Thursday, April 30, 2009

here comes cookie

I've had Cookie A's long-awaited book for a couple of weeks now and have had a chance to go through it. It's called Sock Innovation, and it's a doozy. Here is a picture of the cover.

This is a manual of sock design at a pretty sophisticated level. Cookie explains in detail how to adapt flat-knit patterns for socks, how to alter patterns so they fit into the sock schematic, how to divide the pattern for the instep (design) and foot (plain knit), and includes a somewhat intimidating section on charting sock patterns. Along the way she gives clear instructions for several basic sock heels and toes. I especially like her description of the afterthought heel, and I plan to try it sometime. I also like that she shares my biases toward the top down sock and solid-colored sock yarn.

Cookie's sock ideas arise out of mathematics. If you think about it, all knitting has a large mathematical component. This is a source of satisfaction to someone like me who has a strong math-aversion. It suggests that I'm not as mathematically inept as I think. But Cookie is mathematically gifted. That she is a sock engineer is apparent in the way she presents her design ideas and in her designs themselves. The book contains 15 of Cookie's innovative sock designs, some of which are beautiful and a few of which look overly complex - overly engineered. That is a cavil. All in all this is one of the most valuable sock books I have seen.

In no way does this endorsement of Cookie A. indicate an abandonment of my beloved Charlene Schurch. On the contrary, Cookie's book affirms the value of Sensational Knitted Socks and More Sensational Knitted Socks. In a way, you can see Schurch's works as a simplified schematic of Cookie's ideas. Schurch has digested all the sophisticated engineering that Cookie provides and simplifies it into a series of charts and tables. Here is a page from Schurch as an example.

It's not readable here, but the chart at the top shows the number of stitches you would need at gauges running from 5 to 10 stitches per inch to get the sock circumference you need based on specific pattern repeats. Schurch limits herself to pattern repeats ranging from four to 12 stitches wide. She only presents patterns that have an even number of repeats so that dividing for foot and instep is easy. Cookie takes you beyond this basic step.

By getting familiar with Schurch's schemes I have been able to venture into simple sock design, so far limited to patterns from directories. But I have gained the confidence to adapt and manipulate patterns. Schurch has taught me the basics of sock design and lead me toward pattern innovation. I am unlikely to design or even knit a sock as complex as some of Cookie's designs, but I have a greater understanding and appreciation for what she does thanks to Charlene Schurch.

Another book is worth mentioning in the context of sock design. That is Vogue Knitting The Ultimate Sock Book.

This is a very easy to follow exposition of sock knitting basics venturing into design. It would be a perfect beginner sock book. It gives you a universal toe up and top down sock pattern to size and embellish as you wish. What I like best about it is the stitch directory, as a supplement to the stitches offered by in Schurch's books. It also offers an overview of historic and ethnic sock knitting traditions, and a selection of patterns, some of which are very pretty.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I am in awe of myself! I designed another pair of socks. Sort of. Turns out that I designed a Charlene Schurch pattern - Stems - but not exactly. I'll explain.

I found a stitch pattern called Double Eyelet Rib in my Harmony stitch pattern book (old style, published in 1980s). My yarn (which I'll detail later) knit up at seven stitches to the inch. By the way, I take my sock gauges on stockinette rather than the stitch pattern because the gauge determines which stitch pattern I choose. I don't know if this is correct; it works for me. But I digress.

Seven stitches to the inch means that I want a stitch count of around 56 to go around an eight inch circumference for leg and foot. A seven stitch repeat going around the sock eight times is perfect. An even number of repeats makes it easy to divide for the instep and foot: subtract four repeats for the foot, which will be plain stockinette. That leaves four repeats for the instep - half and half.

Low and behold the pretty and dainty double eyelet rib was a seven stitch repeat and fulfilled my desire for a viney, leafy kind of lace to the fit the grape color of the yarn. Besides, I wanted to make a lace sock, never having knitted one before. This is a simple four row lace pattern. I translated the directions from flat knitting to knitting in the round and came up with this:

row 1 knit 5, purl 2, repeat
row 2 same as 1
row 3 knit 2 together, yo, knit 1, yo, slip 1, knit 1, pass sipped stitch over knit stitch, purl 2,
row 4 same as 1.

Note that the items bolded in the directions above are points of difference between Stems and the double eyelet pattern that I am now calling Raisins. Stems is a six stitch repeat rather than seven. Raisins has two purls between the eyelet holes rather than one. I think this is an improvement in that it makes the sock more ribby, so it stays up well. And then Raisins has a plain knit 1 between the yarn overs forming the eyelets rather than that a knit one though the back loop. I also like my version better here in that it's daintier, but that is a matter of taste. Here is a close up of Stems. I think it looks a bit horsier than Raisins, so as much as I adore Ms Schurch, I'm sticking with Raisins.

Here is a picture of Raisins off the foot showing how the ribs pull in. There is no need to block this pattern because the lace spreads out and shows itself when it is on the foot. By the way, both patterns look equally good upside down (pointing down) as right side up (pointing up). This is important because socks are viewed from various angles.
Stems can be found in the invaluable More Sensational Knitted Socks which I am linking to Amazon because the book is so great that you should consider buying it if you don't have it already. Schurch helped me by holding my hand through this book and her previous Sensational knitted Socks when I got into sock knitting last year at around this time.

But wait. There's more. After I made Raisins, not remembering yet about Stems, I couldn't believe that someone hadn't discovered this stitch pattern because it was so perfect. So I searched double eyelet rib on Ravelry and came up with this. Double Eyelet Rib socks is a free pattern from Wendy D. Johnson. It is an eight stitch repeat that substitutes a purl 1, knit 1, purl 1 for the purl 2 of my design. The eyelet part is more like Raisins, but rather than a sort of trough between the eyelets there is a raised line. It's nice, but I still like mine better.

So I remain self satisfied. Now for some more information about Raisins. I used Knit Picks Gloss because they said it was my last chance to purchase this yarn in the color Grape. I had to have it even though I have no purple in my wardrobe and don't even like it that much. The yarn is soft and shiny made of 70% merino and 30% silk. I like that it has silk because silk is a strong fiber and will make up for no nylon in the mix. The yarn is thicker than I'm used to. I got the seven stitch count on the size needle that usually gives me eight stitches to the inch - 2.25 mm.

Aside from the beauteous design, the big news here is a new (to me) toe: the round toe from (who else?) Charlene Schurch. Ms Schurch says it is a beautiful toe. Though I wouldn't go that far in describing it, it is pretty. This toe saves you doing the hated Kitchener stitch. But that is nothing to me because I like doing Kitchener.

Monday, April 13, 2009

here comes jilly

This post is a little tardy and not entirely enthusiastic. I finished Jilly at least a week ago and have already worn her. I designed this sweater based on a store-bought model that I really liked. I first knit this in 2007, using yarn that was too soft and drapey for the design. The current version is much better. The one from the store had a stitch gauge (even though it was machine made) of 4.5 stitches per inch, so my quest was for a yarn that looked good at this gauge. The first yarn I used (Cascade Pima Silk) magnified the irregularities that are inevitable in plain stockinette. The current yarn, my first foray into all synthetic, looks smoother. The yarn is Berroco Comfort, a 50-50 blend of acrylic and nylon meant to mimic cotton. And it does this very well. It is very soft, and has the body of cotton without the weight. I haven't washed it yet, but I assume it will machine wash and dry well.

The new Jilly came out pretty well and has color- matching Dilly socks. I corrected a fit problem with the sleeves thanks to Maggie Righetti's short row sleeve which is knit down directly from the armscye. The neckline is an area that I still need to master. The neck is OK, but a bit wider than I'd like. Because the design is so plain I tried to make design features of the waist decreases and side slits, which are self-faced. After wearing the sweater once, I think I am going to make the slits smaller.

So why the lack of enthusiasm? The sweater fits well, feels good, and has the simplicity I like. I essentially achieved what I set out to do in recreating my store-bought favorite. The problem is, this sweater is no longer my favorite. The original is about three years old now and maybe no longer in style. Right now I don't want a trim, short, tailored sweater. No matter though. It's certainly classic enough to wear, and I will. I'm hoping to post the pattern at some point.

Meanwhile, Elinor of Exercise Before Knitting, a fellow Midwesterner, has posted an amazing sleeve/armscye calculator on her blog. I still like Maggie Righetti, but you should definitely look at Elinor's chart. It produced a perfect sleeve for her latest sweater design.