In celebration of Sock Summit 2009, Priscilla Gibson-Roberts put together instructions for some socks she made that evoke "How did you make those???" questions whenever she wears them. We sold a bunch of patterns at the Summit and expect to have them available for sale through the Nomad Press website in early September. They are printed pattern booklets (because we haven't had time yet to determine the best way for us to sell downloadable PDFs, and we are still tactile enough to love print, even as we do more work electronically). I'll talk about that more later, but for now here's the cover with photos of Priscilla's socks:
Priscilla knitted both pairs (rainbow and random) with leftovers from the Bazaar Socks she designed that appeared in Interweave Knits and are now available as a downloadable PDF from Interweave's store (they have an actual staff to figure out the downloadable PDF thing). The yarns are Brown Sheep's Cotton Fine (80% cotton and 20% wool), which comes in a miraculous array of colors. Priscilla worked her socks at 10 stitches to the inch (40 stitches/10cm).
The written pattern talks about substituting other yarns. Not many appropriate lines of fiber come in enough solid colors to get the effect Priscilla did. (For dyers, this is a great project to use up samples. For knitters of commercial yarn, it can be adapted to use any array of leftovers that is moderately harmonious.)
I decided to knit a pair in Blue Moon's Sock Candy (96% cotton and 4% Elite elastic), which is offered in an array of nice colors. I began working before Sock Summit, worked through Sock Summit, and am knitting after Sock Summit. This design is very entertaining to knit and progress is quick when I'm actually knitting (instead of doing other things, like teaching), and I'll have more photos later.
Picking the right gauge
Socks knitted at a relatively tight (although not board-like) gauge last longer. Sock Candy is slightly heavier than Cotton Fine. I cranked the needle size down from the recommendation for the yarn (spec'd for 7-8 stitches to the inch) and worked at 8.5 stitches to the inch (34 stitches/10cm). I loved the weight and feel of the fabric, but I ran into two problems. First, at that gauge the tips of my needles kept separating the plies of the yarn. Also, working the stitches that firmly ended up being hard on my hands—it was hard to pull the new loops through the old ones.
During the Summit, I made a lot of progress on the sock at that gauge, shown at left in the photo below, but after the festivities ended I decided to start over on one-size-larger needles. The gauge is now 8.25 stitches to the inch (33/10cm), and the two sock-portions shown on the right are the new pair. I'll unravel the first, tighter, sock after I replicate large portions of its color sequence, which I like, on the second sock of the "real" pair. On the first sock at the new gauge, I shifted colors around, which is one of the ways I keep myself from being bothered by reknitting things: I make them differently on the rework.
When the socks are on feet, the bands stretch out and they look like the socks in the photo on the pattern, even though they're worked in a different yarn at a different gauge. (I'll have more pictures later, when they're closer to done. That turquoise stitch marker shows me which is the little-toe edge of the four-toes section of the sock.)
What a difference a quarter-stitch (per inch) makes!
That shift in needle sizes and therefore gauge made all the difference in the world for my knitting pleasure. I'm no longer splitting plies and it's easy to form the stitches. The fabric is noticeably less firm—even with that tiny adjustment!—but should still be sturdy enough (even for me).
I think those facts are rather stunning. A QUARTER-STITCH per inch makes a night-and-day difference in all aspects of this knitting project. With a coarser yarn, a quarter-stitch wouldn't have that impact—but a half-stitch could. With sock yarn, a quarter-stitch is all it takes.
What effect does my shift have on sock size? At the original gauge of 8.5 stitches to the inch, the sock's circumference was 8.47 inches (21.5cm). That works for me. The sock, which I could try on as I went, fit snugly and would have worked fine.
When I changed needle sizes, I stayed with the same number of stitches (72). At 8.25 stitches to the inch, the circumference is 8.72 inches (22.1cm). The result is slightly looser—enough easier to get on that I like it better and think that I will wear this version a lot more often than I would have worn the previous version.
In this photo, the new (larger, 8.25 gauge) sock is underneath and the old (smaller. 8.5 gauge) sock is on top, to show the very slight difference in circumference.
Socks are very flexible projects, but small things can matter nonetheless.
Note on needle sizes: I work loosely, because it's easier on my hands. With the Sock Candy, I was on size 1.5mm (000) needles and changed to 1.75mm (00). A "normal" knitter would have been on 2mm (0) and moved to 2.25mm (1).