Review: Knitlandia by Clara Parkes

I really like audiobooks. They help keep me occupied when I’m doing boring tasks like washing up or cooking. Lately, I’ve been enjoying Knitlandia by Clara Parkes. This is part knitting book, part autobiography and part travel guide. One thing I particularly like about the audio version is that it’s narrated by the author, which always adds an extra layer to a book like this.

Knitlandia on Audible

Knitlandia by Clara Parkes on Audible

Big American Shows

I’m pretty familiar with the British wool scene and have watched the American scene from afar on the internet for the last few years, so I found it really interesting to hear first hand what it is really like to go to Rhinebeck, Squam or Maryland Sheep and Wool. While I love seeing all the pretty pictures on Instagram and the wool people have bought, Clara manages to convey the atmosphere of each place.

It’s also fascinating to hear things from a teacher’s perspective, someone with behind the scenes access and an appreciation for the history of events and how they have developed over the years. I loved learning about the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival and how it has changed from a focus on local agriculture to the huge event it is today.

Behind the Scenes

As someone who likes to understand how things work, I found the chapter on Clara’s visit to Interweave and how that eventually lead to The Knitters Book of Yarn being published (not by Interweave) really interesting. If you’ve ever watched a Craftsy class, you’ll likely enjoy the chapter on how they are produced.

I find it hard to believe that Ravelry has only been going just over 10 years when you look at the impact that it, and other internet developments, have had on the knitting community. I found the chapters dealing with the early 2000s particularly interesting, as it seems like just yesterday but a lot has changed – some people who were big names in the knitting world have faded away, but some are still going strong.

Foreign Travel

While most of the focus is on travel within America, there are chapters dedicated to visits to Iceland, Paris and Edinburgh. I’ve been to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival (although the year after Clara was there) and so I found that chapter particularly interesting as I could easily picture what she was describing. It’s always interesting to have an outsider’s perspective and hear her comparison to the large American shows.

Clara manages to find the humour in every situation, and this is particularly evident in the Iceland chapter. This is a country that has very different traditions to what both me and Clara are used to – one apparently being the requirement to strip and be thoroughly washed before being allowed to bathe in the hot springs.

Conclusions

I really enjoyed Knitlandia, and I particularly liked having it on audio. As each chapter is fairly self-contained, it didn’t matter that I was dipping in and out and I think the narration made it more engaging. It’s a great review of the knitting scene over the last ~15 years and I really like Clara’s style.

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How to Pick Up Heel Stitches

The thing that puts a lot of people off knitting flap and gusset heels is having to pick up the stitches along the heel flap. If done right, though, this can be really simple.

Here’s a short video showing the process. And if at the end you still hate it, try knitting toe up, then a flap and gusset heel doesn’t require picking up stitches at all.

Review: Custom Socks by Kate Atherley

Custom Socks: knit to fit your feet is the type of technical book that I really love. Like me, Kate Atherley has a background in the software industry and that shows through in the systematic approach she has taken to sock knitting.

Custom Socks by Kate Atherley

Custom Socks by Kate Atherley ©Rachel Gibbs

What you need to know before casting on

The book starts with a very comprehensive look at sock sizing, including the results of a survey of 500 volunteers who took measurements of the six different parts of their feet necessary for a good fitting sock. If you only have partial measurements for your sock recipient, or just a shoe size (in US, European or UK sizes for adults and children), there are tables to help you estimate everything you need to know.

Diagram for magic loop

Diagram for magic loop ©Rachel Gibbs

The second chapter is called On Yarn, Needles and Gauge. As well as the standard advice on types of needle and yarn, there are sections on estimating yardage, minimising ladders and reinforcing heels. The diagrams are very clear, in an illustrated style, and additional information is found in highlighted boxes.

Basic sock patterns

Chapter 3, On the Basic Pattern, is where the real meat of Custom Socks begins. Kate clearly has a very strong preference for a flap and gusset heel with a square heel turn and so this is the only type the book covers (top down and toe up). A flap and gusset heel is the easiest to adapt to fit any possible foot variation, so it makes sense for a book that is focussed on achieving a perfect fit. In my experience, short row heels are the type people prefer to knit, whereas flap and gusset are the type people prefer to wear.

Top down sock stitch counts table

Top down sock stitch counts table ©Rachel Gibbs

It starts with a look at the basic structure of a flap and gusset sock, then goes into the top down version with advice on stretchy cast ons and picking up stitches. Instructions on the Kitchener stitch are included in the glossary at the back but not in the main text as Kate prefers a wedge toe finished by cinching the final 8-10 stitches. It then has a simple pattern with all the numbers as a blank space. These can either be filled in using the extensive tables or using the formulas given. If you want to really understand where all the numbers come from in a pattern, this book will help you do that.

It then does the same overview of a toe up sock, with instructions on Judy’s Magic Cast On, avoiding holes at the top of the gusset and stretchy bind offs. The toe up sock has its own tables and formulas, as while many numbers are the same there are some key differences.

Fancy patterns

Chapter 4, On Adding Stitch Patterns, is possibly my favourite thing about knitting I’ve ever read. She doesn’t just explain how difference stitch patterns affect the fabric, she discusses how having a different gauge on the patterned instep to the stocking stitch sole will affect a sock and how to compensate for awkward pattern repeats. There are lots of formulas, but if you’re interested in learning how to design your own socks, this is so important.

Design case study

Design case study ©Rachel Gibbs

The book then contains 15 patterns, which are very nice and you could very easily just follow and get a good result, but each one also has a design case study on how the decisions were made and the mathematical basis for them.

I found that while every pattern comes in more than one size (and sizing issues are discussed in the case studies), some didn’t go as large as I would have liked, especially the lace ones. Now perhaps the target audience for lacy socks will on average have smaller feet, but I really liked the Jarvis socks and they don’t come in my size.

Jarvis Socks

Jarvis Socks ©Rachel Gibbs

The patterns cover a wide range of styles and techniques, with knit/purl patterns, cables, lace and stranded colourwork. Some also contain both top down and toe up variants. The instructions are charted only, written instructions for the stitch patterns are not provided. All use the flap and gusset heel and square heel turn.

Customising your socks even further

If your feet/legs differ from the standard proportions, there’s a whole chapter On Adjustments for Non-Average Feet. If you’re not interested in designing, but do want to make well fitting plain socks, this chapter could be the answer. There’s still quite a lot of maths and measuring involved but it’s explained well with examples. The chapter covers adapting the leg for skinny legs, shapely legs and knee socks; getting a good fit at the ankle; adjusting the gusset for high or low arches and adapting the toe for a better fit.

Conclusion

I think Custom Socks is full of very useful information and will be beneficial if you just want to knit better fitting socks for yourself, or you want to try designing. It is very maths heavy and while you can just use the tables and patterns to knit blindly, I think you would be missing out on what makes this book special. If you hate flap and gusset heels, this probably isn’t the book for you but perhaps it will help change your mind and realise why those are the easiest type to customise.

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Indie Designer Gift-A-Long

For the first time, I’m going to be taking part in the Indie Designer Gift-A-Long on Ravelry. This is a giant KAL that has been running for five years and is supposed to be lots of fun.

The first part is a sale from 8pm EST on 21st November (that’s 1am on Wednesday here) to midnight EST on 28th November. All my sock patterns are 25% off with the code giftalong2017. You can find them on Ravelry here.

All my sock patterns are eligible for the sale

All my sock patterns are eligible for the sale ©Rachel Gibbs

Then you have six weeks to knit any pattern from a participating designer, enter competitions and chat with other knitters and crocheters. It’s a great way to get to know the awesome patterns from indie designers all over the world and have some support for last minute gift knitting.

Level Up Your Socks KAL Winners

We had 14 entries into my Level Up Your Socks KAL, including 4 using my patterns who got a bonus entry, making 18 in total.

Thanks to everyone who took part, it was great to see all your socks and talk all things sock related.

Here are all the winning entries:

A Skein of Explorer Sock from Phileas Yarns

Päivi is the winner with her Piezoelectric Socks.

paivi-piezoelectric

Päivi’s Piezoelectric Socks ©kaisukka

3 Single Patterns from Yarnesty (Anna Friberg)

The winners are Päivi’s Pangolin Socks, Conchi’s Dove Lace Socks and Heather’s Socks on a Plane.

paivi-pangolin

Päivi’s Pangolin Socks ©kaisukka

conchi-dovelace

Conchi’s Dove Lace Socks ©ConchiRodes

Done! #sockknittersofinstagram #socksonaplane #knittersofinstagram #levelupyoursocks

A post shared by Heather (@properheathersgrandadventure) on

Two single patterns from Rachel Gibbs Designs

Sandeleh’s Convoluted Clues and Heather’s Basket Rib.

sandeleh-convolutedclues

Sandeleh’s Convoluted Clues ©sandeleh

Right- and Left-Leaning Decreases

In knitting, there are two main types of decreases involving two stitches – right-leaning and left-leaning. It’s really useful to be able to tell these apart and know which action will produce which result.

Right-Leaning

The first decrease most people learn is knit two together (k2tog). This results in the left-hand stitch on top, causing the stitch to lean to the right. The first stitch the needle enters is the one that ends on top.

right-leaning decrease

k2tog: a right-leaning decrease ©Rachel Gibbs

Left-Leaning

Left-leaning decreases are a little bit more complicated. The two most common ones are slip one, knit one, pass slipped stitch over (skp) and slip one knitwise, slip one knitwise, knit two slipped stitches together through the back loop (ssk). In all cases, this results in the right-hand stitch on top.

left-leaning decrease

ssk or skp: left-leaning decrease

Purl Decreases

Decreases can also be worked in purl and similarly, a p2tog is right-leaning and an ssp is left-leaning.

right-leaning purl decrease

p2tog: a right-leaning decrease ©Rachel Gibbs

However, purl decreases are most commonly worked on the wrong side of the work. When you look at the back of a left-leaning increase, you also get a left-leaning increase, but it will point towards the opposite side of the work, which is something to bear in mind.

How to Understand Cable Symbols

Cables can be quite intimidating when you first start knitting them and there seem to be a lot of different variations to learn. If you are using a pattern with a chart, this can make things a lot easier as the cable symbols often look the same as the end result. If you’re not familiar with knitting from a chart, try reading my How To Read Knitting Charts: The Basics post first.

Naming System

There are two main ways of naming cables, depending on whether the focus is on the action taken to make the stitch or the desired end result.

C4B or 2/2 RC

Slip next 2 stitches to cable needle and place at back of work, k2, then k2 from cable needle.

This symbol is usually called either C4B or 2/2 RC. C4B means that the cable uses four stitches in total and the cable needle is held at the back – the opposite stitch is the C4F where the cable needle is held at the front2/2 RC means that the cable is formed from two stitches crossing over two stitches and the cable crosses from left to right – the opposite stitch would be the 2/2 LC.

In the C4B notation it is easy to see how to make the stitch, but if a cable is unbalanced, e.g. with three stitches crossing over one then it would still make four stitches in total but have a different look. That is why in my patterns I prefer the 2/2 RC notation. I also find it easier to visualise the end result from just the name.

Deconstructing a Cable Symbol

While you can consult the key every time you come to a cable, it’s easier and quicker to be able to work out what to do based on the symbol itself.

Number of Stitches

2 stitch and 4 stitch cables

Cables using two and four stitches ©Rachel Gibbs

The first step is to determine how many stitches are involved in the cable. While the cable is made from one symbol, it will cover multiple boxes of a chart, as it uses more than one stitch. Use the boxes of the row below or above to count how many stitches are involved. In this example, the cables on the top row use two stitches and the cables on the bottom row use four stitches. I have superimposed the grid lines onto the symbols on the left to make this clearer.

1/2 RC and 2/1 LC

Uneven Cables ©Rachel Gibbs

If the cables are uneven, the symbol shows which side uses more stitches by wider or narrower symbols and the diagonal lines meet the gridlines to show how many stitches are used for each side. Here on the left is a 1/2 RC, with the one stitch in front of the two stitches and on the right a 2/1 LC with the two stitches in front of the one stitch. In this notation, the first number is always the number of stitches at the front.

Back or Front

2/2 RC+ 2/2 LC

Right and Left Cables ©Rachel Gibbs

A cable is made of two or more parts. When you look at a cable symbol, you need to identify which part is on top. Here that part is shaded in green, with the part below in blue. Remember in a chart the stitches are building on the row below, like in knitting. Therefore the next stitches on the left-hand needle are the ones in the bottom right of the symbol because in knitting we work from right to left.

If the lines coming from the bottom right go behind the lines from the bottom left, like in the 2/2 RC, then you need to hold the cable needle at the back. Similarly, if the lines from the bottom right cross over the lines from the bottom left, like in the 2/2 LC, then you hold the cable needle at the front.

Knit or Purl

Cables do not have to just use knit stitches, especially in patterns using travelling cables they often involve purls or twisted stitches. This is shown by taking the basic symbol and adding decoration to show which stitches to use.

I create all my charts using Stitchmastery. This software has two main options for how symbols look.

Cable Symbols using Stitchmastery Dot font

Stitchmastery Dot Cable Symbols using Purls and Twisted Stitches ©Rachel Gibbs

Cable Symbols using Stitchmastery Dash font

Stitchmastery Dash Cable Symbols using Purls and Twisted Stitches ©Rachel Gibbs

In the Stitchmastery Dot font purls are represented by dots, whereas in the Dash font purl sections in cables are solid black. Once you know how the pattern you are using represents purls and twisted stitches, you can apply that to all the cables in that pattern.

The additional symbols are shown at the top of the cable symbol, as that represents the stitches being worked. The bottom of the cable symbol represents the stitches from the row below. This means that the first stitches worked are the symbol from the top right. For the 1/1 RPC this means the first stitch is knit and the second (from the cable needle) is purled.

Exceptions

There are always exceptions to any rule and sometimes designers are forced to create non-standard cables. However, this guide should help you understand most cable symbols and allow you to knit without continually consulting the key or looking up definitions.

An Interview with Dana Gervais

A photo of Dana Gervais
I’m interviewing sock designers as part of my Level Up Your Socks KAL. This week I’m talking to Dana Gervais about her sock designs and e-courses.

Introduction

RG: Tell me a little about yourself and your designs. 

DG: I’m a knitwear designer who specializes in socks!  I like to say that I see a pair of socks in every skein of yarn I see and my mission is to set them free.  I also enjoy creating sock knitters through free email courses and online challenges.  I live in Ontario, Canada with my husband, two kids and lots of pets!

E-Courses

#SockWhisperer is the third of Dana's sock courses

#SockWhisperer is the third of Dana’s sock courses ©Dana Gervais

RG: You now have three beginner sock knitting courses, with different heels and directions. Which did you enjoy writing the most? 

DG: I love all methods of sock construction, but cuff down socks are my happy place, so I would have to say that the #SockVirgin challenge was my favourite to create.  It’s also the first challenge that I ever created, so that also makes it special.

RG: Has anything surprised you from people taking the courses?

DG: I was surprised how many knitters have taken the challenge.  When I created the first challenge, #SockVirgin, my goal was to have between 10 and 50 knitters sign up to do it with me.  I was completely amazed when the sign up list reached 1000 before the start date.

RG: Why do you think some people think socks are harder than other types of knitting? 

DG: I’m not sure where this notion of socks being an advanced knitting technique comes from.  It could be because traditionally socks have been worked on DPNs which looks both complicated and impressive to non-DPN users.  In reality, socks are not difficult – in fact my grandmother learned to knit socks at school when she was very young; school children would make them for the armed forces.

Designing

Sock Designs from Dana Gervais

Sock Designs from Dana Gervais ©Dana Gervais

RG: How do you make decisions for your designs, on what pattern and which heel etc. to use? 

DG: I try to change it up with each design so that knitters and I don’t get bored making the same cuffs, heels, and toes all the time.  Most designs start with the stitch pattern and the yarn and the rest of the sock evolves from there, I try to incorporate techniques that will show the yarn and the stitch pattern to their best advantages.

RG: Why do you like designing and making socks more than anything else? 

DG: I do knit things other than socks, but socks are my happy place.  They are portable, they use 1 skein of yarn (most of the time) they don’t require a huge financial investment, they don’t take very long to finish and where I live it’s sock season for at least 7 months of the year, so they are useful.

Sock Knitting

RG: What’s the biggest problem you’ve ever had when knitting a sock and how did you fix it? 

DG: One of the benefits of being a designer is that I can often incorporate ‘problems’ and ‘mistakes’ into the design and call it a ‘design element’, but that being said, often I have an idea for a sock in my head that doesn’t translate well after I’ve cast on.  Sometimes the yarn and stitch pattern don’t play nicely together, or the stitch pattern creates a fabric that is far denser or looser than I’d like and when that happens, I rip it out and start again.  I’ve learned to view frogging as part of the process of knitting and not as an indication of failure or wasted time.

RG: What’s your best sock knitting tip? 

DG: There are no knitting police.  There is no right or wrong in knitting.  Knitters need to use whichever method of knitting in the round that they prefer, whichever needles and yarn that they prefer and use whichever technique works for them – all that matters is that you love the process and the end result.

RG: What’s your go-to resource for sock knitting? 

DG: My people!  I work with a lot of indie dyers and I always find inspiration in the yarn they create, I have a highly engaged Facebook group and Instagram community of knitters who are always ready to offer an opinion or let me know what they need from me (everything from a specific technique to ideas for knitting socks for diabetic feet).  I’m very grateful to be part of the fibre community.

Quick Fire Questions

  • Toe up/cuff down? Cuff down
  • DPNs/magic loop/tiny circular? It’s a tie: DPNs and Magic Loop
  • Cables/lace/colourwork? Yes! All of them
  • Two at a time/In tandem/One at a time? One at a time (I usually work out any design issues on the second sock)
  • Metal/wood/carbon fibre needles? It’s a tie: I use them all equally and I love them all equally

Find Dana Gervais Online

You can find out more about Dana at her website, or sign up for one of her e-courses, including the new one starting on 23rd October. Join the groups on Facebook or Ravelry and follow her on Instagram @DanaGervais.