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Summer of Socks

LBHandknits

I do not know how this became the Summer of Socks... 

Well, okay, maybe I do. It was around March that I received some custom order requests for 'lightweight' socks - as opposed to the Donegal tweed socks, which I'd knit almost exclusively up to that point. At the same time, a few local women asked me to teach them sock knitting. So I purchased a few different fingering-weight sock yarns. I immediately discovered that I liked some better than others. This made me curious and I did a whole bunch of research, and a whole bunch of test knitting, followed by aggressive test-wearing by my inhouse knitwear tester (aka husband!). There were clear differences in the feel, fit, and durability of the socks - as a function not only of knitting techniques applied (tension, stitch pattern, style of heel, etc), but also of the sock yarn itself.  Fascinated, I contacted some yarn sellers and knowledgeable fibre folk, and chatted with them about this. The result was more sock knitting... this time as part of a yarn-testing project. I discovered that yarn-testing was a 'thing,' and that I quite enjoyed it.

And then, there was Sock Class.

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Having held a few casual sessions in random places and at random times, I mentioned to Lisa at Row by Roe that I was thinking of trying to organise a formal class. She said, we can try it here at the shop if you like? And we did! She announced the class, I set up the online registration. We capped the class limit at 8 and ended up with a total of 10, myself including. 

It was the first time I taught a class since my university lecturing days, which ended 5 years go. I knew that teaching a manual skill to a group of people was quite different from teaching information. But it still caught me by surprise just how different!  

For one thing, I know now that 10 people is too many for a workshop of this kind. I did not have as much time to spend with each person individually as I would have liked. It was also physically challenging to move around the intimate yarn shop space and position myself beside each person effectively, which was not something that had even occurred to me to consider in advance. In the future, I think 4-6 people for this kind of work is the limit.

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I initially structured the class as a series of 3 weekly 2-hour workshops. But it soon became clear that we needed a full 4. So I ended up adding an extra session, and luckily everyone involved was able to attend.

Overall, I think Sock Class was a success in the sense that we had a good time, everyone 'got it' by the end, cake was involved, and I met some lovely people. It was tremendously satisfying to watch the socks grow on everyone's needles! I will do it again, with some modifications that will hopefully improve the experience for all.

With all these projects happening, I was of course knitting lots of socks. And eventually I began writing up the patterns. I have published two so far, and still have a few in the works. Once those are done, I am absolutely promising myself to take a sock break!

I do not think of myself as primarily a sock knitter; I am mainly a sweater and sweater-dress person. But from an educational standpoint alone it was useful to go through this intensive sock period. I have learned a great deal about yarns, and have made connections with people I would not normally have. I might even have a pair or two for myself in the end... although of course I am afraid to wear them, lest I should need them as samples!  

 

The Sweater Sequence

LBHandknits

It was recently pointed out to me that I knit my (top down) sweaters in what is apparently not the usual sequence! The usual one, I suppose, being: yoke, bodice, sleeves, collar? In that case, true enough. I knit the yoke. Then the sleeves, one at a time. Then, if the design calls for picking up the collar, I knit the collar. And only then do I finish the bodice and hem. 

To be honest, I don't really think there is a correct vs an incorrect sequence to knitting a sweater, as long as you get all of it done in the end! Nevertheless, if my way of doing it seems weird I can explain the reason behind the madness: I am usually designing/improvising the sweater as I am knitting it. And when design-knitting the bodice, decisions about shaping and length need to be made. To make those decisions the sweater needs to hang properly off the shoulders - which it can't do without the sleeves present. Before the sleeves are attached, the empty armholes curl and the yoke puckers up a bit, changing the fit of the garment compared to how it will be when the weight of the sleeves pulls at both sides, if that makes sense.  So that's why I need the sleeves, you see, to get the rest of it just right.

Also? With the rest of the sweater done, I know exactly how much yarn I have left as I approach the hem, and whether I have the option of turning the sweater into a tunic or dress at the end. 

Of course, if you are working from a pattern and your knitting does not involve this type of decision-making, it might be handier to knit the whole thing top-down, and then add the sleeves. Although who is to say? One knitter I know prefers to do both sleeves in tandem with the bodice - work a few inches on the bodice, then a few inches on sleeve 1, then on sleeve 2, and so on round and round. Otherwise she gets bored with the monotony of doing an entire sleeve, or bodice, in one go.

In the end, it's to each their own. If we knit long enough, we all develop our own little methods that, whether or not they appear logical to others, make sense to us! 

That being said: What's your sweater sequence? 

 

 

A List of Indie Yarn Dyers Based in Ireland

LBHandknits

When I knit custom orders, I am often requested to use 'Irish' yarns. For garments and accessories suitable to the colder months, I mainly knit with Donegal Tweed anyway, so that keeps things pretty streamlined. When it comes to socks, however, matters grow more complicated. 

There is no Irish-made sock yarn per se, that I know of, in the sense of the yarn itself being spun on the island. There are also no commercial Irish sock yarn brands that would enable me to get prices on par with, say, Drops Fable, or even Cascade Heritage or West Yorkshire Spinners. There are, however, plenty of small independent hand-dyers based in Ireland. Like nearly all indie dyers around the world, they do not manufacture their own yarn. They buy undyed skeins from a supplier, then dye them up in their proprietary colourways. Because these dyers operate on such a small scale and do everything by hand, the yarn they sell ends up being quite expensive, from the consumer's point of view, compared to commercial yarns.  

Which is to say that a custom sock request that specifies 'Irish' sock yarn, means
1.  20-25 Euro in materials alone, and
2. the yarn will be dyed, but not 'made' in Ireland

When I explain this to the person making the custom order inquiry, they usually change their minds and ask for an alternative yarn (which is perfectly understandable). But not always! And those who do not change their minds, have prompted me to do some research on Irish indie dyers, to the point that at this stage I may have a fairly complete list. And it's a list I wanted to share, both to support the dyers themselves, and to be helpful to knitters around the world who might find it useful. Because while the big one - Hedgehog Fibres - is quite the international hit already, the majority of indie dyers here are low key and hard to find.

So in any case, here they are, in alphabetical order, linked up to their shops.  And if you are - or know of - a dyer not on the list, please let me know in the comments! 


INDIE YARN DYERS: REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

Comeragh Yarns

Dublin Dye 

Ellie & Ada

Emerald Fibres

Eve and Apple 

Fibre Kitchen

Green Elephant Yarn

Hedgehog Fibres

Irish Fairy Tale Yarns

Life in the Long Grass

The Moon and Sixpence 

Mrs. Robinson's Hand-Dyed Yarns 

Olann

Strand Designs

Townhouse Yarns

Woolfinch Studio
 

INDIE YARN DYERS: NORTHERN IRELAND

Bear in Sheep’s Clothing (see also: podcast!) 

Dye Candy 

Fine Fish Yarns 

Giddy Aunt Yarns 

His Mermaid’s Yarn 

A Secret Stash 

Woolly Adventures 


Oh, and in case you wonder, a note on the 'based in Ireland' phrasing in the title: The fibre arts community on the Emerald Isle is quite diverse. Many of us dyers, spinners, weavers and knitters - myself included - are not Irish. But we call Ireland home. 

Final note: As you may have noticed, I have begun to write up my experiences with some of these yarns. There are more forthcoming - but obviously not all of them, as I haven't really the budget to buy too much yarn for personal use. If you are a local dyer and would like your yarn tested or reviewed, please get in touch and we can work something out!

The First Thing

LBHandknits

Sometimes I get asked whether I still have the First Thing I have ever knitted. Definitely not! In fact I have no idea what that thing even was, since I would have been around 4 years old at the time. Funny, because I have  vivid memories of knitting at a young age, but only very vague memories of what it was that I actually knitted. Possibly just squares to keep me busy, or bits of doll clothing, or little mini scarf things? Well. Whatever it was, it is long gone by now, as are all the objects that followed in later years until my hiatus from knitting around the end of high school. 

But! What I do still have is the very first thing I knitted after that hiatus ended. That would have been 10 years ago now (wow, time does fly). I was living in New England and it was nearing winter, when I got the sudden urge to knit again. So I walked into a yarn shop, bought an inexpensive skein of cream coloured wool and a set of straight needles, and knitted this.

I had no advance plan or idea of what it was I actually wanted to knit. Was not even entirely sure that I still remembered how. But as soon as I picked up the needles, it came back to me. I cast on a random number of stitches, and began.

As it happened, that random number of stitches was divisible by 4, and I ended up working in 2x2 moss stitch - mindlessly knitting in that pattern in the flat, until my 50g skein ran out. I was then left with an awkwardly shaped rectangle of waffly fabric not nearly long enough to be a scarf.

Now what? Well, I folded the thing in half and connected it to make a tube.

What technique I used to do this I do not remember, and for the life of me cannot figure out by studying the seam - which looks very improvised (read: terrible!) and unlike any grafting/sewing/bindoff method I am aware of. But no matter: It was finished! 

At the time I had not heard the term 'cowl,' so I called my thing a neck warmer. And I wore it. And then I bought more yarn and made 3 other things in the months to come. Then I discovered circular knitting, and made even more things. I wore those too, and then made still more things for family and friends. There have been ebbs and flows, but I never stopped knitting since. 

I do not have too many things from these early days of my return to knitting. Mostly because they were bulky to store and were inevitably given away during one move or another (Vienna-Boston-Ireland...).  But I do still have - and wear - this cowl. I have no idea what breed or brand the wool is, but it is very soft and feels like a DK merino, and is lovely to wear against my neck. The weird seam does make me cringe every time I notice it, only because the rest of the cowl has no mistakes in it and - while simple - does not necessarily look like the work of someone who is re-discovering knitting in her late 20s after a 10 year hiatus. But the seam makes it look like exactly that.

So.. Ugh. Yet I haven't the heart to re-do it. It's the closest to a First Thing I've got, and it tells a story. That I still wear it is only a happy bonus. 

Yarn Impressions: Woolly Adventures

LBHandknits

For both personal, and design / custom order projects, I have been trying out lots of new sock yarns this year. So I've been meaning to start posting about my experiences with the various yarns - focusing particularly on local indie dyers. And what better way to start, than with a dyer brand new to the scene? 

Based in Cullybacky, Northern Ireland, Woolly Adventures are Dani and Sam - two young ladies who make no secret of their ambitions: 'wool domination, one colourful skein at a time.' Having just dyed up their very first batch of sock yarn, they brought a sample over to Row by Roe for test knitting, and well - here we are. I think the yarn had barely dried when I started knitting with it!

Now, I should preface by saying that I am sort of ambivalent when it comes to variegated yarns. And the reason, is that I often love how they look in the skein, only to get disappointed by the knitted-up result. The Woolly Adventures 'Secret Lagoon' colourway actually looks better knit up than it does in the cake. So that cheered and impressed me quite a bit as I worked on the socks.

The yarn also most definitely does not look like a first attempt at dyeing! The 'Lagoon' is a vibrant (but not too vibrant) minty/seafoam sort of colourway - predominantly turquoise, with bits of white, green, and darkish slate blue. The colour distribution looks dynamic but well-controlled, with a lovely sense of movement throughout. The colours are crisp, with no 'dirty' looking patches where colours that weren't meant to mix, mixed.

If you are very observant, you can see that there are more dark patches in the first half of the skein (sock on the right, in the photo below). But, I have seen this same effect even in commercially dyed yarns, and some might consider this a feature rather than anything that warrants criticism. In any case: for their introductory batch this is beyond stellar, I think!

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The yarn base itself is a fingering weight superwash merino/nylon blend. Of all the other sock yarns I've tried so far, it reminds me most of the yarn used by (Belfast dyer) Fine Fish. It is soft, and quite smooth - without feeling slippery, with a pleasant, faint scent to it. It is also definitely on the finer end of fingering weight sock yarn, so that my first test sock (on the right) - an experiment in 'old shale' lace repeats with a 54 stitch cast-on - came out tiny. So I revised the stitch pattern, allowing me to do a 64 stitch cast-on, and that is coming out spot-on for a woman's Small. I should add that I used 2.25mm DP needles for both socks - but my tension is a bit more relaxed than average, so that would be equivalent to a 'normal' person using a 2.50mm.

Overall I did enjoy working with this base yarn, and would knit with it again should they keep it as part of whatever range they eventually settle on. I cannot, however, comment on its durability at this time, as the test socks have not been finished or worn just yet.

What else... You can see in my photos how this yarn knits up in stockinette on the foot, in single rib on the cuff, in slip stitch on the heel on one of the socks, and in the lace repeats along the leg. The colourway is very versatile and looks just lovely throughout. So mainly I just want to reiterate that this is most impressive for a first attempt at professional yarn dyeing!

Congratulations to Dani and Sam on their new venture, and I wish them all the luck.  I believe they are in the process of setting up an online shop, and in the meanwhile you can visit them on instagram at @woolly_adventures, or, if you're local (defined by willingness to travel!), see the first batch of their work at Row by Roe in Limavady. 

...
Edited to add: the Woolly Adventures shop is now up online!

Also, the socks in the photos are my new Michelle pattern, which you can get here. The sample pair is on display at Row by Roe.