How to Read a Knitting Chart: The Basics

Charts are really useful for knitting because they look the same as the finished knitting, so it’s easier to know what you’re doing and if you’ve gone wrong. However, they can be a bit confusing if you’ve not used one before. This blog post is going to help you learn how to read a knitting chart.

The Grid

The basis of a knitting chart is the grid. This is a rectangle of squares, where each square represents one stitch. The columns will be numbered, either at the top, the bottom, or both and the rows will be numbered at the side.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Flat Knitting Chart

A flat knitting chart ©Rachel Gibbs

A flat knitting chart is read from right-to-left on right-side (RS) rows and left-to-right on wrong-side (WS) rows. To help you remember this, the row number is always on the side where you start. It’s done like this so that the stitches line up as they will when knitted, with a turn at the end of every row.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Circular Knitting Chart

A circular knitting chart ©Rachel Gibbs

A chart that is to be knitted in the round will have all the row numbers on the right-hand side, because every row is read from right-to-left. The columns are always numbered from right-to-left as well, to match the direction of knitting. If there are no increases or decreases, the column number is always the same as the stitch number. You can use that to help you keep track of where you are.

The Symbols

Every knitting stitch is represented by a symbol. These aren’t always the same for every chart, although there are some standards. In order to know what a symbol means, look at the key.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Key

An example of a key ©Rachel Gibbs

The symbols are often designed to look like the stitch they’re describing, so a k2tog is a right leaning decrease, and the symbol slants the same direction as the stitch. If you find it hard to remember which stitch is which, you might find it helpful to highlight the stitches in different colours, so yellow is k2tog and blue is ssk, for example.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Flat Key

A key for a flat knitting chart, showing RS and WS definitions ©Rachel Gibbs

A chart is designed to look like the knitting from the RS. So in a flat chart, the same symbol is often used to mean knit on the RS and purl on the WS. This is because a purl on the WS looks like a knit when viewed from the RS.

Example Chart

Here are a small chart and the corresponding knitting, to help you see how the two compare.

How To Read Charts: Example Chart

A simple chart ©Rachel Gibbs

The chart is a simple 6 row pattern, with purl stitches, yarn overs and decreases. It would be written out like this:

Row 1 (RS): k1, p1, k2, p1, k1. (6 sts)
Row 2 (WS): p1, k1, p2, k1, p1.
Row 3: k1, yo, ssk, k2tog, yo, k1.
Row 4: purl.
Row 5: k1, yo, ssk, k2tog, yo, k1.
Row 6: purl.

When you’re not sure how to read a chart, check it against the written instructions, if these are included in the pattern, or try writing them out yourself.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Knitted Swatch

A swatch knitted from the chart ©Rachel Gibbs

This is that chart knitted up, with a garter stitch border. You can clearly see the holes made by the yo’s.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: Swatch with Chart Overlay

The swatch with the chart overlayed ©Rachel Gibbs

Here the chart has been placed over the knitting, to help you see where they line up. See how the yarn over holes match the circle symbol on the chart, with the purl bumps below.

No Stitches

If you increase a stitch in knitting, you’re creating an extra stitch where none was before. As a chart is grid based, when we add an extra stitch in the middle we need to create a space for it by having an empty column below. To do this we use something called a no stitch.

How to Read a Knitting Chart: No Stitch

A chart including No Stitches

In this chart, the first two rows have three knit stitches, separated by two no stitches, represented by grey boxes. When you get to the no stitch while knitting, you just ignore it. It’s a placeholder, not a real stitch. On row 3 there are two increases, bringing the total number of stitches to five. The no stitches are shown underneath the increases to make the chart line up the same as the real knitting.

On row 5, there are two decreases, bringing the number of stitches down to three again. This means that there will be too many boxes for the number of stitches we now have. Therefore, no stitches are used again.

Level Up Your Socks KAL

Today is the start of my Level Up Your Socks KAL. I created the Level Up Your Socks e-course to help give people more confidence knitting patterned socks and now’s the chance to see you put it into practice. There’s also be extra content all through the KAL, for even more support.

You can enter with any socks that are more complicated than just stocking stitch or rib, and you get an extra entry for each pair of socks that are made from one of my patterns. I’ll also be releasing two new patterns during the KAL, so look out for those. You can join in on Instagram with the hashtag #levelupyoursocks, in my Ravelry group, or in the new Level Up Your Socks Facebook group. Then when you’ve finished your socks, all you have to do is fill out this form to be in the running for the prizes.

To get things started, here’s a tutorial on my favourite way to start top-down socks, the Twisted German Cast On.

Review: 200 Fair Isle Designs by Mary Jane Mucklestone

I don’t tend to design using stitch dictionaries. Personally, I prefer to think of a shape and try to recreate it in knitting. However, they can be a very useful tool and 200 Fair Isle Designs is a great book for anyone interested in creating their own fair isle projects. Mary Jane Mucklestone is a very talented designer who specialises in stranded colourwork.

200 Fair Isle Designs by Mary Jane Mucklestone

200 Fair Isle Designs by Mary Jane Mucklestone ©Rachel Gibbs

Essential Skills

The book starts with an extensive skills section, not only covering basics like casting on and increases and decreases but things specific to stranded knitting, such as how to hold the yarn, managing floats and steeking. It also covers yarn choice including how that will affect things like float length and gives the names of all 11 recognized colours of Shetland sheep. I like that the tension section considers that different tensions are suitable for different purposes.

Photographs are used to demonstrate the techniques, which are fairly clear although I feel this could be improved in some places. For example, in the weaving section (dealing with floats) there are only photos showing weaving background yarn when working with both hands, and weaving pattern yarn for that style is only described in the text. As the photographs seem to all use Shetland wool, this can make it harder to see what is happening.

I also feel that while technical terms are described, the language used to describe them is sometimes quite a high level. Some people might struggle with terms such as superimpose and laterally, especially if English is not your first language. While the meaning can usually be worked out from the context, it’s something to keep in mind.

Shetland Jumper Construction

Shetland Jumper Construction ©Rachel Gibbs

If you are feeling particularly brave and want to design your own fair isle jumper or cardigan, Mary Jane gives advice on pattern placement, traditional Shetland construction and colour choices.

Design Directory

The 200 Fair Isle Designs are organised according to width and height, making it easy to find motifs that work well together. It starts with the small peerie designs and finishes with large designs suitable for jumpers, or using singly on accessories. The section starts with a Design Selector, showing all the knitted up versions together.

Design Selector

Design Selector ©Rachel Gibbs

Each design has a black and white symbolic chart, showing the pattern outline, two colour variations, one of which is shown knitted up and a suggested all-over repeat chart. Depending on how the small designs are placed, the all-over repeat can have a very different look to the individual chart.

As colour choice can dramatically change how a design looks, I like having two options shown. Often one uses more colours than the other, showing how the basic structure of a design can be broken up into the traditional Shetland gradient.

Mix and Match Box

Mix and Match Box ©Rachel Gibbs

The 14 largest designs also have a Mix and Match box, showing how they can be combined with previous smaller designs and suggesting how colour choices can enhance the effect. This really helps show what is possible and shows what to consider when combining motifs.

Conclusion

200 Fair Isle Designs is a great collection of motifs. I think for anyone interested in creating their own fair isle project it would be a valuable resource and the design section is very well structured. Because traditional fair isle tends to be worked in horizontal bands, I think this style of book is especially suitable. 

While the essential skills section has some useful content, I feel like it could be improved. However, it does cover everything you would need to know. I would perhaps not recommend it to someone who has never worked stranded knitting before, but as a refresher and a skills builder, it works well.

These are affiliate links, I get a small commission if you buy using these links.

 

 

Review: Sock Knitting Master Class by Ann Budd

This month’s sock book, Sock Knitting Master Class by Ann Budd, is a collection of patterns from well-known designers and contains an accompanying DVD.

Sock Knitting Master Class by Ann Budd

Sock Knitting Master Class by Ann Budd ©Rachel Gibbs

Mastering Good Sock Design

The socks cover a range of techniques and styles, which are described at the beginning, in a chapter called Mastering Good Sock Design. This includes fit, yarn and gauge, needle choice, heels, toes and aesthetics. Each method is described, with instructions on how to work it, and it also includes why you might pick that particular one, which I appreciate as it can be hard to know which one to choose. It then indicates which socks in the book use that method, including page numbers which is always useful. All these techniques are also covered on the DVD.

Needle choice covers four and five DPNs, tiny circulars, two circulars and magic loop. While almost all sock patterns can be made with any type of needles, it can be interesting to know which the designer used.

Heels and Toes

The heels section covers a large array of heel types, including different ways to turn a flap and gusset heel, different stitch patterns to use on the heel flap, and toe-up and top-down variants of a flap and gusset heel. It also covers short row heels and afterthought heels (which it calls peasant heels). All the instructions are generic and can be worked with any number of stitches. This does require you to do a bit of your own thinking and may not suit people who want more detailed instructions

Band Heel

Band Heel ©Rachel Gibbs

The toes section is also very extensive, covering some unusual choices used by the patterns in the book, including a mocassin toe and a horizontal band toe as well as the standard options. The toes instructions are only given for one of toe-up and top-down depending on what the book patterns use, which I do feel is a disadvantage, especially as the more standard toes are only top-down. The only toe to cover both is the short-row toe.

Aesthetics (stitch patterns)

The aesthetics section is mainly of interest to designers. You don’t have to sell patterns to be a designer, but if you’ve ever wanted to make up your own pattern instead of following a bought one, you may find this section useful. It covers cables, stranded colourwork, lace, slipped stitches, twisted travelling stitches, entrelac and shadow knitting. Each section briefly describes the technique and then covers the advantages and disadvantages as well as things to take into account when using the technique for socks, such as the effect on stitch count.

Patterns

The patterns are grouped into top-down and toe-up and each section starts again with why you might want to use that method and suitable cast ons. The top down section has six cast ons, three methods for joining in the round and three bind offs (you don’t have to use the Kitchener stitch). For toe-up, there are two cast ons and four bind offs. These are demonstrated on the DVD.

Each pattern has a distinct box indicating which techniques are used in the pattern and which page they can be found on. There are also design tips and notes on yarn choice from Clara Parkes (the author of The Knitters Book of Yarn, which I reviewed in April). The gauge is mainly given in both stocking stitch and the stitch pattern used, to help you achieve a good fit.

Top-Down Socks

Top Down Socks

Top Down Socks ©Rachel Gibbs

The first pattern in the book, Asymmetric Cables, is by one of my favourite designers, Cookie A, (read my review of her first sock book), and it has cables so of course, I love it. It comes in multiple sizes, although the largest size is a 9″ foot circumference so although the pattern is unisex it may not fit all men. I also find it odd that the cable pattern is only written out and not charted.

French Market Socks by Nancy Bush comes next. These are stranded socks with a four-point toe. The colourwork charts use symbols as well as colours to identify the different yarns, useful if you’re working off a photocopy. This sock is only available in one size, probably due to the patterning continuing onto the toe.

Almondine by Anne Handon has a lovely lace design and comes in a wide range of sizes. The designer considers the lace pattern unisex, although I’m not sure I would agree. This pattern only has charted instructions and not written for the lace.

Happy-Go-Lucky Boot Socks by Véronik Avery uses slip stitch colourwork and sport weight yarn. Again only one size is offered, which is disappointing. I do like the unusual heel flap though.

Thigh High Stripes by Deborah Newton are the impressive socks from the front cover. There is only one size available, which is given as measurements immediately above the heel flap, midway up the leg and at the upper leg just below the ribbing. Some suggestions are made on how the size could be adapted but are not included in the pattern. It expects the gauge to be the same in the stranded portions as in stocking stitch, which could cause a problem.

Rose Ribs by Evelyn A Clark are another delicate lace pattern, available in two sizes. The stitch pattern is not charted, although it is only 7 stitches and 8 rounds so fairly easily memorisable.

Twisted-Stitch Stockings by Meg Swansen

Twisted-Stitch Stockings by Meg Swansen ©Rachel Gibbs

Twisted Stitch Stockings by Meg Swansen as the name suggests feature twisted stitch cables and also removable sole. The legs are calf length and incorporate decreases to fit. The cable pattern is charted and not written, although as it rather large that is understandable. Only one size in included, but it is considered very stretchy, so this is less of a problem than with some other socks in the book. If you don’t like grafting, these are not the socks for you as there is a large seam in the middle of the foot. As the foot is worked flat, this involves purling through the back loop which is one of my least favourite stitches to work, although instructions on knitting backwards are also included.

Knot Socks are also by Nancy Bush. These socks are inspired by Estonia and feature an unusual ribbed cable, a square heel and a three-point toe. The yarn used in finer than standard sock yarn and US0 (2 mm) needles are recommended. The cable is charted and not written out and once again, there is only one size (and a small one at that).

Mock Cables and Lace are by Ann Budd, the collator of this book. This features lace that looks like cables and twists that look like cables but aren’t. The leg length is quite long, and a larger needle is used for the first part of the leg to help the fit, however, there is only one size given. The pattern is charted but not written and I like the way the pattern flows into the heel flap.

Slip-n-Slide by Chrissy Gardiner

Slip-n-Slide by Chrissy Gardiner ©Rachel Gibbs

Slip-n-Slide are by Chrissy Gardiner and use slip stitch patterns (but not colourwork). This forms delicate patterns on the surface of the socks. I would be considered how these socks would wear, in the given 100% merino yarn and with a patterned but not reinforced heel flap. The instructions are only written out, which for a 17 round pattern seems an odd choice.

Toe-Up Socks

Up-Down Entrelac by Kathryn Alexander use 30 different colours, so would be perfect for using leftover, although you can also buy a kit. The legs are worked top down, the foot toe-up and the heel is afterthought. Although since the odd construction is to enable that kind of toe, I’m not sure the name is appropriate (perhaps why peasant is used instead). I think it is the longest pattern in the book and not for the faint of heart. Only one size is given, which is perhaps not surprising for such a complicated pattern, and three different needle sizes are used.

Bulgarian Blooms by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts involves working intarsia in the round and a tutorial for this is given in the pattern. I’m not sure why intarsia wasn’t covered in the aesthetics section, although it is very infrequently used for socks. There are five sizes given, which is a refreshing change.

Stealth Argyles by Eunny Jang use shadow knitting to hide the diamond pattern. The motif is charted, and this is the only colourwork chart in the book not to use symbols to differentiate colours, as symbols are being used to show which stitches are purled.

Terpander by Melissa Morgan-Oakes features a large central cable, which is charted only, and a toe-up heel flap. Instructions for working socks two-at-a-time are included. Only one size is given, but it would be fairly simple to extend the purl panels between the cables.

Half-Stranded Socks by Anna Zilboorg

Half-Stranded Socks by Anna Zilboorg ©Rachel Gibbs

Half Stranded Socks by Anna Zilboorg also feature a removable sole, but this one is knit in a more traditional direction so it doesn’t require the whole thing to be unravelled and doesn’t have a giant grafted seam. I love the stranded colourwork and while the colours are reversed on the second sock, this isn’t immediately obvious which I like. Due to the large colourwork pattern, there is only one size given.

Pussy Willow Stockings by Cat Bordhi features Cat’s mocassin toe, a travelling lace pattern and a twisted stitch heel flap. It has two sizes, and is said to be stretchy so could accommodate more. The yarn overs are used to shape the gusset, which is unusual but pleasing.

Toe-Up Travellers, also by Ann Budd are the final socks of the book. They have a beautiful Japenese twisted stitch cable pattern and wrapped stitches. The charts are very large but clear.

Instructional DVD

I had problems watching the included DVD on my laptop, although that probably says more about my laptop than the DVD. It worked fine on my TV.

Sock Knitting Master Class DVD

Sock Knitting Master Class DVD ©Rachel Gibbs

The DVD is split into sections, so you can just watch the part that interests you, although it then continues into the next section automatically which is a bit annoying. When talking about designing with different techniques (aesthetics), it demonstrates what is being talked about with the socks from the book. This can give an interesting insight into the designers’ thought processes, although Ann Budd is the only designer actually featured in the video.

When demonstrating the different needles, the example socks and needles used were far larger than usually used for socks. This may make it easier to see on camera but it annoys me. The video is good at discussing the advantages and disadvantages of the different types but doesn’t go into how to actually work that method in any detail.

It doesn’t show all the heel types available in the book, only the round heel toe-up and top-down (the most common flap and gusset version). I find it odd that when showing how to pick up the stitches on the heel flap the camera is facing Ann Budd and not showing her perspective, which makes it a little hard to see what is going on as her fingers are often in the way.

The DVD does not have subtitles, which makes things harder for knitters who are hard of hearing or may not have English as their first language.

Conclusions

I think the patterns are very attractive and I like learning about new to me designers. The technique section at the beginning is not as in depth as I might have liked but covers everything you need to know to make these socks, and I do like how it goes into the benefits of each method. I find the lack of sizing options a problem, especially as most of the socks that are only available in single sizes are at the smaller end of the range. As a designer, I know it can be hard to provide a range of sizes, but I couldn’t wear half of the socks in this book.

I appreciate there are space constraints in any book but I would like more consistency in whether a pattern has written or charted instructions and both in more places. The instructions, however, did seem clear and easy to follow, although I haven’t knitted any of the patterns myself.

I think if you like the patterns in Sock Knitting Master Class and are interested in trying some more unusual techniques then the book would be great, but not if you have large feet! The DVD is somewhat helpful if you’re a visual learner, although since the book was published in 2011, there are a lot more tutorials available online these days.

These are affiliate links, I get a small commission if you buy using these links.

Review: Knitting Rules! by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

The Yarn Harlot is well-known in knitting circles for her blog full of amusing yarn related anecdotes and Knitting Rules! is written in that style, but also contains lots of helpful knitting content. You can easily read it through from start to finish, or just look up the information you need.

Knitting Rules! by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

Knitting Rules! by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee ©Rachel Gibbs

If you’ve ever felt bad about knitting too much, having too much yarn or not being able to get through a conversation without mentioning knitting, then Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is here for you and even has handy tips and quizzes to help you deal with it. The first two chapters are “What is Knitting and How Does it Get Like This?” and “Yarn and How Not to Feel Guilty About It” and are recommended reading for any budding knitting-addict. The section on identifying mystery yarn is something that all knitters will find comes in handy at some point, and contains multiple ways of identifying fibres, weights and yardage.

Letter to Inventor of Ziploc bags

Letter to Inventor of Ziploc bags ©Rachel Gibbs

Highlights include “Five Reasons Why People Don’t Knit” (and why they’re all poor excuses), a quiz to assess your level of knitting obsession (I come out as a Scientist, unsurprisingly), a letter to the inventor of ziploc bags thanking them on behalf of the knitting community. It also has a section on identifying mystery yarn, which is something that all knitters will find comes in handy at some point and contains multiple ways of identifying fibres, weights and yardage.

Chapter Three is called “Know Your Stuff” which is all about stuff knitters use that isn’t yarn, i.e. needles, bags, patterns and notions (it has a handy list of what should be inside a model knitting bag). l. It’s also the only book which I’ve seen mention casein needles. I inherited some casein DPNs from my grandma and can attest to her point that they taste very, very bad, despite being made from milk protein.

The next chapter is “Gauge, Swatches, and Learning to Accept Them” which includes 10 Times When You Should Worry About Gauge” and “5 Times You Don’t Need to Get Gauge”, to cover all the bases. She includes a cautionary tale to remind you about the perils of ignoring gauge, but in a  very amusing way.

Ten Reasons Not to Knit Socks

Ten Reasons Not to Knit Socks ©Rachel Gibbs

The final four chapters are about different types of project: hats, socks, scarves and shawls, and sweaters. Each gives 10 reasons to knit that type of object (the socks chapter has 10 reasons not to as well) and then has basic patterns for everything other than sweaters, including size charts to fit almost anyone. There are then suggestions on how to build on the basic patterns to make more interesting things.

For a small book, it packs in a lot of information and in a very accessible way. While the technical bits are probably more suited to a beginner knitter, I think all knitters can get something out of this book as Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is a very relatable writer. Not only does Knitting Rules contain guidelines for knitting, it’s also a celebration of knitters everywhere and the crazy things they do for love of the craft.

These are affiliate links, I get a small commission if you buy using these links.

Price: £8.99

New Pattern: Total Internal Reflection Socks

My new pattern, Total Internal Reflection Socks, is another one that requires a bit of a physics lesson. Total internal reflection is when light hits a boundary between two mediums at an angle greater than the critical angle so that it entirely reflects back instead of passing through. It’s used in fibre optics to make the light bounce from side to side along the cable and reach the other end.

Total internal reflection diagram

Total Internal Reflection ©Wikimedia Commons

The pattern has zig-zagging cables that travel all down the sock on a twisted rib background. Smocked panels separate the bouncing cables and continue right into the toe.

Total Internal Reflection Socks

Total Internal Reflection Socks ©Rachel Gibbs

The socks come in three sizes, to fit leg circumference of 8/S (9/M, 10/L)”/20 (23, 25.5) cm and feature a flap and gusset heel. This makes it easy to adapt for a high instep. The pattern has written and charted instructions, whichever you find easier to use, and a diagram to help you visualise how it all fits together.

Flap and gusset heel

Flap and gusset heel ©Rachel Gibbs

Because of the stitch patterns used, these socks use a lot of yarn. The sample is made in The Uncommon Thread Tough Sock in the Lust colourway. I made the Medium size with a 9″ foot and used 96g. Be aware that you may need a yarn with a yardage of more than 400 yards and you may need more than 100g, especially if you make the Large size. Some indie dyed skeins, in particular, are larger than specified, try weighing your yarn first.

Close up of Total Internal Reflection Socks

Close up of Total Internal Reflection Socks ©Rachel Gibbs

Thanks to all my testers and my tech editor who helped make this pattern even better.

Visit the Ravelry pattern page here for more information and buy Total Internal Reflection Socks for £3.50+VAT directly here.

If you like this design and want to be notified of future pattern releases, sign up to my newsletter.

Review: CoopKnits Socks by Rachel Coopey

This month’s review is from one of my favourite designers. CoopKnits Socks was the first book Rachel Coopey brought out in 2013 and I bought it almost immediately. It contains ten patterns, featuring lace, cables and stranded knitting.

CoopKnits Socks

CoopKnits Socks ©Rachel Gibbs

The patterns

The first pattern in the book is Dawlish, a cabled sock and I wrote a blog post about the pair I made last year. Next is Milfoil, a lacy sock with different patterns for leg and foot which alternate between the left and right socks. Rachel Coopey is a big fan of mirroring patterns between socks and different patterns within each sock. On Budleigh, each half of the sock has different cables.

There are all over patterns too, Pennycress has a small lace motif and Saltburn has cables with striped contrast cuffs and toes. Calamint is another favourite of mine with an elegant lace panel flanked by twisted rib. All the socks come in more than one size and while they tend to be more feminine, there are some that I would consider unisex.

All the socks

All the socks ©Rachel Gibbs

Most of the patterns have a flap and gusset heel, except Paignton which uses an after thought heel. There is a photo tutorial included at the end to help you pick up the stitches here. The socks are all worked cuff down.

Brighton is the only stranded sock, and also the only knee sock in the book, all the others being a standard mid-calf length. A short version is also included if you prefer that. As the colourwork is made in bands, this allows for decreases to accommodate calf shaping, which should ensure a good fit.

Saxifrage is another beautiful cabled sock and shows that you don’t need to use fancy hand dyed yarn to get a good result, being worked in Opal. The other patterns use a range of hand dyed and commercial kettle dyed yarns, such as Malabrigo, which show off the detailed designs well.

My socks

The other sock I have knit out of this book is Willowherb, another lace sock but one with strong geometrical lines. The pattern names seem split between wild flowers and seaside towns, giving a very British feel.

My Willowherb socks

My Willowherb socks ©Rachel Gibbs

I enjoyed knitting this, although I accidentally made two left feet (which some would say accurately reflects my dancing skills). My cast on is a little tight, but that’s entirely down to me. The leg is also rather long.

The patterns all have charts and some have corresponding written instructions. I do find the cable symbols a bit odd and the columns are only numbered on multiples of five, which might be annoying for some people. Other than that I found the patterns very clear and easy to knit.

Additional information

Why knit socks

Why knit socks ©Rachel Gibbs

At the end is a how- to section with a couple of photo tutorials and links to other tutorials. I’m a fan of the “Why knit socks” page with some words of wisdom to get good results, including a shoe size chart which is always useful when knitting for other people. A digital copy of the book is included with the print version, something I always appreciate.

CoopKnits Socks is a great book if you want to knit some pretty patterned socks. I like the photography, it shows everything you need to know and looks good.

If you like the look of these socks, but don’t think you’re up to knitting them, I have a new e-course that might help. Check out Level Up Your Socks for tips to grow your confidence in knitting patterned socks.

These are affiliate links, I get a small commission if you buy using these links.

Price: Check on Amazon
 
Price: Check on Amazon

Review: The Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes

There’s nothing I like more than geeky knitting books. I don’t mean this in the sense of patterns based on sci-fi or scientific concepts (although I like them too), I mean being geeky about knitting, getting really technical about how things work and why. The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, in Clara’s words, shows you how to be a “yarn whisperer”, to understand the fundamental differences between yarns and how this will affect your finished object.

The Knitter's Book of Yarn

The Knitter’s Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes ©Rachel Gibbs

The book has four sections: Fiber Foundations (the book uses American terminology and spellings so when quoting I will too), Making Yarn, Ply Me a River (which has patterns) and Putting it all Together. It is a book packed with information and can either be read straight through or dipped into at your leisure if you want information on a specific type of yarn.

Section 1: Fiber Foundations

Endpapers of The Knitter's Book of Yarn

I love the endpapers of The Knitter’s Book of Yarn ©Rachel Gibbs

This section talks about the fibre that is used and is split into protein fibers, cellulose fibers, cellulosic fibers and synthetic fibers. It goes into detail about the different animals that can be used, talking about differences in scales, micron count, staple length and what that means about warmth, elasticity, felting and water absorption. It explains why, lovely though it would be, you don’t want a bulky sweater made of qiviut and why one made of mercerised cotton wouldn’t keep you warm.

I like that it talks about the history of where the fibres came from – how alpacas were nearly rendered extinct by Spanish conquistadors and the struggle to produce artificial silk. This is not strictly relevant for knitting purposes but I find it interesting.

Section 2: Making Yarn

Section 2: Making Yarn

Section 2: Making Yarn ©Rachel Gibbs

While the first section helps you to decide on a type of yarn, the second helps you decide between specific yarns on sale. Why you might prefer one brand over another, and how many indie dyers are using the same base. As the author is American, when talking about specific mills and fibre festivals, they are all US-based. It is also ten years since the book was written and so while the concepts remain the same, some of the mills may not longer be operational and some yarns discontinued.

This section also covers different dying techniques and how this affects the colour of the knitted object. It contains warnings on pooling, bleeding and dye lots, all things that are a good idea to think about before you spend hours knitting.

Section 3: Ply Me a River

The way the yarn is spun (worsted or woolen) and the concept of plies is introduced in section 2 but expanded here. This section is split into number of plies and suggests yarns and projects that are suited to that type of yarn. Specific yarns are mentioned, but also advice is given on substituting.

Some patterns use charts which aren’t always as readable as they could be, since a lot of the page is taken up with the key. None of the patterns are particularly complicated, but there is often more than one size given and they seem to be clearly written. For shawls it’s indicated if the measurements are before or after blocking, and sometimes both are given which is useful.

The patterns use a range of yarns – commercial and small-scale, all different types of fibre. Again, being American, many of the yarns are unavailable here in the UK (or have been discontinued) but as the point of the book is to explain what it is about the yarn that makes it suitable for the pattern, this should make finding alternatives fairly easy.

Putting It All Together

The final section contains tips on washing, specific to the different fibres and including how to get rid of odors and moths. It then talks about the different yarn weights and has a handy chart of the standard yarn weight system (with the numbers in a picture of a skein). A glossary is then included, which is handy as, although terms are explained when they are introduced, it’s useful to have a central resource.

Conclusions

This isn’t a book for everyone. If you’re happy petting yarn and don’t really care why it’s so soft and cuddly or don’t want to do a lot of reading to find out why your latest project is pilling, or wearing through, or hanging oddly then carry on knitting and don’t worry about it. The patterns are ok, but probably not worth buying the book for.

If however, you’re like me and love the technical side of things (once an engineer, always an engineer) then I would recommend The Knitter’s Book of Yarn. It will help you understand the fundamentals of yarn and what to expect when you encounter something new. While it is a little out of date and American focussed, this doesn’t change the principles. I find the style engaging and the concepts explained well.

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Review: Sock Innovation by Cookie A

This months book, Sock Innovation: Knitting Techniques & Patterns for One-of-a-Kind Socks by Cookie A, is one of the first knitting books I ever bought, and one that I love and continue to use to this day (hence the slightly battered appearance).

Sock Innovation by Cookie A

Sock Innovation by Cookie A ©Rachel Gibbs

Background

I started really getting into knitting when I started Uni in 2007 (studying Electronic Engineering). I knit my first pair of socks a year later, from a Knitty pattern (this was in the very early days of Ravelry). They were not a beginners pattern but despite multiple mistakes and poor yarn/needle choice, I finished them on my 20th birthday (and IIRC was late to lectures because I was redoing a too tight cast off).

In October 2009 I bought my first sock book, Sock Innovation by Cookie A. I was attracted to the complex designs, but it’s the technique section that has made it one of my favourites.

The Patterns

Cookie A is famous for her patterned socks (although I seem to be the only person who has never made a pair of Monkeys) and this book has 15 socks full of lace, cables and texture. They are all named after people and I like the stories of how the socks were inspired by the people they’re named after.

Kai-Mei Socks by Cookie A

Kai-Mei Socks by Cookie A ©Rachel Gibbs

Some of my favourites are Vilai, which combines twisted stitches and lace into a very structural design, Cauchy, named after the famous mathematician (and a cat along the way) with a textured zigzag pattern and Kai-Mei with an iconic angled lace panel.

My Socks

The only socks I’ve ever made from Sock Innovation, however, are probably the most complicated: Bex. I love the three different sections of the pattern, and how they fit together into tessellating hexagons. Then, of course, there is the fact that they’re covered in cables and we know I have a thing for cables.

My Bex socks

My Bex socks ©Rachel Gibbs

I made my Bex between February and November 2010 (thanks, Ravelry project page). I used Cygnet Truly Wool Rich 4 Ply, as I was still relying on what was sold in John Lewis, a British department store which has never been particularly good for sock yarn, especially if you don’t want multicoloured Regia. It’s a bit fuzzy for cables, really, and produced quite an inflexible fabric. I had progressed to 2.25mm Knit Pro Symphonie DPNs, though, which was a vast improvement over the remnants of my Mum and Grandma’s metal and casein (did you know they used to make needles out of milk?) mismatched UK Size 14 (2mm) DPN collection which I started on.

I really enjoyed knitting them, though. The charts were complicated but clear, and I really liked the transitions between different parts of the pattern, such as leg to heel flap, something that has inspired my designing.

The Techniques

Sock Innovation is a very unusual book, in that as well as giving you patterns to knit, it shows you how to develop your own sock patterns. It has three sections – sock techniques, stitch techniques and sock design.

Contents page of Sock Innovation

Contents page of Sock Innovation ©Rachel Gibbs

It starts by describing the basic structure of a sock. All the patterns in the book are top down and most feature a flap and gusset heel, so this is what is focused on, although the book does include information on other heel types. One of the most useful things I’ve found is the chart of heel turn numbers for a large range of different stitch counts. Clear photos are included to show the different options. The art of placement is also discussed – how the same pattern can be placed in different ways on a sock for different effects.

Stitch techniques covers inverting stitches (going from knit to purl) and mirroring stitches. how to chart stitch patterns to include repeats and converting from working flat to in the round. It also covers how stitches affect the knitted fabric, which ones tend to be wider, or narrower and how elasticity is affected by stitch choice. It then covers adapting stitch patterns and transitioning between different patterns.

These techniques are then all pulled together into the final sock design section. This covers the important of gauge swatches (spoilers: very important) and how to put everything together to get a sock you like.

Conclusions

I have learnt so much from this book when it comes to what to think about when designing socks, as well as practical tips on how to do it. These are the things that can make a good sock pattern into a great one.

I love the patterns, there are some really attractive ones and while the instructions are concise, they give you all the necessary information. There is only one size option (usually 8″ leg circumference) given for each sock, which is a disadvantage, however, some include tips on how to change the sizing yourself.

If you like knitting complicated socks, and especially if you’ve ever thought of trying to design your own I would definitely recommend this book.

These are affiliate links, I get a small commission if you buy using these links.

 
Price: $13.99
Was: $22.95

New Pattern: Gray Code Socks

I think my latest pattern might be my geekiest yet. Gray Code Socks have a cabled pattern based on a sequence in binary code and the pattern is available free if you sign up to my newsletter.

Gray Code Socks

Gray Code Socks ©Rachel Gibbs

With four binary bits, there are sixteen unique combinations that you can make. A Gray code, named after Frank Gray, cycles through each possibility only once and each binary word is only one bit different from the previous one. It has many uses in electronics, as well as making cool socks. The most common Gray code is a reflected binary code where each column of bits has a number of zeros followed by the same number of ones, and then repeats the sequence in reverse.

Binary code is normally formed from zeroes and ones, in Gray Code Socks I’ve used left and right cables instead. This makes the bit change between rounds visible as a cable changing direction. The full 16 combination cycle fits well onto the leg of the sock.

Gray code in cables

Gray code in cables ©Rachel Gibbs

The socks are top down with a flap and gusset heel. The pattern contains three sizes, to fit 7.5 (8.5, 9.5)”/19 (21.5, 24) cm circumference, and has written and charted instructions, whichever you find easier to use. The cable pattern is subtle enough that people who normally insist on plain and boring to knit socks might be persuaded to try it, especially if they have a geeky background.

If you have particularly short feet, you may find that you cannot fit the whole cable sequence on the foot. Because they are made top down, you can measure how long the cable pattern is on the leg and make a decision at the heel as to what to do. If it will bother you, you could just make the foot ribbed.

Gray Code Socks side view

Gray Code Socks side view ©Rachel Gibbs

The socks are available from Ravelry, where you can find more information, or if you sign up to my newsletter you will get a code to download the pattern for free. You can choose whether you want to receive my monthly roundup of what I’ve been up to, interesting things I’ve found in the knitterly community or the wider world, a knitting tip and my pattern of the month; or you can just get a newsletter when I have a new pattern or special deal available.