My first sock from Cat Bordhi’s new book, Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters, has been an exercise in frustration, humilty, and perseverance. I have only myself to blame; I tried to do too many things at once, blithely confident that this would be no big deal. After all, this book is the antithesis of her previous book (New Pathways For Sock Knitters) which relied heavily on math, charts, and calculations. By contrast, Footprints has you cut out a cardboard tracing of your footprint, mark a few lines as you try on the sock-in-progress, and do not a jot of math. It’s meant to be easy!
Except when it’s really, really not.
The do’s and don’ts, if the whole saga of this sock is tl;dr:
DO use your sock, smoothed flat, to mark the leg line on the cardboard footprint. DON’T mark on your footprint where the middle of your leg actually is, anatomically speaking. (The book says this, but as I missed it, I figured it was worth repeating.)
DO remember that once you knit past the leg opening, the “top” of the sock is the back of the leg, and the “bottom” of the sock is the sole. For a contrasting heel, attach yarn at the center top (the back of the leg). DON’T attach at the center of the sole, or the working yarn from your foot will get trapped and would have to traverse the side of your sock to get up to the leg where you’re going to want to knit with it.
DON’T use a large skein (the 400yd ones that make a pair of socks) if you plan to work a contrast heel while saving the foot yarn for a continuous look up the leg. The skein needs to fit inside the foot as you knit the heel.
DON’T use the three needle bind-off at the heel if you have narrow heels. Or possibly, ever. Work an extra row of k2tog around, then draw the tail through the live stitches and pull to tighten. Otherwise the extra fabric is worse than the ‘ears’ you get at the sides of a Kitchener toe.
First, the yarn. Two of the socks in the book use Crystal Palace Yarns’ Mini Mochi, and my LYS had just gotten in a supply of the stuff. To me it looked like Noro but without the manufacturing problems Noro has.
I was half-right — there’s no vegetable matter whatsoever, but of the two skeins I bought, one of them had one knot (different colored yarns on either side, natch) and the other skein had two knots. This will drive my OCD soul bonkers when I try to make matching socks. I very carefully caked the yarn even though it’s possible to work directly from the ball, so I could record every color shift in hopes of later matching.
The yardage is generous, and the gauge a little bit thicker than what I usually use for socks… even though it’s meant to be comparable to any other sock yarn, and visually appears to be, on US 1.5 needles I only worked a 60 stitch sock instead of my usual 64, and they were quite stretchy. I did an 8″ cuff, taller than my usual sock, and still had enough yarn left over to have several color shifts represented, which I can hopefully splice in to the second skein where needed.
The Mini Mochi is wonderfully soft and very warm to wear, which my chilly feet definitely appreciate at this time of year. It is, however, very “sticky”… there’s more cat hair in this one sock than in the grand total of my previous knitting, I think. And the real kicker — this is not NOT NOT the yarn to use unless you are 100% confident in your pattern and won’t need to be tinking or frogging. I had to do both at various times, and it was a nightmare. Each stitch clung to the ones below and beside it (and don’t even get me started about having to rip out a three needle bindoff). At least the overall fuzziness means that the reworked sections aren’t noticeably different from the parts of the sock that didn’t have to be reknitted.
For the Personal Footprints patterns you’re meant to make a “discovery sock”, wherein you create your cardboard footprint, mark off lines for the toe, heel, leg opening, and gusset increases, and generally learn how to work this construction. Many people are rolling their discovery sock into their first “real” pair of socks, so I figured I’d do the same. I chose the Seeking Sunlight pattern — I’d link to it, but there are no photos up yet. It has a central faux-seam and a V shape of yarnovers progressing up and out from the seam. But then I noticed that the first pattern in the book uses the Mini Mochi, and Cat notes, “The yarn color changes at the heel because I knit it with the other end of the ball, saving the continuous color pattern for the top of the foot.” Great, I’ll do that too! All perfectly manageable so far.
I knit the toe. Yay, whirlpool toe, with an absolutely genius cast-on that’s so simple I wonder why no one ever thought of it before. Knitting one round holding both the working yarn and the tail end doubles your stitches, duh. In quick succession, I marked my heel line (equivalent to the toe plus four plain rounds), knitted up to an inch before the center of my leg, and checked that I could pull the sock up to meet the point where foot, heel, and leg intersect.
A minor mistake at this point was marking my cardboard footprint with the line carried down from the anatomical center of my leg. THIS IS WRONG. As the book says, when you can stretch the sock to comfortably reach that intersecting point, put your paper footprint into the sock, smooth the sock out but don’t stretch it, and mark a line. THAT line is where the leg opening will go. It bears no relationship to your actual foot and leg except that the sock will actually fit if you follow the damn directions. Since I didn’t do that, my leg line and my heel line were in pretty much the same place. This was about to cause problems.
I put in the lifelines that marked where the future leg would be. I immediately changed yarn to use the outside of the skein, because I was following that idea, sans any given directions, of saving the continuous color pattern for the front of the leg. I merrily went on my way knitting the heel, then snipped the yarn and opened the leg. This is what it looked like from above:
Yes, that’s a hole. Because I’m a dumbass. All of the socks in this book tell you to knit the entire foot including the heel, open up the leg line, and attach new yarn for the leg at the center back of the sock so you’re not creating a join in the yarn at the join in the needles. I somehow didn’t think to apply this technique when attaching different yarn for the heel, so I’d made a hole at the side of the sock, right where picking up leg stitches is at its most delicate.
There’s another problem here. See that green yarn sticking out a few stitches below the hole? Yep, that’s my foot yarn. I’d not paid attention to where the rest of the skein was, and trapped it on the outside of my sock as I knitted the heel. There’d be no way to knit with it short of pulling the entire skein (about a football field in length at this point) through my work, and as grabby as the yarn was, I wasn’t about to try that. So I had to frog the heel to be able to extract my yarn. This would ordinarily not be such a big deal, except that I’d changed the color of the yarn in the middle of the rows that prepare for the leg opening. I’d have to destroy my existing leg opening. So I frogged most of it, then tinked back to the point where there was one row of heel stitches on the needle and a yellow lifeline holding the stitches that would become the back of the leg:
If I began my new color yarn at the center back, where it belonged, I could knit half of that needle, then wrap the yarn around the second needle the appropriate number of times and I’d be re-creating my leg opening, with no need to redo it. And I still believe this is a fine idea, and someone ought to try it someday. But this was getting less and less fun every minute, so rather than mess with it, I just removed ALL of the heel yarn, took up the foot yarn, and re-created the three rows needed to make a new leg opening. I’d have two extra ends to tuck in, and another snip to make for unravelling the leg opening, but that was the simpler fix.
Mindful of my trapped yarn from the first attempt, I carefully kept the foot yarn to the inside of my work. But I realized as I began the heel decreases… I’d create the same problem, needing to thread the yarn through the narrow opening of the mostly-closed heel. Stuffing the skein of yarn inside the foot would solve this problem, though:
Here’s my re-made leg opening prep. I began working with the pink yarn at the center stitch just one row up from the leg opening, which, even though it looks like it’s on the top of the foot, is actually the center back of the leg. I shoved the skein of foot yarn into the foot to save for later. I re-knit the heel, which gave me this:
I smooshed the foot around to make sure the skein of yarn was well down towards the toe before snipping the leg yarn and unraveling to create the leg opening. I pulled the skein out of the foot, and voila! All ready to begin knitting the leg, yarn where it should be and color sequence intact:
I followed the Seeking Sunlight pattern for the leg, which worked out perfectly. I am amazed at the yardage in the Mini Mochi… rather than using it all up, I hit 6″ of cuff with plenty to spare. The sock fit my leg nicely — not slouchy, but not snug at all. Which meant that a typical 1×1 or 2×2 cuff was not going to be sufficient to hold the sock up, and I hate when my socks creep down my legs as I wear them.
So in the first instance of me going my own way successfully, I modified the cuff. Where the pattern had diagonal lines of ssks and k2togs, I turned that stitch into a twisted stitch that traveled over a 1×1 rib background. You can barely see the diagonal lines formed:
The point wasn’t so much the appearance, as that twisted stitches, and especially twisted traveling stitches, create a ton of biasing that would help hold the sock up. I’ve got plenty of experience with twisted stitches (I knit three pairs of Cookie A socks this summer), so this mod was no big deal, and it really does help the sock stay up.
Cuff completed and bound off, I was congratulating myself on finally finishing. All I had left was to try it on (it fit) and then close up the heel with a three needle bind-off. Which I did. And this is how it looked:
Ack! My heel has cat ears. Or, being as I started writing this epic post before Halloween, perhaps they were devil horns. Either way, they did not belong on my heel! Would this sock never be done? So I ripped out the 24 stitches that had gotten a three needle bind-off — no fun at all with this grabby yarn — and then worked one decrease round of k2tog all the way around, drew the yarn through the stitches and pulled to close. Exactly the same as a whirlpool toe in reverse, and I have to wonder why the pattern didn’t go with this option in the first place:
Pictured against my hail-damaged spa cover. Oh, did I mention that somewhere in the making of this sock we had an epic rain storm inside the house? The roof over our bay window leaked, and water was dripping onto a glass side table (no big deal) and my leather reading chair (BIG deal). I finally figured out and fixed the problems with this sock after calling the roofer and insurance and my husband and my mom (in reverse order). Once the sock wasn’t my biggest problem, it was a lot easier to deal with.
I hope that my mistakes will serve as a lesson to others, and that my modifications and breakdown of the contrast heel might be instructive. I truly don’t mind making mistakes or frogging, though I could wish I had used a smooth, solid colored yarn that would tink nicely and not make color shifts anywhere it had to be spliced together. As Edison would say, I discovered about a dozen ways to NOT make this sock, but in the end I’ve got a warm, pretty sock that I’ll be happy to wear this winter. I have every expectation that knitting its companion will be no trouble whatsoever. It will give me something calming to work on while the workmen are fixing the ceiling in my front room.
*In the tradition of Cat’s own “insouciant” title… a scalawag is ‘a deceitful and unreliable scoundrel’, which, yes. These socks.