Monday, March 17, 2008

In Which I Use the Word "Aesthetic" A Lot

I've been talking to people a lot about knitting socks lately. I always talk about knitting socks, because I'm always knitting socks and spend a lot of time with other people who knit a lot of socks, but the last couple of Saturdays I've spent the morning teaching a beginning sock knitting opportunities to preach my socky obsession have abounded. What I've discovered is that when I talk sock knitting, I use the word "aesthetic" a lot. So much that it started to sound like I was using it incorrectly. I had to look it up in the Great Big Book of Everything to be sure I wasn't. I think this definition is the most appropriate for my purposes: "pertaining to, involving or concerned with pure emotion and sensation as opposed to pure intellectuality."

Mostly I'm talking about why I knit socks the way I do...I switch a lot between 7 inch and 6 inch needles, sometimes Crystal Palace needles feel the best to me, sometimes good old Clover dpns are the thing. I do ribbing on three needles, then switch to four needles for the stockinette bits, purely because of how it looks and feels on four needles. I will always prefer dpns to the magic loop or 2 circs, and no amount of coaxing from those who tell me it's faster the other ways will change the fact that I knit socks according to what is most aesthetically pleasing to me...and that means dpns.

I also love the way a sock looks and feels when it's hanging off of dpns...particularly after the heel has been turned and there's some foot progress to be seen. For example, this Mona sock is at the just about perfect, aesthetically speaking, stage:

I'll bet you didn't think there would be a "but" in this one, did you?

BUT...I have also discovered that there are times when it is necessary to take short cuts in sock knitting. Like when you are at the Lafayette Theater watching A Streetcar Named Desire and you just want to knit around and around and around so you don't have to look away from the brilliance onscreen.

That's when you feel glad to read the Yarn Harlot and that you know Debbie Doggett, so that you can throw in the not-quite-as-aesthetically-pleasing-but-practical-for-continued-mindless-knitting technique known as the "Afterthought Heel". I read about it on the Yarn Harlot's blog...she was at a concert, not wanting to monkey around with turning a heel, and yet at the point of a sock where a heel was becoming necessary. I investigated further and found that River Knits' own Debbie Dogget is an Afterthoughter and she helped me to discover the simplicity of the afterthought heel. Here's how it works...

When you reach the point of the sock where you feel a heel should be placed, knit half of your sock stitches onto waste yarn (I've used a strand of cotton in a pastel shade, to make it easy to see it in the middle of the blue stripe):

Then you keep right on knitting around and around and finish the foot of the sock. When you have finished the toe, you go back to the heel...and here's the payoff for the thrill seeking unravel the waste yarn...
...and pick up the stitches. Once you have the stitches back on the needles, you'll work these stitches exactly as you did the toe (decrease a round, knit a round, etc...)

I am really pleased with the two socks I have used this technique on. So pleased that in April, I will be offering a class to help others discover the wonders of the afterthought. I don't think this technique will replace my much loved, aesthetically sound heel flap technique, but there are benefits to using the afterthought heel:

1. It can keep the knitting mindless for longer, so you can watch old movies and keep knitting (I even fixed a dropped stitch in the dark at the theater last week! It was quite a moment.)

2. If you don't like the heel flap technique, this is a good heel that is easier than the short row heel technique.

3. Debbie says the socks with the afterthought heel fit her feet better.

4. If you're using self striping yarn, your stripes will not be disrupted the way they can be with other heel techniques.

5. If you have a very clever boy at home (like I do), the sock can become a puppet when you pick up the heel stitches...


Amanda said...

About dpns vs magic loop/2 circs: Amen and Hallelujia! DPNs are definitely more aesthetically pleasing! There are times when I will use 2 circs, but I always prefer DPNs.

monica said...

I always prefer the dpns too. And I bought some aesthetically pleasing yarn today so I have to hurry and finish a few other pair ,so I have some empty dpns to try out the new yarn.

Michaela said...

Ummmm...ok - I just figured out what dpns are.

And you do have a bright boy at home. I miss you guys. I took a full-time job at UNO! You know what that means??? Paid vacation!