Magic Loop and Sock Knitting

I mentioned earlier that I had been playing with some new knitting skills in preparation for trying to make a pair of socks. Well….here goes. I wanted to show you what had come of that.

Firstly, why exactly was I venturing into sock knitting? Sock yarn probably has to be one of the funnest and prettiest yarn out there. There’s just tonnes of it, patterned, or ombre’d, or striped or just one colour, and then the socks themselves. You can knit them “normal” with stockinette stitch as I am doing on my first pair or you can add ribbing, or cables, patterns, multiple colours, anything you like really. There’s tonnes of different ways to knit the toe and the heel. You can start from the toe, or from the cuff around the leg. They are so so so flexible and it’s a great way to learn some new skills.

My friend in the US sent me down some more yarn; naughty, delightful Lona! She spoils me. One of the skeins was a self-striping yarn for socks. She knows me too well, it’s simple and not too gaudy as I don’t like the look of a lot of the self-striping I’ve seen. And it’s got some blue in it 🙂

So I turned it one afternoon from a skein into two equal balls, one for each sock, using this fancy ball winding machine. Let me tell you…THAT was not a fun experience. I don’t know if I was just useless, or that skein wasn’t made properly because that yarn got so utterly tangled trying to wind it. I probably spent around two hours untangling the mess.

But of course, I’m not going to waste pretty yarn before I know what to do with it, so I picked up some Paton’s Big Baby 4 ply/fingering weight at Spotlight in this graduated blue/green/yellow/white. It’s 60% acrylic and 40% nylon, so its not the same as the merino/nylon blend above but it was cheap enough and feels soft, so it shall make a cute beginner sock. It’s also a test whether 100 gams of sock yarn is enough to get a pair out for Jason and/or I because we have rather large feet. Larger than the average anyways.

Firstly, I spent part of two days learning how to make a crochet chain. Gosh I felt so awkward using that single needle with its little hook to make a chain of stitches, which I would be using to make a provisional (temporary) cast-on for my sock. It took me around 30 minutes to do it the first time, about 15 minutes the next and 5 mins the time after. Practice really does make you better. I also practiced a short row technique, using the wrap and turn method, which is a way to make curves and shape your work. It’s called a short row, because you don’t knit all the way along the row, you only go so far, wrap the yarn around a stitch, and turn your work, go back the other way, wrapping a stitch before you get the end, and turning your work. Rinse and repeat. It feels abnormal and weird when you first try it, and I managed to stuff it up completely, but from those errors my second try was better and my third try was spot on.

I used this Craftsy mini-class (it’s free!) Short Rows with Carol Feller, to teach me as well as Very Pink Knits 2 at a Time Toe Up Magic Loop Socks. Her Youtube videos are free to watch, showing you the techniques for the provisional cast-on, short row toe and heel and the stretchy bind off. If you want the pattern she uses, you do have to purchase it, which I went ahead and did. I usually don’t hand out money so easily, but what interested me was that her pattern writes out every single line so it’s easy to follow. A lot of patterns are more like “this is line 1, do it and continue this technique down to this line” and that gets a little confusing when you are a beginner.

And so, I felt ready to cast on my sock yesterday. I loaded up the video, printed out my pattern, made my crochet chain, started to cast-on and DISASTER. It was terribly hard. My crochet chain was too small and tight and I couldn’t get the stitches on. Deep breath. Start over. Make your chains bigger. Try again. Wow, it’s so much easier now. It’s working!

I found that watching the video (whatever it is) through at least once fully is the most  helpful, then try to knit along with it on the second view. Rewind whenever you need to.  I’m not ashamed I have had to watch some parts ten times if I finally get it. It feels good when you do!

Time for a sock journey. This is two days of on and off knitting. I’d probably estimate about four hours of work. Slow as a snail but immensely happy with it so far. I didn’t take any pictures during the short row toe, but I’ll take you through the “magic loop” part of the sock.

Step 1. This is our starting position, both needles pointing to the right. The working yarn joined to the ball coming from the stitches on the back needle. I’m using a set of 3.5mm needles on a cable to make a total length of 40 inches. The pattern asked for me to use 2mm needles, but as I had to increase the needle size to make socks that were big enough for our monster feet. Until the sock gets bigger I’m not sure whether they will fit me or Jason.

Step 2. You want to pull the back needle out, leaving the back half to hang out on the cable that joins the two needles. It’s called magic loop because you are using one cable to knit something in the round. Look at those loops of cable! It really is a bit like magic how it works.

Step 3. We use the needle we just pulled out, to knit those stitches on the front needle. Don’t stop now, keep going!

Step 4. We’ve now knit across that row and gotten all the stitches over to the right needle. We drop the left needle.

Step 5. Turn the work around so the needle holding the stitches is at the back.

Step 6. On the front set of stitches, pull the cable back and put those stitches onto the needle again, so that we have returned to Step 1. Ta da! You just completed half a round, and you just keep doing the same thing, going around and around.

Here’s my short rows as you can see them from the side of the toe. The wrap and turn method does leave a small hole in the fabric but as you practice more it should get smaller and this should be less noticeable after washing and blocking the sock as the yarn will adjust and fluff up a bit depending on the yarn type. I think I did a spectacular job with this. To me it looks quite neat and even and the holes are small.

I did have a freak out late last night after I had started “knitting in the round”, having joined the two sides of the toe together. I had read about ladders which form  where the sides join and the stitches can become stretched. See the picture below. You can see there’s more horizontal yarn between the stitches than normal.

When I started going around, this was more pronounced, even up to a centimetre of yarn between and I was getting anxious about it. The videos say, give it a good tug!  So I would, but it would just tighten the stitch that was on the back cable, which would make it terribly hard to get back onto a needle. Cable is so much thinner than needle!

I hopped into bed, Jason laying Monster Hunter on his 3DS beside me and started checking out some blogs and videos. Pull tight, but not too tight.  Yeaaaaaaaahhh, that’s helpful. Very Pink Knits did mention that it would probably adjust after washing in any case. I picked up a tidbit abut holding the back and front together when you knit the first two stitches, which will reduce the stresses of the cable and needles trying to pull away from each other and gave that a go in today’s knitting session. Lo and behold, that helped! As the sock got a itty bitty bit longer, the tension came off the below stitches as well and they evened up.

I find that learning knitting has helped me to become a little more patient. Not much, and not all the time, let’s be reasonable! But with last night’s stress fest, it was pretty tame to usual. I took a breath, put down my work, and went to find out what I could do about it, rather than getting cranky and throwing it down. I told myself, you’re learning and you are going to make mistakes. Learn from those. This is not something you just get the first time.

And its not. But is so damn satisfying when it works out 🙂 More so because I persevere? Unsure yet, but we’ll see!

Until next time, have fun.

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