Reflecting on Tour-de-Sock

Tour-de-Sock is coming to a close for 2017.

What an experience it was for me. For anyone unfamiliar, TDS is a sock knitting competition and fundraiser. Money raised by the competition is donated to Doctors without Borders.

The competition is made up of 5 stages. (This year there was a warm up round as well). In each stage a sock pattern is made available at a specific time (announced in advance) for all the competitors to access. Racers from all over the world then download the sock pattern and following strict guidelines knit each pattern respectively. Photos of the completed pair of socks are then submitted. The photos must clearly show the front and back and size of the socks and both socks. This way moderators can inspect them to be sure that everyone followed the instructions and did the work expected to qualify for that stage of the competition and to make it fair to everyone.

My friend and fellow sock knitter invited me to join her team.

I’m so glad she did!

The anticipation was fantastic. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. With each stage of the competition there was tremendous excitement leading up to the pattern drop. The discussion boards were busy with chatter as the competitors tried to guess what the next round would bring. We were given advance notice of what materials we would need for the next round. Many people were traveling while in the competition so they would have to be sure they brought what they would need along.

I’m glad that I wasn’t traveling.

As each pattern dropped, I generally found that I didn’t actually want to use the yarn I had originally picked out based on the specs provided. I really needed to see the pattern first.

I discovered that Finns are incredibly fast knitters!

Round after round, the early finishers were “Finnishers”. In some rounds the first socks were already posted in less than 24 hours from when the pattern dropped. I realized right away that there was no way I was going to be able to out-knit them. I wanted to push myself and see what I could do though. I really hoped I could manage to finish at least one pair in the top 100 finishers. All things considered. I think I did pretty well. There were around 1700 competitors.

  • In stage 1 I finished at #180;
  • stage 2 at #105;
  • stage 3 at #205;
  • stage 4 at #172 and
  • stage 5 at #74 (HURRAH).

After starting on stage 6, which employed a jacquard colour stranding technique and 4 colours of yarn, it took me a little more than 10 hours to knit just one cuff. I was not in love with the pattern. I decided to throw in the towel on that round. Besides just thinking about the number of hours it would take, I had a lot of new sewing work come in the store and I really needed to put my full attention back on work.

20170904_194704

In every round I learned a new skill.

I ended up with 6 completed pairs of socks. The patterns I knitted were not necessarily patterns I would have ever chosen to knit. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed making them. I discovered that I love doing stranded colourwork. Well, I love knitting with 2 colours. Using 4 colours (stage 6) was just a bit more awkward than I wanted to navigate. I fell in love with some designers that I didn’t know about before. I really pushed myself and I feel proud of what I accomplished.

I can only imagine the huge amount of work involved in administrating a competition like TDS. My hat’s off to all the people who poured their free time, their passion, their skills and their talents into making TDS happen. My life is richer for participating.

I can hardly wait for it to start next year; sign me up!

Advertisements

Sock Surgery

Normally, hand knitted socks last a very long time. That having been said, some people are harder on their socks than others.

Toes and heels can wear out.

Sometimes you catch them on something and it’s just sharp enough that you end up with a hole. But you don’t have to throw them out. If you catch it right away it’s a quick fix… but if you leave it then you may need to do some sock surgery.

My step-son was home for the summer and a week before he was scheduled to head back to University, I noticed that he was wearing a pair of socks I knit him but there were big holes in them. After making a mental note to buy him a pedicure tool kit for Christmas, I pulled out my leftover yarns to find what I needed to perform surgery on his socks. As I repaired them I took photos and thought I would share with you what I did. I only took photos of one pair, though.

I did a toe replacement and a leg portion replacement on them.

There are other ways to do these repairs. I could have darned them. I am not crazy about how the darned portion of a sock feels on my foot. I could have done a spot reconstruction. That’s fiddly and I wasn’t feeling like I had patience enough to do that. I don’t do it often enough to not have to really think about it. I wasn’t interested in making my head hurt over it. I figured it would be more pleasant to use the method that I am going to show you today.

On the leg of the sock:

I picked up all the stitches around the entire sock above and below the damage. Always pick up the right leg of the knit stitch as you go. Because it’s the leg, it didn’t really matter where I started my row.

 

I counted the number of rows that would be removed in the process and wrote that information down so I wouldn’t forget.

I cut away the damaged fabric in between, making sure that I didn’t cut too close to the stitches on the needles.

 

Next I unraveled the unwanted yarn to expose the live stitches on my needles. As I did this I was able to see a couple spots where I accidentally grabbed a stitch from a row above or below. So I really took my time on unraveling the last row so I wouldn’t accidentally drop stitches. I had an extra dpn on hand so I could make sure that the stitches were all picked up correctly as I went.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I used a Russian Join (see below) to join my ball of yarn.

I knitted one less row than what I needed and then lined up the needles with each other and joined the two pieces using Kitchener Stitch. (This created the last row.)

The Russian Join:

Thread one yarn end onto a needle that is fine enough for your yarn (see the photo). I like using a sharp needle for this but you may prefer something blunt. Lay the yarn you want to join it to across your working yarn. Thread the needle between the plies of the yarn that the needle is threaded on just past where you laid the other yarn across. You should be creating a loop around the other yarn.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.

 

Pull the needle through so the loop snugs up around your other piece of yarn. You’ll need to decide whether you’ve gone through enough that it will hold once it is knitted into the work. Adjust accordingly and then clip off the excess yarn. Be careful that you are cutting off the tail and NOT the working yarn! That would be annoying.

Thread the other piece of yarn you are joining onto the needle. Thread it through itself  just past where the other join was made: like you did with the first end.

Trim the excess yarn. You just completed a Russian Join. Congratulations!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the toe of the Sock:

I picked up the stitches all around the sock just below where the damage was.

I counted the rows and made a note of the decrease pattern. (If you followed a pattern, you could pull out the pattern to check how the toe was decreased; I made this sock up without using a pattern.) I wrote the information down so I wouldn’t forget.

When you pick up the stitches on the toe, be sure that you look carefully at where the decreases are done. Make sure that the first stitch you pick up is the beginning of the row. This way you can do your decreases the way you normally would when originally knitting a sock. If you pick up from the wrong spot it could create a wobble in the force… I mean a wobble in your sock. You don’t want that. You would feel it when you wear them.

I trimmed away the damaged portion of the toe and frogged away the extra rows beyond the needle. Take your time with this step.

I re-knitted the toe to match the other sock. (It looks a little bit crooked because I didn’t take the time to block it.)

toe repair 07

I didn’t take photos of the other socks I repaired. I replaced the toes on them. I couldn’t find the leftover yarn from this pair, so I chose leftover yarn in  a solid colour that matched them.

Because of that, I replaced both toes so they would match.

The only thing I did differently was that I put both socks onto two circular needles so that I could knit them in tandem. The nice thing about this was that I was able to do the same step on each sock and didn’t have to worry about matching a toe that was already done.

Oh and another thing.

The pair that I don’t have photos of was made up in Diamond Select Footsie yarn. When I first did them up they felt just a little bit coarse. Since then my step-son has washed them and dried them relentlessly in the washer and drier many, many, many and many more times. They didn’t shrink. They did not pill but they got ever so slightly fuzzy. Best of all, they became super soft and cuddly.  🙂

That was new information to me.

It makes me a lot more excited about promoting that particular yarn. Those socks are now like loving mama hugs for his feet. How cool is that?

Well I hope that this information is useful and easy to understand.

Happy Knitting!

Empty Nesting

I can’t believe it’s already September 1st today!

It’s been a relentlessly hot and smoky summer here in British Columbia. My flower beds look very sad, along with most everyone else’s. A couple more days and DH takes his son back to University for another school year. And here’s me, getting all sentimental. Isn’t it interesting how each stage of life gives us a new and different perspective on daily life transitions?

When I was little, I got very excited about going back to school.

I loved walking through the deep piles of birch and poplar leaves along the side of the road on the way to the bus stop. That chill in the air in the morning that would give way to a gorgeous warm fall day was so refreshing after the heat of summer. The rain usually held off until October. I loved the anticipation of seeing my friends again after two months without them.

The smell of new crayons, fresh notebooks and sharpening wooden pencils. I can smell it all right now.

When I had kids, they went to public school (for the first few years) and the perspective on those September mornings changed to overseeing them preparing their snacks and making sure they had everything they needed and then seeing them off to the bus stop. After some big challenges, we made the choice to home-school our kids and did so for 7 years. Our approach to that was that learning never stopped. We didn’t really follow the public school calendar and back to school became more of a vague awareness rather than anything directly impacting us. Then when my kids got to high-school age and the decision was made for them to go back to public school I drove them to a larger centre each day to a school that offered more options than the local one. Before I knew it, my perspective was changing again. Instead of me driving them, now I was teaching them to drive so they could get themselves to school… without my help.

At the beginning of all that, it seemed like it would always be the same. With each evolution of our family there was a shift that just happened. In hindsight, we didn’t pay it much mind. Until my oldest was ready for University.

Suddenly I stopped in my tracks and took it all in. My babies were not babies any more. How did that even happen? I mean, I know I was there the whole time, but I was so busy being there the whole time that I didn’t even consciously think about it. And then my perspective took a huge shift. I wondered whether I had done enough, or too much; had I prepared them for what was going to come across their paths?

And eventually I had the realization that it didn’t matter.

I always did what I genuinely felt was best for my children and my family. You can’t do more than that, no matter what hindsight might urge you to believe. And as my perspective on back to school changed, so did theirs.

And here I am. All three of my children are adults, functioning well, with lives of their own. Our relationship is now an adult relationship. (What a huge moment it was the first time my kids mixed drinks for me!)

My DH’s youngest is getting ready to head back to University for year 3.

And as we watch him evolve into a young man and do our best to give him the space to be that man it still pulls at my heart knowing he’s leaving and that we will likely only have one more summer with him before he is completely out of the nest. We had an early Thanksgiving dinner last night so that we could share that with him before he leaves. His birthday is in October, so we had a birthday cake too. He got those Mosaic Marbles socks I made in stage 4 of Tour-de-Sock as his birthday present and he gave me his old birthday socks to repair before he heads off. (That’s next week’s blog.)

I find myself feeling misty.

When DH and I began building a life together I was thrilled that one of his kids still lived with him. Being “Mom” always felt like my first calling. Having the opportunity to be that a little longer felt good. I’m grateful that I was able to build a lovely relationship with him and I’m thrilled that no matter where he goes or what he does, that won’t go away.

And so it’s back to school, back to the routine, back to responsibility.

It’s so easy to get lost in the routine and the responsibilities. At the end of the day, it’s all those loving relationships that we nurture that make that routine and those responsibilities okay. And hey, I get to do Thanksgiving twice this year! I can’t complain about that!

Photo by Jake Ingle on Unsplash

Cascade Heritage Sock Yarn

It’s been a while since I wrote a product review. When I come across something that wows me though, I love to tell everyone about how amazing it is. Today I want to tell you about Cascade Heritage Sock Yarn.

I love making socks.

If I’m really honest I haven’t tried a huge number of different brands of sock yarn, but of all the ones I have tried, this is my new favourite!

2017-07-28 15.25.08.jpg

Cascade Heritage Sock yarn is a line of 4-ply yarn in over 60 solid colours. Put up in 100g skeins, at 400m per skein the “mileage” is typical for a sock yarn. The price point is pretty typical as well. (Cascade has some “Heritage Sock Prints” as well, but I am specifically talking about the solids today as I haven’t knit the prints yet.) It is made up of 75% merino superwash wool and 25% nylon. Again, this is typical of sock yarns.

In case you are unfamiliar with sock yarns, the nylon adds strength and durability to the wool.

This makes a big difference when knitting socks as the toes and heels take a tremendous amount of abuse. Without the nylon content (or something similar) they wear out quickly. Considering the amount of work in a pair of socks, you really want to be sure the yarn is going to stand up.

After a friend showed me a skein of the print version of this yarn, I started hunting for where I could buy it for in my store. I contacted the supplier and asked whether they could send me a sample of the solids so I could knit it up myself and be sure I wanted to invest in stocking it. They happily sent me a sample. I thought I would use it in one of my Tour-de-Sock stages since that was what I was knitting at the time. I set it up on my swift and began winding the balls. I found that the yarn kept slipping over the top and bottom of the ball as I was winding it. I suspect that’s because the yarn is so very smooth, it doesn’t grab the ball like other sock yarns do. I am usually pretty ruthless when I wind sock yarn and spin the handle on the ball winder as fast as it will let me. I had to slow things down considerably in order for the winding to go smoothly. That irritated me a little, but to be fair, I’m impatient.

And to be honest, this yarn is well worth taking the time to wind carefully and slowly.

For the socks that I knitted up I used this yarn as my main colour. For my contrasting colours I used Knitca Sock. (Knitca Sock is put up in solid colours in 50g balls. The smaller balls means there isn’t as big of a spend when you are doing colourwork. The fibre content is the same.) By the time I finished casting on with Cascade Heritage Sock yarn, I was in love. This is by far the softest most luxurious feeling sock yarn I have encountered thus far. Knitca Sock is a pretty typical sock yarn in its feel. In comparison to the Cascade Heritage Sock, it felt downright scratchy. I had never considered it scratchy before, to put it into perspective.

Jpeg
Jpeg

Before I even finished knitting up the sample yarn, I placed an order. I have a small shop and there’s only so much I can spend bringing in new products. This one will be a new staple in my store. I have brought in a small selection of neutrals and a few colours that customers specifically asked me for so far.

I hope to be able to eventually carry the entire colour array of over 60 shades.

My DH sits next to me on the sofa at night, watching TV while I knit socks. He has always said not to bother knitting him any because “wool feels rough and scratchy”. After knitting the sample pair, I had him check out the socks. He immediately recognized the difference in the way the two brands of yarn felt. The response: raised eyebrows and a “Hmmmm… and that’s wool?” My response to that was, “Oh yeah, baby! That’s wool.”

20170809_151019-ROTATED

I knitted up another pair for the competition in a creamy colour. When these were done. My DH picked them up and squeezed them. I asked him whether he thought I should make up a pair of socks in that yarn for him to test out. You know, just to see whether he could tolerate them. I told him that if he hates them, I won’t push to ever make him socks again. He agreed that he is willing to give them a try.

That, my friends is (IMHO) the best endorsement any sock yarn could ever ask for.

So after the competition is done, I will be delighted to make my DH’s first pair of hand knit socks.

If you haven’t tried this yarn yet, I encourage you to do so. It’s SO YUMMY!

Mosaics aren’t just for patios

Until recently I thought mosaics were just patterns created out of little bits of tile on patio floors or on the walls of really old buildings. You know, like the Mesopotamians did? We’re now on stage 4 of the Tour-de-Sock sock knitting competition and this round’s pattern introduced me to knitting in Mosaic technique. I’m always up for trying something new.

This was definitely new to me.

The pattern is called Mosaic Marbles and is designed by Kirsten Hall. Her directions were easy to follow. If you are curious to see what else Kirsten has designed, here is a link to a search I did on her name in Ravelry.

She’s got some bold and colourful designs. Gorgeous!

Her on Ravelry

Mosaic knitting is a method of doing stranded colourwork. Unlike Fair Isle, you knit with only one colour at a time, alternating “row” by “row”. The colourwork is charted. What makes it different is that along one side of the chart is a column in which the colour for that “row” is indicated. You knit across with that colour and slip the stitches of the contrasting colour (according to the chart). So you are not carrying both colours at once. This pattern requires that you do two rounds (1 row) in one colour and then switch to the other and do two rounds of that one. Again, you follow the chart and knit the second colour stitches and slip the first colour stitches twice around.

Here is a video about Mosaic Knitting. Suzanne Bryan is showing it on a flat piece of knitting. It’s actually easier to do in the round because you don’t have to worry about purling.

There were a couple things that I had to work out. One  was how to deal with the yarn so I wouldn’t get it tangled. I found that if I just took a moment when turning my work to the next needle, I could see where to move the yarn so that I could keep the two colours from winding around each other.

The pattern is kind of stripey. Anyone who has knitted stripes (in the round) before knows that typically you get a jog in the stripes along the column of stitches where you joined the work in the round. There was a very cool little tip included in the pattern to keep that from happening. It took me a bit to catch on, but I have the hang of it now.

I’m very excited about this.

I’m sure generations of knitters have known about this forever but it’s new to me. So, I’m going to share it because it’s cool and helpful.

  1. As you come to the end of the round with one colour, you knit the first stitch of the next round with the colour that just finished. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive. But wait, there’s more.
  2. You put it back onto the left needle.
  3. Go ahead and start knitting with the next colour as you normally would.
  4. When you come back around again, you need to snug up the yarn on that sneaky little tricky stitch. At first, I was just pulling on my working yarn, and didn’t realize that it actually takes a fairly good strong tug to tighten that transition stitch. My first sock (up until I figured it out that is) has a very laddery side; I’m going to just leave it that way. I suppose I could get all fussy and carefully pull the extra yarn into the surrounding stitches, but meh, it really doesn’t bother me that much.

I took photos so you can see how much you actually have to tug that yarn and also, to show how nicely the stripes line up when you get it right. I’m very happy with the result.

I’m loving this pattern and this technique. It’s actually pretty quick to do. Every other row is a repeat of the charted row you just did, so you are only really reading the chart half the time. It’s actually easy. But the result is dramatic. The pattern also has a star toe. I had never done this before. If you hate doing Kitchener Stitch to graft toes, you might quite like this method. And there you have it! I’m off to finish the second sock now.

Happy Knitting!

Cable Adventures

I love knitting cables. Not so much because of actually doing the cables but because I love the way they look. The designer of my most recent sock knitting project (Indecisions by Adrienne Fong: Stage 3 of Tour-de-Sock 2017) encouraged knitters to try cabling without cable needles. My first response to this was: “What is this madness of which you speak?!”

As a Yarn Shop owner it truly behooves me to take any opportunity I can to expand my skill and knowledge base. It means I’m better equipped to assist my customers when they have questions. So, I perused You Tube and watched a bunch of videos. I tried out the common method and found it exceedingly frustrating. Bear in mind that this was Stage 3 of the competition. I got sick just before the pattern dropped and was unable to get my real work finished in time. So I started late. Add to that I started with a yarn that was not plied and was struggling to cable with that. After putting about 8 hours in I gave up on that yarn. Sigh. I’m very happy with the resulting socks. I used Cascade Heritage Sock yarn in ivory.

But I have to admit that I did give up on this whole idea of not using a cable needle for this project and just went back to using my 160 degree cable needle.

I actually found it faster than wrestling with free-wheeling live stitches in fine yarn.

I found a couple videos that offered a way to cable (without a cable needle) that promised that I wouldn’t have to have live stitches off my needle to do it. Well that got my attention. I suspect that this is something that you really need to practice though. The cables I was doing were 3 over 3 stitches and when I tried this method, I just found it a struggle to transfer the stitches to the left needle after I had reordered them onto the right. I have to be honest. What with being sick, I really didn’t give it as good of a try as I normally would have. Perhaps my tension is too tight for it. I can see how twists or 2 over 2 cables would work very well with this method. I do plan to practice it and see if I can make it work for me… probably not for the competition socks though.

I am sharing some videos here to represent the different methods of cabling without a cable needle. The first one shows the common method that requires live stitches off the needle and the two that follow show the non-freewheeling-live-stitches method. Hmmm somehow I don’t think that name will stick. LOL  As always, if you find the videos helpful, please show some love and gratitude to the folks who created them.

Here is the common method:

I love this next lady’s videos. I got such a kick out of her candidness. I am subscribing to her channel. These next two videos are hers and show her cool method.

 

Happy knitting!

Like a Boss!

I’m exhausted today. Why? Because I put my life and work on hold since 10:00 am on Tuesday to make a pair of socks. I finished at 12:40 today (Friday).

What on earth did I do that for?

Because I entered the Tour-de-Sock knitting competition. Am I nuts? Maybe. But I finished them and they look fantastic! I checked with the organizers and they said I can share photos with you. Today I finished stage 2: Like a Boss!

Priha

So this competition — a fundraiser for Doctors without Borders — all started with a warm up pattern. The pattern is called Priha, designed by Tiina Kuu. These were my first attempt at stranded colourwork (other than an abandoned sweater from decades ago).

What a fantastic opportunity for me to learn something new.

I asked my friends for advice and watched a bunch of You Tube videos. I usually knit socks two at a time but with this being a new technique to me, I did them one at a time. The tension was inconsistent between the two socks and now that I tried wearing them, I think I’ll frog the second one and re-knit it to match the tension on the the first one.

Judy Priha Warm up sock.jpg

Fins

Stage 1 was a really fun pattern designed by Sarah Bordelon called “Fins”. It’s just so whimsical. It was a great design to start the competition with. The pattern is blocks of fins (you decide whether they are sharks or dolphins) alternating with blocks of waves. Each row has the fins going in the opposite direction. The actual fin and wave pattern was pretty easy to do. You end up with this curvy, wavy, swirly effect. The structure was unusual. It was the first time I ever heard of an “afterthought leg”. You definitely had to just follow the instructions and trust that they would work out. They did and I adore these socks. I especially love the fins trim along the top of the cuff.

Definitely 10 out of 10 for whimsy!

20170718_175850

Kanteletar

Today I completed stage 2. The pattern is called Kanteletar and the designer is Tiina Kuu.

This was a very challenging pattern.

I had to learn some new skills in order to complete it. There was a provisional cast on and a doubled cuff. I had never done a Latvian braid before. That was cool but awkward to do. I think I would have to do a lot of them to make the process feel comfortable. The heel is amazing. This design is so incredibly comfortable. When I read the instructions I was thinking WTF? But it is by far the most comfortable heel I have ever knitted. I’ve purposely tried a lot of different sock patterns just  to try various heel techniques. This was definitely new to me.

2017-07-28 12.36.00.jpg

I had a little trouble with reading the colour chart. For some reason I kept reversing two of the yarns. So I did a whole section of colourwork and realized I had used the wrong colours. I pulled it all apart and reworked it. I lost a solid 4 hours doing that. Oh well. I still finished in a respectable amount of time considering the difficulty of the pattern. It’s definitely an advanced level. But so beautiful! (I already had a family member ask me to make them a pair for their birthday). By the time I finished I was finally feeling comfortable with how I need to hold the yarn to do the colourwork.

I was knitting almost as fast with two colours as I do with one. Almost.

I am so glad that my friend convinced me to sign up for this competition. I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be up to the challenge but so far so good. It’s been really fun learning new techniques and trying patterns that I probably would have never chosen under normal circumstances. And I have 3 pairs of socks that I didn’t have before… and there are still 4 stages to go.

The next pattern drops on August 4th.

In the meantime, I’ve got company coming this weekend and I need to bake some cakes. YUM! See you next week.