Diversion socks revealed

These jazzy, short-row socks are done and blocked. I love them, I will be wearing them with Mary Janes the better to show off their exuberant insteps.

Diversion socks I have nothing that really goes with them, bar a pair of grey trousers, but what the heck. The yarn (Lana Grossa’s Meilenweit) called to me from a basket outside a yarn shop in Saarburg 18 months ago and I heard the call. Sometimes you just have to buy – and knit – things that make you happy rather than things that are sensible.

I couldn’t find the sock blockers I once made from a couple of wire coat hangers. I didn’t much like them anyway, if truth be told. So I made another pair of blockers, similar to the glove blockers I already have, this time out of polypropylene sheet. My supply of polyprop sheets comes from the A4 notebooks I use, which have them as section dividers. But A4 isn’t big enough for a whole sock, I had to make each one with a separate leg section. Unfortunately, the foot parts are in colourless polyprop which makes them rather hard to see in the photo.

Sock blockersAll I did to make them was to draw carefully around a sock that fits me well and then cut out the shapes, with rounded corners to prevent them from catching on the socks when they are inserted. The blocker pieces can be rolled a little, almost into tubes, to make them easy to get in and out without distorting the socks. Blocking these socks made quite a difference.

Unblocked socks

Before blocking

Socks after blocking

After blocking

Although it was by accident not design, having the blockers in two parts works well because it makes the leg length adjustable and avoids stretching the ribbed cuff. They are also easier to store. Hopefully I will remember where I’ve put them when the next pair of socks is ready to be blocked.

More socks

Green and yellow socksThis weekend we’ve had the third snowfall of the month, which makes it quite an unusual March. In the circumstances, I have no desire to knit springlike things. Instead I’ve cast on a blue pair of socks like these green ones. I’ll make them a tad longer in the leg though. Not sure how to achieve that at present, as the slip-stitch fabric is quite unyielding and I’ll need to widen the leg a little to prevent the cuff being too tight around my calf. But I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out as I’ve started at the toe end. I’ve just turned the heel, using my favourite Fish Lips Kiss technique, which I also used for the toe.

Blue slip stitch socksThe design is Alternating Slip-stitch Socks which uses a Barbara Walker stitch pattern.



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Sock horror – emergency lingerie bags

I knitted my first pair of socks 5 years ago this month. (Happy sockaversary me, yay!) My aim is to have at least 8 machine-washable pairs, then I can wear hand knitted socks every day in winter without having to do a sock wash more than once a week. The first couple of pairs I knitted were in luxurious, silky yarns that were wonderful to wear but had to be hand washed. Inevitably, my dear husband threw a pair in the washing machine by mistake and shrank them beyond redemption.

Sacre du Printemps socks


shrunken Sacre du Printemps




I was not happy.

These socks were knitted from a charted pattern (Sacre du Printemps) that had to be followed row by row and took me ages, and they were shrunk after only the second time of wearing. I’ve kept them because I can’t bear to throw them away and I keep thinking that one day I might need a small protective case for something. But anyway, after that disaster I made two changes: firstly, we now have a fluorescent yellow bag in the bottom of the laundry basket into which I place hand wash only items and I am the only person allowed to touch its contents; and secondly, I only knit socks using superwash yarn now.

Orange socks 7

Socks knitted with Drops Fabel yarn

Unfortunately, that hasn’t prevented another sock-related laundry mishap. When I hung out one of my lovely orange Drops Fabel socks on the line recently, I saw to my horror that there was a hole on the underside where a strand of yarn had been broken. It must have caught on a bra hook in the washing machine, I have had to detach the odd bra from a sock before. The fact that I spin everything at 1,200 rpm to minimise the drying time probably doesn’t help. Of course, I know I should put delicates into a lingerie bag before committing them to the front-loader, but my last lingerie bag fell apart years ago and, frankly, most of my underwear is in such a state that new holes and rips go unnoticed. While I can live with damage to my M&S* smalls, I’m not prepared to countenance holes in hand-knitted socks that I have laboured over for many hours. Something had to be done.

Darned sockThe first job was darning the sock. Out came the darning mushroom that I’ve had since I was 9 and was required to take one to school. (Those were the days.) As luck would have it, the hole was in the only pair of socks I’ve ever made using two different yarns, and it straddled the boundary between the patterned foot and the plain toe. I darned it with the patterned yarn because the plain orange is destined to become part of a stripy jumper, if I ever get around to finishing it. It’s not the neatest bit of darning you’ll ever see, but as usual I was aiming for function over form, substance over style. The darn’s on the sole so no one is going to see it, even if I take my shoes off.

The next task was to make sure no more washing day sock horrors occur: I was in need of a lingerie bag to protect my hand-knitted delicates from the ravages of the husband washing machine. In the past I’ve used a bought bag made of mesh with a zip along the top, but the mesh was quite large and bra hooks caught in it very readily, while the zip had a tendency to come undone. I replaced that with a cylindrical bag I made from plain net curtain fabric closed by a drawstring fastened with a spring toggle, but that wasn’t a complete success either because the contents of the bag collected in a tangle at the bottom. They took a lot of separating and probably didn’t get a very thorough wash. I came to the conclusion that a flat, rectangular bag is probably best to give a big surface to volume ratio, allowing the wash water and rinse water to pass through easily.

Amongst my fabric stash I found two long thin rectangles of white netting, both the same size and shape but one with silver stars all over it has a slightly smaller mesh. I wonder what I bought them for – one of life’s mysteries. I also looked for some conventional fabric to strengthen the seams because sewing netting is tricky, there are more holes than threads which means most of the stitches don’t actually do anything useful, and it stretches horribly. I wanted something hardwearing that wouldn’t hold too much moisture, and a couple of offcuts of polycotton sheeting seemed to fit the bill.

Lingerie bag 1Next I needed to fasten the bag securely. Maybe an nylon invisible zip? They always require a good hard pull to open and close them, although they can be prone to sticking after a few years’ use. I didn’t have one of the right length anyway, and I was reluctant to cut down a longer one. I had a look online to see if anyone had a better idea for closing lingerie bags. Velcro is no good because it attaches itself to knits like a limpet to rock, and a simple buttoned fastening would have gaps between the buttons that would allow things in and out of the bag while it’s churning around in the machine. I came across this Simple Mesh Bag tutorial on the Inspired Wren’s blog.

Here are the end results. I followed the Inspired Wren’s instructions, apart from a different closure and a different size of bag – I just used the whole piece of starry netting cut into two. I didn’t have any matching thread, unfortunately.

Lingerie bag 3

The original version has a foldover top that is secured with a single press stud in the middle. I don’t have any of the type of snap that’s attached using a tool, but I do have a length of tape with attached poppers left over from making duvet covers. I liked this design immediately – the foldover opening will stay closed even through a spin cycle with just a few snaps to keep it in place, while getting things in and out of the bag is even easier than for a zip, because the whole of the top of the bag is open when the flap is folded back on itself.

Lingerie bag 4These lingerie bags would certainly be prettier made from a printed craft cotton like the Inspired Wren version, but once again I’ve chosen substance over style. I’m tempted to make a couple more out of the plain white netting, then I can wash just one or two pairs of socks per bag and have enough to use when travelling to prevent things like tights and silk scarves from getting snagged in a suitcase or drawer.

* Marks and Spencer – knicker suppliers to more than a quarter of British women.

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The Beast from the East

Not much progress to report this week on anything crafty, other than half a sock. This is the second Diversion and I’ve just turned the heel.

Diversion socks Lana Grossa sock yarnFor once, I haven’t tried to create identical twins. Even if I’d had enough yarn to do so, my attempt would probably have been doomed to failure because the all-over pattern of short-row lozenges would highlight any tiny inconsistencies in tension. The colour changes in this Lana Grossa yarn are quite abrupt, with the result that a shift in colour that comes a few stitches earlier in one sock than the other could well end up in the adjacent lozenge, completely altering the look. I will be content with fraternal twins, these socks are complicated enough as it is.

Why the lack of progress? We’ve been too busy dealing with the 8” of snow that landed on us. Journeys that would normally be made by car or bike have had to be done on foot but I spent 2 hours on Thursday shovelling snow off the drive so that we could get the car out of the garage if we needed to. The garage is up a steep slope from the road and I didn’t fancy slithering down it and not being able to stop at the bottom.

I’ve mentioned before (I think) that, for the first time since I was an impoverished student and had no option but to cycle everywhere, I’ve kept my bike out this winter instead of putting it into hibernation in the garage from November until March or April. It has undoubtedly helped my fitness, because I didn’t suffer too much from all the snow clearing and stomping about through deep snow. I’ve been using the bike for short journeys in all but the worst of the season’s rain, ice and wind, but I’d held off fitting the new drive train components I was given for Christmas until the weather was good enough to be able to work on the bike outdoors.

Well, the weekend before last I rode into town and could hardly hear myself think above the graunching noises coming from the gears and chain. A quick inspection revealed that the winter’s salted roads had hastened the deterioration of the drive train – the chain was already very worn and the gears were missing the odd tooth anyway, thanks to various airlines and their habit of treating bicycles like suitcases. I was on borrowed time if I wanted to avoid a catastrophic failure.

When I got home I found a spot in the garden that was in the full sun and stripped off the chain, pedals, cranks, sprockets and rear wheel. I wrestled with the freewheel and couldn’t shift it. By the time I’d admitted defeat, the sun was too low in the sky to get over the hills to the south of us and the temperature was only just above zero. I retreated indoors.

The next morning, Monday, dawned very cold but bright again. I enlisted my dear husband to use brute force on the freewheel and he eventually got it off. He nobly offered to stay outside in the bitter wind and reassemble the bike with the new chainrings, cranks, gears, freewheel and chain while I went in and warmed up.

Bike with new drive train

Almost like new

I had no desire to go for a ride later to test the set-up and make final adjustments to the gears and chain length, as by now the so-called Beast from the East weather system was blowing in. And then, on Tuesday, the snow came, and on Wednesday and Thursday more snow. The roads were near-deserted as everyone decided it was just too perilous to risk driving, but there were a lot more pedestrians than usual which was rather nice. We all stopped and chatted to those we passed on the icy pavements and lanes, whether stranger or friend, in that terribly British way, making comments about the unnecessarily apocalyptic weather forecasts, the lack of snowploughs and gritters, the cancelled rail services, late milk tankers, school closures, empty supermarket shelves and so on. There’s nothing we Brits like more than some proper weather to discuss and administrative shortcomings to moan about.

My bike with its shiny new components has remained untested for the last week because the local roads still have more snow and ice on them than I’d like, although the thaw is now well advanced and flooding is the next risk. I’m looking forward to trying out the new gears – they’re lower at the bottom end of the range, and that should make a welcome difference when tackling the hills around here and when touring with my usual 10kg of luggage. I didn’t particularly go looking for lower gears, it’s just that this bike is over 20 years old and the 18-speed gear sets that were common then are somewhat harder to find nowadays. And mountain biking has taken off in a big way since the 90s, with the result that there’s a lot more demand for gears that will allow MAMILs and MAWWWBSDILs (that’s middle-aged women who wouldn’t be seen dead in lycra, like myself) to get up hills.

When I do get to go for a test ride, I’m rather hoping that I’ll need to shorten the chain by a couple of links and then I can make another chain-and-cork key ring. The old chain was so worn that it wouldn’t even be strong enough for that, I have no idea how it didn’t break.

Wine cork and bike chain key rings

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The all GSR sock

The first Diversion sock is done. And, thankfully, it weighs less than the remainder of the ball of yarn. Here it is in its unblocked state.

Finished Diversion sockAfter knitting the short-rows stitch pattern using German Short Rows (GSRs), and turning the heel with GSRs, I decided to go the whole hog and knit a GSR toe too. Now, short row toes are common enough in toe-up socks – I’ve even knitted such a toe myself with the Fish Lips Kiss technique – but they seem to be few and far between in patterns for cuff-down socks. YouTube likewise. I found one or two patterns and videos showing how to complete a top-down sock by working a toe using short rows, but none for the GSR variant. Which meant I had to work out how to do it myself.

A plain vanilla top-down toe is worked in the round, using decreases at each side of the foot or spaced equally around. The number of stitches reduces down to a circumference of a couple of inches or so, and then the remaining stitches are grafted together at the tip of the toe. A short-row, toe-up toe is altogether a different kettle of fish. It starts with a closed cast-on across the sole at the foot/toe boundary then heads off on half the stitches, back and forth, to the tip of the toe and back along the upper side until it’s level with the starting point. Then the other half of the stitches come into play and the sock continues in the round.

I worked my top-down, GSR toe on the instep half of the stitches. I had to experiment to find out how best to manage the GSR turns, as they don’t stack on top of each other well. The end result looks OK now that I’ve grafted the gap closed on the underside, where the dark grey sole stitches meet the purple and light grey instep stitches that have been worked to form the toe.

Toe of Diversion sock

The graft across the sole is above the last grey row

This sock has taken me three weeks to make, thanks to all the ripping out at the beginning and a lengthy pause while I attempted to make the short-row stitch pattern work with my usual heel.  I’m not completely happy with the heel I eventually knitted – the one the pattern calls for – because it was only worked on 2/5 of the stitches and looks quite narrow when I try the sock on. Also, this was my first flap and gusset heel and I just don’t find it as attractive as a short-row heel. I’m wondering whether the narrowness will make it pull when I wear it and possibly not last as long as it ought to. We’ll see.

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Half a sock and a finished baby top

Flowery baby top

I finished knitting this a couple of weeks ago, but it’s taken me a while to find some suitable buttons. Now they are sewn on and the top has had a wash and been blocked, as much as anything made of acrylic can be blocked. I’ll be handing it over to the proud mother when I see her at the beginning of next month.Flowery baby top

I think the flowers-in-a-row stitch was a success and I’ll use it again for little girls’ clothes. The pattern for the top is All-in-One Baby Top, the 9-12 month size, but a range of sizes from newborn to 6 years can be found on Marianna’s Lazy Daisy Days, all for free, bless her.

Diversion socks update

I like my socks to reach mid-calf, which has mean knitting the leg of this sock (Diversion, available for free on Knitty) a fair bit further than the pattern calls for. This is my first top-down sock and I don’t like the way I have to guestimate whether I’ll have enough yarn for a nice long leg – with toe-up it’s possible to keep going up the leg of sock 1 safe in the knowledge that all is well provided that it weighs less than the remaining yarn, making allowance if necessary for matching if the yarn is multi-coloured and identical twins are the aim. I can’t very well do the same in reverse with these socks because the foot length needs to be whatever it needs to be. But I’ve yet to use more than about 80g of a wool/nylon sock yarn for a pair, so I’m reasonably confident that there’ll be plenty in this 100g ball for a mid-calf leg.

I would have liked to have knitted my usual heel on half the stitches, instead of the heel flap heel on 2/5 of the stitches (for the larger size) that the pattern calls for. But after a lot of scribbling on the backs of envelopes to try and work out how to achieve that with a short-row pattern that has an odd number of repetitions (5) around the sock, I gave up. Centring two-and-a-half reps at the back of the heel would have meant dealing with fractions of a wave horizontally as well as half waves vertically, and it still wouldn’t have been symmetrical.

I did consider doing an afterthought heel. I’ve never worked one, but basically you insert an extra row of waste yarn across the heel stitches and then ignore it, continuing the patterning by working across those stitches again with the working yarn, just as if the waste yarn partial row wasn’t there. When the sock is otherwise finished, you pull out the waste yarn and transfer the live stitches released onto needles to knit the heel.  I’ll give it a go sometime, but I resisted it for this sock because it still wouldn’t solve the problem that two-and-a-half reps can’t be centred symmetrically. Which is why, presumably, the designer of Diversion opted to work the heel on two reps for both the smaller 4-rep sock and the larger 5-rep one.  So I have gone with the flap-and-gusset heel she designed (but with German short rows, as for the wave pattern), the first time I’ve knitted such a heel.

Diversion sock, round the heel

To date, I’m round the heel and busy working my way towards the toe, decreasing gusset stitches as I go. I’ve found an error in the heel instructions which, oddly, only one other Raveller has mentioned. I wish I’d read her notes first. (Memo to self: it’s always worth searching for “error” and “mistake” in others’ project notes before starting any non-straightforward pattern.)


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Diversion socks

I am making progress with the Diversion short-row socks, after the false starts of last weekend. I’ve gone down a needle size as I approach the ankle and will probably reduce by another 0.25mm for the foot because the sock is surprisingly wide for only 60 stitches.

Diversion socks

Swingy diagonal scarf

The bias scarf

At my knitting group the other day there were three of us knitting short row patterns – my socks, a Pfeilraupe scarf/shawl and a 2-ply lacy shawlette.  Pfeilraupe is a pattern I’ve been thinking about for myself, ever since a saw a Ravelry project that was knitted in swing style. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that yet, as the design has an increasing edge to start with and then a decreasing edge for the second half.  I had problems managing the swingy “fields” when I tried to knit a scarf on the bias with decreases on one side and increases on the other, particularly on the decreasing side. It was like playing knitting chess, always thinking a few fields in advance to make sure that there was time to even up the fabric on the decreasing side by putting a field in there before the stitches disappeared into the decreases. But one of these days I will sit down with yarn and needles and work out some ground rules.

Anyway, the other two knitters were using the standard wrap-and-turn technique for avoiding gaps when turning mid row. I showed them how to do German short rows, and the lovely even fabric that results from it, and they’re both going to give it a go the next time – swapping mid project wouldn’t be a good idea. German short rows would be especially good for Pfeilraupe which is worked in garter stitch, I’ll be doing that when I get around to making my own version.

The corkscrew mouse

My dear husband has carved a mouse onto the top of the wooden auger he whittled. I love the way this shawl pin can be screwed securely into knitted fabric to hold the layers together. I plan to try and “finesse” the details of the mouse a little, it’s nose is rather flat for a start. Here’s hoping I don’t ruin it.

Mouse shawl pin

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