The new year begins with new undertakings, plans, and challenges. While many people make lists that revolve around fitness, organization, and long-term goals, knitters make their own special lists this time of year. Many review their accomplishments and creations from the past year. Others look to their ever-increasing Ravelry queue and think about what to make next.
And for some, January becomes the time for socks.
Socks are an ideal project at the start of the new year for so many reasons! These small, cozy projects pack easily into a handbag, backpack or briefcase, making them the ideal carry-along knit for trips by train, bus, or air. They can double as a proving ground for a new technique or skill, too — lace, cables, fair isle and textured stitches are abundant in sock patterns. Perhaps it’s just the simple act of re-discovering a skein of yarn that has been dormant among the stash — or rewarding laborious holiday knitting by picking up something special and beautifully colored at the yarn store.
There’s something special about sock knitting. So special, in fact, that many knitters almost exclusively knit socks! We asked one of our favorite knitting teachers, Lise Brackbill, why socks are so special to her.
“Socks are the perfect project. You can be as indulgent as you want with the yarn, but in the end, they’re practical. Socks are all about keeping your feet warm, so you’ll never feel guilty for spending time making them,” she explains.
“They’re also economical. You’ll spend hundreds of dollars making a sweater — that can be a hard pill to swallow for a lot of knitters. But sock yarn, even at its most luxurious, is usually around $25. And you can make them as fancy as you want. There are endless variations and patterns to choose from.”
One of Lise’s favorite sock designers, Hunter Hammersen, has 75 unique sock patterns alone (we adore Marooned, since it can show off the beauty of hand-painted yarns like Blissful Knits’ Ambrosia MCN). And with thousands of sock designers on Ravelry, the choices are endless. Socks come in all manner of construction techniques — toe up, cuff down, heel out — and with infinite decorative details.
“The best part is that there are no ‘miles’ of anything. You might knit stockinette for a few inches, but something changes. And if you get bored,” Lise says, “just knit the second sock in a different pattern but the same yarn. Nobody will ever know the difference!”
Designer Rachel Coopey references her own love of socks in the introduction for her new book, CoopKnits. Available as a pdf collection or softcover, this book is especially geared towards socks in solid or kettle-dyed colors. We especially love the cozy cables featured in Saxifrage, a pattern that would look extremely lovely in shiny, soft, Shibui Staccato.
“I love the portability of socks, the intricacy and the usefulness of the finished object — there really is nothing like hand-knitted socks for warming your heart and your feet.”
— CoopKnits Socks, Rachel Coopey
The yarn dyed and spun for socks tends to be as special as the finished product. Clara Parkes, the much-admired writer for Knitter’s Review, dedicated a whole book to the pursuit of knitting socks. The Knitter’s Book of Socks, a generous 205 page tome, explores not only the various ways of creating socks, but also the ideal traits of sock yarns. Choosing the perfect sock yarn is as important as choosing the perfect sock — both affect the final fit and durability of the end garment:
“No other knitted garment experiences wearability demands as arduous as the humble sock. Only socks must defy gravity and stay upright on our legs, cling to our calves without cutting off circulation, hold tight to a foot that’s jammed into an increasingly hot, humid shoe — and then endure being trampled on for countless hours while still remaining pretty to the eye. The well-concieved, well-constructed, handknitted sock will survive this endurance challenge with flying colors. It is a work of beauty.”
— The Knitter’s Book of Socks, Clara Parkes
At Knit Purl, we pride ourselves in the wide array of high-quality yarns that we carry. Many of these yarns are suitable for a variety of garments, including socks. A sock yarn, ideally, has the right balance of twist and texture. It needs to be sturdy, soft, and beautiful. Some of our sock yarns focus on round, two-plies that result in squishy, bouncy stitches: Rhichard Devrieze Peppino, Shibui Sock and Tosh Sock are excellent examples.
Other sock yarns feature the addition of luxurious fibers to create shine or softness. While many of these blends result in a slight drape to the fabric, do not underestimate them for socks! Just choose your pattern with the yarns’ qualities in mind, seeking out structured socks that feature stretchy stitches, lace or negative ease. Some of our favorite luxury sock blends: Hand Maiden Casbah and Shibui Staccato.
Of course, success in any endeavor is better achieved with a little assistance! Lise Brackbill will be offering a class coming up in February and early March, focusing on sock basics and various techniques for sock success. Even if you have knit a sock before, Lise can help you tackle a new challenge or method, from traditional double-points to knitting two at a time. Class times will appear on our website as February approaches.
A new year is quite like a well-turned heel — indicative of something new and exciting just beyond the bend.