Tuesday, 7 March 2017

mending stories :: lengthening a hand knit sock

mending stories is a new, regular feature where I will be sharing my exploration of the upkeep of loved, worn clothing. Today's culture encourages a never-end cycle of the new, so I encourage you to step back and appreciate the journeys that our clothes have accompanied us on, which are so often imprinted onto fabric, fibre and stitching. From trials and tribulations, to tips and new techniques learnt, I hope you will enjoy following along - and are inspired to mend some of your clothing too! #mendingstories

Last year, over the Easter weekend, I was knitting a pair of socks. This was my second sock project after  a long knitting hiatus, and I was feeling rather impatient. I was also unsure about how sizing works for hand-knitted socks. To fit against the contours of the foot, the fabric must stretch out and cling to it, and so there must be some negative ease. I really wanted to get the socks off the needles and onto my feet, and so, thinking that I needed lots of negative ease, I knit feet which were too short.

They seemed to fit fine at first, but during the day, the sock heels would gradually migrate from the ankle to the sole and look rather silly. I loved the colour of the socks, and the simplicity of the 3x1 ribbed pattern, so I wanted to keep them. But recently, 10 months after casting off, I've finally got round to lengthening the foot.

It took only a few hours to do, and it's really been worth it to achieve a better fit. I feel so much more comfortable now, and the socks will last longer since they're not being stretched out in the wrong places. If you have been putting off this kind of alteration on a finished knitting project, I recommend leaping in and fixing it - you'll feel much better afterwards!

How to lengthen (or shorten) the foot of a hand-knitted sock

I tried to unpick the cast-off edge, but the end of the yarn was buried deep within the fabric and was impossible to find. So I carefully made one snip in the fabric, pulled out the yarn, unravelled the toe, and knit 1.5" more onto the foot. I could have cut off the old yarn, but I liked the idea of keeping it as a reminder of this alteration. It's quite clear where I have used new yarn to knit the toe as the fabric is so much smoother. I like this difference as it reminds me of a good lesson learnt.

  • Small sharp scissors with pointy blades
  • Double-pointed or long circular knitting needles to achieve the same gauge as your sock
  • Optional: double pointed or long circular knitting needles in a smaller size than your gauge
  • Tapestry needle
  • Smooth waste yarn (e.g. fine crochet cotton)
  • First, look for the yarn you used to knit your sock with. If you no longer have it, choose another yarn in the same weight which contains at least 20% Nylon (polyamide). This could be a similar or a contrasting colour (get creative!) 
  • Decide if you want to unravel and re-use the yarn currently in the sock toe, or if you have enough to use new yarn.
  • Determine how much length you need to add (or remove). You could measure a well-fitting handknitted sock and compare it to your old one, or just measure it against your foot
  • Work out how you knitted the toe. Is it a standard toe that you've knitted frequently, or did it incorporate special shaping? This may affect the length that you add to the sock foot.
  • Establish the direction of the sock: whether the sock was knitted from the cuff downwards, or from the toe upwards.
  • Find the needle size that you previously used.
  • For toe up socks, or if you don't need to re-use the old yarn: determine the row where you will re-start knitting. Put a lifeline through all stitches on this row by threading a length of smooth cotton through the right leg of each stitch across the whole row.
  • Very carefully snip away at the row above this one. (Do two rows above if you're feeling nervous!) Pull out all the excess. You will be left with a row of live stitches sitting on waste yarn.
  • For cuff down socks, or it you will re-use the old yarn: make a small snip through one stitch at the very top of the toe where it was grafted together. Pull the ends through a few times until you unlock the knitting and can unravel the whole toe. You will be at the foot, ready to start knitting again.
  • Put all live stitches onto your knitting needles. It may help to initially slip them onto smaller needles, but remember to then knit them off with the right size needles. 
  • Count the stitches; double check for any dropped stitches or potential errors.
  • Knit the foot in pattern until you have added enough length.
  • Knit the toe.
  • Enjoy your well-fitting socks!

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