Tag Archives: level up your socks

An Interview with 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.

How to Read Your Knitting: The Basics

Reading your knitting means being able to look at a piece of knitting and recognising what stitch was used. Learning how to read your knitting will make it a lot easier to keep track of where you are in a pattern and help prevent mistakes. If you can see where you are in a pattern by looking, you’ll save yourself from lots of counting and it might make it easier to memorise a pattern.

Recognising Knit and Purl

The basic knitting stitches are knit and purl, so learning to tell them apart is the first hurdle. All knitting is made of rows of loops. If the loops on the row below are behind or in front of the current yarn is the difference between a knit and a purl.

Read Your Knitting: Knit Stitches

Knit Stitches ©Rachel Gibbs

Here we have three columns of knit stitches. You can see that the knit stitches form a v-shape, with the sides of the current loop in front of the loop from the row below. You can see the top of the blue loop is behind the black stitches on the needle, that have just been knitted.

Read Your Knitting: Purl Stitches

Purl Stitches ©Rachel Gibbs

Here all the stitches are purls. Now the sides of the loops are at the back and the top and bottom loop are at the front. This causes purl bumps to be seen, as horizontal bars.

Working flat or in the round

Every time you work a stitch, you are influencing whether the top of the loop from the previous row is at the back for a knit, or the front for a purl. This means that if you turn a knit stitch over it looks like a purl stitch because what used to be the back is now the front.

Read Your Knitting: Garter Stitch

Garter Stitch ©Rachel Gibbs

When worked flat garter stitch is knit every row, but the rows of loops alternate between being at the front and the back. Here the blue stitches were knit, but they look like purl stitches, with the top of the green loop in front. That’s because we’re looking at the back of them.

If garter stitch is worked in the round, you alternate between knit and purl stitches. This is because you are always looking at the knitting from the same side.

Random Ribbing Challenge

Reading your knitting takes practice. In ribbing, the columns of stitches should all look the same, either v-shaped knits or bumpy purls. In order to practice telling the difference between knit and purl stitches, try starting with a random sequence and see if you can repeat it every row.

Choose a smooth, plain coloured yarn and cast on at least 15 stitches. Then use one of the methods below to work the first row.

Toss a coin

For each stitch, toss a coin and make a knit for heads and purl for tails.

Use a die

Alternate between knit and purl, making the number of stitches on the die each time until you run out of stitches.

Random Ribbing Challenge Setup Row

Random Ribbing Challenge Setup Row ©Rachel Gibbs

Now the pattern has been set (don’t keep notes), repeat the row trying to match each stitch to the one below. Remember you’re trying to match how they look, not how they were worked. So if the last stitch was purl, when you turn it over it looks like a knit, so you knit the first stitch.

Random Ribbing Challenge

Random Ribbing Challenge ©Rachel Gibbs

You should end up with something that looks like this, with identifiable columns of knit and purl. The edge stitches always end up looking a bit distorted, so don’t worry if you struggle to read those.

Cellular Automata Challenge

Once you’ve mastered the ribbing, try this instead. Cellular automata is a mathematical concept where a rule is used to determine the next row of a grid depending on the state of the previous row. Ribbing is an example of a simple rule where the next row is equal to the previous one.

Elementary cellular automata use the cell below and the two cells either side of that to decide on the value of the current cell. There are 256 possible rules to choose from, some of which are more interesting than others.

Start by generating a random sequence of knits and purls as before, set knit as 1 and purl as 0. Then pick a rule and use that to decide whether to knit or purl each stitch depending on the three below it. Assume all stitches outside your grid are knit.

An Interview with Anna Friberg (Yarnesty)

Anna Friberg

As part of the Level Up Your Socks KAL I thought it would be good to hear from some other sock designers. I did an interview with Anna Friberg, who uses the brand name Yarnesty, about her experiences of sock knitting and designing.

Introduction

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

AF: I have known how to knit since I was very small, I don’t even remember who taught me to knit. But I think it must have been either Mum or my maternal Grandma, as I remember that I knit my purl stitches as a Norwegian when I was young, and they grew up close to the Norwegian border.

RG: That’s really interesting, when did you stop using the Norwegian purl?

AF: That was when I was working on getting the same gauge with knitting and purling. Early teens, I think.

I knit a lot until I started uni. After that, I knit a little bit here and there, but not many things were finished. I came back to it in a serious way around ten years ago, and then I became an everyday knitter five or six years ago. That was when I discovered Ravelry and began to read patterns in English.

My first pattern in English was a free pattern from Ysolda: Garter Stitch Mitts.

RG: I think those garter stitch mitts have been in my queue for as long as I’ve been on Ravelry.

AF: They are a really fast knit 🙂

Today I prefer English patterns. Even if they are available in Swedish. The instructions are more defined in English.

RG: How hard do you find it to follow patterns in another language?

AF: Well I think English is easiest. I can follow Danish and Norwegian as well if I must 🙂

My day job is as a quality software engineer for software that is used in aircraft. And that includes a lot of inspections and knowledge of processes. Not as much coding anymore.

I live in a house in Ljungsbro, a small village outside a town called Linköping. That is about 2hrs south of Stockholm. I live there with my husband and our two teenaged children.

Designing

AF: It all started out with me listening to the iMake podcast and Martine lured me to participate in a challenge to knit on a sock every day. After a while, I found a way I liked to make my vanilla socks and someone asking me to write down my Vanilla Sock pattern.

I could have written it down on a blog but I like doing things thoroughly. So I wrote down a pattern and put it up on Ravelry. Then I did two or three more sock designs that summer.

Then my friend Jannika told me about Joeli’s Designer Bootcamp on Periscope. And that was when I started to take my designing to a new level. I also used a Tech Editor: James Bartley and that has improved my designing immensely!

RG: That’s great.

You design a lot of stranded socks, what is it about that style that attracts you?

AF: I suppose that is a part of my Scandinavian heritage 🙂 At the same time I think it is a bit of a challenge to have stranded knitting on the leg of the sock, as it can be difficult to get the sock over the heel and arch. So that is why I often have patterns around the sock’s foot instead.

RG: That’s a good way to take the limitations of stranded knitting into account, without losing the lovely designs you can make with it.

You’ve just done your first Mystery KAL, the Town Wall Socks. How did that go and did you find it was different to a normal KAL?

Town Wall Socks as made by ChaiKnits

Town Wall Socks as made by ChaiKnits ©ChaiKnits

AF: I was blown away of the response. Of course, it helped that MoodsOfColors, a very appreciated Swedish indie-dyer sold kits for the socks in her sock yarn subscription. But even without those kits, many knitters from all over the world was interested in participating. Many who never have tried my patterns before. That was really fun.

A normal KAL is also a good way to get the word out, but I think the MKAL attracts even more. Knitters like to get a pattern in clues and not knowing what comes next.

I also enjoyed all the secrecy! I was very careful not to give away anything beforehand. I only had one test knitter. Of course, the dyer had seen the prototype. And I never gave away if there should be a colour change or not for the next week. Well after a while, the knitters probably saw a pattern, that the colour changed each clue, but they never knew 🙂

It is a fun way to design as well. It can be a little bit of a franken-sock, but at the same time the yarn and the colours kept it together.

RG: That sounds really fun. Might you do another one in future?

AF: Yes I will definitely do more of that. Not this year, though 🙂 The chatter on social media has been super fun to follow and participate in!

I am super grateful that so many have participated and knit them. And even people have started them after all clues have been revealed. That is lovely to see!

RG: I’m always a bit hesitant with mystery patterns because sometimes I love the beginning but then they go in a strange direction halfway through.

AF: I agree, I have done maybe 6-7 MKALs so far. I have actually loved most of them.

Sock Knitting

RG: So tell me the biggest problem you’ve ever had when knitting a sock and did you manage to fix it?

AF: Most of the surgery I have done on sweaters or shawls. Socks are so small items, so I usually rip back and start over instead of fixing it with surgery.

Anna's finished Kilt Hose

Anna’s finished Kilt Hose ©Yarnesty

But, I knit kilt hoses for my son, and I had a simple cable on each side of the leg. (same as on the Fergus pattern). And after having knit half a leg I realised that I had done the cables too wide. Then I ripped only those stitches over the cable pattern (10 stitches or so) and re-knit the cable pattern correctly.

RG: Ripping back can be very useful. That must have been quite fiddly fixing those cables.

AF: Yes a bit fiddly, but with a pair of extra needles, it went quite well.

RG: You mentioned earlier that English patterns tend to be more detailed than European ones, do you think this leads to different types of problems for knitters?

AF: I tend to write very detailed patterns. Most people appreciate knowing whether to, for example, slip a stitch purlwise or knitwise.

On the other hand, if they are used to patterns with open directions, they might skip reading instructions that are crucial for the next section and that can become a problem. I have only had one or two customers with those kinds of problems.

When it comes to more traditional Scandinavian patterns, they are sometimes so open (a bit like vintage patterns) that you have to be a very experienced and advanced knitter to be able to follow them.

Even if I regard myself being an experienced knitter, when I knit other designer’s patterns I want them to be very detailed and especially I want to know what to do next. Of course, I make changes in patterns, but that should be my own decision. Not that I have to, due to a pattern lacking in instructions or if the math is wrong in the pattern.

RG: It can definitely be frustrating if you can’t understand how the pattern is supposed to work.

AF: In that case, I’d rather make it up myself 😉

RG: What’s your best tip for knitting socks?

AF: I think that if you want to be able to enjoy your socks as long as possible you should knit them with quite a tight gauge. That makes the socks more durable. Personally, I think that 9 sts/inch is nice for fingering weight sock yarn. And the socks will be thin enough to wear in your everyday shoes.

RG: That’s a very good tip 🙂.

What’s your favourite resource for sock knitting?

AF: I have learnt loads by reading Sock Architecture by Lara Neel. It is quite a technical book and my engineer brain likes it 😉

RG: I like that one, it has formulas in.

AF: Exactly 🙂. For new techniques, I often look at VeryPink Knit’s youtube channel.

RG: To finish I have some quick-fire questions.

  • Toe up or cuff down
  • DPNs, magic loop, tiny circulars or two circulars
  • Cables, lace or colourwork
  • Two at a time, in parallel, or one at a time
  • Metal, wood, bamboo or carbon fibre needles

Find Anna Online

You can find out more about Anna at her website Knitway, see all her designs on Ravelry and follow her on instagram @yarnesty.

 

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.