Thursday, December 5, 2013

This old dog learned some new tricks

Even though I have been knitting for years and even though I have knit many pairs of socks during some of those years, I figured there were still some things I could learn from the Yarn Harlot, so I signed up for her "Knitting for Speed and Efficiency" and "Grok the Socks" classes at Simply Socks. I was right and wrong - not only did I learn something new, I learned a whole bunch of somethings new.

First off, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee provided us with a brief history of knitting, which is relatively young as far as fabric-making goes. Before knitting, there was weaving and people wore what amounted to foot bags for socks. Knitting was born in the Middle East, then traveled to Spain where, despite the plethora of merino sheep, the Spaniards preferred their yarn to be made from silk. Eventually, knitting reached the British Isles and the Brits came to own it, which explains why so many knitting terms come from British place names and people names: Aran, Fair Isle, Kitchener, etc. And everyone knit - men, women, children. Wars were won on handknit socks.

The bulk of the "speed knitting" class involved learning lever knitting, also known as Irish cottage knitting. Rather than have me try to explain it, click here to see the Yarn Harlot in action. What kind of gripes my ass is, I used to knit in a very similar (if slower) manner, the right needle propped on my thigh. But I wasn't confident enough to believe this was a valid way to knit and caved when others questioned my method. Also, I could not figure out how to continue knitting this way when using circular needles, so I switched to "picking", a.k.a. Continental knitting. But the resulting fabric was never as even or as sturdy.

Stephanie had suggestions for speeding up your knitting, regardless of whether you are a picker or a thrower or what have you. One is to "spring load" the fabric by scrunching it up on the left needle so it practically leaps onto the right needle as you knit. Also, when turning your work, do a "kick turn" instead of a "hard reset", simply pivoting the needles to avoid needless fumbling. Have someone video tape you as you knit by holding the camera over your shoulder, then examine your knitting movements for anything that is not knitting. I am guilty of sometimes pushing the left needle to get the old stitch off it, then welcoming the new stitch to the right needle with a little stroke. Spring loading eliminates both of these quirks, so now I knit more smoothly and slightly faster.

The goal of the sock class was to provide us with enough information that, given a skein of yarn and some needles, we could crank out a pair of socks without resorting to a pattern. Sizing socks for adults is a easy as measuring their hand: the length of the hand from heel to fingertip is approximately the same as the distance between the bottom of the calf muscle and the top of the heel flap, which is the same as the distance between the end of the heel turn and the start of the toes. We also learned the difference between picking up stitches and picking up and knitting stitches - do the former when working the gusset. But you know what happens if you don't follow all the rules for knitting a sock? Nothing. You will still have a wearable sock even if you don't turn the heel and don't close the toe with the Kitchener stitch.

I have been avoiding knitting socks for my granddaughter because I didn't want to put all that effort into something she would outgrow in a matter of minutes. By the end of the sock class, though, I was nearly done with one toddler-sized sock because - DUH! - knitting tiny socks for tiny feet takes almost no time at all.

One thing I hoped to accomplish with these classes was to jump start my knitting mojo which has been flagging lately. Needless to say, mission accomplished.

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