I don’t know how I get myself into these messes

Do you remember when you weren’t a knitter? Those of us who learned to knit as adults certainly do. What did you think of Fair Isle and other colorwork sweaters back then? Personally, I dismissed them without any consideration. Complete and total poo-poo reaction. Poo, I tell you!

And now? A full 180-degree change – drool… pass a tissue, it’d dripping on the carpet. In particular, there was (still is?) a recent wave of awe-inspiring colorwork that prodded me to revisit the idea. I think Jess’s socks pushed me over the edge.

But you know me – I have to make things complicated (understatement of the year, just ask my adviser). It wasn’t until I read this entry from Ms. Big Geek that I knew what my first Fair Isle-ish project would be.

Stockings with Form-Fitted Arch from Meg Swansen’s Knitting. My choice is second from the left, creatively called Blue and Cream Stocking.

The appeal – very interesting designs on all three colorwork samples, plus the promise of socks which are “amazingly sensuous as you slip them on and feel the arch shaping snug up into the bottom of your foot.” Personally, I have very high arches, so I immediately raised my eyebrows and thought, “Oh, really? That’d be cool.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

Plus… do I even have to say it?… Beth’s blog was the first time I had seen these socks, and the idea of knitting something funky and new is very appealing to me.

Of course there’s a price to pay. Hear ye, hear ye! There are no patterns (in the traditional sense) for the two-color socks in this book. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you ;).

Meg Swansen tells us that she only had prototypes of these socks to go by, and no notes from the designer herself, Elizabeth Z. As a result, there is a pattern for the cream-colored Aran sock only (the one on the far right). As for the three colorful socks, Meg writes a little prose, provides the charts, but there is no pattern to speak of. Gauge? None given. Finished size? Not here. Needle size? Nope. Yarn weight and yardage requirements? Only a rough description. Instructions for working the ribbing? Not a chance. And the all important form-fitted arch? I’m sorry, not here – the knitter is expected to take the Aran sock instructions (which happens to be worked over 10 fewer stitches) and figure it out herself.

I’m actually perfectly fine with this way of writing patterns, and I often wish more were written as just “guidelines.” For example, I wonder, with so many references out there telling us how to make short-row heels, is it really necessary to spell it out on every pattern that uses them? Half of the time we substitute our favorite heels and toes anyway, right? In this case, however, the sole is worked very differently than anything I’ve seen, and I do wish there were explicit instructions for all the socks. Similarly, the finished size and/or gauge proved to be an essential tidbit.

And to top it all off, I still don’t know how to knit with two colors!

Although… I’m told it’s not that bad:


(click for big)

Fine. I agree. This is not bad for my first try, and I imagine some of the wonkiness will go away with a good blocking. I’m being very introspective and critical at this stage of learning, though, because I don’t want to pick up some bad knitting habit only to later learn its disastrous consequences and not be able to reform myself.

But it was a good start. Was because I had to frog everything you see. Two issues – first, for some reason (oh yes, lack of pattern) I decided to work a corrugated ribbing, purling with orange and knitting with blue, and this is very inelastic as I quickly learned. Second, the sock wouldn’t fit over my calf.

And that’s when things got really complicated.

Because it was more than just a few stitches that needed to be added.

Actually, somewhere around 20. Twenty stitches! Because I’ve got some shapely calves, let me tell ya, 15″ in circumference at their widest. And, oh, let’s not forget my miniscule ankles – 7″ in circumference at their narrowest. So, I need to add about 20 stitches, but then decrease even more than the pattern specifies. Oy.

I knew I was challenging myself by attempting to knit something stranded. I knew I was challenging myself when I decided to forge ahead with this very skimpy “pattern” (gauge, Meg, I need gauge!). But I never imagined that before I even mastered two-color knitting I’d be modifying this pattern in such a drastic way. The price we pay for esotericism ;).

I looked at the given chart this way and that, and decided that the six-stitch side motif (seen in the lower right photo above) needed to be completely swapped for another, much larger one. I picked the replacement motif from the Ram’s Horn Cardigan pattern (same book), because it has curlicues which are identical to the ones used in the sock. Then I embellished it a bit to make it the right size. I fired up Excel, made a new chart, ditched corrugated ribbing, and got to knittin’. Two-handed style, of course, because I just couldn’t dismiss its efficient simplicity. At least for now. Plus this comment from Gigi hit home, “i’m suspicious of any activity that requires a – (hmmm, how shall i say this?) a device. i say tough it out and learn to throw. think of how proud and smug you will feel once you’ve mastered it. and i ask you, what’s better than smug self-satisfaction? nothing that’s what.”

Yeah. Hehe. I’m on it ;).


(click for big) (click here for a sense of scale – shapely calves modeling miniscule progress ;))

And so there’s no confusion: no, I didn’t get a foot transplant, I still cannot wear wool on my feets and will therefore not be able to actually wear this sock. But it’s an awesome puzzle so far!


65 thoughts on “I don’t know how I get myself into these messes

  1. twig

    *LAUGH* OMG! You won’t even be able to wear it? Might I then suggest that you don’t worry about dealing with the increases for your calves — and just learn how to figure out what the pattern should be without all the extra hair pulling.

    But then again, this wouldn’t be your blog without all the hair pulling. heheheh

  2. Mari

    That sock is going to be a masterpiece! And with that colour combination – they just might invite you to be Sweden’s next Prime Minister. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. joy

    Wah, I’m totally drooling over the black/white socks…those are funky soles!

    If anyone is going to make this sock ‘pattern’ work, it’s gotta be you!!

  4. stinkerbell

    WOW you are brilliant and insane all at the same time.

    You amaze me everytime with how you figure things out and modify them!

    Utter brilliance- and gorgeous.

  5. Barb outside Boston

    I think the sock second from the right may be in twined knitting (also called two-end knitting or tvaรฅndsstickat). You talk fiddly, you talk a challenge–Kathy, this is for you! Although he directions were written holding the two yarns (which you twist between EVERY stitch!) in your right hand, I’m combined knitter, so had to figure it out while holding the yarn in my left. Couldn’t have been more fun! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Kelly

    Kathy you made my day! I’ve been looking for long sock patterns. I liiiive in knee socks and when I saw yours I fell in love!!!! I’ve wanted to try fair isle as well so its the perfect combo. *strokes beard* now how can I manage to hint on wanting that book and get it for my birthday hehhe hummmmmmm

  7. JennyRaye

    Hey, my calves and ankles are virtually the same size as yours…..and since you can’t even wear the beauties when you’re done…….well, I’m just saying ;o)

  8. Sarah

    Kathy, you continue to amaze me with your courage. Even with a very detailed pattern I’d be afraid to even attempt this sock. A sock in one color is scary enough! Bravo to you for not backing down to the challenge. Us scairdy-cat knitters will be watching in awe!

  9. Miranda

    Are these more socks for your grandma? If so, she has to be one of the luckiest grandmothers in the history of either grandmothers or luck.

    I learned how to knit when I was a little girl. (This was only about twelve/thirteen years ago, I turn eighteen in March.) I knew how to cast on and knit, but nothing else. I unequivocally refused to purl. After about a ten year lapse, I picked it up again during a period of general emotional malaise and teenage angst. The angst is gone, but the house is being converted into a yarn storage unit, and my mom and I have arguments about who is going to get the “good” yarn when I got to school next year.

    I have to say, without shame, that your blog is one of the things that keep me going when a project gets tough. I learn a lot from you every time I read an entry. All I can say is, please keep stranding! I’m obsessed with and delighted by Fair Isle socks, and I love the ones you’re working on.

  10. Scout

    You are such a rockstar for the challenges you take on. It makes me feel like such a lame knitter I am. Well, I think if I didn’t have kids I’d be able to challenge myself a lot more. Otherwise, it’s just too hard to do anything difficult with them around! Like right now? I had to tell them to stop talking to me 3 times just so I could try and write a coherent paragraph. *sigh*

    So I guess come back in 14 years and maybe I can start knitting things like these stockings.

  11. Kris in Wisconsin

    I think your tension looks great. If you are finding that you are getting puckers where the floats are too short, one good tip it to knit inside out. Instead of knitting with the work close to you on the outside, knit with it on the far side flipped inside out. This forces the floats to be just a bit longer.

    Good luck! I’m sure they will be beautiful.

  12. Cathy

    I am already bowing down! You have THE MOST patience I have ever seen! Can’t wait to see how they come out and hear about the fitted arch.

  13. jess

    you are a MAVERICK, kathy! those are looking fantastic so far. and fair isle knitting is indeed a fever… it’s like aran cabling – so much to sink your teeth, or in this case your needles, int.

  14. Susan

    Thanks for the link to Jess’ socks. I think I had a cardiac moment when I saw them. Actually, I knit the same pattern in the yarn recommended in Nancy Bush’s Folk Socks book, but the Dale Heilo called for is sooooooo danged itchy on my calves that I can’t ever wear them more than 30 seconds without taking them off. Seeing Jess’ pair makes me want to knit them again in Baby Ull as she did. Wise gal.

    And I guess Meg just put those socks in with that name Socks with Form-Fitted Arch for inspiration, knowing you’d be coming along someday.

  15. margaux

    those socks are looking fantastic so far! i taught myself how to knit English style and am slowly trying to get the hang of Continental. So for that I feel your pain. I am also very impressed with your challenging choice! As well as how beautifully the purple and yellow colors really do come together. I was a skeptic at first! I’m looking forward to seeing how they come out!

  16. Chris

    All that thought and work and you won’t be able to wear them?! Maybe, since you’re already doing a crapload of work on this, you should slap in some doubleknitting on the foot and add a silk liner…

  17. Carolyn

    It looks fabulous. I love the colours you chose…and great pattern. I did see the socks in the EZ book I picked up at the library and loved them! My practice mitten (swatch) is turning out ok. Quite a learning progress. I did the corrigated rib cuff and it is great for mittens, but it would be horrible for socks, you are correct!

  18. Debra

    Now that you’ve switched to two-handed color knitting, thought I’d let you know about left handed color knitting using Norwegian purl, which is purling with the yarn held in back in the left hand. Makes knitting a corrugated ribbing very fast and easy. Knittinghelp.com and Interweave Knits have info on the Norwegian purl. By the way, if one is truly suspicious of devices, then throw away the sticks and knit with your fingers!! Looking forward to your further adventures…

  19. pixie

    my husband makes fun of me all the time because when i started knitting i use to show him things and say “wow isnt that awful, why would anyone knit that, i never will”… but here I am… lol… variated socks! I swore i would never.. but then trekking #100 came my way.. how can you resist?!

  20. Karma

    Off to a great start! Amazing. I love how much you seek to challenge yourself and how you always seem to figure things out in the end. Enjoy the process.

  21. DeeAnn

    Excellent Kathy! I just started a pair of MS-FIFFAS myself, a different design but am now working on the heel turns. It’s my sixth pair of socks and I love them so far – indeed an excellent puzzle ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. alice

    I made the Aran Stockings in this set (the one on the far right). I too have mega calves. I had no problem with the top of the sock, as written, fitting over my calves, but, because it stretched so much horizontally there was much less to it vertically. So, I had to add two whole pattern repeats at the bottom, and I wish I’d added a third. In addition, I really should have knit some elastic in to the ribbing at the top.

    I’ve had moments of yearning for the Fair Isle variants also, but there are too many things ahead of them on my list!

  23. Paddy

    Your colourwork tension looks great! blocking WILL smooth out the (slight) wonkiness. best of luck with your new challenges, I admire your persistence.

    I have done a version of the form-fitted arch on all my socks for several years and really like the fit.

  24. gail

    Meg and EZ trust in the knitter’s own talent and creativity! I attended Knitting Camp two years ago and it was wonderful!! Although central Wisconsin is not a vacation paradise, you only want to knit anyway! I highly recommend Knitting Camp!!

  25. Purly Whites

    I remember when I used to poo poo sweaters with colorwork. Heh. So naive.

    These are looking awesome. I’m so glad you are persevering and figuring this one out. They will be masterpieces worthy of framing when you are done.

  26. Carrie

    I like those a lot. I can’t wear wool either (at all) so I thought I’d mention that Blue Moon makes Sock Candy, a cotton elastic yarn. Unfortunately, it’s harder to find a description of than STR. BUT, knit-purl in Oregon has dropped the Blue Moon line entirely and is making their own (hopefully comparable) sock yarn, including a cotton elastic one. And I hear that Southwest Trading Company is working on a soy-silk sock yarn…

  27. Jacquie

    Have you checked out Anna Zilboorg’s sock book yet? It’s a doozy. Also Joyce Williams and Lizbeth Upitis. I took a class with them on color knitting. They’re hilarious together.

    I’m beginning to think that really amazing colorwork is not so about technique or charts or careful laborious knitting on teeny tiny needles (although it certainly has all of the that). I think the most amazing colorwork is about being brave. About forgetting safety and just trying odd colors, new combinations. Which is admittedly hard for intense methodical little peoples like myself. Looking at art, especially children’s art is really helpful.

  28. Mary Tess

    I know you’ll figure this out and save many of us all the work. The colors are beautiful and the stranded work isn’t “wonky” at all.

    Congratulations–your Jaywalker pattern was menioned in the new Interweave Knits! I think your name as designer should have been included too, however.

  29. Norma

    I love those socks. I, too, have not done any two-color knitting to speak of (the one pair of socks with the little teeny bit of colorwork doesn’t really count.)

    But look at that photo again, the one modeling the socks. I can’t stop looking at it, and I’m afraid it’s going to give me nightmares. The 2nd sock from the left. Look at it. Is it just me, or does it look like it’s on a pegleg?

  30. Kara

    My family has those same tiny ankles! Wonder if it’s an Eastern European thing. I bet you cruise right through those socks once you get going. They look good so far! Maybe you can wear them over tights or hose.

  31. Abby

    First fair isle! Exciting!

    You know, Euny has a pair of the same stockings, and I think I like her colorway choice even better than Jess’s! I must have a pair!

  32. TracyKM

    THere is NO wonkiness in your swatches!

    And I thought I was crazy trying to copy the Shining Star from just your pictures…and I’ve been knitting just a tad longer than you (okay, more like a decade longer than you, LOL). I’m not afaid of ‘recipe’ patterns, copying, frogging, etc, but man, putting it all together while learning something new!!

    Check out Debbie New’s book “Unexpected Knitting” for her ‘Swirl’ socks. They remind me of the foot of the dark blue/black and cream ones, second from the right.

  33. j a r e d

    i went through the EXACT same transformation with Fair Isle. I used to think it was an old stuffy vestige of vintage fashion… and then POOF out of nowhere, i’m ob-SESSING over this stuff. i’m knitting a pair of komi mittens with 2 colors at a guage of 10 stitches to the inch and i CANNOT PUT IT DOWN. obsessive wouldn’t begin to describe.

    funny how we change, isn’t it?

  34. freecia

    Sounds like you’re loving it! I guess there’s a proper level of ambiguity. But since there’s no pattern, per se, I guess it’d be a bit tough to say what gauge you should be getting.

    Funny how the knit world changes “poo” to “ooh”.

  35. Beth S.

    Oh, it’s going to be a blast watching you knit a gorgeous pair of fitted, stranded socks! Go for it. After the Shawl from Hell, this should be a walk in the park. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  36. claudia

    Fair isle is indeed a lovely challenge and a fun knit, in which I have partaken on many occasions. But I must say I was relieved to hit your final paragraph as I utterly and completely agree with the first one.

  37. Christina

    You have the perfect Leonardo DaVinci feet. What does wool do to your feet? Can you immunize yourself? I think you are a great stranded knitter; the left sample looked really even. I can’t wait to see more of this project!

  38. paula

    See, Miss…this is one of the reasons why I like you. You have that special sort of crazy that elicits devotion and reverence.



    And yes, I do remeber life without knitting (or LWK) and it was so empty…so, sooo empty…

  39. Lisa

    I believe the “pithy” directions for these type of socks are in “Knitting Around” by Elizabeth Zimmermann. She calls them “Wearable Art Stockings” and the pattern starts on page 7. HTH.

  40. minnie

    i too have “shapely” calves, and narrower ankles. in fact, shapely enough that the 2×2 ribbing on the jaywalker just didn’t work for me. so i’m switching to 1×1 rib. i had actually thought about doing without the rib like a friend of mine, but nah.

    your socks look gorgeous. and that color combination rocks. keep up the good work (and those socks will be toasty warm, too!)

  41. Chris

    Hang in there on the tension thang. I teach stranded knitting, and I tell people that consistent tension is the key to making it look good. One method I recommend for getting the “right” tension is this: before taking the next stitch with a different colored yarn, stretch out the last few stitches on the *right-hand* needle as far apart as they will comfortably go. THEN take your stitch and pull it snug (not tight, just snug). This gives you a pretty good tension most of the time, with no puckers.

    Keep in mind also that the unevenness will work itself out in time as you (or whoever) wear the things, as long as you haven’t pulled the “floats” too tight.

    As for allergies: Is it just the tender skin on your feet that’s sensitive to wool, or is it an allover thing? If it’s just the feet (I have a friend with this problem), see if you can find a close match in dark-blue cotton for the foot part (perhaps SD can help). If it’s an allover thing, does wearing wool over a cotton lining help? As others have mentioned, tights or long cotton stockings underneath might do the trick. (I can’t wear wool next to my skin either, but it’s OK over a liner.)

    Good luck! Looks great so far.

  42. Adrian

    There are similar stockings in EZ’s Knitting Around on page 7. She calls them Wearable Art Stockings and gives a gauge of 5.5-6 sts. per inch, “depending on whether you are knitting for spindle-shanks or tree trunks”. Heh. They have instep shaping, but it’s grafted, which these might not be, especially the back and white.

  43. carrie

    I made a pair of fitted-arch socks for a friend. They sure did feel good, but then they were pure alpaca… but the arch shaping surely added something too.

  44. Jen the Knittingspaz

    As the first commenter says, I love that you’re going through all of this despite the fact that you’ll never wear them. Ah the joys of loving your craft.

    I had the experience of passing by a fair isle sweater while shopping the other day and NOT unfolding it and inspecting the wrong side to see how the floats looked. I was so pleased with myself that I asked my boyfriend if he was equally pleased at this heroic act of self-restraint. His response: less so now that you had to point it out.

  45. Dani

    i LOVE the ones that are second the the left too! They are all nice though ๐Ÿ™‚ Your Socks that Rock socks came out super pretty too!

  46. Jennifer

    First, your two color work looks great. Don’t be so hard on yourself. (Of course, if you weren’t then the blog wouldn’t be as entertaining.) And second, those are really cool f$%#*& socks! And you are really cool for actually attempting to knit them with such skimpy instructions. I bow to your superior courage!

  47. Kat

    There’s a reason why the gauge isn’t given — to paraphrase Elizabeth Z (only because I’m at work and don’t have Knitter’s Almanac handy), you’re supposed to take *your* yarn and *your* needles and find a fabric *you* like, then measure it and do the math. That’s why I keep doing Zimmerman/Swansen patterns, even though I’m not a knit-in-the-round person and have different preferences from them on several other points. They treat their readers like human beings instead of robots.

    P.S. If my stranded colourwork looked half as good as yours on my first try, I would have been jumping for joy and shouting from the rooftops. I only got it to look as good as yours very recently (after 20 years of off-and-on practising).

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