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!

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

--Martin Luther King, Jr., 47 years ago today

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thinking of you

Faced with a less-than-stellar beach day,

the family decided to try something new: pedaling a "surrey" around the streets of scenic Cape May.

This was way more fun than I ever dreamed it would be. We got exercise and we got to giggle at the absurdity of doing such a tourist-y thing, and we got see lots of the beautiful architecture of Cape May:

and we got to enjoy seeing the Queen Victoria bragging about its "royal" clientele, right next door to a shop called "Cheeks at the Beach."

I'm getting lots of west and wewaxation, although not nearly as much knitting as I fantasized planned on doing.

P.S. Charcoal says to tell you he's having a great time, too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

IBOL 2: Clean out your stash for a good cause

I posted last year about a wonderful project begun by a single soldier serving in Iraq. It was called "Iraqi Bundles of Love" and involved the collection of bundles of sewing fabric and other supplies. The soldier distributed them to individuals in Iraq -- women who very much needed the items to clothe themselves and their families. The project took off through the magic of teh Internet and over 3000 bundles (each the size of a large Priority Mail box) were delivered.

Well, it's time for IBOL 2: the sequel. The IBOL founder has found a volunteer in northern Iraq to coordinate distribution of another wave of bundles, this time including KNITTING supplies as well as sewing, and so I am giving you the heads-up in case you, like me, have odds and ends of yarn laying around that you wouldn't miss if you were to send them to IBOL 2.

Here's the link to the IBOL blog, with full instructions on how to participate. Basically you get a large Priority Mail box (free at your local post office -- forgive me, non-Americans, this one is targeted at my American readers, since it was our intellectually-challenged Dubya who got us into this fiasco that is the Iraq War) and place a piece of fabric in the box. Fill the box with crafting supplies: fabric, thread, knitting needles, yarn, sewing needles, buttons, anything you can think of that someone who has never seen a Jo-Ann Fabric or a LYS might find useful. Then you tie up the bundle and mail it off. More extensive instructions are at the link above.

I had a tremendous amount of fun filling up a few boxes last time around. There are always leftover balls or even partial balls of yarn from projects; I realized that now that I have fabulous Addi clicks I don't need a zillion straight needles laying around and threw some of them in; and I was able to pass on fabric and thread from old Halloween costumes and the like.

So if you're in the mood to help, and you've got some extra stash lying around, for the ten bucks or so it takes to mail a box, you can help someone on the other side of the world. Maybe it will help remind all of us that people are people, and our similarities are greater than our differences.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Something on your mind?

If you've ever wondered what the big deal is about charts, you'll want to check out my article about knitting charts in the new Vogue Knitting. Subscribers are getting theirs now, and I believe the issue goes on sale this coming week.

Which brings me to my question for you: since I am in the fortunate position of being able to pitch knitting- and fiber-related articles to magazines, are there any topics that you have been wishing someone like me would write about? Send me an email using the "We never talk" link over in the right-hand margin with topics you'd like to hear about. They can be technical topics, or more general ones. I can't guarantee anything, but as they say, "You don't ask -- you don't get."

While we are on the subject of VK, one thing that you can always depend upon with VK are knitting designs that get people talking. There are some beautiful garments in this issue that I would love to make, like this pretty hat

Fair Isle Hat by Sheila Joynes

a short-sleeve fair isle tunic

Fair Isle Tunic by Yoko Hatta

and the cover cabled sweater:

Cabled Sweater by Yoko Hatta

Add to that list some of the lovely designs knit by GKIYH pals like Kathy Merrick

Banded Turtleneck by Kathy Merrick

and cool knee-highs that I wish I had the gams to wear by BarbBrown:

Stranded Socks by Barb Brown

as well as some other stuff that isn't my personal style but is technically interesting or fashion-forward. I've found in my old age that when you've been looking at knitting patterns for a while, some of the more traditional designs start to seem samey, and I am much more receptive to knitted items that are more trendy or cutting edge (or require a stick-like figure that I, alas, can only dream of). I might not ever make them, but they get me thinking.

In other news, I've been dyeing like a fiend the past two weeks to get ready for fall. This benefits you, the lover of quality handdyed yarns, in two ways: you will find some great deals on odds and ends that I've listed on the website in order to clear out discontinued base yarns and so on. Like grab bags of mill ends, in both sport/DK and fingering weight:

fingering-wt. grab bag

and I've started to add some new base yarns, particularly in sweater quantity. I've added a gorgeous DK-weight half-merino, half-silk blend, with batches of 1800+ yards, perfect for a trans-seasonal sweater.

I've also got a suri alpaca/merino worsted weight

and another 1600-yd batch of aran weight superwash merino -- this stuff is really nice, soft and cushy.

With introductory pricing and free shipping, you just might want to treat yourself! Link is here. (Thanks, Pork with Bones!)

I'm going to taking a week away from the dyeing pots to spend some time with the family, but I'll be checking in on-line. This does mean that orders placed from noon today until Friday, Aug. 27th, will ship on the 28th.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fall preview: Rowan

My favorite time of year is here: time to take a look at the new patterns and yarns from Rowan. In the past few years, we've seen some changes at Westminster Fibers: Jaeger is long gone and RYC, a relatively new label, has been folded into regular Rowan. But one thing remains the same: just as the days start to get shorter and the back-to-school shopping frenzy hits, we are treated to a new Rowan Magazine. This year, we've got Rowan No. 48, along with some new yarns and pattern booklets to entice us.

Let's start with the new yarns. For fans of super-duper chunky yarns that knit up fast, Rowan has created Drift. Drift is a single-ply yarn that mixes multiple related colors together, for a subtle multicolored effect. It knits around 2 stitches per inch, give or take, which is pretty darn bulky. Drift is 100% wool, and comes in big balls of 87 yds/100g, at $14.95 MSRP.

Cushy (from Winter Drift)

If you are looking for merely bulky yarn, knitting at around 3.5 sts per inch, there's Purelife Renew. Renew is made from 93% recycled wool with 7% polyamide, and also features a melding of related shades for a muted multicolored effect. Renew comes in balls of 50g/82 yds, and retails for $9.95 per ball. Colors include neutrals and rich jewel tones.

Quince (Purelife Autumn)

Also part of the Purelife eco-friendly line is the British Sheep Breeds Boucle. This boucle yarn is an interesting addition to the line; it comes only in ecru, made from the Blue-faced Leicester breed. MSRP is $9.95 per 100g/66 yd ball, and it looks to knit at around 2 or 2.5 sts per inch.

[don't you love the way this ball of yarn seems to hover in the air?]

Silk Twist is an interesting blend of 53% silk, 30% wool, 12% superkid mohair and 5% polyamide. Silk Twist knits at around aran gauge (Rowan says 4.25 sts per inch) and comes in 50g/93 yd balls, MSRP $13.95. More varied colors, both deeper ones and some brighter/lighter ones.

One thing that I love about Rowan is their incredible pattern support. Between the Rowan Magazine and smaller booklets, they always provide terrific patterns, elegantly photographed, to make you drool. Rowan 48 is no exception. The cover story is "Russian Doll," a folklore theme inspired by Russian nesting dolls. One thing that I found particularly interesting is the way that the Rowan website reproduces some of the creative tools used to inspire the garments: "mood boards" (a collage of photos and other items designed to capture the mood of the theme), designer's sketches, and preliminary swatches.

There are three themes or "stories" in the magazine. The Russian Dolls story is a classic example of Rowan design: lots of intricate patterning,


with emphasis on color and stranded knitting. Personally, I find this fascinating to see and extremely inspirational, whether or not I plan to knit specific garments. I will say, however, that I am dying to knit up the Nonna sweater:


and all I want for Christmas is the yarn pack with which to make it. The Valentina coat is stunning, even if most of us never have the time to tackle it.


"Nomad" is a story devoted to chunkier knits,



but as Rowan describes it, these are knits "in the key trend for chunky exaggerated cable and stitch structures that create warmth and comfort as well as fitting the body silhouette."


Gypsy Hat

The third story is "Timeless," and as the name implies, is devoted to garments with classic style, emphasizing shoulder and neck details and draping.


We see more traditional styling here, with lots of tailored details and some vintage-inspired design features. Interestingly, the yarns used for this story include DK and fingering-weight, as well as worsted, while avoiding the chunkier yarns. (And I love the use of untraditional models -- ones who look much more like real women!)

In addition to Rowan Magazine, there are also several smaller booklets designed to support the new yarns or showcase existing favorites. "Winter Drift" contains about 15 designs for the new Drift yarn as well as old favorite Big Wool,



"Homestead Classics" is described as an homage to " the crafts and textiles of the American pioneer."

Noah, Annie

Look for folkloric themes, ethnic-inspired knits and cables, as well as simpler designs, in an autumnal palette.



"Purelife Autumn" showcases the new Boucle and Renew yarns, with 16 designs for women, with lots of chunky layering pieces.


Winter Cherry

Finally, "Silk Twist Classics" is a book of women's designs, sweaters and accessories, featuring the new Silk Twist yarn. These designs tend toward the easier and simpler to knit, letting the texture and color of the yarn take center stage.


Rose Hip

So there you have it: fall 2010 from one of my all-time favorites, Rowan. Go forth and knit!