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  • aspen socks & legwarmers: making modifications & try on as you go

    My own copy of Farm to Needle came in the mail a week or so ago and I am blown away at how beautiful it is in person. I can't say thank you enough to Anna and everyone who made this book happen, and I am so incredibly grateful to be a part of it. I'm also completely in love with this Aspen legwarmer FO by Instagram user mandalu_who, knit in Snoqualmie Valley Yarn dyed with cabbage (and I'm amazed at how quickly she knit them up!). I can't wait to see more FOs, and to that end, this is a post I hope will be helpful for some knitters as they get ready to cast on for Aspen.

    A one-size pattern is difficult to pull off. It can be frustrating for knitters who need to hit measurements that differ from the schematic as written - and when it comes to legs, that's most of us. So perhaps Tolt and I were a bit crazy to publish a one-size pattern for high knee socks, but I spent a lot of time in the planning stages of Aspen considering the fact that this was a pattern that some people would need to modify. I did my best to construct the pattern in a way that would make it easier to tinker with, and I thought I'd outline a few of the things specifically designed with modifications in mind for any of you out there who need a hand with that step. I also drew up a quick sketch (very quick) to help with visualization.

    Customizable length: while I generally prefer to knit socks top-down, I decided Aspen should be toe-up (or bottom-up for the legwarmer version) so that the length was easy to customize. "Over the knee" for me, standing at six feet tall, is a longer sock than it is for someone who's five feet tall. A toe-up sock means that you can start the ribbing at the top of the sock wherever you want - mid-calf, below the knee, over the knee, wherever! The tubular bind off gives it a nice stretchy edge that should work for any length. Because the tubular bind off creates a reversible edge, the ribbing can be worn folded over, as well.

    Calf shaping: Both versions of Aspen feature a calf gusset that begins a few inches above the ankle. In order to create a gusset that would fit the widest range of sizes possible, I decided to work it in a 1x1 rib, so it would have a lot of give. If you find that the increase rate of the gusset as written isn't working for you, however, it's possible to adjust that, too. For a larger gusset, you can add extra repeats of the increase rounds - for a smaller one, you can omit one or more repeats. As written, the rate of increases corresponds to the diamond motif chart, but you can work increase rounds more often for a sharper increase angle, or less often for a gentler increase slope. Because the socks go over the knee, the gusset doesn't contain any decreases so as to fit over the lower thigh, but if the difference in circumference between your calf, your knee, and your lower thigh looks more like an hourglass, it's possible to add decreases to the calf gusset as well. 

    How to try-on-as-you-go with an afterthought heel: The sock version of Aspen is written for an afterthought heel, which means that the heel stitches are the last thing worked. Because waste yarn stitches are worked across the stitches where the heel will be placed, this typically means that the sock can't be tried on as you're knitting it. With a quick and simple trick, though, it is possible to try on a sock with an afterthought heel as you go.

    The two photos above show a sock in progress with a view of the sole of the foot/back of the leg. You can see a row of contrasting waste yarn stitches holding the place of the heel.

    The waste yarn stitches when working an afterthought heel act like a knitted in stitch holder. If you place the stitches in the rows direcly above and below the waste yarn on a new stitch holder, you can remove the original waste yarn and open up the heel. I like to use a new length of contrasting yarn to hold the stitches, since the yarn will remain flexible and it will be easier to actually try the sock on. Smooth yarns work best, particularly if you're knitting your socks with a grabby wooly wool. 

    First, thread the new length of waste yarn onto a tapestry needle (the new waste yarn is shown in red in the photos). The yarn should be long enough to go around both sides of the heel opening with extra length at the ends in case you want to tie a knot to secure the yarn.

    Beginning with the stitches on the sole of the foot (in plain stockinette), find the rightmost stitch knit in the original waste yarn - it should be in the form of a V. The sock yarn in the row below will have a stitch directly below this waste yarn stitch; thread the needle under the right leg of the V-shaped stitch.

    Skip over the left leg of the first stitch and thread the needle under the right leg of the next stitch to the left. Continue in this manner, working across the row. Picking up the right legs of the stitches will mean your stitches are oriented properly when it's time to work the heel and the stitches are put on needles.

    I like to thread the needle through a chunk of stitches and pull the yarn through - going in smaller chunks is easier than trying to pull the new waste yarn through the whole row at once. Make sure to leave a long enough tail at the end opposite the needle to be able to secure the waste yarn.

    The photo above shows you what it looks like when you've pulled the new waste yarn through all of the stitches on the sole of the foot. At this point, turn the sock 180 degrees so that the sole of the foot is farther away from you and the patterned leg is closer to you, as in the following photo:

    Now you can see that I have the new waste yarn coming from the right side, with my needle still threaded, ready to pick up the stitches from the leg side of the heel.

    This side is a little bit trickier, because when you begin knitting the heel, you'll be changing the direction of the knitting. It's a bit like picking up stitches from a provisional cast on to knit in the other direction. Don't worry too much if you wind up with an extra stitch or two on this side; you can always use a k2tog decrease on the first heel round to get back to the right stitch count (and it might even help you avoid holes).

    Begin picking up the right leg of each stitch as you did on the other side of the heel. It's a bit harder to see on this side, because the leg stitches are patterned in a mix of knits and purls, but as long as you get the needle through one leg of each stitch, you'll be okay. If any stitches wind up twisted when they're transferred to a needle, that's a simple enough fix.

    Once again, I like to pull the new waste yarn through periodically as I work my way across. At this point, it's easy to see why using two different colored waste yarns that contrast with each other can be super helpful - it's much easier to make sure I've actually threaded a stitch onto the new waste yarn (red) when it stands out so much from the original knitted-in waste yarn (blue).

    And here's what the heel section looks like after I've threaded all of the heel stitches onto the new waste yarn. You can see that the old waste yarn is completely surrounded by the new.

    At this point, we're ready to start pulling out the old waste yarn stitches, because the stitches in the rows above and below are secure.

    At this stage, I think slow and steady wins the race. I like to use the tapestry needle to unpick each old waste yarn stitch, one at a time. Going slow and paying attention means you'll be able to see if any of the heel stitches didn't make it onto the new waste yarn (if that's the case, pop a locking stitch marker or safety pin on the stitch so it doesn't drop). 

    As you work your way across the old waste yarn stitches, the heel starts to open up. It's easy to see now  on the open section how the new waste yarn acts like a stitch holder.

    When all of the old waste yarn stitches have been removed, the heel is completely open and the new waste yarn can be secured. I like to tie both strands together in a slip knot, which is easy to undo later on without scissors.

    Now that the heel is open, you can try on your sock-in-progress!

    When it's time to work the heel, you simply take the stitches on hold, slip them onto the needles, and remove the waste yarn acting as stitch holder. It's one of my favorite tricks!