Having never seriously made any New Year resolutions in my 30-something years, this year I have foolishly announced to Ravelry, Stitch London, my local knitclub and now the blogosphere my intention to replace all my shop bought socks with handknit beauties lovingly crafted by myself. I’ve knit enough yarn to cover the square footage of London Town but in all my years had not, until December 2010, knit a complete pair of socks. In fact I held any knitter who practised the arcane art of turning a heel in high esteem and shied away from all projects requiring a needle that looked like it might readily double as a toothpick. Well this year I’m going to knit and learn and share with you, hoping that the scrutiny of others will motivate me to complete the monumental: Operation Replace All Socks with Handmades (O!RASH)
The ethos behind the operation
My partner and I try to take as much responsibility for the activities we want to engage in and the commodities we want to have as possible. Through self-sufficiency we believe we maintain a greater degree of control over our own lives, we achieve a finish that we are satisfied meets the outlay and we reduce some of the distant and unseen (ignored) impact of our actions on other people and the ecosystem. Be it car maintenance, putting up a fence, making furniture, plumbing, food production, fitting a heat-exchange ventilation system or building the computer that I am currently typing on, if we want it doing then we have to do it ourselves. This does involve a lot of reading, learning from others, trial and error, time and frequently doing without but with experience we get better and my personal fear of being unable to function in a post-apocalyptic world is reduced (I’m 90% certain it’s irrational but that 10% holds a lot of sway).
For this reason, four years ago, I determined not to buy any more clothes until the following criteria had been met;
- Near nakedness is imminent
- I am incapable of mending, making or refashioning, either by sewing, knitting or crochet the garment needed
- My local swishing club developed a black hole in my size
- OR (and this is a BIG get out clause, not to be undertaken lightly) it is an item of absolute beauty the desire for which cannot safely be withstood. To avoid this temptation it is best not to go looking. Walking down a high street with blinkers on, never opening a magazine and attaching a kitten block to all online retail outlets is relatively easy and increases time spent on other activities. Occasionally I fall off the wagon and find myself following an inspiringly dressed woman with the strong desire to lick her pompom tasselled, fluffy topped, kitten-heeled, soft silver suede ankle-boots but that’s normal, right?
Even then the purchase may not be made from a high-street chain-store unless;
- The item considered is unlikely to be purchasable from a vintage store due to it’s function or fashion
- There are no craft fairs, markets, jumble or boot sales operating within my normal travel patterns over the next month
- Etsy, Folksy, Not On The High Street and Coriandr have all been subject to a simultaneous take-down by the Corporations of Greed
- The boutique stores that I am fortunate enough to have access to, living in a major conurbation, have all gone out of business
As a method of keeping warm and dry the above clauses do not lead to as many hair-shirts or sack cloths as you might think, although my attire is admittedly eclectic. It also fits into one small wardrobe and doesn’t contain anything that won’t get worn at least once during a year.
A brief aside for reassurance
If this is all sounding terminally worthy DON’T STRESS – I am not advocating this as the ONE TRUE PATH and I am not judging anybody who does shop regularly or who frequents the high-street stores. This is MY choice which I am merely outlining as a point of interest.
So where do the socks come in?
Well after four years of wear and tear the sock pile is looking pretty sorry for itself. I’ve plenty of boring black pop-socks from my working days but the number of interesting lace or cabled, fully knee-length socks that will fit over my generous calves is roughly zero.
Knitting socks, I’m told by those wise owls who have been making their own for years, will ensure;
- I always have a travel-friendly knitting project
- A faster turnover of WIPs
- More opportunity to test stitch textures
- A greater résumé of knitting techniques that can be practised frequently
- The opportunity to buy those delicious luxury yarns that have previously too expensive to be justified for larger projects
- Socks that fit, socks that match my outfits and socks that are a pleasure to wear!
More good reasons to be a sock knitter can be found in this blog-piece by seasoned sock pro Socktopus.
It didn’t take me long to start stocking up on sock yarn in readiness for the operation ahead. In January a number of artisan dyers held online sales that tested even the most hard-headed of yarn dieters. I’ve also been to a few yarn parties, knitting shows, craft fairs and LYS’s to get a range fibres and dye-styles so that I can experiment and learn what suits what socks best and what I best like to work with. As you can see from the list below my thrift and eco-friendly credentials fall down somewhat when it comes to yarn purchases!
- Six skeins of Sweet Clement’s Smitten (100% superwash merino) in Rose, Cobalt, Cornflower Blue, Tokyo Purple, Scarlet and Buttercup (semi-solid hand-dyed) bought from her Etsy store.
- Easyknits’ Sushi Sock Roll (100% BFL) in Deep Blue (graded hand-painted); Twinkle (75% merino 20% nylon 5% stellina) in Arabian Nights (sparkly!); Super Biffle (100% BFL) in licorice (variegated); & Superwash Cashmere/ Merino (80% merino 10% cashmere 10% nylon) in Emerald Forest (semi-solid) from his website – easyknits.co.uk
- SkeinQueen’s Encore (75% BFL 25% nylon) in Crimson Dream (semi-solid hand-dyed); Blissful (100% BFL) in Marionette (graded); & Splendid (85% superwash merino 15% nylon) in Apple and Mulberry (solid) from her website – skeinqueen.co.uk
- Yarntoknit’s 4ply (75% superwash wool 25% nylon) in Forest Floor and Oliver (variegated shades, hand-dyed) bought from her website – yarntoknit.co.uk
- MistiAlpaca Hand Painted Sock Yarn (50% alpaca, 30% merino, 10% nylon, 10% silk) in variegated shades of red-brown-green purchased at Loop
- DROPS Delight & Fabel (both 75% wool 25% nylon) in graded grey-green and self-patterning black & white respectively purchased from Nest
- UK Alpaca’s Alpaca Sock Yarn (60% alpaca 20% merino 20% nylon) in Sapphire also purchased from Nest
A basic search of Ravelry’s pattern database yielded 16,356(!) sock patterns from blogs, books, magazines and individual sellers online. I plan to use a range of different toe, heel and cuff techniques, toe-up and cuff-down, plain, lacy, cabled, striped, pop-sock to knee-high, on DPs and on circulars, even two-at-a-time. I’ll be using a lot of patterns from two great books, Sock Innovation and Knit. Sock. Love., by Cookie A which I treated myself to as motivation to get started. I’ll also be joining a few sock clubs for the opportunity to knit and learn along with others.
Let the Operation Commence
I’ll be posting each sock with a critique of the yarn and pattern used and a guide to a new technique on this blog as each pair is finished. You can follow my WIPs on Ravelry (username: onehandknits), join our Ravelry group O!RASH (where other sock lovers will be on hand to help with your sock-related queries) or follow the mission on Twitter using the hashtag #ORASH.