Monday, March 27, 2017

Crazy and Colorful Colorblock Socks

Of late I've been obsessed with knitting socks.  And I can't knit them fast enough.  I've also been knitting almost exclusively my own version of a plain vanilla sock that I'm sharing as a free pattern called Colorblock Socks (pattern link below).  It has all my favorite techniques.  Naturally.  But the the main unique feature is a helpful (hopefully) way to join new yarn seamlessly.  Because it is soooo much more fun to change colors and go crazy adding different yarns when you don't have a million pesky yarn ends to weave in.

With all the beautiful handpainted yarns there really is no need to do anything fancy when knitting socks.  Still.  It's nice to be able to personalize your socks so that they truly are one of a kind. You can achieve that unique twist by simply adding contrasting colored heels and toes.  Or you can go crazy and add all sorts of colors and stripes.  Socks are kinda like lingerie that way.  You can go crazy and nobody needs to be any the wiser.  Unless you want to show your wild side.

Speaking of going crazy with color I really loved knitting these Colorblock Socks. The yarn I used was purchased from Kate Selene a very talented dyer who creates beautiful and unique colorways.  I purchased one of her kits that included 20 small skeins of 10 yards each and every last one of the colors made my heart sing.  How can you not love that! And the socks are, in my ever so humble opinion, the perfect summertime sock both because of the sunny bright colors and also the light fingering yarn.  Last night was a cold and foggy spring evening here in Southern California and these socks kept my feet nice and cozy propped up watching TV.  And yet not too hot. Like Goldilocks I found these to be just right.

While my socks may look completely haphazard in color I actually did employ a color strategy. I spent a significant amount of time lining up the colors in two columns to see how the colors stacked up and how they looked lined up next to each other, making minor adjustments over the span of several days.  I ended up using 18 of the 20 colors in the kit and for the toes I went for a matchy matchy look in cherry red that I think helped tie them together as a pair. The cherry red yarn incidentally was a mini-skein from the same dyer but is not part of the kit.

I know a lot of knitters have been hesitant to dive into the colorful world of speckles and bright colored yarns. So don't dive in.  Dip your toes in with socks instead! You don't have to go crazy with mixing up colors all you need to do is pick a single amazing speckled color.  And if you really just don't like speckles and brights then don't worry my pattern will work just as well with any ho hum solid colored yarn as well.  Not that there is anything wrong with solid colored yarn.  And I'm sorry if I implied otherwise. No matter what yarn you choose I hope you will like and have fun with my Colorblock Socks Pattern!

Particulars:  Colorblock Socks, free pattern download, US 1 DPNs and 64 stitches; Scrappy Yarn Kit (Etsy seller Kate Selene) or small amounts of left over sock yarn.  This pattern is knit top (cuff) down and has instructions for two sizes, ie. 60 and 64 stitches.  If you prefer knitting socks "toe up" vs. "top down" then I suggest you consider Anna Johanna's Surprise Stripes Socks (free pattern on Ravelry). Anna is a very talented designer and writes the blog Where We Once Knitted.

Just to give you an idea of how this pattern looks knit up with different yarns, pictured below are socks that I knit using a self-striping yarn (Nomadic Yarns - colorway Banana Boat).  I also used this pattern to knit my Jolly Christmas Socks.  Both of these socks were knit on US 1 needles on 60 stitches using the shaping and construction of my Colorblock Sock Pattern and its yarn joining method (used to customize the heels and toes).  Incidentally I gifted the Nomadic socks to a dear friend who has had terrible health problems this past year.  She likes to wear them for her dialysis treatments because the hospital is so cold.  I had previously given her a pair of socks so I already knew that they meant a lot to her and that she liked to wear them to her treatments.  Socks are such a small thing but can mean a great deal to someone needing comfort in this world.

Joining New Yarn ~

This method is extracted from my Colorblock Sock Pattern and if you print the pattern it will include this method for joining new yarn.  But should you not need or wish to to see the pattern I have provided it here for your convenience.

Caveat.  This joining method is not intended for superwash yarns or yarns blended with nylon which inhibit felting. That being said with sufficient agitation it can be used with superwash and nylon blends ergo both my Nomadic socks and Jolly Christmas Socks are superwash blended yarns and yet I used this joining method.  It may not work perfectly with these types of yarns but it's still far better than the alternative, i.e. weaving in millions of pesky yarn ends.

This is a multi step process that takes a little practice but once you get the hang of it it will become second nature:

1.  Tie a knot joining the two ends of yarn that you want to join leaving approximately a 2 inch yarn tail on both sides. The knot I tie is a square knot, which is very easy to do and if you aren’t familiar with it here’s a video demonstration. Do not tighten your knot too much as you want the fibers loose enough to enable felting which requires friction and movement of the fibers against each other.  A properly felted "knot" should feel thicker than your regular yarn but not like a hard knot.

2.  Working each end separately, carefully untwist the 2 inch yarn tail into individual plies to open up and loosens the fibers.  Cut off roughly half of the loosened yarn plies roughly 1/2 to 1/4 inch from the knot, as shown in the picture above.

3.  You must now make one of two choices.  Choice No. 1: This choice creates a crisp color change, as shown in the picture above.  You lay the purple yarn ends back against itself and vice versa with the green ends.  With this method you will knit up to the point you want your color to transition, then tink (see footnote below) back 6 or 7 stitches and join your new color. Now when you knit with the joined yarn the yarn change should fall at the point you began tinking back. Choice No. 2: With this choice you create a marled yarn effect for a blurry yarn color transition.  I used this choice for my Colorblock Socks. You will lay the green plies/ends over the purple yarn and the purple plies/ends over the green yarn without any need for tinking or exact color positioning before adding your new yarn, although I prefer to do so on the bottom half of my socks.

4.  After both sides of the yarn plies have been prepared and positioned for either Choice No. 1 or 2, carefully lay the yarn in your left palm with the knot positioned in the center.  Now spit into your palm covering all areas of yarn that you want to felt.  Proceed to vigorously roll (i.e. twist) the yarn back and forth in your palm until the fibers felt together forming a seamless join.  Periodically open your palm and check to see if you need to add more moisture or if you need to adjust your yarn plies. I find it helps to twirl the yarn plies around the strand of yarn it needs to felt with.  You don't want it all bunched up near the knot.  The goal is to have the felted yarn to be only minimally more bulky at the join than otherwise.

As I said at the start this method can take a bit of practice but once you get the hang of it you will find it very easy and secure join.  I've used this method for many years and it's the only way I would consider joining new yarn with socks.

Footnote:  "Tink" is slang for undoing your knitting one stitch at a time. It is the word "knit" spelled backward - hence you "tink" instead of knit!

Until next time be well, love well and this summer why not knit some crazy and colorful Colorblock Socks for yourself!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Transitioning to Spring

I love knitting with all the gorgeous speckles, brights, and multi-color yarns so much that I find it hard to stop. But sometimes you just have to add something basic and useful to your wardrobe and that's where the tonals yarn colors shine. One of the best tonal dyers without question is Sundara Yarn and I chose her beautiful and lofty merino sport yarn for this mid-sized shawl that will be my transitional piece from winter to spring.

The last few years has seen an explosion of indy yarn dyers creating beautiful hand dyed yarns. Some of the dyers are so popular that they enjoy almost a cult like following with their online shop updates selling out within minutes. This means that if you want to purchase a skein of their yarn you will need to make a quick decision.  But whether you need to make a quick decision or are simply interested in exploring hand dyed yarn I think it is helpful to have an understanding of the many permutations of dyeing styles that make up the lexicon of hand dyed yarns these days. Here's a quick summary guide of some of the more popular dying styles and my thoughts on the types of project they are best suited to:

Solids:  Always a great choice for projects with colorwork.  As a rule lighter colors tend to show off cables and pattern best.
Tonals:  Yarn has various shades of a single color.  I personally love tonals for basic wardrobe pieces and gift projects.
Neons: These yarns add fun pops of color and are best when paired with a neutral color such as grey.
Variegated: Multiple colors of yarn in a single skein.  These yarns often look best in simple garter stitch.
Variegated Speckles: Multiple colors of yarn with multiple colors of contrasting speckles.   These are beautiful in the skein.   They make fun socks and also look great in a shawl when paired with a solid contrasting color.
Soft Speckles:  A soft background color is used (either tonal or variegated) with muted speckles that can be in a range of colors.  This is a versatile yarn that can be used for lots of different styles of projects from baby blankets to summer cardigans.  
Self Striping:  There are an infinite number of different styles of dying self striping yarns from the number of colors used to the length and frequency of color stripes.  These yarns make wonderful socks.

The more popular dyers often have a certain style of dyeing that they have mastered.  For example Sundara Yarns is particularly talented at dying tonals.  In comparison I would say that the Plucky Knitter is particularly good with solid colors and Hedgehog Fibers is fabulous with variegated speckles.  You are probably thinking hand dyed yarns and these dyers have been around forever.   That is true.  However the landscape is different with dyeing styles and color combinations and perhaps most importantly the monopoly enjoyed by just a few dyers has ended.  Open your eyes and look around.  You will find talented indie dyers abound. 

Over the next few months I'll be sharing some fun examples of projects knit in gorgeous speckled yarns and introducing you to some of the lesser known dyers that I've recently discovered. To better illustrate the styles of dyes I'll also be including a picture of the skein of yarn along with the finished project.  For example with this tonal yarn you can see how the lighter color in the skein created a beautiful marbling effect to the fabric.        

Particulars:  Deep Water Shawl designed by Dani Sunshine (website: Lioness Arts); US 8 needles; 2 skeins Sport Merino Two (dyed by Sundara Yarn) 388 yrds/skein (colorway Water Lily).  This shawl comes in size S and L and I made a "medium" by splitting the difference.  This is a very well written pattern and a pleasure to knit.  The following are past projects using Sundara Yarns: Ishneich shawl; Embossed Leaf Socks;  Diamond Fantasy Shawlette; and Milkweed Shawlette.

If you are looking for a transitional shawl but in a slightly heavier weight yarn, i.e. dk weight, you might consider the Mara shawl which I absolutely love for a basic wardrobe piece.  It's a free Ravelry download pattern courtesy of Madelinetosh Yarn.

Springtime in Topanga  ~

It's hard to believe that it's nearly Spring as I sit and write while raining is pelting down. But as you can see from the pictures in this post flowers are beginning to bloom and we are having some mild days.  Soon Southern California will be back to it's sunny self.  And frankly after this colder than usual winter I'm more than ready for the arrival of spring. But I'm fickle and I'll soon change my tune once we hit our first 90 degree day.  At which point I'll start wishing for winter again.  

Until next time be well and love well and enjoy transitioning to spring, perhaps wearing a new transitional shawl of your own!