Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mosaic Patterns

I love the look of colourwork socks, but I don't love knitting them. I find that stranded knitting, where you use multiple (usually 2) colours per row of knitting, is too tight for socks. I really struggle to get the tension right, and even with very loose floats my socks frequently are too tight to get on. After howling in frustration and ripping many times on different pairs of socks, I've now basically given up on this technique. The only exception I'll make is if the floats are not longer than 2 stitches. Then I can still get it to work. But that's a pretty tight limit!

There are, however, many patterns that use more than one colour that are NOT stranded.

Mosaic knitting is such a technique. With this type of knitting, you never knit more than a single colour per row. Many patterns alternate two rows of one colour with two rows of a highly contrasting second colour, and use slipped stitches to create the illusion of stranded knitting. Not only is this technique easier than true fair-isle knitting, it almost eliminates the issue of tight fabric, because there are no floats. I say almost because mosaic knitting is a bit tighter than regular knitting, so the socks tend to fit small. The slipped stitches make the socks thicker and a little less elastic, and they pull in a bit. Think of those flap heels in eye-of-partridge stitch - that's what you're getting in mosaic knitting. And, as a bonus to spinners, this is a great way of combining more fragile handspun with robust millspun sock yarn!

Here are some of the mosaic socks I recently finished. I just love the eye-popping patterns you can get!

Pair number 1:  this is a pattern from General Hogbuffer, one of my favorite sock designers, and it's free on Ravelry. It looks horribly complicated, but it's not all that bad. Not a beginner pattern - you do need to keep track of the rows - but well worth the effort, in my opinion. I think it looks absolutely spectacular in a bright colour combined with black.

[Pucker by General Hogbuffer, done in pink and black commercially spun sock yarn]

Pair number 2: these are my own unvention, I just used a 16-stitch mosaic pattern from Barbara Walker's stitch dictionary (I think volume 2) called "Cesar's Check". I used it in my own afterthought heel pattern, leaving a line of waste yarn where I wanted the heel, and coming back to knit it in afterwards. This is an easy way to maintain the integrity of the mosaic pattern - you don't have to think about the heel at all while you're knitting the sock. However - and this is important - if your beginning of row is at the middle of the sole of the sock, break both your main yarn colours before you knit in that waste yarn, and start with fresh ends on the row after the waste yarn. If you don't do this, you will end up with ridiculously short yarn ends to tie off and work in when you open that heel slit. I know this because I've made this mistake!! Obviously, another thing you can't do is to slip stitches over that waste yarn, so the slit has to fall between pairs of rows of the same colour. But that's not usually a big constraint.

[Cesar's Check socks with improved afterthought heel]

As I've stated, the socks will be a bit thicker and tighter than regular knitting. To take care of this, either make a size larger than you normally would (ie. instead of 64 sts, use 68 or 72), or go up a needle size. 

These socks are so much fun that I've started combing through stitch dictionaries for appropriately-sized mosaic patterns. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

My Favourite Sock Patterns, Men's Edition

I don't knit a lot of socks from published patterns, but sometimes I find one that I really, really like. Oddly enough, they tend to be less complicated than one might expect. Here are 3 patterns that I have all knit multiple times - thus proving that I really like them. These are all rather toned-down designs. They are most definitely suitable for the men in your life, being not too "fancy", but still afford enough variation so that you don't go insane with boredom while knitting them. Click on the orange text to zip over to Ravelry where you can purchase the patterns (and also see who else has made them!).

1. Treppenviertel Socks by Nicola Susen : not a free pattern (costs 2.5 Euro or about CAD$4), but I've knit this one three times, and I'm planning on at least a couple more. I do them toe-up so that I can make them longer (the pattern is a little on the short side, especially for men). It's an easy pattern involving nothing but knits and purls, is easily scaled to accomodate larger and smaller sizes, and can take any kind of heel you like. It looks very classy when finished, best done in a solid yarn with no halo (ie. not fuzzy or wooly). Self-striping, marled, or heathered yarns tend to kill the design.

[Treppenviertel socks, image copyright Nicolor on Ravelry

2. Porthos by Caoua Coffee : this one's free (as are all of Caoua's patterns), so what is not to love?? This pattern eats yarn, so watch out. I've knit it twice and again am planning a few more iterations. I do it toe-up so I don't run out of yarn. It's nicely elastic and looks very complicated, but is actually nothing but knits and purls. The only downside is that it doesn't resize easily because of the pattern repeat, and I find it too big for me - it fits men beautifully though. Again, this looks fantastic in a solid yarn with no fuzziness. Not suitable for stripes, heathered, or marled yarns, IMO.

[Porthos socks]

3. Wedge Sock by Cookie A. : this one is pretty pricey at US$6.5, but you might find it in her book called Knit.Sock.Love. in your local library. It's interesting enough done in plain yarn, but turns absolutely super-fantastic when done in a self-striping yarn, especially if you take care to "edit" the yarn to enhance the contrast between the stockinette and garter sections. Of course, this makes for some wild 'n' crazy socks! The pattern is very difficult to do 2AAT because it requires back-and-forth knitting. It's also hard to translate into toe-up. I don't use her instructions for the toe; instead I do a standard wedge toe in garter (K1 row, P1 row in the round). While not the easiest of patterns, it looks so amazing in basically any Schoppel Zauberball colourway that it simply flies off the needles. I've knit it 3  4 times! I find that the shorter version fits best (the longer version slides down my leg in an annoying fashion).

[Wedge socks]


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Sock Wool Review 10

Wow! 10 episodes of sock yarn!
I recently visited a yarn shop I hadn't been to before, and they had some different European lines of sock yarn that I immediately bought to try. Both have an excellent price point (less than $15 for a pair of socks).

1. Phildar Phil Folk 50 - this stuff is made in Romania but marketed through a French company.It's a 75/25 wool/nylon blend at 210m/50g. I'm pretty sure it's superwash although it doesn't say that on the ball band. It's a close match to Regia in terms of colour and fuzzy texture, and the colourways are nice and natural with lots of greys and browns to choose from. It knits up nicely and has reasonable stitch definition, although there are very slight variations in thickness in the yarn every once in a while. The brown colour I chose has a halo and a very slightly tweedy appearance. Excellent for casual men's socks. The socks do have a slight tendency to pill after repeated laundering (not as good as Regia on this front). I think this yarn works best for knit/purl designs; the twisted-stitch openwork I tried didn't work well with the yarn's halo.

[phil folk 50 in action]

2. DGB Confetti superwash - made in Italy and marketed through a French-Canadian firm, another 75/25 wool/nylon blend at 210m/50g. This yarn has a very tight ply and has a nice "boing" factor as a result. It's soft - as in squishy -  and has no halo. The tight ply gives it beautiful stitch definition, so it's prime for cablework! The socks turn out smooth and dressy. The colourways are not as "natural" as the Phil Folk 50, but there are reasonable solid colours on offer. I think there are also self-striping colourways. I've got a solid rust-red, a dark teal, and a hot pink. It's very nice to knit with and launders beautifully. The downside is those colours - if it's browns and greys you're after, you'll be hard pressed to find nice ones.

[DGB confetti superwash in Treppenviertel socks]