Thursday, February 5, 2015

Better than socks

          It's a gorgeous sunny day in Toledo, Ohio that's amplified by the mountain of white outside my office window.  We were hit with a major storm last Sunday that dumped over a foot of snow and left three foot drifts swirling around my house.  It was incredibly beautiful though.  While I watched it steadily fall outside the picture window in my living room, I curled up beneath a polar fleece blanket while soft music played in the background.  As snowflakes swirled in air and kids in the neighborhood threw snowballs at each other, my hands were busy winding yarn into neat balls of wool that I will soon be making into a hooded scarf.
          In my little world on a snowy day, there's nothing better than knitting.  And let me tell you, it's a relief to be able to pick up my needles again in the midst of a long winter.  As you might remember, I took a long hiatus last summer when my hands simply wouldn't cooperate.  ("Why I quit knitting...for now")  What I thought would be a week or so away from my knitting projects ended up lasting over four months...the longest I've ever been apart from my wool and cotton blends. 
          Yes, I eventually found other ways to occupy my spare time - not that there's been all that much of it since September.  I spent long hours reading, watching documentaries, researching, and preparing for yoga classes and workshops.  But when the holidays rolled around, I realized how disheartened I was that there were no handmade gifts to give to my friends.  Usually a plethora of hand-warmers or gaiters or toys have flown off my needles and into the hands of my loved ones...but not this year.  
          What a gift to take the time during the winter break and pick up my needles once again...this time to make some socks for my friend and editor extraordinaire, Joyce.  While shopping at a craft store, a couple skeins of purple sock yarn serendipitously found their way into my hands.  Later that night, while Christmas carols played in the background, I eagerly got to work.  Mind you, I hadn't made a sock in over a year.  Still, I found it was just like riding a bike.  Since a yoga student had taught me how to make them ten years ago, I've created more than fifty pairs.  That's a lot of practice, so of course the pattern easily pulled itself from my memory banks as I cast on sixty-four stitches.  Several hours later, I was thrilled to turn the heel and carefully pick up stitches to make the gusset, all the while reveling in how easy it was to pick up where I had left off so long ago.  
          Five days later, the socks were finished, ready to meet their new owner.  As I tried them on to see if they matched, I remembered something a friend asked all those years ago when I was struggling to learn how to make the gusset:  "Why in the world would you spend all that money and take the time to make a pair of socks when you can just buy them at the store for a fraction of the price?"  She obviously didn't know the warmth and comfort of a hand-made wool and alpaca blend.  For from my very first pair, I was hooked.
          And so are a bunch of folks I have gifted in the years since then.

          I have a fond memory of hanging out in the lodge at Esalen, winding up some sock yarn while my friend, Craig, sat dutifully holding the skein of 100% wool across his hands so it wouldn't get tangled.  He had carefully chosen the colors himself and I promised that upon my return to Toledo later than month, I'd dedicate myself to knitting him the best pair of socks he's ever owned...and as there was a little yarn leftover, I made a pair of baby booties he could pass on to a friend who had a little one at home.
          During a phone call later that year, Craig told me, "I think of those socks as a work of art...and I wear them all the time."  That's one of the best compliments I've ever received...and one I always remember when casting on a new pair.  
          My friend and accountant, Lynda, does my taxes every year and I've knitted her a pair of socks in a variety of colors to thank her.  Satish and Danta were given some holiday socks years ago, although I imagine they've long outgrown their snowman and Santa's elf footwear.  I've lost count of how many socks I've made for others and am always delighted when cold weather arrives because inevitably I receive a phone call or an email thanking me for the wonderful gift of warm and comfortable feet in the midst of a wicked Midwestern winter.
          Just yesterday my veterinarian called to thank me for the pair I had made for him shortly after his stroke six years ago.  "They still keep my feet warm and I had to thank you again for making them for me!"  Later in the evening Joyce emailed to thank me for her purple socks and to let me know they're keeping her comfortable as the temperature plunged after a clipper system made its way through Toledo, dropping another three inches in the process.  I smiled to myself as I looked at my own feet, donned in a pair of cheerful green-striped woolies, a pair I had made years ago.  I still remember how excited I was that, even though the stripes were a bit complicated, I could get them to perfectly match. 
          "What does that matter?" a knitting student asked a few years ago.  "Your feet are never together to know the difference."
          "I'm a yoga teacher," I smiled.  "When I stand in mountain pose, my feet are right next to each other.  I like the structure of matching makes me feel more balanced."
          We both laughed out loud and I commented, "As you can see, I'm easily amused."
          And truly...I am.

          It doesn't take much to make me feel at peace these days.  I delight in a nourishing bowl of homemade soup.  A warm bath.  A contented cat sitting on my lap.  A sunny afternoon that lights up my whole house.  A long day of silence which feeds my spirit and opens up a place inside that knows how to be content with the simple things in life.
          Of all the things I can knit, footwear is my absolute favorite.  But what's better than the socks themselves is the joy in making something that is a gift beyond warmth and comfort.  With every stitch, I weave in whatever is happening in the present moment.  The music in the background.  The soft snowflakes falling down and settling on the earth.  The warm mug of peppermint cocoa.  The delicious scent of a lavender candle.  The silly cat playing with the ball of yarn as it unwinds.  So even though they may not know it, when my friends slip into their new socks, they're gifted with the sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and textures of the environment in which they were created.  But maybe they are aware of all of those things..and that's why years later, my friends call or write to thank me for the gift that came from my heart and keeps on giving.  
          Perhaps that's what "made with love" is all about.

For all the experienced knitters out there, here's a simple sock pattern I created...

Socks on Two Circular Needles

Materials2 size 2 or 3 circular needles (I prefer the 24 inch length)
                    2 skeins of Kroy Patons sock yarn, 50 grams each
                    2 markers, scissors, safety pin, and tapestry needle


To Begin

  • Cast on 60 stitches on size 2 or 3 needles. 
  • Divide the stitches evenly between the two circular needles. 
  • Knit in K2 P2 for about one inch (or desired length), then in stockinette stitch until total desired length to begin heel (6 to 7 inches). 

Heel Flap

*Working back and forth on one needle with only 30 stitches. 

Row 1:  slip 1 stitch as if to purl, then K1, slip1, to the end of the row
               ending with k1

Row 2:  slip 1 as if to purl, purl across row to last stitch, knit last 

*Repeat these two rows for a total of 30 rows.   Keep track by using a
                  row counter or by tallying

Heel (When slipping stitches, follow knit or purl in row)

Row 1:  K17, K2 tog, K1, then turn
Row 2:  slip 1, P5, ssp (slip 2 sts.  then purl together), P1, then turn
Row 3:  slip 1, K6, K2 tog., K1, then turn
Row 4:  slip 1, p7, ssp, p1, then turn
Row 5:  slip 1, K8, K2 tog., K1, then turn
Row 6:  slip 1, p9, ssp, p1, then turn
Row 7:  slip 1, K10, K2 tog., K1, then turn
Row 8:  slip 1, p11, ssp, p1, then turn
Row 9:  slip 1, K12, K2 tog., K1, then turn
Row 10:  slip 1, p13, ssp, p1, then turn
Row 11:  slip 1, K14, K2 tog., K1, then turn
Row 12:  slip 1, p15, ssp, p1, then turn
Row 13:  knit 18 stitches

Starting the Gusset

  • Continuing on with the same needle, with a crochet hook, pick up and  knit 15 stitches in the loops along the heel edge. 
  • In the corner between the heel and next needle (instep), pick up one stitch. 
  • Place a marker here.
  • Then continue on with the busy needle (the one with the yarn) and knit across half of the instep stitches (15 stitches).   Now drop this needle and slide the stitches to the middle. 
  • Go to the other end of this needle and slip 9 stitches to the end of the non-working needle (the back end).  There should now be 40 stitches on this needle. 
  • Begin with the other needle.  Knit across the remaining instep stitches (15 stitches).
  • Place a marker here.
  • With a crochet hook, pick up and knit one stitch in the instep, then pick up 15 more stitches from heel edge and knit them.
  • Knit the 9 heel stitches.  You should now have 40 stitches on this needle as well. 


*Knit the initial round like this:  K9, K14 through the back loops, K2 together (marker is here), K 15; go to next needle and K15 (marker is here), ssk, K14 through the back loops, K9.  This is one round.  Place a safety pin in the heel to mark the beginning of the rounds.

  • Round One:  K21, K2 together, K1 (marker is here), K15; on the next needle, K15 (marker is here) K1, ssk (slip 2 stitches then knit together), K21

  • Round Two and all even rows:  Knit the round

  • Round Three:  K20, K2 together, K1 (marker is here), K15: on the next needle, K15 (marker is here) K1, ssk, K20

Continue decreasing on odd numbered rounds, knitting one fewer stitch before the K2 together and after the ssk


When you have 30 stitches on each needle, knit all the rounds until you are two inches less than the length of your foot.  I usually knit until the sock length is to the middle of the big toe.


Round one on each needle:  K12, K2 together, K2, ssk, K12

Round two and all even rows:  Knit the round

Round three on each needle:  K11, K2 together, K2, ssk, K11

Round five and all odd number rows:  Knit one stitch fewer than before and after the decreases.  When you have 10 stitches on each needle, knit one more round. 

Then, knit 5 stitches and shift remaining 5 stitches to the other end of the needle.  Now you are knitting flat as you were at the beginning of making the sock. 

Note:  When you shift, there will be 10 stitches on each needle.  To prevent “donkey ears,” slip the end stitch closest the end of the needle over the stitch next to it.  Do this 4 times, on the end of each needle.

Kitchener Stitch

This stitch is used to weave the two seams together so there is a continuous row of stitches.

The two needles are held side by side in the left hand and the working yarn is broken, leaving a tail three times the length of the seam.  Thread the tail onto a tapestry needle, held in the right hand. 

Draw the threaded needle through the first stitch on the front needle as if to purl but leave the stitch on the needle.  Then draw the threaded needle through the first stitch in the back needle as if to knit, but leave this stitch on the needle also.  Do not pull the yarn too tight.

Work the seam as follows:

  1. Bring the working yarn through the first stitch on the front needle as if to knit, then slide the stitch off the needle

  1. Bring the yarn through the second stitch on the front of needle, but leave this stitch on the needle

  1. Bring the yarn through the first stitch on the back needle as if to purl and slide it off the needle

  1.  Bring the yarn through the second stitch on the back needle as if to knit, but leave this stitch on the needle

**Repeat these four steps until all the stitches are woven, and then weave the tail into the toe to finish.