27 July 2010

Let the Monster Socks Begin!

monster sock detailI've been getting a lot of questions about the sock pattern I use, so I decided it's high time I share the not-so-secret details.

About a year ago I bought "Crochet Today! Quick & Easy Gifts 2009," which includes Amy O'Neill Houck's Step-by-Step Socks (Ravelry link). I wore out the magazine carrying it around in my commute bag last winter while working on my first couple pairs of socks. I finally got wise and made a working copy of the pattern and now carry that with me in my bag. The pattern is memorized now, plus I've made a number of modifications (see notes below), but I still have the pattern in my bag for quick reference, just in case.

sunset Noro socksThe pattern is now available online free after being featured on "Knit & Crochet Today." You must log in to Knit & Crochet Today in order to access the free patterns, but that's free, too. The Step-by-Step Socks pattern is located in Episode 205, listed as Crochet Heart & Sole Socks.

I have never knit a pair of socks; turning a heel scares me, but I do intend to learn the process one day. I did, however, grow up knitting slippers from a pattern I made up in my head. I garter stitched a long rectangle, ran the tail through all the loops on the needle at the end and pulled tight, then used the tail to close the toe section and another piece of yarn to sew up the heel. Everyone I knew received a pair of handknit slippers from me for Christmas back then.

I also freeformed a bunch of baby slippers in crochet back then. I couldn't afford patterns, so I made up design as I went, often using my baby sister's feet as a size guide.

Last year I experienced a bear-making craze, and I designed the feet much the same as those baby slippers I worked up as a teenager. While shopping for bear yarn and thread, I kept seeing beautiful shades of sock yarn, and I kept imagining how beautiful socks would be if crocheted instead of knitted. Sock yarn typically is striped to accommodate rows of knitting, so crochet dramatically alters the striping pattern.

I explored a few different free crochet sock patterns available online but didn't find anything that appealed to me until I picked up that "Quick and Easy Gifts" magazine last fall. I made my third pair for the Ravelympics and by that time was hooked. Literally. I'm now working on pair number nine! (I've made a preliminary list of 15 people (so far) who need Christmas presents from me this year, and so I must finish 30 socks before my annual time bandit Photoshopping service project begins in November.)

sock yarn leftoversSometime last spring, I learned about Monster Socks. Sock knitters use sock yarn leftovers in socks with wild stripe patterns -- none of the yarn matches, and sometimes the colors don't even go together. The more random and wild, the better.

I was hooked all over again. I'd been using my leftovers to make bears, lizards, bunnies, hearts and even snowflakes, but Monster Socks looked so downright striking, I began saving the odds and ends to make my first pair.

That first pair finally came to life last week, and I'm even more addicted to sock yarn and sock crochet now than ever before. I may make all the rest of my gift socks this way because they are so unique and so... well, to me, eye-popping gorgeous! I can't imagine ever getting tired of making "Franken Socks" because no two pairs are alike. From my hook, not even two socks are alike!

monster sock in progressThis first pair reminds me of an afghan I made of leftovers back in high school. I grew up in a small town that didn't have a lot of fancy yarn choices. The first time I ever saw variegated yarn, I was in love. To me, the blending of the changing colors was magical. I bought one skein of every colorway I could get my hands on. The colors didn't all look so good together, so I worked solid black rows in between. My grandmother kept that afghan on the foot of her bed until the day she died. Every time I visited, she would tell me how beautiful that afghan was and how much she loved just looking at it.

I've read in several places about fiber artists being crushed when a handmade gift they've made turns up in a thrift shop (or used as a dog toy) a few weeks later. I've read many soothing, comforting comments to such situations, and I've read a few snarky remarks that make my hair stand on end.

The bottom line seems to be: Know your recipient. Don't give something you've made to someone who does not appreciate handmade. And if you do, remember it is a gift, and what the recipient does with it is up to the recipient. Ouch. But helpful advice.

Monster Socks and Yarn Bombing in Downtown DenverKnowing some of the socks I've crafted this year may wind up in a thrift shop or homeless or domestic violence shelter ruffles my feathers a bit, but the love and adoration that goes into every single pair doesn't diminish just because the socks travel a bit further than I intend. Hopefully whoever wears these socks after this coming December will taste the heartfelt emotion woven deeply into the fabric. And maybe they'll even feel my passion for color in the bright hues I've used!

My Step-by-Step Socks Modifications

I use a size B hook instead of C, as most of the sock yarn I use is a little finer than Heart and Sole sock yarn. I start by chaining 12 instead of 10 and adjust the number of V-stitches and linked double crochet accordingly. I also work the increases on the toe section into the third stitch instead of the second stitch on about the third and sixth rows to keep the toe section perfectly formed and not crooked (because single crochet in the round migrates clockwise). I make my socks a little longer than the anklets shown in the pattern, and I increase the number of V-stitches as needed to accommodate calf size. I really don't like crocheted ribbing at all, so I knit my cuffs on size 3 double pointed needles by picking up a multiple of four stitches on the final row of crochet on the ankle/calf section, typically six knit stitches for every five crochet stitches. I work a classic knit 2/purl 2 rib for an inch and a half before binding off. My latest obsession is to work the toe, heel and cuff in a different (solid color) yarn than the body of the sock. This helps preserve the fancy sock yarn that sometimes comes in smaller skeins/hanks and also assures I have more leftovers at the end!

First Complete Monster SocksOh, and knot-tying and tail-weaving began to be very tedious on the first Monster Sock after about four rows of color changes. I performed a bit of accidental research on Ravelry and found this useful tip that works for crochet as well as knit. I'm using it now for every join I do in every yarn project. When I'm alternating a main color every other row, I don't even bother to cut that yarn. I just carry it across the next row with one wrap on the inside of the sock, same technique used for intarsia knitting.

My Personal Sock Tips

My favorite sock yarns are Kureyon, ONline and Cascade Heritage. Noro and Wisdom yarns are not machine washable, but Crystal Palace, Cascade, Red Heart, Opal, Deborah Norville, Fly Designs and Kroy can be machine washed. This should factor into gift-giving planning as much as color and size. Also, some people have trouble wearing wool, even when it has nylon or other fibers mixed in to make it less scratchy. Poems by Wisdom is just about the prettiest yarn I've ever seen, but it splits like crazy as it is crocheted or knitted. It seems to hold together just fine when the project is done. The yarn splitting during construction is annoying enough to keep me at a distance.

As a cyclist wannabe, I LOVE wool because it holds in heat during cold weather, and thin wool created especially for summer breathes well and wicks moisture. Bamboo and alpaca are the softest of all the fibers I've tried, and cotton typically stays wet once you sweat in it or endure a rain storm.

Pretty in PinkAcrylic yarn should never be used when making socks, scarves, hats or any other wearable gift for active-duty military. Acrylic burns and in the process adheres to skin. Wool, cotton, alpaca, bamboo and other natural fibers smolder themselves out.


When leftovers are too short to complete a sock row, make tiny animals! I promise, the finished product will make you smile!sock yarn heaven

10 comments :

  1. I really like your monster socks :)

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  2. The socks are great, I love monstersocks, too.

    I have noticed too: the more I use leftovers the more I have leftovers, strange ;P.

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  3. I am new to knitting and crochet and I still don't have the hang of it, i don't understand what I am reading. I am more of a "show me" kinda gal. haha but I love your socks with the black in between the colors and I am dieing to know how to do that.

    BTW, I love your blog!

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  4. Awesome! I love the black-and-color alternating. Thanks for sharing all of your tips!!

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  5. I so want ti knit socks! But still haven't taken the time to learn, maybe I could attempt these, you've given me hope! :) Love your color choices by the way!

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  6. I want to start making socks. Thanks!

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  7. Your monster socks look just amazing! I really hope the recipients adore them as much as i do, otherwise you might as wel just send them to me ;)

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  8. I just love your happy yarn smiles and your gorgeous socks. I learned how to knit heavy socks this year using chunky yarn and size 13 dpns. I keep saying I'm going to learn to knit "real" socks on tiny needles but have yet to take the plunge. I really like the idea of using scrap yarn with black yarn to separate the colors. Nice article, nice job!!!

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  9. I know this post was a while back, but your comment about socks or afghans or other gifts ending up in thrift stores or as dog toys motivated me to reply. They get used, even if the intended recipients didn't appreciate the work you put into them, someone will. I have a few afghans we bought from thrift stores, afghans someone very obviously put love and care into. I treasure them; they are a delight to look at, with their bright colors, and they are warm and soft and wonderful to snuggle up with. I plan on blogging soon, and will put up pictures of said afghans as soon as possible. I like to think someone like you created them, someone who cared what happened to them, even if they were a thrift store find :).

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  10. I remember reading this post back in my pre-blogging days - when I lurked around blogs but rarely commented (and now, of course, you can't shut me up).

    Don't you love Tech Knitter? She's got that scientific approach to problem-solving and her knowledge has come to my knitting rescue more than once in the past. I am proud to say that she's a Wisconsin resident (or was the last time I read her blog, which has been some time now, since crochet seems to have taken over my life).

    Great post and pictures! Your remarks about "knowing your recipient" are very (and painfully) true.

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