All About Socks: Patterns

OK, before we get rolling this morning  I have to share this:

20140106-080829.jpgThis was after the sun came up. And this thermometer is actually under our eaves where it is sure to get some heat coming off the house. What’s more horrifying is the 15 – 20mph wind blowing on top of it. And you know that it’s bad when paired with this information, the weather forecast is: “Bitterly cold. Colder.” I know a lot of you are experiencing similar weather — I hope that you have loved ones like my husband who took out the trash for me (thanks, hun!) and that you are able to stay hunkered down under the covers. Please stay safe & warm today!

So today I want to talk about what’s been a hot topic over on the Socks with Sarah Ravelry thread: patterns. Nearly as exciting as the yarn we knit with are the patterns we choose and each knitter’s preference — like so many things in the craft — are as unique as the knitter him/herself. Toe-up, Top-down, short-row heel, afterthought heel, fish lips kiss heel, tube socks, sweet tomato, dk weight, fingering weight, magic loop, 2circs, dpns, cables, lace, ribbing, stockinette. . . . . g a s p !  Seriously this list of options goes on. And on. And on.

So what makes a good pattern? Two things come to mind: fit and good pattern writing.

First, fit. No ill-fitting handknit is more irritating than socks that don’t fit. The first thing I do before I even buy a pattern or cast-on is browse project pages for a pattern on Ravelry. I select a yarn I am thinking about using or one that is similar and scroll through the projects. I look at photos and read comments. Most knitters will not hold back if things fit well or not. Of course, you must take into account that gauge plays a roll, too, and while we all hope everyone is checking their gauge we also all kind of know everyone probably is not. Read more than one review and look closely at the photos to be sure the feedback is fair to the design.  By the way, this means you, too, should check your gauge before beginning to ensure things work out properly. I might sound like a broken record, but I’m just going to keep saying that from time to time for good measure.

At the end of the day, fit also has to do with the fact that we are all human beings with unique bodies. Personally, I have hip issues from birth that have left my left leg & foot noticeably smaller than my right. With socks, this can be a little tricky and makes me always lean toward stretchier patterns, especially those with ribbing, which form a little more readily to my different shaped feet. As a side note, this is also why I always recommend a beginner sock knitter start with a ribbed sock — it will be more forgiving as far as fit goes. Finding sock styles & patterns that fit your feet and the feet of your loves ones can take some trial and error. You can certainly go the road of designing for yourself or modifying patterns. I, however, tend to reason that there are tons of sock patterns out there & I am happy to keep trying new ones. That’s just how I roll.

Now, about pattern writing. I would argue that good pattern writing is just as important as fit when it comes to socks. If a designer doesn’t concisely & clearly lead you through the pattern it can be a less than ideal experience. In fact, it can be a disaster. As far as knitting patterns go, sock patterns can be pretty complex. One thing I learned as a teacher is that the more words there are in a pattern, the more likelihood you have of missing something or misreading and making a mistake. At the same time, you have to include all the tiny details imperative to success. So, we have this delicate dance between enough words & not too many. I think the best designers are the ones who hit that Goldilocks bullseye.

Along with clear writing, a nice clean layout also makes a big difference. Sock patterns inevitably have step-by-step sections and it helps a great deal when those sections are clearly marked. If there is too much clutter, these sections can be hard to follow and lead to boo-boos. Of course, for all aspects of pattern writing as you get more familiar with sock knitting it gets slightly less imperative that everything is just so since you’ll be familiar with how a sock works and you’ll be able to infer certain aspects. That just comes with experience and sometimes a little luck.

That leads me to why I chose to start the Socks with Sarah KAL with Churchmouse Yarns & Teas Basic Sock. I think it’s important for me to start with a basic sock because it opens this KAL up to beginnners as well as seasoned sock knitting vets. When knitting, I think there is nothing better than a group that has very diverse & varied skill sets. We all get to see things in different ways and I think it is just a much richer learning & creative environment.  I also think a good basic sock is really essential in a knitter’s repertoire. I chose this pattern because it is simply the best basic sock pattern I’ve worked. It’s not because I like top-down better than toe-up or double pointed needles more than magic loop. It’s because this is one darn good pattern. The writing is edited to that perfect Goldilocks bullseye, the layout is clear, and I’ve never heard a complaint on fit. I like that it’s a true handknit sock form that covers all the basics — you work the cuff, the heel flap, the gusset, the foot, and the toe. The fact that it is written for two gauges — both sport/DK & fingering — is a great bonus, too. Oh, and I’m working them on dpns simply because that’s what the pattern uses. When starting something new, make it simple.

As you experiment and try different patterns, you will learn designers that you prefer. Those whose writing & layout styles reach you particularly easily, who walk you through patterns as if it was a pleasant walk through the park, whose socks fit you just so. You’ll try out different techniques with different needles and maybe even give 2-at-a-time a whirl. Believe me, I spent the wee hours of this morning huddled under a blanket adding patterns to my Socks with Sarah Ravelry queue – more on this soon and a million thanks to Chloe (ravelry ID: mysparklyshoes) for introducing this function to me! For now though, I’m getting excited to start a basic sock and to watch all my fellow KALers work on their chosen designs — Monkey by Cookie A, Hermione’s Everyday Socks by Erica Lueder, Bunting by Lisa Richardson — the list goes on & on and it only gets better & better. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting excited for this KAL to get rolling!


(just a few sock knitting books & patterns from my library…)

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