to get the number of stitches to the inch (7.5 sts). Then multiply this number by the ankle circumference less 1 inch. So for someone with an 8" ankle: 7.5 x 7=52 sts.

mine was closer to 25 stitches. this is not typical but this yarn is strange and loosely spun.

The number of stitches you cast on will also be determined somewhat by the ribbing you want to do. K1 p1 rib requires an even number of stitches; k2 p2 rib requires that the number of stitches be divisible by 4. If not, the ribs won't match up at the beginning of the round. it's a good idea to do your test swatch in the round, using the rib pattern you plan to use. in other words, start and re-start your project until you are happy with what you try on after 5-10 rows. yes this is really fucking annoying.

i was using a k3, p2 pattern but i don't think this provided enough elasticity. i'm not sure if making each "rib" bigger or smaller will provide more stretchiness

This section is based entirely on the number of stitches to cast on, X, as calculated above, so be sure you're happy with that number! try it on after a few rows to be sure.

1. Start

Cast on X stitches; divide evenly across 3 double-pointed needles. A long tailed cast-on is recommended; it's nice and stretchy. i simple cast on all onto one needle and then slipped the stitches onto the other needles, being careful not to twist them. there's a decent demonstration here but the key is to keep all the completed stitches on the bottom and the loops at the top without the yarn in between the needles getting wrapped around and forming "yarn overs" where there shouldn't be or making your fabric go in the wrong direction. if it's screwed up you'll be able to see within a few rows. also, keep an eye on how many stitches you have. unlike freeform things like scarves, it's really important to be ocd about the number constantly being perfect. this is the part that annoyed me the most. i suppose i should get over it if i want to be more then a beginner. in any case, the difference of one row or stitch can and will make or break your whole project so be vigilant.

Knit a few rows of ribbing -- check to make sure it's not twisted. you can tell where your round ends by where the tail of your yarn is at the bottom. this usually ends up between two needles. now wouldn't this all be so much nicer if you could get circular needles this small? are you going crazy and cross eyed from the dpn's yet? i am. the key is to ignore all but the two needles in your fingers and trust that the others will stay put. that trust only comes from knowing your tension is consistent and trustworthy, which is why i don't think this is a beginner project, but we've already come this far so moving on!

2. The Cuff + Leg

Keep ribbing some more. if you're working with some crazy pattern your are more adventurous then i and i wish you gods' speed. i just made a ribbed tube until i deemed it long enough. mine was some 4 inches, yours might be more or less, please yourself. just take note of how many rows that was so the other sock will match.

3. Divide for the heel & knit the heel rows

Starting at the beginning of the round, put half the stitches on one needle. that means either knit or slip half of X onto one dpn. remember that your working yarn end has to be at the beginning/end of this new section that you're forming. the heel is a flap that will be knit back and forth on one needle so when you're done you will have a tube with one side extending down past the other side. the part we are not working with right now (the other half of the stitches) should be divided between the other two dpn's to make the next section easier. you're then going to ignore them until the heel flap is done

Work in stockinette stitch (knit right side, purl wrong side) for 2/3 to 3/4 as many rows as there are heel stitches, slipping the first stitch of every row but the first. For a sock less than 50 stitches around in total, 2/3 is good; with more stitches, use 3/4 as the ratio. For example, on a 48-stitch sock with 24 heel stitches, you will work 16 rows; on an 80-stitch sock with 40 heel stitches, use 30 rows. If it's an odd number or fraction, always round up to the nearest even number.

***you must slip the first stitch of each row other then the first in the heel flap!!***

i used 25 as my magic X # so my heel flap was 17 rows long in stockinette. MAKE SURE TO END WITH A PURL ROW SO YOU WILL START TURNING THE HEEL ON A KNIT ROW!!!!! if you don't it will screw up all the other directions and you will drive yourself completely crazy! if you need to do one extra row to make that happen then do so!!!!

4. Turn the heel

Still working on the heel stitches, you're now going to reduce and turn the heel. this means you are still just working on half your total stitches on the one needle but we are going to create an inverted triangle in the center of that flap where the edges of that triangle are all reduction stitches and you end up with a little cup. when you are done this section you should be able to turn your work sideways and see a 90 degree angle.

A bit more math is required here. Divide the number of heel stitches by 3. For a 48-stitch sock, you have 24 heel stitches. This divides evenly as 8-8-8. For a 32-stitch sock with 16 heel stitches, you get 5-6-5.

my 25 stitch sock had a 12 stitch heel flap (since i rounded down, so as not to drive myself crazy) so it divided into 4-4-4. now these are imaginary divisions. all you're trying to do is make an open inverted triangle shape, with the middle opening at the bottom being one third of your stitches. slipping the first stitch of each row besides the first will create loops along the sides that will make it easier to join the flap to the rest of the sock.

Foundation row RS: k the first two-thirds of the stitches, SKP (sl 1, k1, psso), turn
WS: sl 1, p the centre third, p2tog, turn
RS: sl 1, k the centre third, SKP, turn

****this is the hardest part of the sock!!!****
it is very important that your decrease stitch from the previous row is included in the decrease stitch from the next row up or you will create a hole. so if your foundation row has you knit 8 and then slip the 9th stitch, knit the 10th stitch and then pass the 9th stitch over the 10th stitch, you must then turn your work around, slip the first stitch, knit 4 stitches, then purl 2 together so we are including that stitch we did the skp reduction on in those two that are together. this will not only prevent a hole (since skp is essentially casting off a stitch) but it also connects the stitch after the reduction with the rest of the piece so you're creating a gather that makes the 90 degree turn. does that make sense? if not try it on big yarn and big needles and hopefully you'll see how it works. that's the only way i got it.

Repeat these last two rows until your triangle shape of gathers reaches the edges of your row, in other words when you no longer have any stitches to do reductions on at the end of the rows if you've been following the pattern above. The right side must be facing. if for some reason it's not then do another row of purl so it is. if it already is then do two rows. we should end the heel shaping on the right side facing.

5. Shape the Gusset

those two needles holding the other half of the stitches? we're going to stop ignoring them now. On each side, you'll be picking half the number of heel stitches you began with -- that is one quarter of the cast-on stitches. i'm not mathematically inclined so i just went with the amount of loops i had created by slipping the first stitch on each row of the heel flap.

Using the same needle as the heel, pick up the required number of stitches along the first side, using the loops created by the slipping in step 3. This will be referred to as Needle 1 but it's not that important. you'll figure out which is which as we go. picking up means putting your new needle into the loop created along the side of your flap and wrapping the yarn around as if you were doing a normal knit stitch, then pulling it through. by doing so you have created a new stitch. there are decent instructions for turning the heel and picking up the edges/forming the gusset here

Using a new needle, knit across all the top, instep (non-heel) stitches (that's two needle's worth right now). This will be referred to as Needle 2. that means we will now be using one needle for the top half of the stitches, and two needles for the bottom half of the stitches (divided evenly of course)

Using one more new needle, pick up the required number of stitches across the other side, using the loops created by the slipping in step 2. With this same needle, knit half of the remaining heel stitches onto this same needle. This will be referred to as Needle 3.

You should now have the top of the sock's stitches onto one needle, this is called the instep. the bottom of the sock should be divided onto two needles. with me so far? then you're doing really well! only one more tricky stage, then we're pretty much home free.

6. Decrease the Gusset

On the very next round, work a decrease round:

Decrease Round
Needle 1: Knit to last three stitches, k2tog, k1
Needle 2: Knit even
Needle 3: K1, SKP, knit to end of needle

Alternate decrease rounds and even rounds until you're back to X, the number of stitches you cast on originally.

what this means is that we are forming a little (non, inverted this time) triangle to connect the heel flap and instep (which are now joined by you're pick up and knit stitches) to the rest of the sock. the instep is the widest part of your foot so we're decreasing after that to go down the rest until we get to the toe you're decreases are all being made on the sides, one stitch in from the end of each needle, and then a normal knit row in between each row with decreases. so you're going to knit one row normally all the way around, then the next row you're starting with needle one (one of the ones on the bottom of the foot) and knitting until you come to 3 stitches from the end of the needle (side of the foot), then knit two together, then knit one normally. on needle two, which holds the whole top of the foot you're going to start by knitting one normally, then knit two together, then continue till three stitches from the end of the needle, knit two together, knit one. next needle (going back under the foot) knit one normally, knit two together, knit till the end of the needle, which is also the end of the round. knit the next round normally. repeat until you have the magic number of stitches again. you may need to fudge a bit and do one extra decreasing round on one side only or something. this is where solving your own damn problems comes in.

the good news is it's all easy from here!

7. Foot

Once you're back to the original number of stitches, X, knit until the foot of the sock measures 2 inches less than the length of the actual foot that will be wearing the sock.

8. Decrease for the toe

Recall that the center of the round is the center of the bottom part of the foot. Make sure your stitches are distributed as follows: 1/4 of the stitches on Needle 1 starting at the center of the round, 1/2 of the stitches on Needle 2 (these are the stitches for the top of the foot), and the remaining 1/4 on Needle 3.

Work a Decrease round:
Needle 1: knit to last 3 stitches, k2tog, k1.
Needle 2: k1, ssk(slip, slip, knit slipped stitches together decrease), knit to last 3 stitches, k2tog, k1.
Needle 3: k1, ssk, knit to end of needle.
Work an even round.
Alternate decrease rounds and even rounds until 8 stitches remain.

9. Finish

There as many ways to finish a sock as there are to make one. Which method you choose is a matter of taste, skill and patience.

You can reduce the toe down to 8 stitches and do a two-needle bind-off.

Or reduce down to 4 stitches, cut the yarn leaving a long tail, thread this tail on a yarn needle and pull the thread through the 4 stitches, pulling them tight.

Or cast off both sides and sew them together.

The neat and tidy prefer grafting, also known as Kitchener stitch, for a seamless toe. this is what i tried, but since i fucked up and was purling all around instead of knitting all around it didn't work like i wanted. it didn't occur to me until after to turn the whole thing inside out but oh well. i'll do that next time.