December 04, 2013

Knitting Plain

I have reached the point of boredom with my current Christmas gift sock projects.  I'm knitting man socks, too many man socks.  The problem with man socks for my guys is that they are not "fancy" sock wearers; they like plain ol' socks. And the other problem:  I could knit two pair of socks for me for every one pair that I knit for a man/boy in my household.  They are just that big. Man socks, therefore, are the equivalent of hours and hours and hours of mind-numbing plain knit stitch.  In circles.

But this knitting plain stitches is not as easy as one may think if one happens to be a newbie knitter or a "thrower".  The thing about plain stitches is that you can't hide your gauge and tension issues in a cable or a moss stitch or several inches of ribbing.  Your stitches are out there for all the world to see.  You have to knit perfectly even stitches, one after the other, row after row.  Mine aren't machine-knit perfect, but at a glance they are pretty darn close.

When you are knitting in the round, you don't have a wrong side on which to pull in your tension a little to compensate for loose knit stitches, either.  So, what's the trick to even knit stitches every time?  Well, there is one, and I try to teach it to my knitting students from the get-go, though there is often a great deal of argument and fussing on their part.  The secret is … knit at the tip of the needle.  I like to bunch up as many stitches as possible on the left needle and knit them at the very tip of the needle.  Not only does this improve your tension, but it makes you a faster knitter, even if you are a "thrower", which I am not.  I like to knit in a Continental style, holding my yarn in my left hand like I would if I were crocheting, so that the right needle needs to make just a slight movement to catch the yarn and pull it through the loop.  Doing it my way, I am also able to pick up speed by slipping the worked stitch off the left-hand needle as I am pulling the working yarn through that same stitch.  But this post is not about speed, it's about tension.

The other thing that is extremely important in maintaining an even tension is that you keep a consistent taughtness (is that even a word?) to the working yarn every time you make a new stitch.  If you knit like I do, then that's controlled by the left hand that is also holding the left needle (by the way, if you knit like I do, then there is no "left hand holds both needles while yarn is wrapped around the right one" going on--you never have to let go of either needle).  If you "throw", then you adjust the tension of your stitch after every stitch.  This needs to be automatic, as in you tighten the new stitch before you knit the next one.  If you don't do this, then you have to go back along your row and pull the working yarn of the new stitches, one stitch at a time, to work out and even tension across the row and pull out excess yarn among stitches.  That's very time consuming.  It's better to just tighten each stitch after you make it.

So if you find yourself knitting plain stitches in a circle for hours on end, try knitting at the tip of the left needle.  I'll bet it makes you and your knitting better friends.

Update:  One pair of 14-inch circumference man socks finished, two more (one slightly less in the circumference, hallelujah!) on the needles and one of those is knit to the toes.  I've worked out that I have 12 days per sock to get all 4 pair finished by Christmas, though the one closest to completion is actually a before-Christmas birthday present.  Funny story … I think I am going to have to rip it back to the leg and re-do the heel.  I did a short-row heel and it looks wonky.  And I think the ankly is too wide.  I might have a sock-knitting breakdown over this pair.  You know what I think the problem is?  I actually followed a pattern for this one by someone else who isn't me and I think her CO number was WAAAAY off!  I'm going to have to be sneaky and get Honey, for whom these socks are being knit, to try one on.  I told him I was making it for one of the boys, so maybe he won't suspect otherwise.

There is also supposed to be the knitting of a slouch for Rocket and gloves for my mother-in-law and the gargantuan cowl (something like a 5-foot circumference DK weight mobius cowl with lace stitches) that my step-daughter saw on Pinterest a few days ago and, apparently, desperately needs me to knit.  I'm thinking the cowl might be belated because as it is I will have carpel tunnel so badly that I'm going to be in twin wrist casts by Christmas.  You wouldn't believe it, but I did plan ahead for Christmas--way back in August I had the projects all mapped out, last-minute cowl request excluded--but somehow didn't get around to starting my projects until November.


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