Midweek @ Musings: Knitting Socks, by the Book

I used to do a lot of counted cross-stitch and needlepoint, and I still have unfinished projects languishing in a corner.  As I moved through my forties, I began to struggle with the finer points.  You know, like threading the needle and being able to see just which tiny square to put it in.  I caught the knitting bug from my daughter when she was home for Christmas.  It looked like fun, and the woman who runs our local yarn shop was so wonderfully helpful.

I’ve mentioned knitting a couple of times on this blog (here’s a scarf, and half a pair of socks).  I have no desire to turn this space into a knitting blog.  But not too long ago, I bought my first (and so far only) knitting book.  And books are something I can talk about!

As I approached the end of my scarf project, I began thinking about what to make next.  Lots of people make more scarves, or potholders, or dishtowels.  Zzzzzzz … I was already bored with squares and rectangles.  I wanted to make something useful, something I would actually wear.  Lots of people make hats, but I don’t wear hats often and besides, with spring fast approaching the hats and mittens would be relegated to the closet.  So I asked myself, how about socks?

I started with an internet search, and poked around Ravelry.  It turns out, lots of people shy away from socks.  They’re complicated.  Heels are hard to do, and there’s this super scary thing called the Kitchener Stitch that completes the toe.  And sometimes you go to all this trouble, and the socks don’t fit.  Suddenly I felt this sense of dread and despair.  It’s like when you research some mild medical symptoms on the internet — say, a runny nose and a sore throat — and the next thing you know you’re writing your will because you’re sure your illness is terminal.  The same thing happens if you research sock knitting on the internet.

Just as I was ready to abandon hope, I found myself in a bookstore (surprise).  And there was a copy of Getting Started Knitting Socks, by Ann Budd.  In the course of 15 pages, she takes the aspiring sock knitter step-by-step through their first pair.  Before that, she talks about choosing yarn and needles, and how to determine your size.  And after you’ve completed that first pair, Budd offers up four more basic patterns and a host of more advanced options.

I followed her first sock instructions to the letter; I did not even vary the size.  This was a practice sock.  If it didn’t fit, I might be a little sad, but I would still have learned the basics of sock construction.  For the first sock, Budd recommends using bulkier yarn than usual, with a gauge of 5 stitches per inch.  This makes for a thicker sock that’s better with boots than shoes.  But larger stitches are easier to see as you work, so you get a better understanding of just what’s happening every step of the way.  And it’s easier to correct mistakes.

Socks weren’t nearly as hard as everyone said they would be and, I was pleasantly surprised with my first pair.  For one thing, they fit.  And they’re comfy.  Using variegated yarn made it even easier to see each stitch and correct mistakes.

Did I mention correcting mistakes?  Oh yes, I had to do that.  A lot.  In fact, I had to rip out and re-start the second sock about 4 times, until I figured out what I was doing wrong.  And even though 90% of these socks were worked in the same stitch, it wasn’t a mindless activity — I had to pay attention, or I would end up with too few or too many stitches on my needles.  I’ve also learned that if you make a mistake, it’s better to correct it than hope it won’t be visible later.  The other day I started my second pair of socks, in a glittery purple yarn.  I hoped to include a picture in this post, but last night I found a major mistake that I just couldn’t live with, and had to go back to square one.  And it was all because I got distracted.  So besides learning to pay closer attention, I’m learning to be patient!  That’s probably good for me …

If you’re thinking about knitting socks but have been afraid to try, I highly recommend Getting Started Knitting Socks!

14 thoughts on “Midweek @ Musings: Knitting Socks, by the Book

  1. Good for you! Those socks are beautiful. I bet we have the same size feet…

    I’ve knit dishclothes and that’s about it. I prefer crocheting because there is only ever one stitch on the hook at a time, and the mistake is right there and easy to fix.

    • Raidergirl, I did crochet as a kid and remember enjoying it although I never really made any sort of finished, usable product. Perhaps one day I’ll try again.

  2. So fun to see your beautiful socks! I found you on Ravelry, so I’m extra pleased with the kitting topic.

  3. I love following your progress down the rabbit hole of knitting. I’m pleased that you were successful with your first pair of socks. You had challenges but no more than any other first-time sock knitter. Be sure to try a second pair so you can enjoy relaxing as you knit socks. Soon you will understand why so many knitters think of socks as their “simple” knitting.

    • Kelley, thanks for the encouragement! I’m working on my second pair right now but I’m afraid it’s not a “relaxing” experience yet. But I do love knitting socks and am determined to make it simple over time.

  4. They’re wonderful, Laura! I laughed at your mention of the dreaded Kitchener stitch…blech. Socks are super projects with their portable size making them perfect for tossing into your tote. Just you wait, you’ll be knitting lace socks by the autumn!

    • Darlene, I didn’t know you were a knitter too! I didn’t find Kitchener as dreadful as everyone said it would be, but then I didn’t have to do very much of it to finish up each sock. I agree socks would be a nice portable project and I’m eager to try lace after I get more practice with the basics.

  5. Lovely socks. I’ve been knitting since childhood but I have yet to knit a sock. I’m a garment knitter at heart, but one day I will because there are so many lovely sock yarns and patterns out there. I’ll look out for you on Ravelry.

    • Hi Fleur! Nice to see you on Ravelry, too 🙂 For some time I’ve admired the knitting posts on your blog and it’s fun to join the ranks of “book bloggers who knit” 🙂

  6. When you tire of socks, try your hand at knitting handbags that you then felt. They’re easy to knit – you just use a circular kneedle and do knit stitch around and around and around. You can watch tv or read a book at the same time….if you drop a stitch it doesn’t matter because the felting will disguise it. The finishing is a bit more complicated because you need to use double pointed needles but they’re still easier than socks. Then you put it in the washing machine – let it shrink. Take out before its completely dry and shape it. Voila!

    • Karen, one day I was in my local yarn shop and a woman came in with her felted bags. They were gorgeous but I didn’t realize how easy they were (and how forgiving of dropped stitches). I will have to try it sometime.

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