French Market Socks

The second pair of socks in Sock Knitting Master Class is Nancy Bush’s French Market Socks (page 56).

Now, I have a confession to make: I struggle with stranded colorwork patterns. I like the look of stranded colorwork, but I never learned to tension two yarns at the same time–either one in each hand or both in the same hand. Every time I try to learn, I’ve gotten impatient and gone back to my primitive method of dropping one yarn, then picking up the other yarn and re-tensioning it in my hand. It makes for slow progress and my tension always suffers. So, the French Market Socks will be the first bit of color stranding that I’ve attempted in several (maybe many) years and I’m a bit apprehensive about the results. But because so many of you are joining my crazy idea to knit all the socks in the book, I’m determined to give it a try.

For her socks, Nancy used Elemental Affects Shetland Fingering Yarn (100% Shetland wool at 115 yd/oz) in shades of blue and gray. This is a gently twisted two-ply yarn that, according to Clara Parkes (page 60) is perfectly suited because Nancy worked it in a stranded pattern that creates a double layer of fabric throughout. Clara also notes that the slightly fuzzy nature of the woolen-spun yarn helps conceal the colors being stranded along the back of the fabric and that if they were worked in a smooth worsted-spun yarn yarn, the gauge would need to be “spot on.” Uh-oh. I think I’m in trouble.

I don’t have any gently twisted two-ply yarn in my stash (I wouldn’t normally consider it for socks). The closest I have in three colors is Dye Dreams Luster Sox (100% superwash Bluefaced Leicester at 415 yd/100 g). Sadly, Dye Dreams, er, well, “died” last year. It’s a tragic loss to sock (and other) knitters. This yarn is a smooth worsted-spun three-ply, which, according to Clara, is going to give much louder, brighter shine and clarity. I hope that the small bit of fuzzy halo in this yarn as well as the color variations in each “nearly-solid” ball will help to obscure my irregular stitches, but based on my gauge swatch (which I knitted in the round to match the way the socks will be knitted), I think every nuance is going to show.

I tried several needle sizes before settling on size 4 (3.5 mm) for these socks. Normally I like to knit the upper legs on a size larger needle, but this fabric became too loose and wimpy on size 5 (3.75 mm) needles so I worked the entire socks on size 4. It turns out that several decreases are worked along the leg so the calf is automatically a bit wider than the ankle anyway.

Nancy’s instructions are for using a set of five double-pointed but I lost one of my size 4 needles and work with just four needles instead (I combined the stitches on Nancy’s Needles 2 and 3 onto a single needle). I tried the magic-loop method, but, inexplicably, I found it easier for me to work the stranded colorwork on double-pointed needles.