I’ve had a busy few days a-googling the ins and outs and whys and wherefores of Etsy shop opening, and wordpress hosting, not to mention starting work on attempting to design and knit a pair (or two) of socks that I can happily put my name to (apologies for the poor lighting, but it’s so drizzly here today) –
and thanks to these socks I’ve spent a good deal of time learning things both sock and non-sock related. (I’ve a tendency to follow my nose when I’m googling, it’s more interesting that way.) The thing with knitting is, you just don’t start out knowing all the knitting things. I’m sure that to a lot of non-knitters the whole thing must seem a bit dull – there you are, going ‘clickclickclick’ over, and over, and over again, and at the end of it you’ve got a scarf, a sock, a jumper, whatever… but that’s it. I mean, I’m sure most appreciate that it’s a bit fiddly and you’ve got to follow a pattern, which means you need to learn how to follow a pattern, but once you’ve done that you’ve cracked it, surely?
I’ll be honest, I think that for a long while I may have been under a similar impression myself. Like, way back when I was eleven, knitting jumpers and things on big straight needles. I knew nothing of knitting in the round – I mean, literally nothing, I had no idea it was a thing. I didn’t know how to strand, or do intarsia, though I was aware the latter was a thing for handknitters, thanks to my grandma knitting me a jumper with Snoopy on it a few years before.
Some knitting skills you can pick up from just doing lots and lots of knitting, but the rest, well, they’re more liable to come from other, more experienced knitters. My first attempts at stranded knitting, seventeen years ago (I probably wasn’t even aware that was what I was doing), I can barely remember – it was a pattern from a Rowan yarns book that I’d got out of the library, I think, with different coloured hearts, in different coloured squares. On big straight needles, knitting and purling back and forth. There was a fair bit of tying the ends together with knots, for some reason I don’t remember (it may have been just the ends of the balls, or maybe I was doing something freaky). I was having some issue or other with it, so I toddled off to my local wool shop (I’d say yarn shop, but we didn’t call them that then – the conversation ‘I’ve come for some wool’ ‘What kind?’ ‘4ply cotton’ would not have been considered particularly weird). It was run by a lady called Audrey, who basically had more stock crammed into the front of her little shop than was probably sensible. There was a mountainous pile of plastic-wrapped wool, the top of which was only reachable using one of those long wooden poles with a hook on the end, like the ones that our teachers used to have to open the top windows at my secondary school. She’d yoink a bag or two off the top of the pile like she knew exactly what was there (I think she probably did)… anyway, I’d bought the yarn I was using from her. It wasn’t Rowan – back then I really didn’t have money for yarn that cost that much – but it was a suitable substitute, albeit without the same tasteful colour palette. Rather than the eight or ten or whatever different muted colours that the pattern called for, I’d opted for two colours, namely, neon pink and bright orange. I promise it wasn’t as disgusting as it sounds, in fact it was perfect for my bouncy two or three year old daughter at the time.
So. I took my knitting down to Audrey, the most memorable result of which was that I learned about weaving in ends (after getting a ticking off for knotting them together ‘they’ll all just come undone in the washing machine!’). She also offered me the chance to knit on commission, which I turned down for some reason – I probably could have done with the money, but thinking back I suspect it was lack of confidence in my own skills. (Audrey’s is still there – at least, it was when Google last drove past, and it looks like she’s maybe done a bit of organising, or at least moved The Pile elsewhere, or possibly someone else is in charge of the shop these days, as she’d be retirement age I’m sure.) I think that was the first time I learned anything at all about knitting techniques since my grandma and my aunt taught me how to knit and purl way back when I was five, and the k2tog, yo I learned aged eleven (they were lace pattern jumpers).
Shortly after this, I managed to get online, but I think it was a couple more years before I stumbled across knitting blogs (I think the only one that is still regularly active from back then would be Yarn Harlot), and with the help of these and a few handy websites I learned what to do with double pointed needles, discovered the existence of circular needles that weren’t those horrible Pony things, and found a wealth of information that hadn’t been available to me previously. Over the next couple of years I took my newfound knowledge and knit more stranded jumpers followed by (you know this bit) balaclavas and shawls. But you know, I never really learned to love sock knitting – I mean, I learned how to knit a toe-up, short-row plain affair courtesy of Wendy Johnson, but I just wasn’t feeling the love for sock yarn and 2mm needles.
A few years/pairs of dk and aran weight socks down the line, and we’re back on speaking terms (the Tardis socks even got me over my 4ply hatred!), in fact I’d go so far as to say they’re now a favourite knit, and since the aforementioned Tardis socks I’ve switched to knitting cuff down, even though yarn chicken is far more of a risk that way. I happily sit with a sock while watching tv, and on the few occasions when I’m out and about and not driving and/or refereeing kids, they’re nice and easy to whip out of my bag and start work on. Consequently, they seem like a natural choice for opening items for an etsy shop, especially in the run-up to Christmas. The SJS sweater is currently still waiting on me ordering more yarn (I’m not ordering one ball, it’ll have to wait until I’ve got enough of an order to get free postage from Wool Warehouse!), but it’s also reminded me how much I enjoy stranded knitting.
And so (if you’re still here after all that) we’re finally reaching somewhere approaching the point of this mighty and mountainous post. My first discovery, after knocking up a little design and getting industrious with some dk yarn, is that stranded socks have an issue that I am not willing to let lie. Namely, the result of the end of one row and the start of the next producing the phenomenon known as jogging, which appears at the end of each row and sits – on this sock – on the inside leg.
So, possibly not terribly obvious most of the time when you’re wearing them, but I wasn’t happy with that – it’s a mess – so off I went a-googling. (This is going to be even more of an issue if I also knit some stripey red- or green-and-white ones, which I fully intend to do, because who doesn’t want elf socks, right?) I discovered a couple of methods for ‘jogless’ knitting, which I’ve had a bash at, with mixed results. You’ll notice I’ve also changed the pattern slightly to reduce the number of occasions it’d cause me a headache, plus changed the bottom row so that it mirrors the start of the chart. I’ve used two methods, namely, knitting the stitch below at the same time as the working stitch, and moving the colour join one stitch forwards (this latter takes advantage of the fact that knitting in the round is actually a helix). I’m yet to try ‘framing’ my stranding, but I may well resort to that if I don’t manage to work out exactly how to knit my stranded patterns without that jog.
(I realise that loop isn’t in the best of places, sorry.) It’s better, but I’m still not happy with it, there’s weird stuff going on. I’m not entirely sure that either of the two methods worked well for me/this pattern, and in the absence of Audrey, I’m starting to think that for now, framing is the way forward… and that I need to learn more so that I have more options in future.
The second thing I hadn’t realised I didn’t know about until this week was the concept of yarn dominance, whereby two stranded colours knitted alongside one another produce a dominant and background colour, according to how they are knit. The internet, as you might expect, has a wealth of information, but this post at Paper Tiger is top of Google’s results currently, and describes it beautifully. And, as a result of this, I had a crack at knitting two-handed stranded, which started off being a bit ooer-not-sure but ended up being pretty okay. I’m an English knitter (unsurprising, seeing as I’m English), so it took me a little while to get the hang of picking, but once I got going it definitely helped. I also realised that my previous thinking – that you should always bring your ‘new’ yarn over the top of the other – is quite possibly a misconception that I picked up from who knows where. Certainly, with only two colours, bringing one above and one below makes sense as it avoids tangling. I have to say though, I still find English knitting easier with one colour – I never have to look at my knitting, and I’m just faster that way. I know that a lot of people say that ‘throwing’ rather than ‘picking’ the yarn means more hand movements, etc, but you do get really very economical with your hand movements when you’ve done it a while – there’s as much dipping of the knitting as there is throwing of the yarn goes on when I’m in full flow, if that makes sense? I’m pretty pleased with myself for adding a new string to my bow, though. The second of those socks is the one which was knit two handed, and I have to say there isn’t, to me, any obvious difference in appearance, but maybe a keener eye than mine could spot one.
In the midst of my stranding epiphanies, I’ve also been on the search for yarns that will do my shop proud. The yarn I’ve been ‘practising’ with is a cheap wool/acrylic blend – they’ll make a cosy pair of sitting about socks for me, but for my shop I want something a bit special. I know that if I were browsing etsy for a gift of handknit socks, I’d want that for myself. I’ve been hunting for organic wool, in natural shades, preferably from the UK, and as you might imagine, this is quite uncommon, and not cheap. It occurred to me that I could potentially add even more value by sourcing organic UK fibre that I could then hand spin myself, but sadly it would appear that hen’s teeth are more common than that. There’s a supplier of prepared organic tops in the UK, but the fibre they supply is from the Falklands.
The last of this week’s googlefest involved traditional Scandinavian/Nordic designs (because nothing says warm winter woollies and Christmas knitting better, I think), and with one thing and another, I basically ran into this blog, called Faroe knitting. It’s gone into my fluffy favourites folder, partly as it’s full of great information, partly because it’s full of lovely photography, but also because it got me thinking about my great-great-great-grandmother Petra Joensen, who was from the Faroes – I suppose I felt a little connection there. This is Petra, and her family, some time in the 1890s –
The blog also lists some organic, Faroe-produced yarns, in both natural and dyed colourways, which piqued my interest further.
Googling a little bit further into Faroe knitting traditions, it turns out that the author of one of the best known Faroese pattern books, Olivia Joensen, is from the same island as Petra, albeit not the same village – they even have the same surname, though I’m sure that’s a very common name so I’d be surprised if there was any family connection. However, I’m certain that Petra would have knitted, given that there are more sheep than people in the Faroes – and her knits probably included one of the designs listed in the books that contain those specific to the families/farms around this area. Petra was born in 1843, her mother died a month after she was born and her father remarried, and had more children, but I think that by the time she was in her late teens, her father had also died. It’s a long time since I did the original research into this branch of my family tree, and I stored most of the correspondence I had back then in my icqmail account (anyone remember icq? that’s how long ago it was), and my memory of it is a bit vague. There was a Faroes message board that as far as I can tell has gone the same way as icq – in that I can’t find it any more – where I managed to contact a lovely man from the Faroes called Max (I think he was in Torshavn), who did a great deal of looking through the records there, and who passed on a lot of information about this side of my family, which I then passed to my great-uncle (who researched the family tree as part of his work as a Mormon minister). Petra was from Strendur, in Eysturoy, and after losing her parents she moved to Shetland, where she met my great-great-great-grandad, William Gordon Noble, who was a fisherman. I’m feeling a little bit inspired by all of this, and am certainly going to include some of the specifically Faroe designs in some of my future knitting. While the pattern books for those, and for the shawls that are peculiar to the Islands aren’t terribly easy to come by, I’ve found them online – The Island Wool Company, based in the UK, sells both books and yarn from the Faroes.
In other news, I still haven’t finished my finishing on the Season 13 Doctor Who scarf, but with all this going on, that seems hardly worth saying!