Sunday, 3 December 2017

Toe up socks - with Arne and Carlos at Black Sheep Wools

 Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a Sock Knitting workshop with Knitting and Crochet Superstars Arne and Carlos, at Black Sheep Wools in Warrington.

I was really looking forward to learning some new techniques, as well as meeting the Scandinavian design duo, who are great hosts and tutors, as well as being funny and so incredibly interesting and talented.

Plus, I was looking forward to a visit to Black Sheep Wools, having a mooch amongst their gorgeous yarns and enjoying the delicious refreshments that are always in plentiful supply at their workshops. Just look at their amazing Rowan display - a wall of intense colour and gorgeous textures, just waiting to be squished and smooshed. I admit that I couldn't resist a little purchase!!

When I arrived, I was delighted to see that fellow designers and bloggers Christine Perry (aka Winwick Mum) and Emma Varnam were also there, so we spent the day chatting, catching up and generally enjoying ourselves. I loved Emma's granny square jacket and we all agreed it should become her 'signature' jacket.

The idea of the workshop was to knit a small sock in order to learn the different techniques for casting on, toe increases, heel and rib, so that you could take away your new skills and start knitting full size, toe-up socks. We all received a large 150g ball of Arne & Carlos Regia 6ply sock yarn, which I haven't knitted with before, and I have to say, I really enjoyed the thicker yarn as it knitted up quickly - which was a good job as I decided that I would knit a full sized sock instead of the mini-sock!!!

After a brief introduction  (that had us all in fits of laughter) we began to cast on, starting at the toe:

Usually, I knit cuff down socks. I like this method because when I cast on using the thumb method, I can create a really stretchy edge that is lovely and comfortable around my calf. So starting at the toe was quite a change for me. I cast on 16 sts and split them over 4 double-pointed-needles to work in the round. I was concerned about the gap at the toe - you can see the open cast-on stitches in the photo above. Usually toe-up socks start with a 'figure of eight'  cast-on or 'Judy's magic cast-on', which closes up this gap, but these methods can put off even the best of knitters. But as I learned throughout the day, Arne & Carlos have a very different and much more laid back approach to their sock knitting. They don't bother with anything complicated, so they simply gather up the stitches. We pondered between us whether this would work? Wouldn't it be a little bit lumpy? But no, it wasn't, and altogether much easier and less stressful than trying to master a new technique, especially as a lot of ladies in the room were also new to double-pointed needles.

If you're using self-striping yarn, I have a great tip for making sure that both socks are identical in terms of striping. All you need to do is make sure that you make your beginning slip knot at the same place along the yarn for both socks. It helps to choose a notable colour change, and there's no harm in taking a photo so that you don't forget. In the photo below, you can see my slip knot between a blue section  and a light brown section.

The next step was to start increasing for the toe shaping. Arne and Carlos use a Norwegian increase method which I was determined to master, and in reality, it was very simple and I really like it. If you look at the stitch that sits directly below the stitch on your left needle, you insert your right needle into the right 'leg' of the stitch, pop it onto the left needle and knit into it, to increase 1 stitch - how simple is that. I will definitely be using this neat method of increasing in the future.

Once I had increased to 48 stitches, I continued to knit in the round until my sock reached my ankle bone, when stretched. Then I marked the heel stitches with waste yarn so that I could work my 'afterthought heel' later. This was incredibly simple too - I just knitted half of my stitches onto waste yarn, then knitted them again in my main yarn. The waste yarn is here in yellow and I unpicked it later, once I had picked up the stitches along each side of the yellow line:

Next, I continued to knit the leg in the round, finishing with a (k1, p1) ribbed cuff. I used a simple rib cast off and it seems stretchy enough, but I'm not sure if I should have used a stretchy cast off - I'll try that next time, because I do prefer a more stretchy cuff edge. I might even unravel the cuff cast off and try again.

Then it was back to the heel and I have to agree that an 'afterthought heel' is quite ingenious. I have tried this method before for a mitten thumb but I have always struggled to create a neat set of picked- up stitches (in particular the stitches at the sides of the opening). So I asked Carlos if he had any tips and he patiently sat with me and explained how they do it in Norway. For an afterthought heel, when you pick up the stitches on each side of your waste yarn, it's best if you pick up in the right 'leg' of every stitch to create a neat pick up. Then I transferred all 48 stitches to 4 dpns to knit one round straight, and when I reached the large gaps at the side, I picked up one leg of a stitch and knitted it with the next stitch (so that you don't increase a stitch). If you do this twice at each side gap, you will avoid any holes. It really did work a treat. Then you simply decrease on every other round (as you would for a standard cuff-down toe decrease) and gather the last 12 stitches to close the hole - no fancy Kitchener Stitch needed here!! My heel was perfect, much to my delight. I love the squareness of the 'afterthought heel' and will definitely be using it again, now that I know how to make it super neat.

So after much chatting, learning lots of interesting facts, and eating and drinking plenty, the workshop drew to a close and off I went for a mooch in the Craft Barn to find some yarn to use in a potential book (shhh - it's a secret for now!!!)

I had a look at the Arne & Carlos Engineered Sock Yarn, but couldn't quite decide on the colourway, so I will save that for another visit. I quite fancy the green/brown/cream combination.

I'm looking forward to the Christmas Videos that Arne & Carlos are publishing on Sunday of December at 6pm - move over Kirsty Allsopp!!! 

You can join the party here: Get Ready for Christmas with Arne and Carlos

and visit Black Sheep Wools online here: Black Sheep Wools

Christine has a great collection of free sock patterns, tutorials and videos over on her award winning website here: Winwick Mum

and Emma's blog is a must - great tips, free patterns, yarn reviews, advice and general all-round great content here: Emma Varnam

I hope you all have a great week and thanks for reading - if you would like to join me on social media, I'm @the_woolnest on Instagram and @thewoolnest on facebook and twitter. It would be great to see what you're all up to.
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Happy sock knitting,
Lynne x