Pink Monkey Knits

Using my opposable thumbs to knit up a storm!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

My Sock History 

What better way to start off Socktoberfest than by looking into my knitting past and answering Lolly's questions about sock history.

In January, 2005, I traveled to India for about two months. I spent the entire month of January volunteering in a small, rural town in the north of the country up in the Himalayan foothills and traveled around the north for about three weeks afterwards. Funnily enough, the organization that organized my volunteer stint assigned me to teach advanced knitting skills to young women at a local tailoring school. You can read my "unfinished" blog about my trip here.

Here's one of my classes, filled with the young women who became like "didis" (sisters) to me. Check out that view!

In preparing for the trip, I knew I would have to find creative ways to entertain myself during my month volunteering. First off, the area that I elected to stay in was very rural and remote. My living quarters were a few miles out of the main town, so I wasn't really within walking distance to any outside amusements. I also knew that I was the only (!) volunteer at the location during that time and would only have the staff to interact with socially, so I anticipated having much time to myself. In other words, it would be the perfect setting to tackle a complicated knitting project. I lived in the lower building on the left in this picture. Not much around!

I had seen people at my Stitch n' Bitch knitting socks and was so impressed, mostly because they seemed so involved. Because I'm the type of person who likes to start all endeavors feeling prepared and knowledgeable, I scoured the internet for appropriate patterns and asked staff at various yarn stores for yarn and needle recommendations. I was intimidated by the tiny DPNs, so I wanted combos where I could use slightly larger materials. For my first sock, I decided to use this pattern, which was sized to fit my foot and didn't require any additional math, with some Fortissima Socka Colori and size 2 dpns.

I started my first sock on the flight over and, while I found using the DPNs to be a bit awkward at first, I immediately fell into the rhythm of the creation of the tiny stitches. I was hooked from the start! The weather in that part of India in January was pretty cold, but none of the buildings had any heat, so I spent many chilly evenings working on the sock near the heater or bundled up on some floor pillows. I knitted on through some pretty lonely and emotionally difficult times, and felt much accomplishment when I finished my first pair. The bonus was that I could wear them every night and they would help to keep my from shivering too badly in my unheated room.

As a side note, my students were interested in my socks but they did not have circular or double pointed needles there, so they didn't want any instruction in the technique I was using.

I mentioned the pattern, yarn and needles above. The gauge on my socks was a little loose, so the first one was a little baggy; I cast on fewer stitches for the second one. They've held up pretty well! A little bit of piling, but that's to be expected. I still wear them, although with the loose gauge they aren't as comfortable in shoes.

Although they could have been tighter, I think I was too intimidated by the project at the time to, say, try smaller needles or calculations of my own. They were a great learning experience.
I found the Woolarina merino sportweight I used for these socks (scroll down) to be luscious. I also really enjoyed Koigu and Blue Sky Alpacas Sportweight.
I started on DPNs, but switched to two circulars with those Woolarina socks and haven't looked back since. I find the DPNs to be more fiddly and annoying than they need to be. I made a half-assed, unsuccessful attempted at Magic Loop once and wasn't too into it, maybe I should try again this month.
I've only done short rows once and really felt like I fumbled through them. As a result, they didn't look too great, so I haven't tried them again. I really like the heel flap, mostly because they seemed so custom engineered to the human foot. I also tried an afterthought heel on my alpaca socks and, while it's a clever technique, I don't anticipate using it again.
1 for Cobra, 1 for my dad, 7 for me and the first of another pair on the needles.

As an additional aspect, I want to give a little shout out to manufactured socks for a second. No, they are not made with love, nor are they as warm, comfortable or well-fitting as handmade socks. The designs on them in the past bunch of year, however, have become very clever over the last few years. My mother has done her very best to supply me with a shocking number of socks with monkeys worked into them. Plus, a good friend of my just got back from a year in Japan and brought me these awesome socks from the city of Nara, where there are many free- wandering deer.

nara socks

So, I say that manufactured socks are inferior, yet have their place.

For Socktoberfest, I hope to finish my Arch-Shaped stocking (which may be a challenge, since I just had to rip back a bunch on the first one since it was too big at the arch shaping wasn't right) and hopefully, finish the first of a pair for Cobra. Better get knitting....