Saturday, January 10, 2009

The paradox of crocheted socks

Knitting makes a lightweight and elastic fabric, compared to crocheting. Crocheting makes a textured and sturdy fabric, compared to knitting.

Given such a cut and dry comparison, it seems a no-brainer that socks are generally knitted, and not crocheted.

As true as this comparison may be, it is not complete. There is a lot of overlap between what knitting can do and what crocheting can do. Theoretically, then, if you can knit socks, you should be able to crochet them. So there’s the puzzle. Where in the intersection of knitting and crocheting can socks fit?

Socks need to be thin enough to wear with shoes -- though I know people who buy a size bigger shoe to wear with handmade socks. The fabric needs to conform to the leg and not be too baggy. The sock needs to be easy to put on and take off. And the pattern to crochet the socks needs to be easy enough that it can become a fairly brainless project -- just as basic knit sock patterns are. And like a basic knit sock pattern, a pattern for crocheted socks needs to work with different gauges and be fairly universal -- it certainly cannot be tied to a specific brand of yarn.

I crochet socks from the toe up because I don’t want to run out of yarn, but I also don’t want the socks to be too short and have leftover yarn. This means I don’t have yarn set aside for mending, but that hasn’t been an issue. For sensible socks, I'm not willing to go smaller than fingering/sock weight yarn. DK weight yarn works up quickly and is only a bit thicker. Worsted weight socks are good for around the house or wearing with boots.

Knee highs often have leg shaping, but shorter socks usually do not. Shaping means more instructions. I want to make the shorter kind for a basic pattern, so I want a stitch that can be pulled in different directions.

The challenge is to find the right stitch: Knit socks often have one pattern for the toe, another for the heel, plain stockinette for the foot, and perhaps a decorative stitch for the leg. So I'm allowed to use different stitches for different parts of the sock. But each stitch has to make sense for where it is.
Originally, I worked the heel in, but now I do an ‘afterthought heel’ (term coined by Elizabeth Zimmerman), which makes life much easier but has the drawback of being a bit less fitted than the heel flap construction -- this problem is in knitting, too, so it’s not just a crochet thing.
Because it is still an evolving meditation, I crochet socks mainly for myself, not for others -- although I did crochet a pair of bed socks out of a dk alpaca/silk blend for my mother once. When they wore out, I knitted a replacement pair -- She appreciated both pairs.
So, how is the pattern evolving?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gift tip

As indicated in my previous post, I am expecting a new addition to my family this month. Not surprisingly, I've been making lots of clothes for the little guy, and it's reminded me of a common problem I encountered when I work in a yarn store.

Ladies would come in needing to make something for a baby shower, but the expectant mother had elected not to learn the baby's sex in advance. It's become expected in this culture that the mother will learn the baby's sex via ultrasound, allowing her loved ones to buy/make gender specific gifts. In fact, many of the women I encountered were actually angry at the expectant mother for not learning the baby's sex.

I have opted not to find out my baby's sex until it is born, which can pose some difficulties in making things for the baby. So here are some tips for gender-neutral gifts:

  • White, green, and yellow are traditional gender neutral baby colors.

  • Primary colors and "adult" colors (colors that are traditionally too dark for babies) can also be gender neutral.

  • Stuffed animals are gender neutral.

  • Rather than choosing a sweater pattern that is a cardigan, choose a boat neck pattern that buttons over one or both shoulders, so that you don't have to guess which side of the placket the buttons go on. These sweaters can also be easier to put on baby.

Hope this helps.