Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Journey to Crocheted Socks

You could say that my first love, crafting-wise, was crochet. My grandmother taught me to crochet when I was 8 years old, and even though she also taught me to knit at age 10 I don't think I was without a crochet project until I was in my early 20's. Mostly I crocheted rectangular things- doll blankets, potholders, and in my teens, scarves for everyone I knew. My family teased me about crocheting a garage for the car... I learned early that variegated yarn (romantically called "ombre" on the yarn wrappers of the 1970's) could make strange, repeating patterns, & that if you needed 2 skeins to finish a project, you would have 2, non-matching strange patterns on the finished item. Ah- nostalgia!

At some point I became frustrated with crochet. I couldn't put it into words then, but there were limitations I couldn't overcome, even by going smaller. I learned to crochet lace & loved what I could make with it, but there were still limitations. I couldn't make anything big from fine lace unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life making it... I did make all of the decorative lace for my wedding gown, from the crocheted motifs along the neckline & fine edging for the sleeves, to millions (it seemed...) of 3-D Irish crochet flowers that made up the head piece, all in size 30 cream & ecru thread. It was the first project that I finished on time, & it nearly burnt me out on crochet for the rest of my life. I can still imagine myself, 23 years ago, just getting started on that project...

But I digress. Some time before wedding dresses were relevant, I found my self hungering to make sweaters & socks & mittens, but when I tried to crochet them, they just didn't work. They were like cardboard, even though I was crocheting to gauge. So I turned to knitting, & sometime in the early 1980's began cranking out the sweaters & socks & mittens & more that I'd always wanted to make. My crochet hooks ended up in a cigar box in a drawer filled with knitting swatches. I pulled out the steel hooks to assist with fixing snags, & when I learned to weave I found a small hook essential for various loom fixes.

Along the way, even before I started weaving, I started to think differently about the things I was making from yarn- instead of creating sweaters, socks, mittens, etc., I was creating fabric. (I talk a bit more about the fabric thing in this post.) I understand these days that the frustration I was feeling with crochet was a struggle with the types of fabric that I could make with crochet versus what I wanted to be making. The nature of a crocheted stitch is to be thicker, in most cases, than knitted stitches. To make supple, drapey fabrics, especially with thicker yarns, knitting (or weaving), for me, was the way to go.

The other difficulty I've found with crochet is the look, or design of crocheted items. Being from the very end of the Baby Boom (& having a grandma who crocheted), I was surrounded by granny squares for much of my young life. The 60's & 70's fashions were full of granny square crochet vests, ponchos, coats, kerchiefs, as well as afghans. It had an unfortunate legacy in that anything remotely "granny square" just looks "square" to me, & to many others. Heck, my first major crocheted project post-revival was declared "too granny" by my husband (hey, it was from groovy, naturally-dyed yarns darn it!), but I persevered because others described it as "retro" instead...

I feel very fortunate to have had the just-mentioned crochet revival, just about 2 years ago, thanks to some friends & a trip to Japan. I had been meeting with two friends from Japan every week to knit, crochet, & cook Japanese food for lunch. We did this for about a year & a half, calling it our Tuesday "amimonobu" or "needlework club". One friend, Momo, already knew how to crochet & wanted to learn to knit, & the other friend, Shizuka, wanted to learn how to do both. I mentored them in amimono (needlework) & they mentored me in Japanese cooking, & many wonderful things were created. So, when my family planned it's every-other-year trip to Japan to co-incide with Shizuka & her husband visiting her family in Japan, we decided to spend a day together, & part of the day was spent in the Tokyo crafting mega-store Yuzawaya. Shizuka printed adverts from Yuzawaya from the internet & I used them to learn the Japanese vocabulary for all the cool things I could buy there :) Plus to drool over  all the cool things they had. Since Momo was staying behind in the US while were were in Japan, I decided to bring her back something from Yuzawaya.

To tell the truth, I was completely overwhelmed when the big day came. We'd spent the morning with Shizuka & Jon at the Gibli mo Mori, the studio Gibli museum in Tokyo, & it was fabulous.

Then we had a wonderful lunch together, meeting some of Shizuka's friends, Kai-asn & Mami-san, who came along to Yuzawaya with us. Along with wanting to get something for Momo, I also wanted to find some character fabric from one of my son Brendan's favourite Japanese tv shows, Kamen Rider, to make a quilt for his bed. Kai-san kindly helped me navigate the 2 floors of fabrics to find what I wanted, & then I could spend time looking at yarn, & books, and the many other floors of stuff. OMG. It was my great fortune to find a book of cute crochet patterns for the home for Momo, & then another book caught my eye, full of, well, granny-esque motifs, but very fashionably designed. (It just happens to be the same book that Lucy is making her Japanese flower scarf from, & the same motif as in my "granny" shawl.) I decided to get it for me & see if the crochet bug would bite.
officially-declared Granny shawl

And it did, as you can see from the "granny" shawl :)  I've used the book mainly as inspiration, lifting motifs & using them in various projects.

And, Momo returned the favour when she went home to Japan for a visit 6 months later. She brought back my first amigurumi book which led to the little guys on my blog header, & so much crochet enjoyment (thanks Momo!!).

And all this long-windedness leads me to my first (2) pair of crocheted socks. Back to the beginning, nearly!

Basically, in my fabric-imagination, I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea of functional crocheted socks. The fabric would be too thick, even in a very fine yarn (or take forever to make) or too holey, if you were trying for a flexible fabric. I have looked at crochet sock patterns & not been inspired... until I pick up a copy of Interweave Crochet Special Issue 2010 for holiday project inspiration. I found a lot of inspiration in that magazine, for sure, & am still working through it, but first in the queue were the very intriguing "Sidney's Sideways Socks" by Brenda K.B. Anderson. They are made, not round & round, but from cuff to toe vertically. I had just picked up some purply-blue Zino from Halcyon Yarn and thought it would be a good match.

Doing a gauge swatch was essential, because I found I had to go a size up to get gauge. I found the lack of charted instructions (the Japanese books have really spoiled me that way) to be a pain, but soldiered on, using my Stitch Minder app to keep track of rows, since there's a lot of counting in this pattern. After the first sock, which took just 2 days to complete, I found I understood the construction of the sock well enough to come up with a system of markers to delineate the increases, decreases, & changes in stitches. That made things go so much faster, & I would have finished the pair in 4 days, but I ran out of yarn with just 3 rows to go! Just part of the unexplored territory of crocheting socks, I guess. I ordered more & was able to finish up less than a week later. The socks, although on the short side for my tastes, fit very well, The fabric is stretchy by a clever design strategy of using "crochet through front back loop only" for the leg & top of foot, & the gussets are made from well-placed increases & decreases lifted by half-double crochet stitches. I'm not sure I'd have made another pair if I hadn't figured out my own system of markers for keeping track of it all, because the pattern has you count every stitch of every row... But with my adaptation I was psyched to make another pair.

I decided that Knitpicks Chroma (the rainbow colourway, of course!) would look really neat, with the vertical striping, so I ordered 2, 100g balls for this project. Good thing, too, since I really wanted to maintain the rainbow striping... but both balls had interruptions where the yarn just broke off & was tied at another place in the colourway :(  I was able to sort it out & re-join at the right place, but what a pain in the butt! Not impressive, Knitpicks folks! Whew, Got that off my chest... This second pair took just 4 days to crochet, making them at least a fast to make a knitted socks.

I was really glad to finally enjoy (in & around the learning experiences) making crocheted socks. As my blog shows, I'm also very glad that the crochet bug did bite again, leading to new & wonderful explorations into making all kinds of fabric!

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