Monday, August 30, 2010

No-Bull Book Review: Think Outside the Sox

A long time ago, when many of you were knee-high to a grasshopper, there was a book called Socks - Socks - Socks. The book was the result of a sock designing competition sponsored by Knitter's Magazine. It had all sorts of socks inside, something like sixty or seventy different patterns, in a variety of styles and sizes.

A lot has happened in the sockknitting world since then: we've seen the explosion of interest in handpaints and self-patterning sock yarns, the widespread adoption of techniques other than dpns for knitting socks, and a heck of a lot of creativity both in approach (in particular, enthusiasm for toe-up rather than cuff-down socks -- waves to WendyKnits!) and design (Cat Bordhi's and Cookie A's innovative patterns come to mind). So it isn't surprising that Knitter's recently revisited the idea of a sock contest. Their recent contest netted nearly 300 entries competing for over $20,000 in prizes. Winners were selected by esteemed judges Cat Bordhi, Lucy Neatby and Sandi Rosner, and their patterns are presented in Think Outside the Sox: 60+ Winning Patterns from the Knitter's Magazine Contest (Elaine Rowley, ed. XRX Inc. 2010).

Like its predecessor, Think Outside the Sox is a generously-sized paperback and contains 60+ sock designs. MSRP is $24.95; you can get a copy through the link above for $16.47 as of the time of this writing. The book is paperback, color throughout, and approximately 180 pages long.

The book begins with a brief introduction to methods of knitting socks (covering dpns, 2 circulars, Magic Loop) and the toe-up vs. cuff-down question, then walks the knitter through the basic anatomy of a sock, finally touching on yarn choice, adapting sizes, and a few other topics. It then presents a selection of the entries, divided into several broad categories.

First up is "Classic", seven patterns that have relatively traditional construction including these simple but striking socks that use simple knits and purls to create interest.

Forgotten Socks by Leena Siikaniemi

Other selections include a pair with modular rectangle trim, a pair with a large fold-down cuff, and a pair with a crocheted top edging.

The second section, "Holes," contains 11 selections which feature "hole-y" designs, mainly lace patterns, like these pretty beaded socks,

Girl's Best Friend by Wendy Gaal

a pair with a button closure, and a pair of lovely kilt hose.

Lace Me Up Kilt Hose by Tanya Thomann

"Twist" presents 9 patterns with twisted stitches and cables. I like the Shylo Socks:

Shylo Socks by Natalia Vasilieva

and the Twisted Mosaic socks are visually striking, blending one self-striping sock yarn with one gently variegated one to great effect.

Twisted Mosaic by Janice Talkington

"Color" (not surprisingly) focuses on combinations of color, whether fair isle (I love this pair, which keeps the stranded work on the cuff and switches to stripes for the foot),

Fair Isle Made Easy by Laurie Kynaston

a stylized Union Jack argyle design, intarsia flowers, mosaic

Mosaic Miters by Lina Forner

and entrelac -- even plaid.

A Tad Bit O' Plaid by Karen Wohlen

"Outside" feature patterns (I counted nineteen of them) with more innovative construction techniques, like the cover socks, knit in hexagons.

Hexagons by Kirsten Hall

The creativity in these designs was really inspiring to see; there were mitered squares, socks knit following the outline of a foot (down the top leg, around the toe, across the bottom and up the back of the leg),

A-Step Socks by Arden Okazaki

double-knit socks, spiral patterns, toeless pedicure socks, even two pair of stylized kids' socks and a holiday themed pair called "Silver Bells."

In case you were wondering, first prize went to a tour de force pair of leopard-printed socks;

Leopard Spots by Betty Salpekar

(although I have to confess that I found the dyeing instructions baffling); second prize went to the hexagonal socks shown on the book's cover, and third prize went to a stunning pair of black and white stranded socks.

Snow Under Cedars by Leslie Comstock

After the pattern section, there are a few pages showcasing the winning socks, and a photo gallery of some additional pairs, along with some technical instruction. The book ends with an alphabetical listing of the designers, indexed with the page(s) where their pattern(s) appear(s).

The book features lots of photographs; charts, some in black-and-white, a few in color; diagrams to help with some of the less traditionally-constructed socks, and difficulty rankings. One thing I would have liked to see but didn't: a few words from the designer about what inspired the socks (there are no introductions to individual patterns). I'd also prefer to see more prominence (and in some cases, more detail) given to the terse verbal descriptions about the general construction of each pattern. (Very brief construction notes are given in tiny, light type at the bottom of each pattern, easy to miss.)

As for whether you should consider adding this book to your collection, well, as I always say, personal taste is a factor; everyone will like and dislike a different combination of designs, and I might consider buying this book in order to make socks that you wouldn't be caught dead in. Certainly some of the designs are more successful and more practical than others. (For example, I very rarely wear high heels, and never with socks, so this pair

Off the Cuff by Eda Lee Haas

is unlikely to ever appear in my Ravelry queue. On the other hand, several of the patterns which take an unconventional approach intrigued me and may well end up on my to-do list.) So taking a peek at some of the designs (say, on Ravelry) is a good way to figure out if you'll like enough patterns to make the purchase worthwhile.

Beyond personal taste, the decision whether to purchase the book will also depend on how avid and adventurous a sock knitter you are. If you are bored with the usual methods of making socks, someone intrigued by innovative approaches to a traditional shape (because after all, socks have to fit the shape of a foot, which is roughly the same from person to person), or are simply seeking some new challenges to help work through your sock yarn collection, I think you'll want to give this book a try. With all the patterns and choices we have nowadays, it's easy to get jaded about knitting patterns. Think Outside the Sox, with its focus on creativity and innovation, will provide some interesting and in some cases rather challenging knits. It's a great antidote to the sock knitting blahs.

All photography by Alexis Xenakis, copyright 2010 XRX Inc.
Review copy provided by XRX -- thanks, Kimberly!


Melissa Barton said...

Very thorough review. I think I'll pick it up just for I did with Socks Socks Socks ;-)

CozySpirit said...

This is a very helpful review - thanks so much! (I'm now so very tempted...)

WendyKnits said...

(waving back at you) those leopard socks are making my head spin!

Zardra said...

I am a little confused by this book. All the review photos I've seen says it's 60 sock designs, but when you go to Amazon, it says 50.

Carol said...

@Zardra --
Sometimes publishes submit a preliminary version of a book's cover to places like Amazon so they can get the book cover online for pre-orders. Then the actual book cover comes out later on, after changes have been made. I counted something like 52 individual patterns, but some of them have more than one variation (like the Forgotten Socks, which give directions for two different versions) which would increase the number. It's possible that one or two patterns were taken out of the book before it went to press, or that the "60" in the preliminary cover was a mistake and they meant to put "50". Either way, it's still a heckuva a lot of patterns for the money.