Grape Lace

In what I’m sure will come as no surprise to anyone, I’ve started a new pair of socks. These are special because they’re not the usual sock, so much as lace stockings, and well, I have reason to believe I’m going to love them.

So you’ve seen Bettie’s Lace Stockings from the Spring 2009 Interweave Knits, right? As soon as I saw them, I fell in love and was certain I would be making them one day.

Among the numerous points that attracted me to this pattern (beautiful lace! size 2 needles! not a lot of yarn but you end up with knee socks! fast! stretchy! ribbons!!!), the fact that they are designed toe-up jumped out and made me extraordinarily happy. Toe-up is, to my thinking, the most logical and comforting way to knit socks, and I’ve noticed that the fit is much better than the top-down socks I’ve knit.

I changed the cast-on to my usual figure-8 (not a big fan of unpicking provisional cast-ons) and increased to 48 stitches, then got going with the pattern as written. Then I started feeling a little disconcerted.

(This is actually the bottom of my foot.)

The elements of this design are essentially a wider central pattern of lace, flanked by two narrow eyelet panels. Eventually there will be calf increases and what all built into these elements, but on the foot, it felt very strange to work three sections of lace, two of which were split on the bottom of the foot. I tried to think through the logic on that, but when I realized that there would be a short-row heel interrupting the lace up the back of the leg anyway, I wondered if it wouldn’t be better to knit the sole in stockinette?

I hemmed and hawed about how well they would wear with sole lace, and whether I felt like knitting two extra repeats when I was only interested in the one on the top of the foot. When I noticed how many times I’d flubbed the eyelet panels (from losing track at the start of the row at the middle of the sole), I took it as a sign, frogged back to the toe and started over.

I am so much happier now. I have the wide panel of bee pattern lace centered between two narrow eyelet columns on the top of the foot, with the sole knit in plain stockinette. I’ll work a regular short row heel, then follow the pattern afterwards for calf increases and so on. It’s moving way, way faster, and I’m not so annoyed feeling like I’m putting a lot of effort into something that will get bedraggled in my shoes anyway.

If you’re interested in making this change (and heck, for my own future reference when I inevitably forget what I did and need to match the second socks), it’s quite easy.

Cast on using a figure-8 or Turkish cast-on, Judy’s magic cast-on, etc and increase to 48 stitches. Or do whatever provisional toe-up cast-on you like, so long as you get to 48 stitches. When you switch to 3 needles (one for the top and two for the bottom), slip the first stitch of needle 1 and the last stitch of needle 2 to the bottom needles, such that you have 13 stitches on each of those and 22 stitches on the top needle.

P1, work a repeat of the narrow eyelet lace (in the pattern it is called Feathered Fagoting), work a repeat of the center bee lace (Narrow Gathered Lace), p1, work a second repeat of narrow eyelet lace, p1. Then knit the sole stitches in stockinette. Much easier, faster, and it retains the stretchiness of the pattern, with the sturdiness of a stockinette sole. Now these are socks I will love to knit as much as I’ll love to wear them.

FO – Child’s Sock in Miranda Pattern

For the last pair in my five-sock reveal, I thought I’d share the most recent and, to my color sensibility, maybe the best.

This is one pair of Nancy Bush socks that I didn’t work as written, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

Pattern: Child’s Sock in Miranda Pattern by Nancy Bush, from the book Knitting Vintage Socks; my project is here on Ravelry
Size: US women’s 9
Yarn: Knit Picks Stroll 4-ply fingering weight, in Tidepool Heather, 75% Merino wool / 25% nylon; I used 69.5 grams, which was approximately 321 yards/ 293 meters
Needles: Susan Bates size 1 (2.25 mm) aluminum DPNs, set of 5
Modifications: worked toe-up with a short-row heel and omitted leg shaping, added length to legs

Started: January 1, 2010
Finished: February 27, 2010

This pattern is strikingly simple, but with a nice impact. I read someone’s project notes on Ravelry that said “It’s a sock. There’s yarn overs. That pretty much covers it,” and of course I chuckled because really, that’s it. The arrangement of the yarn-overs with their paired decreases, however, made for these nice box shapes that reminded me of chessboards and plaids.

I had seen a lot of pairs that seemed kind of baggy and weirdly shaped, and I worried that that was a consequence of the calf shaping, which I omitted. Working these toe-up, I was able to try them on and make sure I got an acceptably firm fit, such that by the time I tried them over my heel I saw no need to increase and if anything, made them longer to try to pull up some of the slack, so to speak (there wasn’t much – I always like my socks as long as possible).

At first I felt these were slow-moving, since I was knitting on slightly smaller needles than usual and often while on the train. For a while I had a fit counting the stockinette rows between Miranda pattern repeats (why? why was that so hard?), but eventually I got an eye for it and was able to move a lot more quickly. Ultimately it took getting sick with an awful case of bronchitis, trapping me in bed for two weeks on codeine and nothing to do but watch Hulu and Netflix, to be able to mellow out and just go with the pattern. Once I got in that state, I knit the second sock in a day or two.

The yarn is, of course, what makes these socks. I wanted something with a little variation to the color for visual interest, but not so much that it would overpower such a simple lace pattern. This heathered yarn struck the perfect balance, making a fabric that I love to look at, while still showing the pattern.

While knitting I noticed that the overall tone of these socks is almost exactly the same as my current purse, as well as a lot of my favorite clothes and jewelry. I love a nice blue-green, as it seems to go with all my other favorite colors, and it looks fantastic on its own. In this color, I think these socks will be pretty wearable through many seasons, and in case I haven’t said it enough, I really, really love them.

Previous Entries on this Project:
For the Love of Nancy Bush

FO – Fancy Merino Socks

That Nancy Bush, man. She can really design a pair of socks.

Nancy Bush is one of the only designers for whom I will happily knit socks from the top-down, and I’m really happy when I do.

Pattern: Fancy Silk Sock for a Child of 5 or 6 Years by Nancy Bush, from the book Knitting Vintage Socks; my project is here on Ravelry
Size: US women’s 9
Yarn: Knit Picks Stroll 4-ply fingering weight, in Glacial, 75% Merino wool / 25% nylon; I used 71.9 grams, which was approximately 332.6 yards/ 304.2 meters
Needles: Knit Picks size 1.5 (2.5 mm) nickel-plated DPNs, set of 5
Modifications: added one lace repeat to lengthen the leg, otherwise knit as written

Started: January 2, 2010
Finished: February 17, 2010

I’ve wanted to knit these socks for a while, and the January Sock Knitters Anonymous challenge featuring Nancy Bush as a designer provided the perfect opportunity. While knitting, I wondered why I enjoy Nancy Bush patterns so very much, and I think it’s the utter clarity of design, which is carried through in the directions. Every stitch is accounted for, with patterns that are logical and intuitive, with clever transitions and connections among motifs, as well as ways for keeping track of progress that aren’t tedious, such as counting the selvedge chains on the heel flap.

A lot of the sock patterns I’ve seen are essentially some stitch pattern plugged into a basic sock formula, which is what makes them so easy to convert to toe-up. I like that Nancy (yeah, we’re going to be on a first-name basis now) really thought through ways to incorporate the vintage shapes into an overall harmonious flow of stitchery that results in not just a sock, but really a bit of artistry.

And yet, these delicate little tulip shapes blooming up the leg, as well as the dancing lace between them, are incredibly easy and fast to work, which of course I have to love. This portion of the design could have been worked upside-down, but I don’t think it would have the same dimensionality and rhythm.

I’m completely in love with the yarn. It is creamy and squishy and soft, yet strong and durable, making for a lovely sock that feels great on the feet, but holds up to wearing with shoes. I have great love for Knit Picks, and this yarn is one of the ones I’d most highly recommend.

Oh, and the color. It’s this agonizingly beautiful minty bluish greenish color, very accurately named for its similarity to glacial ice (which I will be seeing a lot of on my upcoming trip to Iceland). It also conjures a particularly delightful chapter in the D.H. Lawrence book Women in Love called “Crème de Menthe,” along with general mint green frostings and creamy, decadent things. It may be weird to associate this color with romance and indulgence, but I picture it somehow with cushy white spa robes and crisp white sheets, gentleness and tenderness and all kinds of mushy things.

My only misgiving of sorts, with these socks, is that the lace cuff at the top is a little tight, which prevented me from lengthening the leg as much as I wanted to. I’d read recommendations to work it with a larger needle, and I meant to, then forgot at the last minute and went at it with the 1.5 size. I figured I should be alright since I’d already gone up a half size from the recommended size 1’s, but this is a common issue for me with top-down socks. I can probably fix the cuff with some aggressive blocking (though weirdly, I can’t find my sock blockers anywhere!). Still, these are long enough that they don’t bother me, and their loveliness makes up for anything else for me.

Previous Entries on this Project:
For the Love of Nancy Bush

FO – Toe-Up Jaywalkers

This winter, I knit another pair of Jaywalkers, and I’m delighted with them.

Is there anything more charming than zig-zapping striped socks?

Pattern: Jaywalker by Grumperina, adapted to knit toe-up by Natalia Marek; my project is here on Ravelry
Size: US women’s 9
Yarn: Regia Crazy Color 4-ply fingering weight, in color 5438, 75% new wool / 25% nylon; I used 82.5 grams, which was approximately 379.5 yards/ 347 meters
Needles: Susan Bates size 1 (2.25 mm) DPNs, set of 5
Modifications: used my standard short-row heel

Started: December 2, 2009
Finished: December 29, 2009

These socks were part of the December Sock Knitters Anonymous challenge, using self-striping yarns. I hadn’t realized that I was in the minority for how much I love self-striping yarn until I heard all the griping about it during that challenge, but I love it now more than ever.

I took a calculated risk in knitting the smaller size of these, even though the first pair of Jaywalkers I knit was the 84-stitch version (also on slightly larger needles). I will admit that the biased, unstretchy fabric on these makes them very difficult to get over my heels, but they can juuuuuuust do it. I suspect that with a little washing and wearing, they’ll stretch enough to pull on and off more easily without losing their firm fit. It must be said, these never fall down, not even a bit, and I love that about them.

I also love the crisp, tight little stitches formed by working at a smaller gauge, and I found myself admiring them throughout.

I tend to wear my shoes on the fitted side, with thinner trouser socks or hosiery more often than not. For that reason, sometimes it’s difficult to wear hand-knit socks with my regular shoes, as they can fall a bit on the bulky side. I wanted to be able to wear these socks with jeans or casual work pants, for a shot of playful stripes, but still keep it all together in my work flats.

I love the way the chevron stripe pattern works with self-striping yarn, and of course it goes without saying that Jaywalkers are one of the greatest patterns of all time. Working them in a stripe makes it especially engaging to keep knitting a few more of the two-row repeats, just to watch the chevrons form, so these moved very quickly in a handful of knitting sessions.

I was characteristically obsessive in making sure my stripes matched up exactly, and I think I got it pretty spot on. I really, really love that.

I waxed poetic about Regia yarn in my last post, and these colors hold similar associations for me, plus this nautical, sailing feel. I knit these in the midst of a snowy winter, dreaming of sunshine on the river, the crisp white sails of our boat and the millions of shades of blue swirling lazily in the morning light. In my head, they became my “sailing socks,” and every time I picked them up, I daydreamed about sailing.

It’s probably no surprise, then, how much I love them.

FO – Eleanor in Blue Socks

Another pair of long-finished socks, these were such a treat during last spring’s trip to Italy.

Like broken-in jeans and a cushy sweater, these were instantly comfortable and felt familiar.

Pattern: Eleanor by Gigi Silva/Monkey Toes; available as a free pattern on Ravelry; my project is here
Size: US women’s 9
Yarn: Regia Havanna Color 4-ply fingering weight, in color 4182, 75% new wool / 25% nylon; I used 80.4 grams, which was approximately 367.5 yards/ 336 meters
Needles: Clover size 2 (2.75 mm) bamboo DPNs, set of 5
Modifications: worked toe-up, with a short-row heel

Started: February 5, 2009
Finished: March 31, 2009

I’ve knit a pair of Eleanor socks before, but I was dissatisfied with the eyelets on those (I really should reknit one and finish that pair). For this pair, I followed the pattern and I’m so glad I did.

I felt a weird tenderness toward these socks, partly as a consequence of working them slowly on bamboo DPNs. These were my refuge after long, cold days working outside, and later, my little bit of warmth and relaxation tucked in my bag while doing thesis research in Venice. I knit these while waiting for, and then riding trains, and I vividly remember one frustrating afternoon where I actually wrote in my journal “I just want to sit outside and knit my socks in the sunshine, the hell with thesis research.”

This pattern is great – I’ve really enjoyed it immensely both times I’ve worked on it, and I’m surprised that it doesn’t get boring from something so repetitive. I knit 8 repeats up the legs, and though I had enough yarn, I didn’t feel like figuring out calf increases. Still, I imagine they’d look smashing as knee socks.

I knit the majority of the second sock on the plane home, when I was utterly exhausted and couldn’t wait to be with my family and sleep in my own bed. My seat-mate, a college-aged guy from the UK, seemed genuinely perplexed by me, but I was completely unconcerned. At one point a woman walking by knocked my working yarn on the ground in front of the flight attendant’s drink cart, and it was a bit of a disaster as they rolled it over, pulling my sock and DPNs and all out of my hands and dragging it down the aisle. There is a break in the yarn, and even those little woven in ends elicit a fond smile whenever I see them.

The yarn is sturdy and was very pleasant to knit with. I’ve always loved Regia and found it to be an excellent yarn at a great price. The subtly blended colors are delightful in person and they sustained my interest throughout knitting. The rich blues and warm, gentle browns and tans remind me of corduroy pants and flannel shirts, of the beach where the ocean and sand meet, and of mud flats at low tide with wind-bent cattails and a brilliant blue sky.

In short, they feel like home.

Previous Entries on this Project:
Also Blue