Toe-up ribbed socks and a hefty learning curve -- May-July 2006

Ah, the socks of doom. They look so innocent, don't they, in all their heather-green ribbed ordinariness? But don't let it fool you. Look at the title and see how long it's taken me to finish these 'simple' socks. More than SIX WEEKS on the needles, SIX, look! Four-fifths of the first sock were finished over one long weekend, too. There was a non-knitting gap of nearly three weeks in the middle, granted, but still. It had a fast start but turned into a slow journey. And there have been various sticking points along the way, the first of which being the short-row toe.

Short-row woe

I read instructions all over the web on short-row toe techniques and eventually settled on the first of these, with plans to use Wendy's toe-up method for the rest of the sock. And did it, to the letter, but one side of the toe was gappy and ugly. Hmm. Perhaps I was slipping stitches incorrectly? I tried again. Still ugly. Bah. So I went off to find some other techniques, tried one, didn't like it, found another.. In total I probably did the toe of the first sock five times, and eventually settled on a technique very similar to Wendy's but with slightly different wrapping. The Internet is a wonder and give me these pictorial instructions, which were life-saving.

With the toe sorted I steam-rollered the rest of the sock. The short-row heel was pretty straightforward, having practised on the toe already, and soon I was approaching the top, and finish, of the leg.

Cast off loosely. No, really

Now, the thing is, when the pattern for a toe-up sock tells you to 'cast off loosely', it's not kidding. No problem! I thought, smiling knowingly at the stern instruction in the pattern, I've cast off loosely before. I'll even go up a needle size for the cast-off, that'll totally help. And I cast off. Loosely, apparently.

Ahh, poor foolish me. So I've finished my first toe-up ribbed sock. I am very excited. It's been a good few days of intense knitting (so small, and yet so time-consuming!) with ups and downs but I think the final product is pretty professional looking.

I try it on.

Except I don't, because it won't go past my heel. Not a chance. Even with my cheerfully optimistic attempt at 'loose' casting off, the top of the sock has barely half the stretch needed to get it over my (apparently gargantuan) ankle. I throw it down in a fit of pique and huff my way over to Google, eventually finding this grafted cast-off method for single rib (starts halfway down the page). So fine, the short-row toe didn't defeat me, I won't let the cast-off beat me down either. However unpicking 72 cast-off stitches, on 2mm needles, is a very weary task. Two evenings later and I have re-cast-off the sock, following the clever cast-off technique desperately cafefully, and thank god the sock just fits. It takes a tug-and-breathe-in method, but it does go over the heel and it all fits.

Except. And oh, this still makes me weep a little bit. I think it's actually a little bit too small. It's extremely snug, all round my foot. Sigh. It does fit, but will it cut off the circulation to my toes? I can't decide.

However I just couldn't bear to only have one sock, even if it was, painfully, perhaps the wrong size. And I certainly wasn't going to rip out all the heartache that had gone into it. So I have been inching (barely even millimetring, actually) my way through the second sock over the past few weeks. Knowing that you're making something that you'll probably not wear is not a motivating force.

It's all about the lessons

However, it has not been all bad. I still adore these socks, and every time I tug them on and wear them for half an hour before taking them off again, I'll remember all the lessons I learned. Namely:

Despite everything I am pleased with these socks, honestly. They really do look like 'proper' socks, and the toe-up method is great. But my next project might have to be something a little bit bigger, which doesn't use DPNs. Or have a gauge of 9.5 stitches per inch.

Details: Toe-up socks in purl 1 knit 3 rib with short-row toe and heel, knitted in Sunbeam St Ives 4 ply on 2mm bamboo and 1.5mm aluminium (they don't make bamboo that small!) double-pointed needles.

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