Technical Tuesday: Using All the Yarn on the Sock

Since I’ve been all about the socks lately I am going to talk about a technique that is really helpful when knitting top-down socks from special yarn. When I say special yarn, I mean something you don’t want to waste any of. It’s something you bought and LOOOOOVE; you can’t stand to think about that little ball of leftover being mixed into a bigger project or re-used as waste yarn.

Photo By: Piotr Jankowski

Photo By: Piotr Jankowski

It’s a provisional cast on. Yes, I actually HEARD the collective groan and eye roll. I am going to repeat my mantra just one more time… it’s not as bad as you think it is. I can remember looking at provisional cast on’s and getting really apprehensive. They were strange and complicated I had to use two different yarns for crying out loud! My problem was the same old problem everyone has at some point. I wasn’t looking in the right place for a technique that suited me. I am just going to go over one cast on in this post because it is my favourite. The crocheted cast on; I am not a crotchetier, there are many who can testify to this. I know how to make a chain and crochet in a circle. That’s it! So if I can do this cast on, so can you!

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Before you cast on, you’re looking at this post and thinking, ‘okay sure, but how do I tell when I am getting to the half way point of my yarn?’ Right? I’ve done this a couple different ways. If you have a food scale that shows ounces, you can weigh your ball and wind it into two separate skeins. Just weigh them and make sure they’re equal. If you do not have a food scale, wind your skein into one ball and I’ll let you know what to do with it closer to the end.

Okay, so now you have your one ball, or possibly two. You’re not going to use either of these to cast on. Grab some waste yarn two to three yards will do. You need your crochet hook and the needle you’re going to be knitting your socks with.

This video is a really good demonstration of a crochet cast on. The way he puts his slipknot on the hook is a little funny, but we all know how to do slipknots and I am sure we all do them differently.

Near the end of the video he says you can chain a few in order to unravel later. That is what you want to do for this cast on.  Once you have cast on your stitches and have them separated onto your double pointed needles, just start your pattern. That’s right, you heard me, skip the cuff. Knit your entire sock, stitch up the toe, weave in your end; the whole nine yards. Do the same thing with your other sock. If you wound your skein into two balls, switch to the other ball.

What you end up with are two socks with provisional cast on’s and no cuffs. If your skein is in one ball you should be getting close to the end of your skein. Now you separate your ball into two. It’s much easier to eyeball a smaller amount and if you are close enough or have enough patience, you can even unwind the rest and measure to make sure you get it exactly in half.

I think you can see where I am headed with this technique. Since you have two small amounts of yarn left, you can knit the cuff up and cast off just before you run out of yarn. Make sure you leave enough to weave in the ends securely.

Now! All that being said, I think it is a good idea to keep a little bit of that yarn, just in case. If you get a hole or something happens to your beautiful socks that you love so much, you’re going to want to darn them. I mean darn in the traditional sense as well; not the Yarn Harlot version of holding them over the garbage can and exclaiming ‘darn’ before you toss them. Chances are; if you loved this yarn enough to search out a post explaining how to use it all, then you’re going to want to be able to fix them.

Lace Liaison

I have recently discovered my hatred of lace. With the TFA Year in Colour Club, we get a skein of yarn every other month with a one-skein pattern. I believe it was the May skein that was lace, I blogged about Paul balling the skein here.

The pattern is for a beautiful cowl, the lace pattern not too complicated and there are sections of plain garter stitch. Easy enough… right? Wrong!

I cast on the 320 stitches on 16” 3.25mm needles because the yarn is so fine and those were the only length I had. Why not? The 320 stitches fit on the 16” needles with zero room to spare, but whenever I periodically worked on it, I worried about dropping a stitch and not noticing.

Old photo of the dreaded 16″ needle cast on.

After I finished Mom’s Alpha socks, I decided I was going to really work on this cowl and get it done! The problem was, while working on it so infrequently, I kept losing my place in the pattern and not remembering where to pick it back up. This is sort of embarrassing since the pattern is about 10 stitches repeated and only two lines of actual pattern. Nonetheless, the pattern looked off; I think I repeated the same line of pace panel over and over instead of alternating like I should have.
What I held in my hands was akin to a tangled mess of very beautiful and delicate yarn. This is where it started going downhill. I had about two or two and a half inches worked, while it didn’t look like much on the 16” needles, off the needles it seemed considerably larger. Deciding I would buy 32” circular needles in 3.25mm I ran to Johanne’s and picked them up.
Sitting in the living room at home, I unwound the work I had previously done. First balling the yarn then, nearer to the end, letting it sit in a small pile on the floor. I didn’t want my cast on edge to be too tight so I held one end of my 16” circular needle with the 32” needle creating an elastic hem that wouldn’t bunch.
This sounded like a good plan in my head why wouldn’t it be? The answer my friends is quantity. To cast on 320 stitches takes a lot of concentration and memory, even in small segments of 70, 90, 70, 90. Concentration and memory are two things I have been sorely lacking in the past couple months. First time, I cast on too little, so I fudged a stitch here and there were I needed it. Upon doing the second round I realized I then had too many. I ripped it out again determined to start over and do it properly. I cast on again, this time placing a stitch marker between every 10 stitches. Instead of ending up with a perfect 320 stitches I ended up with 390. I mixed up my numbers *facepalm.* Seeing no way to fudge that one, I started over AGAIN. The third time was not my lucky charm because there was something wrong with that cast on too.
At this point I decided it must be the yarn. The end I was casting on with was all kinked and crazy from having been knitted. Not to mention the fact that it tangles 100X easier in this from. I had a short text conversation with Alanna at this point.

Me  : I am officially endorsing the curse “SON OF A STITCH”
: I now hate lace
: If anyone is keeping score

Alanna: Uh oh. That doesn’t sound good.

Me : It’s not

Alanna: Did ya screw up?Me : It’s not a matter of screwing up so much as not being able to get it right…

Alanna: I see. Hate those days
:Is it the Tanis cowl? Or shawl?

Me: Cowl

Alanna: Lol. One word answers. Not good.
: Deep breaths

The breathing helped… a bit. I decided to re-ball the skein rather than immediately setting it on fire in effigy. I called on Betty the baller and started on the task of procrastinating my next cast on. The last time I ripped it out, the yarn managed to tangle into a labyrinth like knot at the end, so I cut it. There was noooo way I was opening THAT particular can of worms. Needless to say, my small pile of un-balled yarn was even smaller than when I began.
I’ll glaze over the re-balling; it went relatively smooth, although that isn’t saying much. I managed to get lace burn when I unraveled the ball a bit too fast. Lace burn is similar to rope burn, but it feels like it is crossed with a paper cut. Poor Alanna received a play-by-play via text. We also discussed the benefits of having a catharsis cry, and agreed that it should become a social norm.

There are no more photos of my progress with the lace because there is depressingly little to show for my work.

When the lace was balled and I could no longer put off another attempt, I started casting on. This time I only placed markers in the appropriate 70, 90, 70, 90 locations, it was a pain to take them all out the first time. At this point I figured nothing was going to help me except the divine intervention of the crafting gods. As it turns out, they finally heard my cursing and smiled down upon me. I cast on the right amount of stitches and carefully, VERY carefully began working the ribbing. In the several hours I spent doing this, I probably have half an inch of work to show for it.

Finished Alpha Socks

Lace after finishing the Alpha socks, which were knit in a fine yarn as well, was probably not a good idea. I just couldn’t warrant starting another project when I have this one on the needles. So help me, the next thing I knit will be bulky weight! Or at least worsted…

Socks of Doom – Part Two

Sock one is complete!! Just finished and the sock is on the foot.
It was a rough trip through sock-land, but I have emerged successful. I know I wanted my first sock to be perfect, but it isn’t and I should really know better by now then to hope. On the bright side, the intricacy of this pattern means all those mistakes are not glaringly obvious. The one misaligned design at the heel, a missed yarn over or two and a knit one purl one ribbing that shifted one to the left, then shifted back are all well hidden within the textures.

There were a few confusing bits in the pattern as well. Right after the heel flap was complete, the pattern indicates you are to pick up stitches along the side, combine with the held foot stitches and pick up an equal amount along the other side. You go from working back and forth on the heel flap, to working in the round around again for the rest of the heel and foot. Somehow, I ended up working the wrong side when I was supposed to end up on the right side. I still have no idea how this transpired, but I managed to fudge the pattern a bit and get myself around the right side and kept going.
Also, down the heel flap, my knit-two-together and slip-slip-knit-together’s stopped making a nice line. Again I am really not sure what happened, I did not change what I was doing, that I know of. I guess I can chalk that up to one of life’s mysteries… or at least the mysteries of a concussion.
The only thing left to do is block it, which will iron out even more of the wrinkles I made in the pattern. I am going to wait for the second sock to be done and block them both at the same time. If I can force myself to stop wearing them…
After sock number two is complete I will have to return to my linen stitch scarf and bright eyelet scarf. I bought the eyelet scarf yarn from a Dye-Versions booth at the knitters frolic in April. I have found the pattern is not too bad once you get it down, but it works up very slow. It’s going to be one of those things I keep to the side and work on sporadically.
 I’ll tune in with another update soon, probably to celebrate the completion of my second sock of doom!

Of Wool and Warmachine

Well I FINALLY finished Paul’s sweater!!!

It is sheer happenstance I was able to get it done this early. By lucky coincidence, I arrived in Oakville 40 minutes early for my chiropractor appointment. This had absolutely nothing to do with me conducting very poor math while calculating what time I had to leave. I went into The Wool Bin, not my usual haunt, and meandered around to kill time. LOW AND BEHOLD!! Cascade Eco Wool in chocolate brown; the exact colour I needed! I still have a skein ordered from Johanne’s, but with that skein and the leftovers of this one, I will have enough for a whole other sweater. This makes me feel much better about buying a 478-yard skein to finish off half a button band.

I may have mentioned before, Paul’s first intarsia sweater is almost complete. I ran out of yarn while working on the previously mentioned button band. Although looking at it now, I suppose, I could have made the hood a bit shorter and saved the wool there, but there is no use crying over spilled milk or huge hoods. When I decided to make Paul a sweater I asked him to look through the intarsia books and pick out one he liked, since the moose patterned sweater was out of the question.

Link to the book on Ravlery
He picked a good pattern; it was actually my second choice for him. The pattern was for a pullover, as per usual with intarsia lopi sweaters, but he wanted a cardigan… with a hood. Outrageous demands! Of course I would give it a try, this project would be full of new skills that would only add to my current knowledge base. After all is said and done…. I think it will be quite some time before I try another cardigan.

I used the same colours in Paul’s sweater that I used in my own. You only use a few yards, if that, from the ball and I still have plenty. I could probably stretch those skeins into two to three more sweaters.
As part of another little anecdote, I feel I should tell you Paul plays a strategy game called Warmachine. It is a complex mix of manually assembled pewter models, paint, statistics, dice, tokens, tape measures and at least some manner of brainpower. As my friend Megan so eloquently said, “it’s part art project, part RISK.” They occasionally have tournaments, which are played on a 4X4 foot table. For some reason or another, the tournament organizer, Captain Spud, wanted to narrow the playing fields. To show the new boundaries, he bought a skein of red yarn and cut several strands to lie across the edges. After the tournament he gave Paul the rest of the skein since he had no further use for it and knows I knit.
Instead of throwing it in with the stash yarn I decided to make him a hat. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get an entire hat from the rest of the skein, so I put a stripe in the middle with some other leftover variegated acrylic yarn I had.
And of course I had to include a pompom.
I am still working on the socks, in an unexpected twist, I am actually using the double pointed needles. I could not complete the socks without them! Hopefully, my next post will include completed socks! Well… at least completed sock!

Socks of Doom

I’ve started the March pattern from Tanis Fiber Arts- Year in Colour Club. It is a pair of socks with a nice balanced design of lace and texture; light blue yarn with raspberry and green tones. This is a perfect project for my first pair of socks, which I fully intend to finish, knock on wood.

When going through a new project there are always a few bumps along the road. The first sweaters I knitted were… interesting learning experiences.

The very first was a chocolate brown colour and a cheap acrylic yarn. I had probably only been knitting for 6-8 months at this point and tried the pattern for Elizabeth Zimmerman’s seamless hybrid sweater. Somehow, around the armpit area, I messed up and had to rip out a couple rows. When I put the sweater back on the needles all the stitches were twisted. Being new to knitting, I didn’t realize my mistake until several rows up. At this point there was a very distinct line from armpit to armpit across the chest of the sweater. Needless to say I frogged this project and, later, knitted the same sweater with red Rowan brand yarn. It turned out well.

A year and a half ago I revisited the seamless hybrid, with thoughts of altering the pattern to accommodate a hood. I got impatient and the hood ended up being too short. My improvised v-neckline also looked distinctly unfinished.
All of these experiences have been valuable in developing many crucial knitting skills and general know-how. Thou who hast never dropped a stitch…
Now, with that back-story, you will understand why these are socks of doom.
The pattern indicates the use of two double pointed needles held together to cast on, for an elastic cuff. To my shame, it took me a good half hour to figure out this meant simply holding the needles together in one hand and casting on around both of them. I am blaming my current mental state for my lack of comprehension. I am usually more aware.
When the cast on was finally figured out and the right amounts of stitches were spread evenly across three double pointed needles, I began the cuff ribbing. The first six stitches differ from the rest of the ribbing to create an attractive decorative seam that will run down the length of the finished product.
Not having read ahead in the pattern, it never occurred to me that if there is a seam down one side, for the sake of symmetry, there must be one down the opposite edge.
Hence, problem number two! To achieve the desired effect you need to count carefully and place these two sets of six stitches exactly 26 stitches apart. Instead of EXACTLY 26 stitches I ended up with more or less 26 stitches. I discovered this in round two when my lovely little seam stitches were not lining up with the ones from round one. Seeing that this was not something I could fudge a bit with no one the wiser, I started over. I want my first pair of socks to be perfect, especially since it is a pattern and skein from TFA.
I am enticed to continue my pilgrimage, into the illusive land of socks, with thoughts of brightly coloured, comfy, soft, amazing footwear. I’ve had some trouble, but that is to be expected. It should be smooth sailing… right? No? Maybe smooth-ER sailing, at the very least?
As I continue with the cuff I remember why I haven’t made any socks before. My passionate hate of double pointed needles. I bought a kit for socks, sizes 2.0- 3.25 mm thinking, “If I have them, then I will be FORCED to use them, I may even come to like them!” This was only last week, so I’ll have to let you know how I do with it.
There will always be some kind of small cuff where you have to pull them out; I’ve made my peace with this. I realize using double pointed needles is unavoidable, however, the negative feelings remain. I’m always insecure about losing stitches off the end or having space between stitches on different needles and getting a ‘ladder’ effect.
Aside from the countless things that could go wrong, I knit rather slowly with double pointed needles. They’re very awkward to me and I cannot catch the flow of a pattern. I can’t sink into my knitting zone; it’s comparable to a long drive without a radio. To be completely honest I have avoided using them with great creativity. I have the concealed expectation that I may need to continually practice before my genuine loathing abates.
Since this is the first sock I am knitting, I gave myself permission to use a circular needle. I manage an improvised magic loop method, which works well for me and is great for this sock to keep track of the pattern! I will use the double pointed needles for the next socks…. I promise.
You can see Chloe, photobombing my yarn pictures. Her innocent look says, “No mom, I wasn’t thinking about chewing on those tiny little circular needles.”
For now I am gathering momentum and getting a fair amount done. It seems Murphy’s Law is tagging along for now. My evidence includes wreaking havoc with the pattern in general and smaller things like getting caught in the yarn trip wire between the couch and coffee table.
To end, here is a picture of the beautiful flowers my fiancé Paul bought me. He buys me flowers, balls my yarn… a keeper for sure!