One sock, three false starts

I’m developing something of an obsession with knitting short-row patterns in self-striping yarn. I was looking for a sock pattern that would suit some dramatic grey/fuschia/purple/white yarn I bought in Germany and I thought I’d see what Knitty had to offer. This online magazine often has interesting sock patterns, including innovatively constructed ones like the famous Double Heelix. I saw Diversion and knew that had to be the one.

The fabric is made up of waves of short-row, swing-like “fields”, not unlike the scarf I recently finished, but in Diversion the fields are all the same size and arranged regularly. Also, they’re (approximately) diamond shaped, and I knew from the work I did on swing knitting last spring that parallelograms are not the only shapes that mesh together perfectly, at least when knitted back and forth. But what about diamonds (rhombuses) knitted in the round?  Being the nerdy knitter that I am, I had to plot out the fields in a spreadsheet to find out how distorted a rhombus-generated fabric would be.

Diversion by spreadsheetThe answer, thankfully, was not very. In this diagram the numbers along the bottom give the total number of rows under each stitch after working one of each type of wave. (Actually, the waves are identical, except that alternate waves are displaced by half a wave so that they fit together.)

After each pair of waves, the first and last stitches in each 12 stitch repeat will have another 12 rows beneath them, as will the centre two stitches, while the remaining eight stitches will only have been knitted for another 10 rows. Seeing as there is a plain 4-row garter stitch “furrow” after each 11-row wave, and wool – even sock yarn with 25% nylon in it – is an elastic fibre, that discrepancy of 2 rows in every 30 rows shouldn’t matter too much.

FLK heel

An FLK heel

I began by knitting a tension tube, ie a swatch in the round, because the tension given in the pattern instructions is for stocking stitch in the round – which is sensible, because like a lot of people, my to-and-fro tension is quite different because I knit more tightly than I purl. That done, I thought I’d better try out the wave pattern to get the hang of it. The pattern calls for a lot of yarnovers which are then knitted or purled together with the adjacent stitch on subsequent rows, in various rather complicated ways. Or at least, it all seemed complicated to me. I always struggled with sock heels worked in the traditional short-row way with yarnovers made in the forward and backward directions, I just didn’t find it intuitive and was forever making mistakes and having to rip out a whole heel because I ended up with the wrong number of stitches. Then I discovered the Fish Lips Kiss (FLK) twin stitch method and have never looked back. The Diversion instructions for the waves looked uncomfortably like the hated heels of yesteryear, but I persevered. But I wasn’t happy with the end result, there were lots of little holes where the yarnovers were made.

Swatch for diversionI expect blocking would have made a big improvement, as it usually does, but as I hadn’t enjoyed the process and had found it necessary to keep my eyes glued to the instructions row by row, I looked for an alternative.

The FLK method was one obvious alternative, but because I didn’t have the instructions to hand and couldn’t remember how to work the twin stitches on both the knit and purl sides, I started another round of waves with German Short Rows (GSR) instead. I find the GSR technique very intuitive and, having just completed the swingy scarf with lots of GSRs, it came very naturally and I whizzed around my mini sock in no time at all. The fabric looked much less holey and generally neater, and because the GSR double stitches are so obvious on the needle, it’s easy to see where you are in the wave sequence. Best of all, with no yarnovers there’s no need for any decreases or having to untwist stitches that are lying on the needle the wrong way. Decision made, GSRs it is.

I’ve never knitted socks top down before, and the Diversion pattern looked complicated enough without trying to knit it the other way around. I checked what cast-on method others recommended for sock cuffs and the consensus seemed to be the German Twisted Cast-On. The pattern comes in two sizes, the larger of which only calls for 60 stitches. Now, I normally make my socks with 68-72 stitches, and “normal”-sized women’s socks are generally knitted on 64 stitches, so I cast on 72 (there’s a 12 stitch pattern repeat, remember) with the help of YouTube. After an inch or so of ribbing I slipped it over my foot and found that the cast-on edge wasn’t as stretchy as I would have liked. So I ripped it out and cast on for a second attempt, this time using a larger needle. But I was still disappointed with it, the top edge just wasn’t as elastic as the ribbing below it. I pulled out version 2 and cast on for the third time, working a tubular cast-on.

For anyone that hasn’t discovered it, the tubular cast-on is (IMHO) far and away the best cast-on for ribbing. It is just a continuation of the ribbing itself that goes right under the edge and up the inside. It looks the same as the ribbing (because it is), and it stretches by the same amount: no unyielding edge. It can be worked in two ways, one of which involves a provisional cast-on and then folding a few rows of ribbing back on itself, but I’ve always done it the other way, which is a version of the long-tail cast-on and then a couple of foundation rows. Isolda Teague has a good video, but she omits to say which end of yarn is which – I do it with the tail over my thumb, that works for me but possibly it doesn’t actually matter.

I don’t know why I didn’t start with the tubular method, given everything I’ve said above about its merits. Version 3 of the ribbing looked a lot better and slipped right up my calf without any feeling of tightness. So far, so good.

The ribbed half wave and first pair of stocking stitch full waves went very smoothly using GSRs. If you want to knit this pattern but, like me, can’t face all the yarnovers, K2togs, SSKs, P2togtbls, etc, then all you need to know is that a wave is:

K7, turn; P2, turn; K4, turn; P6, turn; K8, turn; P10, turn; K8, turn; P6, turn; K4, turn; P2, turn; K7

with the GSR double stitch made after each turn counting as the first stitch of the new row.

It has a pleasing symmetry to it and is easily memorised. Actually, that’s not quite all: the first wave in odd-numbered rounds of whole waves (ie Wave Pattern 1) starts with K1 instead of K7, and because there are no yarnovers the first round of each garter rib section is just a plain knit round. I’m sure you can figure out the ribbed half waves for yourself.

After the first pair of whole waves I had enough of a sock to measure the circumference and found that it was way too big at almost 10”.

Diversion v3

Version 3 – massive

And it was stretchier than I was expecting. Clearly these waves produce a fabric that is a looser tension and more elastic than plain stocking stitch. I ripped my knitting out for the third time – or the fourth if you count the mini sock tension swatch – and cast on once again with just 60 stitches, as per the pattern. If it’s not right this time I will probably give up in despair and just knit plain stripy socks. But I do like the way short-row patterns make self-striping yarn more interesting.

About yorkshirecrafter

I live and work in West Yorkshire.  I've always enjoyed crafts of all types, from woodwork to lace-making.  I also enjoy anything mathematical, which makes knitting a favourite pastime, especially complicated designs.  I've been advising businesses and industry on environmental matters for 30 years and also have an interest in green living, especially where it saves me money. I live with my husband and our Maine Coon in a 100-year-old cottage that constantly needs something doing to it.  Fortunately, I enjoy DIY too.
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