Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Sock Knitting: re-learning a craft, and meditations on process

When I packed to come to Stockholm (for what was planned to be 6 months, but has turned into only 4 months), I knew that I wasn't going to be able to take many hobbies with me. No piano, no ukulele, and no more sewing. I decided instead to make knitting my main hobby - specifically, socks.

I was very inspired by Niina's post about the socks she's made in Finland: 'the thinner the yarn the better' stuck in my head, as well as the fact that she gives the socks away. Whilst I have made many things as presents for other people, something about this concept seemed different. The socks are stockpiled, and reached for to give as gifts when the occasion arises. The fact that a time-consuming, arduously hand-made item can be passed on so lightly, with love but perhaps a little impersonally, intrigued me. Niina seemed detached from the finished objects. Knitting the socks here becomes entirely process-led: the enjoyment of the act of making, with the usage and final item less of a focus. Craft here is an act rather than a commodity, being process- rather than product-led. This is further emphasised in Niina's preference for thin yarns, so as to make a finer sock but also to take a longer time; her freehand style of making, disregarding pattern instructions; and her use of really lovely yarns purchased as souvenirs.  I packed sock yarn and fine needles in my suitcase, and re-learnt sock knitting in Sweden.

My first socks

 First socks: Pink Jaywalkers, 2006. They were always too big and never felt comfy.
Second: Monkey, 2007. Still too roomy but much more wearable. The yarn has pilled but not worn. Still going strong and in rotation, 9 years later!
Third: Ribbed socks, given away as a present.
Fourth: Seduction Socks in my own attempt at Kool-Aid yarn dyeing. These wore terribly and shrunk in the wash, despite the yarn being superwash! 

I can't believe that I made my first pair of socks 10 years ago. It's shocking! My Ravelry account tells me that I made my pink Jaywalker socks in August 2006, and 5 pairs of socks in total over two years.  I used to ride the bus to school, and they were the perfect commuting project: small and lightweight, with lots of construction interest that interspersed relaxing rounds of stocking stitch; plus the potential for really exciting stitch patterns. I only made top-down sock patterns, and you can see that I really enjoyed exploring stitch patterns. I didn't get very technical with construction methods, although I clearly did pick up a few tricks by the end.

However, I really didn't get the whole fetishisation of expensive sock yarn. £30 for a pair of socks? (I still struggle with that a little, to be honest...)  I eventually abandoned sock knitting for making reproduction vintage sweaters. Of the 5 socks that I knit, none were 100% successful: due to pairing delicate yarn with a lace pattern, my favourite green Pomatomas socks (7 years old!) are stupidly holey, and are more darning than knitting. And my hard-wearing navy Monkey socks are actually a little roomy. They're great for layering up on cold days though.

Fifth & last socks: Pomatomus. My absolutely favourites and the best fitting, now much-faded and the heels are mostly holes and darning. 

As you can see, I was entirely a results-orientated knitter. I wanted to make pretty things, and I didn't want it to cost the earth. I was seeking to expand my knitting ability through different stitch patterns, but I didn't think carefully about construction methods and techniques. I also found that determining sizing was an uphill climb: initially far too big, then too tight, and finally getting it. Unsurprisingly, ten years later, I've forgotten the tricks that I had up my sleeve!

10 years after knitting my first sock, I find that I have a rather different approach. I've knit two sock patterns during my time living abroad, and have found myself really analysing technique. I'm considering the fitting more seriously too, rather than mindlessly knitting tubes because it's easier. And interestingly, I find myself shying away from lace. Purposefully putting holes in socks turns out to not be the most sensible idea, especially in fine yarns made of natural fibre.

Whilst I'm still excited about having more handknitted socks in my sock drawer, I'm actually finding the process of making and discovering more exciting than the fact of owning. I think that this bodes well for my relatives come Christmas time.

What about you? Are you about the knitting or the wearing?

What are you preferred fibres, yarns, and construction methods?

Are you a sock yarn fanatic? Can you explain it to me? I've always felt like I'm missing out on something there!


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