Our current sock dilemma

If I had to pick only one type of thing to knit for the rest of my life, I would probably choose to knit socks. While in grad school, I was the one in the front (or second) row knitting a sock. On the T, whether sitting or standing, I was the one knitting a sock while looking at the people around me. I even used to walk around the city while knitting socks! These days, I knit socks during zoom meetings and while sitting on our front porch. This is a very wordy way of saying that I knit my first pair of socks back in 2014 and have not stopped knitting them since.

My preferred way to knit socks is one at a time, top down, with the Fish Lip Kiss Heel (FLKH). In fact, at least 30 of the however many socks I’ve knit (70? Maybe?) have used the FLKH. In my near decade of sock knitting, I have never experienced someone who has the ability to literally walkthrough a pair of socks until I met my husband (no pictures, it’s too sad).

I started knitting for my husband before we had even started dating and were just friends. To this day, he is my favorite person to knit for and is always seeking ways to encourage me to knit for him more. In many ways, we are the perfect match, but in this case I’m going to bring your attention to his love of socks and my love of knitting them.

When I say that my husband loves wearing socks, what I’m really saying is that if his feet are not in the water they are in a pair of socks. Morning, noon and night. At the time of this post being written, he has worn through 4ish pairs of handknit socks. While, yes, he wears these socks all the time, it hasn’t been until recently that he’s started busting through new socks that I’ve knit him. When I say that the heel on a pair socks I gave him in December were busted in early February, I wish I could say that I was exaggerating.

Personally, I blame his boots and not my knitting. That being said, the Make Good Podcast episode for this week addressed my question and had some suggestions that I should share:

  1. It honestly might just be the boots. Again, I think I’m sticking with this being the problem. They’ve entered into our lives more recently and they’re becoming his go-to shoe. Scratch jokingly mentioned duck tape as a possible solution, but unfortunately that would lead to blisters and gluey socks.
  2. Since the boots aren’t going anywhere any time soon, it’s time to take a more serious look at how to reinforce the heels. For starters, it sounds like using a more robust wool that’s reinforced with nylon would mean that the FLKH could still be my heel of choice. Socks that have nylon in them do seem to be doing better than those that don’t, so I think this is a good step towards lasting socks.
  3. Another trick would be to add an additional thread to the heel. I’m intrigued by this idea and may need to try it!
Green, blue variegated knit socks.
Pattern: My Knitted Heart Vanilla Socks by Elizabeth Suarez
Yarn: Wonderland Yarns & Frabjous Fibers Mary Ann in Let’s Mosey

My current strategy is to knit a gusseted heel with a slip 1 knit 1 approach on the heel flap. I know this is a tried an true method, but the FLKH is so much faster. Perhaps my next pair will combine suggestions 2 & 3!

The other thing I’ve been working on is adding some flexible negative ease to the socks. I’m currently working a 2×2 rib down the sides of each sock in hopes that they stay up on his legs better.

Though more time consuming, I’m happy with the way things are coming out.

A quick note on the yarn I’m currently using: It’s the last skein of the national park series pt 2 from Simply Socks Co. (I have one more skein that I haven’t worked with yet). It’s been a while since I’ve worked with wonderland yarns and I’ve forgotten how fun their colors are.

Hawaii Retreat Cowl

I know that people have been taking advantage of working from home to travel. It’s all over my Instagram (no Facebook for this girl!) – the new trails that are being explored, the beaches that are being enjoyed, the different foods that are being tried – but I can’t bring myself to travel just yet. Part of this is due to our Spain trip imploding, we’ve already been burned by a lock down and I don’t want to relive that type of “action mode” again just yet. Some of it is a desire to not get sick/not get anyone else sick. Honestly, the biggest part is that I don’t want to travel if it means things are closed. The freedom to stop and enjoy a random restaurant, shop or museum is a privilege about traveling that I truly appreciate.

That aside, the longer we don’t travel the worse my wanderlust seems to get. I find myself daydreaming of hiking the Scotland Highlands or wandering the hills of Ireland. My partner is from New Zealand and I still haven’t explored the places he grew up. We used to be able to hop over to Canada with relative ease and there’s no end in site for the boarder closure. Needless to say, Simply Sock Yarn Company has been allowing me to travel vicariously through their gorgeous National Park Series. The first three month club focused on the Grand Canyon, Cub Lake, and the Black Hills National Forest and have each been knit up into gorgeous projects: House Slippers, Nelia Shawl, and Age of Brass and Steam. March’s colorway was inspired by Haleakala and it took me forever to pick a pattern that would suit it.

To the yarn’s credit, I felt very limited by the fact that I only had one skein. I thought about knitting a Spring Sorrel and several other DK weight sweaters before accepting the fact that I wasn’t going to get my hands on more skeins. So when I say that I settled on Joji’s Retreat Cowl, I need you to understand that there was still a lot of excitement around this pattern. In fact, the Retreat Cowl provided me with a nice break from a lace shawl that I’m passively working on.

The Retreat Cowl is worked flat after being started with a provisional cast on. After reaching the specified length, the provisional cast on is removed and stitches are picked up so that the lace edging can be worked. Simple, yet interesting. Plus it allows the yarn’s colors to bounce around and do most of the talking. I would knit this again, although probably in a tonal so that the lace edge stands out a little more.

Real talk about the lace edge: my row gauge was off and I was only able to pick up ~70 stitches. A quick search through the projects on Ravelry shows that this is a relatively common problem and results in a snug fitting cowl, even if you go up a needle size for the lace pattern. Thinking I was smart, I picked up two stiches for every stitch and worked 140 stitches (two extra lace repeats). The final result is a cowl that billows a bit at the bottom and is, stylistically speaking: a) not what I was going for and b) not really my style (or anyone else’s that I know of). That aside, it’s so frickin’ practical. The cowl will now sit slightly under the collar of a coat, as opposed to on top of it, and seal in warmth better. It’s a winter hiker’s dream! TBD if it ends up being gifted for Mother’s Day…

Close up of a multi colored ribbed cowl with lace edging being worn on a woman's neck.
Retreat Cowl, Knit by Iswimlikeafish

Knitting outside the lines aka Flax Light Modifications

If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’re already aware that I have a tendency to modify whatever I’m working on. Sometimes the modification is small, like in my second Stonewall sweater, where I removed the waist shaping, or my Wish and Hope baby cardigan where I gave up on the lace panels. Other times I remake the original object and it still looks like the original object, like my Azalea top. And sometimes you look at something that I’ve made and think “I mean the basic shape is the same but I’m not really sure you captured the original pattern”, like my Warp Speed sweater. The point I’m trying to make here is that sometimes I set out with the intention to modify and other times it just happens as the project progresses. Which sort of leads to the question: am I creative or just coloring outside the lines?

Sometimes, I think I’m creative (re: Winter Moss Hat). Most of the time, I think I take pieces of things that I like and put them together. This would lean the answer to the above question heavily to the side of coloring outside the lines. While not trying to discredit myself, I genuinely don’t think that I have the vision that a lot of my favorite designers have. I feel a strong appreciation for what they do and they inspire me, but that ah-ha moment that I imagine happens when they sit down to knit doesn’t happen for me. When I design, I design something that I want but can’t find elsewhere.

Enter Flax Light and my current pandemic knitting habits of the baby sweater. There seriously could not be a better free pattern out there for knitting outside the lines. I’ve added three more Flax Lights to my project page and tried out some new yarn with each.

A teal baby sweater with a waffle texture throughout.
Jo Flannel Flax Light, Knit by iswimlikeafish

Justin’s Flannel Flax Light, knit with Boss Sock by Junkyarns in Jo is perfect. I love the way that the colors and texture look like the ocean. Alicia Plummer is currently working on a children’s version for her flannel series, so I do feel a little bad that I’ve done the modifications required to knit a baby sweater, but I also can’t help but loving the final result. Boss sock was nice to work with as well, soft and silky as it slipped through my fingers. Not a lot of blooming during blocking, but that doesn’t really surprise me because of the general springiness of the yarn.

Jo Flannel Flax Light, literally named for each component because this is my 8th flax light (according to Ravelry), knit up in five days and the only thing I changed about the pattern was adding the texture to it. This version, and all of the other versions I have knit, does not take advantage of the short row options that have been added. This version is one that I can see myself knitting again, partially because I’m obsessed with the textured stitching of Plummer’s Flannel series and partially because it was so much fun to knit.

A lime green knit baby sweater with purl rows every fourth row to create a textured stripe.
Kryptonite Flax Light, Knit by iswimlikeafish

The next flax light I started was knit using Birch Dyeworks 80/20 Sock in the color Kryptonite. When I chose the colorway for this sweater, my goal was for something fun and gender neutral. AKA something that wasn’t pastel or gray. If the color alone didn’t get me excited, the name of the colorway (Kryptonite) did. Is it wrong to love the idea that a baby is wearing a sweater in a colorway named after Superman’s one weakness? How can you not appreciate the idea that the bundle of joy being wrapped up in this sweater brings the strongest of the strong to their knees?

If I compare Birch Dyeworks 80/20 Sock to Junkyarn’s Boss Sock, and am honest, there isn’t a huge difference in the way that they knit up. This comparison is particularly interesting because I haven’t knit the same project with slightly different yarn back to back like this before. Even considering the amount of time I spend knitting socks in graduate school, I tended to bias my purchases towards a particular brand of sock yarn (*cough cough* Alegria). This observation either means I’m not enough of a yarn snob to notice the difference (entirely possible!) or that the fibers are similar enough that purchase comes down to color (slightly more likely). Both yarns should hold up well during machine washing and I anticipate just a little bit of shrinking.

A light blue, dark blue and grey stripped baby sweater with orange cuffs.
Sunfish Flax Light, Knit by iswimlikeafish

In terms of sweater modification, I purled a row every 4th row to give the sweater a textured stripe. Honestly, not as interesting a knit as my Jo Flannel Flax Light — I hit the first sleeve and started wondering why the project wasn’t done yet. The second sleeve involved a lot of “you’re almost done!”, which ultimately implies that I felt the sleeves should have knit up faster.

Flax light number three (or number 10 according to Ravelry) is the least gender neutral if you’re focusing strictly on the idea that blue is for boys. Knit in Woolens and Nosh Targhee Sock, the body of the sweater is blue and gray stripes with the ribbing boasting a bright orange color. When I think of a sock yarn, Targhee sock is what I think of. This yarn feels durable and soft, which probably means that the final result will be a stiffer (less drapey) sweater. Though still superwash, Targhee Sock feels more like a wool than the merino yarns above (I’m not sure why that’s a thing for me these days, Merino is wool too!). Please don’t make me pick a yarn that I enjoyed the most, I can see myself buying all three again!

The only modification I made in this sweater was to eliminate the sleeve garter stitch panels. The stripping felt like enough of a design element on this tiny sweater.

Three folded baby sweaters, the top left is a lime green knit baby sweater with purl rows every fourth row to create a textured stripe. The bottom left is a teal baby sweater with a waffle texture throughout. The final sweater is folded to the right and in the middle of the previous to, it is a light blue, dark blue and grey stripped baby sweater with orange cuffs.

Stonewall, Take Two

Yellow orange yarn knit into a stockinet stitch gauge swatch.
Swatching for Stonewall in Wool of the Andes

They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, which breaks down to about 20 hours a week for 10 years. If you break that down into a work week, that’s roughly five hours a day Monday through Friday. If you take advantage of all seven days then it’s around three hours a day. Three hours a day for 10 years in order to reach 10,000 hours or master level. Crazy.

Mind you, the 10,000 hours must be put toward something called deliberate practice or practicing in a way that pushes your skill set as much as possible (1). I learned how to knit sometime around 2006, which is over ten years ago now, but before I call myself a master I need to admit that deliberate practice did not come until I knit my friend a baby blanket for her first born in 2013. That’s only seven years ago.

I’m a good knitter. Socks come together without following a pattern. Sweaters patterns are modified and manipulated to my hearts desire. Cables are created without the use of a cable needle. I test knit patterns and am able to trouble shoot when there is an error. I’m a good knitter, but I’m not sure I can really call myself an expert based upon the above criteria.

About 8 inches of an in progress yellow orange handknit sweater, 3 inches of bottom ribbing and 5 inches of broken seed stitch.
Stonehill body

Recently, Princeton has conducted research to look into Malcolm Gladwell’s popularized work from over twenty years ago with the following question in mind: Why do so few people who take up an instrument such as the violin, a sport such as golf, or a game such as chess ever reach an expert level of performance (2)? Based upon Gladwell’s 10,000 theory, you would think there would be an easy answer: not many people commit 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to something. I think the point of their question, however, was really are people born experts (and then spend time practicing) or can you become an expert via practicing.

Before I get into what the Princeton study said, you’ll need to excuse my minor geek out moment. The study is a Meta-Analysis, which is something that I encourage my students to look for day in and day out. Essentially, a Meta-Analysis is highly transparent and reproduceable study design meant to answer a question using existing literature while minimizing researcher bias. In short, a team of researchers conduct a systematic search of the literature (using multiple databases) and then perform a title/abstract screen using inclusion/exclusion criteria. When that’s done, they then perform a full text screen using the same criteria. The leftovers studies are then used to write the review and if the data across the studies can be statistically analyzed, the team is able to conduct a meta analysis.

Part of my geek out comes from being a librarian and appraising the study before reporting it back to you. They did a pretty good job and followed the PRISMA reporting guidelines, not too shabby.

A yellow orange handknit sweater sitting in a sink filled with water and a splash of wool wash.
Blocking my Stonewall sweater

Anyway, despite their conclusion saying that more studies are needed to really understand this topic, they found that there are factors that influence skills outside of the 10,000 hour mark (think age and working memory). Which makes me wonder if some of the skills that I learned really quickly happened because I took up knitting seriously right after I finished college. AKA when I was looking to learn something new and challenge myself.

I suppose I wonder this because the motivation that existed for me to learn how to knit does not exist when it comes to learning how to better my crochet, sewing or embroidery skills.

This rabbit hole was inspired by my take two of Alicia Plummer‘s sweater pattern Stonewall, which came out a LOT better than take one. Admittedly, the bar was set pretty low when you consider that take one grew about a foot when I blocked it and I had never picked up stitches for a neckline before. The thing is, it’s still not perfect. I ignored all waist shaping because I usually like a boxier sweater, but I should have done a little bit of it. I also maybe should have gone down an additional needle size when knitting the neckline, even though I’m happy with the stitches for the bottom and sleeve ribbing.

A young woman wearing a textured yellow orange handknit sweater.
My Completed Stonewall Sweater

So where do I stand on the 10,000 hours thing? I would say it’s been a while since I’ve really pushed myself on a project, probably because I enjoy knitting that is semi mindless. That being said, I’ve think I understand how stitches can translate into a garment and can create a mental image of how something will knit up in the yarn that I’m using (pooling aside of course).

All in all, I think I’m mostly happy with my second attempt of the Stonewall sweater and think I’m going to continue to knit projects that inspire me.

Works Cited (Vancouver Style)

  1. Baer D. New study destroys Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule [Internet]. Business Insider. [cited 2020 Nov 7]. Available from: https://www.businessinsider.com/new-study-destroys-malcolm-gladwells-10000-rule-2014-7
  2. Macnamara BN, Hambrick DZ, Oswald FL. Deliberate practice and performance in music, games, sports, education, and professions: a meta-analysis. Psychol Sci. 2014 Aug 1;25(8):1608–18.

on Ponchos

I knew that I got to a point of not caring what other people thought about what I was wearing when I attended a post wedding (as in the next day) BBQ in jeans and a flannel and didn’t feel under dressed. In hindsight, I probably should have dressed up a bit more, but maybe they shouldn’t have called the function a BBQ (that is, after all the event I dressed for). It was confirmed again when I opted to wear flats to my sisters wedding and again when I grabbed a random dress out of a box in order to attend a recent function.

I’m also not a fan of wearing makeup, it feels funny on my skin and hides my freckles. Every so often I whip out mascara for fun, but I don’t have a strong drive to wear it ever day.

This is a round about way of me saying that I wear what makes me comfortable and most of the time dress to the right fancy level. I love acquiring clothing second hand and stopped caring about having the “in style” outfit when I was 12.

So why can’t I bring myself to knit and wear ponchos? A poncho is basically a classy blanket that you can wear all day, a concept that I’m super into. So why do I put them on and immediately say “wow that looks silly” while staring enviously at others who are “able to pull it off”?

In the interest of reminding myself that this mentality goes against all of my other clothing thoughts, I’ve put together a list of ponchos that I should really consider knitting. Note: Order means nothing.

The Comfort Zone
  1. The Comfort Zone. The simplicity of this poncho speaks to me, someone essentially decided that they wanted a poncho in the middle of knitting a sweater. I love it. Plus it’s knit in Aran weight yarn, so you know it would be warm and cozy.
Indigo Frost

2. Indigo Frost. Another gorgeous poncho that mixes yarn overs with a little bit of colorwork. A few people even made this one with pompoms…

Stone Point

3. Stone Point. I believe this one was on the cover of a catalog a few years back. My aunt made one and it looks amazing on her. Surely if she can pull it off so can I?

Oakwood Poncho

4. Oakwood Poncho. Tell me this one isn’t a blanket that’s been made to stay around your shoulders. Knitpicks even had kits when they first released it.

Wanda Estelle

5. Last but not least: Wanda Estelle. When I worked for Web’s Yarn Store, this one was constantly passed around because it looked good on everyone. I used to stare jealously at the different staff who could pull if off better than me in my mind.

We’re in the process of fixing up a 1910 house that is on the drafter side. Between that and working from home for the foreseeable future, I might end up with a poncho on my needles and the motivation to convince myself that it doesn’t matter if it looks good on me.