I like to cast on stitches and get started on a project as much as the next knitter, but it’s an inconvenient fact of life that if I don’t knit a gauge swatch first, the project will likely end up the wrong size. Besides ensuring that you’ve chosen the right needle size for the project, a swatch can tell you a lot about how a yarn knits up. You’ll learn if the yarn is sticky or slippery on a particular type of needle or if the pattern stitch is too boring or too fussy for your peace of mind. This allows you to make adjustments in needle type or stitch pattern before you embark on a full-scale project.
But one of my favorite things about knitting a swatch is the opportunity it gives to experiment with different needle sizes. This is particularly useful when I’m designing a pattern from scratch. The ball band on most yarns specifies a particular gauge with a particular size needle. Rather than a rule, I consider this a guideline for what the manufacturer thinks will be a suitable fabric. Depending on the project I have in mind, it’s not unusual for me to disagree with the manufacturer. For example, I habitually knit socks at a tighter gauge than recommended, even when using dedicated sock yarns. Recently, I knitted a long swatch of each of the four yarns available from Quince & Company. Because I expect to knit socks with this yarn, I knitted the swatches in the round, beginning with at least two sizes smaller needles than recommended and ending at a couple of sizes larger. This gave me a nice range of fabrics from very tight (appropriate for socks, mittens, hats, and gloves) to quite loose (more appropriate for airy scarves or shawls). I now have a record of a variety of gauges to choose from when designing socks with these yarns, which gives me more freedom in choosing stitch patterns that repeat over a variety number of stitches.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve become obsessed with knitting toe-up socks with round heels—the kind that heel that is most commonly used for socks knitted from the top down. I’ve taught a class in toe-up socks with short-row heels for a few years, but some students have requested a more “normal” heel for these socks. To determine the method I like best, I’ve knitted a number of samples to experiment with the methods used by Chrissy Gardiner (Toe-Up! Patterns and Worksheets to Whip Your Sock Knitting into Shape), Wendy Johnson (Socks from the Toe Up), and Melissa Morgan-Oakes (Toe-Up Two-at-a-Time Socks).
Finally, I think I’ve come up with my favorite variation. To test it out, I knitted one sock from the top down (shown on the bottom), then a mate from the toe up (shown on top). There are only subtle differences between the two—the most noticeable being that the “wedge” on the sides of the toe-up sock is narrower than that of the top-down sock. This is because I worked the increases one stitch in from the edge instead of two stitches in. I’m happy to report that when on my feet, I can’t tell the difference between the two.

I plan to write up instructions for the toe-up version for multiple sizes and gauges. If all goes well, the pattern will be available online this fall from Quince & Company. I’ll let you know when!

It’s been more than a week since my last post and I’m feeling a little guilty. Here’s what’s kept me away from my computer.
Last week, our son Alex returned safely from Nicaragua. I’m happy to report that he looks and acts much the same as when he left. He had a fantastic time and is considering returning in a couple of years as a supervisor; he’s already talked on the phone with a few of the families he met. School starts tomorrow so he’s been off with his friends most of the time. I did catch him relaxing in the hammock he bought before he boarded the plane home.
I finished the repeat Beginning Spinning course I signed up for this summer. I have 930 amazing yards of two-ply Corriedale yarn to show for it. I haven’t decided what to do with this yarn—maybe a vest or some tightly knit, highly textured mittens. For now, I’m happy to just admire how clever it makes me feel.
I also knitted a pair of socks with my handspun for SpinOff magazine (it won’t be published for a few months) and a pair of gloves for Piecework (which also won’t be published for a few months). I bought the fleece for the socks (100% superwash merino) from Traci Bunkers at The Estes Park Wool Market in June. I spun the yarn on a spindle I bought the same day, then plied it with a wheel I borrowed during the spinning class. I purposefully spun the yarn as thin as I could, but after I plied and washed it, it came out more of a sportweight than the fingering weight I was after. To make sure I had enough yarn, I worked a short-row heel (which I believe uses less yarn than the more traditional round heel with gusset). I always count the number of rows in the leg and foot of a sock so that I can knit the mate to match. What I failed to take into account is that my handspun is not as uniform at mill-spun. One of the socks is considerably larger than the other. One of my feet is bigger so maybe this won’t be a problem.
I used the new Quince & Co Chickadee yarn for the gloves. It was a dream to knit with and I couldn’t be happier with the stitch definition!
I’ve also been experimenting with different ways to work a round heel on toe-up socks. This is the type of three-part heel that you usually see on top-down socks: heel flap, heel turn, and gussets. I’ve knitted five full-size samples and several small sections of just the heel turn. I’m getting close to working out my favorite method for various sizes and gauges. Stay tuned.

Because I changed my name when I married, it’s a little known fact that my mother is Barbara Walker. Not the Barbara G. Walker of A Treasury of Knitting Patterns fame (which would have been fine), but the Barbara S. Walker of ceramics and sculpture fame. When I was a child, my mother took up ceramics and later became a co-owner of The Lodestone Gallery, a fine craft store here in Boulder, Colorado. She made everything from dishes to lamps to Christmas tree ornaments, then in later years she settled into sculpture. Although she tried to get me interested in clay, I always preferred clean crafts such as sewing, knitting, and embroidery. But I am absolutely certain that I was influenced by my mother’s industriousness and creativity. She, as well as my father (who was a college professor), taught me that it is possible to make an income following your passion. Both of them loved what they did. Through the strength of their example, I gave up the corporate world (I had a MS in geology of all things) to pursue a career in fiber. And I’ve never looked back.

Here are a few photos of my dear mum and her sculptures—the last photo is a bust she made of my dear dad. They set the stage for my very good life.

Because I changed my name when I married, it’s a little known fact that my mother is Barbara Walker. Not the Barbara G. Walker of A Treasury of Knitting Patterns fame (which would have been fine), but the Barbara S. Walker of ceramics and sculpture fame. When I was a child, my mother took up ceramics and later became a co-owner of The Lodestone Gallery, a fine craft store here in Boulder, Colorado. She made everything from dishes to lamps to Christmas tree ornaments, then in later years she settled into sculpture. Although she tried to get me interested in clay, I always preferred clean crafts such as sewing, knitting, and embroidery. But I am absolutely certain that I was influenced by my mother’s industriousness and creativity. She, as well as my father (who was a college professor), taught me that it is possible to make an income following your passion. Both of them loved what they did. Through the strength of their example, I gave up the corporate world (I had a MS in geology of all things) to pursue a career in fiber. And I’ve never looked back.

Here are a few photos of my dear mum and her sculptures—the last photo is a bust she made of my dear dad. They set the stage for my very good life.

My dear friend and co-author, Pam Allen, has recently started her own online yarn company, Quince & Company. Clara Parkes said it best in Knitter’s Review: Pam’s goal is to offer good, basic yarns in a ton of colors, sourced and spun in the U.S., priced reasonably, and backed with excellent pattern support. Those yarns requiring imported fibers (say, silk or cashmere) would be sourced as responsibly as possible. She currently has four yarns (sport, DK, worsted, and bulky), each available in 37 solid colors.
But that’s not all. Very soon Pam will unveil a sock-weight yarn, named Tern after one of the small birds native to Pam’s Maine home. Tern is a round 3-ply yarn of 75% soft U.S. wool and 25% silk added for strength, luster, and luxury. It is ideal for my current obsession for twisted and traveling stitch patterns. Pam sent me a trial skein of the yarn and I just finished the toe-up socks shown here. The pattern and yarn will be available at www.quinceandco.com very soon!
 
 

I realized that I haven’t posted anything significant about knitting lately so today I’m giving you five of my favorite knitting tips.
1.     When working with yarn that is at least 75% wool, I join a new ball by splicing the ends together. This is particularly fun to do in front of the uninitiated. Simply feather the ends of the old and new yarn, put both in your mouth to get them nice and wet (saliva is a must for this part—clean water doesn’t have the right enzymes or whatever is needed to make it work), then overlap the ends about 1” in the palm of one hand and rub your palms together vigorously until the two ends felt together. The overlapped section should be close to the same diameter of the original yarn because it has been compressed.
2.     I have always knitted tighter than I purled. This causes unsightly “rowing out” in stockinette stitch worked in rows. For a while, I avoided working stockinette stitch in rows. Then I discovered that if I used a smaller needle for the purl rows, my purl stitches were the same size as my knit stitches. Now I routinely work stockinette in rows with two needle sizes—say a size 6 for knit rows and a size 5 for purl rows.
3.     I use a set of Boye interchangeable needles so that I can use a different size needle tip on each end of the cable when I knit stockinette in rows. Some years ago, I discovered that if I kept the smaller needle tip on the left end of the cable, it was much easier to work in the round. The stitches are made to gauge on the right needle tip, then they slide easier around the cable and onto the smaller left needle tip to be worked on the next round. Because the left tip is smaller, it’s also easier to manipulate the stitches for lace or cables!
4.     To ensure two pieces of knitting are the same length (such as the front and back a sweater, two fronts of a cardigan, or the legs or feet of two socks), I always count rows. Knitting stretches and it’s all too easy to be a few rows off when measuring length. If the pieces are the same number of rows, they will be the same length (as long as they are worked in the same stitch pattern with the same needles, of course). This makes it so much easier to sew seams.
5.     When counting rows of knitting, whenever possible I count purl ridges instead of individual stitches. I like to turn the work over, pull a little on the length of the knitting, then work my thumb up the knitting, counting two purl ridges at a time. It’s much easier on the eyes than trying to focus on one stitch at a time.

Since buying a spindle at the Estes Wool Market last month, I’ve spent much more time spindle spinning than knitting. In fact, this may be the longest stretch I’ve ever gone without knitting. Instead, I’ve been spinning fleece that my cyber friend Anne from Reading, Pennsylvania, sent me, as well as fleece I bought at the Wool Market. Not knowing how to ply on a spindle, I just keep spinning more and more singles.
Now I confess to a bit of OCD on my part—I decided to take Maggie Casey’s Beginning Spinning class again this month. I figured that much of what she said the first time went over my head, some because I didn’t realize it was important at the time and some because I was concentrating so intently on what I was doing that I, well, didn’t pay attention. An important part of the class is that students take home a different wheel each week. This is an ingenious way to get students to choose a favorite to buy. Part of my incentive for retaking the class was that I’d have a wheel to ply all of those singles. So instead of spinning new fleece, I spent most of Friday plying all the singles I had accumulated.
Finally, it was time to knit! I ended up with 165 two-ply yards from 2 ounces of red/blue/purple dyed fleece I bought at the Wool Market. I knitted a swatch to determine that I liked it at 6 stitches/inch on size 4 needles. Based on The Knitter’s Handy Guide to Yarn Requirements, I knew I had enough yarn to knit a pair of fingerless mitts. I then followed the mitten instructions in The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns. I worked the cuff, back of hand, and top edging in a k3, p1 rib in which I slipped the center stitch of the k3 column every other round to make a raised rib pattern that wouldn’t interfere with the beauty of the yarn. I worked the back-of-hand pattern on a little more than half of the stitches so that it would completely cover the back of the hand when worn.
What a joy it was to knit with my own yarn! I had been advised that handspun yarn had more life than store-bought. No kidding! The yarn had the most amazing “boing” as it formed stitches—I think each stitch had a life of its own (maybe I put a little too much twist in the yarn?).
Next up: a shawl from the 257 yards of yarn I spun from 8 ounces of fleece that Anne from Reading PA gave me! (Perhaps I’m entering my red phase.)

My sister and brother-in-law came to visit for the last week. They live in Nashville, Tennessee, and are always eager to escape the southern heat and humidity. Happily, we’re having a cool spell here and the high temps have been in the low 60s. My brother-in-law “Bob” has Parkinson’s disease and uses a walker to get around. When it gets cold, he needs to wear socks, but socks can be slippery on wood, tile, or linoleum floors. Bob has tried many types of no-skid socks but he complains that none are as comfortable as the socks I’ve knitted him over the years.
This year, I bought a pair of leather soles for making mukluks at my local yarn store, then sewed them to the bottom of a pair of his handknitted socks. I made the socks for him back in 1994 when Nancy Bush’s Folk Socks book came out (these are the Ukrainian Socks; he chose the pattern). Bob is delighted—the socks are comfortable, he doesn’t slip, and we’re all a little more secure in his ability to move about. I encourage you to do something similar if there is a walker-dependant person in your life.
I had planned to wash these while they were here, but they were always on his feet (and I forgot). I can see I’ll have to make another pair so these can get washed!

I spent three days last week at the photo shoot for my upcoming book, tentatively titled Designing Handknitted Socks. As much as I’d like to take credit for all the amazing socks that will be included in this book, I’m even happier to report that most of the socks were knitted by true sock divas, including Cookie A, Cat Bordhi, Nancy Bush, Evelyn Clark, and Anna Zilboorg. I don’t want to let the cat entirely out of the bag (or handknitted sock) so I’m not going to reveal all of the designers just yet.
Photo shoots can be grueling in the best of circumstances, but socks add their own hurdles. For one, feet are as far away from the head as they can be. That makes it hard to include the rest of the body in the image if the socks are to be the focus. Second, there just aren’t many ways to photograph feet that look natural. The challenge is to come up with images that are interesting, inviting, and informative.
Thanks to Joe Hancock’s ability to get down and dirty, I think the images for this book will be creative and fun. Here are a few photos I took of Joe taking photos. This is one shoot where I might have liked to be a model.
Thanks to Joe Hancock’s willingness to get down and dirty, I think the images for this book will be creative and fun. Here are a few photos I took of Joe taking photos. This is one shoot where I might have liked to be a model.